Archive for the ‘No-Guilt Wednesday’ Category

NGW: The New Roman Triumvirate   9 comments

As one cabbie in Florence put it so succinctly and with “all due respect”: 

“Are you courageous or stupid?” 

Traveling with three women to Europe, always allow 1 hour for drama.  Ms. R has her own pace and she is not to be rushed.  It’s not that she is horribly late, but 15 or 30 minutes is nothing to her.  She has a habit of making me routinely late to anything we have to get to.

The drama started before we even left the country.  Too late in leaving the house, we ran into major traffic on the way to the airport.  Some of us had not had lunch, so we made a “quick” stop at the nearest Castillo Blanco for a 10-burger sack– a strategic error on my part– but I know how cranky Ms. R can be when she hasn’t eaten (it’s almost as bad as me).  Yes, we love those square little burgers.

By the time we arrived at the airport long-term parking lot, we were about 90 minutes from the scheduled departure time.  Normally, airlines recommend that you arrive at the Terminal at least two hours before departure on international flights.  There are, as it turns out, good reasons for this. 

We were still a short train ride away from the Terminal.  Naturally, Delta has two terminals and we went to the wrong one.  70 minutes to departure.  No problem says they– they permitted Ms. R to check her bags there.  I am thinking, “Say goodbye to those bags– they will never make it to Rome.”  (I was carrying mine on.)  We were instructed to proceed to security check-in at this Terminal and after clearing security, board a shuttle bound for the correct Terminal. 

“But you will have to hurry!” 

Airport Security– the now accepted Privacy Invasion Experience.  300 people in line in front of us.  60 minutes to departure.  The numbers are adding up to a whole lot of stress.  While we stand in line, Ms. R snakes her way past the crowd to see if she can find a legal way to cut the line.  “Sure,” comes the reply, “just ask everyone in front of you to let you cut!”  As she is making her way back to the three of us, a miracle– like a Biblical parting of the seas, the crowd behind us parts to let through an airport employee, pushing a wheelchair ferrying someone’s enfeebled grandmother past the throng.  Traipsing behind is a line of Granny’s family members.  45 minutes to departure.  With the slightest encouragement from my fellow travelers, we hitch ourselves to the end of Granny’s Entourage.  The last member of her family is a 12 or 13-year-old boy wearing a bright green shirt. 

“Follow the Green Shirt, Girls!”   

“Yes!  This is actually working!”  Meeting Ms. R halfway up the queue, as first the wheelchair-bound biddy and each of her family members pass her she looked surprised when she saw us hot on the heels of the Green Shirt.  As I walked past her all I said was “Follow us!”  This she did to many a dirty look from the people just ahead who had witnessed her ploy and did not know what to make of the fact that she had acquired a family of 10 people, one in a wheelchair.  Yet they all kept silent.  As we snaked our way past the 300, I admonished myself– “Don’t make eye contact!” 

“Stick with the Green Shirt, Girls!”

My stomach in knots.  40 minutes to departure.  Our flight is boarding.  But we are just getting to the body scanners.  Naturally, I am the one that gets stopped by airport security for not one, but three body scans and a frisk.  I would have stopped me too– I’m stressed, I’m perspiring, I’m a mess.  The minutes ticking away.  And we are still in the wrong Terminal!

Running to the shuttle, we get on and take the 5 minute ride to the correct Terminal.  Interesting word, “terminal”.  A noun in this instance describing a place, but normally an adjective or adverb describing a situation– as in terminal disease, or as the Eagles sang, “She was terminally pretty”.  It does not describe situations that I like to find myself in.  The shuttle lurches to a stop half way to our Terminal.  There is some crazy traffic rule about yielding the right of way to aircraft on the tarmac.  WTF!  35 minutes to departure!  Now going to 30!  Aircraft doors closing about 15 minutes before departure.  The shuttle lurches forward.  Pulling into the terminal we sprint for our Gate. 

Gate.  A better word, I think.  There is safety inside the Gate.  But the Gate can bar your entry.  Which shall it be?  Arriving at the Gate we are relieved to see that there remain about a dozen passengers that need to board.  We queue up behind them knowing we will get on the plane.  Reaching our seats, we stow away our carry-ons.  I am now ready for a strong cocktail and for this plane to pull away from the Gate. 

And then—- we sit.  In fact, we sit for long while.  30 minutes past the time that we should have left.  Then the voice of the Captain comes on overhead.  We’re delayed while they locate some luggage that is supposed to be on our flight.  After sitting for over an hour past our departure time, they located the missing luggage.  And we were off.

Now I can’t prove this, but I am certain that it was Ms. R’s luggage which she checked in at the wrong Terminal that held up our flight.  Today, some three weeks since that day, I chuckle about this.  Not only did she make me late.  She delayed a whole damn airplane! 

But I am the only one who really knows this.

Am I Courageous or Stupid?  More the latter, I have to admit.  But I would gladly do that again.  But next time without the drama at the airport, of course. 

Arriving in Rome the following morning, a heat wave has accompanied us from New York.  We settled into our Roman apartment in Trastevere.  Having washed the stink of travel from our bodies, we settled in for the evening– a little jet lagged and thirsty for some Italian wine.  Here are some of the things we drank the first 4 nights in Rome.  Maybe, they won’t taste as good outside of Italy.  Maybe they will bring back a few funny memories of the day an invalid in a wheelchair came to our rescue. 

As Caesar might have said: Veni, Vidi, Bibi!  For a trio of women, today we get a trio of vino bianco. 


Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2011 (€12).  With floral component on the nose, this is a tasty treat that is perfect for a Roman Holiday.  This has very pleasant acidity providing an ample backbone for the fruit.  Rated **

Müller-Thurgau Alto Adige – Südtirol 2011 (€5).  Opening with a little funkiness that led to kiwi with a touch of fizz and minerality and a limey acidity on the finish, this just kept satisfying.   A great bargain at this price!  Rated **1/2

Carpeni Malvotti Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore Conegliano and Valdobibiadene (NV) (€9).  A thirst quenching Prosecco, with clean floral notes, a slight yet pleasing sweetness balanced out by just the right amount of acidity.  Serve well chilled on a hot night.  Rated **

Postscript: on the flight back to New York, we arrived at the Gate a stress-free 90 minutes before boarding. 

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted July 12, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Tormaresca Neprica Puglia 2010.   4 comments

George Clooney is a Bastard.  Isn’t he?

Of course I know it’s Friday!  But after a nine-hour flight yesterday, I am still fighting off the after-effects of Jet-lag as I release this week’s NG Wednesday post.  You see, we have just returned from two weeks in the land of Caesar, Nero, Caligula and Burlusconi.  Here also, the influence of the Medici and the Venetian Dukes can still be felt.  Hundreds of years ago, these were places where secret accusations and private trials could result in your imprisonment.  Face your accuser?  Not likely.  Right against self-incrimination?  Too progressive.  Cruel and Unusual Punishment was the norm.  But this being the 21st Century, and what may have passed for progressive thinking back then is more the norm nowadays. 

And since we are in a new century, it is also now the Land of Clooney– well at least if you go to Lake Como it feels that way.  A true Sybarite, if ever there was one.  And, of course, he has the coin to be able to easily pull this off.  If I didn’t admire his lifestyle so much, I’d say he’s a bastard.  And that he might just be.  But I guess I could handle being called a bastard and worse if I lived like he does.

The Italian economy may be sucking wind.  There may be earthquakes and shipwrecks to contend with.  But it is still Italy and that means that it still has plenty of magic embedded in the pure fact of its existence.   Who can blame Clooney for wanting to live it up in Italy during the Summer?  I can think of worse places to spend Euros like a fool.

One of the highlights of the excursion was a visit to Piemonte (which included a luncheon in Barolo and a special tasting of the wines of Ettore Germano) and La Banca del Vino.  Located in Pollenzo, which is situated just west of Alba in Piemonte, we were treated to some interesting wines.  (Many thanks to our friends, Marclifestyle and Silvia, for setting this up!)

But first, a little bit about La Banca del Vino.  It is part of the college of gastronomy, where students enter a three-year course of study to learn about food & beverage appreciation.  This is not a cooking school.  But the campus includes a fine restaurant, a hotel, classrooms and of course La Banca.  A good way to think of this place is that it appears to follow the “Teaching Hospital” model, where classroom instruction is accompanied by hands on practical experience in the hotel, restaurant and La Banca, where the students interact with visitors from outside the campus.  At the end of their studies some graduates move on jobs in the hospitality industry or become food and wine writers.

La Banca is a place where many quality Italian producers “deposit” or more appropriately “contribute” a few cases of their vintages for storing and aging in the very fine air controlled vault built on the foundation of what used to be a mausoleum.  Many of the highest quality names, large and small, in Italian wine can be found here.  

Associati alla Banca del VinoAfter touring the vault, we participated in a tasting of 5 wines (Euro 20 per person).  The student manning the vault that day was a young woman, self-assured and smart, if not always correct in describing the wines we tasted.  There were a couple of areas where there could be improvement in the presentation of the wine for the tasting.  First, she presented each wine but asked us not to taste them before they were all poured out in order to allow them to develop in the glass simultaneously.  Fair enough—but then she put the wines bottles away from us so that we had to keep rising from the tasting table to look at the bottles to see what it was that we were drinking.  In her short description, she provided vintages, regions and varietals, though she did not name any of the producers.  Whether this is by design or by oversight, I am not sure. This could have been solved if the tasting were to include a short menu of the wines with vintage, varietal, producer, appellation and so forth.

During the tasting, the flight of wines included a Barbera, two Nebbiolos, an Aglianico and a Nero d’Avola.  Off the bat, before even tasting, I was not looking forward to the Nero d’Avola, as I tend to often find that they are overripe, over-extracted and too rustic for my taste.  Keep an open mind I had to remind myself as we worked our way through the tasting and arrived at the NdA.  The two Nebbiolos, one from Gattinara near the Italian Alps, and the other from Barbaresco, were the ones I was looking forward to tasting.  The Barbera was also high on the list. 

Cascina Castelet Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2006.  Initially opening with characteristic Barbera acidity, this seemed to soften as it opened up.  Revealing the classic combination of red and black fruit, this is an accessible Barbera.  Did I mention this is food friendly?  Rated **1/2

Torraccia Del Piantavigna Gattinara 2007.  The best wine of the tasting.  With aromas reminiscent of forest, this Nebbiolo changed as we sipped at it revealing herbs and a lovely finish with supportive tannins.  Rated ***

Sottimano Barbaresco 2002.  This was a very difficult vintage for Barolo and Barbaresco.  With so much rain, the grapes in some vineyards were too bloated to ripen properly.  Then a hail storm hit causing so much damage throughout the region that many producers did not harvest the crop.  Sottimano was one of the few producers to bottle their single vineyard Barbaresco.  Had this been a complete blind tasting, I would have said this was a California wine.  Opening and finishing with a strong oak presence, it was fruit forward (more international in style) and even at 12 years of age still retained strong tannins.  It was our least favorite wine of the tasting and yet, given the vintage’s challenges, is a success of sorts.  Rated **

Damaschito Basilicata Aglianico del Vulture 2007.  Approachable dried fruit aromas and flavors, it reminded me of why I like Aglianico.  Rated **1/2

Gulfi Nerojbleo Nero d’Avola Sicilia 2003.  An in your face nose full of earth and dark fruit, this was the surprise wine of the tasting.  Well balanced. This is one that would easily accompany many grilled dishes.  Perhaps the fruit was tamed by the fact that it is a 9-year-old bottle.  Definitely the oldest NdA I have ever had.  Rated **1/2

These wines may not be easily available in the U.S., but they present a lesson in keeping an open mind—the words that I used as I took my first taste of the surprisingly good Nero d’Avola.  With this Italian inspiration, here is

Tormaresca Neprica Puglia 2010 ($8).  An attractive blend of Negroamaro (40%), Primitivo (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) , this is a nice example of what wine from Puglia can be.  Fruit forward on the nose and palate, it delivers soft red and black plum essence, though it is really done in a stripped down “Plain Jane” style.  The Cabernet lends it structure and it has surprisingly good length for the money.  Rated **
Now, I am not Clooney.  But for the past two weeks I felt the magic.  We laughed.  We sang.  We ate very well.  And we popped the corks on some nice bottles.

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted July 6, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Triton Castilla y Leon Tempranillo 2008   10 comments

It was a warm night in 1979 and JoAnn had not yet broken my heart.  

Returning to my apartment, we approached a certain intersection in the commercial district populated by strip malls, not far from home base.  That evening, as we had done many times before, we decided to avoid the traffic by cutting across through the back of the local Sears parking lot.  On the back side of the building there were no other cars or people or lights.  As we rounded the corner of the building, there it was. 

Hovering.  Were my eyes deceiving me?  Perhaps.

Se en UFOJoAnn’s brown eyes widened .  She was artistic, pretty, buxom, had a quick smile, a wicked laugh and she was my girl.  I was crazy over her.  But she was also quite nuts (as I would realize later).  Still, she was there at the beginning of my wine journey.  Fizzy sweet Cold Duck, Riuniti on Ice, Lancers Rose, Fratelli Lambrusco and Mateus Rose– the Pantheon of 1970’s starter wines.  The stuff that Hangovers are made of.  We did them all.  But not a drop had passed through our lips that evening.

I can only say that it looked like a disk, But given our side view, it appeared cigar-shaped as well.   It had two rows of multicolored lights ringing the circumference of the craft.  Each row of lights flashing in a sequence that made it seems as if the lights were moving, pinball machine like– in opposite directions. 

I was fascinated by the flashing lights and the fact that this thing was finally there– a gift for me.  For as long as I remember, I had stared up at the skies hoping to see one.  One birthday, I received a telescope that my geeky self used to scour the heavens for signs of other life and good shots of the surface of the moon when I tired of searching.  Looking toward the heavens– Alpha Centauri, the Andromeda Galaxy, etc.– I wondered.

russian giant sky ufo ring october 2009 The Mystery UFO RINGS

So here it was. 

I stopped the car.  And we both just stared.  The thing, which had been stationary, then languidly shifted course toward our direction. 

“It’s coming this way,” I said, my heart starting to race. 

Yes, I had always wanted to see one of these.  Just not quite so close.  Taking evasive action, I gunned the 305 cubic inch small block 8 cylinder engine of my gold and black 1970 Camaro, hoping it would not stall– as it was prone to do.

The car delivered and we made our way to the exit ramp on the other side of the building. 

There were more cars and people in the front of the Sears store where it was a bit busier.  I pulled to the top of the ramp and got out of the car.  The craft, now hovering over the spot that we had just vacated did not seem to pose such a menace from this distance.  An orange Volkswagen Beetle pulled up behind my car.  I approached the owner of the Beetle:

“Do you see that thing over there?” 

“Yes,” he deadpanned. 

“It looks like a UFO!” 

“Yes,” again replied Senor Zombie. 

Ohhh-Kay… this conversation, if you want to call it that, was not going very far.  Now, the part that should have come sooner– I’m beginning to freak out a bit.  I return to my car where JoAnn is waiting and we pull out of the parking lot.  Within minutes we are in my bedroom back in the safety of my apartment.  I remember that JoAnn and I, two ultra-horny college kids, did what ultra-horny college kids do.  I remember laying on my back, mid-coitus, and looking out the window from the shadows of the bed in that darkened room.  Not quite out of body.  Not quite in the body, either.  And feeling someone was watching.  Covered in sweat, winded and exhausted we collapsed into a heap of panting flesh, all legs and arms splayed akimbo.  This was different from any other time before.  We were also drenched in an eerie self-consciousness.  As I replay the events in my head, I wonder what really happened that night.  I know that somehow I drove her back home and made it back to my house, though I skipped the back of the Sears parking lot on that return trip. 

As I mentioned, JoAnn broke my heart, which she did in spectacular fashion, with a meanness that even today I find indescribable.  However, in 1983, we did reconnect for a quick visit while I was in grad school (nothing conjugal, I made sure of that).  I made a point of asking her if she remembered that night.  She did.  “It really did happen?”  “Yes, the reply reminiscent of Senor Zombie.  And, strangely, that is all that we said to each other about that night.  It’s as if we couldn’t even bring ourselves to recollect the details.  Those details, as best as I can recall, you now have read. 

Was I dreaming?  Are these just the ramblings of an overactive imagination?   What is it that separates reality from what you see?  Can you really tell the difference?  And what is reality for that matter?  Is reality the repetition of acts that we perform everyday– working, kissing your loved one, having that morning cup of tea, as I am doing now?  So everything else that falls outside of that– which is to say, a singular event, is subject to the question: Did that really happen? Did I truly experience that? 

It may just be a matter of perspective.  Children live in the realm of imagination.  Dying people too, I think.  Maybe some of us turn to writing, drawing or photography to document our personal histories and make imagination a little bit more tangible.  To give proof of what we think happened.

“That’s me on the table, Mommy.”

Now I’m not saying that I was abducted by aliens.  But if I was, this would make it to the list of bottles I could have beforehand. 

Triton Castilla y Leon Tempranillo 2008 ($13.50).  Big, Dark and Brooding, it comes upon you quickly.  With an earthiness that is subdued by persistent black cherry fruit that is itself complemented by a layer of some herbal notes, this has an in your face kind of near-meaty quality to it.  Concluding with some very satisfying tannins.  Not a wine for everyday.  And despite its name (Triton, a sea god and son of Poseidon), if you’re in the mood for something that is grounded in the masculine qualities of Earth, this may be your wine.  Rated ***

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted June 26, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 2009   7 comments

My cousin married my uncle.  And we don’t even live in Arkansas. 

Actually, it was my mother’s brother and my father’s second cousin.  So there was no blood connection between the two.  Still, it was a strange alliance– but not for this obvious reason.

One thing the couple had in common was a shared sense of insane and oddball behavior.  They both had the crazy gene.  Though each expressed it quite differently. 

My uncle, a man ironically named Angel, though no one called him that, was a rough and tumble sort, street smart and a fan of the lowest forms of entertainment.  The kind of guy you would find wagering heavily at a cock-fight.  Lacking for a couple of aggressive roosters and pining for a little blood sport,  he had his son, Louis, use me to perfect his bullying technique.  His old man sitting back, enjoying the show, reveling in a contest that I was just trying to survive:

Louis, whom I have written about past, was a mere 4 months older than me, though he was always physically superior to me being at various times during our lives anywhere from one and a half times to twice my size.  And despite his size, he was also faster than me.  A Minotaur in miniature, his father could amp him up to come at me even though we were normally (and still are) very fond of each other.  The bumps, bruises, scratches and abrasions that I garnered from my tussles with my larger combatant quickly informed me of the obvious fact that I was not likely to win any kind of physical contest with Louis.  In the end I was cast as an uncomfortable, and tiny, Theseus. 

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Tripping backward onto the plastic slip-covered sectional sofa in my Abuela’s living room, I was cornered.  As I and lay on my back, he charged at me, all sweat and snot.  Bearing down upon me in full throttle, I instinctively put up my feet to shield myself.  As he came at me, I focused on his ruddy face chubbily confident in the victory that was at hand.  My knees now being pushed into my chest, my eyes widened in terror.  His chest pushing firmly against the soles of my feet, his blood-flushed face a mere few inches from my own– I kicked out to push him away from me.  The adrenaline must have been in full flow, because he went tumbling backwards across the length of my grandmother’s living room.  Landing on his butt with a  solid thud that shook the room, I braced myself for another charge.  I can’t recall if he started to cry, but I saw that he had lost his appetite for the scrimmage.  And this was the last time we ever fought.    

Although Angel, has unfortunately passed, from strong drink and fast living, his ex-wife, my cousin Nandy is alive (I think) somewhere in Arizona.

Nandy, brainy, well read, the first daughter in a family of musicians, was always quick with a smile.  She was in many respects the exact opposite of Angel.  I always found her to be kind and interested in the things that mattered to me, her 3rd cuz.  But once I became a teenager, I realized that there was something a little off about her.  Downright batty she was.  Married once before she exchanged vows with my uncle, she was still a legendary virgin coming into her second marriage.  I don’t think that the birds-bees thing was ever properly laid out for this forty-ish virgin who was taking a second lap around the marital track.  Though I only heard about this, she was also a shrew similar to the one in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate (click here).  Exhibit A: Husband numero uno– he was last seen running away from the house after she pushed him down a staircase that he was climbing with a new kitchen table on his back. 

All this history, my Uncle Angel knew as he exchanged nuptials with her.  But being a determined man, those warnings of sharp curves and rough road ahead seemed meant for someone else.  A match made in heaven?  What demon deity could have conjured this bizarre conjunction of the two trunks of my family tree?

Was the aging and virginal cousin de-flowered?  Naturally, the less than discrete Angel let on.  Though I imagine it must have been Caveman courtship: clubbed-over-the-head-and-dragged-off-by-the-hair-kind-of-thing.  It did not have the hallmarks of tenderness.  Shockingly, it was a short-lived marriage.

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These are two people who were destined to break stones– anyone’s stones, really, but especially each others’.  What better wine to celebrate them than with a few sips of Las Rocas– literally, The Rocks.

Image DetailLas Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha 2009 ($9).  Straight from up and coming Spanish appellation, Calatayud, this is 100% Garnacha that is a category killer in this price range.  With fleshy and ripe dark fruit that is supported by good bones (structure), this is a very accessible crowd pleaser.  And at this price, it should be snatched up whenever and wherever you see it.   I poured this recently along with another Garnacha from Cotes du Rhone at a friend’s party.  There were some seriously happy faces.  And seriously surprised expressions when I revealed the price!  Always gratifying.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted June 20, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Two-fer from Lan: Bodegas Lan Crianza 2006 & Bodegas Lan Reserva 2005   3 comments


This little guy in the photo to the left doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Today, we give you two from Rioja– both good buys!

Bodegas Lan Crianza 2006 ($10).  Opening with aromas and flavors of appealing crushed red cherries and made with 100% Tempranillo, this is has a frisky acidity that makes it quite food friendly.  It has softer tannins than its sister wine the 2005 Reserva.  I am of two minds on the wine.  On the one hand, it is somewhat one-dimensional– a simple wine really.  However, it has enough palate interest that it is better than merely good.  Rated **1/2  
Bodegas Lan Reserva 2005 ($14).  Slightly more complex than the Crianza, it has some vanilla notes that are imparted from the use of what I guess must be American oak– a fact that was confirmed on my visit to their website.  Being a reserva, it is aged in French and American oak for at least 12 months, followed by 24 months of bottle aging before release.  That oak is a bit more pronounced, but it is accompanied by a red Twizzler thing that turns me on.  The fruit seems slightly more ripe and it does not have the same acidic edge as its younger sibling.  That is probably due in part to the fact that this is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo, 10% Garnacha.  On the second night this tasted even better which leads me to believe that this is a good candidate for decanting.  While I give this a slight edge over its sister wine, in the final analysis, it is a matter of taste and on any given night, either of these will do the job quite nicely.  Rated **1/2

Posted June 13, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Domenico Clerico Langhe Visadi Dolcetto 2010   9 comments

Go ahead, criticize me for the comparison.  I dare you.

Visiting Venice several years back, my daughter and I found ourselves at the Ponte de Sospiri, or the Bridge of Sighs.  An enclosed bridge, which according to local tradition, offered a final view of the outside world before prisoners were taken to their incarceration.  But this is merely a stream-of-consciousness introduction to what I really want to get at. 

Although built in 1602, the bridge was given its name by 19th century international Rude Boy, Lord Byron.  He was that century’s version of the Chris Brown of our own times.   What?

Roaming all over the place, having lots of sex and putting down rhymes.  In Venice, Byron paused from his travels upon falling for Marianna Segati, in whose Venice house he had been lodging.  But she was soon to be replaced by 22-year-old Margarita Cogni.  Both women were married.  Cogni could neither read nor write.  But she had other desirable qualities and soon left her husband to move into Byron’s Venetian Crib.  All was not bliss– their frequent fighting resulted in Byron spending many a night in his gondola.  Eventually, he asked her to leave the house and she threw herself into the Venetian canal.  Beautiful.

When the first two cantos of Byron’s Don Juan were published anonymously in 1819, the poem was criticized for its ‘immoral content’, though it was also immensely popular.  Don Juan (Canto IX) may have summed it up best:

Love is vanity,

Selfish in its beginning as its end,

Except where ’tis a mere insanity.

Or as CB put it more personally in Deuces, his FU song (click here) to a certain girl he had broken with:

You’ll regret the day when I find another girl, yeah
Who knows just what I need, she knows just what I mean
When I tell her keep it drama free
Chuckin up them (deuces)
I told you that I’m leaving (deuces)
I know you mad but so what?
I wish you best of luck
And now I’m finna throw them deuces up

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

I’m on some new shit
I’m chuckin my deuces up to her
I’m moving on to something better, better, better
No more tryin to make it work
You made me wanna say bye bye, say bye bye, say bye bye to her

Live Fast.  Die Young.  In February of 1824, Byron suffered a small stroke– some say caused by excessive boozing.  In April of that year he was caught in a storm while riding and became ill.  He died of fever on April 19, 1824.  Byron dead at 36. 

In honor of his Italian adventures here is a lovely Dolcetto (little sweet one) with its own desirable qualities:

Domenico Clerico Langhe Visadi Dolcetto 2010 ($13).  Opening with mild woodsy notes, it undressed a bit at a time to reveal tart cherries with an undercurrent of mint and lavender on the midpalate.  Finishing with a touch of cocoa and firm tannins, it is drinkable now but I suspect will improve with 3-5 years in bottle.  I rate it for what it is now, not what it may become, but I will buy an extra bottle or three to see just how right I am.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted June 6, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Familia Alonso Bodega Cruz de Piedra Tiasta Torrontes 2011   2 comments

I am training for a 100 mile bike ride.  This will be my fifth time doing this.  I do it because it helps to raise funds to benefit the battle against pediatric cancer.  I do it because no matter my discomfort, it is not the pain of cancer.

The first year I rode the 100, I had no idea how my body would react.  Thankfully, the organizers of this ride do it in a series of three loops of varying mileage that begin and end in the same place. 

The first loop of 50 miles was agonizing.  I stepped off the pedals at the end of those first 50, not knowing if I would be able to continue.  My sit bones– and that thin, delicate layer of skin between the bones and the “cushioned” bicycle seat– after having taken a repeated beating over hardscrabble New Hampshire back roads, were in no mood for another 50 miles.  My lower back was an insistent burning demurrer– No Mas!  And had that been all, I think I could have made it.  But the worst of it is that my upper quads, and the joint that attaches the legs to the torso, were aching with each pump of the pedals.  They burnt when I stood.  They burnt when I sat.  “What the hell am I doing to myself?”  How would I finish? 

“You are not going to quit,” said the Brain to the Body.  

“Bollocks!” replied the Body.   

Ms. R, my personal cheering squad and pit crew helped me off the bike as I returned from that first 50.  I am glad that she was there.  I don’t think that I could have done it without her. 

Now if you have read this blog, you know I like to tease her.  Sometimes without mercy– but always with affection.  And let me say this now– without her, I would not have gotten back in the saddle that afternoon. 

The mind was willing, but the body was broken.  She procured doses of some extra strength pain-killer that came in a blue capsule.  Come to me sweet relief!  The pain subsided and 30 (or perhaps 40)  minutes after I finished the first 50 mile loop, I gingerly (how else) climbed back in the saddle.

Later that afternoon as I polished off the second fifty miles, she was there.  Waiting, perhaps anxiously, for me.  I made it, but did not do it alone.  And I am proud to admit that. 

Ms R, as you read this know that I carry that image of you waiting for me to arrive and I still hear your clear voice above all others, cheering me on as I made my final return that day.  That sound NEVER gets old.  Know that when you had cancer two years ago, I knew you would pull through.  And I hope that I was as good a cheerleader for you then as you were for me that first time I rode 100 miles. 

As I sit on the deck just off our living room, I am tasting this wine for the second time.  The sun is shining and refreshment is nigh as the temperature ebbs and flows in concert with the mid day sun as she begins her ride to dusk. 

I have written about Torrontes before.  If you have not yet tried this varietal– what are you waiting for?  An invitation?  Ms R. should be arriving from work any moment now and I have nice chilled glass of the Tiasta Torrontes waiting for her.   It’s one of the little  ways I cheer her on.

2010 Tiasta TorrontesFamilia Alonso Bodega Cruz de Piedra Tiasta Torrontes 2011 ($9).  100% Torrontes from vines that are 35-40 years old.  All hand-picked from vineyards on sandy soils in a semi-arid high mountain climate at an elevation of 4300 feet.  Irrigation is provided by the flood waters from the ice caps of the Andes Mountains.  No oak in this wine– fermentation is entirely in stainless steel tanks.  Pale in color and yet redolent of spring florals.  A mouthful of flavorful lychee and canepas (the beautifully pulpy fruit from Puerto Rico) complemented by a rich texture in the mouth.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted May 29, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu Sur Lie 2010   4 comments

Given Lemons—Make Lemon Meringue!

Good friend, RJ Asher, after exiting from Corporate America found himself in Hong Kong with a hankering to do something that played to his creative side.  He had been a home schooled pie maker (aren’t they all?).

He invited me to brunch one afternoon in 2010, with his wife, Mary Beth, and two other friends.  He discussed the next step in his life– his vision for a pie bakery in Hong Kong.   One thing led to another, and somehow the party migrated to their nice flat.  There, sitting on the terrace, overlooking the city, we munched on some of the sweet stuff including a skyscraper of a Lemon Meringue Pie. 

Image DetailOver some more pie (I think it was a buttery pecan pie), we discussed the phenomena of the Tai Tai—basically the Hong Kong version of the unemployed, kept woman.  A funny thought occurred to me: RJ was at that moment the male version of the Tai Tai.  So I offhandedly suggested he name his new company Tai Tai Pie Pie.  It was meant as a joke.  It was an idea that was probably fueled by a Bloody Mary or two.  But leaps into the abyss often begin with a small shove.

The rest (as they say) is history.  Today, RJ’s Tai Tai Pie Pies operation is in a commercial facility.  He has a passionate commitment to producing the best pies from the purest, most flavorful ingredients available no matter the cost.  This is why if you live in Hong Kong, or even if you’re just passing through HK, you need to get some of this good stuff.   

At dinner at a mutual friends’ home in Manila recently, they pulled out some of RJ’s savory pies.  Personal sized, oval, lard-butter crusted creations filled with beef and chicken and other goodies.  I hadn’t tasted the savory pies till that moment– it was a revelation.  Next time I get to HK, I need to bring some of these frozen babies home with me.  They are that good.  Check out Tai Tai Pie Pies by clicking here.

As I was sipping at today’s NGW, I was reminded of that first lemony creamy taste of one of RJ’s signature pies.  This should come as no surprise since this is a wine with the Sur lie designation, meaning literally “on lees”.  Sur lie wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking (a process for filtering the wine).  This process can add freshness and a creamy quality  to the wine.  Good Muscadet is made in this fashion. 

The grape variety used to produced Muscadet, Melon de Bourgogne, is a relatively neutral grape. With sur lie aging, the wine stays in contact with the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation (the lees).  This process contributes to a creamy mouthfeel that may make the wine seem to have a fuller body. 

Prior to the early 1990s, any producer of Muscadet wine could use the phrase sur lie on their wine labels regardless of the length of time and manner that it actually spent in contact with the lees.  However, in 1994, French authorities implemented regulations limiting the use of sur lie to only wines that comply with set guidelines.  Among these are that while the sub-appellations of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire and Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu (source of today’s NGW) are permitted to use the term, any wine labeled with just the generic AOC Muscadet cannot.  Another requirement is that the wine must spend at least a full winter in contact with the lees and not be bottled till after the third week of March following the harvest. 

Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu Sur Lie 2010 ($9).  Mild floral aromas.  Saline, with a minerally quality and friendly acidity, this is reminiscent of lemon merengue and tart apple yet with more of a viscous mouthfeel than expected.  I nibbled on some wasabi peas while I sipped this– and it stood up to that strong flavor.  This is seafood friendly– but don’t just think sushi– think garlicy shrimp scampi, also think spicy Thai food.  This will get in the face of all of that.  Rated **1/2

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted May 23, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Chateau Le Petit Courret (2009)   1 comment

While waiting for a train that would ferry me from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in Southern China, I came across two distinct women.  As we did not have language in common, eye contact, body language and hand gestures were all we had.  It was more than enough.

How often is it that those with the very least to give are the ones that come through with what is needed.  As I entered the waiting room at Hung Hom Station, in search of a seat, an older woman, Chinese, a grandmother no doubt, made eye contact with me and offered the seat next to my own.  Her eyes held a kindness that I had not felt from a complete stranger in a while. 

In truth, there were actually plenty of seats, but with an invitation like that, the one next to her was the best.  How can I describe her?  She had a brightness that shone from her dark eyes that betrayed a large heart.  She spotted me searching and she gave me what I needed most at that moment– a gesture of kindness.  As we parted to board, we gave each other a quick glance filled with good karma and well wishes.  She rode the same train as me, yet I am certain that our journey took us to very different worlds. 

She had the same energy as my own grandmother.  Quiet, strong, maternal, powerful.  She probably does not have a pot to piss in, but she is wealthy beyond measure.

Once on board, I settled into my seat for the two-hour ride.  Another woman, across the aisle from me, not quite as old as the first, but with more financial resources, gave a quick, ugly, dismissive glance.  “I am better than you,” she seemed to say.  Sad woman seated next to her husband who chatted noisily on his mobile.  Polished and yet, pathetic. 

Give me the humble any day.  And so it is with today’s NGW–from the Right Bank in Bordeaux, in the village of Massugas: Chateau Courret is a 6,000 Case Petit Bordeaux that hand harvest their grapes.

Chateau Le Petit Courret 2009 ($7).  Whilst not overly complex, it does have nice fruit, is well crafted, and comes out of a great vintage for Bordeaux.  100% Cabernet Sauvignon and dominated by red cherry and then red plum this light to medium bodied Bordeaux is worth seeking out.  Finishing with soft tannins, and satisfying acidity, it is not a wine to age, but rather a wine to enjoy in the moment, with some good friends, a platter of charcuterie and a flood of smiles.  And with a $7 price tag is a go to everyday kind of wine that will pair well with red meat and fattier fish.  This is a two star wine, but one that is worth seeking out.  Rated **

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted May 16, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday

NGW: Hugel & Fils Classic Pinot Gris 2007   19 comments

Excepting Vegans, Vegetarians and those of that ilk, does anyone not like sausage?  If you are a true meat lover, keep your filet mignon (which does not have much flavor anyway) and lamb chops.  Sausage is the apotheosis of meat.  OK I’m being slightly hyperbolic, but only slightly.

Newsflash– She-who-needs-no-introduction, the Illustrious and Luminous, Ms. R, claims not to like sausage.  That’s right, no chorizo, kielbasa, andouille, bratwurst, chipolata, linguica, breakfast patty, bangers or knackwurst.  Doesn’t touch the stuff– “Hell to the No!”– as she would say.

I will make allowances for anyone’s dislike of the Scotsman’s Delight, haggis, a boiled sheep’s stomach stuffed with pluck (heart, liver, windpipe and lungs).  Now “pluck” sounds a helluva lot better than its components.  It sounds like food with attitude– and indeed, it takes some pluck to eat haggis, once you know what is contained therein.

I have two personally historic associations with this stuff.  The first was an invitation to a Robert Burns Dinner back in 2001– also known as Robbie Burns Day.  It is tradition to serve haggis with a little drizzle of single malt scotch and copious amounts of single malt in our glasses, all accompanied by the words of Scotland’s farmer-poet.  This is the first and last time I ate haggis. Once I had it, I realized that my ancestral line contains neither a scintilla nor a peppercorn’s worth of a Scot’s blood.  Perhaps I had bad haggis– but is there such a thing as good haggis?  I’m OK with the poetry and the single malt, though.  Especially (surprise!) the latter.

The second association, involves the ex-wife (looky there, some more personal information), who during some intramural Scottish Games in her college days, won a “Haggis Hurl” competition, involving a hammer throw/shot put of a frozen haggis– a story she was fond of recounting.  She was even awarded a silver cup for her hurling triumph.  It is perhaps inevitable that you might ask, “What kind of girl wins a haggis hurl?”  But you might also restrain yourself. 

Back to Ms. R and the salchichas.

Image DetailMs. R does not like sausage?  “Haaa!”, says I. 

A message to the Luminous One: What of the pepperoni that you love on your pizza, my Dear?  And then there is that rice that your relations make with those canned nasty bits of amalgamated mystery meat known as Vienna “sausage”.  I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure even the Viennese don’t eat that.  And let’s not forget that you love a good hot dog (no comments from the Peanut Gallery).  And  what of sopressata?  Dried, spicy, fatty goodness.  Are you sure you do not like sausage? 

Putting those examples aside, the most ironic, the most inscrutable is your love of morcilla.  For those not in the know, this is the Puerto Rican Version of blood sausage. 

Now when I was a young Sybarite-Hipster-In-Training (or little SHIT for short), I loved morcilla.  Black goodness with a peppery quality that was heaven-sent.  But then the skies parted, a golden beam of light shone through and I was schooled in the production of this delicacy.  Frankly, it freaked me out.  Some things are best kept out of the public eye– or at least out of the view of young children.  Among these I count Santeria rituals involving animal sacrifice, quirky sexual fetishes, open heart surgery, any episodes of the Criminal Minds TV show involving serial killers, and the production of morcilla.

Having witnessed morcilla making once, I must share my fascination with the process, the preparation of the pig’s blood, the cleansing of the intestines, and the stuffing of the casings.  The most memorable part of it was the smell of pig offal that hung languorously in the hot summer air.  I was traumatized that one of my favorite things to eat was really just the nasty bits and blood of a recently slaughtered hog. 

These days if I have this, it brings me back to that hot Summer day.  And speaking of Summer– today’s NGW.  On a hot, muggy day preparing morcilla, a well-chilled bottle of this Alsatian will provide some welcome relief.  It will provide relief even if all you are doing is reading this post.

Hugel & Fils Classic Pinot Gris 2007 ($15).  Odd little label, but what’s in the bottle?  Never judge a book by its cover.  A softer style of wine with well rounded flavors and floral aromas.  Leaning toward some tropical flavors.   Rated **

And perhaps, just maybe as you drain this nice little wine, and are thinking about that second bottle, nether morcilla nor haggis will be out-of-bounds and the words of Robbie Burns’ Address to a Haggis may begin to resonate in a different way:

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ hands will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

The little guy in the photo at the top of this page doesn’t have a guilty bone in his body.  Neither should you.  No-Guilt Wednesday (NGW) is not about compromising on quality.  It’s all about drinking good wine that does not break the bank ($15 or less), eating good food and of course, it’s about sharing with the ones you love.

Posted May 9, 2012 by Sybarite Sauvage in No-Guilt Wednesday