Monthly Archives: April 2011

Vacation

22 April 2011

Hello, millions of dedicated Odd Bacchus readers. I’m heading into the wilds of Wisconsin for a week, and my access to the Internet will be spotty at best. I’ll post if I can, but most likely you’ll see a return to regular posting around May 2. I suspect there will be wild tales to tell, redolent of cherry-apple wine and rhubarb port.

Cheers!

Vermouth? Really?

20 April 2011

Like most people with moderately well-stocked home bars, I have a couple dusty bottles of aging vermouth. A whisper of the dry vermouth occasionally provides a veneer of propriety to what would otherwise just be a big glass of vodka, and the sweet, red version appears in slightly greater quantities in my Manhattans.

That’s about as far as I’ve gone with my vermouth experimentations. Europeans sometimes order a glass of vermouth, as I learned years ago in Paris when a friend ordered a martini. The waiter returned with an aperitif of Martini & Rossi Bianco, a dry vermouth, on the rocks.

She felt less than pleased with her “martini,” but according to the Wall Street Journal, she is one of the few Americans to have drunk vermouth properly. The recent article Straight Vermouth, No Chaser claims vermouth can be a lovely drink all on its own. And who are we to doubt the Wall Street Journal?

I’m particularly looking forward to trying some Cocchi Vermouth di Torino:

Resurrected this year from a 120-year-old formula, this Italian sweet vermouth produced in the Asti region of Italy could give Carpano Antica a run for its money. Amber in color and using muscato grapes as its base, there are notes of tobacco, orange peel and raisin as well as hints of cola and leather. 750ml, $19

I’m curious — are there any readers who have actually tried vermouth straight up or on the rocks? (Drinking it as a last resort at a college party doesn’t count.)

 

Neither Welsh Nor Riesling: Part 1

18 April 2011

Please also see the updated review of this wine here. The bottle described in this post was corked.

Welschriesling is a confusing varietal, in that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the sweeter, more famous Riesling. And, perhaps less surprisingly, it did not originate in the sunny vineyards of Wales.

All my sources agree that this high-yielding white varietal dates back to ancient times, but there the agreement stops. Some simply call the origin a “mystery,” but others conjecture a Roman or Eastern European ancestry. Now mostly grown in Central Europe, this varietal — especially in the hands of a thoughtful winemaker — can produce some very intriguing wine.

Continuing my Balkan explorations, I sampled a 2009 Belje Welschriesling from Podunavlje, in the far northeast of Croatia. In his weighty tome Wine, André Dominé encouragingly asserts that “The best Graševina grapes come from the area around Kutjevo in the northeast.” (Note: Graševina is the Croatian name for Welschriesling.)

Belje, a  winery dating back to 1697, has earned numerous awards for its Welschriesling, and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded the 2009 vintage an impressive 90 points, noting “hints of pineapple, water cress and apricot on the nose” and “vibrant fruit of dried apricot.”

I must admit I was a bit surprised when I took a whiff of the greenish-gold wine and smelled…not pineapple. (more…)

Summer Special

15 April 2011

While sitting at the bar of a neighborhood restaurant recently, I noticed the owners perusing a book of 300 cocktail recipes. I asked, indicating the book, if they were trying to expand their cocktail menu.

“Yes, we’re trying to decide on a new cocktail to offer as a summer special.”

A wonderful idea. I find it delightfully restorative to relax on a bar’s patio, languidly sipping a glass of something cool and bright. I offered a couple of my own suggestions (see below), and returned to munching on my pork cutlet.

Then I overheard something a little startling:

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A Serbian Surprise

13 April 2011

In Fine Spirits, my local wine shop, describes the 2007 Jović Vranac as “A high quality wine trying to break into the market.” This lovely $12 red has a long road ahead of it, I fear. It might be a few years before one commonly hears a conversation like:

“Let’s pick up a bottle of wine on the way home to have with dinner. Oo! I think I’m in the mood for something Serbian.”

“Yes, something red to go with the Bolognese. You know what would be charming? A Vranac!”

“Of course! A Serbian Vranac would be perfect.”

As surely as you will never hear this conversation, the 2007 Jović Vranac is worthy of it. But then, who knows? A few decades ago, very few people could have imagined that Australian Shiraz would be stocked in almost every grocery store. (more…)

The Jewel Challenge

11 April 2011

It’s been a goodly long time since I’ve purchased wine in Jewel-Osco. Many giant chain stores stock an ample supply of wine, but their selection belies their motives: Appeal to the lowest common denominator while charging as high a price as possible.

But plenty of people surely purchase wine at Jewel-Osco, which led me to wonder: Is it possible to find anything remotely unusual or obscure in such a setting?

I started working my way down the wine aisle from left to right. Here were the inexpensive (and yet overpriced) jug wines, the coterie of cutesy-named Cabernets, the machine-made Merlots, the marsupial Shirazes, the greasy ocean of butterball Chardonnays, the run-of-the-mill Sauvignon Blancs and Rieslings, and finally, the insipid, shameless Pinot Grigios.

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A Wine Tour Of… Rhode Island?

8 April 2011

Courtesy of Sakonnet Vineyards

All fifty of the United States now boast wineries, including the smallest, Rhode Island. (North Dakota was the last state to open a federally licensed winery, in 2002.)

Rhode Island features a mild climate well-suited to vinous pursuits, and because of the state’s small size, it’s possible to visit most of Rhode Island’s wineries in a single day.

Longtime travel writer Andrew Harper recently explored Rhode Island’s wine scene, and he describes his itinerary and tasting experiences here.

Wherever you’re traveling, you can often find at least one or two unique wineries, distilleries or breweries. At these local tasting rooms, I’m almost always rewarded with a unique gem or two, a good story, or both.

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What You Should Like

6 April 2011

I recently popped into In Fine Spirits to pick up another bottle of Jović Vranac, and I noticed two bottles of wine, labels hidden, standing on the tasting table.

“Would you like to try them and see which you like better? It’s for our own ‘Sweet Sixteen’ contest.” Each year, In Fine Spirits makes a bracket of wines in honor of March Madness. Customers vote on their favorites, and the field of wines narrows in concert with the basketball tournament.

Never able to resist a blind tasting, or really any tasting, I sipped Mystery Wine A.

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Balkan Bonanza – Part 2: Živeli!

4 April 2011

Ivica and I enjoyed our conversation about Montenegro and the upgrades to Café Adriatic’s terrace, and he gestured to Tanja. “Pour him a glass of slivovitz… Yes, go ahead.” Tanja suggested the Markovic Estates slivovitz, which she said was the most popular. I contemplated my first shot of the evening.

In my family, slivovitz, a plum brandy, was usually referred to in a joke, as a sort of archetypal bad liquor. It’s a shame, because slivovitz is actually quite pleasant, if quite strong. I sipped the brandy, expecting some significant burn from the 45% alcohol content. It felt surprisingly smooth, however, and went down with ease. I sipped again, enjoying the lightly plummy flavor and aroma of almonds.

Suddenly, dessert didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Especially when one of the choices is crepes with “Eurocream and Plasma.” It sounded like the unfortunate result of some sort of Balkan blood-bank orgy. I had to have it.

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Balkan Bonanza – Part 1

3 April 2011

My favorite small wine shop, In Fine Spirits, delighted me once again this week. In response to my question, “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve got right now,” the clerk thought a moment, and I could veritably see the light bulb above his head suddenly burst into incandescence.

“I know! Here – this is called Vranac, and it’s from Serbia.” How magnificent — I had never tasted the variety, nor any wine at all from Serbia, and it cost only $12. I purchased the Vranac, and decided it would be most fun to share my discovery with a Serbian friend or two.

A quick scan of the contacts in my cell phone reminded me that, unfortunately, I have no Serbian friends. Determined to rectify the situation, I took the bottle to the nearby Café Adriatic (5553 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-828-8889), an attractive if relatively unpopular Balkan restaurant up the street. I’ve yet to see the restaurant more than 1/3 full, and this evening was no exception. It was just what I was hoping for.

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