Category Archives: euro trip

Ripasso: The Little Brother You’ve Got a Shot With….

Archive-BenCasey

They actually make wine in Boston. They taste rather deflated. AFC Joke! HahahahahahahaIhateTomBradysomuch…

I know I’ve been away for a bit. But I’ve been pretty busy! Basically eating rotisserie chickens out of the container while Googling which weddings in the Maroon 5 “Sugar” video were real. Its a part of the creative process. Like how Don Draper goes to the movies and emotionally tortures various women to stoke his right brain. But at some point, we all got to get back to work. Sterling Cooper waitresses and various supportive relatives are counting on me!

This is my second installment of the Heard it Through the Grapevine Series, which is a look at wines that utilize dried grapes. And while there are quite a few of them from around the world, we started with the Mack Daddy of them all, Amarone. Today’s wine is from the same part of the Veneto in Italy- Ripasso della Valpolicella.

Ripasso is basically the Casey Affleck to Ben Affleck’s Amarone. And yes, Ben Affleck is a compulsive gambling man whore, but I saw that animal cracker scene from Armageddon during a pivotal point in puberty and I’m really into Mallrats, so Ben > Casey.

So how is Ripaaaaaaaso like these two Bostonian brothers? (See what I did there?) Ripasso is an Italian word meaning “review”. As in, “Gigli got terrible ripassos, driving JLo and Ben Affleck apart.” Actually, no. It means review in, like, “Jennifer Garner is currently ripasso-ing the terms of her pre-nuptiual agreement.”

As you now know from my expert explanation, Amarone is made by drying out the grapes before fermentation, resulting in raisiny flavor profile. The ripasso method takes the pulpy mass of dried skins after the Amarone fermentaion, and throws it in with traditional Valpolicella, the blend of grapes used in “base” Amarone. By letting it saturate it with a little of that yum yum dankiness, it takes on some of that bold raisin and toffee profile. Kinda like when you thought hanging out with the popular girls in high school would somehow make you a size zero blonde. But then you realized you were doing all their Literature homework and your cystic acne was only getting worse. But, this actually works!

The best thing, its way cheaper than Amarone! So its like getting Ben Affleck but for Casey Affleck money! Well, its like getting Casey Affleck for Casey Affleck money. Gone Baby Gone instead of Gone Girl. Whoa. I just realized that. Poor Casey, man. Eli Manning level shit, right there. But then again, he is a rich film actor and director and he got to spank Jessica Alba in that one weird movie, so I’m sure he is feeling fine.

Ripasso della Valpolicella is one of my gateway Italian wines. Its the perfect way to lure 40-something businessmen away from overpriced Napa Cabs and into the Old World. Before you know it, they’re hooked, blowing up my phone at 2AM, looking for Barolos. Messed up, huh? I’ve been in this game for years- it made me an animal. Here are a couple I love, that you can afford, and that you can drink while watching Good Will Hunting… or while you seek out that clip of Jessica Alba being spanked. Ha. I know you so well.

Tommasi Ripasso Valpolicella, 2012

Ripasso

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Affordable Spanish Wines *lisps*

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 It’s a verifiable fact that the extent of the average American’s knowledge of Spain is based solely on Madonna’s “Take a Bow” video. 

Some of my readers have complained my wine suggestions are too expensive. Ok. It was only two people: my husband and someone named Rachel Goldman. And my husband is just hating because I spent all the Disneyland vacation money on a bottle of Penfolds. I mean, who cares? I’ll put on a blue dress and sing that song from Frozen. I do that at karaoke every weekend anyway. And would a toddler really know that a churro was from Costco? I digress.

I get it. The problem with drinking good wine is that its impossible to return to drinking anything less. Once you go Pauliac, you don’t go back. And the thing with fine wine, much like fine cars, fine women, and fine Frappuccinos, they’re expensive. There are delicious values out there, though. Lesser known and up-and-coming regions are a great way to find a fantastic bottle without overdrawing the checking account… again.

I know no one would ever describe Spain as up-and-coming. Archaeological digs have unearthed evidence of sophisticated winemaking tools in the Valdepeñas region from as early as 700BC. It is ranked third in amount of wine produced in the world, after stuck up France and sexy, oily, disorganized Italy. But most people will say they A) “dislike Spanish wine”, B) “have never tried it”, and C) “Why are you asking me this? I’m pumping gas. Please stop touching my arm.”

There is more to Spain than big, aged, leathery, dusty, rip your face off Tempranillos. And, while several Riojas rank up there with Bordeaux and Burgundies in price,  there is a treasure trove of sparklers and rosés, or rosados, that over deliver on their crazy low prices. Just like a Crunch Wrap Supreme around 1 AM. Here are two you should immediately snatch up.

2013 Bodegas Naveran Brut Cava, Barcelona

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Cava gets a bad wrap. Like its just poor man’s Champagne. And I guess it kind of is, but only in price. Get your hands on this pretty little bottle. Literally pretty. It has a vintage pretty girl on the label, making it perfect for any place that kind of looks like Monica Geller’s pretty apartment. And pretty in taste: its smoky flavors are punctuated with fresh acidity and perfect, baby bubbles. The fact that Cava is produced in the same way as Champagne (Méthode Champenoise) is the best kept secret in sparkling wine. Well, that and that if you buy three bottles of Cristal in a club, you automatically get a congratulatory text from Lil’ Wayne. Somehow, even his texts are hoarse. This sparkler is perfect as an apéritif, with a dessert or cheese course, and in all bathtubs.

 

 2014 Armas de Guerra Rosado, Bierzo DO

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A rosé made from little known red grape Mencía. And unlike the Carlos Mencia Show, its completely unique. BOOM! 2005 joke!! Mencía is herbacious, with a hint of bell pepper flavor that is also present in Cabernet Franc, Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons, and several of Chili’s® fantastic Lunch Combo offerings, starting as low as $6. It also has beautiful juicy strawberry notes, with a hint of minerality in thanks to the clay and slate soil of Northwestern Spain from which its birthed. I always prefer a rosé with a little more junk in the trunk for food pairing and this babe’s medium body making it a great pairing for duck, Asian seafood dishes, and Chili’s® Smoked Chicken Quesadilla, smoked over real pecan chips!

 

 

There you go. Two easy, cheap ways to feel like you’re already in Spain. Go ahead and take a four hour nap. You’ve earned it, cariño

 

This post was not sponsered by Chili’s®… but I’m open to the conversation. The baby back ribs are in your court, guys.

 

 

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Heard it Through the Grapevine Series: Amarone

 

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Remember the California Raisins? They were all the rage in the late 80’s and everyone was clambering for the figurines midwest hamburger chain Hardee’s was giving out. My grandmother actually sent me a compete set from Indiana when I was about 5. They basically looked little turds. I wish I had kept them though. eBay fodder fo’ sho.

Anyway, I was thinking about them recently because a guest asked me about Amarone, the famous Italian wine made from dried grapes. Amarone is most certainly iconic and ranks amongst some of the best displays of human intervention in its crafting. But people tend to buy it, sip it, and look at me like I made them put, like, a live fish in their mouth. Its chewy. Its raisiny. Its not Cherry Cola, but its syrupy as hell. Then they scowl at me and order a mojito instead. This is a shame. Much like electronica, its all about context. Rave? Yeeeeessss! Doing my taxes? What’s with the effin’ sirens?? Amarone is a perfect pairing for big old slabs of meat. I think of it as Christmas wine. Aged beef, cable knit sweaters, three month food babies. Its Hibernation Wine, not exactly Sexy Time Wine.

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Amarone hails from the Veneto of Northeastern Italy. Home of Romeo and Juliet, a popular 90’s teen tom-com starring a barely pubescent Leonardo DiCaprio and that crazy girl from Homeland. This alone gives the wine some mystique, but the true magic of Amarone lay in the process of its production. The technique was initially utilized to afford winemakers the ability to craft rich and full-bodied wines in cooler climates. The best grapes, a combination of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, are left on the vine to ripen as long as possible.

Then comes the real trick: appassimento, Italian talk for drying out. Traditionally, the grapes were then spread on wooden beds for three to four months to dry out, concentrating the wine’s sugar and losing quite a bit of water weight. (Wish it was that easy for us ladies, amiright??) These days, winemakers use fancy temperature and humidity controlled rooms for the process. I assume they rent them out for hot yoga classes and jerky making the rest of the year. The wine then undergoes fermentation often to over 14% in alcohol, pretty high for the Veneto and pretty great for catching a sweet buzz, and a long maceration period which means the skins are left in the fermented mushy-mush to get the full effect of color and flavor. Then its aged in oak at least two years and four for Riserva.

Amarone translates to Great Bitter, which translates to Brandi Glanville. This characteristic is most evident in the high tannins of the wine as well as its searing acidity. Both these qualities make it very age-able, transforming into a lusciously bright and complex wine as time goes by. Notes of cherry, raisin, caramel, mocha ring throughout, only layering as time goes on.

As with a lot of my faves, this bella bambina ain’t cheap. The selectiveness of grapes and expensive winemaking puts most good bottles over $50 retail. This isn’t necessarily a Tuesday night wine. Unless your husband typically brings home a buck he shot and you make roast venison on Tuesdays. That would be really special at my home, since we live in a city and the only gun we own dispenses hot glue.

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Three’s Company with Lambrusco

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Lambrusco is basically the Suzanne Somers of bubbles: a sickly sweet and klutzy thing no one has really done since the 70s. But you know what? Bruno Mars is exclusively making disco songs and everyone I know is wearing bell bottoms to Coachella, so has anything really changed? Lambrusco has- its no longer a cough syrup sweet novelty. Italian winemakers have steered towards more dry, nuanced wines. Plus red bubbles hold up to a wide variety of Instagram filters. Here are three enertaining scenarios where it’ll work beautifully.

Meat

Like Queen Pen said, “Party ain’t a party till its ran all through.” And she obviously meant the charcuterie plate. I don’t care if its a baby shower, a parole celebration or an orgy. I need proscuitto or I’m out. Its like literally adding salt to the whole event. It makes people seem prettier and more interesting, as if they, too, were cured Italian meat. The zippy acidity and light effervescence of the wine cuts right through all that dank-dank fatty goodness. All but one of the Lambruscos hail from Emilia-Romanga, the Mecca of exquisite salumis such as Prosciutto di Parma, so you know this is a match made in heaven. Guiding Principle of My Life: pairing wines with its own home region’s cuisine is typically an easy way to find a real winner. They’ve been drinking the juice with their own wares for a long time. Trust ‘em. Added bonus- Emilia-Romagna is also home to Parmigiano-Reggiano in case you really want to fleece that board out…

Brunch

When restaurant’s need to make money, they look to the beverage profit margin. So you think those bottomless mimosas they’re hawking Sunday morning are premium product? Neither the bubbles nor the Sunny Delight are worth the headache you’re gonna have by noon. Mimosas aren’t really master pairings with anything other than some quiches or Excedrin Migraine anyway. Try Lambrusco next time. While its actually frizzante and not fully sparkling, that light frothiness is just bubbly enough to make you feel posh and important as you discuss your dreams squeezed between oh so many tables of graphic designers and cocktail servers in oversized sunglasses. Indoors. Much like the salumi pairing, the high acidity and berry notes make a nice contrast to breakfast meats such as bacon and sausage, not to mention greasy chorizo or beef hashes that are all the hipster rage these days. And since most Lambruscos ring in under 10% alcohol, its a little easier to justify drinking in the morning.

BBQs

Speaking of guilt-free day drinking, summer is almost here. As you scrub your grill/hibachi/George Foreman, send a do-boy to grab a bottle of Lambrusco. A combination of small market demand and a Euro that’s weaker than Denny’s coffee makes it a value buy right now. I’m talking $10-18 for a great bottle. Served slightly chilled, burgers, sausages, saucy ribs and even hearty summer veggies are going to be perfectly serviced by a glass or Red Solo cup full of Lambrusco. And let’s be honest, a chilled red bubbly wine is gonna be a total mind fuck to quite a few of your guests. And if you’re not fucking a couple minds, what’s the point of a party? This is a perfect backyard wine- something you can easily drink until the mosquitos come home.

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So what do you look for at BevMo? There are many types of Lambruscos, but for versatile food pairing I suggest you stick with either Lambrusco di Sorbrara or Lambrusco Grasparossa. And I prefer the former as its lighter and can be substituted for a dense rose in a lot of scenarios. And, always make sure you are getting a secco, which is Italian for dry, otherwise you may end up with a bottle of Dimetapp. I declare the summer of 2015 to be the return of red bubbles and the Thighmaster. I wish you all Lambrusco and thigh gaps till Labor Day.

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