The Gourmet Colony
Chenin Blanc
Ahoy!
 
Nothing pleases me more than liking a varietal that is ignored by the masses.  For red, the underdog is Merlot, for whites, it’s Chenin Blanc.  I love the stuff and have forever. 
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Chenin Blanc’s are a pirate’s dream.  Dirt cheap and made in every conceivable style/sweetness there is.  Chenin Blanc in France is used for Vouvay, where the dry ones drink clean and show minerals and chalk. 

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Also it’s great for “Cremant” sparklers in Loire and in dessert wines all over.  It’s huge in South Africa, also known as “Steen”,  which are more fruity and floral.  CB is also big in parts of California, Washington, New Zealand and now Argentina. 

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The grape has a less than stellar reputation since it’s also used in jug wine production but that’s slowly changing.  One that caught my eye long ago and I still drink today is made by ”Dry Creek Vinyards” (CA).  It’s around $10, often less.  Crisp and soft, it’s very easy to drink, the perfect summer porch wine and ideal for “by the glass” bars/restaurants . 

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The sweeter versions can cellar for a very long time, decades at least.  Dryer ones are best within a few years.  No grape is more versatile and I compare it to Riesling, another one that is under appreciated.  If you keep an open mind, maybe you too will make it a favorite.

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Ar, ar,
 
Wine Pirate     
Ham or Lamb?

Family traditions run deep, especially when related to a holiday dinner such as Easter.  Just ask most residents of the Amana Colonies what they’ll be eating for Easter and the overwhelming response will be, “Ham”.  That’s no real surprise since Amana is fairly famous for cured meats and the Amana Hams are indeed wonderful.   

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But alas, sometimes I forget that the entire country does not have the same traditions as those we have in Amana.  In fact, many times we are the ‘odd ball’!  For example, lamb is the meat of choice for many at Easter time with its roots going back to biblical times.

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Oh yes, I love lamb; when it’s on the menu at a restaurant, I will usually order it.  But for many, lamb is an acquired taste.  It is a little stronger than beef and if you haven’t been brought up with it you generally aren’t too fond of it.  Neither Mary nor I were accustomed to eating it in our youth and I don’t recall noticing it on local restaurant menus until sometime during the 1980’s.  It might have been there but if so I never saw it as I’m a Rib Eye kind of guy.

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My first taste of lamb came when I was in my late 20’s.  I was on a business trip and I espied lamb chops on the menu.  I figured it was a fine opportunity to try something new and best of all since I was on company time it was free!  If it was really terrible, I could always stop by the bar after dinner and fill up on peanuts.  To my good fortune I loved it! 

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As for Mary, well the best thing I can say is she encourages me to order every chance I get since it won’t be served at home.

In N Out Burgers

Remember when Coors beer was the hottest thing?  According to my recollection, it was in the ‘70’s, and I remember friends going to Colorado and bringing cases of this “special beer” back to Iowa in the truck of their cars.  I believe they even marked up the beer and made a little profit for their time and effort!  But alas, it seems that Coors is just more of the American-style lagers that can now be found anywhere.  Yet, when distribution was limited and it was available only in select locations, it surely was a big thing.

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Lately, I’ve been hearing the same type of buzz about a hamburger chain out west. You may have heard of In-N-Out Burger.   On our recent trip to Phoenix we found an In N-Out-Burger shop across the street from our condo.  We had to try it.

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It was pleasant inside … reminiscent of an old fashion hamburger joint with white and red tile.  As we talked to the young girl taking our order, it became obvious that the quality of the food was important (by the questions she asked and her ability to explain the burger and fries). 

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The kitchen was open, thus giving diners an opportunity to see their food being prepared and cooked.  In fact, we had a fun time watching the potatoes being cut in preparation for the French Fries.  Yes, they actually cut whole peeled Kennebec potatoes and drop them in the fryer.  No frozen, pre-cut fries for the In-N-Out Burger chain! 

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The young lady asked if we wanted the fires “Animal Style” which meant smothered in grilled onions, secret sauce (similar to Thousand Island Dressing) and melted cheese.  Since it was our first time we opted for the standard edition so we could get a baseline for the product.

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Mary and I opted for the standard double cheese burger and to my surprise this wasn’t just another Big Mac wannabe.  It tasted fresher and the lettuce (several leaves that were hand peeled off  a head of Iceburg) and tomato seemed to be fresh as well.  

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I was impressed as the food quality was very good.  In fact, it left me wanting to go back.  I think the next time I might go “Animal” on both the fries and the burger.

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Now all I have to do is figure out how to get these in the trunk of my car and keep the fresh all the way home from Arizona.

Blind Tasting
Ahoy!
 
Once in a while, I’ll host a blind tasting.
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There are numerous ways to do them. 

1) you can use multiple labels of the same grape, 
2) you can use a selection of different varietals or
3) have a vertical of either the same wine with different years or a same vintage with different producers.  
Regardless of which, it can be fun and intriguing.  
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People focus more on what’s in the glass and pay closer attention to each wines attributes, differences & details.  The result is a better and more educated consumer.  However, all too often, people look at blind and other wine tastings as just a social event rather than an opportunity to really evaluate what you are drinking. 

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Some go strictly to chase the opposite sex, get tanked or yak on endlessly with whomever on whatever.  Now for sure, there is absolutely nothing wrong with social events that serve wine, but a true tasting is meant to be something quite different.  You are supposed to focus on the wines.  

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When we bring in or along new people, they often are shocked to hear that we likely won’t be seeing or talking with them until the last bottle is drained.  Some are perplexed, others almost angry - oh well.  The point is, there are only so many opportunities to sample lots of wines at one time so you should take full advantage.  The next time you pull a cork, talk with others about what’s in the glass.  You may be surprised what they say and think.  That’s half the fun.         

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Wine Pirate    

Boy, has Las Vegas Changed

I first experienced Las Vegas in 1969; the headliners were Elvis, the Rat Pack and Barbara Streisand.  Quite the line-up!imageIn those days you could get a 99-cent shrimp cocktail, or a steak dinner for $2.99. The food was cheap, the entertainment was big time stars, the lights where bright and the Slot Machines had handles that you pulled down.  

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Looking back to those days, I lament that I was still too young to see the live show Sinatra gave his audience, but my folks took us to Streisand - a more appropriate show for teen-agers. 

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Fast-forward several years to the next time I was in Vegas.  It was the mid-80’s:  Casinos were in a media blitz to appear more kid friendly (hence the addition of amusement-park style rides, waterparks and miniature golf) you could still get a $1.99 steak and eggs breakfast and  you would still find some vacant lots on the Strip.

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Now-a-days, Vegas has figured out who it is and it definitely is not a kid’s vacation spot.  The rides and mini-golf have mostly been replaced with mega-sized, glitzy casinos.  The cuisine has gone from the 99-cent shrimp cocktail to a restaurant line-up that looks like the Food Network.

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Every celebrity chef that is anyone has a restaurant or two in Vegas and none of the eateries in the major casinos are inexpensive.  That is not to say this is bad, in fact, as a culinary city, Las Vegas is certainly been put on the map. You can find almost any type of food on the Strip.

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The old original Las Vegas is gone and it has been replaced by something new.  As for the Rat Pack and Elvis, I thought they were gone also but I swear I saw Sinatra playing in in one of the casino lounges and Elvis was posing on the street for photos.

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Viva Las Vegas

An Adults Holiday

As we age and change the holidays seem to evolve as well.  I recall that as a child I could hardly contain myself in opening presents from Santa Claus each Christmas Eve.  Now as an adult I’m much more interested in the gift of family and friends and the opportunity to spend time them than any physical profession. 

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Some holidays and their accompanying celebrations seem more exciting when you’re young-  such as Easter:  Hunting for Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies sure was fun as a child but it loses something as you grow up.

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St Patrick’s Day seems to be different; it improves with age.  As a young child, St Patrick’s Day meant Shamrock’s and Leprechauns.  As I school boy it meant wearing green and pretending to be Irish for a day. 

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During my college days March 17th was about going downtown and seeing just how much green beer you could throw down.  As I remember, it was quite a few although at some point in the evening all of the college students (even the math majors) seemed to have lost count of the exact number and tossed away most of our good sense.

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Now as an adult I’ve become much wiser and food, in particular, corned beef has taken center stage for this day. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve had a green beer since 1978.

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Therefore, now in 2014 as I savor my corned beef I’ll look forward in anticipation to the next change in St Patrick’s Day and whatever that might be.

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Happy St Paddy’s Day!

Older Cabs
Wino’s!
At a NAPA dinner pairing last week, we were blessed with lots of wonderful wines.  Sparking, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Grigio, Zinfandel, Port and of course, some of the worlds best Cabernet.  
                   
The event was at yet another monster home, no problem easily sitting the 30+ attendees.  The food and company were fantastic but the real thrill was the extraordinary older vintage wines.  Mostly reserves and special labels, many rare and expensive.  Here’s a few that grabbed my attention: 96 Peter Michael “Les Pavots”, Mondavi(s) 06 Private Reserve & Oakville, 98 BV George de Latour, 05 Larkmead.  There were plenty more.  
                              

Serious juice stored in proper cellars and conditions at their perfect drinking window.  Make no mistake, finding wine like that is not common.  Most people can’t wait or resist drinking before they should.  Patience and restraint is tough but required.  Some need a full decade or more to develop.  What a treat and interestingly, not one showed any funk, corkiness or oxidation, nor any over the top.  There is absolutely no better tasting experience than pulling the cork at a wines optimum time.  When right, you get powerful essence, perfectly resolved tannins, superb balance and ideal blending of fruit and acid, followed by a long,.wonderful finish.  
                         
Although the dinner lasted 3 hours, a few of us “professionals” stuck around and pulled one cork after another until the place was littered with empties.  Our hosts could have just as easily brought out everyday quaffers, but didn’t. 

You see, wine collectors love to share with those who appreciate it.  That’s what makes it so much fun.  There is no doubt I was rather spoiled.  Oh well, sometimes it doesn’t suck to be me.
"Ar, ar"
Wine Pirate  
The Clean Plate Club

Have you ever felt stuffed while [still] eating, yet unable to refrain from taking another bite?  The taste is so good that you absolutely must have just one more bite, which continues to another…and still another…   Upon devouring the entire bowl (plate or platter) you let out a big sigh, albeit a highly satisfying sigh.  Boy, was that good.  Although you know you’ll deal with the consequences of stuffing thyself later, at the dinner table it seemed like the “right” thing to do. Since I’m a member of the Amana Elementary School Clean Plate Club, it’s mighty difficult to leave a meal unfinished.

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The above aptly describes just how I felt during a recent trip to the Temecula Valley of California.  We spent the afternoon sampling wine in this southern-most wine region of The Golden State.  The wineries were surprisingly large and good.  For me, any day sampling wine is a good day, but little did I know that the evening meat would actually be the highlight of my day!

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After a larger than usual lunch and numerous glasses of wine, we opted for a little light(er) dinner consisting of flatbread and salads.  That is, until I espied something on the menu that was new to me: French Fries with Gorgonzola. 

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I couldn’t resist ordering one dish that had linked two of my favorite foods, so I ordered it thinking it would be a normal side of fries.  Imagine my jubilation when our server approached our table with a heaping bowl full of warm French Fries with Gorgonzola cheese crumbled over them.  What a treat!!! They were tremendous.  Mary helped a little but being much more intelligent and having slightly more will power than me, she stopped at a reasonable amount.  Unfortunately, for me that elementary school training kicked in and I finished the bowl of fries along with my flatbread.

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The next two hours were spent unable to make any sudden movements.  Darn, that Amana Elementary School Clean Plate Club.

The Translation Please

On our recent vacation to Palm Desert, California, Mary and I were relaxing in the January warmth of the California Desert while our family and friends back in Iowa were shivering through a week of sub-zero weather.  Of course, we felt terribly guilty (translation: Wow, did we time that right).

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Mary asked what I had planned for the day (translation: This is what I have planned for us) and she suggested going to the downtown area of Palm Desert to explore (translation: Shop).  I replied that I would be happy to tag along (translation: I hope there is a bar with the NFL-playoff game on TV where I can hide-out).

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We found a parking spot and started to stroll down the street filled with one designer shop after another.  As we came to a few stores that were appealing to Mary I did the gallant thing and suggested she take her time and enjoy the full shopping experience without me patiently waiting by the door of each store (translation: I can’t take this anymore, where’s the bar?).  I told her I would find a restaurant bar and have an iced tea and maybe a little snack, she replied that she would miss me but that she would find me when she was done (translation: Finally I get to shop in peace; I thought he’d never find a bar!).

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I found a great place called Pacifica.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t crowded and they had the playoff game on in the bar area so I bellied up, grabbed a stool and ordered my iced tea.  Thinking I should have a little something to go with my beverage (translation: Not wanting to look like some shmuck that just wants to watch the game), I ordered the Crispy Fried Calamari appetizer.  It came with two dipping sauces, one of which was a Wasabi Aioli. 

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My order arrived and I thought what a large portion (translation: Drat! They gave me the entrée not the appetizer).  Well, I dug in since I was hungry and was it delicious.  The Wasabi Aioli offered just the right amount of heat and spice to go with the crispy fried Calamari.  As I was eating it I thought I’m glad they gave me the full size portion and I’ll save a little for Mary when she shows up (translation: If Mary shows up too soon I’m going to have to share this).   Funny thing, I saved a couple of pieces as long as I could before they got cold (translation: Mary wouldn’t like these anyway, they’re fried), so I finished the serving.

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Mary showed up at just about the same time as the bill and when I reviewed the check I noticed I did receive the appetizer price (translation:  That was a great deal).  Wow, what a great afternoon of shopping that was (translation: Sometimes things just work out perfectly).

Valentine’s Chocolates

Some holidays are synonymous with certain foods.  Easter=ham, Thanksgiving=turkey, Christmas=cookies, and Valentine’s Day?  Well, that of course means chocolate. 

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A little research on the topic of Valentine’s Day reveals that chocolate is the fifth most aphrodisiac food. It contains the endorphin called phenyl ethylamine that is linked to falling in love.  The Aztecs, who reportedly invented chocolate, gave it as wedding gifts, long before Hallmark ever made a Valentine’s Card.

So if Chocolate is number 5 on the list of aphroidisics, what foods rank 4 4 through 1?

4:  Figs

3: Garlic

2: Oysters

1: Honey           

From a quick look at the list it is easy to see why chocolates have become the go to food (and gift) for this holiday!

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Figs are not readily available in all parts of the world and Adam and Eve felt the leaves were better suited as clothing.

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Garlic has a certain odor about it that doesn’t really put a person into a romantic mode.  If you need more convincing on that point just eat a couple of cloves of garlic and then try to kiss your partner.

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Oysters are a food that many are very squeamish about.  I happen to love them but many won’t get close to the “slimy little buggers”.  Give your sweetheart a bag of Oysters and see how that goes for you.

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Honey is number one on the list and could easily have become the go to food.  Maybe the honey producers should have found a better packaging method than the plastic squeeze bear that many of us grew up with.

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You can see why Chocolate is the perfect choice.  So go buy one of those big red heart shaped boxes of chocolates and feel secure that the Aztecs knew exactly what they were doing.

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