WineStudio: Chilling with Some Riesling

My family is one of those that likes sweet wine. Moscato, bubbles that give you cavities, and any other white wine that has more sweetness in it than a cheesecake is one that my grandmother is guaranteed to enjoy. At work, I’m also frequently asked what my favorite sweet red wine is. Therefore, I rarely buy them. Any responses I give to wine queries generally result in blank stares or a shake of the head. My friends don’t care about the work or the vineyard or the bottling date. They just want something that they like. Period.

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That being said, despite my general desire to turn up my nose at anything too popular, I have a soft spot for Riesling. I’m a bit of an acid junkie (in wine, not in drugs), and I can find that in my favorite German grape. So a few months ago when #WineStudio’s focus was all on Karthäuserhof and Richter, two producers that Massanois Imports brings in for us Americans, I was into it.

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#WineStudio, which I’m sure most of you have heard of many times through my blog, is still around and kicking. If there is one thing all wine enthusiasts can agree on, it’s that you can never know everything about wine. However, #WineStudio is here to help with that. Bringing together wine makers, importers, and drinkers, this twitter session occurs weekly, delving deep into the world of wine knowledge and tasting, and you never have to leave your couch to participate. Isn’t that the millennial dream?

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Kicking off January the right way, the first bottle I opened was a refined wine that still hit my sweet tooth. This 2015 Karthäuserhof Riesling Ruwer lead with sweetness, yet still contained a freshness that kept the bottle from being cloying. Against the simple labeling, there was complexity within the bottle. The crisp green apple flavors and the touch of acid added more dimension to this option, and it’s one I would buy again. In an effort to really experiment with this grape, I played with my pairings this month. With this bottle, I went more traditional and ordered up some Chinese food. Playing against the fattiness of egg rolls, I was digging this, but it admittedly held up less well alongside the meatier pork dumplings. So, maybe save this one for the fried veggie options over others.

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The second bottle I opened was the special one. The 2015 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett from Richter was my jam. The persistent sweetness was balanced well by the forceful acid, and it all came together to sing beautifully with the salty Polish sausage I made for dinner that evening. Everything from the crisp pale gold color to the bold zingy flavors to the fresh lemon zest aromas reminded me of an episode of the defunct series Magic City. It wasn’t a balmy January day in Baltimore. I was in Miami in the late fifties by a pool. I count that bottle as a win. You could age this one until 2030, but you could also be like me and go after the pleasure now.

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Stepping away from the sweeter first wines, with an bottle from Karthäuserhof I dove into more tropical territory. The 2011 Riesling Grosses Gewächs featured intense tropics including pineapple, with the acid factor coming up toward the end. There was nuance to it with just a hint of sweetness, although this wasn’t the bottle for me. While I can appreciate a nice vacation on the beach, tropical flavors are about as exciting to me as the idea of more Fast and the Furious films. Much like caramel, Snapchatting, and high heels, some people get the appeal, but I am not one of them. However, if that description makes your mouth water, ignore everything I’ve just said and go out and buy a bottle. Don’t listen to me. I’m just here to satisfy my own ego.

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Demonstrating that not all Mosel wines are the same and that things like terroir, barrels, and the winery itself actually matter, we ended our session with the 2015 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett. Lemon rind, lime, and wet stone was found inside rustic looking bottle. This offered up a lot initially, neither being too coy nor too simple, and still lingered long enough. This didn’t burst with acid like I usually prefer, but the acid to be found balanced out the sweetness well. Light enough for a picnic or to pull out early on in a dinner party, this isn’t a bad one to consistently have on hand. There’s nothing wrong with a decent crowd pleaser.

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As the weather gets warmer, or you’re craving something sweet, or you just want to enjoy a tasty wine, these Mosel wines are the ones to hunt down. They each have something a little different to offer, but they also offer up a universality that ensures everyone can find something to love inside each bottle. They’re ones that I would share with my friends who don’t “get” wine, but also ones I could confidently open up for my fellow winos. Heck, I may have just talked myself into opening up another bottle right now. Cin cin.

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Taking Some Sips Alongside Politics

When I was in high school, I was in a program focused on law and public policy. At the ripe age of 14, my life was filled with political debates, mock congress, and interning at a local courthouse. By college, I was a little burned out. I was sick of talking about amendments and lobbyists. I craved a simpler time where diving into the legal side of my country meant singing along to “I’m Just a Bill.”

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Around election time, I was offered the opportunity to try the 2014 The Federalist Dueling Pistols. Now several years away from high school, my interest in politics has been revived, and I jumped at the opportunity to try this one. Inspired by Alexander Hamilton and his duel with Aaron Burr, this wine features “dual” grapes from the Sonoma/Dry Creek Valley and cheekily suggests opening up a bottle to resolve problems instead of readying muskets.

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Made up of 50% Syrah and 50% Zinfandel, this plum colored wine started off dark and fruity, but immediately sparked to life with tons of dry peppery flavors. I got cherry, blackberry, plum, and tons of spice both in aroma and on the palate. This was the Law and Order: SVU of wine, big, bold, and a little surprising. With a SRP of $29.00, it’s one to buy a few of and bring out for friends who want something more intense than Pinot Noir. If you’ve checked this one out, let me know if you agree!

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In honor of seeing Hamilton in 2018, I’ll be buying another one of these babies to open up that evening…though I may not finish the whole bottle. After all the waiting to see one of the most buzzed about shows, it’s not one I want to sleep through.

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Food with the Hemingways

When this posts, I’ll be on my way to Dulles (aka the Hell of airports) to board a twelve hour flight to Dubai. As I’ve gotten father away from my college years and my time studying abroad, I crave almost anything related to travel. That includes reading. Books about wine take me to vineyards, my Afar magazines give me glimpses into different countries with every issue, and for this blog post, The Paris Wife brought me into the lost generation of the 20s. So, I’m going to try and capture some of the Hemingway spirit Paula McLain creates in The Paris Wife and share with you some of the words that bring together food and travel. In the interest of the truth, this isn’t some highbrow book that relays every truth about Paris in the 20s, but it is a fun read to pass the time at an airport or two.

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“But now that it was high summer, I didn’t want to be in the kitchen at all and was happy to eat fruit or nothing until Ernest was finished with his work. Then we’d go to a cafe for an aperitif when it was dark and much cooler and felt right again to eat and be hungry.”

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“Duff Twysden was one of the wilder girls of the cafe scene. She drank like a man and told a good, filthy joke and could talk to absolutely anyone.”

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“We drank several bottles of chilled wine and then three-star Hennessy, and everything was beautiful- the valleys and bridges, the charming house and its flowering trees.”

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“One afternoon I was lying back on the grass watching Ernest and Chink fish. Ernest reached into the duffel bag on the bank next to him and pulled out a bottle of cold white wine that he uncorked with his teeth.”

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“Absinthe was illegal in France and had been for years. So was opium, but you could find both everywhere in Paris if you knew where to look. I loved the delicate licorace taste and the way the ritual of the cube and specially perforated spoon made raindrops, sugar drops.”

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“There were camellias floating in glass bowls and mounds of oysters and fresh corn dotted with sprigs of basil. It seemed possible that the Murphys had specially ordered the deep purple Meditteranean sky…”

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Now, I’m off to read some words written by Hemingway while imagining I’m in Paris in the 20’s. While this book and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris have established that it wasn’t the necessarily the fairy tale I may have imagined, it’s still kind of nice to pretend sometimes.

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Thirsty Thursday: Electric Tea

While I usually associate February with snow, an overrated holiday I will not name, and the desire for big broody red wine, it is currently sixty degrees in Baltimore. So, not knowing what to do with myself, I made a cocktail. I wanted something with citrus, though still bold enough to remind me that this is actually winter not July 4th. After throwing a few things together, too lazy to even take out my shaker, I created what I’ve dubbed an Electric Tea. There’s a kick of lime, some fruity flavors, and the power of gin to balance it out. This isn’t a sugar bomb, but if you’re craving something sweet, opt out the lime juice and use homemade sweet and sour instead. If you’re craving something sweet with depth, replace the gin with Black Strap Cruzan rum for a molasses kick. Either way, this is the kind of cocktail to throw together in a minute or two before sitting back and wasting away your day. Don’t take it to seriously and it will treat you well…just don’t try operating any heavy machinery immediately after partaking in one of these. Personally, I had to put down my Hemingway and  could only manage a nap.

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Electric Tea

Yield: 1 cocktail

2 oz. Greenall’s London Dry Gin

1 1/2 oz. Chambord

1 1/2 oz. Owls Brew Pink and Black

juice of half a lime

4-5 dashes Scrappy’s Bitters Lavender

2 Luxardo cherries (optional)

1. Fill a tall cocktail glass with ice.

3. Measure out and pour gin, Chambord, and Owls Brew directly into cocktail glass. Stir well for five to ten seconds.

4. Top off with freshly squeezed lime juice and a few dashes of lavender bitters. Throw two Luxardo cherries in. Stir again. Enjoy.

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Feeling the Greatest in Las Vegas

Just about everything in Vegas is fake. The Beatles that rock out during LOVE every night at the Mirage; the statues of Caesar around his “Palace”; the waterfalls that surround the pools; even a few of the top floors of the Venetian are just tarp painted to make the building look taller than it really is. The more I think about it, the more I wonder how the city first came up as the destination for our Persian family reunion.

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One thing (possibly the only thing) about Vegas that isn’t fake is the food. Most of it is over the top and it’s all certainly pricey, but it’s also good. With a slew of celebrity chef restaurants that probably haven’t seen their namesakes in months and the knowledge that most of the discerning palates are a bit drunk, I didn’t know what my snobby self was getting into. Luckily, as usual, I was wrong.

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The first bite I took that highlighted how well Vegas does food was my first afternoon there. I stepped into Pantry famished and stepped out ready to gain twenty pounds. What better way to celebrate the end of a morning body wrap? Not too concerned about the fact that I’d be in a bathing suit in a couple of hours, I finished off the tender Corned Beef Hash in under twenty minutes. That might not seem like much of a feat, but served in a skillet the size of my head and underneath two poached eggs, it was more than my fair share of breakfast food. It was my first taste of Vegas excess.

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Though breakfast seems ideal for those nursing hangovers, dinner was where this city really won my heart. Bouchon did everything well, from the over-the-top cheese boards to my Moules au Safran with a broth so nuanced I had to stop myself from tilting my head back and finishing the goodness in a few gulps. It was one of those places where you have to take multiple “one last bite’s,” even when you’ve gorged yourself and cannot fathom something else passing through your lips. To balance out the decadence of the French options, hotels like the Cosmopolitan have restaurants like Jaleo. As a tapas restaurant, getting two or three plates at a time and ordering until you’ve tried a lot and are satisfied is the way to go. With classic Vegas showiness, some dishes like the Presa ibérica crudo ahumado come out under a vase filled with fragrant smoke while the Croquetas de pollo are served in a worn-down sneaker. Still, I was confident enough in the quality behind this show to eat raw smoked pork. By the time I finished with the perfectly charred veggies decorated with a fiery-acidic sauce, I was planning a trip to Jaleo in D.C. Vegas had won me over.

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Of course, you can’t leave Vegas without experiencing the booze. While I happily slurped down mojitos poolside, there were dozens of other options, including the classic Manhattan. Honestly, I loathe Manhattans. I truly don’t understand what most people see in whisky and bourbon; they overpower everything in a cocktail and make me gag when sipped on ice. Give me gin any day. However, I would drink the Manhattan served at Heritage Steak any time of day. I don’t know if the quality of alcohol was better or the bartender just knew what he was doing, but I do know what clinched it for me was the smoked maraschino syrup. It added a depth to the alcohol of which I didn’t know dark liquor was capable. As the final drink of my trip, it felt like a prize for spending the whole say site seeing in the hot desert. Who knew the best Manhattan could be found closer to the West Coast? Now that I think about it, maybe all that heat went to my head and this drink was actually a mirage?

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I would go back to Vegas for a lot of reasons. It’s cheesy and everybody drinks much more than they should and there are way too many college kids, but it’s kind of great for a vacation where you want to be wowed and not think too much. Don’t go looking to be enlightened or to experience Europe in America. Go to hang by the pool, visit the desert, and then blow all your money after an amazing meal.

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Foodie Fashion: Happy Hour Style

There are several things that my coworkers know about me: I take on those difficult customer service issues, I’m sarcastic, and I like my alcoholic beverages. Now, while I occasionally worry about the people I work with knowing I spend my free time drinking, most of them drink discounted sweet red wine, so I judge them just as much as they judge me.

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Just in case anyone wonders where my loyalties lie, two years ago I was gifted one of my favorite dresses. Named the Too Much Fun Dress in Happy Hour, this dress is my basic essence.

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Decorated with coup glasses, liqueur bottles, and wine, the pattern is busy enough so I can wear it to work without raising too many eyebrows and then ditch my blazer and wear it out to my favorite bars during its namesake happy hour.The cotton lining also makes it just heavy enough to wear in the winter if paired with some tights and a jacket. It’s one of my favorite dresses to wear all year round.

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While the dress is no longer available, Modcloth has a whole host of foodie options for those who like dressing like a cupcake as much as they like eating them. Oh, and for those wondering what that purple worthy of a comic book is on my lips is, it’s my favorite Tarte lip paint called ‘YASSSS’, which has nothing to do with food, but is too fun to completely ignore. Now, I’m off to go make a cocktail, though I can guarantee you that since it’s my day off, I’ll be sipping it in my PJs, and not a dress like this. Cheers.

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WineStudio: A Win with the Australians

Cute critters. That’s what a majority of people think of when discussing Australian wines. Unfortunately, that also comes with an association with poor quality. For those of us willing to broaden our horizons though, there is PROTOCOL Wine Studio. I participated in my first #WineStudio tasting in November of 2015, a little over a year ago now, and I am so glad I did. I discovered a passion for wine pretty quickly after turning 21, but as most wine clubs, tastings, and chats skew toward the over-40 crowd, I always felt out of the loop. I didn’t own seventy different tasting glasses nor had I tasted anything made before the year in which I was born. I was just a little different than everyone else.

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After some time doubting everything that came out of my mouth, I was like Spider-Man after defeating the Green Goblin, ready to take charge. I had tasted more, expanded my horizons, and felled some of the misconceptions I had about wine regions. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve outgrown #WineStudio. This program, a monthly Twitter session on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on the east coast, is meant to bring together wine makes, enthusiasts, and just about anyone else with an interest in wine. I’ve tried Chardonnays, wines of Spain, and bottles filled with sparkling juice, but for October, it was all about Australia and Two Hands Wines. Driven to create quality, the winery focuses mainly on Shiraz and sources grapes from areas with a proven track record like the Barossa Valley. This isn’t mass-produced juice; it’s a labor of love that I only understood after making my way through these samples.

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Though most of the wines we’d be trying were Shiraz, a grape I can only pronounce like a Persian, I kicked off that month’s #WineStudio with the only Cabernet Sauvignon in the bunch. Aptly named, the 2015 Sexy Beast was a complex wine that packed a punch. While it wasn’t the most intense Cabernet I’ve ever had, there were a lot of layers in this bottle, including pepper, dark red fruits, and some dry earthiness. The pork shanks with mushrooms that I inhaled while gracefully sipping this option mellowed out the more peppery notes, and made it a pairing I would happily try again. With a SRP of $36, it’s the kind of wine I’d buy a couple of and pull out for friends who appreciate something a little special. If you are rolling in more dough than my twenty-something self, buy a case or two and then float a few my way.

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After the Sexy Beast, I chose the opposite end of the name spectrum and opted for the 2014 Angel’s Share Shiraz. As a Medieval literature and history nerd, I was all about this one. Apparently Medieval winemakers thought that angels watched over the winemaking process and took their share, which is how they accounted for the evaporated wine in their oak barrels. The inky purple of this wine seemed like something Maleficent would cloak herself in, and the powerful flavors of dark berries and lavender fulfilled the promises made by the color. It was another one of which I’d pick up a few at a SRP of $36, and if you’re looking for a step up from your standard Shiraz, you should too.

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Of the funkier variety was the 2014 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz, a weightier option compared to the Angel’s Share. Although the first Shiraz of this bunch was decadent and fulfilled my constant search for deep flavors, this one was the bottle to open on a frigid winter night. Deep ruby red, spicy, smoky, and full of blackberries, I felt like I should have had a lamb leg in one hand and been drinking out of a bejeweled goblet. Maybe drink this one while watching the next season of Game of Thrones? Let me know how that works out.

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For those looking for something with a story behind it, Two Hands’ Garden Series is for you. Meant to highlight the best Shiraz regions of Australia, the 2014 Bella’s Garden Shiraz was the first that I tried from this series. With deep tobacco notes on the nose, this bottle also surprisingly had some of those rich floral elements I found in the Angel’s Share. It was the best of both worlds. It was a big wine, and possibly the most layered of the five we tried. The SRP of $69 demands you spend some time over this one just as much as the complex flavors do, so please don’t open this one at home alone, share it with friends at your favorite BYOB and talk about it.

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Saving the best for last, I opened the 2014 Lily’s Garden Shiraz, a bottle than contained many of the elements I’ve come to associate with this grape while also a bit softer than some of the other bottles I tried. Leathery yet silky, earthy yet full of sweet berries, this bottle showed off everything the McLaren Vale has to offer. Unlike the bottle I suggested drinking while watching the Mother of Dragons, I’d open this one in a cozy library in front of a fireplace. At $69 a pop, it’s not the cheapest wine out there, but I’ve done cheap Australian wine before, and I don’t mind making the splurge for something at this standard, even if it is a little outside my standard Wednesday night wine budget.

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The wine of Australia is not just the kind you buy when throwing a big party for people who only drink wine once all of liquor is gone. So take a break from the adorable animals on your usual Australian bottles, and discover what else this area has to offer. The only thing you’ll regret is that you didn’t give Australia a real shot sooner.

These wines were kindly provided to me by the winery listed above, but all opinions are my own. 

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