The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Cats + Wine = Fear and Loathing

Wine gifts that only the most pet obsessed could love

Tom Wark posted an excellent roundup of ridiculous wine gifts today on his wine blog, Fermentation. It’s hard to challenge the sheer absurdity unto sublimity of products like the The Corkcicle (it’s a cork! It’s an icicle! It’s insane!), The Giant Wine Glass (enormous and self-explanatory), The Wine Rack (a sports bra equipped with plastic bladders to hold wine and a straw from which to sip it).

And then we wondered what would happen if you wanted to marry a love of wine with a love of cats. Suffice to say, it’s far from purrfect.

For people who want their cats to sleep in retrofitted style, there’s the French Wine Crate Cat Bed. It’s basically a box with a pillow. However, cats do like both boxes and pillows, so at least it’s not the most impractical product on this list. Dog lovers also can play this game. Orvis, outdoorsy gear seller extraordinaire, offers a barrique dog bed. Presumably, you might also somewhere find a botti for your Deerhound. Sadly, it’s too late to get this product, perfect for your Pinot-loving Jack Russell, for Christmas.

But it might be that merely proximity to wine isn’t enough for your furry friend. In that case, might we offer you a bottle of White Sniff-N-Tail, a fine concoction that offers “the unmistakable aroma of fragrant salmon, combined with all the nutrients of delectable sweet potatoes.” A line of “Au Jus” you can dribble over your pet’s food, these “wines” also include “Meowlot” and “Pinot Leasheo.” Because if there’s one thing that cats (and dogs) appreciate, it’s a pun.

Perhaps, however, it’s not enough to enjoy a simulacrum of cat-related wine. In that case, there’s a fine bottle of Hello Kitty Brut Rosé, a Pinot Noir sparkler from Lombardia, or one of the line’s other bottlings, which include Sweet Pink, Angel White or Devil Red. Lucky for all the infantilized wine-lovers out there, you can also buy coordinating Hello Kitty wine glasses and flutes. It’s enough to turn Barbie pink with envy.

Now that you have your bottle of Hello Kitty wines, you need something with which to present and serve it. Fortunately for you, you have feline styling options. You can go rococo and rustic with Junkyard Cat Wine Caddies, which is available in nine cat-astic versions. And, of course, once you’ve served your wine, you’ll want to mark your glass with a Cat Wine Glass Marker (caveat emptor, however, two reviews call them “bulky).

Finally, we’re not entirely certain why you might need a Cork Pet—and apparently given that the trio is both discontinued and on sale, no one else is—but if you do, here you go. Don’t say you didn’t learn something new today.

Festivus, Holiday Wines for the Rest of Us

Feats of strength, metal poles, airing of grievances and yadda yadda yadda

Festivus, as the saying goes, is the holiday for the rest of us, and it is celebrated next Friday, December 23. Festivus, the anti-holiday, came to cultural consciousness via Seinfeld, the television show famously about nothing. In a Seinfeld episode airing December 18, 1995, Festivus appeared as a holiday celebrated by the Constanza family, taken up by Kramer, and used by George as a front for charity. Given its auspicious birth, Festivus soon spread to the big three-dimensional world beyond the small screen. In reality, however, Festivus began several decades earlier in 1965, when it was created by Dan O’Keefe, the father of one of Seinfeld’s writers. Mr. O’Keefe came up with Festivus as an antidote to the crass commercialism of Christmas (and later Chanukah), and the stark nature of the Festivus traditions continue to speak against the glitz, the glamour, the tinsel and the all-around gooey warm fuzziness of the holidays, engendered by the jiggling of fat men’s bellies, airborne ruminants and never-ending oil.

Like the wise men, the Festivus traditions are three: a metal pole (George Constanza’s dad prefers aluminum because of its “high strength-to-weight ratio”), the airing of grievances, and feats of strength. There’s also a feast, but there’s always a feast; no holiday fit to wear the name “holiday” comes without a feast. Beyond Festivus’ simple triumvirate, the traditions are open to interpretation. The pole may be long or short, set in a base or hung from the ceiling, slim or wide. The feats of strength conventionally are wrestling matches that end only when the host is pinned to the floor, but they too can include almost any act of physical prowess. The airing of grievances typically include the expression of disappointment, but those too can range far and wide like particularly spiteful Monarch butterflies.

You and I may celebrate Festivus very differently—I may like individual potted poles for all my guests, while you may like to plant yours in your backyard like a Spartan cedar—but one question always remains: what libations go best with the Festivus traditions? Christmas has its nog, its wassail and its toddies; Chanukah has its Manischewitz; but what does Festivus have? Every holiday deserves a drink, even one created by a writer on his first date to impress his eventual wife and mother to his children.

To my thinking, nothing complements the simple beauty of an unadorned metal pole like a sparkling wine. Holidays seem the natural time for sparklers—a bubbly wine is a party in your mouth. Festivus is no exception to this rule, and the operatic opening required of Puro serves as a counterweight to the austerity of the metal pole, plus Puro’s crispness creates a pleasant companion to the aluminum, which I use because I am, above all things, a staunch traditionalist.

Festivus celebrants often reach to a nice single-malt scotch or a beautiful boutique bourbon to accentuate their feats of strength, and for good reason. I have nothing against a lovely Dalwhinnie or a delicious Laphroaig, and I’m delighted to partake of Knob Creek, but let’s talk turkey. If you really want to pin that host and put a fork in Festivus, you might want to consider sipping some serious grappa. I like Poli Grappa because it’s awfully pretty, plenty tasty and wicked strong. It’s artisanal grappa, and as long as you move those delicate little hand-blown grappa glasses out of the living room before the Greco-Roman wrestling begins, you’re good to go.

Some people see the airing of grievances as a serious business, and for those people, I might suggest a somber red along the lines of a Rocche dei Manzoni Barolo or a Baricci Brunello. These are wines for Festivus followers who put great weight in their grievances, bold and contemplative wines, wines that brood with furrowed brows, wines of gravitas, and they are incidentally really, really good. But if you’re someone who likes to put your tongue firmly in your cheek during this portion of Festivus fun, you might enjoy a wine that’s higher on sass and lower on glower, like an Amarone or a Gravner Anfora. It’s up to you how you want to pitch your grievances, and the wine you choose will set the tone for your evening.

There is no specified order to the Festivus celebration. Just as some people open their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, while others wait until Christmas Day, some Festivus celebrants like to gather around the metal pole, then engage in the feats of strength, eat the feast and finally air grievances, while others eat first, gather, fight and air later. It’s a matter of personal faith, really, and whatever works best with your loved ones, aka those who have most grievously disappointed you.  It’s a time for sharing, and not caring; a time to gather, and to blather; a time to wrestle, and then maybe to nestle.

Make merry, drink responsibly, love one another and yadda yadda yadda.

Gumbo Recipe, Cultural Heritage, and Wine

Making memories, one meal at a time

Growing up in New Orleans, you get early exposure to many things, and serious food was one of them. My mother is a traditional housewife in a Southern middle-class American family where some of the Creole recipes were passed down from generation to generation, with slight tweaks honing the recipe for particular tastes over the years.  But community cookbooks became popular and were sometimes used to fill the gap when these family heirlooms of gastronomic masterpieces were not available.  A must in every New Orleans household is River Road Recipes originally published in 1959 by the Junior League of Baton Rouge. Gumbo is not only a culinary necessity when visiting the South, but it also epitomizes a deeper philosophical and cultural state of mind for many who live in the port city that connected America to the world, much like New York, when trade through the Port of New Orleans was booming. If there’s a dish that defines NOLA, it’s gumbo.

There are many variations to this, but today I would like to share the JLBR’s Seafood Gumbo recipe and discuss what to pair:

Seafood Gumbo

2 pounds shrimp

1/2 pint oysters

1 can/container fresh crabmeat (picked and shelled)

2 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups okra, chopped OR 1 tablespoon filé

2 onions, chopped

2 tablespoons oil

1 can tomatoes

2 quarts water

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt

3 pods garlic (optional)

Red pepper (optional)

Peel shrimp uncooked and devein.  Make a dark roux of flour and oil.  Add shrimp, oysters and crabmeat to this for a few minutes stirring constantly.  Set aside.  Smother okra and onions in oil.  Add tomatoes when okra is nearly cooked.  Then add water, bay leaf, garlic, salt and pepper.  Add shrimp and roux to this.  Cover and cook slowly for 30 minutes.

If you don’t use okra, add gumbo filé after turning off heat.

Serve with rice. Serves 6 to 8.

Some adjustments or further explanation: The roux can be a coppery to a dark brown color depending on taste and how long you cook it down – but do not let it burn under any circumstances – keep stirring.  The onions are usually white and the pepper is usually cayenne pepper.  Make sure to use a deep pot.  In addition, adding whole blue crab is a more rustic touch to the recipe.  Remove the hard top shell from the crabs (reserving for stuffed crabs or for shellfish stock), and break each crab in two down the middle. Remove the claws. Add to the stock.

I spoke with Chris Deas, IWM VP and our marketing extraordinaire, about what pairs best with gumbo. Chris spent time down there in his younger days and has affection for all things New Orleans, especially the food.

“Good question. Abita would be the first pick,” he said.  Founded in 1986, Abita is a brewery located in Abita Springs about 30 miles north of New Orleans.  Their line of regular and seasonal brews is a go-to for most locals.  Their amber is always a nice pick, whether having a crawfish boil or enjoying some finer Southern fare.

Chris continued, “For wine and with spice the immediate thought would be Riesling, like the one from Marcel Deiss. Another thought would be a Champagne with some weight like the Laherte Rosé Saignée–unusual wine, cool story on how it is made.”  This Champagne is made more like a red Burgundy and the color comes from Pinot Noir that is macerated on the skins, rather than the addition of still Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier wine like 99% of the other Rosé Champagne on the market.  What makes this wine even more unique is that it is a Rosé de Saignée made with 100% Pinot Meunier, which comes from plots situated in “Les Beaudiers.”   This is a masculine and full-bodied example of Champagne, with lots of concentration and prominent berry and spice notes.

For a heartier gumbo pairing Chris suggested, “A red with some weight and low acidity could work as well.  Think Rhone or even the Chateau Maris Syrah – just be careful on the spice-to-alcohol ratio if you go this route.”

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

Francois Gay Chorey les Beaune 2009

The other evening I had the pleasure of opening a great wine from Francois Gay.

Wait…what?

I know you might be wondering why I’d write about a Burgundy producer on the blog for Italian Wine Merchants, but it’s something you might want to get used to seeing.  Our collection of Burgundy continues to grow as we discover new, often overlooked, winemakers throughout the region, and Francois Gay falls right within that particular distinction.  You won’t find much information on this best-kept secret from the Cote de Beaune, but Gay lets his wines do the talking.

This Francois Gay Chorey les Beaune 2009 is truly one of the best wines that I’ve tried from the region; it emanates the dynamic complexity of some of the Chambolles that I’ve tasted over the past several weeks.  I won’t blow any smoke about the fabulous meal I cooked to pair with the wine because, well, I just don’t cook (I’ve lived in New York for 15 months and bought my first spatula last weekend).  A small wedge of Brillat Savarin (cow’s milk cheese from Normandy) was just enough to complement the beautiful, old-vine fruit of this wine.  Dark cherries, crushed flowers, and a succulent juicy texture that developed incredibly well in the bottle over a couple of hours.

No doubt this bottle will impress your friends this holiday season, but there’s also something personal about this wine.  You might be tempted to keep this one to yourself.

The XX of Wine

Why it’s better to sell to people, and not chicks or dudes

Really?

It seems as if New World winemakers, or their marketing professionals, are looking at their wines and asking this: What Would a Michael Bay Movie Drink? Call it the XY version of the question previously asked of the wine industry, which is “What Would Candace Bushnell Drink (Were She Not Drinking a Cosmo),” the attempt on the part of wine marketers to sell women, already the lioness’ share of wine consumers, on buying more wine. American men buy and consume less wine than women. This, clearly, is a problem.

Misty Harris reports in The Vancouver Sun today on recent releases of wines with names like Frontier Red, The Slammer Syrah and Bordello, a bottle whose label is festooned with tiny images taken from the Kama Sutra. While I’d question why this last bottle isn’t gender neutral—if there’s one thing that pop culture has shown us it’s that women like sex too—there’s no question that wine companies do seem to be pouncing on gendered stereotypes to sell wine. Harris notes that men “consistently gravitate toward menu items they perceive as masculine — think steaks and things described as “hearty” — in an unconscious attempt to conform to gender norms.” Presumably, when women buy a bottle of “Little Black Dress” or “Mommy’s Time Out,” they are guilty of the same.

All of this branding is in an abject attempt to get younger guys to drink more wine and, presumably, to rehab the effeminate image that wine conveys. Chicks drink wine; dudes drink beer, or so the commonplace goes. There’s certainly nothing wrong with winemakers trying to work on an untapped, or at least undertapped, market. But at what cost?

There are a few factors at play here. The first is whether by these tactics that are gender-specific alienate more people than they attract. For example, it’s hard to imagine the guy who’d be seduced into buying a bottle of Rhone Gang’s Hold Up buying a bottle of Cupcake; likewise, the girl who’s buying a pink four-pack of Sofia Coppola bubbly (packaged with a wee straw for coy sipping) probably won’t spring for a bottle of Sledgehammer. And then there is the wine-drinker who is put off by the whole craven gendered enterprise.

There’s also the question of whether the wine is any good. I speak here as a woman with a palate more sophisticated than I’d ever intended, but a wine named Girls’ Night Out would have to be really effing excellent for me to get past its name. I admit that I do judge a wine by its bottle and I assume that if a label, a name and a bottle look like they’re trying too hard, they probably are.

Ultimately, however, I can’t help but wonder how much American culture stands in the way of the coveted Millennials drinking more wine. Young women probably drink more wine because wine gets a bump for being healthy, because it’s lower in calories than most other drinks, because it’s lower in alcohol and thus women can drink more and longer without getting trashed, and because of the ineffable and seductive poetry of wine. Women care about these things. Young men, however, mostly care about being cool. Wine doesn’t attain the patina of cool in this culture until you’re well on the other side of thirty.

Unless, of course, you’re actually cool. And in that case, the last thing you’re going to reach for is something named Wildass Riesling. I am in full support of capitalist enterprise, and winemakers deserve to sell their goods as much as the next maker of spirits. However, I’d like to see more focus on what’s in the bottle, and I’d like to see it on the part of the makers, the consumers and the marketers. There’s nothing that’s as cool as quality, nor anything that sells as well.

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