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“The cars zoomed by, brakes screeched all over the place, his parents paid no attention to him, and he kept on walking next to the curb and singing ‘If a body catch a body coming through the rye.’ It made me feel better.”

You know what makes me feel better? [hint, it’s in the picture above, and it’s not citrus fruit]. A co-worker of mine pounded the pavement in Iowa to track me down a bottle of Templeton Rye.  I would normally call out a whiskey whose trademark phrase is “The Good Stuff”, except Templeton is categorically the best Rye Whiskey I’ve ever tasted.  I even had to go buy a sweet vermouth that’s worthy of mingling with it in a Manhattan [Noilly Prat, just cause I didn’t want to splurge on Punt e Mes, I’m not a millionaire].  All I can say is, wow. Can’t wait for production to ramp up so we can get it in Minnesota. 

My favorite whiskey cocktail is the Old Fashioned.  There’s something elegant about them – based on the simplest of cocktail formulae, and producing a result far greater than the sum of its parts. [Read Nick Kosevich’s history of the Old-Fashioned at the Heavy Table]. 

My Old Fashioned must have Rye Whiskey – the cheaper, the better [Old Overholt is my go-to.] Though Bourbon is perfectly acceptable, I love that spicier edge that most Ryes give the drink. The sugar is the other consideration. Many Bourbons already have a sweeter, oaky, vanilla-like hint to the aftertaste. Ryes make the drink a bit more distinctive.  Either way, I don’t think there’s a reason to use good whiskey in a drink that contains sugar.  I won’t use Templeton in one, just like I wouldn’t mix a Presbyterian with Macallan 15.

I’ve been previously content to fix Old Fashioneds thusly: in a lowball, mixing together a good bar-spoon of simple syrup with a few dashes of Angostura bitters and a small squeeze of citrus (lemon or orange).  Then add ice to the top, then 2 oz. of Rye, stir and drop in a citrus rind.  It’s a fine recipe, but it’s nothing special.

Then, the other night, my conception of a successful Old Fashioned was reborn at Rinata [Italophonic pun intended].  Munching on their late-night happy hour duck confit crostini [which are criminally delicious], I asked for an Old Fashioned and was upsold to their classy version.  The key ingredient is Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur – which is a terrific replacement for the maraschino cherry.*

[*Side Gripe: I can’t stand those little gelatinous red orbs. They’re a dinosaur of the cocktail scene – something that should have been phased out of taste along with half-gin, half-vermouth Martinis and electric blue frozen “Daiquiris.”  They have the texture of and old tire and don’t taste much better.  What’s worse is bars that muddle maraschino cherries into the drink Wisconsin-style (I’m looking at you, Nye’s Polonaise). At least if it’s on a toothpick I can get rid of it.]

But a good cherry taste is quite successful in the drink – the Luxardo creates a perfect bridge between the sweet syrup and the more bitter rye.  It’s an expensive bottle, but you’ll probably only need to buy one for the rest of your cocktail drinking life. I’ve had one for two years and haven’t made much more than a couple ounces worth of a dent.  Not many drinks use it, and the ones that do, use it quite sparingly (no more than 1/2 oz at a time.) In fact, other than the Papa Doble and the Aviation, I can’t think of another I use it for until now.

GOOD bitters in this drink are key – I splurged on Fee Bros Whiskey Barrel-Aged, and they’re terrific.  And you’ll definitely need to have a small mesh strainer on hand for this one to catch the pulp and seeds of the citrus.

The Rinata Old-Fashioned: Muddle a wedge of orange and lemon in a pint glass, add to it 2 oz cheap Rye Whiskey, 1/3 oz Luxardo, 1/2 oz simple syrup, and two good dashes Bitters. Fill with ice and shake vigorously. Double strain (both a Hawthorne and mesh strainer, to catch the seeds and larger pieces of pulp) into a lowball with fresh ice. Garnish with a wide swath of citrus zest.

It was a busy February for G. Sheaves. It was full of great events and opportunities, concerts, and a couple of fun stories for the Heavy Table. But hardly any wine blogging! Rest assured I wasn’t not drinking, and looking back through my notes I have a bunch of good recommendations for you all. And, thanks for all the great feedback on my ID rant.  A lot of people commented that they’ve had some similar experiences, which is unfortunate.  The moral of the story is to find a store in the metro where you feel welcomed and appreciated.  Shoot me an email, gsheaves [at] yahoo.com, and I’d be more than happy to let you know of one in your area.

On to some recommendations:

1 through 3) Wines from the current shipment of the Minnesota Wine Club.  I mentioned Jason Johnson in my recap article from the MN Grape Growers Conference.  He has generously supplied me with three wines from his current shipment (sign up before March 12th to get it), and I’m happy to report back that they’re all very good examples of what’s coming out of our state right now. The Carlos Creek American Chianti is a soft, accommodating red wine. It has gobs of strawberries and baking spice in a lighter body. The sip starts out with a tinge of sweetness (berry sweet, not sugary sweet), and continues to a soft, slightly acidic finish. The tannin is very much muted – this is a fruit driven wine. Staunch white wine drinkers should try this. I sort of knocked the quality of MN reds in the previously mentioned article – I’m glad to say this is one of the good ones.  The Falconer Vineyards Frontenac Rose is, in the words of The Runaways, a ch ch ch ch ch CHERRY BOMB!  I think this is a wine better suited for the summer – I can imagine it going down perfectly with some grilled chicken.  This is not like those dry, French, austere rosés, like Tavel or Lirac.  It’s fruity and light, as is the MN red wine style. There may be a fair amount of wine drinkers that will find this wine as too great a departure from the rosés they’re used to. If you like it though, there are a lot of good Frontenac Rosés being made in MN right now, and this is a good starting point. Finally, the 2009 St. Croix Vineyards Delaware is about as easy to drink as wines come. It’s light and floral, with well incorporated sweetness and some herbal notes on the body. Riesling fans take note of this one – it has a fair amount of sweetness, but it isn’t so sweet that it masks the flavor of the grape.  I get some honeydew melon and pear, and the finish is even a little on the dry side – it’s like a slightly drier Moscato. A great MN white, all around. Great picks, Jason!  I look forward to your next shipment!

4 and 5) 2005 Overgaauw Cabernet Sauvignon. From the portfolio of Z Wines, this Stellenbosch beauty is one of the best Cabs under $20 I’ve had in quite some time.  It’s full of blackberries, dirt, some bell pepper, even a little black olive.  It’s smooth, powerful and luscious. Get it at France 44. Also, that Jean Daneel Signature Chenin Blanc I mentioned in the article was a Best In Show winner at the MN Monthly Food & Wine Experience this year. It’ll be in the mid $20s, but definitely worth it.

6 and 7) Is is still too cold out for Sauvignon Blanc?  I think it may be, but here are two real good ones anyway. The 2008 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny has an intensely herbal nose with green-fruit flavors and some prickly acidity in a light-medium body. It goes from tart to dry and is ultra refreshing. Fans of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc will enjoy this one, as will fans of its Loire Valley neighbor, Sancerre. I got it at Zipp’s for $15. Also, eating at Sea Change for restaurant week a couple of days ago, I had the 2009 Mapema Sauvignon Blanc from Mendoza, Argentina. It was herbal and citrusy (I could have just smelled it for days), wonderfully bright and perfect with some briny Hama Hama oysters. Can someone let me know what stores around here carry it? It should probably be around $13.

8 and 9) How about a fun Greek wine?  The 2008 Greek Wine Cellars Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini should be on your table next time you have seafood. It has a floral nose with some light citrus, which continues to the body, a little herbal twang with more bright citrus and a distinct minerality shows on the finish. It’s an expressive wine for being so light bodied. Get it at Cork Dork Wine Co. for $12. And while you’re there, do yourself a favor and pick up the non-vintage Patrick Lesec Petite Crau. An everyday value red wine if there was ever one, It’ll be one of the better $8 investments you’ve made lately.

Are there any wines/regions/grapes you’d like to hear more about?  I’m more than happy to go investigate for my readers.  Leave a note in the comments or write me and I’ll get right on it.  Thanks for reading!

G.

Here’s my ID.  My name is John Garland, I was born January 5th 1985, which at present makes me 26 years old.  Because I look well under the age of 30, I will be asked for my ID every time I go into a wine store.  I am glad about this – I want to be ID’d.  I pray that none of the stores where I love purchasing wine ever loses their liquor license because a cashier has a momentary lapse of judgement or, worse, just assumes people look older than 21.

But there’s a way to ask for an ID.  A way that still ensures I am of legal age, while still respecting and valuing my presence as a customer.  Let me explain, because this has been festering for a while.

When I was in high school, I worked retail at Schmitt Music in Minnetonka. Based on price alone, we couldn’t match Guitar Center on almost every item we both sold. To compensate, what Schmitt did (and still does) well was the instrument rental program for elementary school bands. Writing up rental contracts for the hundreds of kids every August was painstakingly laborious. But we were trained to treat it like the most important aspect of our business. The idea was if the kid had a great experience getting their school band gear from us, then when they got into middle and high school and wanted to start out on guitar or drums, then they (or more likely their parents) would remember how good our service was and wouldn’t think to shop around.  We were planting the seeds for future business.

That principle rushes back to me almost every time I’m in a wine store. Based solely on my own observation, I feel like the level of customer service I receive at certain wine stores in the metro is sub-par and sometimes even mildly insulting.

Because of the training I’ve received, I hardly ever need help finding the right bottle in a wine store. Except for asking if there’s more of a wine in the stock room, 99.5% of the time I don’t need direction. But, I am hardly ever asked if I need any! There are a couple large wine stores in the metro that I find I have to chase down employees to get help. I can only imagine what other people my age think when they don’t know what wine they want and can’t find help.  This is why I recommend shopping at smaller stores like Cork Dork Wine Co and The Little Wine Shoppe where the inventory and service is more personal.

This is a side note to my gripe, though.  I appreciate stores where the sales staff doesn’t smother you. Working at Schmitt made me very keen to the line between helpful and annoying.  It’s once you’re at the register, bottle in hand, that my real problem begins.

When you begin a conversation, say when you meet someone for the first time, how often is your first sentence a declarative about what they should do for you?  Never. It’s rude. You don’t go to a job interview and start with demands about salary and benefits. So when I walk up to register and the very first thing out of a cashier’s mouth is ‘Can I see some ID?’, it feels pretty much the same as being asked ‘What are you doing here?’  I get that they unequivocally need the information from me.  But when I go to the bank, the teller doesn’t begin by asking for my ID.  My favorite tobacconist always jovially asks if I found everything I was looking for and recommends other cigars before asking for my ID.  Even bartenders ask you how you are and what you’re drinking before ID’ing. A little small talk before ID’ing me makes me feel as if I’m a valued customer instead of a potential legal issue. I am shocked at how many times wine store cashiers will say but two things to me – give me your ID and give me your money.

I have never worked in a place where I’ve had to ID customers. I don’t know how this exchange is taught, or if it is at all. I would even understand asking for my ID straight away if my 21 year-old self walked into Lowry Hill to buy a 1.75 of UV Blue and a couple Four-Lokos. I simply ask that as a reasonably well-dressed young adult buying an ’05 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, I could be given, if for only a few seconds, a slightly higher benefit of the doubt.  It’s a small thing, but just like every other kind of store, I remember where I’m treated well and where I’m made to feel like a chore.  And yes, I look young, and yes I’m only buying one bottle.  But just like little Billy and his trumpet in 5th grade, I have years of larger purchases ahead of me.  If you’d like those thousands of dollars of business, don’t make my purchases today seem like an inconvenience.

[parings…(02-10-11)]

Two pairings for 02-10-2011.On Sale at France 44 right now, 2010 Shepherd’s Cottage [$7.99] and your favorite Roasted Chicken.  This bottle defines value under $10.  It’s dry and full with tropical fruit and minerals.2008 Ercavio Tempranillo Roble [$10.99 at Wine Thief] and Jean Michael Basquiat: The Radiant Child on Netflix Instant Streaming.  Simple, fruity, budget Tempranillo – good stuff for the price. [“Cabeza” (1982) print from guyhepner.com

Wow, have I not posted here in like three weeks?  Where did January go all of a sudden?  Well, I can’t say I’m sad about it, seeing as my shoulders have curled up into a permanent shrug. It’s now February – the month that’s shorter than all the others because it’s historically despised, and by the looks of Chicago (I mean, if it’s still there) this one won’t be any different. Despite what certain weather-predicting rodents have to say, I’m not holding out hope for an early spring.

Tonight, nothing sounded better for dinner than some super-cheesy, stick-to-your-ribs Mac. I add ground mustard and paprika to my roux (thanks, Alton Brown) when I’m building the cheese sauce for a little more nuanced kick to my childhood fave.

A fine accompaniment to the Mac was the 2008 ‘Eve’ Columbia Valley Chardonnay [$11.99 at The Wine Thief].  It’s a Charles Smith wine, you may be familiar with his Kung Fu Girl Riesling (which is a great value-priced Washington Riesling).  The Eve is a Jekyll & Hyde-like Chardonnay – on the nose you get that unmistakable vanilla smell from French oak aging.  But the sip does a complete 180 – it’s crisp and light, effervescent and acidic.  Lots of apples and a lean, dry finish.  It still has that rounded Chardonnay mouthfeel, but it’s no butter-bomb.  Good value and a good one for the Chard-shy.

I picked this up during my first visit to The Wine Thief.  It’s a great little shop for those who haven’t been. Each wine gets a personalized, often cheeky shelf-talker. Wines are organized by style, not region, and they are all good value wines (not many over $20). I didn’t stop in to the adjoining Ale Jail, but a quick glance at their selection looked pretty impressive.

Other Things Of Note:

Check out Simple, Good, & Tasty for a preview of the Sub-Rosa Dining Series, the latest venture from chef Nick Schneider (Cafe Brenda, among others). Myself and Kate Sommers (@ForkKnifeSpoon) will be covering this for Heavy Table. Great food, wine and classical music? Just about my three favorite things ever. I’ll have to fight the urge to write the snobbiest recap article in history. Mmm, yes, the nose on this Savennieres is as haunting and moody as the Sarabande of Bach’s sixth cello suite.

The new Starbucks ‘Trenta’ cup holds an entire bottle of wine.  So, yeah, there’s that.

For a serious insider’s look into cold climate wine, add Enology In Minnesota to your RSS.  Katie Cook, U of M Enologist, knows her stuff.  It’s detailed, both scientific and anecdotal. Check out her very interest post from January 27th on terroir in Minnesota.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Brahms and I have a bottle to finish.

It’s pretty sad to see Town Talk Diner close up shop. Every meal and drink I ever had there was extremely satisfying. It’s especially sad that one of the best cocktail lists in the Cities [for my money, in the top 3 with Bradstreet and The Inn] bites the dust. Here’s hoping that its mixological creations find a way of manifesting themselves somewhere new in the very near future.

As a final salute, I figured I’d mix up my all time favorite drink from TTD: The Jackson Pollock. The Nick Kosevich-crafted masterpiece is a short, tangy French 75 with a few drops of Basil Oil. Here’s a good crack at the recipe for both the oil and the drink from the very good local cocktail blog Summit Sips.

Build in a mixing glass: 1 1/2 oz GIN, 3/4 oz GRAPEFRUIT JUICE, 1/2 oz LIME JUICE, 1 oz SIMPLE SYRUP, 1 oz SPARKLING WINE – Ice, stir.  Drop a scant 1/4 teaspoon of basil oil in a cocktail glass, strain mixture over the oil.

I would add: If you’re batching this cocktail, shake 2 to 3 times all the components except the sparkling wine in a cocktail shaker with ice, then lightly incorporate the same amount of sparkling wine with a spoon before straining.  I could see lining up multiple glasses and drizzling in sequence, watching the oil circles blossom in tandem.

Not having the exact proportions from Nick himself, I’d say it bears a pretty good likeness. It’s built on the classic sour formula; though you can bump up the sugar to equal or surpass the citrus, I like this ratio. I’d rather my sours be a little more sour. I used a 1:1 simple syrup for the sweetener and Prosecco for the sparkling wine. It’s a stunning concoction: tart and fizzy, textured and nuanced. Aesthetically, though, I find the drink more closely resembles Wassily Kandinsky than Jackson Pollack.  Cheers, Town Talk, you will be missed.

Other Things:

  • Cork Dork Wine Co is having a “Dead Of Winter Sale“, through January 29th, 20% off all purchases. Russell pretty much never has sales over there, since his prices are already pretty good. Stock up on his great selection of Rhones to ride out this snowy January.
  • In case you missed it, check out my article on La Crescent over at Heavy Table – it’s a seriously delicious grape if you like off-dry white wines like Riesling.

Thanks for reading! [photo, nga.gov]

Did you know that 2009 is being hailed as one of the finest vintages for Beaujolais ever? Robert Parker, Janice Robinson, Tyler Coleman and pretty much everyone else in the know are raving about it. I probably drink less Beaujolais than any other major wine region out there. And I absolutely despise Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s probably the one style of wine I can unequivocally say I have never enjoyed. What can you say about a wine whose common flavors include banana peel and bubble gum? Regular Beaujolais, for me, is just too thin. But because it’s devoid of tannin and made in a fruitier style, it’s probably the red wine I’d give to a staunch white wine drinker to introduce them to the dark side.

But here’s the secret for the serious red drinker: CRU Beaujolais. There’s a spine of  hills that runs through the center of Beaujolais, with soils of sandy clay over granite. 10 villages/areas in the very center are allowed to label their wines by their place names. These wines are the fullest, most concentrated Beaujolais. They still have that uber-fruity profile, but with more tannin and heft, making them much better balanced and more interesting. They don’t make Nouveau in the Cru villages, and their wines may not even say Beaujolais on the bottle. Other great thing about Cru Beaujolais, it’s usually under $20, and often closer to $15. Cru Beaujolais delivers that great restrained, Burgundian style at a discount.  Go to the Burgundy aisle of your wine store and look for the following ten place names, in very rough order from lightest to heaviest in style:

Chiroubles – Brouilly – Fleurie – RégniéSaint-Amour – Côte de Brouilly – Juliénas – Chénas – Morgon – Moulin-à-Vent

I personally seek out Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent most often.  Those places have soils richer in iron and manganese, producing darker, richer red wines. Those are also the least likely to taste like regular Beaujolais.  If you manage to snag a 2009 from Julienas, Chenas, Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent, you might want to wait a year or two before opening. These are the richest wines from the best vintage this region has seen in decades – they should be given a little time to find themselves.

But the ’07s are ready to rock, so I picked up the 2007 DuBoeuf ‘Jean Descombes’ Morgon [$14.99 at Surdyks].  It’s a very drinkable wine – the French would call it gouleyant. It’s a dark ruby/purple, with a musky and fruity nose, with a nice soft attack of bright red berry fruit with a moderate amount of acid through the sip. The flavors build to an sharp finish. It’s light and smooth, but expressive with berry flavor. If you can find any of DuBoeuf’s ’09 Cru Beaujolais – you can not go wrong.  Also, any ’09 Beaujolais-Villages is a good bet as well.  That’s the name given to wines grown outside of the Cru villages, but still closer in to the center of the region.

With all the hype, I couldn’t help but try one of the lighter ’09s.  I found the 2009 Paul Cinquin ‘Domaine Des Braves’ Régnié [$17.99 at France 44] to be a very serious wine that probably could have used even another year in the bottle, but was great with Mussels Marinara and a Seahawks victory last week.  It sported a dark magenta color with a funky Burgundy nose, lots of wood smells. A smooth sip follows, with strawberries and asphalt – very much like a Burgundy Pinot. Medium body, dry finish.  Based on my first experience with ’09 Beaujolias, I say chapeau bas.