Friday, August 20, 2010

Can We Taste Colors?

An interesting discussion arose about five days ago when I was trying to explain how a wine tasted to a friend of mine. We were drinking a 2006 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. I won't name the producer but suffice it to say it's about $50 a bottle and they consistently score in the low 90's from Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. I'd never had this wine before but knew it's reputation and he was a big fan.

We had opened the bottle about an hour prior and were excited to give it a shot. As soon as I tasted the wine, I told him "Dude! This wine tastes red to me, I like it". He was surprised and said "What do you mean, red? Do you taste some red fruit?". I was adamant, and told him "No, seriously, this wine tastes red, that's what my palate is telling me right now". In my mind, I could only ascribe the flavors to the color. It's hard to explain, but as soon as I sipped that first little bit, my senses screamed at me "this is red!". In my mind's eye, I saw red, in dot form. Cool dot, isn't it!

The debate continued and he asked me if I'd ever tasted colors in wines before. I told him about a 2005 Amon-Ra by Glaetzer that tasted deep blue to me, and a wonderfully dry 2006 Airlie Muller-Thurgau from Oregon I had a few years ago that tasted like light, lime green. Each time this has happened, the first instance of sensory perception has been a color, not a flavor.

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My theory is that there's something going on with my perceptions of fruit notes and how they interact on my palate. Perhaps it's sensory overload, too many flavors manifesting and therefore my brain takes a step back and throws a color at me instead of trying to discern each flavor individually. Maybe I'm seeing red fruit notes as a color because I'm not focused enough, my neurons are working on something else up in my head.

 Back to the Pinot Noir, I was eventually able to search out some more traditional flavors. The wine itself never tasted off or like it didn't have ripe fruit, lively acidity and a touch of oak. I just saw and thought "red!" as soon as I sipped it. Meanwhile, my friend was happy with his wine and enthusiastically described what he tasted, which could be described as a normal set of flavors and textural notes. The Pinot rocked, I hope there's some left and I may review it at a later date.

I don't know if he agreed with me or thought I was full of shit, but he's still my buddy if that says anything. He'd never experienced anything like I was trying to describe.

The discussion was interesting and I have been thinking about it for a few days or else I wouldn't have written this post. Has anyone else ever tasted a wine and been able to relate it to a color or shade versus a set of flavors? Was it easy or hard to do? I've heard of people who hear sounds as colors, that's pretty awesome. This isn't the same thing because it doesn't always happen to me, in fact it's very rare that I drink a wine and think of colors versus specific flavors.

One day I hope I can taste a wine that makes me think of a lot of colors, hopefully it'll be something ridiculous like a 1990 Romanee-Conti or 1947 Cheval Blanc. Now that would be interesting, maybe I'd just pass out and you'd see that old Windows "Blue Screen of Death" in each of my eyeballs as my brain reset itself.

Interested to hear your thoughts.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Foray Into My Kitchen...

Often times I pair food with wine, not the other way around. I suspect most of you do too or you wouldn't be reading this blog.

Tonight is no different, I had a new Pinot Noir I wanted to taste and decided to make something to complement the wine. First, the Pinot. It's new (to me at least) from Trader Joe's. Their VINTJS (get it, vintages?) label is juice they buy from people who need to make room for the next vintage or don't want to dilute their own brands.

Typically the VINTJS wines are good to very good (B to B+ on my scale) and this wasn't any different. From the Willamette Valley in Oregon, I can't say who makes it but it's quite good for $8.99. I would strongly recommend it to Trader Joe's fans. Nice spicy nose, good acid across the palate that's balanced by cherries and hints of raspberry with a back end of mocha and neutral oak. I'll be buying some more myself.

Now for the food!

I wanted to make something for dinner versus ordering Chinese or going to get Mexican or Sushi. Therefore I was limited to whatever I could forage for within my fridge. Tomorrow is shopping day and wasn't in the mood to walk up to Vons for a few items.

What you see in the picture to the left is a majority of the things in my fridge that would fit together somehow. Here's the list:
Heavenly Light cheese
Deli Mustard
Sun-dried tomatoes
Rosemary ham
Willamette Pinot Noir
Heirloom tomato
Foccacia Roll

I layered the ham, cheese, ham, sliced tomato, cheese, and ham on the bottom of the sliced roll. That wee bit of mustard was for a spice element.

For the top half of the roll, I sliced a chunk of garlic up and rubbed it all over the bread, then drizzled some sun-dried tomatoes and their oil onto the top as you see in the picture.

The garlic was then sliced very thinly and I slipped them back into the bottom, between the tomato and cheese slices.

Me frying an egg. I really need to work on my egg-frying. That and slicing things. I want to be one of those people that can slice quickly and consistently, like you see on the Food Network.

Back to eggs. I turned the stove up too high and that scorched the oil, next time I'll remember to turn the heat to slightly below medium. That's one of the things with cooking, you have to keep trying and testing in order to get better.

There's my dinner! Cooking away in a George Foreman grill..I only use my Foreman for a few things but one of those is doing sandwiches. I personally don't think it does beef well at all. Chicken works great, not fish. You can do hot dogs and sausages quickly and easily too.

Fresh out of the foreman, I'm getting excited! The trick is to rotate the sandwich 1/4 turn every 3-4 minutes, so the sandwich should cook for about 15 minutes. Why, you may ask? When you put the sandwich in, the floating hinge of the Foreman can allow it to unevenly cook, leaving a half-melted, half-cold creation. That isn't fun at all.

Quickly now! Pull apart the sandwich, slide the egg in, and reassemble dinner. While the food isn't much to look at, it smelled wonderful. Garlic, toasted bread, and ham wafted through the kitchen.

Now I can only speak for myself in this case, but that looks mighty tasty. The verdict: The sandwich was a winner, very flavorful and texturally appealing. Crunchy, soft, creamy, salty, spicy. My palate enjoyed the experience.

What I'd do differently: 
Cook the sandwich longer
Fry the egg properly
Use a different, creamier cheese like Provolone
Add some more spice

Another food entry is in the books. I had fun creating this quick and easy meal, the total time was about 20 minutes and it filled me up very nicely. This wasn't all I ate though, there was a small salad but honestly, who wants to see pictures of me mixing a salad? I know I don't want to take any pictures of the process, maybe when I make a fancy salad I'll do a blog.

The wine paired quite well, I didn't want something too heavy or sweet. Light, good acid and just enough of that savory ripeness to balance the elements of the sandwich. Yum!

Beau Carufel

Monday, August 16, 2010

Kitchen Exploits, Fun With Leftovers!

I'll preface this food post by saying do not try this at home, I'm not a professional, I just love cooking. Are we cool? Good.

So this evening, I got the itch to cook. Within the domain of my fridge are the things you will see in the pictures below. A lot of the ingredients tonight were leftovers or things that you wouldn't normally associate with dinner. Why not then turn the tables and create dinner from breakfast and lunch foods?

Luckily, I had tortillas. That saved the day, no lie. Had I not had those, this blog post would be one of me begging, pleading even for someone to bring me or send me food. Wine too! Now that I think about it, my wine fridge is running suspiciously low, that's a bad sign.

Enough about me, let's check out what I did tonight in the kitchen - besides making it dirty and stinky.

Here we have some of the raw ingredients for my meal. No, the corkscrew isn't an ingredient, it's for opening delicious things like wine and beer. I just realized too that everything I created this meal with was bought at Trader Joe's. Go me!

Why oh why did I buy Lite Mexican Blend though? Since I've now gone about 13 days without red meat, maybe I blacked out and accidentally bought the version of my preferred shredded cheese blend.

I cut up everything into small bits, the better to fit into a tortilla. You have had a burrito before right? Great, there goes my international readers, moving on to a better blog like 1WineDude's.
So what you see there is:
Fingerling potatoes
Red bell peppers
Sliced ham
Two eggs
Cayenne powder
Lite Mexican blend shredded cheese
Mild salsa (more like a pico de gallo actually)

What I did was add some grape seed oil to the pan and let it heat up, then toss in the sliced up potatoes. The objective was to get them fried and crispy, to add both a flavor and textural component to the burrito. This is where I added cayenne powder but in hindsight, I should have also added some to the eggs when I cooked them up. Next time. Before I forget, at this point you should add salt and pepper, I neglected to do that.

While the potatoes cooked up all nice and brown, I felt that adding in the ham would speed the process. That means I could eat faster, which was my priority.

My stove (or pan) apparently has a gangsta lean to it, making things easier in this case. I moved the spuds to the right, out of the pooled oil and in their place went the ham. That stuff jumped, crackled, browned, and smelled absolutely delicious! YUM!

This was supposedly a splash guard. Yea right. Total b.s. I still had to clean up a filthy stove-top after my cooking session. Not that I mind because it signifies I've done something in the kitchen and well, I'm used to it. Making messes seems to be my specialty. One day I'll make better food than messes though, so stick with me!

What you see are bell peppers cooking up ever so nicely. If you don't like bell peppers, just don't add them in, but I love the things especially after browning them up real nice. Add salt here too by the way.

Action shot of me pouring eggs into a pan! Beyond that there isn't much to say about this picture. Just remember, add some seasoning at this point but not too much! I think that garlic salt might add an interesting dimension, next time I'll be trying that too. Oh and I drained the oil, probably a wise move on my part (a rare occurrence in itself)

The eggs took literally 30 seconds to cook, the pan was that hot. Plus I absolutely hate over cooked eggs, it's an insult to how delicious eggs can be.

I transferred the eggs to the tortillas. I'd prepped them by adding a bit of cheese then the potatoes and ham from earlier, thus heating and partially melting the cheese. My intent was to fully melt the cheese once the heat of the eggs made contact with my lite cheese. Still can't believe I bought that crap.

I have a confession to make..I'm out of hot sauce. Please don't be mad, I'll rectify the situation as soon as I can. At this point, add Tapatillo or Cholula brand sauce. Or whatever you want. Had I been smart, I'd have bought some fresh jalapenos and put them in too. Just gotta remove the seeds first.

This one's easy. 2007 Toasted Head Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Delicious! Balanced spice, lively acidity that washes across your palate. Nice fruit and silky but subtle tannins. Since this is what I had open, I decided to go with it instead of opening up something else.

What wine would you pair with the dish I created tonight? Red? White? Rose? Bubbles? I'm not sure what I'd pair with it but the Pinot went well or so I thought. Those peaches are going into a peach margarita tomorrow, thanks to my friend Anthony (@acfoodandwine) for that suggestion!

There you have it, my leftover-breakfast-style-burritos. And a glass of wine. There are those elements I'd add, nothing I'd subtract. Taste wise, I really liked all the flavors together. Texturally, it was wonderful with the crispy potatoes and ham, soft eggs and slightly chewy tortillas. The cheese and bell peppers were great complements to the aforementioned ingredients. The result was a lot better than my previous attempt at food-blogging, where I nearly burned down my kitchen.

Beau Carufel

Friday, August 13, 2010

Napa, Sonoma, Job Hunt, Why I'm Doing This

I'm searching for a job in Napa and/or Sonoma. There, I've said it. Publicly, for you and everyone else to see. I keep asking myself why I waited so long to pursue my passion. So far, I can only come up with the singular idea that I truly didn't know the depths of said passion like I do now. A combination of attending the Wine Bloggers Conference, being pushed by my friends and family, and time itself have conspired to light the proverbial fire under my ass.

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For over a month I've been sending out resumes and cover letters to wineries and vineyards. My success rate is dismal, or else this blog post would be full of rejoicing and the announcement that I'd found a job. To date, I've had one polite rejection, for a job I was (and I knew it) under-qualified for. I've had one job offer at a very well known Napa winery, but the pay was so low that I couldn't take it and survive up there. Disappointing but not entirely unexpected, a decent enough first step into the eddies and currents of the great river of jobs. Maybe not so great in this economy but you get my point.

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Every so often I allow myself some frustration and am tempted to put the job search on hold, but the reality is that for me to be happy and successful in life, I need to go after my passion. If I were to put that pursuit on hold, to wait until the economy improved or other factors changed, I might never have this energy again. The thought of being another unhappy worker in a dead end job, the implications of that scenario, are terrifying to me.

I'm awestruck by the help I've gotten too, from people I've never met in person to my good friends and family all over the country. Wine people take care of their own and are always ready to lend an hand, to keep their ears and eyes open, to offer feedback and guidance. Reminding myself of how lucky I am all but eliminates the frustrations that come with job hunting. If there's a God or god or gods, or some omnipotent deity up there, he or she or it has blessed me with this great network of people in my life.

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So what's the nitty-gritty of what I want, where I want to do it, and why? Breaking down the generic sounding "I want a job in wine country" helps me figure out what the hell I should be doing about it. I want to work at either a winery or a vineyard, and I'd do basically any job they asked of me, provided the pay was what I need to be making to pay my expenses. Simple, right?

But what can I do? Wine education, hospitality, accounting/finance, retail sales, tasting room, cellar rat and more. Unfortunately where I fall short would be in the formal wine education department. Times like this are when you want the time machine to take you back to college and change your major/university to something more conducive to your passion. Still, the past is static, the future isn't.

How quickly I can move up to wine country has been asked of me as well, the answer is that I can move within 30 days, given the right job. That's pretty quick right? Enough time to do the right thing with my current job and train a replacement, enough time to find a place to live and enough time to pack and transport my belongings 14 hours north. To avoid confusion, when I say "wine country" I refer to Napa and Sonoma counties and the wine industry present there.

Why? I love wine. I'm absolutely fascinated with how wine is made, from vine all the way to bottle. Why a glass of wine tastes the way it does, why one wine tastes different than another, how that comes about, those questions fly out of my brain, exciting the neurons in there and driving me back into this business. Up to this point I've done plenty of retail work, some marketing and wine education too. Returning to a career in wine would help me learn instead of only teaching others. One word I keep coming back to is fulfilling. That is what pursuing my passion means to me.

About six weeks have passed since I began, in earnest, to look for jobs in the wine industry. I do not know how long the search will take or where I'll end up. I ask that my friends keep their fingers crossed for me as I begin to follow my dreams. If by chance you're a winery or vineyard owner looking at this blog and want a passionate, dedicated, energetic person on your team, you can email me here and I'll send you my resume and a cover letter.

Beau Carufel

Friday, August 6, 2010

No Wimpy Wines While You're Having Flies

Does anyone else remember the old Frog's Leap slogan "Time's Fun When You're Having Flies!"? Or how about the much more well-known Ravenswood "No Wimpy Wines" tag-line?

Imagine those two slogans were thought up today instead of 20 years ago. The pervasive nature of social media would get those out to perhaps millions of people in the span of a few short months. Tweeting, re-Tweeting, Facebook, Myspace, and Tumblr would broadcast a brand's tag-line to even the most casual of wine searchers. But, would the brands grow as fast in say a year or two as they have over the past 20+ years?

In Ravenswood's case, their slogan was printed on basically everything, short of babies. Back then, it was a little edgy, a bit of a thumb of the nose at the establishment even. Ravenswood drinkers demand their wines be big, bold, juicy, full of flavor...Does that remind you of anyone today? Can we draw any parallels to the wine market as it stands at the present day?

Frog's Leap went the cuter, friendlier route. We all giggled a bit at the clever wordplay but still, the intent was to get that brand into the consciousness of wine drinkers. Frog's Leap wanted a positive memory association which would then hopefully spark the person standing at the wine section of their store to think: "Oh that's the winery with the funny slogan, I like them!" and buy a bottle. I should note that the original slogan appeared many, many years ago in a one panel cartoon. I suspect the saying has been around even longer, but the point is that Frog's Leap seized on a great way to generate brand awareness.

Both seem to have worked because Frog's Leap and Ravenswood are still viable brands, producing some stellar wines and some more modest examples. The average wine drinker knows of each brand, both are poured by the glass at all kinds of restaurants and most wine stores carry them. It's entirely reasonable to call them each a huge success.

So then, if a winery today comes up with a phrase like Ravenswood's or uses a cute one like Frog's Leap did, can social media act as a brand awareness multiplier? Take a phrase that is easy to remember, plaster it on everything you can, short of babies. Engage people/users (paid or not) to use social media in all it's forms to mention your brand to their friends/followers. The way you present the slogan or tag-line and the phrase itself will get talked about over and over. At least some of that chatter will make it past the subject-focused people using social media and leak into the mainstream-brand-conscious population. Your brand will capture their attention too, further increasing awareness which ultimately results in more sales.

I think if you do each of those steps, and produce quality content (wine, in this case..get the pun!), your market will basically create itself. Therefore, my answer is a resounding yes, social media can and will work, imagine what would have happened to the two brands I've mentioned had they had access to such tools two decades ago. It's working right now with a few brands. That's perhaps saved for another post though.

See the things I think about when I'm bored?! It's scary..

Beau Carufel