Monday, July 26, 2010

a day trip to wine country

ha! i got you there. you're thinking, Now what wine country could she be referring to? why, that's Georgia wine country to you. For those of you (like my mother) who never even knew that Georgia had wineries, who think that Georgia doesn't have what it takes to keep up with the big boys? Well, you've got another thing coming. It’s not just about moonshine anymore. Just what kind of slack-jawed yokels do you think we are anyway? Sheesh.

after totally crashing the party at Montaluce’s first Tweetup in January, I maintained a steady Twitter friendship not only with the Beecham brothers (the owners of the winery), but also with a few of the people we met from the last time. We were invited back last Sunday for a special Tweetup featuring the ’09 Montaluce wines just released. Seeing as there was no NASCAR on that day, the boy came with me (and as Brent Beecham later confided to me, had there been a NASCAR race that day, the TVs on the patio would have been tuned in to it).

For those of you who aren’t in the know, a Tweetup is an event where people who follow each other on Twitter get to meet in person, then Tweet about it live. It’s not nearly as anti-social as it sounds. Talking and tweeting at the same time is not hard to do – we can multitask with the best of them. Mad skills, we have.

Although it had poured down rain about an hour before we were to meet (and I mean, POURED. Trust me. we got caught in it), by the time the party started the oppressive heat had come back in full force. This time, our group was much smaller than the one in January, and it was very pleasant.

We found ourselves gathered on the large patio right outside of the tasting and dining room despite the heat, because for some odd reason the breeze blowing through really managed to cool things down in that one area. So we ended up having our wine tasting out there instead of inside, and it was cozy and enjoyable. I’m going to stop rambling now and post pictures, because that’s really what you want to see, right? So here we go.

2009 Montaluce Ristata. As I was drinking this, the breeze blew through the porch as the new vineyard manager Maria was talking about how this wine reminded her of French rosés; and I found myself drifting off into reminisces (as I always do) of the last time I was in the south of France, drinking rosé all day while on the beach. My extended French family is spread out around Provence; I remember spending summers as a child at a wee small resort called Le Lavandou. Local wineries sell rosé in bulk; you bring empty bottles, and they’ll fill them for you. You quickly learn which wineries have the best rosé and you stick with them all summer, faithfully. I found myself not wanting to stop drinking the Montaluce Risata as it was making me nostalgic for Le Lavandou (where my mom is currently). This wine is light and very drinkeable.

Maria talking about the Risata while Brad (the GM) listens.

The empties adding up. Quickly, I might add.

We also tasted their Primoro (a blend of Seyval and Vidal grapes), the Chardonnay, the Viognier, and the Dolce, which the Beecham brothers described as Montaluce’s answer to sweet tea. Then we moved inside to taste the 2008 Centurio,a reserve from 90% 2008 Georgia Merlot and 10% 2008 French Merlot.

And then, sufficiently fortified and feeling a bit giddy, our group moved outside to take a looky loo at the vines.

Maria explained that they were about 3 weeks out from harvest (2 weeks now, as this was last Sunday), and that they would harvest the Malbec first. Then we sauntered back inside to escape the intensity of the sun.

I know it appears as though I’m pretending to be Atlas in female form, but I was really hugging the barrels. They were so nice and pretty. It was about that point where we decided what a good idea it would be to saunter back upstairs where @WholeMind was pouring out his homemade mead.

Mead? Why yes. Have you ever tried mead? I never had! strawberry and lavender mead is ridiculously tasty, and reminiscent of Belgian lambic. And nothing good can come of that after tasting wine for a couple of hours and standing out in the hot sun.

@EatBuHi, @HelloNorthGA, and @montalucewine (those are their Twitter handles) left by then, and we were planning to leave as well but got strongarmed by the rest of the group to stay for dinner. By “strongarmed” I mean that they football tackled us. Right, whatever; we willingly stayed. and as we drank more wine, got more merry, and the jokes got dirtier, I knew we were having a great time . Present at dinner were (by Twitter handle): @RandomOenophile, @leoghann, @WholeMind, @CassieLorey, @MVineyards, and @Foster404.

Get yourself up to Georgia wine country; as I’ve said before, it’s a mere hour, hour and a half from Atlanta depending on where you are in the suburbs. And you won’t need a passport to feel as though you’ve been transported to another country.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

hey blackberry, how you taste so sweet.

I made strawberry jam several times with huge success last year; and this was a big deal to me because I had tried (and subsequently failed) at making jam for years beforehand. I wanted to make blackberry jam this year because the blackberry cane I planted three years ago has finally started giving off some fruit; however, these don’t usually make it from the yard into the kitchen. There’s a whole lot of eating while standing in front of the bush. Part of this is because I have this idea in my head that my immediate neighbors ,who are a boil on the butt of humanity ( to quote Shirley MacLaine in “Steel Magnolias”), might be reaching over the fence and helping themselves to my loot. They probably aren’t, but we don’t like each other; so my wild imagination can get pretty, uh, wild at times.

Anyway, there aren’t enough blackberries out back to make jam, so I took what I had and supplemented them with some found at the grocery store – the local Kroger had an unbelievable deal on them the other day – normally they’re like $5 a pound but I would like to think they were feeling generous that day. Either that or some poor clerk on the floor mistakenly put stickers on them that marked them down to next to nothing. So I bought some of those.

I based this recipe on several sources. Pretty much everyone out there in Googleland has similar recipes, so I consulted Mes Confitures (which unfortunately I’ve yet to make a successful jam recipe from), then the trusty ol’ Larousse Gastronomique. I don’t have packages of pectin lying around, and I don’t believe one needs stupid packages of pectin lying around just in case you happen to get in the mood to make jam. I used lemon zest and juice instead; and then halfway through the jam making itself into jammy goodness, I remembered that the Barefoot Contessa recipe for strawberry jam calls for half a Granny Smith apple for pectin purposes, so I tossed about a quarter of one of those, diced up really small, into the pot and let it boil away. In the end, the entire stovetop was splattered with ruby colored dots, which I wiped away as quickly as I could lest they harden and be impossible to scour off at a later date.

The smell of the jam cooking won’t perfume the house in the way strawberry or raspberry jam will, as blackberries tend to be less aromatic in strength (well, that’s my opinion). However, when I was hovering over the pot trying to take various pictures with the smell wafting up, I had a brief moment when I was transported back to childhood. The house I partially grew up in until I was 7 – the house where my parents currently reside when my mom’s not gallivanting around France – is in Northern California, and the yard out back is surrounded by wild blackberry bushes. There is a park down the hill with swings and a slide cut into the hillside. The quickest way to get to the park is to take the trail that cuts between other people’s houses, and the trail is surrounded by blackberries. My brother, sister, and I would leisurely take our time going to the park, and come nightfall when our parents would call out for us through the living room window and their voices would echo through the trees, we’d leisurely take our time climbing back up the hill as we would pick and eat those blackberries until we were full and our fingers bled from reaching through the brambles. There are very few times when I wish I still lived in California; however when I do get that urge, I must remind myself that I will never, ever be able to afford to live in Sausalito. Besides, I’m not terribly fond of Californians.

Boy am I going to get crap for that one. Anyway.

The addition of alcohol to this recipe is optional. If you have blackberry brandy, by all means use that. I have the world’s largest bottle of cheap kirsch lying around, so I used that. It just makes the jam more fruity, I guess. Ah, who am I kidding; I’ve no idea. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I also added less sugar than other recipes called for. I find that the older I get, the less sweets I can tolerate. I made my tried-and-true chocolate chip cookies recently for the first time in a long time; and after biting into one, realized I just can’t eat them anymore. My tastes have changed.

So I’ll call this: Sausalito Blackberry Jam. makes 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups.

. 18 oz of blackberries (that’s about three of those usual sized containers they come in at the store – usual size meaning around 6 oz)
. 1 cup sugar (and even that might be too much)
. Zest of 1 lemon
. Juice of half that lemon
. 1 or 2 tablespoons of kirsch or blackberry brandy (optional)
. ¼ of a Granny Smith apple, diced (optional)

Stir together all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pot or large saucepan and put over medium heat. Stir as it begins to heat up, then leave it alone to do its thing until the mixture reaches 220 degrees F. If you want a smoother jam, put the blackberries in a food processor or pass through a food mill first before adding to the pot. I like a little texture in mine so I smoosh up the occasional berry or two like so:


Sound effects are optional.

The berries themselves will disintegrate a bit while cooking – it will take between 20 and 30 minutes to get to 220 deg F. Turn the heat off, let cool, and store in the fridge.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

this summer.

A few things to note:

1) Vertigo sucks. And I’m not talking about the U2 song.

2) Not a whole lot has been going on around here due to said recurrence of vertigo. Someone please get me off this damn boat ride from hell (although I will say, now that I’m in week 3 of it, the waters seem less choppy).

3) A pox on my immediate neighbors, who like to blast music from their car parked in their driveway at all hours of the day and night. Right now at 7:10 am, they’re waking up the whole neighborhood. They feel entitled, I guess. As the wife once told me when I asked her to turn it down, “Don’t you disrespect me. I have every right to play my music loud”. Really, honey? Let’s have a chat with City of Alpharetta Police now, shall we.

4) And last but not least, a few (very few) pics of things and stuff I’ve been up to lately.

Banana bread with walnuts.

Slow cooker beef brisket, topped with coleslaw and shoved into hungry mouths.

Actually, this picture is two months old. The boy making gumbo while drinking a mint julep (it was Derby day). The boy is no longer rockin the beard; that came off after we ran the Warrior Dash.

Speaking of Warrior Dash:

Yeah. Covered in mud from head to toe. It took two showers to get me completely clean. That biggie beer mug was filled with Dee-licious Pyramid beer (hi Nick!).

And last but not least:

Today’s birthday self-portrait is brought to you by Ava Gardner and little old man golf shorts. Happy birthday to me, to my friend MA, to my niece Vivi, to the land of Canada, to Dan Ackroyd, Pam Anderson, Liv Tyler, Debbie Harry, and Princess Diana to name a few. Wishing you all a good one. Well, except Princess Di of course, seeing that she’s no longer around and all, but you know.

Here’s to wishing this summer will be a great one, boat ride from hell and all.