Personally, Yes

A few weeks ago I read a wine list for a new restaurant in LA and I knew it was time to quit my job.

There I was, enjoying my seventh year serving in a deservedly famous restaurant called Slows Bar BQ.

Not only did Slows play a role in saving my life – whatever it’s worth – Slows was also a really fun place to work. I was there, to soak up the lightning.

And then I saw the wine list for Hatchet Hall, and the storm of vitriol and hurt feelings it inspired. As I read the list I smiled. Then I laughed. I was not alone, but nor did everyone get the joke. Someday I hope to explain the comedy in very dry, analytic terms, but for now I am still laughing a little.

There are two dining establishments local to me which are experiencing periods of dynamic innovation. Alphabetically, they are Gold Cash Gold and Mudgie’s Fine Deli-ing. Gold Cash Gold has been open barely a year on a city block shared by Slows. Mudgie’s inhabits a bucolic corner of Corktown where it has recently expanded to include its own wine shop.

As I wrote lists of wine for each place this week I had a sensation of liberation not related to the usual between-job butterflies. The language had opened up. The old rules existed to preserve the feelings of the most uptight of critics, and these were in decline. I hasten to add, I sincerely wish no harm to the feelings of the most uptight of critics, just as I wish no harm to anyone. The problem lies in the fact that these rules can mislead everyone else.

What is Chablis? Is it Chardonnay? Is Raveneau Chablis? Who is ladling guilt over our usage? Who’s language is it? If wine makes people nervous, and O does it, that may indicate a wealth of potential comedy.

Wine lists – besides containing inspiration, value, clarity, focus and comfort – should be funny! If your wine list isn’t funny, it just may be a waste of your time and resources!

I hope to demonstrate in future posts.

Certainly there will continue to be brooding, scrupulously lexical and boring wine lists. And they will tend to be stocked with boring wine, at ridiculous prices, yet not worth the first dollar. But these are on the way out. So I am so glad to be back.

What can you do?

Come to the gala debut of the new wine list at Gold Cash Gold this Monday. Chef Stockton has five courses in store, each of which will be paired with two wines. You can rediscover miraculous coq au vin and drink dry-farmed Pinot Noir from the Cancilla Vineyard. Huet is scheduled to appear as mousse and with mousse. Amphora-fermented Sicilian red wine shall warmly embrace 2015 Pumpkins, and a relaxed group of people who know how to have fun – even with wine! Follow this link.

Do it.

See you there!

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photo courtesy of Jacqueline Dickow

BBQ and Wine

At the risk of sounding grandiose, the question of pairing wine with BBQ has pretty much consumed my life for the past 10 years. Not because it’s difficult. Actually, it is the easiest wine problem in the world. Slow cooked real food likes wines that are raised according to the same aesthetic: natural, old adapted vines and minimal showboating. The project is consuming because it is so rewarding.

There were many intriguing tangents along the way, personal and theoretical and practical. Maybe this can be the theme of more blog posts to come.

But the most pertinent item to report now is this: the new wine list for the summer of 2015 at Slows is closer to the mark than any of the others that have been offered. And there are two reasons for this.

1) Many of these wines are not only suited to the menu and clientele, they are appropriate for the season too. Chilled red Schiava will be amazing on the patio with pork and NC sauce. And with smoked brisket, so will Chiroulet Gascogne Rouge and Pont de Gassac – the flesh and sweetness these two wines gain from warm atmospheric temps will broaden their innate appeal.

2) The list is structured in a way that graduates wine drinking according to interest. There are the “call wines” – Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Noir – and then there are the “adventure” wines – Chiroulet Cote d’Heux, Schiava, White Rioja, Muscadet. All are set at prices that represent value and encourage taking risks.

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Wine nerds, look at this old list from 2007 (click to enlarge):

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Great Pinot Noir

This is part of a series of posts about the wines offered at Slows BBQ during the summer of 2015.

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2012 Pinot Noir, Evesham Wood, Le Puits Sec

Arguably the finest Pinot Noir made outside of Burgundy comes from Salem Oregon. Le Puits Sec means “the dry well” and its red emerges entirely from 3 acres on the 8-acre estate vineyard (so bottles are scarce.) Since 1986 Le Puits Sec has been farmed without chemicals or irrigation. The fruit it produces is supple, balanced, and thought-provoking. Most importantly it is a smashing drink with BBQ. Think of this selection as an indulgence for the wine-loving staff and owners of Slows, and one we are eager to share with you.
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This wine is offered only by the bottle. The price is artificially low at $40 for carryout and $60 on-premise. (standard retail in Michigan would be more like $50)

This is a tiny winery with a real philosophy and one that’s adhered to. Never lip service!

Beaujolais

This is part of a series of posts about the wines offered at Slows BBQ during the summer of 2015.

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2013 Beaujolais, Domaine Dupeuble

A rowdy naturalist Gamay with fruit verging on strawberry jammy. It’s dry, but the dearth of tannins promotes sensations of very ripe sweet red fruits and mulled cranberry tea.
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Beaujolais is the appellation – think of that as a region with winemaking rules.

Gamay is the (grape) variety.

It depends on the order you taste them. But if you try this and then try the Hullabaloo Zin, they will both seem to be on the sweeter end of the spectrum.

The most consequential difference is the degree of alcohol. This claims to be 12.5% while the Zinfandel claims 14.5%. The actual difference is probably greater. Test it with St. Louis Spare ribs. You may find that the seasoning tends to exaggerate the taste of alcohol and vice versa. You’ll have to decide the respective merits. Personally, I’ll go for the Beaujolais most of the time, and use the Zinfandel as a digestif.

Shiraz or Syrah

This is part of a series of posts about the wines offered at Slows BBQ during the summer of 2015.

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2012 Syrah-Malbec, Ancient Peaks, Renegade

This is the other jammy red (see the Zinfandel) except here, the predominance of Syrah makes the jam taste more of blueberries, licorice, vanilla and smoked bacon fat.
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Shiraz is just what they call Syrah in Australia. The use of one term or the other may imply something about a wine’s style. The majority of Shiraz from Australia is jammy, verging on sweet, robust and infused with vanilla flavored oak. It’s antithesis is Syrah from southern parts of France where the climate and custom produce wines leaner, more acidic, and earthy.

Ancient Peaks Renegade is somewhere in the middle. (We can call it Shirah if you want. Or Syraz.) It is certainly a “big” wine with big sweet alcohol and big tannins. That’s what hot dry growing conditions produce. But for such a big wine there is complexity too, with a decisive grip of tannins, thanks in part no doubt to the proportion of Malbec in the blend.

And this is a great Paso Robles wine estate, with interesting geology and a commitment to do the most with it.

Zinfandel, Red

This is part of a series of posts about the wines offered at Slows BBQ during the summer of 2015.

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2012 Zinfandel, Hullabaloo

This is the quintessential Jam-flavored wine, with notes of spiked cherries and orange peel. A selection inspired by Mr. Rose, it pairs well with St. Louis spareribs smothered in Slows’ gingery Sweet BBQ sauce.
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Be careful. At least in Detroit – who knows about other cities – more people ask for “Zinfandel” expecting the sweet pale pink version than do those expecting this thick, ruby red beast. I find it helpful to qualify, Red Zinfandel.

The fruit comes from Lodi, which seems to have a lock on good Zinfandel for reasonable prices.

Regarding Zinfandel: prospectors and immigrants at the turn of the century found that Zinfandel thrived in California. By the 1980s everyone wanted pseudo French wine – Cabernet and Chardonnay – and old vine Zinfandel was a bargain, a nerd’s secret selection. The creation of White Zinfandel had the dual effect of making use of and thereby saving a lot of Zinfandel vines and also displacing the reds from the retail market.

Now the wheel has turned and Great Zinfandel is scarce because the demand is so high. We are delighted to have found this. Here’s a pdf with more details.

Cabernet

This is part of a series of posts about the wines offered at Slows BBQ during the summer of 2015.

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2013 Cabernet-Merlot-Syrah, Pont de Gassac

A stern rendition of Cabernet with ample scents of weathered oak and gravel. It’s a brisket wine for sure, and we love how it tastes by itself on a warm lazy afternoon.
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Consider the many fine Cabernets from Washington, or California or South America. Essentially they taste sweeter than those that come from Bordeaux and the Languedoc. And that would be fine, except when temperatures rise in the dining room, wine tastes even sweeter, not to mention more alcoholic.

This is why the best Cabernet for the BBQ all summer is a very dry one. No matter how hot it gets, this item will remain balanced with its deep core of organized phenolics providing freshness.

This is the same producer that makes our Chardonnay, and one of the best in the Languedoc. Unlike the Chardonnay, this comes entirely from vineyards they own, which have been planted with low-yielding vines. This means the wine is concentrated, both in color and intensity of characteristic flavors. Tasting suggests notes of blackberry, olive, maduro cigars, cassis and Mexican chocolate.