More Culinary Wine Adventures...

More Culinary Wine Adventures...
For more of Randy's tasting notes and gibberish-free ruminations, visit

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer is for barbecues

Who doesn’t associate summer with barbecue? It’s an American thing, but you might also consider it a return to primitive instincts; reminding me of one of Woody Allen’s classic quips about food in general: “Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.”

In our case, preferably a good wine, ideally matched with…

Smoky baby back ribs or pulled pork with tomato based barbecued pork

Grill smoked pork with classic tomato based barbecue sauces – laced with vinegar, brown sugar onions, and often, chili spices and Worcestershire – cordially invite wines with equalizing doses of tannin and alcohol to absorb the pork fat, and picquant, almost sweet fruitiness to balance out the sweet, sour, hot sensations in the sauce. This is why I’ll never understand the criticism of warm climate red wines by wine geeks who obviously can’t relate to wines in terms of food contexts, because there’s nothing like, say, big, fat, juicy, jammy zinfandel with classic American barbecued pork. In fact, in my experience: the bigger, fatter and jammier the better!

Always having an oral fixation (as a baby, my drool was famous), my rib preferences have always been for the soft, chewy cartilage on the bone ends; custom grilled for fruit laden red zins, especially from Lodi (current fave-raves: Harney Lane, Abundance, Earthquake, Macchia, m2, and Klinker Brick), although the snappier Sonoma grown zins (like those of Acorn, Gamba, Bella Vetta, Mauritson, Davis Family, Quivira, Valdez, and Ridge Lytton Springs) always do just as well for me. Why? Lush, almost sweet berry jam fruitiness combined with snappy acidity, blackpepper/clove spices and thick, meaty bodies typical of classic zinfandel make the consumption of sweet/spicy/vinegary pork barbecues all the more luscious – one of the most natural wine and food combinations in the world.

Slabs of dry rubbed ribs

In Memphis where I once lived, each specialty barbecue house has its own “secret” rubs (variations of paprika, onion powder and cayenne, and taking it from there), and it’s in the roasting mediums that you get further distinctions. My favorite were the slabs by Central BBQ, which always come out of slow-cook ovens extremely earthy and caramelized: lessons in sensory overload (you can also order “wet” slabs in most barbecue joints, but sauces can blur the subtleties – yes, even jackhammer sensations have refinements – of dry rubs).

The best wine matches for dry rubbed slabs are thick and meaty, with enough tannin and chewy wood to absorb the fat and stinging red pepper spice. Sounds like a job for petite sirah, and it is. For starters: those of Earthquake, Rosenblum and Two Angels deliver the uncontained tannin and sweetness of fruit (like peppery blueberries) you expect in this grape; although my current favorites petites are those of Truett-Hurst in Dry Creek Valley, Carol Shelton’s Rockpile Reserve, Amador County’s C.G. di Arie, and Parducci’s True Grit from Mendocino, and from the Sierra Foothills, the killer petites of Cedarville, Miraflores and Lava Cap.

Pure syrahs, of course, often have enough cracked pepper qualities to dial in the red and black peppery spices of Memphis dry rubs.  The syrahs of Paul Lato, Jaffurs, MacPrice Meyers, and Skylark in California, and Quady North, Del Rio and Spangler in Southern Oregon are among the most peppery I have recently found (for an expanded rundown on top West Coast syrahs, see Syrahs, Syrahs, Syrahs). Then again, there are never enough excuses to reach for an actual petite sirah… so there!

Barbecue Chicken

In Hawai`i we call it huli huli chicken (usually halves marinated in mixtures of soy sauce, lime, ginger, Hawaiian sea salt, brown sugar or honey, and a touch of cayenne or sambal, before char-grilling). In Memphis, I found that the whole chickens were usually rubbed with mixtures of salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, white or brown sugar, dry mustard, garlic and onion powder, but it was the slow roasting that really did the trick: the meat absolutely inundated with nostril penetrating smokiness, served with thick, phenomenally expressive sauces (spices touching all the taste buds – sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and umami).

The fruitiness of softer style zinfandels (like Jesse's Grove's Earth, Zin & Fire, Michael-David’s unbiquitous 7 Deadly Zins, or better yet, Laurel Glen's ZaZin) makes an the effortless match, but the more blatantly sweet oaked, smoky, sun ripened fruit forward qualities typical of Australian shiraz might be even better. I’m always partial to the syrahs of winemaker Sparky Marquis (co-originator of Marquis-Philips), who now makes an amazing South Australia shiraz under the Mollydooker label. Other top, value priced choices: Torbreck’s Woodcutter’s, d’Arenberg’s Footbolt, and Gemtree’s organically grown Tadpole.

But if the day is a 90° or 100°+ scorcher, don’t underestimate the power of good ol’ fashioned white zinfandel (the watermelony fresh, off-dry De Loach has always been my favorite) with smoky, spicy chicken. Another great summery choice: classic, off-dry riesling from Germany (look for Zilliken’s Butterfly or Pfeffingen’s Pfeffo), Down Under (like the Margaret River’s Leeuwin Estate or New Zealand’s Villa Maria), or the Pacific-Northwest (Chehalem in Willamette Valley and Pacific Rim in Columbia Valley make the finest).

Soy based Asian style barbecues

Japanese teriyaki, Mongolian and Korean style barbecues always start with marinades of soy sauce, garlic, ginger and sugar; and after that, the variations are endless (additions of beer, chili spices, sesame seeds, Worcestershire, hoisin, pineapple, saké, rice or white wine vinegars, mustards or wasabi, ponzu or yuzu, green onions or mint… you name it, it’s done), and usually involve either thinly sliced beef flank or sirloin, or (in the case of Korean kalbi) short ribs of beef.

Since soy sauce is basically a salty/umami sensation, the best balancing sensations in a wine are either residual sugar (i.e. slightly sweet whites, like that of rieslings) or unabashed fruitiness in red wines made from zinfandel, syrah or shiraz, or gamay noir – the latter, the grape of France’s Beaujolais region). When it comes to Beaujolais, virtually any brand or type will do; although I am partial to the more deeply aromatic and flavorful bottlings of Beaujolais’ grand crus, which you find labeled under village names such as Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chénas, Chiroubles, Régnié, Juliénas, Saint-Amour, Brouilly or Côte de Brouilly.

My absolute favorite Beaujolais reds? Those of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant: beginning with luscious, sprightly Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais and the full, fleshy, grandiose Domaine Diochon Moulin-à-Vent, and ending with the earthy yet exuberantly fruited, unfiltered, unfined, unnothinged Morgons by Domaine Thévenet or Guy Breton.

Ah, summer… ah, barbecued meats and wines!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sing while you enjoy your wine and food (favorite culinary songs)

What are your favorite eating and drinking songs? There must be a million of them; but then again, not. But these days the vast library in the internet sky allows you put your favorites all together in once place, making for one, big musical food, wine, beer, whiskey, and coffee fest.

Yet for all the eating and drinking songs in our own language, one of my favorites is actually French – La Danse de Limonade, performed by the Savoy-Doucet Cajun band – that starts:

Mon j'aime cousine, mon j'aime cousin
J'aime mieux la cuisiniere

(I like my girl cousin, I like my boy cousin

But I like the cook the best…)

… and then goes on to describe the typical Cajun dance party; where the girl, in her innocent voice, describes how she gets “drunk like a big pig,” begs her friends to force her to drink lemonade, but in the end needs to turn to Hadacol (a snake charmer’s medicinal, popular in the 1940s) to recover.

One of the oldest classics is Bessie Smith’s circa-1920s Gimme a Pigfoot (… and a bottle of beer… give the piano man a drink because he’s bringing me down), although I think Ferdinand "Jelly Roll” Morton’s Wining Boy Blues – composed and first performed in the New Orleans brothels that employed him – pre-dates Smith’s Pigfoot. The way Morton once told the story of how he came up with the bluesiest wine song ever written:

When the place (Hilma Burt’s on Basin Street) was closing down, it was my habit to pour these partly filled bottles of wine together and make up a new bottle from the mixture. That fine drink gave me a name and from that I made a tune that was very, very popular in those days…

I'm a wining boy, don't deny my name,
I'm a wining boy, don't deny my name…

Hate to say it, but it reminds me of exactly what we used to do when I first got into the restaurant business, mixing leftover wines and making coolers out of them (I’ve since acquired “good taste”… I think).

Otherwise, I wouldn’t exactly call most of the songs written about wine “great.” After a while, for example, the repetitive cycle of UB40’s Red Red Wine – penned, but evidently never performed, by Neil Diamond – starts to wear thin. Diamond’s Cracklin’ Rose (… you're a store bought woman), on the other hand, still sounds fresh today, more than thirty-five years after it hit the charts. However, Eric Burdon’s Spill the Wine now seems as dated as his Sky Pilot, as do Dean Martin’s and Mel Tillis’s renditions of Little Ole Wine Drinker Me. But if there was any song that plucks the heart strings of a wine lover, it would be Jesse Winchester’s little known, under-appreciated (hey, just like a French vin de pays!) Little Glass of Wine:

Little glass of wine, a good thing you are here
You're warm on my lips, warm as a tear

A comfort to the fool who's restless in his mind

The lover's trusty potion, little glass of wine

The most sing-able wine song ever written? For that honor, I nominate Jerry Jeff Walker’s Sangria Wine, which even contains a recipe for the best sangria and suggested sangria-friendly foods:

In Texas on a Saturday night
Everclear is added to the wine sometimes

Some nachos, burritos and tacos
Who knows how it usually it goes…

It goes... I love that sangria wine
Just like I love old friends of mine

They tell the truth when they’re mixed with the wine

That’s why I blend in the lemons and limes

Is that poetry in a bottle or what? Well, maybe I think so because I love to sangria too much. Almost as elegiac as the names of the best she-done-left-me-and-drove-me-to-drink country songs; like George Jones’s If the Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will) and Jerry Lee Lewis’s What Made Milwaukee Famous (Made a Loser Out of Me).

Eating and drinking songs are just like wines – it’s difficult to name your favorite. But I’ll give it a try, dividing them into four categories. Going by the names of my favorite performer(s) of each respective song:

Favorite Eating Songs

1. Diana Krall/Nat King Cole - Frim Fram Sauce
2. Leon Redbone - Mr. Jelly Roll Baker
3. Bessie Smith – Gimme a Pigfoot
4. The Andrews Sisters – Hold Tight, Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama)
5. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys/Asleep at the Wheel & Dixie Chicks – Roly Poly
6. Ry Cooder – Crow Black Chicken
7. Diana Krall – Peel Me a Grape
8. Michael Franks - Eggplant
9. Taj Mahal/Lovin' Spoonful – Fishing Blues
10. The Coasters/Loudon Wainwright III – Smokey Joe’s Café
11. The Kinks – Skin and Bones
12. Dizzy Gillespie – Salt Peanuts
13. Michael Hurley – You’ll Never Go to Heaven
14. Jimmy Rogers/Merle Haggard – Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia
15. Hank Williams Sr. – Jambalaya
16. Jack Johnson – Banana Pancakes
17. Ka’au Crater Boys – He `Ono
18. Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, Jane Wyman & Jimmy Durante – Black Strap Molasses
19. Booker T & the MGs – Green Onions
20. Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks – I Don’t Want Love
21. Dusty Springfield/Chrissie Hynde & UB40 – Breakfast In Bed
22. Average White Band – Cut the Cake
23. Presidents of the United States – Peaches
24. The Mamas & the Papas – Sing for Your Supper
25. Bob Dylan – Country Pie

Favorite Wine Songs

1. Jimmie Rogers/Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt – Kisses Sweeter Than Wine
2. Jerry Jeff Walker – Sangria Wine
3. Jesse Winchester – Little Glass of Wine
4. Jelly Roll Morton/Leon Redbone – Wining Boy Blues
5. The Band – Strawberry Wine
6. Neil Diamond – Cracklin’ Rose
7. Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen – Wine Do Yer Stuff
8. Arlo Guthrie – Lightning Bar Blues
9. UB40- Red Red Wine
10. Eric Burdon & War – Spill the Wine
11. Marsha Thornton – A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline
12. Emmylou Harris – Two Bottles of Wine
13. Cerys Matthews – Chardonnay
14. The Fireballs – Bottle of Wine

Favorite Drinking Songs (Non-Country)

1. The Andrews Sisters – Rum and Coca Cola
2. Lil’ Bob & the Lollipops/Los Lobos – I Got Loaded
3. Leroy Carr – Hustler’s Blues
4. Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band – La Danse de Limonade
5. Flaco Jimenez – En El Cielo No Hay Cerveza
6. Billie Holiday – Riffin’ the Scotch
7. Mississippi John Hurt – Coffee Blues
8. The Kinks – Demon Alcohol
9. Damian Junior Gong Marley – One Cup of Coffee
10. Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs – Sugar Shack
11. Harry Nilsson – Coconut
12. Randy Newman/Bonnie Raitt – Guilty
13. John Prine – They Oughta Name a Drink After You
14. The Doors – Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)
15. Billie Holiday/Frank Sinatra/Dolly Parton – I Get a Kick Out of You
16. UB40 – Bring Me Your Cup
17. Adam Carroll – Of Milwaukee’s Best
18. John Lee Hooker & Bonnie Raitt – One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
19. Nouvelle Vague – Too Drunk to Fuck
20. Loudon Wainwright III – Drinking song

Favorite Country-Western Drinking Songs

1. Merle Haggard/George Jones – Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down
2. Gram Parsons – Kiss the Children
3. Kris Kristofferson/Johnny Cash – Sunday Morning Coming Down
4. George Jones/The Byrds – You’re Still On My Mind
5. Hank Thompson/Merle Haggard – Wild Side of Life
6. Rhonda Vincent – Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin
7. The Flying Burrito Brothers - Juanita
8. Louvin Brothers/Johnny Cash – Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea
9. George Jones – If the Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)
10. Ernest Tubbs – Pass the Booze
11. Kitty Wells – Death at the Bar
12. Hank Williams Sr. – Honky Tonkin’
13. Tommy Alverson – Uno Mas Cerveza
14. Garth Brooks – Friends In Low Places
15. Leon Russell/Hank Thompson – A Six Pack to Go
16. Daryle Singletary/New Riders of the Purple Sage – Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)
17. Jerry Lee Lewis – What Made Milwaukee Famous (Made a Loser Out of Me)
18. Louvin Brothers – The Drunkard’s Doom
19. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys – Lone Star Beer
20. Hank Williams Sr. – There’s a Tear In My Beer
21. Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen – Lost In the Ozone Again
22. Loretta Lynn – Honky Tonk Girl
23. George Strait/Poco – Honky Tonk Downstairs
24. Tanya Tucker – Somebody Buy This Cowgirl a Beer
25. Loretta Lynn – Don’t Come Home a’Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind)
26. Alan Jackson – It’s Five o’ Clock Somewhere
27. Tom T. Hall – I Only Think About You When I’m Drunk
28. Joe Nichols – She Only Smokes When She Drinks
29. Wanda Jackson – Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine
30. Charlie Rich – Sittin’ and Thinkin’
31. George Jones – These Days (I Barely Get By)
32. Brooks & Dunn – You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl