Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Surprise! When wines are dubious tricksters and SKIN

It's 9 o'clock on a Tuesday night
The regular crowd shuffles in
There's an old man sitting next to me
Just kidding, I am by myself

Billy Joel just gets it, you know? And I think he really crushed it feelings-wise when he wrote:

I don't want clever conversation 
I never want to work that hard 
I just want someone that I can talk to 
I want you just the way you are. 

Because cleverness is exhausting, hard work is straight up terrible and acceptance of the person you are boning is a classy move. Also, so you don't have to even put in the hard work that is typing it into your search box, here you go. You're super welcome.

Let me set the scene for you dreamy readers out there. It's Tuesday evening. I've made it through such trials and tribulations as another health insurance application and a misunderstanding vis-a-vis the time of my Groupon manicure which led to no Groupon manicure. The vibe in my apartment is very Karen Sharp. And the wine I'm sipping started out a little closed off, green bell pepper, spice, underbrush and resin, then opened up into smoke, mesquite and blackberry. Oh my goodness, who is grilling blackberries up here? Oh wait, NO ONE! Bam. Luscious and jammy on the palate, black-red and nearly opaque, and at 14.8% ABV, this 2011 Bear & Crown drinks like a Bordeaux blend. So what is it? Merlot? Cabernet? Syrah? All of the above? Nope. Check it out:

I know, right? As my dad texted me during the Oscars, "WTF is Seth McFarland?" That may not be applicable here but I really wanted to share that text with the earth. This, a Pinot Noir? Aren't those supposed to be translucent and subtle and smell like raw meat and raspberries? This meat smells cooked over fire! Raspberries are similar to blackberries so ok fine! But this does not look like a Pinot Noir:

Yes, I did my nails myself because the lady dicked me over. By the way, this is how you should check a wine's appearance: white background, tilting the glass (which shouldn't be more than a third full anyway so you can swirl and sniff), in the presence of Trader Joe's olive oil cooking spray. That way you can get a sense of the hue, the opacity, and even the age. This wine's color goes all the way to the edge and has a very slight purple-blue tinge. It's pretty young. The purple-blue would be more pronounced if it was super youthful, but this is pretty ok. That doesn't mean it's young in years (although it is, it's a 2011). That means it's young for this particular wine. This could be a 2008 or a 1989 and if it looked like this we'd call it young. Reds get lighter and more rust-colored with age (though Pinot Noirs are almost always light even when young. Not this time!), so regardless of the year, some thin, rusty-ass wine is old. White wines get darker with age, toward amber colored, and have a green tinge when they're particularly youthful. And just in case this wasn't confusing enough, some wines are meant to age, some aren't. Most wines should be drunk 3-5 years within the vintage date.

Ok, so let's think about how this happened. How did this thin-skinned grape that usually results in light, low-tannin, delicately flavored wines end up this big, bad, bold motherfucker? Well, I don't know, write this Robin Langton character the label says made it a letter and find out. But when you do, run this guess by her...

Skin contact. This is my theory. These grapes sat in contact with the skin for a long, long time. Here's why I think this: the juice of red grapes is clear. The color comes from contact with the skins. The skins of white grapes are removed early in the process, but red grapes ferment with theirs and sometimes get extended maceration or other processes to really get every last tannin and aromatic out of the skins. I think that's what happened here: bonus skin time. That got all these rich aromatics out of the skin and gave it a hue whose corresponding lipstick is more goth than femme fatal. Rose wines have some contact with their skins (and depending on what that skin is, will have color ranging from ballet slipper pink to magenta. And magenta isn't necessarily sweet, it just comes from thick-skinned grapes like Syrah). White wines have little or no contact with the skins. 

Here's a metaphor I just invented, debated not using, then took a few more gulps of wine and decided was genius. In this metaphor, the skins are skins. Like when you first meet someone, you're all, I do not know if I want you in contact with me, what if you have a rash or what if you hurt me like the others or what if you are made of glass and the temperature and smoothness of your body is a shock? You have little or no skin-to-skin contact with the other person. 

Ok, so that's white wine. 

Rose is the honeymoon stage, when you're blushing and happy and delighting in your sex injuries because you've had lots of skin contact but only for a short period of time. The chemistry is electric and you're still pretending to like farmers markets and thinking this person is perfect when their skin disappears (hopefully with the rest of them, or not hopefully, depending how rude the disappearance was) and you just stop everything and go into a metaphorical bottle which is the walls you put up that you don't know if you can ever smash down. 

Red wine is when you've been with someone for a long time and everything is darkness and drinking and 14.8% alcohol doesn't seem like nearly enough and also the bottle is the walls. This part may need some work.

The point is, labels aren't everything. Grape variety isn't even everything, which I find startling and uncomfortable and a little bit freeing, like the time I found out Josh Brolin and Diane Lane were married by finding out they were getting a divorce, or the other time I almost typed Russell Crowe instead of Josh Brolin. The wine in the glass is everything. The wine in the glass is worth two wines in the bush because what if you forget which bush you hid the wines in? I just wish Josh and Diane realized this before it was too late.

So try wines, form your own opinions, and never close yourself off to a particular grape variety altogether. You may have just hated the winemaking techniques used, or the person you were drinking it with, or eaten it with the wrong food, or not been mature enough to appreciate it, or have drunk it out of a chalice that was full of ebola like ten minutes before you poured. All of these things could have happened.

Even with Chardonnay.

I'll snuggle you juuust the waaay you aaaaaaare

Monday, February 25, 2013

The internet is pretty good

Everything happens for a reason. Last night, I told my friend Sam about my blog. When I gave him the address, he thought I said "random" instead of "wine and." I am so, so, so glad this happened because this is the best blog there will ever be. Thanks, universe, for designing my destiny in such an ok fashion.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What to do when your date cancels and you have work early the next morning

Obviously, have the best night of your life. Be-fucking-hold:

Shelby Ledgerwood recommended a sweet, aromatic Riesling with curry, so I figured this gem of a Gewurztraminer could hold up well to my Indian takeout feast.

Now let me just say, for the record, I HATE that this wine is called "Cupcake." I want to be a cool and withering bitch of a girl who says things like "quelle surprise" about things like an acquaintance's unwanted pregnancy. I do not want to drink a wine called Cupcake. But what can you do? I'm not quite sure how you pronounce "surprise" in that situation, everyone I know seems to practice safe sex and the 2011 Cupcake Gewurztraminer is the jam.

And isn't it fitting to drink a wine called "Cupcake" when staying in on a Friday night? I've had this wine before, with one of my most adorable girlfriends, and that might have been even more fitting, but this is a close second. "'I don't need a man! I'm my own boyfriend!' she sobbed into her cupcake, tears saturated with grief and glitter and cheap white wine." <----that is a sentence that works for sure.

But I'm not sobbing. I don't hate staying in. And I'm not so girly that I have to get a wine called cupcake, I'm not in the store like, "oh my God, it's called 'cupcake,' Nikki, we have to." I just came to terms with the fact that I like Gewurztraminer, and this was the one available through the 5 cent wine sale, so I sucked it up and bought a couple bottles.

And I loved it. What's not to love? Other than myself? Gewurztraminer is a fussy, cool-climate grape that sometimes has a pink tinge and always comes in a tall, slender bottle. It's a lot like a nice Jewish girl: it hates to be too hot, it hates to be too cold, but it's mostly sweet, got a big personality, and smells ah-mazing. Translated, Gewurztraminer literally means "perfumed" or "spiced" Traminer (a kind of grape). And Cupcake proves no exception. This wine smells like guava and rose petals and tastes just as good, with some earthiness as it warms. If an English garden went to town on a tropical rainforest and the tropical rainforest and the English garden was like, "wait, do you have a...?" and the rainforest went, "are you on the pill? Because I just really hate condoms" and the English garden was like, in her mind, "shit, did I take it this morning?" but in her words was all, "yeah, totally, 100%" and then--QUELLE SURPRISE--they got pregnant and decided to keep it, this wine would be their love child. And I really mean that, because they end up happily ever after. Don't believe me? Then take Knocked Up off your favorite movies list on Facebook, hypocrite, because that is pretty much the plot of that movie.

I used to think dry meant classy when it came to white wines. But while Cupcake 2011 Gewurztraminer is dry, it's more floral and fun and whimsical and honestly, so am I. I will never pull off "quelle surprise" in conversation (but I do think I pretty much nailed it above in text). I do, however, make great comfort food and snuggle like nobody's watching. I laugh a lot. Flowers are the best. My cake decorating skills are solid. My name is Ali Schouten, AND I'M OK WITH BEING SWEET.

God, that felt good. But back to brass tacks (on like, an aqua ballet flat. Right??? How cute would that be?). Don't serve this wine too cold. In fact, don't serve whites too cold in general. You won't get any aromatics. An ice bucket should only be used for sparkling wine, and most whites need a minute after they come out of the fridge. Let this one linger in your glass; that last sip will be a treasure at almost room temperature. It goes well with spice, salt, and rich flavors (hence it kicking ass with Chicken Korma and Garlic Naan). Pair it with Indian food, a Kubrick classic, and contented solitude, or an everything bagel with smoked salmon, a gaggle of girlfriends (bonus points if they are also geese) and proud, self-mocking loneliness.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B
(I was smiling at an everything bagel with smoked salmon)
(I was blonde)
(Also there were girlfriends there. The gaggle was taking the picture. This is not a great exhibit)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Shelby Ledgerwood

Shelby Ledgerwood says the grape is the lens through which we taste the terroir. Now that you know what terroir is (and if you don't, see below!), don't you think that's the most wonderful thing you have ever read in your life and that she is the best person that there is in existence? We can travel the world and experience different climates, all with our nose! And while getting drunk! Shelby's the best.

WTF is...

Terroir. It sounds so impressive but it would sound pretty unimpressive if you used it incorrectly at dinner. Or worse, if you used it correctly and your date asked you what it meant and you couldn't say and then he's like, hmm, it's just hard for me to get past this because my mom was a wannabe intellectual and a liar and I have issues with women and trust and I'm just really busy right now and unfortunately you will be alone forever, please pack your knives and go.

The good news is, terroir has a beautiful, one-word definition: "somewhereness." Ok, so that's not a word, but it is the definition Shelby Ledgerwood gave and it is pretty perfect. Terroir is the combination of climate, soil and geographical features that creates a wine's unique aromatics. It's the environment in which the grapes were produced.

While grape varietal is the most important factor in determining how a wine smells and tastes, terroir, along with viticulture, winemaking and ageing, is also important. Not only that, it is the factor with the most variety and the least human control. Basically, grape varietal and terroir are nature, and viticulture, winemaking and ageing are nurture.

Different grape varietals require different types of terroirs to ripen properly. While the Great 8 (Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah/Shiraz) can grow in many locations, they still require certain specifications to thrive. Other grapes are even more particular about their required terroirs. But regardless, the same grape grown in different parts of the world will create wine that tastes different.

That's not only what makes terroir so special, but also useful in labeling wines. Every country has levels of classifying wines, from basic table wines on up. The highest level (and often the bulk of wines, because winemakers take pride in their work) are classified not using political boundaries, but terroir. Regions of particular terroirs are specified, then sub-regions within those, and finally, vineyards and estates within those. Generally, the more specific, the better, and each country has laws about what you need to do to get which level of specificity on your label. This is why France, the first country to have laws about wine production and labeling, doesn't always have the grape varietal on the bottle. Once you get to a certain level and get to define by specific regions, there are rules about which grapes are allowed in the bottle anyway. For example, a white Burgundy will almost always be a Chardonnay, as that is the chief white grape for that region. If the bottle says French Chardonnay, it doesn't mean it's bad, it just means it didn't meet classification-by-terroir-requirements. At the very top levels in France, you can even tell where on a specific slope in a particular vineyard the grapes grew! In the US, you might notice some wines say things like "California Champagne" while others specify a wine growing region like Napa Valley, or even a particular state. We've got rules, too, and while they're not so strict, the same thing goes for specificity: it's generally a good thing.

Ok, ok, whatever, how can I use this word in a sentence that will make others feel inferior? Terroir can affect wine in so many wines, it would be hard to make a wrong observation as long as you keep it vague. Whether it's a climate thing (ripe, fruit-forward wines probably got a lot of sunshine, maybe a late harvest, while thin-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir come from cooler climates), a fun fact about soil (gravel for Cabernet Sauvignon, clay and limestone for Merlot, and terra rosa, an iron-rich soil, for a boost in tannins), or geography (proximity to water and altitude make a difference), a brief observation can send you into charming speculation of the wine's heritage, and maybe, after another glass and a discussion of your own and how you got to be some damn clever.

Some terroirs:

Santa Barbara!


Inside of a whale!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Amitage 2009 Red Blend, blends in general and Don Draper making you jam

The last wine I reviewed I got all upset about the label. Just a heads up, that will not be happening again. I'm not saying I don't hate labels, because cool girls hate labels, but this label is fairly unremarkable and the wine's name is just shy of being too cute. Plus, this wine tastes pretty fucking dope.

Amitage is apparently a combination of "love" and "heritage" which is all too adorable until you consider "Meritage" (pronounced like "heritage"), also a combination word (merit + heritage, hence the pronunciation). Meritage is a US wine association started in Napa that makes Bordeaux-style wines. The name serves a few purposes. First, it designates those wines as part of an elite group that meets a certain set of standards. Second, it tells the drinker what type of wine to expect. And third, rather than infringe on the Bordeaux region, which is legally protected as a name, or calling themselves Bordeaux-style which sounds a little weak, these winemakers take pride in their product. So I'm a fan of "Amitage" as a name for this Washington state wine. It's a sweet nod to the winery's own signature style.

I'm also a huge fan of this Washington state wine in general. On the nose, along with the gentle singe of high alcohol, it's full of oak, leather, spice, blackberry, tobacco... This is like if Don Draper made you jam. I have to drink this, it is so manly.

In mouth: rich, silky, with mild tannins, plum, spice, oak, blackberry, and a hint of vanilla. Oh man, it is like drinking a strong, protective, slightly arousing hug! I guess it's not really jam Don Draper is making but dried fruit, but John Hamm operating a fruit dehydrator isn't quite as sexy as him in an apron, stirring, sensually pouring in pure cane sugar to taste, feeding you spoonfuls of jam and not judging you when some seeds get stuck in your teeth and then kissing you lightly on the forehead before you both dive into your library books and a good night's sleep. End of fantasy.

This is why we shouldn't turn up our noses at blends (or Washington state wines, for that matter. Many of them are pretty tremendous). This wine has the full body, black fruit, smoke, and spice of a Cabernet, but with the silky, lower-tannin feel of a Merlot. It's got the best of both worlds. Sure, we could see "table wine" or "blend" on a label and assume the worst. Or we could trust the love + heritage in this bottle and save some money on what is a truly yummy wine.

Pair with: an episode of "Mad Men," obviously. Maybe a really nice blunt. This wine could stand up to roasted or braised meat, most cheeses, and even chocolate. It's a really well-balanced wine, with sweetness and acidity in check, plus plenty of fruit and spice to match or contrast your food. Surprisingly drinkable for such a dense, complex wine, you might need more than one bottle.

My momma. Love + heritage!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Drink the rest later, babe!*

*(not sure if I can pull off "babe")

Live alone? Want to open a new bottle for each course? Just trying to cut back on your drinking? Don't chug the rest of that bottle! I will show you how to save it! Here is a Venn Diagram.

(This is original artwork copyright Ali Schouten 2013)

First thing you to know is: all wines do not save equally. There are a few factors that help wine save. The first shouldn't surprise anyone. These two ingredients have saved me on more than one occasion. They are alcohol and sugar. Fortified wines crush it when it comes to saving. Keep that good Madeira or Porto til whenever. You know that scene in "Pirates of the Caribbean: One of These Movies" when Johnny Depp and Kiera Knightly are on a deserted island and they find that super old rum to drink and it's still good but then Kiera I think doesn't actually drink it but not because it's bad, I think there's a larger plot at work here? Right, exactly. Rum has high alcohol and high sugar, so it lasts forever. The closer your wine is to rum, the closer it is to forever.

"But wait," you say. "I don't like too much booze or sweetness. I've cut back on these things and talk about it constantly." To you I say, "Weird, I didn't know I was friends with dicks, but ok. Don't sweat it. Keep reading this current blog post you are currently reading." A full-bodied, tannic red will also keep pretty well if stored properly (see below). Next, you have your non-aromatic, acidic whites, and finally, keeping the shortest amount of time, your aromatic whites. But even these will keep a day or so if handled with care.

So how does this look? Pretty good? NO, TERRIBLE. Well, not entirely. The first rule of saving wine is to keep it cold. Heat releases aromatics and like most classy things, once aromatics are gone, they're never coming back (I am not an aromatic. There's a couple ex-boyfriends I would like to stress this to). So keep that wine cold, in the fridge or by a window in winter when you're too cheap to pay for heat. Like I did with that meh Viognier from last week, except that I ruined it by not following the rest of the rules in this blog post.

As I'm sure all you loyal readers remember, this was a delicate wine without a much acidity but with some subtle aromatics. This wine was going to be tough to keep even before I SCREWED EVERYTHING ELSE UP ENTIRELY.

How could I have potentially avoided this? A few ways. In order to keep out excess oxygen, you want to transfer wine to the smallest vessel available and then seal it off. If you have one of those cool things that you pump and then the air comes out (I have one, I just can't remember what it's called), use that. It's very hip to oxygenate or decant all wines these days. Not really necessary in most cases, plus this'll make wine harder to save. So if you're thrifty, oxygenate your wine the old fashioned way, with air, and make it easier to drink tomorrow. You also want to make sure you keep the cork, or better yet, a reusable, sealing cork, moist. Just like you'd store wine you hadn't opened on its side, so too should an open wine be horizontal. You know, I feel like there's so low-hanging fruit in the form of a sex joke here, and I'm not going to make it because of my dignity. Please notice that maturity if you are one of the ex-boyfriends to whom I am not gone forever.

Finally, there are Wine Preservers that Shelby Ledgerwood says work very well. And if worst comes to worst, there's always drinking it! There's always, always drinking it.

(Ah, much better! Sealed and sideways, save away!)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Some things I love

I love glassware. The whole damn menagerie. Whether it's a champagne flute, an elegant cake stand or a gaudy paperweight, I love it. LACMA's permanent collection has some fine pieces. Gemstones also please me, and the words "Swarovski crystal" are fun to say. If it's shiny and a little bit practical or at least not the cause of violent conflict and an iffy Leo DiCaprio movie, I'm on board. But some truly fine glassware, to me, is my nirvana. It makes me feel like if I had it, my life would be all garden parties and pinkies out and perfection. I have yet to use my elegant cake stand. I might be quite a superficial person.

So it should come as no surprise that I love Crate & Barrel, the ultimate in if-you-had-it-you'd-be-graceful items. And it should come as even less than no surprise (ennui?) that I love THIS.

Cheers, humanity. Oh, and way to crush it with one of the original uses of Helvetica Bold, C&B.

My bestie Julia with her handcrafted drinking chalice. Ok, so this is better than Crate & Barrel.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Shelby Ledgerwood

Shelby Ledgerwood says most wines do not need to be decanted. But when she did decant one wine during class, she proved that a big, fancy decanter is unnecessary. She used a clean flower vase she got at Target! It was beautiful but not as beautiful as she is! One day Shelby will be my friend. I will buy her flowers and she will buy me wine and we'll laugh and laugh about where to put what. That will be a really good day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Babble, the wine, and some babble of my own

Ok, I just found something out that may shock you. Are you sitting down? Probably, you're using the internet. But if you're waiting on line for something, sit on the floor.  Do it. Do it now. Did you sit? Ok, good, because years of pop culture have taught me that if you hear shocking news standing up, your kneecaps will fall out or something.

So you're sitting, you're ready, let's do this:

It turns out I didn't  invent the concept of being into wine without being a snob about it. I know, I'm sorry if you were misled. Certainly after a few more posts people will see I reinvented this concept, if not subjective literary nonfiction in its entirety, but as for inventing it first, wasn't me.

I say this because I just read a wine label whose subtext was basically "look how chill I am. I am very chill. Hip, but chill. ARE YOU LOOKING AT MY CHILLNESS?" This wine is Babble, a recommendation of the resident wine aficionado at one of my two local Trader Joe's (and they say this isn't a neighborhood)(how do you pluralize "Trader Joe's?"). The label features Beatrix Potter-esque ink drawings of animals surrounding a rat with a bottle of wine. The rat is telling a story, but the monologue winds up the label, making it difficult to read. The Trader Joe's sommelier or whatever he is made sure to tell me, giddy with laughter, twice, to make whoever pours the wine read what the rat is saying. "What's he saying?" I asked. "Can I just tip the bottle now, while it's closed, and read it?" I could not. Aside from being cumbersome to read, the words aren't even all real words. How chill is that, guys?????

But aside from the chill label, we have the back. I quote: "We won't bore you with overwrought descriptions of Babble... we're too busy blending great Mendocino County wines. But if we had to pin down the flavors, we think Babble tastes like plum, bacon fat, and blackberry preserves--kinda creamy on the palate with hints of cocoa, and tannins that round out nicely in the finish. Enjoy a glass with friends and hearty fare! And while you're at it, why not take turns coming up with your own wine babble? Vie for the longest, most outrageous faux critique. Special bonus points for using words that don't exist!"

Oh my GOD fuck you. Now, it may seem like a fine line between what I'm writing and that, but I really like finding the flavors, getting all wannabe-poetic, and comparing notes with others or the internet. It's fun, especially when you have a little wine buzz going. The biology and history and geography of wine interest me. Sure, some of it gets a bit over-the-top, but it's all in the name of enjoyment, which is a great thing and an even better name that I call for my first born and you can't use it. I earnestly like wine tasting. This label is cynical. This is "I was into wine before it was cool" for people who get that wine has been around forever because it was invented by Romans and dinosaurs. I don't want to make up words. I want to try my best to articulate what's there. As a writer, I spend all day imagining (and doing my 4000 piece jigsaw puzzle in front of episodes of "The West Wing" on Netflix). My few weeks in wine class have taught me to observe, in particular by using smell, a sense humans use bafflingly little compared to all other animals.

I think we can go too far in our quest to be hip about wine. We're so into our apathy about terroir and tannins that we forget it can be fun to discuss. We've gone from "And also, California!" to "FUCK FRANCE." Ok, it doesn't really matter where a wine comes from, but generally, we get a lot of good ones from certain grapes and certain regions. It's like, yeah, there are great runners from lots of places, but Kenya and Ethiopia have a solid track record. Is that analogy racist? Well then here's another analogy: yes, I am a perceived racist and I am from Los Angeles by way of New England, but generally, if you're looking for a truly lush and delicious racist, you'd want to look in the South.

As far as a review goes (this ain't no "faux critique"), I actually really dig this wine. I get lovely, ripe aromas of black cherry, blackberry and cocoa with a little cedar. Like black forest cake served in an actual forest! In-mouth aromas (as Shelby Ledgerwood calls them, because we only taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami; the rest is smell) include plenty of cocoa and sure, I'll give them blackberry jam. Plum, even. But bacon fat? Well, Shelby Ledgerwood says wine is never salty, and she's a fucking genius, and this isn't smoky either, so I think Babble is relying on yet another trying-to-be-a-hipster assumption: that everything, including their label, is better with bacon on it.

The thing is, this wine is good enough not to need promises of bacon. Instead, serve with strong or creamy cheese (but not goat, as the acidity here is pretty low), duck, Moroccan or Ethiopian food, or just some peanut butter cookies and a puzzle. After all, this wine is very chill. Like, so chill. Like I'm seriously stressing out how chill this wine is, you guys.

I thought this wine came with a record player.

Wine + chocolate

Happy Valentines Eve! Hopefully, your Valentines plans don't look like mine from a couple years ago:

Bud Light doesn't really go with an entire box of chocolates and When Harry Met Sally (although it does wash down the saltiness of tears beautifully). We want wine for that (salt is great at enhancing flavor in wines, unless they have high alcohol, which it will make taste bitter)! Here's a little advice for planning a sexy dessert for two. Or twenty. Or I AM A STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN AND I AM FUCKING FINE ALONE, OK?!

First of all: Champagne and chocolate, actually not such a great idea. Champagne tends to be very dry, and when pairing wines, you need the wine to be sweeter than the food. This doesn't mean cloyingly sweet. In fact, many wines with plenty of acidity also have plenty of sweetness. But like approximately 100% of Champagnes don't fall into that category. Have Champagne before dinner or obligatory oral sex to stimulate your appetite.

Second: you wouldn't serve a dish without tasting it first, right? I mean, I don't even eat a whole chocolate without biting into a bunch before. Exhibit A:

So try a few wines with your dessert if at all possible. Maybe each chocolate in the box needs a different bottle! Maybe you should have someone take your cell phone before you start drunk dialing! Maybe I'm afraid of my own heart.

Third: Dark chocolate is great with red wine. It's not too sweet, and if you can find a rich Malbec or Syrah with cocoa notes, you're halfway to heaven. The only drawback is, like red wine, dark chocolate has tannins. That's what makes both of them so good for you (unlike that bitch who cheated on you. She had no tannins. None whatsoever. You're better off without her). But tannins + tannins = dry mouth, which is no good for making out or screaming along to Alanis Morissette. Luckily, tannins can be cut with fat. Try dark chocolate ganache truffles or, better yet, this killer dark chocolate mousse

Fourth: Chocolate and fruit. Oh, getting tricky, are we? Just FYI, chocolate covered strawberries, while delicious and sultry to look at, are INCREDIBLY UNSEXY TO EAT. Seriously, have you ever tried to eat these without getting chocolate and strawberry all up in your teeth, a chunk of chocolate on the floor, or your mouth too full to speak? Not possible. But if you've got some small-ish strawberries or another chocolate/fruit combo on the menu, just take care in selecting your wine. A tart fruit like strawberries or oranges will require a high-acid wine that can stand up to them, that is still sweeter than the chocolate. This seems counterintuitive, but sweetness is often used to balance acid, so what you're really looking for is a balanced wine. For chocolate with bananas, ripe mangos, or another sweet fruit, just stick with the rule that the wine should be sweeter than the food. A port is probably your best bet here.

Bonus: Once you follow these rules (and the main one is really just make sure the wine is sweeter than the food), impress your date/self even more by finding a wine with the flavors also found in the dessert. Sure, you might have to try every chocolate in the box to make that happened, but totally do that, it'll be awesome! Happy V-day, all!

Suggested wines:

Zaca Mesa 2008 Syrah
Terrazas de los Andres 2009 Malbec "Reserve"
Taylor Fladgate 2007 Late Bottled Vintage Port
Cocobon 2011 Red Table Wine

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shelby Ledgerwood

Shelby Ledgerwood is my wine instructor. She is a wonderful human being and knows everything. I want to be her friend so, so badly. She is everything I want to be. The only food that affects her palate is yogurt. If she has yogurt at any point in the day, she is at risk for not being able to taste wine as correctly as she normally does! But she really likes yogurt! So it takes some planning. We can all learn from this. All other foods are ok.
Me and Shelby someday, I hope.

Check out Shelby's world at her website.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Loredona Vineyards 2011 Viognier

Viognier was the first wine where I “got it.” They said “notice the aromas of peaches and apricots and white flowers” and I was like, “ok, whatever” and then I totally smelled them and suddenly wine tasting was not bullshit. So I like Viognier. I like how fragrant and fun it is. I like how it smells sweeter than it tastes. I like that 7th grade me would have thought this was the perfect perfume, because it smelled like stereotypical perfume and fruit. In class I learned that Viognier can handle oak without tasting like straight up oak because as a grape it’s so fragrant and flavorful (unlike Chardonnay, where all you get is that wood flavor).

This wine does not smell like perfume and fruit. It’s subtle and light. You get a little of that stone fruit business and a small floral note, but this is not the heady concoction philistine Ali of the past fell for hard. Honestly, this smells like white wine. How am I supposed to impress people at with that? “Yeah, you get a real white wine note on the nose,” I say, and everyone in my life leaves me. The floral note kicks up a bite on the palate, and there’s a hint of clementine, but it’s a tough nut to crack, which is not what I was hoping for when I picked up the only Viognier BevMo offered in their five cent wine sale.

The bottle is tall and interesting, but the label isn’t sexy. I’d say bring it to a party or potluck because people will see it amidst the other bottles of wine. “I brought that tall Viognier. It’s alright. Not as full as I was hoping for but nice” you can say, and then an attractive person will ask for your phone number because you are so interesting. More interesting than the wine you brought.

Pairs well with: creamy cheeses like brie, fish, chicken, Trader Joe’s low-fat spinach kale dip and pita crackers, a braided hairstyle, a peppy girl who doesn't know better, confidence

Why Wine + Feelings?

In December 2012, I was bummin hard. I felt creatively stalled in my writing, frustrated with my prospects both romantic and professional, and utterly un-special, because I was in my twenties and that’s all just par for the course. I realized one of the few things I’d been truly enjoying in the past year was wine tasting. I wasn’t great, but I was getting better, and every time I picked out an aroma, it felt like I had found a hidden treasure. Like I had discovered a way into a poem or a community or something else beautiful and elusive. Like I was enjoying something and I was right. Something so small felt fucking wonderful.

But I didn’t, and I don’t, have very much money. I asked for a wine course for Christmas, determined that this was my true calling and it would come naturally to me and I’d be a young and peppy expert in no time. “Ali Schouten?” people would say. “The renowned oenophile with the cute clothes who really figured out what to do with her hair finally? She has her shit together. And her boyfriend pulls off all kinds of scarves.” People would know who I was!

I took the class. It was awesome. I am not an expert. Wine is hard. I loved the class and am continuing in my studies. I want to know as much as possible. But the most important thing I learned was that you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy wine. It can be a poem and a treasure hunt and a way to wax pretentious for anyone, and it may even be more satisfying to pick out flavors when no one expects you to, least of all yourself.

So I once again did the cliché thing and started a blog. I wanted an excuse to write about wine. About tasting it and making it and pairing it with food, yes, but also about experiencing it, even from an inexperienced perspective.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy reading my posts as much as I enjoy writing them and also that I get really famous.

Here is a picture of some wine I had one time.