The Wine Label Elucidation: Decoding the Wine Bottles of Southern Rhône Valley

Bonne fête nationale! We have come upon the one day in my annual calendar on which I painstakingly pretend to possess a modicum of French zealotry. And whether it’s commemorating the storming of the Bastille (vive la révolution!) or gleeful anticipation for tomorrow’s World Cup Final (I salute anyone who had France vs. Croatia in their finals bracket), there is much to celebrate. Frenzied Francophiles unite! 

In true French fashion, celebrations are only complete with a perpetual pour of high quality vin (admittedly, this is one thing the French get right), and I never miss an opportunity to join my besotted brethren for a tasty beverage. Thus, a metaphorical meandering through the vineyards of France is an appropriate endeavor for a dollop of frivolity on France's famed holiday. 

French wine labels and foreign terminology, however, can leave a typical Yank harboring occasional French fanaticism somewhat befuddled in the grocery aisle. Whereas most wine labels in the United States are varietal specific (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.), France designations are primarily regional.  

Fear not! French bottles are packed with useful information that allows you to procure a great bottle with ease. Admittedly, this requires some regional knowledge and exploration of the many designated appellation d'origine contrôlées (or AOCs) of France. Every AOC is an indicator of the wine’s quality, style, varietals used, and more. Armed with a smattering of regional knowledge and only a few label-navigation tips, you can be drinking with confidence.  

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The Insobrietal Stowaway: Carménère's Fabled Ascent to Fame in the New World

One of the most exciting aspects of the wine world is its tremendous breadth and diversity. With more than 5,000 identified vitis vinifera varietals, there is no scarcity of exploratory adventures.  Of course, only a small fraction of these varietals can be found at your local wine shop, but nonetheless, if you exclusively procure Merlot and Cabernet, your vino consumption is tragically incomplete. Fear not; embrace the vinous underdogs! To commence the wine fridge expansion endeavor, I'll volunteer one example just in time for the summer barbie ...

I am, as the title foretells, talking about the wonderful yet largely forgotten varietal, Carménère (pronounced "car-men-nair"). It carries less notoriety than its distant cousins, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, yet it shares a similarly delightful profile and is extraordinarily food friendly. As a bonus, Carménère boasts a fascinating journey from the Old World to the New, from extinction to rebirth, from unwanted to celebrated. Everyone loves an intriguing narrative, and Carménère has a story to tell.

So toss a few charcoal briquettes in the grill, break out the red wine glasses, and let us toast to Carménère as we grill a fine summer smorgasbord. A story to whet the appetite, and a tasty pairing to quell it. 

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Visual Musings: A Cambodian Retrospective

It may be shocking, but life isn't only about wine.

Photography can often convey emotion and invite reflection in ways that words cannot. Looking through the lens should always result in seeing life with greater clarity, and helping others to do the same. For these reasons, I offer the first in a series entitled Visual Musings that offers themed photo essays of place, purpose or narrative.

For me, no trip greater encompasses all of these components than my Cambodian sojourn in the summer of 2016. Emotion and thoughtful reflection were working overtime. Tremendous poverty and long-endured persecution were interspersed with joy and generosity that exemplified the incredible character and resilience of the Cambodian people. Engineering feats nearly a thousand years old demonstrated the limitless capacity of human innovation. And, of course, the stunning natural beauty of Southeast Asia. It is truly one of my favorite places on earth.

On the two-year anniversary of that trip, it is a fitting commencement to my Visual Musings.

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The Pineapple-Kiwi Combination: Maui Food and Wine Festival Plays Host to Mt. Beautiful Winery

A pineapple-kiwi convergence may sound like the commencement of a smoothie expedition. In this post, however, it is a far more delightful (and a touch inebriating) sojourn to the shores of Maui with one of New Zealand’s great wineries. A tropical vinous adventure packed with sunshine, wine and, most assuredly, a modicum of frivolity. 

Okay, I admit, this post isn’t entirely new. I would characterize it more as an amended and restated post -- new and improved! -- from an earlier bargain Pinot Noir featuring Mt. Beautiful Winery. That post is no longer active so I was patiently perusing other opportunities to revisit this tremendous winery and recommend a few tasty food pairings for its wines that are available locally in Honolulu. I discovered the perfect occasion in the Winery’s event travel itinerary...

The Kiwis are coming, the Kiwis are coming! The Island of Maui plays host to Mt. Beautiful Winery, among other notable vineyards, at the Kapalua Food and Wine Festival on June 7-10. A chance to highlight one of my favorite New Zealand wineries and a Maui food and wine festival all in one post? I will cheerfully take that deal.

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The Great Pizza and Wine Pairing Expedition, Part III: Southern Italy

Our Italian tropological trudging in the Great Pizza and Wine Pairing Expedition has come upon its final chapter. Brick Fire Tavern and its regional menu has faithfully led us from the slopes of the Italian Alps in northern Italy and its creamy rustic flavors of the forest (in Part I) down to the ancient city of Rome (in Part II), tasting a few of the most iconic combinations in Italy's illustrious culinary history. In this final installment, our expedition reaches the southern shores and azure blue waters of the Mediterranean. A utopia that begs for fellowship, relaxation and perhaps a modicum of frivolity. Sounds as though things might get a little spicy...

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The Great Pizza and Wine Pairing Expedition, Part II: Central Italy

Ciao a tutti! This week we are traveling south in the Great Pizza and Wine Pairing Expedition, in diligent pursuit of Italy’s best regional food and wine pairings. Our traveling compass is the esteemed Brick Fire Tavern and its regional menu that is optimized for a regional pairing paradigm. In Part I, we explored northern Italy and the tremendous cuisine inspired by the mountains and forests of the Italian Alps. As our journey heads south, we stop over in central Italy and Rome, its illustrious capital. Here history, culture and cuisine collide in a wonderful accord of fresh flavors and bustling excitement.

Wine and food pairings in the region date back over two thousand years, and some of the most acclaimed cuisine of Italy finds its rudimentary beginnings in the Eternal City. With so much culinary and vinous history, we are certain to discover some incredible pairings.

Excitement untamed; commence unbridled exploration!

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