Blue Ice American Vodka and Blue Ice Organic Wheat Vodka
See, I had a problem. I have long believed that the world of drinkers fell into two distinct camps: Those who enjoy the flavors of distilled drinks, and those that drink vodka. Vodka, to my mind, was a drink that served as the alcoholic equivalent of tofu; while possessing limited properties of its own, it nevertheless served the purpose only of adding meatiness to the existing flavors of the other ingredients. Vodka and cranberry juice did not become a different drink; rather, it became an enhanced cranberry juice that made cute girls in cocktail dresses talk to me, just as tofu doesn’t change the flavor of curry, it just makes it more filling.
Leave it to an Idaho company to change my mind.
Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Blue Ice Vodka is crafted in Rigby, Idaho, by master distiller Bill Scott, using Idaho Russet Burbank Potatoes. This potato base puts it in an exclusive company: less than 3% of vodkas in the world are made from potatoes. Mr. Scott carefully controls the removal of contaminates, and uses a five-stage filtration process to ensure clarity, while carefully maintaining the delicate flavors. This effort shone through into the pure flavor when we initially tried the vodka.
Its smooth, well-rounded and slightly sweet flavor spoke to all of us. When we added an ice cube, it filled out even more with flavor. It was easy to see why the Beverage Testing Institute called Blue Ice Vodka the “Best American Vodka” in 2003. It was easily the most full-flavored and interesting vodka I had ever had. And yet, I still struggled with how to write about it. Because I was prejudiced. I couldn’t get over that vodka wall.
I tried consulting others: Curtis and Doug called it smooth and well-rounded. Sarah called it sweet and warming. Leon commented that it was mellow, with a nice finish, and didn’t hang at the back of your throat. No less experts than award-winning craft bartenders Shane Sahr and Mike McSorley at Tini Bigs showed excitement at the prospect of working with it. And yet, even knowing that it is a wonderful, flexible, smooth vodka left me with no idea how to write about it, except to recommend it to vodka drinkers, and to anyone trying to understand the appeal of real potato vodka (think difference between Bacardi and real Jamaican rum). I started, deleted, started, erased, wrote, re-wrote, and was about to throw in the towel until something biblical, something amazing, something so mind-blowing occurred that I had to sit down and write about it.
Everyone has a tequila story. A woman I once worked with liked to tell the story of how after years of trying to get pregnant with her husband, downed a fifth of Cuervo with him one night and her daughter was conceived. She believed in the experience so much that she treated it like folk medicine and prescribed it to another coworker who was having trouble conceiving. Nine months after filling the prescription, this young convert was using my office to pump.
Most tequila stories, unfortunately, involve a combination of embarrassing behavior, uncharacteristic violence and cheap tequila; and because of this, tequila has gotten a pretty bad rep. I suspect, however, that this is due to the fact that aside from margaritas, consumption of tequila in America is largely relegated to shots with lime and salt–the former providing the shortest distance to intoxication, and the latter for the purpose of making the journey bearable. I’m a big fan of liquor, but I think shots are a waste. The point is to enjoy the aromatics, the flavor, the texture and the bite. In this respect, the enjoyment of liquor isn’t at all different than that of wine, and so I drink liquors that can be sipped and savored. However, there have been few tequilas that I could enjoy unadulterated in a tumbler without breaking the bank (one that I like, Tres Generaciones, runs in the $50 range); and margaritas, while sometimes refreshing on a hot day, merely mask the unpalatable nature of the tequila with which it’s made. So, if you’re not on a debaucherous rampage or if you’re not an impassioned tequila aficionado, there seems to be little place for you within the tequila family. Consequently, for the most part, I had decided that I’m just not a tequila guy.
A couple of weeks ago, WINO was invited to a tasting of Familia Camarena Tequila, and when Casey Chapman, our regular contributor for Outside the Vines, was unavailable, I accepted the invitation with a skosh of hesitation. Not one to form premature and unqualified conclusions, though, I made my way to the Alexis Hotel with low expectations.
I was in for a surprise.
First things first, I tried Familia Camarena’s two tequilas neat, both the Silver and the Reposado, and they were brow-raisers, not brow-knitters. I immediately classified them as sipping tequilas, liquors that I could casually enjoy without mixers or chasers. These were not tequilas to be knocked back with abandon on Cinco de Mayo, or diluted in sweet-and-sour during lunch at Azteca. These were after-work tequilas to be enjoyed slowly while sitting at the bar with a friend.
Both the Camarena Silver and Camarena Reposado are incredibly smooth while not bland. They have character without being like the “funny guy” at a party who loves the sound of his own voice and won’t shut up. They have sufficient wit and depth of personality to be enjoyable without overstaying their welcome, and while they’ve got class, they’re highly approachable.
“What do you do with leftover wine?”
“What’s leftover wine?”
-The Washington Post
We’ve all been there at one point or another: It’s usually that fourth bottle we shouldn’t have opened the night before, and now it sits there, taunting us, that last few ounces on the counter that we can’t bear to throw away, but also can’t bear to think of drinking. Not with this headache, this cotton-mouth. So what to do with it?
Well, as you know, we here at WINO provide all kinds of wine-related services, and our service doesn’t stop once you crack that bottle of wine. We’ve shown you how to choose wine, drink wine, dance with wine, read with wine, and now, we help you avoid wasting wine.
As I’ve previously stated, the best wine is one shared with friends. The use of leftover wine is no exception. So call up some friends and set aside five nights for epicurean indulgence, because it’s time for the virtual “First Annual Progressive Wine Dinner Party,” also known as “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Leftover Wine.”
Let’s start simple, shall we? But we can still impress, and build the anticipation for future nights. The first night is, of course, the most challenging, because, while you want to use wine, you haven’t really planned on having so much left over. So in the following recipe, the wine you use won’t matter! I use Port, but any wine will do. Understand, of course, that the flavor will be affected. It just depends on what you’re in the mood for. Put another way, buy some Port, cheapskate!
Stuffed Beef Tenderloin with Port Wine Sauce
- Butterfly 1 (4 lb) beef tenderloin by cutting lengthwise about 2/3 through. Open onto a flat surface, and use a meat mallet to pound to 3/4 inch thick. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Place 1 (10 oz) package of thawed frozen spinach into a colander, and squeeze to remove as much excess moisture as possible. Combine in a bowl with 8 oz Goat Cheese, 1 Tbsp. each chopped fresh rosemary and thyme. Set aside.
- Top beef with 1 (12 oz) jar of roasted red peppers, drained, leaving a 1-inch border all the way around the edges. Top with 1 bunch whole basil leaves.
- Spoon the cheese mixture on one end of the peppers and basil. This will be the very center of your roll. Begin rolling the beef tightly, like a jelly roll, and secure using butcher string or bamboo skewers. Refrigerate for at least an hour to set.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add tenderloin, and brown on all sides. Move beef to a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 30-40 minutes.
- In the same pan used to brown the beef, cook 2 minced shallots until just softened. Add 1/4 cup port wine and reduce by half. Add 1 cup beef broth and bring to a boil. Dissolve 1 Tbsp. corn starch in 1/4 cup beef broth; add to pan and stir until thickened. Add 1/3 cup tomato paste and 1 tsp. fresh rosemary. Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove tenderloin from oven. Take the rack out of the pan, and allow the beef to rest for at least ten minutes.
- Set the roasting pan over medium high heat. Deglaze with 1/4 cup beef stock, stirring to loosen browned bits. Add port wine sauce, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat, and swirl in 2 Tbsp. butter.
- Cut the tenderloin into 1-inch slices. Pour sauce onto each plate, and top with the beef. Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve with fresh green beans, or other seasonal green vegetable.
Crack open the Cabernet, baby! It’s time to get the food, companionship, and wine off to a good start! It’s time to bask in the compliments and genius of your culinary skills. But don’t tell the secret, as you surreptitiously slide that partial bottle of wine into a safe spot. You’re going to need it for the next round!
Ah, summertime. The sun creeps over the edge of the earth a bit earlier every day, smiling down upon the bikini-clad, the surfer, the runner. God’s flashlight illuminates the previous night’s debauchery, but cloaks it in a warm smile that hides the regrets so akin to winter. Summer is a time of freedom, of possibility, of the shift in debate from “What should we do today” to “What will we do today.” An optimism infuses every dog-walk. A pep infects every step, and yet a walk takes a bit longer. Quite literally, a time to stop and smell the roses, the marigolds, the dandelions. Views become expansive, sun-drenching becomes a favored afternoon activity. Hope flies from the rapidly growing grass. Fireflies flit within the reach of children with dreams of overnight glows in a hole-punched jar. Sundresses replace sweaters, the hoodie finally gets a much-deserved washing and rest, journeys are undertaken to the edge of the earth, relationships flower, the scent of barbecue drifts on the breeze, the drinks go in a cooler, the fruit becomes fresher, the street performers go to another level. Patios open, and eyes hide behind dark lenses.
The city is abuzz with activity. You are going hiking, camping, rock-climbing, kayaking, shopping, walking, dancing, heading to baseball games, parks, frisbee golf tournaments, meeting friends for pub crawls, cooking out, hitting the beach and JUST A DAMN MINUTE! Can I get a little bit of ME time?
Indeed. After all, it IS summer. So take a second. Heck, take a few. Grab a good book, and a bottle of wine. Sit in the sun, breathe. Soak it in. Relax, and escape for a while the hustle and bustle that can take over during a summer, the feeling that you MUST NOT WASTE THIS WEATHER! I am offering you an alternative. I am presenting to you the Top Ten Wine and Book Pairings for Summer Escapism.
Pretty specific, huh? Well, there is a reason for that. Chew on this, if you will: Washington State alone has over 530 wineries. As for books? Good lord, I have nearly 15000 myself. There are literally millions out there, especially with Google Books offering many public domain titles in eformat. I love to read and drink, but trying all of that would take a little too long. And would involve quite a few bad wines and more than a few terrible books.
So what do I mean by “escapism?” I am not looking just for a book that is mindless entertainment. Truly enjoyable escapist books engage your mind in a way that allows you to forget where you are, and to get carried away to another place (you know, kind of like too much wine). They are also not filled with heavy themes, or difficult reading. The words flow like water through the cavernous depths of your mind. As an example, The Modern Library called Ulysses by James Joyce the best novel ever written. Please. You can appreciate Ulysses, but you will never convince me you enjoy it. If you have to stop every five minutes to process exactly what in the hell is going on, it is not escapist. They also need to be books that are easy to carry and read outdoors. Therefore, while my favorite book to read with wine is Griffin and Sabine, the opening of letters and envelopes risks too much in the breeze, and requires two hands, so it doesn’t make the list. So that’s how I narrowed the books down.
As for the wine, this one was much easier. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love a thick, full-bodied Cab Sauv that punches me in both jaws with tannins; however, I consider that a winter wine. In the summer, I like to sit in the sun and drink lighter, more fruity reds or delightfully crackling whites. I enjoy the melon flavors that creep into some dessert wines as well. So I am limiting wines initially by my consideration of them as “refreshing.” Obviously, this can mean different things to different people. This is my list, though, so there. Further, I have found that one of my favorite places to sit and read is the patio at The Tasting Room in Post Alley, simply because I can intersperse my reading with some FANTASTIC people-watching. So this list includes only wines available there. That makes it much more manageable.
So, dear friends, here is your summer reading list. Papers will be due on Labor Day:
10. The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster:
Nathan Glass has lung cancer, and has returned to Brooklyn to die. Any story that starts here would seem to be too heavy for a good summer read, but Auster’s time as host of NPR’s National Story Project taught him to appreciate the authenticity and humor of modern urban fables, and he brings that wide-eyed wonder about human relationships and the seemingly far-fetched to bear here. Nathan’s interaction with his long-lost nephew and his attempts to write a memoir of his life bring a surprisingly Victorian feel to a delightful novel. This novel starts out very simply, but finishes with a powerful explosion of smoke. Try it with: 2007 Semillon from Wilridge Winery. The nose and opening flavors start simply, with a hint of melon to refresh, but then the burnt oak creeps in, and you realize that there is a lot of redemption in this glass.
9. The Mouse that Roared by Leonard Wibberly: This is a one-afternoon kind of read. It tells a hilarious, laugh-out-loud story of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, a proudly pre-industrial nation only 3×5 miles in size that not only declares war on the United States, but through a series of mishaps, wins. Wibberly’s grand satire shows the laughability of superpowers that are actually vulnerable to their own progress and paranoia. Try it with: Well, the war starts because American winemakers produce a Pinot that is a rip-off of Fenwick’s only export, so you should probably have it with 2009 Pinot Gris from Naches Heights Vineyards. The grapes are grown in high-altitude volcanic soil, just like Grand Fenwick’s, and the fruity flavors have a deeper undercurrent of spice. The acidity and grapefruit give it a deeper meaning than just the light apple flavors would initially indicate.
8. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: Ignatius J. Reilly, the incredibly over-weight and over-educated “hero” of this picaresque fable, is one of those characters in literature that becomes a train-wreck: you hate how much you can’t stop watching him. His adventures in the seamy underbelly of 1960s New Orleans give an insight into white-trash Cajun culture that cannot be found anywhere else. He treats everyone around him with disdain, lives off his mother’s welfare checks, and pens (okay, pencils, he’s too fat to hold a pen) mighty Luddite diatribes in Big Chief tablets. And he turns the world of New Orleans upside-down in a raucous, good-time, Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy. Try it with: Justin Wilson, he of Cajun Cooking fame, always drank a strong shiraz while hosting his show. This leaves us with only one choice of wine, really, even though it kind of violates my rules for wine selection: the 2005 Minick Vineyard Syrah from Harlequin Cellars. This kicking little syrah carries a hint of beefiness and leather that hides behind a syrupy blackberry nose. Imagine a nice steak with blackberry cobbler, in a cowboy bar.
Sad news, counter-culturalists: You may ride in a bicycle gang, or wear retro T-shirts that slam “The Man,” but you can’t escape the fact that you are a corporate supporter of Globalization. You slide into your skinny black jeans, slip on your hemp necklace, spray-paint a shirt across your chest and wrap up in your pea-coat, then top it all off with a John Deere baseball cap you picked up at Goodwill (do you even know what a tractor looks like?), but you are still a tragic hipster. Tragic, I say, because there is one area you have forgotten to investigate. You don’t drink Starbucks; you refuse to go to Wal-Mart. They destroy small businesses, you say, in a self-important way. And yet, when it comes to beer, you pay no attention at all.
“But wait!” you cry, “I only drink cans! I go for the $2 beers! I support small places! For the love of god, man, I drink Pabst!” Indeed you do. Or perhaps Schlitz, or Hamm’s, or Oly Gold, looking back with fondness on the 1960′s beers that you see as a far cry from the globalization that plagues today’s world.
Lightning strike: Your PBR is brewed by Miller.
“Here’s to cheating, stealing, fighting, and drinking. If you cheat, may you cheat death. If you steal, may you steal a woman’s heart. If you fight, may you fight for a brother. And if you drink, may you drink with me.”
–Old Irish Toast
So you have finally grown weary of the subtlety of wine, and the flavorless-unless-girly-infused-or-served-as-faux-martini allure of vodka, and now you are ready to acquire some hair on your chest, a throaty voice, to pass up the soft feather touch for a kick in the jaw, a body blow, a slam-back, burn-your-throat excursion down whiskey street. But you stand at the intersection, looking in all directions, and wonder where to enter the grain mash roundabout. Well, fear not, intrepid explorer. Herein, we at Wino have provided a road map to your enjoyment, along with recommendations of where to start. Of course, we skipped the wine pairing. Because that would be stupid.
Whiskey, quite simply, is an alcoholic beverage which is distilled from grain mash. Different varieties use different grains, which may include barley, malted barley, rye (mmmm rye), wheat, or corn. Generally, whiskeys are aged in charred oak barrels. Typically, whiskeys are distilled to 80-90% alcohol, and then water is added. This process allows whiskey to maintain the flavor of its grains. In other words, keeps it from becoming vodka. A lot of the flavor can also come from the barrels in which it is aged; most whiskeys spend at least two years in the barrel, which contributes to the color as well.
“This is a game to be savored, not gulped. There’s time to discuss everything between pitches or between innings.”
–Bill Veeck, former baseball franchise owner
Every ballpark has its own beer. At Wrigley Field, they slam down Old Style like it’s going out of style. In St. Louis, they drink Bud, Because U Deserve What Every Individual Should Enjoy Regularly. In Milwaukee, it’s always Miller Time. Beer and baseball have a long history as teammates on a glorious afternoon. The question is, “Why?”
I mean, beer makes sense at a football game. Can-crushing fans watch quarterback-crushing defenders, ice-cold longneck meets man with no neck. Football is fast action in spurts, beer-drinking is long slugs interspersed with longer pauses. Football is hot wings and barbecue, foam hands and cheerleaders, and beer is a drink before the war, a burst of cool refreshment slamming into your gut like a Saints defender pounding Brett Favre. But baseball?
Baseball is a day at the park. It’s leisurely, and meant to enjoy. The anticipation before a pitch, the unfolding plays, the drama of a man on third leaning out, ready to go at a moment’s notice. None of this is really built for beer. Baseball is sausage and garlic fries, crack of the bat and seventh inning stretch. It deserves its own drink. And I say: why not wine?
For wine drinkers, there is always a heartbreaking moment when that vintage you love so well runs out, and you realize one of two things: You’re going to save that last bottle for a special occasion that will never come, or you are about to drink the last bottle you’ll ever have, and you will cling to its memory like Glenn Beck longing for those innocent times of yesteryear. This has recently happened in Seattle, with my quest for Rittenhouse Rye.
For quite some time, I would gather with friends at various watering holes around the city, and enjoy a nice glass of this delectable rye whisky, with its subtle hints of Pennsylvania pine and surprising sweetness that disappears faster than federal bailout money. But slowly, we began to see a disturbing trend: Bars were running out, and were unable to find any in Washington (N.B., in the state of Washington, all liquor stores are owned by the government, and only liquors that the state chooses to stock actually get sold here. Rise Up, Drinkers! Let the state know that we want and deserve choices! Call Gallatin, and let’s have another Whiskey Rebellion!). It was within this slightly panicked frame of mind that we first wandered into Hooverville, on First Avenue.
“He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long.”
–Martin Luther, German theologian (1483-1546)
Aaaahh, wine and song. Among their many common traits, one has to be that the best wine, like the best song, is one that is shared. Show me a man who has never cracked a bottle with his best friends, and I’ll show you a man that has never strolled down the street, arm in arm with his companions, bellowing “Would You Like to Swing on a Star?” to all passers-by. Given the long history and interweaving of these most extraordinary arts, what, I asked myself, would be the best songs about wine?
I began this mission quite simply: I began drinking. Then I set about establishing rules. I decided that the songs needed to be relatively modern (I’m sure there are some delightful Latin Gregorian Chants regarding wine; they just won’t make my list). The song must be primarily about wine in some way (thus disqualifying songs like “Champagne Supernova” as it only uses a word in a pseudo-creative poetic fashion). And the song cannot suck (which greatly helps avoid the UB40 trap). Finally, it had to be a song I would be excited to share with my friends.
As you read through this, understand that this is my top ten, not yours. So while you may chafe at the omission of Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (“He even says Bottle of Red, Bottle of White,” I hear you cry in dismay), remember the rules: that song bloooowwsss. Feel free to write me with your disagreements. I’m sure I can muster some degrading sarcasm to heap upon you with my scorn shovel.
Without further ado:
10.) “Gimme That Wine” by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross
This jazz trio released their eponymous album in 1960, and featured this pretty little ditty that was subsequently covered by such luminaries as Bruce Springsteen and Blood, Sweat and Tears. This one is meant for smoking to.
Gimme that wine (Unhand that bottle!)
‘Cause I can’t get well without Muscatel
I only drink for medicinal purposes anyway
Listen here: Gimme That Wine