30 January 2015

Return to Brazil Flavor: Feijoada

Brazil Flavor opened a few months ago in my neighborhood as a small grocery store, selling Brazilian dry goods, beverages, as well as meats and cheeses. All of that is fantastic, but what got me really interested was the empty kitchen in the back.

This week, they opened the kitchen.

There's not a menu yet, so expect different dishes each day. I would recommend following their Facebook page, which is how I learned that they were going to be serving feijoada on Friday. I put the date in my Google calendar immediately.

My closest pronunciation for those unfamiliar with português: fayj-WA-da. It's considered the national dish of Brazil, and its simplest form is rice and black beans with stewed meat. I've made some half-hearted attempts at home in the past, but there's nothing like the real thing made by people who grew up eating a dish.

Brazil Flavor
8014 Club Center Suite #8
Cordova TN, 38016
901-746-9855
Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

The takeout version from Brazil Flavor features rice and fried kale, and in the left corner is a pile of farofa, which is toasted manioc flour mixed with salted meat. On top you can see some grilled plantains and two green vegetables I was unable to identify (little help?). UPDATE: the vegetable on the left is a green sweet potato. Finally, and most importantly, the purple-black back section there is the stew itself, rich with black beans and a wide range of meats. I don't know precisely which cuts were included, but I'm pretty sure I got some chouriço sausage, beef roast, and pig ears. Ham hocks and feet are also common, but none of this should be surprising or new to anyone who has grown up in the Mid South with our long tradition of eating the "leftover" cuts of the pig. And what do you need after consuming more than a pound of offal and starch? The orange slices are there to aid digestion.

I loved it, particularly with the cold weather we're having. It's a hearty, savory dish, not particularly spicy, although I added a little hot sauce after trying it plain. Highly recommended if you're in the area and want to try something new. (Or something familiar--every time I go there I'm surprised at how many Brazilians are in the Memphis area.) They've got some plans for a buffet line that would allow you to sample different dishes at will, and I'm sure over time we'll see more regular menu items as they ramp up production. And for fellow Memphians that live in Midtown and Downtown, I keep telling you: there's some exciting stuff happening in the suburbs. Don't be afraid to leave the I-240 loop.

Super Bowl Wine Pairings

Just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, check out my five food and wine pairings over at Snooth.com.

27 January 2015

2010 Daríghe Proprietor's Blend

This wine is called "red" in Irish Gaelic, and spelled out in Ogham script. How it got there is a little complicated.

Orthography is how a language is spelled, using whatever alphabet. For those of us that speak English, we're fixed into the Latin/Roman alphabet of the 7th Century BCE as it was modified over the years into the Roman invasion of Great Britain starting in AD 43. Over the years, the Romans ignored Ireland, where they had no real writing system for centuries. (Though ironically, Ireland would become a powerhouse of Roman Catholicism later on.) One of the earliest was the aforementioned Ogham, somewhat related to the runic scripts like Futhark that dominated the Germanic lands in the first millennium AD. Later attempts 1300-1500 years ago to use the Roman alphabet for Gaelic ended up in crazy spellings like cnamham, the verb "to waste" being pronounced cra-van.

And thus, I am aware that, within relatively recent history, my ancestors from the British Isles hadn't really figured out writing to a degree that the Sumerians were able to 5,000 years ago, or the Egyptians around the same time, or the Chinese around 4,000 years ago, or the Hebrews about 3,000 years ago. Yet I was delighted to see the scratchings on stone pillars known as Ogham show up on a bottle of wine delivered to my house in AD 2014. It demonstrates that the human story is still being told in even the most obscure places, through languages and scripts that have not been commonly used for long before the modern era.

2010 Daríghe Proprietor's Blend
Columbia Valley, Washington
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot
$65, 14.2% abv.

This is a deep Bordeaux blend made in the Pacific Northwest. Upon slicing away the black wax seal, it opens up with rich aromas of leather, coffee, chocolate, and blackberry. On the palate I experience medium tannins with muted dark fruit flavors and a long, complex finish. Highly recommended with a well-seasoned heritage pork chop, though like many wines in this category it will perform well with a few friends in a living room sipping and having long discussions about shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

25 January 2015

Schweinehaus

I woke up this morning and it was cold, overcast, and raining. Though in a good mood, I found myself craving old school German comfort food, and I'd been meaning to try out a certain spot in Overton Square. Memphis is not really known for its German food, and over the years we've seen places like Mary's in Collierville and the venerable but departed Erika's downtown. For years as a member of my high school's German Club, we planned a meal at Erika's but never went there, meaning that I spent a lot of time trying to figure out Sauerbraten at home from dusty recipe books.

I lied to The Bella and told her I was heading out to eat celery and eat cold soup. Off to Midtown!

Schweinehaus
2110 Madison Avenue
Memphis, TN
(901) 347-3060

The restaurant is set up in the traditional Bavarian beer hall style, and the white and blue checked pattern is painted on the outside of the building. Seating is communal on long benches, though I was by myself at my table. I can't wait to go back at some point with a group or when they're busy to enjoy the Gemütlichkeit from such an environment. You make fast friends when the beer is flowing and you're running low on mustard.

I got the Wurst platter with a half litre of Dunkel. Don't know the brand, I was just enjoying lunch and in the mood for a dark beer. The platter featured three crispy Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut, Blaukraut (braised red cabbage), toasted bread, and then the sauces and sausages. You can't really see the sauces that well, but we've got a whole grain mustard, a molasses-mustard blend, and an apple Jezebel sauce.

There was one more sausage--a house blend that arrived after this photo was taken, but from right to left you're looking at venison, wild boar, and Weißwurst. All were delicious but I was really excited about the Weißwurst since it's hard to come by in Memphis. Made from minced veal and pork loin it has a mild but deep flavor and goes oh-so-perfectly with certain Alsatian white wines. I tried the sausages in various combinations with the sauces and did not come out with a clear favorite, but everything was delicious and I satisfied the curious craving I had. At the time I was there, nobody was speaking German but I look forward to a future visit when I can dust off the old Muttersprache and have folks laugh at my Plattdüütsch accent.

24 January 2015

2012 Scotto Family Cellars Malbec

This is my third review of a wine from the Scotto winemaking family of Lodi. First I tried the 2011 50 Harvests Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by the 2012 50 Harvests Meritage. Though it was also fun to try the younger generation's hard cider (and one of those guys, Paul Scotto, made this wine). This is also a continuation of my exploration of the wines of Lodi. While I'd obviously enjoyed Lodi juice for years (whether I knew it or not), my perspective changed a lot after my visit to the region last April. There are so many interesting things going on there right now, and it's amazing to watch as Lodi makes a push for national recognition and achieving the true potential of their historic vineyards.

This particular bottle is of a specific category that always makes me do a double take, or check the label carefully: California Malbec. Granted, the grape was widely used for table wine production in pre-Prohibition days, but modern domestic production didn't really start ramping up until Argentina made the grape popular in the 1990s. It's still not something you see a lot of despite the more traditional use of Malbec for blending Meritage.

Much has been said about the trendiness of Malbec, but hipsters have a unique opportunity to carve out a niche when perusing the wine list. "Sorry, but do you have any... California Malbec in the cellar?"

2012 Scotto Family Cellars Malbec
Lodi, California
97% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc
$15, 13% abv.

Part of the reason for the current popularity of Malbec is that it's a fairly easygoing, fruit-forward wine that also happens to be generally quite affordable. Your $15 Malbec from anywhere is probably going to have a better quality-price ratio than a $15 Pinot Noir. This bottle shows aromas of dark berries with a touch of chocolate. On the palate it is smooth with a little bit of a tart finish. Though fruity, it does not veer into sweetness and instead has a rather interesting aftertaste of plum and a hint of earth.

A Malbec like this will pair with a wide range of foods, but since I'm currently sitting here in below freezing weather with sleet pinging against the windows, I think it would be great with a nice heap of BBQ brisket. Some may think that I'm violating my Memphis heritage by wanting to eat what Texans consider BBQ, but the reality of the situation is that most places around here do a pretty good brisket in addition to our region's more well-known pork ribs and shoulders. Memphis beef brisket: a curiosity to pair with California Malbec.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

21 January 2015

Decennium

Click.

There's a little button on my Blogger dashboard that lets you start a new blog, which I'm not doing. Way on the right side is a more useful button called "View Blog" that lets me check and see if the website has been hacked by North Korea or vengeful Ruritanian winemakers. I'm always a little wary of that new blog button and how easy it is to access. One click in 2005, and now I'm looking back on ten years and 1,488 posts. (I would have rounded up to 1,500, but Fredric Koeppel just hit that milestone for real today.)

Ten years.


Most blogs don't make it past a couple of posts, let alone a couple of years. And in fact, I've just performed my annual pruning of the links to other sites on the righthand column. Lots of great people, lots of great posts, but if they haven't written for a few months, I generally assume that they're not coming back. That's not a critique: few people have a vocation for this crazy pursuit, and there's no need for anyone to just go through the motions in order to put words online. At the same time, I want to direct my readers to a curated list of friends and colleagues who will provide a wealth of other perspectives on the world of wine and food.

I've discussed the BWR origin story many times in the past, but there were never any real goals for this site back at the start. Around about the five year mark I started thinking that it would be a real accomplishment to hit ten years. Now that it's finally here, I'm proud, but it's not just about the passage of time. There was a lot of hard work along the way, which is something that I don't think a lot of people realize. I hear this a lot: "It must be awesome just to sit around and drink wine in the evening!"

For every bottle reviewed here, I have communication with a publicist, a shipment that I might have to pick up somewhere later because I wasn't home to sign for it, voluminous packaging that I have to get rid of, excess wine that needs a home (usually the kitchen sink), and then the actual writing, photographing, publishing, and additional communication and social media engagement with the companies involved, followed by potential years of e-mails from readers asking, "Can you tell me which shops in Delaware sell this wine? Or can you just sell me a few bottles?" For the record, I've never worked in wine retail and I don't sell samples, which would be highly unethical as well as impractical. Nor do I get full cases of the same bottle as some folks think.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely.

Don't take the above as griping. Hard work and maintaining a good reputation have resulted in a lot of great opportunities for travel, meeting wonderful people, enjoying great meals, and increasingly, getting paid to write about food and wine for other publications. And there are so many future opportunities on the horizon. I don't see myself ever becoming a full time writer (the world is a different place today), but it's a nice sideline that engages a lot of skills that I don't always get to employ in the day job.

While paid writing gigs and social media command somewhat more of my attention these days, this blog isn't going anywhere and will always be the the central repository for reviews, news, and links to whatever I'm doing. Plus all of the other stuff that doesn't quite fit anywhere else, because I still love having full editorial control over my own piece of the web. The wines I get to sample thanks to the history of this site may end up featured here or on any one of a dozen sites I work for with lots more traffic and visibility.

As I've always stated, the real joy of this blog is the fact that people actually read it, and I thank every single one of you, even if you just click a little "like" on Facebook, retweet a link on Twitter, or comment on a bottle I've posted on Instagram. 2015 is starting out great and I'm excited to see where the second decade takes me!

* * *

Doing any sort of look back with links would be a massive undertaking, so it's easier to link to prior efforts at chronicling my annual highlights. Starting in 2008, each year I've written an anniversary post and/or a retrospective look back at the previous year. The dates here refer to the year in review, not the year of publication (generally in January of the following calendar year):

2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007

18 January 2015

2012 Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon with Nomacorc Select Bio Enclosure

It's very unusual that a wine sample shows up with packaging that talks about the cork (much less an extra, un-stoppered cork for comparison). This Cabernet Sauvignon from Avalon is the first bottling in the United States to use the Nomacorc Select Bio synthetic cork.

(Disclaimer: On the side, I write for the Nomacorc Blog, but this post is not sponsored by them.)

Last February I got to see a lot of the behind-the-scenes work on the development of Select Bio, from how it is manufactured from sugar cane to the end result: a recyclable polymer product that has a zero carbon footprint.

As I've discussed on previous posts, the Nomacorc technology is developed around specific rates of oxygen transfer for the proper development of a specific wine, along with the elimination of the threat of TCA contamination (a "corked" wine). The Select Bio line moves even further with the added environmental benefits, which are becoming more and more important to consumers in the American and global marketplace.

Avalon is one of the marques of the Purple Wine Company, whose products I've reviewed once or twice. This move to the use of Select Bio fits in with their Green Initiative.

2012 Avalon "CAB" Cabernet Sauvignon
California
76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah, 7% Zinfandel and 4% Merlot
$12, 13.8% abv.

The wine opens up quickly with rich aromas of plum and strawberry, the latter being a little surprising for the grape blend. On the palate it shows mild tannins, big fruit, and a gentle finish. It's easily drinkable and I paired it with a savory roast beef sandwich. At the price it's a good bargain, and definitely a wine that is ready to drink now. Plus, the use of such a precisely engineered synthetic cork is going to eliminate a lot of the bottle variation that you can encounter from case to case. Enjoy this one with burgers or pizza in the middle of the week, and take a moment to appreciate the science that went into the enclosure.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample for review.

13 January 2015

Phifer Pavitt Wines

Over the holidays I tried two bottles of Phifer Pavitt Wine, made by the husband-wife team of Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and Shane Pavitt. Small production in Napa? You don't have to twist my arm.

I was enchanted by the labels with the image of a 1940s-1950s cowgirl. The woman formerly known as The Roommate had a lot of vintage cowgirl images around the place, though she could back it up with firing an impressive array of weaponry and wrangling horses as well. Nice little reminder during the nostalgic days of winter.

2012 Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley, California
588 Cases Produced
$30, 14.5% abv.

Surprising touch of sweetness with overripe peach aromas and flavors. Big acidity. It is a bold and brassy Sauvignon Blanc that needs a rich roasted chicken or game bird dish for balance.

2011 Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California
875 Cases Produced
$80, 14.5% abv.

Firm nose but gentle mouthfeel. Dark cassis, coffee, leather, a little touch of herbal complexity underneath. Elegant and deserving of a bit of decanting at this young age. Should be enjoyed with the rarest slice out of an eight pound ribeye roast and a side of herbed new potatoes. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.