Like Dunking Your Head in a Pot of Boiled Peanuts

Wine geeks talk a lot about “terroir” – that magical something that inhabits a wine and shouts out its sense of place… the soil, the vines, the climate, the earth that brought forth the grapes and the air that surrounded them as they ripened. It’s an elusive thing that is often used as a way of saying that a wine has a unique character, character that truly does trigger something in the nose, on the tongue, in your brain that connects that bottle of juice to its source in an often faraway land. Every so often, a wine will smack you in the face with “terroir” – like a veritable T-rex terror of terroir. The other day I had such a wine. Except it smacked me in the face with a bouquet that was nothing short of dunking your head in a pot of boiled peanuts on the side of the road in southern Georgia on a steamy summer day. This was the kind of nose that makes you do a double take. Then a triple take. Then beg your friends to taste it to confirm that you’re not crazy. It spoke so strongly of the boiled peanut stands of the South, that surely it had to be some crazy backcountry-Georgia-peanut-fortified-muscadine (does such a thing exist?? It should), but no…

The wine? Domaine Brazilier Coteaux du Vendomois Tradition Rouge, 2009. All the way from the Loire Valley in France, specifically the Coteaux du Vendomois appellation, featuring Cabernet Franc, Pineau d’Aunis, and Pinot Noir. Despite the “pineau” and the “pinot,” I don’t think there was any “peanut” actually in the bottle (at least it doesn’t list any peanuts in the ingredients). But apparently the Pineau d’Aunis grape, fairly unique to the Loire, is known for its “green” and “leafy” characteristics that could call to mind boiled green peanuts. So, yeah, maybe the “pineau” is what brought the “peanuts.” Above all, its the kind of wine that makes you sit up and take notice. The opposite of homogenized juicy juice. The epitome of esoteric.

I don’t frequently quote wine critics or wine hawkers, but the words of some pretty savvy wine dudes ring true here. Just ask David Schildknecht of The Wine Advocate, who said this wine “represents one of the most amazing red wine values I have tasted in years… features ripe dark cherry complicated by nutmeg, toasted walnut, pungent black tea, and salinity that guarantees lip-smacking.” He went on to speak to the unusual source of this wine, “When I last (and first) wrote up Jean and Benoit Brazilier’s wine, I couldn’t even correctly place the Vendomois in Touraine, but not only have I learned a thing or two since about Loire geography, I’ve also come to realize that the Braziliers render some of the fines values in France.”

Then there’s a guy by the name of Jon Rimmerman who runs an email-based wine shop called Garagiste which often features just this type of esoteric crazy juice, and (typically) exulted, “If you are looking for a rare combination of wine geek, value and terroir from a laugh-out-loud vintage that delivers a discernable sigh of relief upon first and last sip, the 2009 Tradition from the Brazilier family is like a juice-filled dam waiting to burst. Despite its seamless, velveteen quality (from the vintage), the wine feels and tastes as real as it gets – it never allows you to forget where the grapes were grown but it does so in a way that makes you forget the cares of the day without forcing you to contemplate if the terroir aspects are more distracting than enjoyable – not an easy tightrope to pull off. In addition, the value rating on this wine is 10 out of 10 – I had this ranked as one of my very top values of the entire summer with phrases such as “$10, you’re joking?” scribbled on my note pad.”

I doubt you’ll be able to find this wine now, and for that, I’m sorry. I’ve got one bottle left that I look forward to sharing with friends here in Atlanta, hoping to see a shock register on their face when they take a sniff. Speaking of which, I need to get Jon Rimmerman and David Schildknecht and any other wine geeks who dig this juice down to the peanut fields of Georgia to sip some boiled peanut pot likker. Because peanuts have terroir, too.

Thirsty Scenes from the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival

The inaugural Atlanta Food and Wine Festival has been so expansive, so broad ranging, so diverse, that to even attempt to capture the totality of this festival in photos, words, video, memories is an overwhelming challenge. There has been an overflow of bourbon, cocktails, wine and beer, mostly with a focus on the very best of what the South has to offer. There has been a multitude of bites of food, whole hog goodness, pickled veggies, comfort food and creative craziness. Above all, there have been lots of fine folks who care passionately about the food and drink of the South. That was the reason for the festival.

My friend Broderick at captured some of the amazing faces of the festival. I tended to focus on the bottles, glasses, and plates, so here, in some small way, is a very minor taste of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival through the lens of my camera.

First up, the ridiculous bounty of fine things to drink. Our favorite bourbon – Pappy Van Winkle – was well represented. There was an amazing array of Madeira dating back to 1875 that simply blew my mind. “Moonshine” in many varieties made an appearance. And some Corsair experimental “cocoa hull bourbon” knocked my socks off.

Food “trucks” had their own dedicated area. Gotta love the old Airstream trailers. And the “legalize it” message takes on new meaning when it comes to the street food scene.

The stars inside the seminars included Kevin Gillespie (photo below: “Kevin Gillespie in 3 Variations”), Sean Brock, Linton Hopkins, Tyler Brown, and a poor little piggie.

And the tastes. Oh, the tastes. A few favorites hailed from the whole hog tent, but you can’t have a Southern food festival without pimento cheese and pickled eggs. Good stuff, y’all!

After all that, we’re already eager for what they can do with a second annual Atlanta Food and Wine Festival next year. Though first I need to recuperate from the past few days of over-abundant Southern goodness. While it was worth it, I think I need a vacation…

The Cultivated South!?

I don’t know what a cat like Hardy Wallace is doing on the docket at a high-falutin’ seminar called “The Cultivated South,” one of the “premier wine tasting seminars” for the upcoming High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction weekend. Actually, yes I do. Hardy will be representin’ one of the most talked about little winemakers on the West Coast – the NPA (not to be confused with the WPA or NPR or NWA). And this is a rare, against the law (well, NPA law – seriously, they usually keep their wine only for folks within a 100 mile radius of the winery) opportunity to taste their wines. Miss this at your own risk. Oh, and there will be some other cool people and phenomenal wine there too… here are the details:

The Cultivated South — A look at the good life as presented by Southern farmers, chefs and winemakers
Friday, March 25, 2:00 pm
The Cook’s Warehouse, Ansley Mall, 1544 Piedmont Road

Considering that Southern products and our traditional tastes are recognized as one of the globe’s great cuisines, it goes without saying that those raised here who go forth to share their unique taste have very special palates. Angie Mosier of Southern Foodways Alliance moderates a panel that seats Kristen Hard, Atlanta native and chocolatier at Cacao Atlanta and Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, one of the most prominent figures in the humane, organic, grass‐fed beef industry today. Chef Shaun Doty will offer a taste of Will’s beef while chiming in on product and technique. Atlanta’s favorite wine blogger and recent transplant to Napa, Hardy Wallace lends his voice too. Charleston native Jamey Whetstone of Whetstone Wine Cellars along with Atlanta native Robbie Meyer, who makes wine for both the Peirson Meyer and L’Angevin labels, will address the influence the South has on their palates and their craft. And yes, these two will be pouring wine!

* Each seminar is $100 per person. For more information or to reserve a spot for a Premier Tasting Seminar, please contact the Wine Auction Hotline at 404.733.5335 or email:

Scenes From H&F Bottle Shop, Atlanta

There is joy and there is pain. Joy, in the faces of those who have endeavored to open the doors of a long-awaited bottle shop. Joy, in the faces of those who enter and discover an air of tranquility and character that is not often enough seen in purveyors of wine and spirits. And the pain? It’s there, underneath it all, in the not-yet-filled shelves that know they were destined to bear bourbons, amaros, house made magic. The labyrinth of hurdles that must be traversed to open a store such as this is still somehow shocking in this city that sometimes likes to keep a good thing down. It’s enough to turn a man to drink…

H&F Bottle Shop is open now, stocked with wonderful wines, vermouths, cocktail goods, glassware. The vinyl is playing loud; today it was the Ramones. Greg, Andy, all the familiar faces from Holeman & Finch are there to get things rolling. And in a few more weeks, finally, the whiskey and rye will also grace the shop’s shelves, barring any further hurdles thrown their way. Even today though, it’s clear that H&F Bottle Shop will be something special. From the stunning style present in every little detail, to the artfully chosen selection of wines, to that quirky stack of LPs in the back corner – this is indeed a bottle shop like no other in Atlanta, nor elsewhere for that matter.

We’ll let the photos speak, just crank up some Ramones and sip some farmer fizz as you scroll on through…

H&F Bottle Shop
2357 Peachtree Road
Atlanta, GA 30305

Out West, Where The Wine Is Wild

For anyone who digs wine – and I mean really DIGS the art and craft of what it means to take a patch of soil, nurture vines and grapes on that soil, then find a way to capture that soil, those grapes, that place in a bottle of wine – there is something spectacular about visiting a renegade, crusading winery in a non-descript office park off a side road in some (relatively) forgotten corner of Sonoma County.

There are no pretty flowers as you approach. No grand gates with wrought iron lettering on gorgeous, restored oak-barrel slats. No illustrious works of art on the walls. Definitely no samples of private-label artichoke-parmesan-chardonnay dip with mini-pretzels. Heck, there’s not even a sign to help you find your way there. This is the anti-Napa-mega-winery. The un-Disneyfication of wine country. This is where zealots toil and hope to produce something magical. This, is the home of the NPA and Salinia wines.

If you haven’t heard about these wines, do check them out (go ahead, click on them!). If you have heard about them, it was probably a story on NPR or Gawker about the cool stainless steel refillable canteens that the NPA wines come in, or the fact that they are destined for consumption only within 100 miles of the winery and not meant for cellaring, OR possibly because some guy named Hardy Wallace now works for them after showing that a little wine blog called Dirty South Wine could indeed bring a bit of the dirty South to California wine country.

In any case, getting to know more about the NPA and Salinia is a very good thing, as I recently found out at that very same non-descript office park off a side road in some (relatively) forgotten corner of Sonoma County. Winemaker Kevin Kelley and crew are pushing the boundaries of where “natural” winemaking can go, and the resulting wines will literally shock and astonish a lot of wine drinkers for their uniqueness, their resonance, and the pure enjoyment and provocation that they deliver. It must be said, you will only find the NPA wines in the San Francisco area, and there is no better place to taste them than from the barrel or from the tap at the NPA tasting room / winemaking superheadquarters in Santa Rosa. The Salinia wines, meant for aging but following a similar philosophy to the NPA wines as it relates to the care for the soil, the grapes, and the winemaking itself, are bottled and can be shipped out of California. They are all worth seeking out. The Salinia wines are not cheap, but they truly deliver an unforgettable experience. My tasting notes from the Salinia Chardonnay (a decidedly atypical California chardonnay) went something like this: “holy sh!t, are you kidding me? crazy good stuff. Nose of olives (yes), butterscotch, herbs (rosemary and thyme). Definitely chard when it hits the palate, but so much more, nuanced and crazy. Knockout wine.” See what I mean?

Rather than ramble on about the philosophical underpinnings of these wines, let me just say that tasting them is a revelation – something like how I imagine it would have been to see a Picasso for the first time when all you knew was Rembrandt. That’s no knock on Rembrandt, but Picasso was simply playing the game in a way no one else was playing it, and the results were shocking and amazing. So, next time you’re visiting California, forget Disney Napa World, drive past the tourist busses stopping at the wine country welcome centers, and head to a tucked away office park on a side street of Santa Rosa. Your taste buds will thank you.

Photos from the NPA / Salinia Tasting Room, Santa Rosa, CA: (clockwise from upper right) the wine taps, fermentation in process (day 10), “spot on pinot blanc,” wine paparazzi stalking Hardy Wallace, an empty barrel of which there are many as the small production volumes sell out, NPA skin fermented sauvignon blanc, tools of the trade, Hardy Wallace climbing the barrels to retrieve a sample, Salinia current releases, the amazing color of crazy juice – recently harvested 2010 NPA Pinot Gris.