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Exciting news! After much career and financial deliberation, I’m now a full-time law student.

This information is relevant for this blog post in particular for two reasons.

First, the elephant in the room: I’ve been M.I.A. from the blogosphere for quite awhile. Apparently, transitioning back to school after working in a full-time, internationally-traveling position is time-consuming. Certain hobbies inevitably take a seat on the sidelines when there are other, greater priorities to focus on – like studying for the LSAT in between work trips to Germany. Or transitioning projects over to colleagues who will be replacing me after I leave.

With all that going on, visiting wineries every other weekend during the summer months to reach my 5-year goal have therefore been put on standby and more often simply bumped from the flight altogether.

Secondly, not having a paycheck really puts a damper on *this* savvy consumer’s weekly wine budget. Correction. My ANNUAL budget. My wine expenditures have scaled back beyond government furlough levels. Now, instead of stopping off at the local wine bar after a rough day at work, it’s Angela, Party of One, dining in and rationing my wine cabinet provisions like it’s 1942. Spending $23.99 on a bottle of wine is just not that likely, now that I’m more accustomed to trolling the streets for back alley deal spots where I can flash my fancy, new student ID for discounts.

Despite both of those excuses, today I’m back, returning to the word press as the proud owner of a $20+ bottle of wine…and not just any bottle of wine—a bottle that I’ve been hunting down for months.

Meet Roots Run Deep’s “Educated Guess” Cabernet Sauvignon. (Their website, in cause you’re curious.)

If only law school exams were this easy...

If only law school exams were this easy…

We’ve only met recently, but I have been searching (or prowling, if you’d like to be specific) for this wine for a few months; a search that started quite randomly when a friend and wine novice made the tongue-in-cheek comment about making an “educated guess” on her wine selection while at dinner one night. Considering my impending start of a mentally taxing period of my life where I’m sure I’ll be making plenty of educated guesses on exams, I’m quite fond of this wine even before having tried it.

My friend and I often joke about finding ourselves in a restaurant or wine store and scratching our heads over selecting the “right” bottle of wine for a meal or the “best” bottle for the price. Sure, good wines can be affordable. Even great wines can be affordable… But what could make a wine both truly great and affordable? As mentioned in their YouTube video, their motto is: “truly great wines can be affordable.” Granted, anything over $10 at this point brings my wallet one step closer to foreclosure, but Roots Run Deep has a unique production process that peaked my curiosity.

The marketing (it’s creative). The science (it’s geeky). The extraction process (it’s innovative). Plus, one of the formulas on the “educated guess” label is from Virginia Tech research (Go Hokies!). Love it. Can’t wait to try it.

As the holiday season approaches, one of the popular items you’ll find at winery gift shops are the little packages of spices for making mulled wine. In fact, you may have already seen them – the cute little brown sacks all tied off with some twine, complete with a custom bottle cork to help the little packet float in the mulled wine mixture.

 

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Quite honestly, you can find them everywhere.

Practically every winery I’ve ever visited sells them, Amazon.com offers them in bulk, and if you’ve visited World Market recently, you’ve probably even seen a more elegantly-wrapped mulling spice bag that just begs to be sniffed all the way to the cash register.

The endless availability of spice bags heralds the holiday season and long-standing tradition for enjoying mulled wine that people have enjoyed around the globe for hundreds of years during the winter season. Mulled wine is essentially simply a red wine served either hot or warm, and recipe variations most commonly include spices like cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and other additions like orange peel, vanilla, ginger, or cardamom.

While in Turkey last year, I tasted some Sıcak Şarap that had hints of lemon, orange, and sugar added. Once, when visiting a friend in Hungary, we enjoyed her host mother’s forralt bor that was spiced with cloves and cinnamon. Since my ancestry is German, I get a particularly giddy each winter at the prospect of entertaining guests with batches of steaming, hot Glühwein, just like you’d find it at the Weinachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) in Germany.

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Glühwein and Bratwurst? A Christmas Market dream!

Travel Tip:

If you ever have the opportunity to visit a German Weinachtsmarkt and try a mug of Glühwein, try it “mit Schuss,” which means “with a shot” …of rum (or some other liquor)!

Now that I’ve peaked your interest with that delicious thought, for your holiday cooking pleasure, I’ve included some simple directions for Glühwein below, both in German and English, in case you’d like to impress your friends with your authentic and delicious recipe!

 

Glühwein Rezept

(English recipe below) 

Zutaten (für zwei bis drei Personen)

  • eine Flasche trockener Rotwein (750 ml)
  • eine Zitrone
  • 2 Stangen Zimt
  • 3 Esslöffel Zucker
  • 3 Gewürznelken
  • etwas Kardamom (oder Ingwer)

Zubereitung

Den Rotwein in einem Topf erhitzen (nicht kochen). Die Zitrone in Scheiben schneiden und hinzufügen. Dann Zimt, Nelken, Zucker und etwas Kardamom (nach belieben) dazugeben. Alles etwa 5 Minuten erwärmen – nicht kochen – und etwa eine Stunde ziehen lassen. Vor dem Servieren nochmals erwärmen, durch ein Sieb abgießen, in vorgewärmten Gläsern oder Bechern servieren.

 

German Glühwein (English Instructions)

Ingredients (serves 2-3 persons)

  • 1 bottle of dry red wine (750 ml)
  • one lemon
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 3 cloves
  • some cardamom (or ginger)

Directions
Heat the red wine in a pot (don’t let it boil). Cut the lemon into slices and add to the wine. Then add the cinnamon, cloves, sugar and a little cardamom (to taste). Heat everything for approximately 5 minutes – again, do not boil, and let the mixture stand for about an hour. Reheat and strain before serving. Serve in pre-warmed glasses or mugs. (Oh, and for a little festivity… make a second batch mit Schuss!

If there are two things this world has an abundance of, it’s vineyards and cats.

Last year at Stonefield Cellars I met Noah the Cat, the vineyard’s “Official Greeter” and namesake of Stonefield’s Gato Merlot. Then there’s Red Cat, the fruity, affordable wine from New York that seems to have a high popularity simply because, well, cats are everywhere.  They’re on YouTube playing instrumentstaking flight, making their way into space, and even running for political office in Virginia.

I’ve even recently received a request from a friend to change the name of my wine blog to “Wine Katz,” though Congress is not in session for that vote.

Wine Katz

Then again, Cindy the Cat’s expert opinion on all things wine-related might just be what this blog needs to gain some prestige and notoriety…

Strangely enough, neither the subject of wine nor cats seem to continue ad nauseam. Despite the heated debates, people still love to carry on about both. While I’m sure some people would shake their heads and emphatically disagree over whether a cat is methodically planning to kill you with its soul-sucking, laser beam eyes or if it’s simply an independent and sophisticated domestic pet, is it any different from the vehement analysis over wine’s flavor and value?  The correlation in subjectivity between both subjects is intriguing.

Subjectivity. The creators of Freakonomics addressed this very issue in one of their recent podcasts: “The Days of Wine and Mouses.” As the episode examines:

When you take a sip of Cabernet, what are you tasting? The grape? The tannins? The oak barrel? Or is it the price?

The researchers offer an interesting and thought-provoking perspective, but instead of rehashing their findings, I’d encourage you to listen to the podcast for yourself. You can download it here.

The only thought I’d add is that perhaps the answer to subjectivity simply lies in the fact that people love to disagree. If variety is the spice of life, then wine and cats alike will continue to be tasty topics of conversation.

Fancy!

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Next on the list: Garden Gate Vineyards.

For today’s visit, it’s hot. Incredibly hot. Unbearably humid. If it weren’t for the passenger-side air conditioning continuously blowing in my direction as we drive past tiny, country roads with names like “Friendship Court” and “Country Home Road” to Garden Gate Vineyards, I’d be suggesting we save this visit for another day. After all, it is another vineyard producing Scuppernong and Muscadine wines. After this year’s Salute! NC Wine Festival in Winston Salem (or, as I like to call it: “The Acetone Fest”), I’m over Scuppernog and Muscadines alike.  The thought of reviewing so many vineyards makes me weary and tempts me to move to somewhere like the Finger Lakes, where wines don’t remind me so much of nail polish remover (case in point, refer to a Google search result on Muscadines below).

Look, all I’m saying is, when THIS is what pops up as a top hit in a Google search for information on Muscadine wines, it’s not a good sign for Muscadine wine producers.

Nail polish remover. Ugh.

As my friends and I reluctantly walk in toward the small, wooden building situated next to a newly built arbor and a small plot of grape vines, I’m already having a mental debate with myself about how to objectively review Garden Gate Vineyards when I’m preparing myself to test fate by drinking something that smells like acetone… again.

I take it all in. The outdoor arbor is admittedly cute, and I’m sure I’d enjoy a picnic there (if it weren’t so hot outside, of course).

…and presuming the wines don’t taste like nail polish remover…

We step inside.

please, let the wines be tolerable…

I look around. Inside the little room is a wine tasting bar to our left. To the right, a display of “Sonya’s Ceramics” and pottery, as advertised by the vineyard’s website, is displayed across a few wooden bookshelves. The winemaker’s wife, Sonya, makes the pottery and bakes the mini-bread loaves for each tasting.  She also crafted the ceramics counter tops at the tasting bar.

…and the ceramics on the ceiling.

At Garden Gate Vineyards, grape vines meet clay pottery.

…which is at least a step up from when grapes met claymation in the early 80’s.

As we each grab seats at the tasting bar, both the winemaker and his wife make their way across the room to cordially greet us. Although the wines are served in medicinal shot glasses, each group of tasters is offered a charming loaf of white bread to accompany the mini-sips of wine.

First sip: the Scarlet Blush – a Merlot blend. So far, so good… Even though we’re starting with the “dry” wines, I’m still expecting a sweeter start. Scarlet Blush surprises on that score.

Next sip: the Raspberry, where I find the sweetness I’m both anticipating and dreading. The dominant trait? Raspberry. Same thing with the Blueberry, the Blackberry, and the Strawberry. It seems as if Garden Gate Vineyards has dominated their wine selection with fruit-forward infusions of berry sweetness and either masked or mastered the tell-tale problems typical of high acetic acid levels.

As we’ve already established, I’m not a Scuppernog or Muscadine type of person, but perhaps the real problem is that I haven’t encountered a winemaker who properly knows how to use the grapes without the high levels of acid reminiscent of acetone.  Garden Gate’s wines, however, exhibit bold, fruity flavors. Not to mention, they don’t use pesticides on their grapes, which is a welcome change to my persnickety, organic preferences!

Overall? Garden Gate Vineyards is an encouragement to my anti-Scuppernog sentiments.  The vineyard may be small and off the beaten path, but the owners put a lot of personalized flavor into the quaint, little plot of land. It’s got a ‘homey’ touch you don’t find everywhere.  Plus, their wines were extremely flavorful… if you like that overpowering, sweet fruitiness that is beyond my taste bud tolerance but within the range of a well-made Scuppernog wine

 

 

 

Must Try:

  • Sweet Raspberry – While sporting one of the more commonplace names (compared to “Jitterbug,” “Loopy Lemonaide,” or “Dragonfly Wassail”), the Sweet Raspberry is extremely flavorful.
  • Loopy Lemonaide – Yes, it really does taste (and smell) like a Dreamcicle orange popcicle.
  • The homemade jelly. Prepped with Muscadine grapes, the jams, like the wines, are very fruit-forward.

 

 

 

How does this winery compare?

Cruising down the interstate with too much work on my plate… I think Blake Shelton’s got it right:

Some foreign car drivin’ dude with the road rage attitude
Pulled up beside me talkin’ on his cell phone
He started yelling at me like I did something wrong
He flipped me the bird an’ then he was gone

Some beach…
Somewhere

I’ve experienced plenty of such situations during my plethora of hours as a Road Warrior. Unlike Blake Shelton, however, who turns his thoughts to some beach (somewhere), a long-standing and irreparable case of ichthyophobia separates me from that particular desire, and so I instead often find myself scanning my GPS’ “Places and Attractions” database in hopes of stumbling across a winery at which I could conveniently pull-over after a particularly obnoxious encounter or a long day’s drive.

Some wine
Somewhere

All possible DUI implications aside, I would be perfectly OK if roadside truck stops and firework emporiums were converted to wineries.

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Seriously?

(Calming thoughts. Just think calming thoughts.)

A Small Hiatus

I know, I know. It’s been awhile.

You, casual reader, may not have been wondering why I haven’t posted in awhile, but the thought certainly has crossed my mind — and much more often than the once in a blue moon transit of Venus, if you’ll pardon the geeky head nod to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view Venus’ final trek across the face of the sun…er, a twice-in-a-lifetime event if you were fortunate enough to catch Venus’ passing back in 2004. If you missed it this year though, you’re really out of luck, because it’s not going to happen again until 2117!

But I digress.

On the subject of my 2012 wine goals, I’m chomping at the bit here. Alas, due to some unrelated (and thankfully) temporary diet restrictions, my winery visits have been notable reduced to null.

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I’m not M.I.A., I promise. (But if I were…)

Soon, very soon, we’ll be back in business. Until then, feel free to occupy your time elsewhere.  Perhaps you can even find a way to safely view Venus’ epic transit.

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