Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Argonaut? I say Argo Why Not!: wine tastings at the Park Hill Golf Club

Denveater walks into a golf club…totally the beginning of a bad joke. (And she said “Ouch! A bar’s got nothin’ on a club!” Etc.)

But it really wasn’t that bad—on the contrary, Argonaut’s Chilean & Argentine wine tasting to benefit the Positive Project at the Park Hill Golf Club was quite the unexpected treat. Dreading the setting based on prejudices formed, oh, as a Jew growing up in a bookish household in right white Oklahoma—you can extrapolate from there, no?—I sort of slouched in to await the arrival of my pals & fellow bloggers Beth of Living the Mile-High Life (whose color commentary you’ll find below in italics) & Rebecca of From Argentina with Love only to find myself in a function room so nondescript that minus the view of the course could’ve been any old lobby.

Winetasting1

Park Hill is definitely past its glory days. Or maybe the state of the carpet reflects priorities: the golf course looked much better maintained than the club.

Anyway, for $25, I wasn’t looking for opulence; on the contrary, a tasting roster of some 150 wines + hors d’oeuvres seemed like a bit of  a steal. Not a big steal, mind you—maybe just a shoplifting incident—but a steal nonetheless. And there was the loot, the room ringed round with 19 tables manned by distributors’ reps, each lined with wines—from as few as 5 to as many as 16. In the center of the ring, the buffet was certainly no worse than it could have been,

Winetasting2

half-dead bruschetta aside,

what with lots of cheese, crackers & fresh fruit as well as

Winetasting3 Winetasting6

empanadas, croquettes & platters of veggies both grilled & raw with dip.

Finally, the fact that my aforementioned accomplices in ransacking said loot were in fine funny form meant the whole eve pretty much rocked back & forth & side to side.

Here’s my take on most of the 15 or so wines I got around to trying (for convenience’s sake, my faves are tagged with stars)—all available, of course, at Argonaut:

TORRONTÉS

I wasn’t terribly familiar with the signature Argentine varietal for whites before this tasting. I’m still not—like that Mitch Hedberg joke, “I used to do drugs. I still do. But I used to, too”—but I can waste at least a breath or 2 on, above all,

the 2008 Santa Julia Torrontés Organica, described to me as “floral like viognier, but with more acidity.” What I got from it was grapefruit & more refreshing grapefruit. At $9.99, it was the cheapest & best of the bunch of 3 I sampled.

Winetasting7

The 2007 Colomé Torrontés ($13.99),

Rebecca explained to us, comes from Salta, the highest grape-growing province in Argentina. My first thought upon tasting it was “white grapes,” which I’d like to think might not be as stupid as it sounds. After all, not all wine tastes like the fruit it’s made from; this one does. In short it was a touch sweeter, though not heavier, than the Santa Julia.

Beth & I followed that with the 2007 Tamari Torrontés ($12.49), which has “great balance” according to the winemaker’s tasting notes but tipped so far toward citrus in my mouth it fell over, causing a mighty puckering. Later Beth called it an “attack wine.” Rawhr! No, the attack wine was the Malbec at the same table. I liked all the Torrontes I tried. Oops. But didn’t you call it “thin & harsh”? Or were you complimenting me? Heh.

OTHER WHITES

A guy named Dale recommended the 2006 Tupun Viognier from Argentina ($11.99) because he’d just opened it, so it still had the “initial dry flash” that dissipates after the wine has breathed for awhile. I caught an odd sparkler-style twinge; Rebecca concurred, noting that “it would be so good bubbly.” Too bad it’s not. Certainly it didn’t distinguish itself for me like the 2007 Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc from Chile ($9.99), all lychee whee. 


I’ve never heard of an “initial dry flash,” have you? Sounds menopausal. I think some of these guys are just making stuff up. Heh, yeah, like those wines under the label Mommy’s Time Out Rebecca has told me about. They could make like a 2009 Post-Menses Pinot that would have an initial dry flash.

MALBEC

You may have noticed a recurrent theme in this here blog, something along the lines of ¡I Y ARGENTINE MALBEC! And the 2006 Altosur Malbec ($10.99) was no exception. I described it then as the velvet covering grapes in an oil still life, & I’ll stand by that assessment—soft yet lush.

A close second for me was the 2008 Santa Julia Malbec Organica ($9.99), which I was brainwashed by a particularly touchy-feely wine rep (ask Rebecca) to believe was all about blueberries, & I’ll stand by that too. Or wobble by it, whatever, because as I compared it to the 2007 Dona Julia Estate Malbec ($16.99), I realized I was beginning to get tipsy & paying no attention to any given sip. As Rebecca put it when I pointed out the tasting was winding down, “Shit, man, I gotta drink up.”

Her favorite, meanwhile, was the 2006 Melipal Malbec Reserve, at $44.99 the most expensive wine at the tasting. Two of the other expensive wines were all gone by the time we wanted them. Next time we’ll have to head for the expensive wines first. Indeed. As for this one, distinct & lovely as the violet aroma was, the taste was too understated for my buds. (This blogger’s tasting notes say plum, black cherry & bay leaf; fair enough.) Meanwhile, far from understated were


Winetasting5

2005 & 2007 Enrique Foster Malbecs ($25.99 & $11.49, respectively);

the former, a reserve,  was fully complex—the viticultural equivalent of hazel eyes, changing character depending on the context, the given sip—while the latter was full-on chocolatey.

CARMÉNÈRE

Chilean carménère is the ancestor of a long-lost bordeaux varietal & quickly becoming a fave of mine. Of 3 I tried, 2 caught my fancy:

Winetasting4

the 2006 Arenal Carménère ($10.99)

has some of the roundness of a good ol’ merlot, but it doesn’t stop there, adding plenty of pepper for good piquant measure. By contrast, the 2007 Calina Carménère ($7.99) smelled not merely of earth but downright dirt, & tasted…springy. Like springy dirt. And yes, that’s a plus; points for intrigue.

The tasting notes for the MontGras Carménère Reserva ($10.99), meanwhile, contained words like “subtle” & “soft” & “velvety,” but the tasting itself sure didn’t contain its referents. I don’t mind tannic wines, but this was sharp. Rebecca said it smelled like rotten walnuts before calling herself a bitter, angry biatch. Which is the way I like ’em.

Next up on the Argonaut–Park Hill tasting calendar—southern Italian wines, June 11. Think aglianico, primitivo, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, & me pounding.

Long-overdue shoutout to Col. Hector Bravado’s Denver Six Shooter

I stumbled (the right word for it) upon Denver Six Shooter sometime after New Year’s, back when I was in that especially muddy funk, & suddenly the sun seemed shinier & the stars brighter & the landscape vaster & more wineswept. I’d thought a link to this “bar-going community for the literate, urban lush” appeared in “Meet the Locals” over there to the right, but upon noticing I’d failed to actually publish the revision until now I figured I’d use this opportunity to count the ways D6S rocks.

The featured writers, who “hit six Denver-area bars in one night & tell a story about it,”** take such monikers as Colonel Hector Bravado, Augustus Crimes & Ewing Klipspringer. Though they really know their booze, they’ll drink anything, from Nuclear Iced Tea to limoncello & dill-infused vodka to Jäger Bombs—all the while working in not only suave references to the likes of (obviously) Fitzgerald, Pynchon & Foster Wallace but also killer insults like “Star Bar is the type of place where they have a gimp locked in a crate in the basement” &…oh, just read this. I forgot to count. How many ways is that, 56?

I occasionally post blurbs on cocktails I get a kick out of & accidentally upload the pics way too big & the Colonel says things like “That drink is huge! What a bargain!” and I laugh like this “heh” & oh, in short, the times we have.

So check it out; when the writerly drunken bastards & vice-versa inherit the earth, & they will, this’ll be the virtual place to be. Here’s a pretty picture of the erstwhile Buenos Aires Grill’s pisco sour to get you in the mood.

BAGpiscosour

**As a onetime editor at Boston’s Weekly Dig, which runs an annual feature called “5 Drink Minimum”—& which was funny as hell as written by such smarty pantses as Joe Keohane, Lissa Harris & Michael Brodeur; perhaps it still is—I hold very dear all such faux-journalistic excuses to slouch toward Sodom & Gomorrah.

Is it me under the table, or did Steuben’s just raise the bar?: bacon vodka & other kooky doodads

Having claimed repeatedly (e.g. here, here & most recently in this NYE newsflash here) that a meal at Steuben’s tends to amount to more than the sum of its parts, I’m delighted to report that said sum has itself been increasing rapidly of late. While the emphasis here has always been on merrymaking versus painstaking, the fact that the less seriously Steuben’s takes itself the better is indicative of the level of sheer instinct at work (or play, as the case may be). If that rings awfully dry & stiff, especially coming from someone whose pores are still oozing last night’s booze, it just goes to show you can take the girl out of the academy but you can’t take the academy out of the girl even when you get her loaded on bacon-infused vodka* martinis rimmed with maple sugar.

But you, or at least I, will have a lot of fun trying.

Steubensbaconvodka

If this were foul it would still be phenomenal; while pumped-pork potions aren’t news in the fancy cities, no one in our rougher-&-tumbler(er?) burg has so far as I know dared to give them a go until now. The icing on the cake—a cliché I love when writing about food that isn’t iced cake insofar as it reminds me of that line in Delillo’s Ratner’s Star, “The Rolls Royce is the Cadillac of automobiles”—is that it isn’t foul: while the vodka’s suprisingly suave, giving off a smoky tinge rather than reeking of rendered fat, the hardened rim of maple syrup & granulated sugar is somehow not cloying; I suspect that chilling inhibits the flavor just so.

Compare to the coating on these sugar babies,

Sshushpuppies

**

which, far from inhibited, is balls out, if that’s something sugar can be—while remaining in proportion to the balls it’s on: ultramoist cornbread hush puppies fried to a brown so deep they were almost burnt, lending them, intentionally or not, the slightest bitter edge that only enhanced their salty sweetness.

Speaking of slight bitter edges only enhanced by sweetness, how I love that man of mine, but I’m only just beginning to accept the fact that the Director is, as they say, differently abled when it comes to ordering in restaurants. It’s like he has menu-triggered Tourette’s—involuntarily repeating the name of the same dish over & over whenever he sees it.

In short he got the fried chicken yet again.

Ssfriedchicken

Which isn’t to say that if you wanna be my lover you have to be my dish-switching bitch. Firstly, it was as good as ever—hot & crispy & juicy enough to touch the mashed potatoes (a bit lumpy, but I can take ’em that way), topped with a dense-crumbed biscuit—with the exception of the gravy, as gunky as it looks. Secondly, on that condition even I couldn’t have been with me last night, when I ordered the same Caesar I last had nearly a year ago (I mean, not the exact same; that would be sci-fi) on a hunch that proved true: it had vastly improved since—

S'scaesar

the dressing tangier, the croutons almost certainly housemade, the anchovies not of the cheap salted & tinned variety (which, granted, I also adore) but either actual boquerones or remarkable marinated white facsimiles thereof:

S'sanchovies

Of course, a salad wasn’t all I ordered. You can’t be pairing bacon vodka & fresh lettuce, for crying out loud. You might as well have a chocolate milkshake.

I was about to say, although on 2nd thought seared foie gras & a milkshake might be kinda brilliant, especially if you dunked hunks of the 1 into the other & it was spiked with almond liqueur.

The point is that while searching the menu for something sufficiently trashy I remembered I’d once been briefed by someone sufficiently trashy on Steuben’s “in-the-know menu”: a short-but-sweet selection of dishes available for, but only for, the asking—mostly staff-mealtime riffs on regular menu items, according to our server, who also pointed out that since the kitchen regularly entertains special requests, the whole thing is a charming gimmick more than a jealously guarded secret. For instance, you can gussy up your mac & cheese with just about anything short of jimmies, whipped cream & a maraschino cherry; mixed with green chile, it becomes as soupy & mildly piquant (if you oxymoronically will) down below as it is crunchy & cheesy on top.

Ssmac

**

As had I by the time we left—at once pickled & tickled by Steuben’s anew.

*With which they also make Bloody Marys.
**This, by the way, is a  side orders—$2. Fifty cents a pop. That alone warrants the categorical bump I’ve officially given Steuben’s here.

Cool stuff in my house (Part 7, with a plug for Divino)

Old thrift-store cookbooks filled with the marginalia &/or inserts of former owners unknown—with the disquiet of tales told in fragments & the juxtapositions thereof.

MBcookbookcloseup3

Movies screened via projector so I can almost, say, belly up to the sausage-chomping slob behind the bar in Fritz Lang’s speakeasy in M

Mbar

to order liverwurst on black bread

Mbar3

& a nip not unlike a fave I discovered a couple of years back & rediscovered last week at Divino—Bak’s Zubrówka bison-grass vodka, clean & meadow-redolent. Club soda only highlights its bright velvetiness, like dew on fields of green you frolic in come sunrise. When you’re drunk.

Bisonvodka

Wine Poem 4, with notes on a bottle of 2006 Qupé Marsanne from Divino

With a single whiff of this Santa Ynez Valley blend of marsanne & roussane,  the words “flowering date palm” formed in my head in swaying pastel letters. A sip, meanwhile, conjured ripe apricots.

I’m aware my newfound capacity for specificity w/r/t wine tasting  does not necessarily translate into a knack for accuracy. I do feel some vindication upon discovering that 1 critic detects notes of “hazelnut and a trace of honey. Subtle, floral-accented quince and white peach.” Close enough. But if I’m lucky this poem could be even closer.

Qupe

Wine Poem 4

Perhaps happens. All it is could be.
Another word for it would be—
maybe it’ll come to me—
Granted shape is just a phase. Granted form—
goblet, tumbler, bottle in the dark,
amarone in the gloaming and a body
clad in black—just inserts itself between
to and from, from and to, abstract to
the touch, concrete as thought.
So it seems in light of these say
libationsin the
light,
the bare flicker, the slight gyre
of their bilabials one icy eve.
Grape, grape, barbaresco, primitivo,
after such anticipation the
first sip nearly hurts,
a little bit, a touch,
like on certain liquids you could cut your lip,
the way of fluid having after all an edge

When the wine winds down,
nearly is nearby, the word is not to be.
I want everything, nothing included.

***

Brown-butter bread pudding with mulberries and milk jam
sounds like sculpture.
The heart is its own brain.
The heart pauses, then hesitates.
Something’s on the tip
of the heart’s tongue, the heart taps
fist to brow to jar
a memory into place. Perhaps
it’s a name, the name is not Claude Muchmore, it is not
Javier Flores, it cannot be
Soso Kokynos, maybe it’s a place
by the sea, by the wayside, over yonder.
It thinks, I’ve heard this song
for twenty-something years,
the heart knows the lyrics by heart
(one night in Iowa, he and I in a borrowed car)…
The heart has hips and sways. The heart has lips and applies
its own pressure, its own logic, its own balm.
The heart acknowledges the dichotomy
between mind and body mind and body
barely acknowledge
and in the moment
of so doing wrinkles and shrinks
into a golden raisin.
Thinking
things is coming to not terms but blows.

Wine Poem 1, with notes on a bottle of Dominio de Eguren Protocolo 2007

The Christian Siriano ringer who runs Divino—the only wine store in Denver to replace, in all its exquisite funk, Boston’s Wine Bottega (which sold me my first bottle of Brachetto d’Acqui, a sparkling red that goes down like sheer cherry cola) in my heart of boozy hearts—told me this 8-buck Spaniard,

Protocolo

made entirely from Tempranillo, was as close to a red as a rosé gets. Indeed it had some body & plenty of zip, a touch of spice.

***

Some years back I wrote a series of poems, each generated by a different wine experience. Since wine criticism has never been my forté—since it seemed beyond me to capture in words exactly what the vintner had in the bottle—I thought perhaps I could obey Dickinson’s dictum to tell it slant. Though I don’t recall the original inspiration for this one, the Protocolo evoked it.

***

The pearl is merciless and fast-acting when dropped into the goblet of my exilarch.
It could as lief be aphrodisiac as poison. Once was my prophecy fair
when my object was dark. But he was born with a rare form

of profil perdu that lately obscures my success.

His countenance alters if at all
as a tortoise crosses shifting sands for as far as eye can see.
Will this creature never stumble, underbelly sunward,
would darkness offer afterimages if images left nothing
to be desired?
Motionless all afternoon
beneath the silver
chandelier
at my end of the dining
hall, I feel it—
motionlessness—
like Cleopatra in her
dotage atop the wrong barge
until sunset, the harbor
clearing of feluccas
whose unmooring moves her
so, mind bobbing
softly in its slip. And I
want to go hunting and fishing.
Other mouths fade in and
out. It’s as though I were doing
the voices, reading aloud
from some suppressed text
or other,
hidebound and bordered with
whiplash curves.
My highness doesn’t turn
around. He is so heirless,
silhouetted against an
almond-shaped glory of light. I have the scars to prove it.
Tonight the dosage of jewel
pills increases.
Wine, music! I have scars
to prove.

Retsina: the fine white mouthwash of wine

Not to rock your philosophico-linguistic world, but the dubiousness of the concept of acquired taste has just begun to dawn on me. Given the personal subjectivity, not to mention cultural relativity, of taste—€”as the ancients put it, de gustibus non est disputandum—€”it seems rather presumptuous to speak of its acquisition as a matter of fact. I mean, looking at it from a literal &/or facetious angle, isn’t everything beyond breast milk an acquired taste? Looking at it from a PC (and I use that acronym without irony here) global angle, who’s to say what’s acquired by whom & when, where or how? If my daddy were a Wellfleet trawler, oyster liquor might well have been virtual mother’s milk. If my momma in China’d dotted my infant gums with 3-penis wine to lull me to sleep, the mere thought of it might not jar me sleepless today. As it is I grew up in big bad Oklahoma, where chicken-fried steak with country gravy is quite enough to turn a young, impressionable stomach hard, bitter & old before its time, believe you me. Especially after 1 too many viewings of the remake of The Fly, namely those scenes of Jeff Goldblum yanking off his face parts with a thwap! in front of the mirror.
Introtwentyfive
=
The_fly1986
By a similar token, when someone from one ethnocultural background uses the term to refer to an item he/she grew up with in a culinary conversation with someone from a different background, it conceivably amounts to a challenge. When the waitress at Pete’s Central One (whose kind intentions I don’t, mind you, doubt for a second) warned the Director that retsina was an acquired taste, the fact that I myself had long ago acquired it and was urging him to do the same was, however potentially reassuring, irrelevant; it was the insinuation that he as a Scots-blooded cornfed Iowan might not get it that, I think, compelled him to agree to a whole bottle. Especially since the price was no object—20 bucks for this here:
Retsina
Retsina is a white or rosé wine treated with pine resin, following an ancient Greek tradition whereby amphorae were sealed with sap—which, of course, slightly infused the stored wine. While it can smack of household cleaning products, this particular bottle was relatively mellow—simply, smoothly herbal rather than window-crackingly ammoniac.
Which isn’t to say I get it, at least not the way Greeks get it. Likes and dislikes alike are colored by one’s own experiences; drinking it, I can never help but think of a song my own daddy, a Russian-history professor of Ashkenazi descent, used to sing to me when I was little, simply because the word “retsina” sounds like it belongs in there somewhere:
A personal friend of the czar was I
A personal friend of the great Nicolai
We practically slept in the same double bed,
He at the foot and I at the head
Now all that seems distant and all that seems far
From those wonderful nights at the palace of the czar:
When I went shootin’ with Rasputin
Ate farina with czarina
Blintzes with the princess and the czar (hey! hey! hey!)
We were sharing split bananas…
That’s all I remember, but now I’m moving the location to Greece & adding
washed our mouths out with retsina
on the beaches of Aegina,
spit up sand & clams & pine-tree tar (hey, hey, hey)!
See, it’s all relative. Relative & stupid.

Adventures in ampelography! With your hosts, Denveater, The Director & a surprise guest

In cooking school I studied oenology under no less an authority than Master of Wine Sandy Block. Since then, I’ve taken course after wine-tasting course; spent hours shooting the shit with sommeliers; and lost many a poker round for caring less about whether I had a full house than whether Pinotage really offers hints of both lava & roasted marshmallow (mmm…I’m getting the slightest suggestion of S’mores assembled in the pit of a volcano…you?) or a Petit Verdot blend is in fact the ideal accompaniment to sauteed backstrap of venison with red molé (or was that star-nosed mole sauteed with blackstrap molasses? It’s all so confoundedly specific…).
Cards
The upshot: it’s entirely possible I know a thing or two about a vinous thing or two.
And yet I’ll never be able to couch a description of something made from grapes in terms of another fruit without thinking of the guy in Delillo’s Ratner’s Star calling a Cadillac the Rolls Royce of automobiles.
That said, it hit me last night, as the Director & I were sucking down yet another bottle of Emilio Bulfon’s Forgiarìn—I don’t know why we don’t just stick two straws in & make like ducktailed teenyboppers down at the 5 & dime—
Forgiarin_3
that if it doesn’t taste like sour-cherry cola, I don’t know what does. (Oh, except cherry cola. See what I mean? Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally down with descriptors that function according to the logic of Hobbesian wit; there’s revelation in uncanny allusions to, say, the dash of black pepper in a Côtes du Rhône or the waft of pine needles from a Pinot Noir. But to say that grapes remind me of cherries is to pretty much shoot an air ball from metaphor’s own free throw line, no?)
That I should be launching into this monoblogue about the efficacy of the standard oenolexicon (or at least my grasp thereon) right now makes sense, I suppose, given that the most salient feature of Forgiarìn is that it was unheard of until about firthy years ago (per the English translation on the Bulfon website). While those buttery Chards go rancid & that jammy Cab reminds you to scrub between your toes, the gross clichés for a wine made from a grape that hasn’t been cultivated since the time of Pliny the Elder have yet to be established. That goes for all the varietals Bulfon makes from the vines he rescued—with the help of ampelographic experts who traced their roots (no pun intended—what a weird thing for me to say) back to the Roman Empire—from ancient obscurity. As I understand it, he was until very recently the only winemaker in the world to be growing the likes of Sciaglìn, Ucelùt and another favorite of mine, the exquisitely balanced Piculìt Neri;
Piculit
as I also understand it, Colorado’s one of the only states in the nation currently importing them. I stock up at Divino; I humbly suggest you do likewise, & then we can have ourselves a description-off. Winner gets a bottle on me.
***We’ll return with our special guest after this brief intermission***
So there we were, knocking back our wine & noshing on a slapdash deli platter—slices of black pepper–coated salami, wedges of morbier & aged gouda, mixed nuts, crackers—when we heard a sort of scrabbling coming from behind the magazine rack. We pushed it aside & saw this:
Mousecracker
No wonder the mouse in our house hadn’t touched the peanut butter we put in its trap—he was waiting for something to spread it on.