What I’m drinking …

When it’s time for that frosty beverage at the end of the day most folks turn to beer, wine or perhaps a cocktail. One option that doesn’t get picked often, in the U.S. at least, is cider.

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Fermented apple juice may just sound nasty, but I would recommend you give it a try. On a whim to try something new, I recently picked up a bottle of Samuel Smith’s Organic Apple Cider. I’ve always been a fan of S. Smith’s traditional English ales so I figured if I was going to re-acquaint myself with cider, Smithy would be a good bet.

The cider tasted like a more sophisticated version of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider — the holiday treat in a wine glass for kids. My memory of cider was that it often had a sweet finish. The surprising pleasure of Smith’s cider was that it was dry. The cider was almost like an effervescent Chardonnay but instead of notes of oak or tropical fruit it tasted of apples.

Cider would make an excellent pairing for a grilled pork loin or pork chops. I’m for sure going to start including cider in that rundown list of what should be my frosty beverage: beer, wine, a cocktail, cider or … perhaps mead.

A little shy around guns

The team had a few friends over recently for some wine, food and shooting. We had four guns and two hand throwers for the clay pigeons.

John, "Stringbean" takes aim with his Remmington 870, while Bennie, "Flapjack" mans the thrower.     John, "Stringbean" takes aim with his Remmington 870, while Bennie, "Flapjack" mans the thrower.

John, "Stringbean" takes aim with his Remmington 870, while Bennie, "Flapjack" mans the thrower. John, "Stringbean" takes aim with his Remmington 870, while Bennie, "Flapjack" mans the thrower.

There’s a relaxing excitement in following the graceful arc of a clay with your shotgun and then dusting the target. You get into a rhythm, and hit a streak of targets, and you just feel rooted, zoned in. Christine says there’s almost nothing she finds as exhilarating as shooting clays. (And for all you gun haters, remember there are no cute and fluffy little animals getting killed by these mean guns.)

Unfortunately, our lab CoCo has always been a little gun shy. He was so shy that even when I pulled my shotgun out of the gun safe to clean it he would start barking and whining. Because we moved out to the country and plan to do more shooting, Christine and I decided it was time to train CoCo to get over his shyness.

I did a little bit of research and determined the best plan would be to associate gun shots with something CoCo loves above all else: food. The training regimen  was simple, at every feeding I shot off a gun. I started with my relatively quite air rifle before moving on to my .22 rifle. I was soon able to shoot off a whole 10 round clip from the .22 without CoCo flinching. And instead of freaking out, when he sees a gun now, he wags his tail.

CoCo's thinking, "Hey's where's my grub?"

CoCo's thinking, "Hey where's my grub?"

He’s not completely over his aversion to loud noises, but we’ve seen a remarkable improvement.

Blind Cabernet tasting

Some people wrote up complicated notes on each wine's flavors and aromas, others just used smiley or frowny faces.

Some people wrote up complicated notes on each wine's flavors and aromas, others just used smiley or frowny faces.

Sometimes it’s fascinating to taste wine without using your most influential tasting organ.
Last week, Christine and I attended a blind Cabernet Sauvignon tasting at the beautiful Titus Vineyards off Silverado Trail in Napa Valley. In addition to enjoying the wonderful views of the valley, we had the opportunity to sample more than 80 cabs brought to the tasting by folks in the wine hospitality trade.

A nice backdrop for a wine tasting event.

A nice backdrop for a wine tasting event.

The wines, all wraped in brown bags to hide the labels, were arrayed on tables and folks tasted through them at their leisure taking notes on which entries they liked or didn’t like. Christine brought two cabs from her employer, X Winery, and it gave her a chance to see how her wines compared to other wines. The tasting also gave Christine a chance to review her own product without any bias because she had no idea which wine would be hers.
Blind tastings are great, because they remove your sense of perception, perhaps your most influential “sensory” organ. Our minds will often convince us that a $120 bottle of wine tastes better than a $12 because the “taste of money” is very persuasive. A blind tasting removes that perspective and the wines are judged solely on their merits.
Once everyone had tasted the wines, came the big unveiling in which people found out the names of the wines they loved or detested. Thankfully, Christine discovered she had given her own wines high marks. I also discovered a new wine, Two Angles, which I just loved.

Titus Vineyards has a relaxed "old Napa" feel, and has been owned by the same family for two generations.

Titus Vineyards has a relaxed "old Napa" feel, and has been owned by the same family for two generations.

Run barrel monkey, run

The first week at the winery has been dominated by barrels. (If you missed my earlier post, I’ve switched from being an ink-stained wretch to a wine stained wretch.) My first job on my first day in the cellar was to remove the bungs from more than 100 barrels. The bung is the stopper, usually plastic, sometimes wood, that goes in the barrel hole named the “bung hole.” (Please no giggling, that’s an official term.)

Once I was done popping some bungs it was time to wash some barrels. Sounds simple right? Maybe throw a hose in a barrel for five minutes and just rinse it out? No, it’s a little more complicated.
The “barrel washer” is a piece of equipment similar in looks to a pneumatic jack hammer, but instead of an air hose you attach it to the end of a power washer. The barrel washer weighs about five pounds and has a special nozzle that sprays out water in four directions. To wash a barrel, you shove the nozzle into the bung hole and then rotate the barrel about 45 degrees so the bung is facing toward the ground and the washer is sticking straight up into the barrel. You run the washer for about one to three minutes depending on how dirty the barrel. When the water pouring out of the barrel runs clear, you know it’s about ready and you rotate the barrel back up, slide out the washer and move on to the next barrel.
Keep in mind the washer is operating off a power washer and you usually have four machines going at once, because we typically have to wash about 140 barrels in a few hours. We use hot water on the barrels so the hiss and roar of the washers is combined with billowing clouds of steam. As you run from barrel to barrel you’ve got to watch out for the multiple inlet and outlet hoses, while keeping time on how long you’ve had each washer in the barrels. Your feet are wet, your hands are raw from the hot water and your back aches from spinning 100 pound barrels. But hey, it’s the glamour of the wine industry that keeps me going.
You’ve also got to make sure the valve on the washer doesn’t open unless the washer is securely in a barrel. If the washer does go off outside of a barrel, you’ve got hot, pressurized water spraying in four directions, it ain’t fun. Or as a fellow intern told me, “It was like having a firecracker go off between my legs.”
My second day, I was running a washer to another row of barrels when I passed the other intern hauling hose. I don’t know what happened, but the washer valve popped open and I had an explosion of hot water in my chest. I endured some good-natured ribbing from the other cellar guys but no permanent harm.
I’ve now pretty much gotten the hang of the washer and I’m looking forward to when the grapes are going to start coming in. I’m hearing pretty soon.