Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Best" Wines of 2013

As the year 2013 came to a close, the “Best Of” lists came out – people “in the know” trying to impress us with the breadth of their knowledge of some minutiae of life.

One of those lists was “Best Wines of 2013”.

I am always interested to see what wines are considered “best”. I glance at wine magazines from time to time, read wine blogs (see list of some of my favorites to the right), attend the occasional wine-tasting, and talk to others about what they like.

But here’s the thing: there are literally thousands of wine labels world-wide. For someone to claim “this wine is the best” simply means “this wine is the best one I’ve tasted”. It is not all-inclusive.

As a matter of fact, most of the time when I look at the lists of “best wines”, I see very few labels that I am familiar with and that I can get locally. I know the Robert Parkers of the world receive free samples from wineries around the world, but I dare say no wine critic can claim to have tasted them all in a given year. So how can they proclaim that one is “The Best”?

What’s more, as the attendant at a local wine-tasting once told me (after I spit out the wine he said was the best one he had): “To each his own.”

And he is right. What constitutes a good bottle of wine really comes down to one’s personal taste. Who is to say that one wine is better than another? And who’s to say that I’m necessarily going to enjoy what the so-called wine experts like?

Remember the 2004 movie “Sideways”? Throughout the film, Miles (a down-on-his-luck writer and wine snob) constantly puts down Merlot:

“If anyone orders Merlot I’m leaving. I am not drinking f***ing Merlot!”

His preference is Pinot Noir:

“It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere, and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.”

I think there’s a little bit of self-analysis going on there…

But not surprisingly, the sale of Merlot in America plummeted as a direct result of this movie!

I enjoyed the movie. But in 2004 I was drinking a lot of Merlot... and loving it!

Pinot Noir, not so much.

In fact, my wine preferences have matured over the past 30 years – from that fabled first bottle of Pink Chablis (only $3.99 for a 4-liter jug) to Michael David’s “Lust” Zinfandel the First Mate and I opened for our wedding anniversary last week. But I still enjoy a good Merlot.

Yes, there are bad ones out there too!

Now, even within a particular varietal there are hundreds of labels to choose from. So even if I narrowed my field and became an “expert” on, let’s say, Zinfandel, chances are good I still would not be able to sample them all within a given year. So again, how could I say one is “the best”?

I can say it’s “good”.

I can say it’s “great”.

I can say even say it’s my “favorite”.

But if I say it’s “the best”, understand that I am referring simply to ‘the best” wine I have tasted, not the best ever produced.

Another factor to consider: wine pairings. To simply “taste” a wine absent an appropriate food-pairing is worthless. When simply sampling wines while sitting at a desk writing a “Best Wines” blog, one could easily overlook an otherwise fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine and food were meant to go together. Some food brings out the best in wine… and sometimes the worst! Even the most expensive bottle of wine can be ruined if paired with the wrong foods.

Yes, drinking wine can get complicated.

Which is why some people stick to beer...

Or Tequila...

But there are connoisseurs of beer and Tequila out there too! While channel surfing one afternoon I came across an episode of Martha Stewart (follow link to video) in which she was tossing back shots of expensive Tequila with some Mexican guy under the guise of a “tasting”.

Yeah, right!

“Martha, put down the glue gun, back away, and nobody gets hurt!”

Where was I?

Okay, so with all that said, here’s my list of the best wines I drank in 2013:

10. Olabasi 2007 Shiraz (Suisun Valley). I don’t normally go for Shiraz, but this was sampled at a local wine tasting and I was pleasantly surprised.

9. 3 Girls Chardonnay 2011. You will see that most of my selections are reds, but with a diet leaning more toward chicken and fish these days, it has been necessary to find good white wines. This is one.

8. Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel 2010. You will see a lot of Zins on my list. Bogle makes a good, consistent product.

7. FATTORIA di LVCIGNANO Chianti Colli Fiorentini 2009. Truth be told, I bought it for the label. But it was wonderful with my spaghetti.

6. Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. This is my go-to white wine. It’s easy to drink. The bartender at my favorite sushi restaurant knows to start pouring this as soon as I finish my SoCo.

5. St. Francis Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. This is a great Cab to pair with a medium rare steak.

These last four are very close in my top favorites.

4. Brazin Zinfandel 2010. I had this in Denver paired with a venison steak that was out of this world! This Zin was a perfect complement to that meal. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it when I returned home, but “Yay!” it’s here! (Now to find another good venison steak!)

3. Dead Man’s Hand Napa Valley Zinfandel 2007. As we were moving away from Memphis in 2011, I stocked up on this one – it is that good! Unfortunately, we’re down to our last bottle and it’s not sold locally.

2. Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2010. This one is so good we started buying it by the half-case… can’t afford a whole case at a time! But our local wine merchant has sold out, so we’re waiting for the 2011’s to come in, and praying they are just as good!

1. Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Red Label Zinfandel 2007. This one was a pleasant surprise. It was sitting on the shelf at a wine store at which I’ve had a couple bad experiences (spoiled wine). But I decided to take a chance and it was yummy! Unfortunately, when I went back to get more, they only had two bottles left. And when I left, they had none!

With all that said, if you check with Robert Parker or "Wine Spectator", you will probably discover that none of these are on their “Best” lists. And you may be saying to yourself, “I've had that wine; it tastes terrible!” I have a friend who calls all my reds “dirt wine” because she thinks they all taste like dirt!

And that’s okay. I enjoy them, and when sailing on the Banana Winds, isn’t that really all that matters?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Stumbling Blocks

It's only the sixth day of January and already the Captain has found controversy! 


But first, this bit of background...

In a letter to the Church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul advises the Christians there to be mindful of their actions – so as to not lead others astray. You can read the text here.

Here's what that's about: In Paul’s day, animal sacrifices were the norm in the temples of the various gods – bulls, sheep, birds, etc. But after ritually slaughtering the animal and sprinkling the blood, what do you do with all that meat?

Throw it out? What an incredible waste!

Let it rot there in the temple? Ewww!

Or eat it? It was perfectly good meat, usually the best of the herd. So it was a common practice to feed the priests and their families, sell the meat in the market, or use it to feed the poor.

Unfortunately, for the new Christians in Corinth, there was a fear that eating this meat would somehow link them to the god / idol to which the meat was sacrificed.

Before you laugh, know that some churches today have taken a similar attitude with regard to money. In one case a stripper had saved up $25,000 in tips and donated it to a church. The church refused the gift, calling it “tainted money”.

I wonder if it was all one dollar bills!?!

Now, Paul does not directly recommend that all Christians abstain from eating meat or even meat sacrificed to idols, but he assures the congregation that he, himself, will not eat it while he is with them. And actually, he says – just so there is no misunderstanding – he won’t eat ANY meat while in Corinth so as to not cause anyone to "fall".

A noble gesture, indeed.

To kick off the New Year, Nathan Rouse, lead pastor of Radiant Church in Raleigh, N.C., posted a blog in which he cautioned all Christians about the images they post on Facebook. In the spirit of the Apostle Paul, Rouse advised that Christians should not post pictures of themselves drinking alcohol or share posts glorifying the consumption of alcohol, so as to not become a stumbling block to those who might have addiction problems.

I wonder what he thinks about the “Beer and Hymns” event held monthly at Tir Na Nag Pub in his fair city?

Not surprising, Rouse set off a firestorm of controversy. Surrounding posts on his blog had garnered anywhere from zero to two hits. As of today, this one has surpassed 800 hits!

And now this commentary from the Captain!

First, a word about Nathan Rouse. His bio indicates he has a perfect little family - he is married to a beautiful young lady and they have two sons. He doesn't indicate a denominational connection to his church, but he completed his M.Div. in 2010 from the seminary at Southwestern Assembly of God University.

My last encounter with the Assembly of God was in 1983 when I was working with Jr. High kids at a multi-denominational church in Richland, Washington. A teenage girl came to me in distress. The youth pastor of the church she attended (AOG) had just told her that her parents were going to burn in Hell because they drink alcohol. For him, it was that clear-cut. There was no grace in his understanding of the Gospel. And it didn’t matter that the family was Greek and that drinking wine was a part of their culture.

As it was for Jesus, by the way.

Which is my second point. In the days of the Bible, wine was a beverage. Fermentation was the only way to preserve grape juice. It is a quite fair assumption that Jesus, the disciples, the Apostle Paul, and most of the early Church all drank wine.

What’s more, Jesus left us a Sacrament that requires the drinking of wine – or at least that’s how it was until the prohibitionists got ahold of it and changed it to “the pure unfermented juice of the grape”!

And scripture even records that Jesus miraculously created an abundance of wine for a wedding party in Cana after the guests had already drank the wine provided.

(You should read how some of Rouse’s readers dance with that one!)

I don’t mean to dismiss Rouse’s concern for alcoholics. Perhaps he has had a bad experience with alcohol or someone close to him has a drinking problem. I don’t know. But alcoholism is a fairly recent diagnosis – the seriousness of which has been enhanced by the invention of the automobile. It was a fairly innocuous problem in Jesus’ day when people had to walk home from the bar or ride their donkey home after the party!

Dear readers, this much is true: Drinking and driving don’t mix!

To be fair, Nathan Rouse does not take a hard line on booze. He does not say that drinking wine is a sin – although many of those commenting on his blog post do! He simply urges us to be considerate of others by not posting pictures that might lead someone astray.

Not to think more highly of myself than I should, but I am pretty sure he was talking to me!

My first thought upon reading Rouse’s post was that to simply hide what I am doing – i.e. not posting pictures of me drinking in public – is simply hypocritical. 

I drink wine… among other beverages. I won’t hide that fact. I won’t pretend that I don’t. And I’d be happy to discuss that with you sometime if you want.

Perhaps for the sake of others (and myself) I should consider my drinking habits. It is true, someone could see me having a glass of wine with dinner in a restaurant… and “stumble”. Or they could see me simply walking out of a restaurant that serves alcohol and make assumptions about what I was doing there… and “stumble”.

I can pretty much promise you they won't see me stumble though!

If not that, they could see a rerun of “Cheers”… or a beer commercial… or a beer can that someone threw out the window of their pick-up truck… or nothing at all.

Which raises the age old question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I have waffled on that question from time to time, but ultimately I have always come down on the side of personal responsibility. I can’t make decisions for you, I can’t be responsible for the decisions you make, and – I’m sorry – I can’t protect you from every public image or comment that might cause you to “stumble”.

As a nation we’ve tried Prohibition and Blue Laws and a host of other oppressive tactics that simply don’t work. Those who want to drink will find a way – and an excuse – to drink.

Case in point: the latest way to get that desperately needed alcohol “hit” is to drink the hand sanitizers that so many public places make available to combat the spread of germs.

Before that, it was Sterno.

Yes, "Cooking Fuel"!

My second thought after reading Rouse’s post was, what about the gluttons who might see my food posts? Are we equally concerned about them? Quite honestly, on Facebook I post more pictures of food – and boast about its consumption – than I do alcohol. Should I stop doing that… for the sake of the person addicted to food?

Seriously, from all reports, there are a lot more dangerously obese people in America than there are alcoholics!

And perhaps I should stop posting pictures of my vacations. I know people are envious of those great beach scenes! (And Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins!)

And then, while I’m at it, perhaps I should also stop posting pictures of my hot First Mate too? I know a lot of folks who struggle with lust.

And how about those weekends when I boast about sleeping late and doing nothing at all? I have a few friends who – well, it would be wrong to say they “struggle” with sloth, but… you get my drift.

My point here is, if we have to consider how every word or picture we post in social media might detrimentally affect someone else, we would not be able to post anything at all!

Of course, that would make me mad.

…and you know what Jesus says about anger!

Again, we must be responsible for ourselves.

I could go on all night, but this is getting long.

Bless you if you have read this far!

Here’s the best part yet. In his blog calling for Christians to avoid posting pictures of themselves drinking, Nathan Rouse illustrated his sermonette with…

... this very photo!

Oh no he didn’t!...

Oh yes he did!

So here’s a final word from the Captain: Friends, be careful out there. Christian scripture tells us that God gave us wine “to gladden the hearts of men!”

Yes, Ben Franklin was right: God wants us to be happy!

But scripture also warns about drunkenness. And we should take that seriously.

So be smart about it. I’m not wild about the current .08 BAC law (material for another post), but if you know you are going to drink – to excess – take along a designated driver or call a cab to get you safely home.  

Nothing to be ashamed of!

And if you know you have a drinking problem – one that disrupts your ability to work or is damaging your family life – seek help.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: Year in Review

I’ve seen less of it this year than in years past, but it’s still out there: the ubiquitous “Year in Review” articles. I hate them! Include in that category the “Christmas Letters” from friends and family that have become so popular of recent, and it’s enough to drive one to drink!

Wait. Already been there. Sorry.

Near the end of 2012, all the news outlets started reviewing that year as early as the first of December. “Best this…” “Best that…”

But how can you say something is “Best of the Year” when the year is not yet over? I ranted!

And I think they heard me. As I said, there has been a lot less of that this past year.

So as I sit down to write on this second day of the new year, I am reluctant to force you, dear readers, to retrace the course I sailed these past 365 days. To be fair, some of you have been on board for most of it. If not, you can read my old blog posts at the link to the right.

And then, I know some of you just don’t care.

I’m okay with that too!

I don’t want to read about your life ether!

I WILL take a moment to boast about making it to Margaritaville Hotel in Pensacola this summer. 

Alas, that lasted only two days before the money ran out!

Maybe I would be a little more excited about reviewing my year if I could just remember it!

Perhaps it was the Rum…

Or early onset of Alzheimers…

Or maybe I just lead a boring life.

What I do remember is that the world is full of unrest right now. In 2013 we saw way too much of civil wars, political strife, financial crises, unemployment, terrorism, protests, natural disasters, senseless killings, etc.

The planet desperately needs healing. Her people need healing.

Also, in America, 2013 brought an end to much of Christianity’s “most favored religion” status. Despite a Constitution that has from the beginning guaranteed freedom of religion for all, Christianity has pretty much always kept a hand on the tiller. This past year we saw more and more lawmakers and judges doing way with long-standing preferential treatment, ruling in ways that attempt to be fair to people of all faiths – or of no faith at all!

This is painful for those of us who have always enjoyed certain perks, but I believe it is long overdue.

This, of course, will put more pressure on Churches in years to come to demonstrate their relevance and value to society. What will happen when tax exemptions (on purchases and property) are finally done away with? When being a Christian no longer ensures special treatment, how many will choose to continue?

Nonetheless, in 2013 there were also signs of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. There is a new Pope in Rome who has put off many of the trappings that have accrued to that high office, who seems to really care about the poor of the world, and who models the love of Christ in his life. Although I am not a Roman Catholic, I am hopeful that his leadership will bring some of that healing the world needs so badly.

Charitable donations were also up this past year. This is especially encouraging at a time when there are so many hurting.

And in thousands of quiet and unremarkable ways, people of good will have helped one another through these difficult times – and not always in the name of Christ either! And that’s okay. As Jesus once said, “Those who are not against me are for me!”

A lot of other stuff happened in 2013 – some I can recall, other that is but a dim memory, much I have no doubt forgotten – but it is all past. We can perhaps learn from it, but we cannot change it. It is done; so be it.

And so, I sail on – always looking ahead to the horizon – more interested in what tomorrow might bring than in what yesterday has wrought.

As always, you’re invited to come aboard the Banana Winds! While many of my blogger friends have (regrettably) given up the pen, the Captain sails on. I pray we will find fitting adventure in 2014 –

Whatever it might be, it will be more fun with you along for the voyage!

And so I wish each of you a very happy and prosperous New Year!

“Fair winds and following seas and long may your big jib draw!”