Ten reliable wines in our cellar

Let me tell you, for most of the American public, wine has really improved in the past fifty years. Most of what was available back then, except for snobs and wealthy insiders, was pretty nasty. Thankfully, that’s changed. Yes, definitely.

As for those snobs? The typical Trader Joe’s makes some good stuff truly affordable, just for starters.

Here are ten we like, with the caveat they can vary widely in quality from label to label and season to season.

And, for the record, we prefer dry rather than sweet.

  1. Cotes du Rhones. Lighter in weight than what I’d normally reach for, but oh my, how gorgeously it goes with everything on the table. If I had to limit it to only one, this is it.
  2. Merlot. OK, I like big, chewy red. Lots of body. Especially for that now-once-a-week red meat. I don’t care how much it’s disparaged by some critics. Bless them, they keep the price down.
  3. Malbec. A South American equivalent.
  4. Cabernet sauvignon. Once known as Bordeaux, it’s far outstripped its French confines. Lighter in weight, it’s a red we think goes with nearly everything. Well, maybe not fish. But definitely cheese and crackers beforehand.
  5. Pinot noir. Another notable red, but definitely tricky in the lower price levels. Never mind what the movie says, either. I mean, sometimes Zinfandel does the job better.
  6. Sauvignon blanc. We had one that was truly, marvelously stony. It’s our ideal, our holy grail, should we ever encounter it again. It was a unique year, as we learned later. And it remains our ideal of a white wine.
  7. Prosecco. Look, we love bubbly. And when a daughter discovered this during a semester in Italy, where it was priced like Coca-Cola here, we were soon hooked. Like cava, it’s champagne by any other name. Try it with pizza, if you must.
  8. Rose’. A summer favorite around here. Don’t snicker. An Austrian bottling knocked our socks off, all eight bottles we were able to clutch up.
  9. Good Italian and Spanish varietals. They come in so many varieties we won’t attempt to name them. I’ve come a long way from my ex-father-in-law’s bubbly Lambrusco, though I still harbor a fondness for it, as do my now wife and elder daughter after encountering it in Bologna, along with authentic prosciutto that melts in the mouth.
  10. I’d add Macedonian, but we’ve been able to score just one bottle in New Hampshire before my wife and daughter debarked for that part of the former Yugoslavia republic. As they discovered there, many folks are making great wine in smaller quantities and keeping it home. Heads up, should you chance across any.

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If you notice, there’s no chardonnay on this list. Too much oak, my wife insists, adding if she wanted that, she’d just bite the table.

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What would you add to the list?

 

 

Have you ever lived in a desert?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state.

The city’s doubled in population since I lived there, but I’m not surprised. It’s mostly sunny.

Here are ten factoids.

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  1. The name applies to the city, the county, the valley, and until recently, the Indians, too.
  2. The valley gets nearly nine inches of rain in a typical year, most of it in the winter. Almost every green thing that sprouts requires irrigation. And if that supply fails, everything goes kaput.
  3. The valley produces more than 75 percent of the hops used in American beer – and a quarter of the hops used worldwide. If you’re a beer lover, be grateful. The locale also raises a lot of barley, up in the Horse Heaven Hills.
  4. The valley has more than 70 wineries. It’s become a great place to grow varietal grapes, many of which are pressed into fermentation elsewhere. On the globe, it lines up quite well with France.
  5. The trolleys have been running for more than a hundred years. Fun trip, by the way, especially the ones that run out through the orchards.
  6. The original site of the city was renamed Union Gap, made famous by the rocker Gary Puckett.
  7. Yakima County leads the nation in apple production, with 55,000 acres of active orchards. It’s the state’s highest valued agricultural product. By the way, they’re no longer mostly Red Delicious.
  8. The average income of an apple picker is $6 a day.
  9. The Native Americans have renamed their tribe and reservation as Yakama. One letter makes a huge difference.
  10. I still miss living there, especially Mount Adams every morning.

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So what’s special about where you live?

Rolling out the Streetcar

In my novel What’s Left, the family’s signature dish is a sandwich sliced down the top, rather than along the side. Maybe with two slices, rather than one.

It started out as a Cubano but took off on its own. As I recalled, the name was suggested in jest by a comment on the Red Barn way back when, but I’m unable to trace it now. Let me say, if I’m overlooking an inspiration, I’ll be happy to give credit where it’s due.

In the novel at least, it’s a collaborative effort.

Cassia’s uncle Dimitri, with his MBA, is big on marketing and creating a niche appeal. So that’s where we start.

Add his grandmother Maria, from Cuba. Along with his brother, Barney, the master chef. And everyone else in the family, plus a few others.

Can this actually work? How would I know? Maybe if Harry Potter waved a magic wand and uttered some incomprehensible syllables?

But whatever they create sounds heavenly. Wouldn’t you agree?

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The flavor was off in this round:

Few customers would realize we really offer five or six different Streetcars, depending on the season or our supplies. They’re all scrumptious, so nobody as far as I know complains.

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That possibility, by the way, stems from an interview I once read for the chief taster for Chock Full o’Nuts coffee, who had to keep blending whatever beans were available into a consistent taste of java. Why not extend it into a sandwich?

Still, I love the image of creating something distinctive for a rural college town.

Look closely and you’ll see different parts of the country do have unique dishes. It’s not just baked beans in Boston, either. (Anyone else enjoy Indian pudding?) Or special spices, like Old Bay in Baltimore.

Think of seafood, if you live near a coast. Or wild game, if you can. Or even variations on pizza.

What’s a distinctive food where you live?