When Wines Become a Memory

Its been forever and a day but today is a day I just felt like writing. I wanted to do this whole “if women were wines” earlier this year but that was when I gave a shit about metaphors. This blog was supposed to flow, but sometimes life gets in the way with work, friends, adjustments, broken hearts, you know…the usual.

I’ve ran into this loop like I have with wines. In wine, I have gotten really interested in a region or a grape and hit it really hard. Maybe a certain technique I really want to try the following harvest. Kind of the way life hits us right? I become attached and begin to store these bottles and emotions because I know I want to look back and say “boy…those were the days”. Life recently, has felt like that. I begin a new quest, I take in everyones needs with my personal experiences and bottle them up so someday I can say “boy…those were the days”. But why do I really want to bottle these bottles and emotions up?

I can remember my first journey with wine. I just broke up with a girlfriend and I thought it was all over. My career, my personal life, my stability relied on that one relationship. So when it broke I had to wonder who I was and what I was made of, so I took off for the search of myself and great wine. I set off with this open slate, that no matter what happened on this trip…Its a new leaf. I ended up in Napa and said I was going to live here one day. The valley to me was a vision of who I would become. The wine, the lifestyle, the people, I wanted it all. It took so many years of hardship and tribulations to truly understand what was ahead of me. To understand the magnitude of what was to come even gets me pondering some days. I sat down just with wine, and I had the same feeling. I have made wine for a bit, dabbled in the idea of taking it serious. To me, it became more than being a valiant boyfriend who just worked the tasting room to help out. I sat there at Inglenook having lunch and knew this was the start of something very special. Was wine something I could really make a life with? That even though I could not serve my country, I could serve the vines or some other sappy shit I can come up with? (I said I wouldn’t get cheesy).Well…fast forward and here I am in my living room in Napa writing this blog on the right track. Don’t think for a second that I’m done, this is just the beginning.

 

It’s those memories that I keep opening up like those bottles of wine for dinner. Take a whiff, some are past their prime and some needed some time to age. The aromas hit you the same way they did the day you experienced the event/aroma. My treasured bottles from Napa before I became a resident, the Paso Robles wines I picked up from the previous harvests, the wine I made down south. Those years of therapy, those years of hardships, those times that were rough…but those times that were so damn good. They are all so connected to me and one day it will mean just that much more.

 

I can honestly say that the good times are rolling these days and the best part…I keep the tradition, theres new bottles, new people, and emotions in my cellar I am holding to look back on and say…”damn, those were the days.”

 

J

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Eat More Lamb!

As you might have seen, we made lamb on Sunday. Not for any religious benediction, but just because its so damn tasty if made well (in our case it was medium rare). I was sitting over the coals babysitting this succulent piece of lamb leg and I got to thinking. I tend to do the thinking thing a lot more these days than not. Why don’t people eat more lamb? Is it because its not as readily available as beef or pork? Is it because the flavor is a bit more on the gamey side? Or is it because its not as easy to prepare as moms crock pot miracles? There wasn’t an explanation out there that wasn’t going to get me off my high horse. Jumbo must speak.

I really don’t know what compelled me to purchase lamb. Hell, it was probably because I smoke a piece of meat every week and I was running out of beef, pork, and chicken ideas. That sounds like a damn excuse to me. The real reason I wanted lamb was to challenge my palate to make lamb in a way that would appeal to anyone not accustomed to this mysterious meat here in the States. How many times do you have lamb thats not Easter? If you said yes, you’re a liar and you should be ashamed of your lack of integrity. Oh you went across the oceans to discover lamb and all its preparations?. Lovely, this isn’t what we are talking about here. Im talking about the every day household that eats protein on a regular basis. The family that is intimidated by this meat that isn’t found center stage at the butchers shop because grandma told you how much of a bitch it is to prepare. I don’t need to shout facts from the top of the factual mountain to hear me roar, we don’t enough lamb, and thats a fact Jack. We also tend to place meat in different categories. When we think celebration…how about steaks! When we go on an LA diet…how about chicken! Or if you’re me…it doesn’t fucking matter! All meat is equal if you know what you’re up for and without a pretentious plan of action.

Lets talk about the recipe and the wine you should pair with. Lamb is all about herbs and simplicity. For you that desire lamb to taste more like a great cut of beef, I got your back. Lets start with my preparation of the leg I picked up. Lamb needs a lot of attention when it comes to seasoning. Its not that I didn’t want to lamb to taste like lamb, Im really into rich meats myself. The rub does a phenomenal job enhancing the critical flavor profile of this decadent meat.

I took a bowl and put avocado oil, salt, pepper, cumin, and every fucking herb I could find in the house that wasn’t eligible for smoking recreationally.

The ratio with lamb doesn’t really matter, this recipe was more about the meat than the rub unlike most white meat out on the smoker. This rub is more personal than lets say, a Memphis dusting for pork ribs where too much sugar or spice can throw the balance off like a kid learning to ride a bike. Over salting is almost impossible because lambs tough meat wont let the salt seep all the way through, like my cold, and broken heart.

Rub the lamb, wrap it in plastic wrap and let the meat brine for at least a couple of hours. Timing is everything with the execution of this dish.

For charcoal grills, set up a dual zone (coals on one side of the bbq) and only add enough briquets or wood for a 225 degree temp. This will be a “low and slow” type of operation. Smoke the lamb for a one pound per hour ratio and add more briquets or wood every hour. Check the meat with a digital thermometer (don’t be lazy here) and pull the meat off at 130 to rest. The meat will keep cooking an extra 5-10 degrees after which will put your meat into the medium rare category. If you’re a hockey puck eating meat eater, leave the lamb on for an extra 30 minutes to get the lamb a little bit more firm. I like my meat on the more rare side for flavor and texture but also for left overs so you can cook it again in another recipe, its more forgiving this way. 

A little note too: any fat or trimmings you cut off the lamb, throw into your fire for a nice smokey offering. I also took some of the collard green stocks into the fire and it created one hell of a dynamic with really nice smoke you get from burning green wood when you go camping.

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Now for the wine. I personally paired it with Sculpterra’s 2013 Mourvedre. If I had a million dollars or really tried to put more “pizaz” into the pairing, I would of tried to find and older Syrah from Hermitage or Cote-Rotie. Shiraz from Barossa Valley Australia would be an incredibly rich and earthy wine to compliment the meat, but we make do with what we have. The good news is, the mourvedre paired perfectly. Mourvedre is like Cabernet Francs exotic sister. Used in the Rhone Valley to add a “spine” to the wine where the acid holds the Syrah and Grenache together without being over bearing or intrusive. When mourvedre is done 100% it can be hard to pin point all its great characteristics and for this you have the winemaker and the earth to thank for this great marriage of principle and palate. The mourvedre enhanced the richness of the meat but really made the rub pop. I love when wines and foods pair so well that you can’t tell which one is which when you toss both of them in your hungry palate. The finish really left you wanting another sip, especially towards the end when the bottle really opened up. If I could do anything different next time, it would be to open another bottle to keep the party going. I also made a collard green recipe with shiitake mushrooms, bacon, and vinegar. The acid cut the lambs fat like a spear intended for hunting and the meatiness of the mushrooms and bacon gave this wine the body it was needing to get the job done.

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All in all, eat more lamb and drink more wine! I learned that the world doesn’t revolve around one portion of my butchers standard case and your cellar should hold the same values as you do in the kitchen. Diversity on this Sunday night was motivating and I can’t wait to do it again.

P.S. We made a stir fry last night with the remaining lamb made by Jesse and what a treat that was.

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Formalities

Thanks for stopping by! Now that we have the formalities out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. My name is Gian (Jumbo), I’m a Marine, Combat Veteran, Winemaker, Certified Sommelier, and now Distiller. Sounds like a big deal but they don’t call me Jumbo for nothing. This blog was created for the purpose of giving my insight on wine, spirits, and food in my own fashion. I’m not a jazz listening, eloquent individual who drinks wine with a pinky up. I take a more straight up approach to life, kind of like my whiskey order at a bar. I hope you find my approach to be educational, entertaining, and overall…deliciously hilarious. At the end of the day, isn’t that what life is supposed to be?

I started my boozy career by falling in love with a girl, funny how that happens. This girls family fortunately had a family vineyard that was in need of a broad-shouldered bastard with a big heart. I picked up that first couple tons of grapes and never looked back. The Idea of taking the principles of hard work and passion, to create something so tasty, boggled my simple mind. I wasn’t a farmer from the bread basket nor a bright mind from a big city, I was fresh from the Marines with a lot of raw feelings built up inside of me. This new career was a nice mixture in between. Like most loves, the one for the girl faded and the one for wine grew. I ended up packing my bags and traveling across the California state for a month and a half, lets call it a modern-day “sabatical”. I lived on my buddies couches and in my car for most of it but I said to hell with it, I’m going to see what wine country is all about. So I waved southern California behind and I headed for Napa and Paso Robles. I had no idea what wine country really was. I made wine in Orange County from grapes from everywhere else, not much a wine culture if you ask me (for another post). I wanted to find out if I really loved wine and the art of making vino. It was a horrifying feeling. To have dedicated yourself to a career and lifestyle without really knowing what you’re getting into, it felt like a kid staring down the deep end of a pool. Luckily for me, I absolutely loved it and swore to myself I would one day live in Napa or Paso.The wines were well made, the views that made your hair stand up, and a culinary and culture behind it that only made me feel right at home. I returned home and got straight to work, to one day make a life for myself that would be worth taking the plunge into that “deep end”. Its taken a lot of blood sweat and tears to get to this point. Working in the vineyards gave me the appreciation of how hard it is to raise vines in every condition, to being so detail oriented in the cellar where one misstep can lead to catastrophic failure, to then putting a suit on and trying to sell a bottle of wine to a class and culture who relatively fakes it to they make it. all to make fermented grape juice a beautiful thing to so many different folks. 

I have worked my ass off and have discovered a lot through this journey and now that I am writing this in our home in Napa on a crisp, clear day, it has all been incredible and worth it. So buckle up buttercups because this ride will have turbulence with a lot of windy and interesting roads.