Putting the “Noir” in Black

Pinot Noir – meaning “pine black” in French – is a type of grape closely associated with the Burgundy region of France. It also has the claim to fame of being a very ancient grape, only a couple of strains removed from Vitis sylvestris. (I.e. Pinot is to it what dogs are to wolves.) As everyone knows, it is typically used in the production of a very burly red wine. It’s tough to grow but great to drink.

I, personally, don’t care for the stuff, opting instead for its equally burly (but less tannic) Italian cousin, Sangiovese. However, there is one thing that grabs my attention, and it’s anything that has been flavored with Pinot. I have no clue why this is, it just grabs my fancy. Case in point: I once tried a stout ale that’d been aged in a Pinot Noir barrel. The drink took on all the characteristics one loved in red wine…without any of the negatives. That and there was the flavor of the main ingredient.

So, you can imagine my glee when I found out – from the owner, no less – that Smith Teamaker was playing around with a Pinot Noir barrel-aged black tea. The kind folks at Adalsheim Vineyard in Oregon’s Pinot-rich Dundee/Newberg area gifted my favorite tea op with a just-used barrel for just such an experiment. To date, I had tried three of Smith’s alcohol-scented tea experiments. All were one shade of wonderful or another – my fave being their whiskey Ceylon – and I hoped this one was worthy of the pantheon.

Aside from the touted wine barrel, the leaves used were from the Dimbulla and Uva regions of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Some Nuwara Eliya was also sprinkled in for good measure, but their presence was minor. I’m guessing Smith was aiming for a darker black tea with a floral character that could go toe-to-toe with the winy residuals.

The leaves were long-cut, twisty, dirt-brown to soot-black with an occasional golden piece that made its way into the fray. The aroma was all grape. I can’t think off the top of my head what Pinot Noir smells like –  other than berry-flavored battery acid – but the batch certainly had the grape thing down pat.

There were no set brewing instructions for this, given that it was an experimental batch at best, but I figured a typical black tea approach was in order. I used 1 tsp of leaves in 8oz. of boiled water, steeped for four minutes. Usually, I would only go three, but I wanted to get all the bang out of the barreled beauty.

The liquor brewed gold-ringed amber with a nose that betrayed no subtlety. It was a bold, somewhat sour, very grapy wine front with an after-whiff of flowers. That same impression showed through in the taste with a front that was dominated with winy notes – like a tongue touched by crimson – and was immediately followed up by the mid-malt and floral impression of the Ceylon base. As far as delivery mechanisms went, the use of a Ceylon as opposed to an Assam or a Keemun might’ve been the right one. No kidding aside, this was a wine fancier’s “hair of the dog” without any of the headache or inebriation.

Without exaggeration, this was their best alcohol-scented “teaxperiment” to date. While I enjoyed the whiskey and gin tryouts that preceded it, this was the one with the strongest liquor impression. This is the perfect morning cup for a Pinot-drenched palate. Now, maybe if I beg enough, I could get them to do a Sangiovese barrel-aged Keemun Hao Ya. Guan Yin willing…it’ll happen.

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Thursday, November 17th, 2011 Steep Stories Comments Off on Putting the “Noir” in Black

I Swoon for Icewine (Tea)

Icewine – or eiswein – is an interesting German peculiarity that appeared on the scene some three hundred years ago. Simply put, white wine grapes were plucked in the middle of winter while the juices inside were still frozen. The sugars within were more concentrated as a result. Creating a batch was a labor-intensive process that wasn’t streamlined until the 1960s. Twenty years later, vineyards in Canada collectively said, “Hey, we’re cold as S**T up here. We can totally make this stuff!” And so they did.

Two years ago, the existence of icewine came to my attention by – of all things – a tea blend I happened by in my usual searches for orthodox beverages. What really impressed me was that it was a white tea/grape fusion; I could think of no more magical a combination. But I was lifted from my reverie with a geeky pang – an urge to look up (and eventually try) actual icewine. I’d never heard of such a libation before.

Two weeks ago, an opportunity to try the dessert wine presented itself at – of all things – a Rapture party. From the first sip on, I was hooked. It tasted like mead only sweeter and more nectar-y. Before I knew it, I’d downed the 16(-ish?)oz. bottle. Solo. Even the one glass that the bottle’s owner didn’t finish. Habit-forming? Understatement.

Unfortunately, having icewine everyday didn’t seem like a healthy prospect in the long run – either for my wallet or my liver. As luck would have it, though, a teashop owner in Ontario – dubbed All Things Tea – presented me with an interesting alternative. An icewine white tea blend. My odd little journey had come full circle.

According to All Things Tea, the ingredients for their white blend were Bai Mu Dan (White Peony), Ontario Icewine, and a touch of Reisling. This differed from other icewine/white blends I read about in that there were no grapes, botanicals or flavoring agents included. I was actually relieved to hear that. While White Peony had a lot of flavor to it, when blended, a subtler scenting process was more complimentary. And by whiff alone, I could tell a devil’s deal was struck.

I can’t say that I smelled much of a white tea presence to this batch, but it certainly lived up to its moniker. It boasted its white wine fragrance loudly and proudly. Notes of sour grape, honey, and a mid-point sweetness clobbered my nostrils as I put nose to bag. Given my experience with actual icewine, I had hoped for exactly that type of bluntness with the blend.

Brewing instructions on the bag recommended 1 heaping teaspoon per 6oz. cup of steaming water and a two-minute wait. I tended to aim for an 8oz. cup o’ tea, so I measured off 1 tablespoon instead and went with a 165F water temperature. After splashdown, I steeped the leaves for a good two-and-a-half minutes. It was White Peony; it could take it.

The liquor brewed to an uncanny deep gold. It looked exactly like white wine, save for a slightly lighter palette. The aroma was both sweet and sour, reminding me a bit of lychee. However, the citrus tone was backed up by a smooth texture that completed the wine-like comparison. Some of the natural grape-iness of the White Peony also made its presence known in the finish.

I found this blend’s true calling when I dabbled with ice and a pint glass. After brewing a concentrate of 2 tbsn. of Peony in 8oz. of hot water, I filled a tall glass with ice, then poured the contents over it and stirred. The lovely gold from the heated brew didn’t dissipate one bit – if anything, it shimmered more. On the lips, it truly reminded me of icewine thanks to a honey-ish lean I hadn’t detected in the hot tea version. After a couple of savored sips, I tested out a dash of stevia. No surprise, it sweetened well, too. This is the perfect iced white for summer. What a shock. All the wine taste with none of the headache.

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Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 Steep Stories Comments Off on I Swoon for Icewine (Tea)

Wine Review: Jackson-Triggs Proprietors’ Reserve 2007 Vidal Icewine

Last weekend I felt like I was in college again. While I wasn’t an outstanding debauch in my early twenties, there were occurrences of not-so-well-mannered behavior. Such instances could easily (and often were) blamed on alcohol. What else was there to do in a city like Reno? Not much.

Since then, however – perhaps as a result of age or (shudder) maturity – I’ve slowed down some. My libation rituals were now the relaxed sort, and more importantly, the drinks had to taste good. Maybe it was the threat of an impending Rapture, or mockery toward the claim, but this last weekend…I partied. Hard.

Being in my mid-thirtysomethings has allowed me to develop certain, how shall we say, “expected refinements”. Beverages of the “whoo!” sort had to possess some redeeming palate quality. Crafted beers were better than macrobrews. Aged scotches were better than young. That sort of thing. All of that went out the window after the first Irish Car Bomb.

There was one glimmer of partial snobbery during the proceedings, though. A friend at Rapture Party #2 had in their possession a type of wine that was on my to-drink list. One that I learned of through a tea blend, no less; the much-touted Canadian ice wine.

Ice wine – as I understand it – is made from grapes that are harvested while they’re still frozen on the vine. While the grape itself is not frozen, the water within is, lending to a higher concentration of sugars from the grape…uh…juice to be pressed. The process of extracting said “must” requires delicacy.

First attempts at using frozen grapes for wine production date back as early as Roman times. However, it is believed that the first “eiswein” wasn’t produced until the 1790s. First recorded cases sprang up in 1830. Many found it to their liking, but further creation was a rare occurrence in Germany mainly due to labor intensiveness. The invention of the pneumatic bladder press (circa 1960s-ish) made production of ice wine on a larger scale more practical; Canada followed suit much later in the 1980s

The one my friend had picked up was from the Niagara Estate, part of the Jackson-Triggs family of wineries. It was an ’07 vintage and dubbed a “proprietors’ reserve”. I had no idea what that meant. I assumed it was fancy wino talk for “this-shit’s-expensive”.  Vidal was the varietal of grape used – a white wine hybrid between Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano, also used for Cognac) and Rayon d’Or (a rare grape that shared a name with a racehorse. No joke.) Said hybrid is mentioned as being well-suited to the icing process.

The liquor was gold-to-amber in appearance with a very “port”-like aroma – extremely pungent in its sweetness. It looked like no white wine I’ve ever encountered. If anything, on sight alone, it had the consistency of a flat pilsner but with a much better aroma. To the taste, wow…just wow. Sugar punched my tongue into submission, threatening a diabetic liquid coma. And that was just the sipdown.

Once the blunt introduction (and metaphoric cavity) subsided, it transitioned into a honey-textured, mango-rich top note that lingered on well into a creamy finish. This wasn’t white wine. Hell, this wasn’t even dessert wine. I know what this reminded me of. Mead. Straight, sweet, kick-your-arse mead – the kind waxed poetic in fantasy novels and Dark Age bar settings.

Before I knew it, I had polished off two-thirds of the bottle. I felt extremely guilty for doing so. The female friend that had provided it said she was just glad I enjoyed it as much as I did. This required further study and further sip-age. Return dips to the ice wine trough, though, were way out of budget. Until I possess the necessary funds to justify this expensive palate pleaser, I’ll settle with ordinary Vidal.

But…damn…that was good.

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Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 Beverage Blog 18 Comments

The Horrifying Dark Beach of the Slain Dragon

Here’s the long and the short of it. We were stuck watching our niece one night, and she was stricken with flu. It was our duty to entertain her. During dinner, she told us of a short story she wrote for a class entitled: The Horrifying Dark Beach of the Slain Dragon.

She tried her darnedest to explain the plot to us, but it was to no avail. Somewhere in the passage of the conversation, the idea emerged to film the story for better comprehension. And…well…here’s the result.

This is what happens when you let a nine-year-old “write” the script. Awesomeness and randomness ensues.

All the music, editing, and camera-nifty-ness were made possible by my bruddah-from-our-biological-muddah, Robert Norman. I…uh…provided the terrible English accents. Our niece, Bella, brought the sass.

Note: No actual dragons or people were harmed in the making of this movie.

Well, ‘cept a wine merchant or two.

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Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009 Vids 1 Comment

Weeks Gone By

Either the Horn of Heimdall is a-blowin’, the Four Horsemen are drawing nigh, or swine have taken flight…I know not. But this weekend-work-saddled lout had a fairly decent couple o’ weeks. And busy. Lord, has it been busy. My metabolism (and wallet) haven’t been keeping up so well. Writing an in-depth expose on ’em would take far more effort and time than I’m willing to muster. Plus, what fun would it be if it made any sense? So here’re a few tidbits and observations made from the last ten days or so.

Let’s begin.

(1) While getting gas, friends and I noticed the beginnings of what we thought was genetically impossible. A species cross-breed, if you will. Emo hair, girly pants, hoodie…all there. However, said aqua blue pants were sagged to about waist length, just enough to expose boxer shorts!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is something worse than a polar/grizzly cross, and it is in a neighborhood near you. Thou hath been warned(-eth?).

(2) Ground Kontrol in downtown Portland used to be one of the coolest places on Earth. An 80s-style arcade that served beer, what can top that? We also learned that Tuesday nights was Rock Band night. Think stage, two widescreen televisions, and a fog machine to boot. It’s like karaoke for your inner headbanger.

Four of us arrived to partake. We had our band name – Manwich – and we brought our rock faces. Well, as much as one can bring rock faces while bespectacled for a video game. One of us had the idea to use karaoke rules when signing up for songs. It seemed sensible enough; put all your cards on the table and let DJ Wannabe sort it out. About three songs in, and we were up. We absolutely killed at Nine Inch Nails’ “Hand that Feeds”, nary a silent geek in the house.

Our second song…

Oh wait, we didn’t get a fucking second song!

Dunno if they were just playing favorites or if we just came across as a bunch of heckling douches, but other “bands” went up an average of three times. Aside from filling in spots individually, collectively we only went up as Manwich…the one time. And we even tipped.

So, screw you, Ground Kontrol. You are not worthy of the awesome might that is Manwich!

Following that veritable “burn”, we decided to take our band-ing back to an apartment. On the way in, we noticed the most paradoxical pro-life bumper sticker. Ever.

It read:

If it isn’t a baby, then you aren’t pregnant.


What were they describing, a tumor? Oversized parasite? Kuato from Total Recall?

I was at a loss, and halfway tempted to leave a turd on the hood of the car with a little sign that said: “Not a baby.”

(3) Ladies and gentlemen, I think I need help. My tea obsession has reached critical mass. I spent the better part of two days – two separate errands – hunting down new things to try. First on the list was a tea I’d read about on the review site I contribute to. It was called milk oolong. Apparently, there’s an oolong tea that is picked and cultivated at a certain time of year, from a certain altitude, at a certain temperature. The resulting liquor has a vaguely milky/creamy flavor to it.

I could’ve easily purchased the stuff online, but I’m the stubborn sort and decided to hunt it down locally first. The closest thing to a local version was the Milk-Scented Kinsen Oolong put out by Stash Tea. However, I wasn’t sure if it was the same stuff. Lucky for me, their homebase is literally a five-minute jaunt from where I live. Alas, the shopkeepers had no idea either. I was discouraged.

To make up for it, though, they let me participate in the tea tasting they were having, and let me walk away with a sample of the milk-scented stuff. Hopefully it’d live up.

Well, it didn’t. Aside from a mild hint of creaminess, it tasted like an ordinary oolong, which in turn tastes like a dirt-smoke version of a green tea. In my opinion, anyway.

Tea Quest # 2 was an herbal tea I’d read about (again on the review site) called Greek Mountain Shepherd’s Tea. On Mount Olympus, there is a type of shrub called Sideritis syriaca (or ironwort), and the locals have used it as a tea for hundreds of years. Preparing it called for steeping 15g of whole shrubs and boiling – not steeping – ’em for ten minutes. Not only was this something I hadn’t heard of, but it wasn’t prepared as other herbal teas were. Sounded like something I had to try.

Funny thing, though.

None of the Greeks I knew had heard of the stuff.

I did some calling around to Greek delis. Neither place had any deliveries. I went to the Tao of Tea store in S.E. Portland. They said they had a sample at one point, and would be getting more, but ran out. Blast!

Looks like online shopping time. *le sigh*

Tea Quest # 3 was hunting down a bamboo whisk. During the winter storm months, I developed a liking for matcha – in essence, a finely pulverized, powered green tea. Unlike other teas, where you simply steep the leaves, matcha uses the entire leave for consumption. The powder is like…well…green hot chocolate, only better for you. One simply pours hot water in and let’s the powder take.

I was missing an important tool for matcha preparation, that being the aforementioned bamboo whisk. It was required for mixing the powder into the water better, leading to a frothier brew. Before, I usually settled with a fork or straw to do my stirring. Not the same.

After perusing the H-Mart and Uwajimaya, I finally found one for $14. That shit ain’t cheap. Next was finding…well…matcha. Dumbshit “moi” forgot to pick some up while at the Tao of Tea store. Hurray for thinking ahead.

Happy ending, though, the matcha came out perfect.

Not that any of you coffee drinkers really care.

(4) I have this friend – see – we shall call her…Catalyst. Cat, for short. Both are quite fitting, I assure you.

Cat zapped off a group text wondering who’d want in on some Harvey’s Comedy Club action. As of yet, I had a few “tentative” plans, but nothing solid. Plus, I hadn’t seen her in months. Long overdue face-time was a must.

I got there surprisingly early, she and her ride arrived a few minutes later. We b.s.’d for a bit in the lounge before, then moseyed in for the main acts. Let’s just say, the comedy was “off” that night. The first guy looked like a cancer patient and seemed keenly aware that he was dying (not literally) on stage. The second guy wasn’t much better, a cracked-out Mexican who looked vaguely like Jack Black from Nacho Libre. Sounded like him, too. I was waiting for him to talk about his “stretchy-pants” at any moment. Alas, never came to pass.

The true entertainment wasn’t the acts, it was – as always – Catalyst. Picture if you will, a film noir femme fatale with the inner child of a Chucky doll. If you can somehow fathom that image, then you have some idea of the person I’m referring to. As friends go, always a good time.

Case in point:

Cat can clang shots of vodka without any problem. The softer stuff, though, hits her far quicker. White wine was the culprit this time. It hit her a little too hard, too fast. Wasn’t her fault, though. The blond wife of a friend of hers did the honors of smoothing out her buzzing head with a neck massage. Poor Cat never left that woman’s bosom for the rest of the night.

And occasionally looked at the wide-eyed husband to utter a purr-like, “Can I keep her?”

Conversations ranged from blow-up dolls, to “fish tacos with chicks”, to…well…I don’t quite recall. No, I was never drunk, I just seriously can’t fathom what else was discussed at the moment. She’s probably even reading this. And I’ll probably be shot. With a hamster.

At least I’ll die giggling.

(5) I’m just going to have to accept the fact that I can’t hold my liquor anymore. Not a damn thing. Beer, wine, and – heaven forbid – the harder stuff. I can’t seem to stand it anymore. Aside from only being able to drive on one beer only, I can’t seem to stand the taste of it anymore. Well, ‘cept for beer. Good beer, anyway.


I was the fifth wheel for a friend’s double-date birthday party. We ended up at Huber’s, and we noticed that absinthe was on the list of drinks. That perked our interests a bit. Granted, it was probably watered down compared to its heartier Hungarian cousin, but at least it would offer some idea as to the taste. I’d been curious about it for years.

As I informed several people since, the stuff tasted like the minted, pale arse of a stripper named Licorice. It was foul to the tongue-touch. I barely made it through two sips before I passed it down the table…which was then quickly imbibed by our designated driver.


A couple of days later, I had a friend over for movies and sammiches; a female friend. She brought the wine, I made the sammiches. For the record, I make a mean sammich. Can’t cook worth a damn, but I make a great pot o’ tea and my sammiches are nigh on unmatched. Okay, that’s probably speaking a bit too glibly, yet that’s what I’ve been told. Moving on…

She brought over a $40 bottle of Barbera – a highly-potent, highly-acidic Italian red wine. I’d never tried the stuff, but I had a good history with Italian reds; Sangiovese being my absolute favorite. Beyond that, I’m more of a beer guy, and as we’ve all learned…not a lot of beer.

The movie we agreed one was Bottle Shock, an indie flick about the Napa Valley wineries in the 70s. Seemed fitting enough. We made it through that one and thought it “meh”. I was two glasses in at this point. She suggested I choose a second flick, and I delved into my old movie box.

Shaun of the Dead.


We made it about halfway through before a piercing headache stabbed me through the temples, followed by instant bodily fatigue. She asked if I was getting tired, and I said “no”. Then I felt…”the gurgles.” You know “the gurgles”. That feeling that all is not well in the Land of Bowel.

At 12:30, with the movie incomplete, I said we had to call it a night and sent her on her way. Nothing happened. And off I went to put my head in the toilet. Two glasses, that’s all. Didn’t even get a buzz off the stuff…just instant pukey-face.



I haven’t been this active in awhile. Aside from my awesome vacation down south, things’d been a wee bit stressful. It was kind of a nice change of pace from the work-sleep-pray-for-instant-death grind of yestermonths. Pitfalls and pratfalls et al. The weeks ahead promise cupcakes, a second Coraline viewing (best movie EVER!), a night of town-painting, and hopefully more tea questing to come.

On occasion, one just needs a reminder that regardless of the near-misses, embarrassments, and frivolous activities…life really isn’t all that bad. And the parts that are bad, well, they’re the stuff comedy is made of. Laugh and others laugh with you.

You thought this would be a Valentine’s Day entry, didn’t you?

Well, I may be a tea-drinkin’, lightweight, bespectacled, dough-y, geeky manchild…

But I still have brass ones.

Er…okay…maybe copper.


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Friday, February 13th, 2009 Musings 1 Comment

I work for tea money.


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