Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blind Tasting: Chardonnay Showdown

With summer upon us, it is only natural to turn towards white wines. With their fruity, crisp and delicious flavors- there's nothing to dislike about white wines. Despite the disproportionate critical acclaim red wines receive, I've heard that white wines actually outsell red wines by a wide margin annually in the United States.

When the subject of reds and whites comes up, I think to pass along some easy-to-remember advice I read a couple of years ago regarding serving temperatures of wine. The ideal serving temperature of Cabernet Sauvignon is 63F. For Chardonnay, 52F. To achieve this ideal serving temperature consider the "rule of 20". For reds, put them in the fridge for 20 minutes prior to serving. For whites, take them *out* of the fridge 20 minutes prior to serving. This of course assumes the wines are stored at room temperate (somewhere in the mid to high seventies).

Tonight at the house, we had an interesting blind tasting. 2 California Chardonnays: the 2006 Ridge Santa Cruz vs. the 2006 Charles Shaw. The 2005 Ridge Santa Cruz was #2 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list last year (weighing in at "95 points" from the famous James Laube); we tasted the 2006 vintage of this same wine. The wine retails for $35. I picked up a bottle of the '06 for $33 at The San Diego Wine Company on my last business trip, but I haven't seen it around at too many other shops. The 2005 Charles Shaw on the other hand garnered a "double gold" medal at the California State Fair and received a rating of 83 points from Wine Spectator. Like other Charles Shaw wines at Trader Joe's, this wine can be had for between $1.99 and $2.99 depending on where you live.

All 4 of our tasters tonight correctly identified the Ridge as the superior wine. As the temperature of both wines increased from refrigerator temperature towards room temperature, the differences became more noticeable. The Ridge showed density and an array of flavors the Shaw didn't seem to be capable of. I have to say though, I thought it was really close. I felt that these white wines were even less differentiated (especially when served chilly) than their red counterparts. We previously did a Shaw vs. Caymus shakedown a few months ago, and perhaps I say this because I've tasted more red wines than white, but I think I had an easier time guessing which was the better wine when we were tasting Cabs.

I've read articles debating whether Chardonnay is difficult to differentiate. I think Chardonnay can be a delicious wine, but I think this tasting leads me to be cautious about spending more than $20 on a fancy looking bottle. Ironically, I had a *great* Chardonnay the night before- even better than either of these two. It was a 2006 Kendall Jackson Camelot Highlands Santa Maria Valley that showed vanilla and butterscotch flavors on top of more traditional Chardonnay highlights like "oak", "pear", or "butter". The Camelot was fantastic- Wine Enthusiast called it "perhaps the best $25 bottle of Chardonnay made".

I guess the moral of the story is that there's a lot of good Chardonnay to be had out there. However, in terms of whites, I don't know if it is my favorite varietal. I've really enjoyed the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier lately, both of which can be had for close to $10.

Do you have a white wine you'd recommend? If so, please post a comment for the benefit of others. If I can find it, I'll give it a whirl and post back my impressions.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Comcast TiVo Bungles American Idol Finale

So we're sitting here eating our popcorn, tensely gathered around the TV to see which David won this season's American Idol. To avoid any chance the TiVo would clip off the end of the show, we intentionally watched live. However, just as Ryan Seacrest was announcing that "The winner of American Idol is... David..." the freaking TiVo causes live TV to *freeze up*. I am not kidding. It wouldn't let me change the channel or rewind for 2 minutes and we missed the result. By the time we were able to get the piece of junk back under control, the winner was performing his victory song and we realized who won- but it would have been nice to see his reaction live. This occurrence comes on the heels of the TiVo insisting on changing the channel during the final seconds of this year's Super Bowl and really makes me question whether TiVo is a good thing.

Here's what it looks like when we try to watch the final moment:

The day after I posted this blog entry, I was contacted by a friendly Comcast representative who wanted to work with me to see whether the problems I've reported here with flaky TiVo behavior were related to our particular DVR box -or- whether they are known issues that are being worked on already and scheduled to be addressed via a forthcoming firmware upgrade.

The representative set up an appointment for a technician to come out to the house and they swapped out our old box for this newer box:

Since then, the overall performance of the box has been noticably snappier. The software is still doing some flaky things (for example, its been making the wrong sounds lately. As in every time we arrow up through a menu it gives a clumsy combination of the TiVo "tick" sound along with a mis-timed "bonk" sound which makes you think you've done something wrong when you haven't). I'll post another update after we've had the box for a longer period of time.

I would like to acknowledge that I think it is pretty great of Comcast to proactively search the web for folks who are having a rough time with their products and seek to make things better. This is a far cry from the response I received from Best Buy (ie, "crickets") when I posted this legendary scolding a few years back:

TiVo was doing some flaky things so I rebooted it. It never came back from the reboot and when I called tech support they were unable to revive it. Dead in the water, no TiVo all weekend. Service visit scheduled for Monday morning.

Update (September 19th, 2008):
Well, we've had Comcast TiVo now for quite a while. Since we got the newer box, things have been better. I also think that we've gotten used to working around the issues that bothered us initially. For example, we rarely watch Live TV anymore and consequently the slow "channel up" behavior doesn't bother us so much. The question I'm asking myself now is- at what point do we say "Okay, we're hooked on TiVo and we'll have it forever and as a result it makes sense to buy a TiVo box that has lifetime service?". I guess I'm still holding out a hope for a subscription-free AppleTV with DVR service that makes DVR subscription fees a thing of the past. I know that's a long-shot but hey- I can hope, right?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tot on a trike

On June 1st, Sam will be participating in the Wellesley-Weston Pan Massachusetts Challenge Kids Ride. PMC Kids Rides became an official PMC program in 2005 as a way to include young cyclists in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge mission – raising money for cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund.

We found out about the event when another mom invited Sam to join her son who is a classmate of Sam's. Together, we decided not only to have our boys participate but to form a team from the school by notifying the rest of the parents and inviting their kids to join us too. So far, I'm pleased to report there are 5 preschoolers on the "Friends of WMS" team.

To read more about the race, visit the PMC website here.

Philanthropy is an important lesson I want to teach our boys. And although Sam is very young and, truth be told, only understands the very basic concept, I think engaging him in efforts like this one sets a tone for our family.

Doing kind deeds for others is, among other things, a way to express my gratitude for the good health of our family. Getting sick is something that happens to good people for inexplicable reasons. Everyone deserves compassion from both relatives and strangers especially when faced with serious illness.

To support Sam's efforts to raise $1000, please consider making a donation.

And, if you're a stickler like me who is particular about the charities you support, check out Charity Navigator's review of this one here.
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