If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I don’t talk politics in it. Sure, I called for a boycott of California wines after the state’s residents passed Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriages. And yes, I have on occasion asked you to contact your state legislators to ask them to vote for bills that would allow retailers like first vine to ship wine to customers in other states.
But for the most part, I’ve stayed away from presidential politics – until today. Two reasons: first, I got a call from a Washington Post reporter a couple of days ago asking what I’d like to hear in the debates from a small business perspective. And then I read a blog post by Tom Wark about the debates cast as a referendum on ObamaWine, Wark’s wine-lover version of Obamacare. So I thought I’d give it a go.
Before I dip my toe in the water, though, let me say that I’m not among the undecided voters. As a gay man legally married to my husband here in DC, I can’t conceive of voting for a candidate that would rather I didn’t exist or (almost worse) keep it to myself and out of his or her sight. I think you know what that means.
Still, I wouldn’t go easy on either candidate if I had the chance to ask a question. And what I’d ask is the following:
Mr. President, Gov. Romney, I’m a small businessman with a wine importing and internet retailing business in DC. Half the wines I carry cost less than $15. When I started the company in 2007, approximately 40% of the bottles purchased cost at least $15, which accounted for about 70 percent of my company’s revenue. This continued through the first three quarters of 2008, but since then the vast majority of purchases are $10 to $14 bottles. Bottles costing $15 or more now account for less than 25 percent of revenue. I wasn’t surprised this was happening in 2009, or even 2010. But it continues, despite the signs that the economy is improving and consumer spending is up. When I do tastings, people almost always prefer the taste of those slightly more expensive – but not outrageously priced — bottles. But they don’t buy them, at least not many of them. I’m sure that’s the situation for many other businesses, not just mine.
I understand that wine isn’t an everyday necessity, and I’m happy to have sales in any price range. But it seems to me that this is an economic indicator of sorts, a measure of job security and disposable income, a measure of comfort in being able to spend even a few more dollars on something you enjoy. So the question is, are you satisfied with what amounts to the current austerity, and if not, what plans would you have to make people feel economically secure enough that they’d consider spending a little more freely?
By no means do I want to sound ungrateful for our sales. On the contrary, I’m happy that people like our wines enough to buy them at all. It just strikes me that it’s a new situation – even people with jobs that appear secure are nervous enough about the economy in general that they’re more cautious about spending. Maybe I’ll see if I can come up with a sort of wine comfort index for the economy to measure this trend. Do you think Paul Krugman would be interested?
One of the things that got me thinking about this specific question was a tasting Cy and I did last week for a group of dedicated winos. We called it “Similar Yet Different.” The purpose was to compare wines made with the same grapes to see how winemaking, age of the vines, and amount of aging affect the flavor. Bodega Hiriart Roble ($14) is 100% Tempranillo made from younger vines (less than 30 years old), aged in oak for four months, and then in the bottle at least six months before release. Lara O Crianza ($19) is also 100% Tempranillo but from older vines (50+ years old), aged in oak for 12 months, then in the bottle at least 12 months before release. Everyone liked the Roble, but we could see their eyes light up when they tasted the Crianza. They’re both great wines, but the lower yield grapes and longer aging make the Crianza more expensive – still, not necessarily out of reach.
Try either one or get both for a fun side-by-side comparison. Both of these wines pair nicely with this week’s recipe – Eggplant Stacks. They’re really just what they sound like, rounds of browned Japanese eggplant slices with a mixture of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and chopped sun-dried tomatoes on them, then topped with another slice of eggplant. You can use smoked mozzarella if you like, I think it has great flavor. The eggplant slices sit on top of small rounds of toasted bread. They’re optional if you don’t want to make them, but I think they make the stacks easier to eat as finger food. The components can all be made ahead: browning the eggplant, toasting the bread rounds, and mixing the filling. Store the eggplant and filling in the fridge and let them warm up a bit before assembly. The toasted bread rounds can be stored in a plastic bag on the counter overnight.
Since there’s no chance that I’m going to get my question asked in any of the remaining debates, I think I’ll have to make the recipe and drink one of the wines with it. Everything’s better with wine and food, right? Even presidential debates.
Bon Appetit and Happy Viewing!
About 2 Japanese eggplant, 12 inches long and 2 inches in diameter or so, cut into ½-inch crosswise slices (you’ll need 48 slices)
About 6 – 8 slices sandwich bread (white or whole wheat)
1 cup ricotta cheese
4 ounces fresh or smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into very small dice
3 tablespoons finely chopped sun dried tomatoes (use the ones packed in oil)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
Basil (optional, for garnish)
Arrange 2 or 3 racks evenly spaced in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out 24 circles from the bread slices. Put them on a baking sheet and bake until they turn golden brown, about 10 minutes or so. Set the rounds aside to cool.
Lightly brush the eggplant slices on both sides with the olive oil. Arrange them on one or two baking sheets and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, turning once to brown both sides of the slices. Set the eggplant aside to cool slightly.
Mix the filling: Gently stir the ricotta, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes with some salt and pepper (taste to see if it’s seasoned to your liking).
Assembly and baking: Put the bread rounds on a baking sheet. Top with a slice of browned eggplant, then a tablespoon of filling, then another slice of eggplant. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until the filling is bubbly. If you want to garnish them with basil, take a small handful of basil leaves and cut into thin ribbons. Put a nice little mound of basil on each stack after baking. Serve hot or warm.