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After the Burger Bonanza I was really fascinated with Orange County, a place that most look at as a suburb of Los Angeles (those from outside of California) and that I happen to overlook when I am thinking of food, knowing that I was guilty of overlooking some creative sectors harbored within the sprawling county lines. Often denigrated by movies and television shows that depict it in an unflattering light, there is not as much praise heaped on the OC as there should be. Some random Huell Howser-worthy spots and clean beaches but nothing too exciting in the eats department, save for the random chefs sprinkled sparingly around the area, until I heard about Bruxië. A restaurant dedicated to the waffle, in all its incarnations. On a busy Friday, packed with a Ducks game, wine shop visit, wine tasting and party in a remote part of LA, I added the waffle burger to my to do list.

On my trek down South I was accompanied by a friend from work, someone also very involved in the wine scene, making the drive a little more palatable. Before we headed out I allowed him to rummage through my cellar and find a suitable companion for the pairing. He chose one of the more expensive bottles in my apartment collection—a forty-dollar K Vintners Syrah from Morrison Lane (# 298).

I transferred a fair amount of the contents to my flask and we enjoyed a glass of the wine remaining. Packed with a surprising bit of fruit, the wine was not necessarily a Northern Rhone Syrah with the signature bacon fat and green olives but it did blend in some savory components too. With good structure, refined tannins and a long and favorable finish the wine was looking good on its own.

We crisscrossed the Southern California freeways, navigating through an unbelievable amount of traffic for the hour of day to arrive at Bruxië, near Chapman University. It took a while, enough for us both to build up a ravenous hunger and to exhaust my collection of Dr. Dog CDs.

Surveying the surroundings, the building was small; enough to house the kitchen and that was it. Patrons were seated all around the establishment and there were lots of them, basking in the warm rays of the sun. There was one thing I was really not a fan of which was the merchandise case that happened to crowd the counter. I like the idea of being marketable, but food comes first, especially if you are a restaurant; marketing items come unforced and many years down the line. Looking on, we took some time to order, trying to test the joint by coming up with a perfect collection of foods that would compliment our intended reason for the trip—the burger (hope you didn’t forget)—and prove the hypothesis that the waffle is the ideal bread item to be coupled with a wide array of fare, not just novel.

We ordered a couple of burgers, a hotdog, some waffle fries and the Ogura dessert filled with red bean paste. Not too long of a wait before we had our food and the presentation was classic red basket attire, the only difference was that the bulk of the food was waffle wrapped instead of the customary sartorial buns. Minor difference.

I pulled out my flask, and doled out our respective 2.5-ounce pours—this flask was tiny—and proceeded to chow down. Egads my first cheese burger! Due to an oversight on the menu, I had forgot to customize my order and was forced to consume a heaping helping of cheese. It happened to be a saving grace because the burger lacked sufficient seasoning and the cheese added the perfect amount of fat to compensate and make for a richer flavor, otherwise it was pretty bland. To make matters worse, they had overcooked my friend’s patty, making it tougher to finish. The ingredients were fresh and simple but did not really pop and the waffle was out of proportion, leaving behind a gluten trail too large to get through. And that was the theme for the meal; the hotdog was lost inside of the folded waffle not even the sauerkraut could save it. The waffle fries and dessert were finer items rounding out the order but not worth the excursion or the price.

The wine pairing also helped abate the problems with the patty and the over sized waffles but in the end we were disappointed, having been excited about the prospect of finding the perfect oddball burger, we’d instead encountered an expensive bust.

My Ducks also ended their night with a heartbreaking loss, bursting my Orange County bubble, not for good but definitely for a little while. The day was not really a disappointment though, I got to hangout with some friends, have a successful, albeit, one-sided wine pairing and reinforce the notion that there is no real substitute for the classic burger in its most basic outfit.

Tuesday night marked the final exam of a class that helped me achieve more wine knowledge than I would have previously conceived, and more confidence in my tasting than I thought was possible. Coming away from this course I was also able to knock down an extra hundred plus wines from my mission to 500 without spending a dime more than the class cost—definitely easier to swallow wine on another’s budget. I feel pretty fortunate to be following this dream of entering the wine world with gusto and definitely have an exciting week planned for food and wine to come.

Back to the exam, I was reeling from the two exciting, nerve-racking at times, victories for the Ducks that were of the utmost importance as far as having any chance of making the playoffs in the logjammed Western conference of the NHL, and was not looking forward to cracking the books for a final exam.

I hunkered down, though, and remembered this was something I wanted to do and that studying should be fun when it is a topic that you are enthralled with, making the studying session a little easier… but with a blind tasting portion too I was not sure how I would fare.

When it came time to begin the exam I was apprehensive… what class material would be on the exam? I was in for a treat, breezing through the final with aplomb, feeling incredibly fortunate that everything I had studied was actually on the exam, unlike those rare instances where it seems that all the things you have researched are excised from the exam, leaving only the esoteric. That is a rough feeling on any test but it was not the case on Tuesday

Like I said, it was a pleasing experience to feel that confident coming out of a cumulative exam. The blind tasting portion however was the real challenge. It was exciting because book knowledge can certainly be helpful but tasting goes a very long way in the wine world and to run the diagnostics on my tasting notes would be advantageous to my career as well as being plainly beneficial at this moment.

I nailed that too… I guessed the wine was Pinot Noir from Burgundy after going through the technical sheet on the wine’s traits. Turns out it was a Volany Premier Cru—or a really outta sight Pinot Noir from Burgundy, specifically, a village located between Pommard to the North and Mersault to the south. I was humbled on the extra credit tasting though guessing for fun what the wine was and from where. I was mixed up on the white wine, a Chardonnay that happened to be from Burgundy too, guessing it was Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre (my face was red).

After the exam, scores were revealed, three more wines were tasted, five in all:

88 Coteaux d’ Aix-En-Provence Les Baux Terres Blanche

88 Domaine Piquemal L’ Âge de Raison Rivesaltes Ambré

09 Moulin de Gassac Guilhem

07 Volnay 1er Cru Les Champans Domaine de Montille

07 Auxey-Duresses Deux Montille Sœr Frère

The wines were interesting and varied, the red table wine from Provence was showing signs of age at first—riddled with stink like a trip to the petting zoo but opened up to expose some fruit.

The dessert wine from Provence was definitely the most interesting; a fortified wine made in the South of France akin to Madeira or Port but with the age on it, it was not tired a bit and displayed a TNT-like explosion in the mouth with caramel, coffee and almonds. It was delicious.

Ending the night was bittersweet; I did receive an A on the exam, and was able to erase another five wines from the countdown (337 remaining) but learned that it would be my professor’s last course taught in the program. It was a privilege to taste through a fantastic set of wines with him during the quarter, and I wish him continued success with his new wine business that is booming. As for me… I’ve got an exciting week ahead, stay tuned!

Saturday night, after work, I invited some friends (the Michigan collective) over to have some wine, hangout and keep me apace my 500 bottles on the year. They were going to bring a seven-fifty of Pinot Grigio over and I would match their ante and continue that theme by setting aside a bottle of Rosé.

The Michiganders brought a bottle of “The Naked Grape” Pinot Grigio (#432) over to try. Wasn’t sure what to expect but assumed that the wine would be fruit-driven and fresh. After popping the cork and pouring the wine, I gave the straw colored juice a sniff. With faint aromas of apple and pear it was not saying much, rather, it was aromatically challenged. On the palate the wine was hot—a kick of heat equivalent to tequila hit me, it was getting warmer as we discussed the components of the wine like it’s short fruit finish. When I finally spied the ABV (alcohol by volume) it was a very low, only 12.5%, which was alarming because for the alcohol to show that aggressively meant it was poorly made.

Quick to move on, we unscrewed a bottle of 2009 Saint André de Figuière from the Côtes de Provence (#431). A Rosé blended from Syrah, Cabernet, Grenache and Cinsault that I was expecting to have retained some residual sugars and express a lot of youthful and exuberant fruit. I was wrong. The Saint André had a charming nose of marzipan and raspberries but in the mouth it was dry and had a very faint raspberry-sparkling-water note. The hints of fruit morphed into creamy and buttery overtones most likely from malolactic fermentation.

Malolactic fermentation (MLF) is a conversion of malic acid found in grapes after a primary fermentation and turning it into lactic acid as a way to soften the wines’ acidity. It is a choice of the winemaker to add this extra fermentation to sculpt the acidity into a rounder mouth feel that can exhibit flavors of butter—as is the case with Diacetyl, a byproduct of MLF.

Now I imagine that the Rosé would have been a smash with some food, but by tasting without a meal the wine was unable to captivate our palates, it was without a partner to help bring out some of it’s subtleties. I acknowledge the fact that the potential of the wines (especially the Saint André) could be achieved if the circumstances were different but the fact is…they were not and the wines left a poor impression on me.

The night was not a total drag; I was still riding the high of the Ducks 3-0 victory over Colorado Avalanche earlier in the day and I was in the company of some great friends, making for a relaxing Saturday in my book.

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