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I never dreamed of building a house. Yet, when I visited my brother, earlier this week that is exactly what I did. Well, not exactly a home, but I did assist, hammer, drill and all, in building an elaborate two-story kid house in the backyard on my day off. It was an industrious Monday, packed with errands (unexpected and planned), a much-needed burger break, and a Ducks game.

I arrived early in the morning, punching the clock as soon as I stepped into the backyard. The sun was beating mercilessly as I found my brother and sister-in-law working diligently on the playhouse. I had no idea that this is what was on the agenda but as soon as I spied the hundreds of pieces strewn about the grass there was no other choice but to lend a hand. We worked for a couple hours, completing the first story of the house before breaking for lunch.

My brother had plans to take me to Douglas Burgers, in nearby Whittier. We walked into the burger joint and ordered accordingly: burger, cheeseburger, fries, onion rings and some waters. We took our cue from the simple furnishings that our order should follow suit. The mustard-colored-vinyl seats and dark mosaic tiles provided a dated aesthetic. With unrelenting heat, the wicker curtains were being drawn to keep the restaurant’s interior a little cooler and consequently a little darker. Everything was focused on flipping patties and hospitality, taking attention away from the drab surroundings. We talked about my latest trip up north and other recent happenings before our food was called.

The sandwiches were nestled tightly in paper and shared black trays with mountains of sides. I grabbed some condiments and peppers as I fetched the trays before returning to the booth. I spied a thin patty on my hamburger, abed shredded iceberg lettuce and nearly swallowed up by the bun. The portions were ample considering the price (almost five dollars for the combo). That distinctive charbroiled flavor electrified my palate after the first bite but there was a significant tail-off. I could have used some more onion (if any?) and seasoning on the meat. The hot banana peppers would help me wade through the mild flavors. We left full (and content considering the quality-to-price ratio).

After our lunch, it was back to the house and after nearly six more hours we had successfully assembled the roof and were beginning to put on finishing touches before the remaining sunlight waned. Close to complete, after spending the better part of a day building, it was time to depart. My nephews were ecstatic over the development, playing in and around the home as we did our best to keep them away from the construction site until it was safe.

On the drive back home it was fun to reflect over the building process. I became considerably more comfortable with a power drill and other tools, and it was just fun to bond over a hands-on project with my family. The burger paled in comparison to the day’s events but was fun to try. Once back home, I watched the Ducks rebound against the Oilers. Teemu Selanne tied his idol (Jari Kurri) for career points with a masterful assist to Bobby Ryan and then inched a little closer to suspending disbelief as the team pushed closer to the playoff picture. Monday was eventful, surprising, and rewarding. It was not what I bargained for in the least, but it definitely upped the ante on what I believed possible for the beginning of the week.

Last week I had the pleasure of taking my parents out for a dinner at Lucques Restaurant for their annual Rib Fest, replete with cowboy hats, strewn hay, leather boots (minus the spurs), plaid shirts and lots of ribs—the only thing missing was Robert Earl Keen Jr. or Steve Earle. Number 201 had some sauce on it.

I was thinking about the pairing all day, leaning towards a Zinfandel or something with hulking body and an extra bushel of fruit that would compliment the different variations on ribs—there were beef, lamb, pork ribs aplenty—and the other fare: spicy chicken wings, collard greens, cole slaw, baked beans, grilled cornbread, wonder bread, corn and a watermelon mint salad rounding out the bountiful spread.

When I combed over the menu I gravitated toward Southern Rhône, finding value and unexpected beauty much like seeing that neighbor girl in a different light, having my index finger stop at Domaine du Ferme. I would be lying if I said that I knew that producer, but what did catch my eye was Gigondas—another stellar outcrop of Grenache outside the grips of Chateauneuf-du-Pape—where I could remember an excellent meal and a great bottle when dining at Jar over a year ago. Those bottles stay with you and the memories of the people you ate with last forever (or until, the onset of dementia), needless to say that is one that will last indefinitely.

Gigondas is just south of the Dentelles de Montmirail, and is an area renowned for producing spicy red wines comprised of up to 80% Grenache and then blending different proportions of Syrah, Mourvèdre and an even lesser amount of Carignan into the mix. Gigondas also brings to mind exemplary rosés but those were far from my thoughts when I was playing matchmaker with barbeque.

Domaine du Terme arrived at the table wearing the proud crest of Gigondas, after it was poured; we sat staring at the beautiful and bright coloring in our Spiegelau glassware. The wine had a moderate odor—not quite leaping from the glass—redolent of dried herbs dashed over raspberries, some fresh cracks of pepper and a little pomegranate. The juice was full bodied, with good acidity and a long finish of spiced red fruit, earth and a light echo of cedar and it was no surprise that this wine would be a good fit with barbequed meats.

When it came time for the pair to meet, the Gigondas and California barbeque were perfect for each other like Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya, even the “too hot to handle” chicken wings were quelled by the acidity inherent in the wine. This was one of the best wine pairings I have ever had, much like the Clos la Coutale Malbec with the Louis III burger from Long Beach—divine.

The Rib Round Up was absolutely amazing, raising the bar from last year’s Lucques’ luster (with little room to improve!) and going down as one of my most successful pairings ever. I am growing my knowledge but sometimes I just get lucky and this time I was very happy to be so fortunate.

The Finnish Flash had done it again. Teemu Selanne, at age 40 came up huge for the Anaheim Ducks in the last couple games. His goal with seconds left in regulation against the Dallas Stars Wednesday evening propelled them to an eventual win in overtime and pushed my already stellar day into the boundaries of excellence. The day continued to get better exponentially, meeting a dynamic wine and business figure, catching a thrilling game and even reviewing a burger I never dreamed would be covered by the Maverick Palate.

My day broke in Claremont McKenna College, in the Pomona area, where I attended a lecture given by the charismatic and exciting figure, Gary “Vay.Ner.Chuk” (Vaynerchuk), to discuss his new book The Thank You Economy.” I was very excited about seeing the man behind the webisodes of WLTV and the Daily Grape because he has been an influential part of developing my interests in Sparkling wine and Rieslings.

The talk was fast-paced and exciting. Although I will not recount the finer points of the presentation, I hope that you check out an episode below to familiarize yourself with such an enthusiastic character.

http://dailygrape.com/videos/9-back-in-new-york-tasting-two-legendary-california-wines

Once I was back at my place I got ready for a burger outing that I had orchestrated a week before. Choosing to dine local, I selected Westwood Village as the canvas because the students of UCLA were on Spring Break and parking would be less of a hassle. I originally had planned to pair Jose Bernsteins—Jose B’s for short— with a bottle of 2009 Les Halos de Jupiter. However I would leave the burger up to the group after it was met with grumbles and moans in my planning process. I waited for the hour and vote to draw near, until then, occupying my time with the Ducks battling a Pacific Division foe for a chance to pull ahead in the playoff standings.

The game was low scoring until the third period, where the Ducks surrendered the lead twice, giving Dallas momentum at two critical points in the game, only to tie it in more dramatic fashion another couple of times. The game looked over at certain point, but Teemu Selanne had not given up—and neither did the Ducks. He potted the game-tying goal with seconds to spare that sent me to the moon with excitement and left me shouting in glee for all my neighbors to hear.

The Ducks capitalized early in the extra session, on a two on one with Bobby Ryan and Cam Fowler splitting the D and putting the circle in the square to seal the fate of the Dallas Stars and silence the hometown fans. It was really fantastic to be on the winning side of that tussle.

On to Burgers, after we congregated near the originally scheduled burger joint, the people in attendance chose Fatburger. I was as surprised as you are. I favor the independent burger joints and did not see that coming… but welcomed the change, corrected our location, and got our ticket for our new destination (apologies to Paul Simon).

We ordered immediately from the menu, most people customizing their orders, except for me, and, unfortunately that may have lead to my demise. What stood out from my last experience with Fatburger years ago was their use of mustard and relish, two condiments I appreciate but feel they have no place on a burger.

When the group of hungry friends made it back to my apartment, I quickly popped the corked of the red Rhone wine from Costières de Nîmes to allow for some breathing time and to check that it was not corked.

We gathered around the table, I gave my talk about the wine, the region and played the what-do-you-guys-smell-and-taste-game with the guests. We decided that there was meatiness, some black pepper and a little fruit on the nose. On the palate, the committee met this wine with dissatisfaction, the fruit had been covered in fresh cracked pepper and the finish of the wine was rather aggressive and hot.

I assured my friends that the wine was typical of the area; the high alcohol was a symptom of the heat the area encounters and can cause a surge in ABV (alcohol by volume). When we paired it with the burger, the edge of the wine was dulled but it still did not catch the fancy of my friends. I decided to pull a bottle of the 2007 The Rebel Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla Washington.

That Cabernet perked up the tasters, it had more muddled blackberries, blueberries and oak nuances that people appreciated without the cloying alcohol that the Rhône wine had. It was agreeable. The burger bothered me a bit for reasons I have already listed, but felt that the patty was considerably heftier than I’d expected (1/2 lb.) and as I surveyed my friends they all told me that they did not have mustard or relish on their burgers and they were all content.

In the end I may have to redo my Fatburger experience and alter my menu driven hamburger by limiting the condiments. Aside from that I was okay with riding the tides of an exciting day all the way to shore and subtracting another pair of bottles from my Countdown-to-500 (335 remain). It was so nice to see Finnish wines were aging so well this time of year.

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