Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oh Snap!

Okay, let me first admit that I’m kind of cheating here. Oh I was handed another one of these Style Awards by my beloved Sarah over at Sara In Le Petit Village, a couple weeks ago, which was very sweet and looking at the title of this post, makes me wonder if her living in that tiny village has fucked with her English comprehension but, well I’m so gonna use this to slip in an easy post while I’m on deadline for The Wine Country’s newsletter. So if “Stylish” is short for lazy mother f’er, then yes, yes I do have me some style. Loads of it.

Each time I’m given one of these deals I pretty much break the rules. You are to offer up a number of secrets, (fuck, do I still have any of those?!) and then ask or tag however many other bloggers to do the same. Well, this would be the lamest game of tag ever if I were to play by the rules. You know that “odd” little kid on your block that used to run around in circles, by themselves, because no one wanted to play with them? Yeah, that would be me if I went around tagging the likes of Charlie Olken, STEVE!, John Kelly or the late great HoseMaster of Wine. Those cats would just watch me running around in circles, huffing and so out of breath that little snot bubbles would form at my nostrils as I yell out, “You’re it!!” and as much as a couple of them care for me, well they still wouldn’t play. It is a bit of a chick’s game and although I’ve heard that the HoseMaster looks fierce in hot pants and chunky wedges, well let’s just say girls have cooties on this one. And I’m not putting myself through that whole, “Hey guys? Where’d you go?!” trauma…again. I’m grown goddamn it and I can break the rules if I want. That being said, thank you Sara. It was very sweet of you to, “Pick me! Pick me!” and I was, as always, very flattered.

Seven Things You Might Not Know…although you probably do.

One: I Don’t Do Guts
I don’t care how uncouth or closed minded. I’ve tried, I really have, everything from foie gras to sautéed chicken livers, even the fatty, (gagging…I’m actually gagging) little globules of sweet breads and I loathe them all. I’m very much a texture person and I find that “meat” texturally unsound, squishy even and the flavor, oh how my fancy pants gourmet friends are going to hate this, the flavor is truly vile to me. I’ve been at many a table chewing, or squishing those filter bits around in my mouth, desperately trying to swallow only to be faced with two options, either spit the offensive glob into my napkin, (always a tough decision when at the kind of place that serves that kind of “delicacy” as the fucking napkins are cloth and not the paper kind I can wad up and chuck into my bag) or try to tuck it into my cheek, without gagging, and excuse myself to the ladies room where I can hork it into a tissue and do with it as God intended, flush it. People have tried hiding them in dishes to trick me and you can tell by the look on my face, “Oh shit, Sam found the kidney” the second my teeth pierce it. Gross. Might make me less fancy, (as if that were even possible) but it’s true.

Two: I Once Farted In Line At A Store
And blamed my son. “Jeremy! Are you poopy?!” yeah I did it. In my defense, I had eaten curry and then walked the mile to the store which made everything percolate and I had held it as long as I could. Kids give us plenty of shit so this time I blamed my offensive stank on his.

Three: I Think Prosecco Is Stupid
Okay there, I said it. As the sparkling wine buyer for the store I taste and stock several but as far as me taking some home to drink, aint happening. I know it is not meant to be serious wine, it is to sip on and be easy to drink, I get it….just don’t like it and would much rather drink bubbles from Alsace, Burgundy, Limoux or honestly, I would rather spend that $15.00 on something still that will have a better chance of pleasing me. This is where all the Prosecco lovers/defenders will chime in with things like, “Well for the money” or “If you were in Venice and they handed you a glass”. The “for the money” comment was just answered, would rather pass on bubbles and drink something still and for the, “If you were in Venice” deal….well hows about you take me and we find out? Until then, well like I said, I think it’s stupid. 

Four: My Husband Is The Worst Dancer…Ever
Didn’t say they all had to be about me.

Five: I Never Feel Sexy Or Attractive Unless
I’m in my kitchen. Never got or believed people that make absurd comments about the way I look or any of those proclamations about me being sexy or whatever. It’s all utter nonsense to me but when I’m in my tiny kitchen, music in the background or purring through my headphones, the cutting board thick, sturdy and at the ready, the swish of my knife through celery, carrots, herbs, onions, meats and cheeses? Smelling, hearing, feeling, watching a dish come to life…created with my bare hands and desire, well I feel down-right sexy and powerful in those moments. Even more so when I watch my creation being devoured. Such a chick…

Six: My Favorite Way To Drink Champagne Is Alone
I know this flies in the face of all the verbiage about how wine is best served with others to enjoy it. I do believe that…most of the time and I do love sharing Champagne with others but, well when I can make that cork whisper, watch the sexy little mist slither from the opening, pour a deep glass of truly thrilling Champagne, just for me, fucking hot as hell. Something about the sheer indulgence, about knowing there are three or four more glasses for me and me alone because I’ve busted my ass all week, been buried up to my eyebrows in work or family, or simply because I want it….kinda gets me off that.

Seven: I Have Lady Gaga On My Ipod
(Dave Matthews, please turn off your Google Alert) It’s one song! I couldn’t believe it when I saw that the song I had been turning up to blistering volumes in my car, the slightly country, slightly bluesy song that I could listen to over and over again was in fact one from one of my most abhorred “artists”. I was stunned but am woman enough to admit it….am thanking my lucky stars there aren’t more of you reading right about now. Cannot end on Gaga so let’s go a couple more.

Eight: I Have A Mad Crush On One Of My Sales Reps
Now this has happened to me maybe twice in my fifteen years at The Wine Country. Just not a big crusher for the most part, that and I am a strong believer of not dipping your pen in the company ink…..even though I don’t have a “pen” per se and I had a long term relationship with someone at my last job, but other than that I stick hard and firm on that whole business. But this one, this one is wrecking me. Very cool, funky clothes, amazing palate, the kind of wines that you want to spend hours with, funny, descriptions that conjure up imagines that are nearly perfectly describing what is in the glass and….and she brings me presents! Yeah, that’s right, I’ve got a hetero girl crush on my Kermit Lynch sales rep. This chick is simply badass and I dread it when she has to leave. We share very similar palates and relish in turning each other on, (go ahead and picture pigtails and porn music here) to wicked cool wines. Hell the woman has even made me bitters and jarred cherries that were all boozy and fucking delicious. This last visit she brought me one of my other secret loves, a bottle of somewhat rare and stunningly complex, and delicious Fino Sherry from Valdespino, La Bota de Fino. Simply the most amazing Fino I have ever had and I keep nursing the damn thing, not wanting to finish it…as if knowing that my girl crush gifted bottle in the fridge is there, just sitting there waiting, I can change a shitty day into a sumptuous one. Got’s it bad for sure….

Nine: Although My Looks And Language Might Be Severe
I’m actually a giant softy. The giant part I’m sure you could tell but the squishy, tearing up during cartoon movies, the puddling when I get a hug from my wee neighbors or someone says something truly sweet to me….well not sure everyone knew about that. 

Gonna end with nine. Just to break the rules even more, I mean, who stops at nine?! And because I need to get my chunky, softy, Sherry loving ass to work! Thank you again for the Style Award Sara, you are simply the sweetest!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Soft Southern Touch Part I

“Kroger has proven unreliable. Roast beef sandwich is leveling though”

The text message from Suburban Wino Joe. The one that woke the husband and I up, and after rubbing my still makeup encrusted eyelids I could just make out the time on the clock, “Merde!”

 The three of us had rumpled a perfectly civilized evening into a night of dudes named Cyntrell with Lee Press On foil wrapped teeth, (who did give me the once over and asked me if I was married….still got “it” thank you very much) Jameson shots, Irish pubs, adorable new friends in the form of Adam with the big sweet grin and fish hook on his hat, (still have not gotten to the bottom of that there tradition. Will get back to you when I do) a kid around my sons age swearing that I couldn’t be forty, (again with the thank you very much…and Joe, shut up with the spouting a woman’s age, jackhole) and my insistence on buying Joe a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, aka Boo Pecoche upon hearing that he had never tried it before. I’m told I got a bartender’s invite to 11:00 AM oysters out of the deal but we had plans to see Benito who was wise enough to bolt directly after our two martini dinner at The Beauty Shop, (he was rushing home to cook for us…so he says) and missed the gloriousness of way more booze, fist pumping-barstool dancing to the classics like Erotic City and the oh-so deep conversation that nights like this inspire. He chose braising beef over pickled liver, go figure.

Slammed my cell on the desk and bolted to the shower giving the two water glasses of half consumed red wine sitting beside my untouched laptop a, “Huh?” face on the way. So you know those mornings when you are in such a panic you don’t quite notice the raging “I think I’m still drunk” voice that screams in your ears and thumps against your scull the second you tilt your head back to wash your hair? Yeah, it was one of those. I don’t say this with a proud pounding of my keys, it was an unfortunate night of Damn Old Chicks Gone Wild, the DVD is available through, “Don’t Be Mad, It’s Yo Momma” productions or as a gift with purchase of Zantac & bunion removers at your local Walgreens pharmacy. I’m not at all bragging and I half suspect that Joe will think twice about driving any distance to hang with this  end-of-the-night-red-wine-pushing, shot-ordering, yellow-label-buying doofus anytime soon.  Poor bastard.

Sent a, “We might be a little late” text to Ben as I fruitlessly tried to squish my bits back into place, (ever seen a sausage being made? Sigh…) in order to not look like Quasimodo which was a complete and total fail. Managed to wriggle into my jeans just as Joe knocked on our hotel room door, grabbed my upper coverings and headed to the bathroom to change, being sure to give Joe my biggest….full of shit, “I’m not in pain and I would so hate you right now if I didn’t know this was all MY fault” grin. Grabbed a big ass liter bottle of water on our way out the door and through lemon-faced squinched eyes assured both Joe and my husband that I did in fact have the address where we were going. Um. You know that fail thing, did it again. Through a series of phone calls and some very annoying husband huffing we turned onto a tree lined street to see Ben, glass in hand and apron fastened, waving. 

“Feel free to run through those bitters and make yourself a martini” there were harps and I’m pretty sure it was God himself reaching down, touching my shoulder…which gave me that same kind of pee shiver you get, erm, used to get, when you “went” in the ocean. The husband’s huffing squelched in the face of dealing with anyone beside his, “I thought that was the address” wife, the smell of bacon and gin in the air, a fistful of bottles and an opener in my front pocket. No matter how far I was from my comfortable little couch spot, this was home.

I slipped into the comfortable action of opening bottles between sips of the martini that I didn’t need, and couldn’t finish like I was dipping each leg into the snuggly softness of my most worn and life drenched pajamas. Joe’s nearly astonishingly beautiful eyes, the ones I had seen over and over again in the form of pictures he posted on Facebook of his beautiful baby girl, Ben’s instruction and introduction of the people that were meeting for the first time, the gracious woman, (Grace, we are now in love) who offered her home for this rather geeky event, and what we were to eat and how he thought it was best to start. Voices I had heard, in the virtual, now slipping through the wisps of hair that cover my ears and landing deep in the pit of my stomach, nuzzling into that space they have secured in my heart. Their voices, like actual voices, almost foreign…at first but the power and people behind them? The way Ben can ark my eyebrow and switch my tone, the way Joe can make me laugh so hard I fear I might shoot something out my nose, nearly felt something like settling down at Thanksgiving dinner.  Through opening my heart, yelling at times, oozing my me-ness through something as impersonal as a computer these people knew me, choose to welcome and embrace me and here I was, face to sweet, (theirs not mine, need I remind you I was in full Quasimodo) face with them.

Joe and I started popping corks and Carl chatted up the lovely ladies at the table while Ben bounced around the kitchen stirring, chopping, taking sips of his own martini. We opted, as most do, to start with bubbles, I placed the now slippery with sweat bottles on the table and grabbed the 2009 Francois Chidaine Vouvray Les Argiles that I brought for the “We don’t do bubbles” ladies. It was if the bottles merely being open started a form of intoxication, the conversations got just a little louder, the comfort level rising right up to our chins as we jumped into our shared passion, and geekdom with both feet. Hangover nearly forgotten as I put on my “Ohhhh what’s that?” hat and poured myself a taste of a sparkling wine from Georgia.

2009 Wolf Mountain Blanc de Blancs
We were, (as I almost always insist on, cuzz I’m bossy like that) drinking this bubbly from wine glasses not flutes so I can’t speak to the bead or fineness of bubble outside how it landed on the palate, which was gentle enough and reminded me of the better sparklers from California. Restrained fruit, in fact far more than I expected…being the snoot that I am, I had expected the wine to be fruitier even than California sparklers. In fact I got a nice bit of lemon cream, almost custard like that carried through on the gentle, if a bit one dimensional finish. Have no idea what this wine sells for but it was a nice, simple sipper that I think most would be thrilled with.

I tried to be cool but considering my hunchback status I wasn’t really able to pull that off and seeing as I had been eyeballing one of Joe’s wines since he posted it on Facebook, Extra Brut from a producer I had heard of but hadn’t tasted because of my particular feeling for the importer. I know, I know, jackass move but when there is so much great wine to taste, smell and sell, just can’t see going out of my way to promote wines from someone that had, in the past, been somewhat mean to me and people that I respect. Well now I was able to taste the wine on Joe’s dime, (thanks buddy!) and the second I dipped my nose beneath the rim of my glass….it was over.

NV  Ulysse Collin Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs
I was hoping to dash off some notes on my smarter than I am phone but as always, delightfully, seems to happen in these gatherings, well I was just caught up in the geeking back and forth to do so. The aromatics were simply breathtaking, that sultry combination of apple skin, baked citrus, seashells and warm butter, if I was alone I would have spent a good hour with my nose in the glass. Watching the wine evolve, shed some nerve and fatten in the glass, but I was trying to be all social and shit so I went for the sip. Fuck. I thought the aroma was bewitching. There was a severity to the way the wine trounced onto the tongue, not graceful or delicate, a mouth stomping power just rolled in and took over. More toasty, buttery notes on the palate but it was the weight and structure that made me this wine’s bitch. I ended up going back to it after lunch and found that it had in fact gotten bigger but there was a grace that was now emerging, reminded me of those old black and white movies where you would see a stunning woman appear, all sleek and perfectly regal through a cloud of smoke and the closer she got the clearer and more beautiful she became…it was like that. This thick, massive cloud dissipating leaving a sleek and gorgeous thing that you find yourself wanting to devour. I am going to be hunting this down and bringing it into the shop for sure.

The rest of the wines, for me anyway, simply proved as backdrop and lift to the fantastic Beef Bourguignon that Ben had prepared for us…while we were out get snockered, yeah, he’s a better person than I. The Dagueneau Blanc Pouilly-Fume was aromatically lovely and did in fact have the girth to hold up to the deeply braised dish but I found it still a little tightly wound in the mouth which proved to be a bit of a distraction. The Ostertag Pinot Noir, the wine that now wears the not-so-proud distinction of being my, “Bra Stainer” (don’t ask, I have no idea) which was opened post Irish bar and Boo Pecoche, simply lacked the weight and depth to hold up to the rich food. It was the Ronchi di Cialla, (a little wine I fell madly in love with while in Friuli last February) that I chose to hunker down with while eating. The freshness being just the thing I craved after slipping a heaping swath of rich broth between my lips.

The pace at lunch began to slow, the clanking of silverware a little less fierce and once again the voices began to bubble up. The conversation or conversations I should say, as they seemed to be happening around the table simultaneously as varied as the half-drunk bottles of wine. The hangover now replaced with that fuzzy feeling of warm food, succulent wine and delicious friendship. I thought of a very dear friend as I sat there, watching Joe and Ben laugh and Carl coo at the ladies, remembered the many times he shared his almost vitriolic feeling about all things internet based; blogs, Facebook even email at times and while I respect and somewhat understand that I couldn’t help but think, it’s kind of what you make of it...

When I first started blogging I tried to read them all, fuck was that boring as shit, and tried to comment as much as I could, both in an effort to support the author and, to be honest, get my name out there but….after a while it became nothing but a chore and I too began to hate it. Then I started weeding people out, getting rid of the garbage that bored the shit out of me, stopped caring how many people knew my name and instead focused on spending time, even over the internet, with people that truly brought something to my life. Showed me another side of things, taught me something about California wines, amazed me with their knowledge of fonts and scary black chickens, regaled me with Spam pairings and stops to sausage Meccas…made me laugh so hard my eyes would water and stunned me with their amazing gift to loop words together so brilliantly that I could feel their breath on my skin…from hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away….

Ben & Joe, you two have given me something far and beyond chuckles, scary chickens and sparkling wine from Georgia. You’ve become a part of my life and I simply cannot imagine not visiting with you, be it in Memphis, California or over the ether. I adore you both and I quite humbly thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Leaving Memphis

Packing the bags
Disposing of empty bottles and shippers
Wondering how the hell I ended up with red wine stains, on my bra and not my shirt....

Will fill everyone in when I get home but until then, a tiny slide show.

And this, this even happened....

Not a fellow blogger. Nope just a random John Deere loving kid we met at an Irish bar.

 I need a vacation...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Real Wealth

“How many bottles are we bringing?” My husband’s tone sweet but mildly concerned with just a dash of annoyed. The suitcase unzipped and resting on the guest bed with piles of possible clothing options at either side, “Um, guess I’ll be bringing home a shipper” my response. A suitcase, a slightly irked husband and a sticky note on my purse, a reminder to purchase a shipper from work, this combination can only mean one thing….vacation.

Been a rough year on everyone. The economy beating us all down and trust me, this wine slinger is feeling it as well. Seems like there is this somewhat fanciful cloud of delusion around many when they think of the wine business, as if it is impervious to the whims of Wall Street and the suffocating choke of purse strings being pulled extra tight. Aint true. Aint true at all and to all of those that shrug and say things like, “Well I’m sure you’re still doing okay, people probably drink more in this kind of economy” I can only say, “If that’s true they are hitting up the extra-large bottles of Vodka from Costco”. Before anyone gets too worried, the store is doing okay. Not great mind you, but we are hanging in there, still able to buy wine, cheese, put on our events and pay our somewhat shoestring staff but trust me, we are all feeling the crunch, small business are especially dry in this “trickle down” bullshit….

We all make concessions at times like these and my household is doing the same. As the manager of a small independent store my eye is always on ways to chip in as it were and the easiest way to help shave costs at the store is to….well be there less. I always worry that my bosses see my leaving early, coming in late or taking off when there are four people there on a slow day as me just not giving a shit, couldn’t be further from the truth. I cost the most and if I can shave a few hours off a week to save them some money, well I’m going to do it. The other side to that coin, well let’s just say that I have been doing some string tightening of my own.

“So here’s what we can do” my husband and I talking travel over a plate of steak and eggs at my favorite coffee shop/bar, (damn do I love me a place where I can get breakfast at 9:00 PM with a martini). The only trip we have taken this year, together, was to Louisville for our son’s graduation, (fuck, I love saying that…our son’s graduation) he has been gone a ton and I did have that wonderful trip to Friuli but much like everyone else, we’ve been hanging around the pad more this year than ever before. The proposition on the table, along with the steak, eggs and martini, “Do you want to go spend a week in Paris with Amy?”  

He had just returned from a trip to Dallas where he was able to spend time with our dear exiled friends and had been listening to Amy talk about her upcoming trip to France, took heed to her urging him to “Make this go for her” and here he was, across a dark table offering up our one vacation for me to get away and spend some time with my dearest friend in the city she and I are both madly in love with. I pulled the fork tines from my lips, big wad of eggy steak flopping against the side of my mouth as I attempted to place the fork on the side of my plate….the weight of pleasure, guilt, the store, my best friend and I wreaking havoc in wine bar after wine bar along the streets of the most beautiful city in the world…..the sweet face of someone that loves me, willing to sacrifice, whatever he needed to, in order to make me happy….all of it making that fork one hundred times heavier than it was when I hoisted the animal bits into my grill. Didn’t feel broke, felt enormously wealthy.

I ran through the logistics in my mind, (and this was before my other best friend left The Wine Country, leaving a ginormous void) what we could really afford, what I was willing to do without to make it happen, how sexy and beautiful I felt knowing that my happiness was all my husband needed to be willing to spend his vacation fondling an X-Box controller and visiting the oh-so exotic….guest room. I was choking back tears when I remembered a message I received from another friend, “If Kelly and I had a ceremony, you think you and Call-o would come?” Michael Hughes asking if we would be able to come out to Memphis to celebrate 10 years of devotion with he and his boyfriend as they exchanged vows…in a city they both adore but, as of yet, does not allow or recognize their partnership as valid. Something about sitting there, in a place I love, being offered what was basically our entire vacation fund, the power of that gesture and the absolute honor of being invited to share in such a moment with two people that love each other so much they wish for the world to know. Well, I pulled out my cell and sent a text, the action alone letting me know my decision.

Amy and I, we’ve got years of Paris stomping ahead of us, in fact I have this sinking suspicion that there might even be books written full of the boozy retelling of stories of two older blondes closing wine bars and restaurants. Tales of trouble makers told through the smoky haze of late night ramblings and “one more” glass of Champagne. She and I? Well we are in this for the long haul and that opportunity shall arise again, you can bet your ass it will but this invite, it was too sweet and quite frankly, too amazing to pass up.

Michael Hughes is a fellow wine blogger and (insert very pink face here) long time reader and supporter of this here silly blog. Not sure when or how Michael started reading but I felt an instant connection to him and our relationship, much like many of you, has evolved over the three years that I’ve been doing whatever it is I do here. He is blogging less, commenting less but he and I have moved well beyond the wobbly legged fumblings of blogger friendships into something so real that I ended up extending my trip to Louisville last year to spend time with he and his Kelly in Tennessee where I would also finally meet Ben Carter of Benito’s Wine Reviews. Ben was one of the first wine blogger to respond to this grumbling, effusive and oft off her rocker wine blogger when I first started writing. He encouraged me to keep going, was open and shared any tips he had learned along the way….very rare that, and even went so far as to design the header that you all see at the top of this blog, for no reason other than he wanted to help me.   Where Michael responds to my chest pumping, “Rawr” posts, Ben…Ben puddles over posts about my sweet son and my wee cupcake making neighbor. Two very gentle men that wrapped their loving arms around me way early on and two people that I find it a very real honor to call my friends. All that, just for unzipping my heart and sending my thoughts and stories out over the internets? Feeling kinda wealthy…

“So when are you going to be in Memphis?” Joe aka, Ed as renamed by my beloved HoseMaster that to this day insists that Joe’s (Ed’s) parents must have been mistaken when they named him as he clearly looks like an Ed. Joe hooked me on the very first post of his I read. He was funny, snarky, self-deprecating and completely devoid of all the stuffy, “Yer dumb” shit that tends to ooze from so many wine blogs. Met the Atlanta based blogger last year when we both just so happened to be visiting Sonoma in the same week. Been feeding and watering our relationship ever since and now, well now he is making the drive from Atlanta to Memphis, a few bottles of our shared obsession and the reason we all met in his bag. Simply cannot believe my good fortune… 

We’ve made plans to meet up twice, (Not Michael as he will be all tied up with his big day and all) once for a casual meal and drinks, the other when Ben will make us one of the feasts he is always posting about and where we will be popping corks and getting our Wine Nerd on. I walked the shop over and over again trying to think of what to bring. Seven thousand square foot shop full of wines from the world over and I couldn’t settle on a few bottles?! Was starting to get a little anxious until I thought about what I was going to be doing there in Memphis and the people I was going to see. “Bring what you love” came slamming into my head and I began grabbing bottles left and right. Sure I could bring some high-end, rare and culty wines along with me but….well I opted instead to pack away the bottles that inspire me. Made me love wine in the first place. The wines that keep me company while I pound away at my keyboard, sharing the stories and passion that in turn inspired these lovely people to want to get closer to me in the first place. Francois Chidaine, Andre Ostertag, Pascal Agrapart, Didier Dagueneau, (okay there might be a couple more, I am a geek I remind you) all people that I’ve met, shared wine with and fallen madly in love with, they too will be boarding that Memphis bound flight with me this morning.

I skipped Paris for Memphis. When you say it like that I sound crazier than usual but when I say, “I’m going on vacation, with my husband, to spend a few days soaking in wine, friendship and true love” well it makes me feel like I’m in that 1% that everyone is constantly grumbling about. Feeling very wealthy indeed…

One more thing, speaking of feeling rich and all, I would like to wish a very happy birthday to a man that also found me through this blog and whose entrance in my life has changed it so much for the better. His talent never ceases to amaze me, his humor a gift I feel lucky to get to share in and his boundless love and support something I simply could not and will not imagine living without. Ron Washam, you are a rare and beautiful gift to me and I love you, I love you with all of my silly heart. Have a wonderful birthday Love, no one I know deserves it more and just so you know, you have made and continue to make, me feel like the richest woman alive. 

Box of wine and bags packed
Heart full
Memphis, here I come.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Flexing My Slippery Muscle

“I hate to do this to you”

I had been in the shop a little over an hour after being off for what felt like for-ever. Off Sunday, half day and then inventory Monday then off Tuesday and Wednesday. I like my off time as much as the next chick but I had two events this week to prepare for, which of course means trying to handle that madness from home plus, well just not being in the shop for that long simply feels off to me. Takes me awhile to get back into my flow and now here I was, looking at four little plates, each holding a plastic knife and rectangular slab of chocolate covered something.

“I hate to do this to you but can you help me pick wines to go with these?” looked up from the desk that now resembled a dessert table to see Ronnie, my sweet adorable Ronnie, (our Bordeaux, Italian, Spanish and Port wine buyer) looking at me with that, “Dude, help me out here” face. Four plates of cake-ish looking stuff, Ronnie’s mug and I glanced over my shoulder to see a somewhat young and handsome man, in a Baskin Robbins embroidered shirt giving me the same eyes that Ronnie was. Dropped my stack of, “Handle me” papers, plastered on my brightest grin and gave Ronnie that flash of green eyes that let him know that I am so there and ready to help. 

Spent the next twenty minutes slicing into tiny chocolate covered ice cream cakes, (perfect size really but I do not recommend trying to cut these fuckers. Each time I’d slice the hard chocolate sides would fall off in chunks and the ice cream would squish down into the cake layer. Just pick up and bite) and shuffle through the flavors, picking out things that I thought would pair nicely with certain wines. We told the cat right up front that coffee was the way to go but he wanted wine so goddamn it, I was going to do my best to offer up the best and most diverse selection I could. Have to say, the cakes were nowhere near a sweet as I had assumed they would be giving me a much wider range of wines to play with….well aside from that mint chip bastard, had nothing but Port and Banyuls for him on that one. Thinking now I should have tossed that CocoVino Mint garbage at the guy but, well he seemed nice enough and I have to appreciate anyone looking to find ways to drink more wine right?

Ronnie and the ice cream guy were both so very appreciative and I even got me a handful of Baskin Robbins gift certificates out of the deal. Gonna come in handy now that my wee boyfriend is surrounded by younger women all day, (fucking kindergarten) maybe if I can keep him in ice cream, and sprinkles, I can hold on to that little love affair just a little longer. Tucked my, “Man keeper” certificates in my backpack and got back to a much bigger, for me anyway, project. Preparing for my annual Cheese & Wine Fest.

Have I mentioned before that I am an absolute and total geek when it comes to shit like this? I know most people think, “Cheese and wine is a no brainer” and I’ve been to their events, might want to check into those brainer things. I was talking to a coworker that was a collector long before he got in this business and he too has a rather laissez faire attitude about wine and cheese and how the two work together. I respect the hell out of the guy but, well he and I are about fifteen thousand miles apart when it comes to the actual chemistry of what works and what doesn’t. I spend like an hour picking my order before a tasting; running back and forth, seeing how each wine builds on the next and he, well he lines them up by price, always. Not sure my way makes any difference to anyone other than me but, it does in fact make a difference to me and if I’m to present something I’m going to do my best to ensure that each wine is placed where they will be able to show their best. Just a freak that way I guess.

I had most of my wines picked for the cheese and wine event but there were just a couple cheeses that I was on the fence about. Pretty sure I was over thinking the whole deal but as I said, that event has my name on it and I wasn’t about to just throw crap together and hope that it worked. Chilled a couple whites and pulled a red or two, told Ronnie I needed his input and then went for what I was sure was to be my ace in the hole, Dale Kemner.

Dale is Randy’s wife and co-owner of The Wine Country. She loves wine and knows far more about it than she is willing to give herself credit for. Not a geek and not an obsessive buyer, but an amazing cook with a fantastic palate. I knew I needed “Not a Geek” to help keep Ronnie and I from obsessing. If she thought it was tasty than that was all I needed. The three of us gathered in the kitchen where I had already sliced off pieces of the cheeses I was still needing wines for. I had nibbled while slicing and noticed an….issue with one cheese but the funny thing, it was only after following another. Got my troops with me in the back and instructed them to taste the cheeses first, (so bossy!) and that was when I mentioned that I was getting a fierce bitterness on one of the cheeses when tasted in a certain order, and that bitter thing got far worse when I drank a glass of water to try and make it stop. They ran through, Ronnie got no bitterness whatsoever but Dale, well she wasn’t sure it was bitter but found something unpleasant when re-tasting the cheese that was giving me trouble.

 Other pairings were made, quite easily might I add but this one bastard of a cheese simply would not play well with others. Was fascinating to me, watching Dale and I recoil when almost every wine shot this metallic, bitter thing around the sides of our tongues, waiting for Ronnie’s face to pinch up and react as well and….nothing. He wasn’t loving any combinations we tried with the cheese but he was not having the same rather dramatically off putting experience that we were.  Made me think of all those people that insist that tasting is not at all subjective, utter horseshit. There was a definitely some sort of chemistry happening here, the reactions to that chemistry, between three people with highly sensitive palates, astoundingly varied. After a rather unpleasant, but truly interesting thirty minutes tasting, dumping, making “Yuck” faces and popping more corks Ronnie came up with something that was, well it wasn’t bad. Not a great combination but at least both things weren’t completely destroyed by each other, and while not what I strive for with this event, (I aim for tremendous, am okay with delicious but with this one, well I was fine settling for not bad) I was just going to have to quiet my inner geek and just roll with it.

Final Lineup

Drunken Goat & 2010 Osseus Santa Ynez Sauvignon Blanc – Drunken Goat is a Spanish goat’s milk cheese that is soaked in red wine which gives the exterior a deep purple color, (rather pretty against the stark white interior of the cheese) but doesn’t impart any real wine flavor. This pairing was all about freshness. The Osseus was nervy as hell, bright acid, tangy fruit and the cheese seemed to just wrap itself around your palate softening the blow from the young wine’s acidity.

Idiazabel & NV Lustau Fino Sherry – Idiazabel is a lightly smoked Spanish sheep’s milk cheese with a dry and crumbly texture. This was my favorite pairing of the day but somewhat controversial. I actually used a vegetable peeler to slice this cheese as I wanted thin, lacy pieces that would melt the delicate smoky, fiercely nutty flavors on the tongue. The shockingly dry Sherry, (which I know is not for everyone) took on a remarkable complexity when paired with that cheese and I think Dale said it best, “It’s as if they were meant to be”. 

Explorateur & NV Pierre Peters Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc – Explorateur is a rindless triple cream cow’s milk cheese from Champagne….therefore this was kind of a cheat. I thought of this pairing as kind of a reward for everyone after challenging them with Fino Sherry. The cheese while rich, ultra-creamy and supremely decadent still has a freshness that, unlike a triple cream brie, leaves an airy and light note on the palate and paired with the curvy, powerful but regal Pierre Peters, sublime.

Caved Aged Gruyere & 2009 Bruno Colin Bourgogne Blanc – This aged version of the affable Gruyere, a French cow’s milk cheese, is far more intense and palate coating, explosively fruity and nutty with a richness that was matched by Colin’s deeply extracted 2009 Chardonnay. 

Le Vache de Chalais & 2010 Clusel Traboules Coteaux du Lyonnais – Le Vache de Chalais is as fantastically appealing visually as it is delicious. This dense and earthy French cow’s milk cheese comes wrapped in chestnut leaves, a creamy little packet of, “Damn”. Because of the earthy richness and salty rusticity of the cheese I paired it with the Clusel Traboules, a Gamay that has all the light, bright, fresh flavors that the grape embodies but has just a bit of firmness…grip of tannin on the finish that you don’t typically find in the wines from Beaujolais. This was one of the pairings where the cheese was the star, the wine lifting it and tempering the earthy notes in the most beautiful way.

Pilota Onetik & 2008 Zuazo Gaston Rioja – This cheese was the reason I wanted to do another wine and cheese event. In all my years of tasting, eating and buying cheeses for the store I can only think of one other time that I was brought to my knees over a goddamn piece of cheese. A Basque sheep’s milk cheese that has a shiver inducing creamy texture and a refined, almost regal, salty, fruity and green olive like flavor. I could have paired that cheese with any wine on the table, well aside from the Fino….tried it, not so much. Ronnie had suggested that I pair it with the Zuazo Gaston Rioja that I had a little affair going with and the combination was brilliant. Both things were delicious on their own but brought together they were so much more explosive….seductive. Unreal.

Dried Vella Jack & 2006 Ottimino Von Weildich Zinfandel – My tribute to California. Few cheeses are more ubiquitous than Jack but this one year aged version is something entirely different. The texture reminds you of a great Parmesan; dried, oily and loaded with intense sweetness. Paired with the lovely and restrained Ottimino had even my most devoted French wine lovers saying, “This, this could get me to drink Zinfandel again”.

Fromager des Clarines & 2009 Domaine de Joy Saint Andre – A cow’s milk cheese modeled after France’s prized Vacherin which is nearly impossible to get here in the states. Unbelievably creamy and gooey, this bloomy rind cheese was bounced around a bit as far as partners and each time, came out on top but something about the Domaine de Joy pairing made me weak in the knees. The rather unusual wine from Gascony, made from Gros Manseng, is beautiful little sweet wine that always reminds me of dried apricots but with a swath of thick and oily Clarines in your mouth this delightful and very pronounced grapefruit note emerges from the wine, giving the pairing just enough tang to keep it from being over the top. 

Bastard Cheese aka Zola Gouda & 2010 Elio Perrone Moscato d’Asti – Zola is a young Gouda and is truly wonderful, on its own. Firm but chewy texture, nice fruit and a hint of sweetness but it is really a cheese that belongs melted, on a fruit plate or just munched on. Not going to wax rhapsodic on this pairing, it was what it was. On a side note; a customer sweetly brought me lemon bars from her favorite bakery in Sierra Madre, restrained lemon flavor, butter and cream and with the Elio Perrone it tempered the sweetness in the wine leaving all that perfume and wild flowers….was my second favorite pairing of the day.

Roaring 40s Blue & 2009 Francois Chidaine Moelleux Montlouis sur Loire – Roaring 40s is a slightly sweet cow’s milk blue from King’s Island in Australia. Serious blue veining, pate a dark beige, quite sweet and very intense, this cheese is absolutely delicious and sells out almost every time I feature it. I knew I wanted a sweet wine and Chidaine’s late picked Chenin was a perfect partner. Big, rich, heavy and, for me anyway, a little too aggressive to drink on its own, the powerful blue synced up perfectly. A monstrous climax of flavors and textures and, if I do say so myself, a damn fine exclamation point of a finish.

I know I stress far more than I should about these Cheese & Wine events, I mean there are ten wines and ten cheeses, chances are people are going to be elated but….well I am just so, (maybe too) passionate about both that I ache to pull others into this weird little world I live in. This world saturated in aromas, textures, flavors and how the right combination of all three can take your breath away. From ice cream to cheese, I flexed my slippery muscle and through all the stress and concerns, the “yuck” faces and “really? Ice cream?” moments, loved every, single, last, second of it....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Got A Couple Letters Of My Own....

About a month ago winery owner/winemaker and very dear friend John Kelly tagged me in a post on Facebook. I was at work when I got the email altering me and seeing as my bosses don’t pay me to check my personal Facebook shit I simply marked the email as read and told myself to check it out when I got home. Finished my day, made dinner, fired off some emails and then returned to Facebook to get caught up on all the fascinating updates of, “I’m at Big O Tires” and pictures of little kids giving the finger. Yeah, kind of a love/hate thing I got going with that particular social media, (fuck I’m tired of those two words) network.

 Kinda fun the stuff I do for the store on it, the way customers come in looking for whatever I put there, sign up for classes after I post about them or people coming in for the first time after following us on there. So the work part =’s good. That chat feature can come in handy when my insomnia hits me and I pop on to find one of my friends also up….the 2:00 AM confessions about miserable middle school memories and discovering that you both share a fear of sharks, well something a tad comforting about that. The keeping up with the stuff your buddies, your real buddies are up, well that part I like and I have to admit I get a massive giggle out of posting random shit and then commenting on my own status. Don’t ask me why but there is something infinitely hilarious to me about posting something like, “There are 25 flavors of Pop Tarts. That is all” only to go back and chat myself up, “Well I can think of like five” and then, “What’s the difference between chocolate fudge and plain chocolate?” stupid and marginally sad but it cracks me up and even more so when my husband yells from the other room, upon hearing my snickering, “Are you talking to yourself of Facebook again?!”

So that covers the good parts. The junk I could do without are the afore mentioned, “I’m at Walgreen's” or, “I just knocked out Tamara Hagsworth as mayor of Dorks R Us on Foursquare” and I have no time or desire to hook up with friend harvesters. If I’m there after work I’m there to either entertain myself, share something, be silly or catch up with my real friends. Off the clock Facebooking is just for me….

So I got home and had forgotten about being tagged in a post. Clicked on the little flag thingie that tells me who posted on what, a whole day’s worth is unruly as hell and I just kind of glanced before going back to my own goofy posting. Wasn’t until the next morning that I was clicking on the red flag deal once again, (I shit you not, Facebook people never sleep….that and I do have friends in different time zones so there is always a bunch of new flags when I log on) that I remembered that John had added my name in a post so I headed over to his page, slightly nervous, to see what was up. Scrolled down a bit to see that my buddy had shared a link to a wine blog he found, the tag for me, “Samantha Dugan dear? I know this does not apply to you unless Southern reps come around” the blog, Dear Wine Buyer.

Had bit of time before having to hop in the shower and I knew that John and I had a pretty similar sense of humor, so I headed over and spent a good thirty minutes chuckling, cringing, nodding and feeling for this poor chick. So the blog appears to be written mostly by one woman, a sales rep for a smaller distributor or broker, written anonymously and she does take submissions from others looking to unload, faceless, about this business of ours. I found her funny, I support people and their need to complain about us, (seriously some buyers are complete and total wankers…I try not to be but, well I have had my moments) and this business of ours so I ended up putting her on my blogroll. Check it out, especially those of you in the wine business….and there is one in particular I am thinking of and I KNOW you would not only love it but could send in some letters of your very own. For those of you not in the business I fear it may be a little “industry” but still well written and worth a look see.

Been following along, not every day but checking in from time to time…just can’t get too vested seeing as it is anonymous, and still digging it but, well after a couple particularly rep saturated weeks I think I might have a few letters of my own…

Dear Sales Rep,
It’s very nice to meet you and I wish you the absolute best of luck in your first venture in the wine business! While I find your question adorable I just don’t have a favorite wine….between red and white, you know, seeing as there are like many other factors other than color. While I wish you would have maybe come by our store, scoped out what it is we do here, before making your appointment with me, I will be more than happy to taste through your four Igloo…Styrofoam coolers worth of wine. Oh no, it’s okay, feel free to answer your smarter-than-you-are phone during our appointment, after that opener of, “What’s your favorite wine, red or white?!” I doubt we have much more to talk about. Really, this is your favorite? I can dig that but I don’t see a market for your Strawberry Sparkltini here at The Wine Country. Yes, it is a “pretty color” but still, think I’m gonna pass. And this is merely a suggestion but, you might want to rethink the glitter nails and strip club, Hawaiian Tropic perfume.  

Dear French Mafia,
Ya’ll smell. I know, I know, you come from the land of aromatics and cologne is like a big deal but seriously? Do you not understand that your aromatics are fucking with me trying to find something slightly appealing in your over-priced, thin, animal ass smelling wine?! Yes, you are thin, impeccably dressed, your accent nearly melting, the confidence with the eye contact and muttering a grunt with every word I say is charming but…your wines are hard, shrill, thin, lacking any accent and about $10.00 more than they have any right to be. You don’t like it either, than can I ask why you looked at me like I was a nut job when I said it wasn’t for us?  Um, no I don’t want to see the hot tub in your hotel room.
Really? Your friend Philippe is pouring it with great success at the bistro he runs that I’ve never heard of in Newport Beach? And you guys both came here from your little village in the south of France to teach scuba but couldn’t make any money so you hit up your other French friends for a job selling French wine, even though you don’t drink? Couldn’t tell. No, I still don’t want to see the hot tub in your room. 

Dear Sales Rep,
I’m sorry, did we have an appointment? I understand that you are new but I can’t drop everything and not prepare for our store tasting, you know those events we hold that actually make us money, to meet with you and taste through your “couple bottles”. No, I know my event doesn’t start for another hour but I assure you, I won’t just be sitting here with my thumb up my ass until it starts, got some shit to do to prepare for it. Okay, okay I understand, you’re new and your boss is riding around with a couple bottles and wants to stop by. I don’t want to get you in trouble, but please remember my event….with those pesky customers that buy shit…is in an hour, so when will he be here? Fifteen minutes you say, well okay but please understand that I will have to speed through the wines and back to the schedule that you weren’t on. 

Oh never mind that, that was just my boss asking me what the fuck I was thinking scheduling an appointment twenty minutes before our tasting started. Oh don’t you worry, I’m not in trouble, I so threw your ass under the bus on this one. Oh and might I suggest you look up the word couple in the dictionary? Twelve is not a couple and didn’t anyone in your company, (or that fancy little hand held computer containing our entire 16 year sales history) tell you that I don’t deal with factory fizz? Yup, I can tell you are less than elated with my reaction to your one hundred thousand case production bulk Champagne, we are in the same boat there partner, I am less than elated to sniff, swirl, taste and spit shit wines that I would have never let you come see me with, you know, had you called to schedule an appointment. I so appreciate your shitty face as you walk out acting as if I just wasted your time while I run cheeses to the back and cut them, with the ten, long minutes I now have left before our event. Thanksomuch. Douche…

Dear Creepy Rude Wine Rep,
Just so you know, I washed my hands like an OCD patient before our meeting. That and I put you off three times already because just sitting across from you makes my flesh crawl and has me wondering just how many human heads they will eventually find in your freezer. I did love my last rep from your company but that’s not it, you’re odd and that is why I don’t so much care for you. I do however appreciate your diagnosis of my dear friend as having a “personality disorder” when you are the one that, from what I can tell, (oh and yes, I’ve talked to others, they think so too) has a pretty raging case of Asperger’s. Loved it when you began our first meeting with, “I’ve read your blog” and then immediately after, “I can help you write shelf talkers if you like” yeah, that was magic. Even better when after I told you that we don’t let others write our stuff, you went to my boss and, very generously, gave the same offer. Don’t be booty hurt that he said no too, it is just our policy and…well you probably freak him out too.
I understand that somewhere in your head you believe that you know way more than I do, not sure where you got that, I mean other than from all the voices in there, but it’s real hard for me to feel like I’m wrong in my assessment of your wears when you are tasting with me and I see a slimy little piece of green gum slip from under your lip. Dude. Did you not see Sideways?! Gum while wine tasting, kind of a no-no.  

Your smug, “Well I would think you would” comments mean precisely dick to me, what you think scares me dude. I want no part of anything going on in that head and I would be more than happy to have our dealings happen over the internets where I don’t have to look in those buggy eyes or watch you and your flop sweats deal with your iphone. You have some amazing wines that I know quite well and I will continue to order them…in spite of you.

Just the very tip of the iceberg I assure you….