Sunday, January 29, 2012

Well, That Was Pretty Cool

“We have how many?!” I asked, slight panic in my tone when I arrived to work the Friday of what was now a sold out White Burgundy seminar and tasting. Couldn’t believe it. Simply could not believe that we had filled every last possible seat for a Chardonnay class, a French Chardonnay class at that. Forty people, we had forty people signed up for our Understanding White Burgundy event and I found myself, as I almost always do, in the middle of a mini panic attack.

I always suffer a nervous tummy leading our classes here at The Wine Country. I’m not at all talented in the public speaking department. I get wobbly knees each time I step before a crowd and find that my already soft, albeit raspy voice does not carry above all those staring at me heads. My face goes hot and red the second I open my mouth and I find myself leaning against the tasting bar that rests upon the wall, not to look cool as I spout my bits of retained information, but so I can grip the bar and hold myself steady as I struggle with the internal conflict of wanting to share and teach and feeling like I might just hurl right then and there. The teaching always wins and I am happy to report there has been no, um, unfortunate incidents as of yet but that last Friday in January, well let’s just say it was touch and go.

So here’s the thing. I don’t do or see Burgundy as vineyards and slopes. Can’t wrap my head around which villages have what kind of sun exposure, which vineyards have east or west facing slopes, how many hectoliters per hectar, and who is using what percentage of new and used oak. I know those factoids mean something to some people, not to mention they sound damn impressive when wine people, (unlike myself) rattle them off. I get that and have honestly always felt that my lack of interest and retention of those things has marred me as less than credible, or less serious in some way. When looking at that long list of people coming, to learn from me, well I was guessing that tasting bar and I were going to be spending a lot of time fused together.

Hopped online, pulled out all my resource materials and buried myself in pages while scribbling feverishly on my notepad. Was up to my elbows in notes when it came time to pop the corks and check my beloved wines for correctness and make sure I had them in an order that would best demonstrate their uniqueness. My was heart pounding away in my chest, panic attacking my shoulders and making me stand a little less tall, my wrist twisting away as I pulled expelled corks off my trusty wine opener. All thirty wines opened and ready and I grabbed my glass. Buried my nose in the first wine and as the sultry, doughy, damn near salty aromas clung to the side of the glass and slowly wiggled past the lip to my waiting nostrils, my eyes closed in that way they do when sheer pleasure grips you, “Ah, Azo Vau de Vey Chablis” the aroma so familiar to me that simply smelling that wine made my shoulders soften and feel like they were being massaged. 

The room began to fill with the evening’s attendees and by the time I had finished tasting the last wine I too was in attendance. Standing just a little taller, as confident as I have ever been standing before that many people. I began my wee lecture by reaching for one of my uber thick and packed-with-factoid books and spread its pages before the waiting crowd. The stark white pages full of tiny text and more information than any sane person could ever possibly retain, “This is one way to see Burgundy” I belted at my highest octave, fingers flipping the pages slowly, one white and tiny text page after the next. Then I reached for another book, one I have always felt retained just as much information but in a very different way. As I spread the gorgeous picture book of Burgundy before the crowd, the photos of vineyard workers, winemakers, families cooking and eating, drinking and celebrating, the faces behind the slopes and soil types, the people that create the wines we were about to taste looking back at the crowd, “This, this is another way. This is how I see Burgundy.” 

My point was made, the whole crowd went beyond “Understanding Burgundy” they understood that wine is so much more than something to acquire, read about, hoard or covet. Each bottle has a history, a family, a face and has been made for you to enjoy. My hands never touched that tasting bar again as I flitted about the room pouring, talking, sharing each wine and the people behind them. One of the best classes I’ve ever had the pleasure to teach. Sure, some of it was digging into my own confidence but the real star, the wines.

2009 Herve Azo 1er Cru Chablis Vau de Vey $27.99
Azo has had placement here at The Wine Country for as long as I can remember. The wines always offer traditional Chablis flavor and texture and at prices that make a weekly indulgence possible. Classic Chablis aromas; stony, doughy, citrus, cold wet stones and toasted nut skins. Plump in the mouth with a finish that goes on forever. Heart stopper and bring on the oysters.

2009 Les Heritiers de Comte Lafon Macon-Chardonnay Clos de la Crochette $33.99
Brought to you by famed Chardonnay producer Dominique Lafon this wine is a screaming deal when you think about the fact that his wines from the Cote d’Or start at around $100 and fetch upwards of $1,000.00, a bottle! We poured this wine alongside the Azo Chablis just to show that Burgundy isn’t a style of wine but a product of its environment, soil and weather. This sumptuous Chardonnay is positively popping with ripe pears, toast, minerals and a sexy cut of caramel. From one of, if not the, oldest sites to produce Chardonnay, this is a wine that might even woo the domestic wine lover. Nice richness and has enough body to hold up to anything from steaky white fish to heavily seasoned chicken dishes. I dig it on it’s own but if you need food, think fuller and richer. 

2009 Jean Chartron Rully $21.99
What a freaking rock star of a wine! Was the most purchased wine of the night and one sniff, taste, you will get why. Deep, really deep for a wine of this price point, fiercely nutty and almost greedy in its demand for your attention. So rich and toasty but still retaining that snap, that zip and bite of citrus that makes White Burgundy what it is. Quite complex and I recommend you buy at least two, one won’t be nearly enough. Trust me.

2010 Evening Land Pouilly Fuisse $26.99
Okay, this poor wine might have gotten lost in the lustiness of the more heady tasting and earthy whites in its flight. Whatever. I dig the purity of fruit here. Stark and exuberant, busting at the seams with ripe, cooked pears, almost as if they were simmering in a thick syrupy sauce. You get a big aroma of green herby notes in the middle but the finish is everything you want in a Pouilly Fuisse, soft caramel and sweet cream. Luscious. 

2009 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Meursault $49.99
My wine of the night. The second I took a tiny indulgent sniff of this wine I knew what wine I would be revisiting once the chairs were all put away and the dishwasher was chugging away. Etienne De Montille has nailed it here, his generous but deft hand with oak adding just enough sexy seasoning to lift this alluring fruit to mind bending levels. Nearly thick in the mouth, staining, with a little nibble of acid that snaps you right back to reality and dares you to not take another sip. The finish is a river of sliced, dripping pears and toasted hazelnuts on a cup of citrus rind. We sold out of this wine but the second I got home I sent off and email begging for more. I need more and once you taste it, you will too. 

2009 Deux Montille Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Cru Sur Gamay $41.99
Made by the other face of Montille, Alix, Etienne’s sister, who I can tell you is one firecracker of a woman but is steeped in the tradition of her family and the importance of place. A wine that vibrates in the mouth, seems to bounce from tongue to gums and back again. Alive and while weighty has the fluidity to spread, grow and expand across the palate with buttered toast, marmalade and savory toasted, oily hazelnuts. Shows plenty now but I ache to taste this wine after 3-5 years in the cellar.   

Deadline Blues....

Writers Block
Not enough time to do all that I need to get done
Touch and talk with the people that want and need me
Wanting to be touched and needing back
Burnt out
Guilty feeling deep in the pit of my stomach
Unable to keep an idea in my head long enough to flesh it out
Daydreaming about having my own flesh...outed
Bit of helplessness 
Bunch of frustration...

This picture made me smile
And realize that sometimes, it really is that simple.
Just hoping you all send me your collective good ju-ju

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Sweat Pea Versus Your Meat

“Sam! Be careful. Steps were designed to be taken one at a time; you freak me out when you do that!”

My mother watching me as I my small hands gripped the handrails on both sides of the narrow staircase that aligned the coliseum-like cement stepped seating at the Marina Pacifica center. She’d brought me there for cookies, or under the pretense of getting me a cookie. She was there for a cookie…both an actual one along with the blast of sugar like rush she got from hob-nobbing with the people she wished she was. I’d get a lemonade, fresh squeezed and face-puckering, my young tongue and lips lapping away at the sour, savory juice that would forever be my favorite. I’d drink my pucker juice and cringe through half a head sized chocolate chip cookie, (thus giving her one and a half to devour) while I watched her try so desperately try to fit in. 

I never really cared for sweets, even then but I played along as she excitedly told me we were headed to the then beautiful marina setting with its swank shops full of things we couldn’t afford. My little hands wrapping around the rails, my tennis-shoed feet leaving the ground as I swung, and would leap three or four steps at a time. Each time I landed I would first put my hands out in front of me, just making sure I had my footing, before looking at Mom and giving her the grin that let her know I was fine. Her shake of the head and eyes retreating back to her bent and creased novel, fingers pushing past the butter soaked paper to snap off another piece of peace giving cookie releasing me to swing and leap again.

I used to save the big steps, the ones that weren’t even really steps at all, but were the romantic and somewhat grandiose coliseum-like seats that I’m sure, were dreamed up by some local architect that must have smoked lots of pot and ached for a live music venue that didn’t involve driving. I saved those for when I knew she wasn’t looking. I could go up those treacherous seats; my knees chin-high and calves pulling as I braved my personal Everest. Climbing the seats like some wild monkey as the Long Beach well-to-do bustled by, bags in hand and trying fruitlessly to pretend that they were in Beverly Hills. My chest pulling, hair being lifted with the rush of air as I gained some speed. I would make it to the peak, better known as the parking level, and I would dash over to the “regular” staircase to begin my assent. Gripping hands, swinging feet.

I did stairs wrong. Been known to do lots of things wrong but for some reason those stairs always flash in my mind when I’m being told I’m doing something incorrectly. Wrong?! Maybe not traditional or the way others do, or have been doing it, but wrong?  Well I beg to differ, and once arena where I will most assuredly grab those rails or take those calve stretching steps is when it comes to food and wine pairing. Not content, or convinced for that matter, that the old ideas of pairing are all that relevant anymore. Sure the guidelines are great; white wine with white fish or chicken, but what if that delicate white flesh has been cooked in a deep tomato broth with smoked paprika, Spanish sausage and saffron? Red wine with “meat”, (this one has always bugged me. What kind of meat?! Veal, spare ribs, pork cutlet?!) okay that’s fine I guess but you still think that Zinfandel is going to go with barbeque if it is of the vinegar and mustard variety? Or Italian red wine with, “Pasta”, this one sets me aflame quite a bit. Pasta is a noodle jackass, and unless you’re fixing to eat a plate of dry noodles saying anything goes with pasta just makes you look and sound like a bleating sheep. Those kind of blanket, and let’s not forget, hollow, statements drive me absolutely batshit. Crusty. Crusty old ideas that don’t take into account the fact that food and cooking have changed in the last, I don’t know, hundred years. 

“I think Syrah would go. Maybe a Cal-Ital or Chateauneuf” suggestion from a coworker, the one I happen to butt heads with on the whole pairing issue, like a lot. I was making dinner from leftovers, roasted tri-tip and a sweet pea and cilantro puree, so I asked my fellow wine geeks what they would serve. The answers were all over but this one person was just set on a big, juicy red to accompany the dish and I simply could not wrap my head around it. I went on to explain that the puree was on the aggressive side and would likely be the dominate flavor on the plate seeing as my tri-tip is simply seasoned with salt and pepper before it takes a quick sear in my cast iron before being slowly roasted in the oven. It’s not smoked or grilled so the flavor is quite subtle, and much like the aforementioned fish, the protein was providing more texture than actual flavor. I finished my little explanation only to be met with him looking at me, while holding his hands in front of him as if he were holding a football and he said, “But tri-tip, that’s big meat, I think you need a big red” dude. It’s not the size of the meat but what you do with it. 

I ended up grabbing a Rose from Provence to go with the dish and nabbed a bottle of Manzanilla to sip on while I was cooking. Was doing my little kitchen dance while assembling; toast the tortillas on the open flame, take a sip of Sherry. Flip now charred tortilla into dry frying pan, sprinkle with Jack cheese, sip of Sherry, add thin slices of tri-tip and red onion, sip of Sherry, smear with pea puree, top with a bit more cheese and a second charred tortilla. Quesadilla built, might as well take a sip of Sherry. Once removed from the pan and given enough time of the cheese to cool just a little, I began cutting the quesadilla in quarters, slicing off a little sliver of one to see what I thought of this leftover creation. Wow. Kind of brilliant use of what we had on hand, I was feeling mighty proud of myself as I stacked the wedges on a plate and…took a sip of Sherry. What happened when that salty, nutty wine met with the cilantro and sweet pea flavors was down-right otherworldly. I took another sip, you know, just to make sure I wasn’t high…had sipped on a bit of wine while cooking but, nope, there it was again, this fucking mind bending combination of things happening in my mouth, the kind of perfect pairing that should be written about and could change the mind of those that aren’t inclined to think there’s much to this whole pairing wine with food business. It was in fact one of the most explosive and sublime pairings I’ve ever had the pleasure to put in my mouth and had I stuck with the conventional wisdom, red meat/red wine, I would not have ever experienced.

I think it’s time for more of us wine and food people to grip those handrails, let our feet swing out from under us and take a few more leaps….   

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dessert I Can Get Behind. Weekly Cheese & Wine Feature

Featured Wine:

Domaine La Tour Vieille 2009 Banyuls Roussillon, France

This French dessert classic has been our go-to wine when asked for something to serve with chocolate. This gorgeous semi-sweet red comes from Banyuls, a region in France’s Mediterranean just north of the Spanish border where the old vines, (in this case over forty-five years old) cling to terraced slopes so steep that all harvesting must be done by hand. Very much like port in that it is a fortified wine, but here you find a bit more restraint on the sweetness scale. Full and round in the mouth, lots of dark cooked berry fruit with a gentle hint of cocoa and plenty of refreshing acidity which keeps it from coming off too sweet.

Featured Cheese:

Clawson Huntsman

This is a layered cheese from England that most assuredly offers two great tastes that are great together. The base is a Double Gloucester, a cow’s milk cheese that most closely resembles Cheddar, with a thick slab of Stilton, England’s most renowned blue cheese, in the middle. Not only very cool looking, this cheese is powerful and full from the blue veining, but softened out by the creaminess of the much milder Gloucester. Tremendously flavorful cheese to just nibble on and absolutely brilliant on cheeseburgers or thinly sliced and left to melt on a freshly grilled steak.


Not being much of a sweet eater I’m always looking for an interesting, delicious and satisfying way to end a meal and have found that a nice chunk of cheese, served with a slightly sweet wine ends up being just enough without pushing anyone over into over-indulgence. Some might raise an eyebrow at the idea of calling Banyuls slightly sweet but when I was putting this pairing together I was also handed a glass of Paso Robles Zinfandel to evaluate and I shit you not, that Zin was far sweeter and Port-like than this "dessert" wine is. Not to mention the Banyuls had way more acidity which made it more balanced and hell, the alcohols were almost the same! So yeah, if people have the nerve to call that a table wine then I'm going to be okay with calling this semi-sweet.

This pairing is as much about texture as it is about flavor harmony. The coming together of rather big flavors; the dried berries in the wine and the sharpness of the blue cheese all seem to get cradled, softened and mellowed into the most sublime rich, almost sauce-like texture in the mouth. Achingly addictive, this pairing and after sampling a few staff members on the two, watching the wedge of cheese get hacked away at as they went back for, "just one more to make sure we love it" tastes and glasses were not only drained but refilled...I can safely say this is a crowd pleaser too. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Once Is Never Enough

Do that to me one more time….

Been in the worst rut as of late. A rut in part because that’s just what happens when we get older; long work days, less stamina, less drive, a little less prickle at the nape of your spine to see what’s happening outside. In part as a recovery from the holiday season; the crazy hours, the anxiety, the stress, the running of numbers and receipts in your head and hoping against hope that the season will be all that you expected, planned for, needed. In part getting ready for my baby to be home; the planning visits, meals, gathering of stuff for him to take home with him. Customers, family, tastings, reps, shopping carts, razor cuts, sore back…the “oufff” as I landed on the couch at the end of each day….the, “Oh goddam it” upon waking at 4:00 AM in the same spot. 

Getting through. The season is all about just getting through, and while I have always been down with that, I also suffer this post season hangover. The pressing need of others no longer propping up my tired frame and I’m left feeling like a bag of skin, all the air let out. Jeremy’s leaving just one more whistling hole of absolute deflation. I find myself flipping through books, magazines, scanning blogs, websites and importer pamphlets seeking that spark, that little scrape of teeth that will make me dig my own into my bottom lip and seek more. My ache to rediscover the me that lives, slithers and thrives without my strings, direction, emotion, being pulled by the puppet like yanking of obligatory and maternal need. I find myself digging deep beneath the tattered and season ravaged uniforms, frayed jeans, sweat soaked bras, tears of goodbye stained pillows. I know there is a woman under all of that. A woman that has way more lusting, wonder, elation, gasping, groaning, learning, puddling and purring to do. 

Do that to me one more time…


I’m done splashing around in those post crazy day gin and tonics. I’m done finding comfort and peace in their simplicity and not needing of my attention. Sure that relationship worked when I was merely seeking a way to quiet the hush and melt into my couch cushions but now, now that my wee brain is settled from the dizzying swirl of ribbons, tissue paper and UPS overnight rates, now I need more. Need to feel that nibble, wet mouth, garbled accent tiptoe up my neck and crash like waves across my shoulders….fingers scratch my scalp as you grab my head and demand that I notice…pay attention to You. 

Once is never enough…

Bottle after bottle, your footprint across my skin
My lips parted
Heart pounding
Eyes watching each achingly too slow pour
I can’t get enough
Stripping off last year
Layer by layer
I’m ready for you….


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From The Department Of Douche

“Yes sir, how can I help you?” me welcoming a somewhat grumpy faced customer holding a brown paper sack at the counter. “I would like to return some items” the snippy reply. This is rarely and issue but when it is, it is. We tend to look at wine as if it were a food item so once it leaves our shop we cannot determine how it’s been stored or cared for, therefore we cannot, in good conscience resell that item. Not to mention it is not really our fault that you bought too much wine or didn’t like something you picked. If the wine is flawed we have no problems whatsoever giving you an exchange, those things happen and we don’t even think twice about making it right, (plus we go right back to where we got it and have it made right for us too) but over purchases, well that’s not really our problem so we don’t accept returns for that.

As the scrunched face gentleman, whom I can’t say I’ve ever seen before, begins pulling tissue paper wrapped bottles from his bag I explain our store policy to which I get the, “Oh no you di-int’!” face and a very exaggerated flipping about of the receipts in his hand. This goes on for a few seconds before I hear, “Oh don’t mind me. I’m just trying to see where on your receipt it says that” to which I respond, “You know, that’s a very good point, we should have that on the receipt and I will talk to the owners about that” now the “gentleman” is really looking pissy at me and says, “Yes, why don’t you run off and talk to them about that now. It doesn’t say that anywhere on here does it?” receipt being waved in my getting-redder-and-pissy-my-own-self face. I’m doing my best to smooth things over, not piss this cat off any further, take his rather shitty condescension but still tow the company line, that’s when I look down at the 7 items he brought in for return just as this slips past his sneered lips…

“I’m a regular customer here! I come in once a year and buy 6 bottles of Moscato for gifts!”

On the counter:

Two bottles of Capetta Moscato di’Asti ($8.89 each)
Five Christmas wine bottle bags…in fucking January….

Gave the guy is thirty-eight dollars back, with a big grin and another explanation of our store policy. Just wasn’t worth it and last thing we ever want is to piss off a “regular” customer but….fuck, how about coming in not looking for a fight and not treating people like they are trying to screw you over?! You bought too many bottles and are now returning holiday themed items long past when we have any chance to sell them at anything but 50% off, if anyone is getting hosed here it’s us. Had the guy come in, explained that he over bought, the gift recipients didn’t drink, or even simply said that he could really use that $38.00 in a civil tone instead of walking in with a chip on his shoulder things would have been far more pleasant…for both of us and I wouldn’t be sitting here on my lunch break feeling the need to get that jackass’s garbage off MY chest.
You catch more flies with honey…

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy Accidents. Cheese & Wine

Featured Wine:

2008 Heitz Cellars Napa Valley Grignolino $14.99

This easy slurping red from one of the Napa Valley’s most prestigious of wineries has been one of my favorites for years now. I admittedly have an old world leaning palate, which is to say I prefer lighter wines with bright acidity and very little discernible oak flavors. This utterly delicious Napa Valley red seems to hit my happy spot time and time again. Grignolino, (pronounced green-o-lean-o), is referred to as the “little strawberry” in its native Italy and is exactly the kind of wine that begs for salty little nubbins’ to pick at while you drink it. A picnic red if you will and I for one have served it with everything from cold cured meats to fried chicken. Very pale red in the glass, just this side of looking like a Rose, the body and texture are probably closest to Pinot Noir but make no mistake, this wine is its own sassy little thing. Amazingly floral with hints of spice, like cracked pepper spice, along with some tart strawberry and citrus zest. Bright, exuberant and loaded with snap on the finish. 

Featured Cheese:

Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold

This fruity and massively flavorful cheese came to be much like some of the greatest things in life……. and my marriages, by accident. Fiscalini Cheese Company, known for their incredible Bandage Cheddar, was looking to add a Fontina to their portfolio of cheeses and in their trial and error process they came up with this. Named after its birthplace in our very own San Joaquin Valley this delightful “accident” of a cheese crosses that line between a great sharp Cheddar and Parmesan, both in flavor and in texture.  Packed with fruity, nutty flavors and laced with a bunch of those crunchy little crystals that taste a bit like butterscotch and the finish….goes on forever.  This is a perfect cheese for a fruit plate, grating, shaved on salads or chunked up served alongside a bowl of roasted mixed nuts and a glass of wine that begs for salty nubbins’. 

The Pairing:

This pairing, like the Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold, was something of an accident. I’d previously picked a gorgeous domestic triple crème and paired it with one of our bestselling, and in my opinion, prettiest…in that delicate way, domestic Pinot Noirs. I’d tasted the two together and was kind of madly in love with what happened to both things landed on my palate. I wrote my notes and on a whim double checked with my cheese supplier to make sure the cheese was in fact coming in….never done that before, must have had a hunch. The cheese was out of stock. Dammit!

Ditched my notes on the cheese, (a smart person would have saved them for when the cheese does in fact come in. I’m not a smart person) picked another and waited for my Thursday delivery. Hacked into the Fiscalini as soon as it came in, (exaggeration, I waited for it to warm up a little) and tasted it with the Pinot I wanted to feature. Not a bad combination in any sense, but neither the wine nor the cheese were heightened by the other which is fine, just not good enough. Loaded up a small plate with shaved bits of San Joaquin Gold and marched around the shop looking at bottles, taxing my memory and letting the thin shards of cheese melt across my palate. I was set on picking a domestic wine and the problem can, and has been, that with a cheese like this, that intense and firm…salty and nutty thing, when combined with a good clip of oak this fierce metallic thing happens. Not everyone is as sensitive to that as I am but when I get it, talk about your ugly scrunched face! It wasn’t until I ended up in our sparse Cal-Ital section that I lit up, “Fuck yeah, Grignolino!”

Popped the cork, splashed the wine in my glass, flipped another shaving of cheese on my tongue and took a sip. That humble wine simply exploded with bright, zingy fruit. Wild strawberries and black pepper wrapped around that somewhat aggressive cheese and both things not only tasted good, they tasted far better.

A happy ending.
Love it when that shit happens.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Radio Days

“If this is a true story I am going to lose my shit” me looking at my son towards the end of watching the movie Radio with Cuba Gooding Jr., where he plays a mentally handicapped sports fan that ends up getting basically adopted by the football team he worshiped, then becoming a mascot…and inspiration for the whole damn town or whatever. Well of course the movie was based on a true story and as promised, I lost my shit. Bawled like a baby while my sweet son shook his head and laughed at me. Such a sucker for that kind of story, shit if I even hear the theme song for The Blind Side I get choked up. I can rant, argue, take fierce bites of anyone that tries to hurt or insult me but, honestly I’m basically a squish.

I woke the morning of December first, head pounding and eyes bloody red, after staying up until some ungodly time in the morning writing about my brother, our relationship and his current health. I’d slept maybe two and a half hours and not only did I look like ass, I felt it. Trudged through my morning, very thankful that the chores of “wake up, get coffee, read email, shower and go” were so engrained that I didn’t even need to use the four brain cells that were firing that morning. Shuffle, grunt, rub face and repeat as I scrolled through my emails and messages on Facebook. I was toying with reading my own post, something I almost never do when I write those somewhat exposed pieces. When I am writing one of those I just sit down, open my heart and talk to all of you as if you were right here in my living room and just as you can’t go back, or rewind a conversation, I don’t scroll back and read what it is I’ve written. Explains a lot I’m sure. So yeah, I’m sitting there swollen faced and second guessing myself when I happen to click on the bubble thingie that tells me I have a private message on Facebook. A very sweet message from a dear friend and writer I just so happen to admire the hell out of, telling me that the piece I wrote moved him, that he was thinking of me and that he wanted me to do something…something that I was unsure I had the courage to do. I followed the link he’d sent me and sat there, heart pounding in my chest thinking, “Dude, there’s no way”

The first couple of years after I started this blog I had this idea that no one would take me or my writing seriously unless I won one of those Wine Blog Awards. Like I would somehow be more relevant or respected I guess, if I could place one on those badges in the corner of my blog. Then, then people would know that I am like a serious player in the world of wine blogging and junk. Lofty right? To be a serious player in what is essentially a free for all….a girl has to dream right? The first year I was nominated I wanted to win so badly it quite honestly made my skin twitchy. I would check the website all the time to see when the finalists were announced, felt a massive kick in the gut when I didn’t make it. Took it as a sign that what I feared was true, that I was just some yammering hack that really didn’t fit in. Now as the years, posts and friendships have piled on this here blog, I long ago gave up on trying to win anything or see my number of hits, comments and accolade as any real indicator as to my relevance or writing ability. I’m profoundly moved, and honored that anyone takes the time to be here with me…matter of fact, those words are far too small to truly articulate what it means to me. At some point the drive that made me write was no longer about what I might get out of it, it was about having those non-rewinding conversations with the people that let me do this thing, this thing I seem to crave and adore, I get to write. Last year I didn’t even know I’d been nominated for a Wine Blog Award and didn’t hear the outcome until days after the whole thing was over. I think losing a finalist spot to Chronic Negress the year before might have put a nail in that coffin. I mean, if that was what people wanted in their wine blog, well right on, but I was no longer interested in being part of it. Might sound bitter but I assure you, it’s anything but. Giant relief actually. I don’t want to modify what or how I write in order to fit into some model that I don’t even find interesting enough to read. Some people get or like what it is I do here, others don’t and I’m more than okay with that.

“Oh, and the deadline is today” those words looping in my head when at 4:30, just a half hour before our final mail pick up, I was licking the flap of a giant envelope and buying stamps from The Wine Country’s stash. As I marched out to the mailbox on the curb outside our store, thick envelope clutched in my hand, a friend’s kind and supportive words like fingers in my back, pushing me each step and shrouding me from feeling afraid or anxious, I began chuckling at the very idea of what I was doing. I dumped the package in the mailbox with a thud and marched back to the store feeling really fucking accomplished. I did it. I’d applied for a fellowship to this year’s Professional Wine Writers Symposium. Knew there wasn’t a chance in hell but the fact that someone asked me to, believed that I should and that I had the sack to put myself in the line of, “I’m sorry but” fire for something that I feel as deeply as the writing I do here? Felt pretty goddamn amazing.

Woke last Tuesday morning to yet another one of my son’s late night reveling buddies crashed on my couch but was touched to find that my dear son, knowing that I’m a fairly early riser, had moved my laptop and cigarettes to the dining room table. I quietly moved about the kitchen, getting my coffee and settled in for the morning routine. Seeing as I was off, (well aside from inventory later that evening) I found myself there hours later. Scanning, picking at the breakfast burrito my son had picked up after depositing his buddy back to the bar parking lot where he was storing his car for the night, the three-way banter of my family in full swing when I saw that I had a new email. Opened my mail to see a subject line, “Fellowship winners” my rejection letter had arrived. No kicks in the gut and no anxiety as I clicked the email to open it. The hard part, for me anyway, was over. Getting past years of debilitating insecurity, my own issues with aching to fit or belong, the finding of a voice and not being afraid to use it. Those things, those things have been my award and no matter the wins and losses, they are mine…always.

“You have been awarded a fellowship to this year’s Professional Wine Writers Symposium. Your writing was the most envelope pushing of the bunch-the judges liked it”

I still cannot believe it…. 

So, looks like I’ll be heading to Napa Valley next month. There as a guest of Stag’s Leap Winery and the judges that saw something here, in me, and voted to have me there. Every time I write or say that the smile that spreads across my face and the pride that fills my chest are nearly enough to overtake me. Unreal. Never in my life would I have thought I would be here. With a family that adores me, friends that support and love me beyond measure, selling wine, traveling to Europe, the dinners, the laughter, the Champagne and this…simply unreal.

Radio, I feel ya dude.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Beaujolais, Now What? (Written For The Wine Country Newsletter)

As a store that pays little to no attention to most wine press, favoring instead to taste wines, support the wineries that have proven themselves year in and year out, and we would no sooner slap stupid scores on our wines than we would stack crappy wines because we got a good price on them. We taste everything before it comes in and don’t rely on the press, or suppliers for that matter, to make decisions for our shop or the customers that do their wine buying with us. That being said, we do have to take pause and give the press a little credit, (it’s like due and junk) for reminding people about the uber-friendly and utter deliciousness of one of the world’s most easy drinking and food appropriate wines, those from the region of Beaujolais. 

The wine press had a fierce love affair with the 2009 vintage throughout all of France and even gave a tip of their hat to an oft overlooked and almost never written about region that we have been championing for years. We’ve been waxing rhapsodic about how the Gamay based wines from Beaujolais are not only juicy and delicious but so gentle and refreshing that they are some of the most versatile and food appropriate wines on the planet. We were often met with hesitation when we recommend Beaujolais, people remembering the thin and tangy, almost vinegar like Nouveau version, scrunching up their mugs and thinking the wines not worthy or serious enough for their meals. I get that and to be perfectly honest, I think Nouveau Beaujolais is absolute crap, brilliant marketing and all but I can’t stand the wines personally, now village level or Cru Beaujolais, that’s a whole other creature. But still people were a touch hesitant, seeing Beaujolais mentioned in the shiny rags, due to an unusually ripe and full vintage, it either reminded people about those wines or inspired folks to give them a taste. The press about the 09s sent people out into the market looking to get their hands on those wines, and I would be lying if there wasn’t a little, “Um, duh” feeling for those of us that have been fans and preaching about Beaujolais and its place at the table for years, still it was nice to see the racks decimated, the online orders pile up and even better, the people coming back over and over again for more. The press may have sent them there but it was the wines that brought the consumers back.  

So there, I said something nice about the wine press, but I have to wonder, now that the 2009s are pretty much slurped away are people going to go back to dismissing or ignoring Beaujolais? I simply can’t imagine that they could. Even more than that, can’t see a reason why they would. The 2009s were tasty enough; a little riper and fuller, maybe a touch less snap of brightness on the finish. Still wonderful and easy to drink but the 2010s are, to me anyway, even more exciting and definitely more interesting. Still there is all that vibrant and racy fruit but the 2010s also offer more complexity, more minerals and tons of mouthwatering zip on the finish.  We can only hope, for everyone’s wine drinking pleasure, that the wine press might have inspired their interest in revisiting Beaujolais but it will be those crave-inducing wines that ignite a fire and appreciation for gentle slurpable, Gamay….give credit where credit is due. I have faith that the majority, of our customers anyway, won’t be led around by their, um numbers, and will continue to do as they have the past few weeks, walk directly to the Beaujolais rack, grab a few bottles and march right to the register with them.

Tasted through a bunch of 2010 Beaujolais over the past couple months, the wines are glorious and I’m thrilled to have so many grin inducing wines to offer.

2010 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais $13.99
Randy fell so in love with the 2009 version of this wine that he took a leap of faith and made it a Wine of the Month and I give him more credit than the wine press for getting our customers to take another look at Beaujolais. People would toss a couple bottles in their basket while shopping for other wines but once they tasted the Dupeuble they were walking back through our front door and hauling it out by the case loads! I tasted the 2010 and noticed just a hint more spice mixed in with the juicy fruit and shade more lift on the back. I brought the wine in without much fanfare, just stuck it on the shelf, two days later it was gone! This value wine is still just that, a wicked value.

2010 Dominique Piron Brouilly $16.99
The wines from this estate have been on our shelves far longer than I have been the French wine buyer. Each vintage simply lovely and all that we want in Beaujolais. This Brouilly has a beautiful dark color, lip-smacking dark red fruit, a refreshing blast of minerals mid-palate and the finish is ultra-clean. Think pork, grilled chicken and smoky flavored dishes.

2010 Domaine Diochon Moulin-a-Vent $21.99
This is my go-to Beaujolais when people want just a little more grip or tannin in their Beaujolais. Still lively as hell, brimming with nervy fruit but there is a bit of tannic bite on the end which makes it perfect for foods with a little extra fattiness that need something to help balance it. 

2010 Chateau Thivan Cote de Brouilly $22.99
It was while at this estate that I finally truly understood just how food friendly the Gamay from Beaujolais can be. The lady of the house, Evelyne Geoffray, a brilliant cook, had prepared quite a feast for our visit. Everything from buttery puffed pastry studded with leaks and herbs to house made pates and there was not one thing on the table that was not enhanced by the estates utterly drinkable wines. Cooked red fruit leaps from the glass followed by a perfect amount of minerals that almost reminds me of fresh cracked pepper. The flavors mirror the aromas and the finish is super clean.

2010 Domaine Chignard Fleurie Les Moriers $22.99
I love this wine for its mix of tart red fruit and flowering rose petals! Achingly pretty aromas, mouth-filling and vibrant fruit, no perceptible oak, just pure, delicious, floral and fruit Gamay with a linger that is gentle and refreshing. Can’t think of much, other than dessert that this wine wouldn’t be absolutely wonderful with.