Friday, March 16, 2012

Wine & Cheese Double Feature

2009 Gramona Gessami

The 2009 vintage is an absolutely beautiful blend of Muscat of Alexandria, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat de Fontignac. The nose is white rose and jasmine and extremely fresh. I could smell this wine all day if I didn’t have responsibilities. It tastes great too with a lush, yet mild mouthfeel. Ronnie Grant
 Price is $16.99 per bottle

2008 Ravines Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes, New York

This is Cabernet Franc that really emphasizes the Franc part of the varietal! Bright, juicy cherry fruit full of savory herbal notes and a refreshing crispness, with enough sap and length to keep you coming back for another sip….and another. Any wine lover who gravitates toward French Loire reds will love this wine, and American wine lovers will appreciate the distinctiveness and flat-out deliciousness of this terrific wine from upstate New York! Bennett Traub
Price is $19.99 per bottle

Ewephoria Dutch Sheep’s Milk Cheese, Holland

A relative newcomer in the world of fine cheese and the brainchild of a Seattle based cheese importer that thought Americans might prefer a Gouda styled cheese that was maybe a bit sweeter and less acidic than the traditional Dutch versions. He hooked up with a farmer in Holland and together they came up with this stunner of a cheese, made from sheep that, as the farmer’s wife likes to say, “Eat better than my children”. I have to admit that I was a little concerned that the cheese might be too sweet when I read that but the truth is it is far less sweet than the 5 Year Gouda, (nicknamed The Candy Cheese around these parts) we already stock and even less sweet than the Old Amsterdam we used to carry. Aged from 9-12 months and made with the same highly protected starter used to make traditional Gouda, the flavor of this glorious cheese is distinctively Gouda-like but the use of sheep’s milk adds a beautifully balancing saltiness which makes this cheese painfully addictive.
Available In-Store Only

The Pairing

Now the fact that we are featuring two wines here should elude to the wine friendliness of the Ewephoria. The fact that there is one red and one white should also let you know just how uniquely versatile this craveable cheese really is. The gorgeous floral and tropical notes on the Gramona Gessami heighten the butterscotch notes in the cheese and the acidity leaves your mouth crisp and ready for another sip, and the dark fruit, earthy and mineral flavor in the Ravines Cabernet Franc seem to almost elevate the fierce creaminess of the Ewephoria, making it almost pudding or custardy on the palate. Either way you go, red or white, this is a must-try cheese.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Playing For The Other Team

There is only so much urging one can take. Only so much begging, stroking and pleading before you start thinking about it. Wondering what you’re missing. Letting your mind race with the thrilling possibilities of rolling around, dipping your toes, plunging and probing into what the other side has to offer. Just tossing the idea about at first, maybe flirting a little, not committing to anything but toying with the notion of.

I’ve always been kind of a “fewer boundaries” kind of chick. I don’t much care for rules, labels, anyone thinking they can, or worse, should, try and control my behavior. Just not how I roll nor the kind of limitations I believe make for a life well spent. More of a fly by the seat of my pants type, cautious but unwilling to let ideals keep me from having a new adventure, adding a notch to my belt, (in theory, don’t wear a belt in fact) or keeping me from exposing myself, opening myself to that heart-thumping feeling of passion, the prospect of new love. Spent the first thirty years of my life wrestling with that garbage; wanting to please others, be loyal and steadfast in the pursuit of everyone else’s happiness and not give in to those bites of curiosity that nibble at the nape of my neck, spent the past ten living, like really living in, feeling in, every second of this life of mine. Not pinched up with concern for what anyone else thinks. Life is too goddamn short for that shit and I’m not about to go out with a laundry list of, “Fuck, I wish I would have tried….”

Yesterday I caved just a little. Gave into whispered urgings. Let those, “won’t you just try?” fingers remove one of my comfortable layers and I stood, nearly naked, ready to take in a relative stranger….explore them in return.

Giant fucking fail….

I guess there are times when “Go big or go home” should not apply, and I’m pretty sure when thinking about trying to get your passion on or fall madly in love, well those ought to be at the very top of that, “don’t try” list. For the past couple of years I’ve been flirting with another. Letting my tongue flip about, my mind wander and my curiosity push me to take tiny sips from a new pond. Kind of thrilling for me in a way and because of that, my slipping into other rooms to take a taste of this one and that, I’ve been asked to slip into something….a little less comfortable. My boss whispering and urging me to take a stab at assisting in the domestic wine department. 

Seeing as I have a tremendous passion for wine in general, and am madly in love with some folks that make, review and drink those wines for a living, people I respect and admire, well I was all for it…a little nervous and still not sure what my role will be, but absolutely willing to get my exploration and palate swerve on. So yeah, first date in the playing for the other team arena, Family Winemakers tasting. Fuck me. What a passionless nightmare of an adventure that was. For those of you not in the wine business this is a trade (and even that is kind of bullshit, every Tom, Dick and heavily perfumed hostess can get in. Trade only my ass) event that hosts something like 300 wineries, all with multiple wines to pour. Just on that number alone you can see what a cluster-fuck this is. How the hell can anyone taste that many wines and get any kind of true, not to mention practical knowledge of what those wineries have to offer? Well, I can think of one guy, he gave them all an 8.5. Toss on top of the sheer volume of wines, the sweaty masses of people, many of which don’t do this for a living….so aren’t really there to taste but to drink, and the fact that each booth has to try and make their samples last for four hours while trying to be cognizant of the fact that the people they are pouring for are going to be sampling hundreds upon hundreds of wines, (read tiny, tiny pours) worst tasting, like ever.

I’m sure this event is perfect for schmoozing and what not. Getting your mug out there, coated in red wine stained kisses and, “It’s so nice to see you again” cheers complete with eyeballs straining to read your name tag. But a place to taste wine, utter horseshit. Especially for me. First off, I hate that kind of scene, don’t get me wrong I love seeing old friends and I can even get a charge from sloppy kisses and all but in the scope of wine evaluation I find that loud, cramped, shuffle, sniff, slurp and spit, (Oh, and while I’m on that. The spit buckets at this particular event were shallow, wide cardboard buckets that once a quarter full were too full if you get what I’m saying. Not always opposed to having my face covered in slobber, but a girl has to draw the line somewhere. Gross. So stinking gross and I had to remove my glasses four times to wipe the expectorated, and chunky (gag) red wine splash back) an impossible venue to get any kind of read on what I’m tasting or smelling. About halfway through I just gave up and stuck my glass out whenever Bennett, (our domestic buyer) or Randy told me to. Nodded when appropriate, smiled with my purple stained grill and just held out until we could get the fuck out of there. Like I said, giant fail.

I shall not however let that one event put me off and I am actually pretty goddamn excited to play around, explore and spread my lips for all that California, Oregon, Washington and New York have to offer. I’ve being tempted by the fruit of another and this girl aint saying no. That being said, to the Family Winemakers tasting, “It’s not you, it’s me. I just don’t swing that way.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

Leaving Louisville

Packing up 
Heading home....
The view from my window kind of mirroring my mood

Visit was wonderful
Too short, but wonderful
Made one thing abundantly clear...
Being a Mom to that young man
Best thing I've ever done. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Touchdown In The Ville

Landed just over an hour ago, got settled into my room and while the husband fondles the in-room dinning magazine thingie trying to figure out where to grab a bite for dinner, I am nuzzling into a bottle of 2011 Moulin de Gassac Rose....hoping the fierce acidity will wash the airplane yuck off my palate. Our "Must leave a 6:00 AM" departure time has left me not only looking like utter hell, but feeling sluggish and beat to shit. But you know what, don't give a rat's ass. Going to be wrapping my arms around my son, seeing that smile that still melts me, hearing that laugh that no matter how yucky, cranky or out of sorts I might feel, turns up the corners of my mouth and sends me into giggle fits of my own. Going to bask in that feeling that only being with my son can give me. Been missing it something wicked that past few weeks and in about two hours I will be seated beside him, our eyes holding on a conversation that needs no words and no one else can hear...

Not sure if it's the wine or the impending dance of my heart but, feeling so much better already. 
Cheers from Louisville Y'all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Day Changer.....

Been kind of a strange week for me. Getting back into the swing of things at work after having nearly a week off where I was tucked away in an uber luxurious resort, in the Napa Valley of all places, tasting wine and learning with some of the wine businesses finest. Wrapping my palate around wines that while from my home state, are a little foreign to me and adjusting to feeling like a bit of an outsider, not a California wine drinker and not really a writer. Walking into The Wine Country earlier this week was akin to sitting down at my mother’s dinner table, comfortable and soothing in a way that is unlike any other feeling I know. I rolled up my sleeves and dug in.

It’s been a slow couple weeks at the shop, and while that does make the catching up a bunch easier it’s just so freaking depressing for me. I spend my days feeling anxious, tasting wines that I would love to bring in but have to push back or even pass on because when it’s slow is not the time to bring in another geeky $35 wine. Saving my budget instead for things that people are already in love with and kind of depend on us having in stock, and while I love that people can depend on us having their favorite $8.99 bottle I do get a little bummed when I have to answer, “Not that much really” when asked by a fellow geeky wine lover, “So what do you have that’s new?” We all have to be sensible when money is tight and a wine buyer is no different. Stinks…..

I was very excited though when I saw that my Intro to French Wines class had sailed from six reservations to thirty-six in less than a week. Long time readers know that teaching classes is not my, um, specialty. I am a nervous wreck for two days before I have to stand before a group, have to literally force myself to stand there, trying to balance on my noodle-like legs and because I am a fucking low speaker I have to belt my words out at nearly screaming decibels, for me anyway, pulling them from the pit of my woozy tummy which always, always makes me feel even more nauseous than I already am. Not to mention the fact that I feel kind of silly standing there as the teacher when there is still so much for me to learn. So you have to know that if I’m excited about a wine class things have been pretty damn slow. We were turning people away all afternoon, such a good sign and then, a party of four canceled at the last minute and a party of two no showed. Fuck. I had stretched my budget to damn-near the last cent. Pouring fourteen wines, it is hard to leave anything out when you are doing an Intro class….well, I could have maybe skipped the Champagne and poured Bourgogne Rouge in place of Gevrey-Chambertin, but….how am I to make people fall in love with, and understand the majesty of France without some wow factor?!  Standing before that crowd Friday night and looking at those empty seats, seats I could have filled, knowing that I was starting out in the hole, well it not only pissed me off, it was kind of a kick in the anxious gut. 

“That’s a day changer” a somewhat awestruck customer tasting the 2009 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Meursault I had poured for him. Saturday was another slow creeper of a day. The weather was stunning, in the high eighties and it seemed that the last thing on people’s minds was shopping for wine. I was feeling miserable until I saw the handsome face of a fairly regular French wine drinking customer. He had some time to spend and I had all those open bottles left over from the night before. I whisked him off to the kitchen where we spent over thirty minutes talking and tasting. The kind of one-on-one that I not only love but seeing his face light up, nearly being able to hear the heart thumping around in his chest, that comment, “That’s a day changer” complete with raised eyebrows and cocked grin, those are the moments that feed and inspire me. Remind me that my job is more than stocking paper towels in the ladies room and sticking to budgets. Watching him fill his cart with Meursault and grower Champagne the kind of moment that keeps me fired up. Day changer indeed. Sailed on that shared high for the rest of the afternoon.

Yesterday, another nearly ninety degree day, I was once again bumping around in a nearly vacant store. The stream of, (slightly odd) customers just steady enough to keep me from getting any writing, shelf-talkers, or website updating done.  Lots of folks just killing time or looking to escape the heat in our cellar temperature shop. Not looking to buy, just looking and it took everything I had not to hop on our Facebook page and beg people to come on down. Instead I spent my time putting out samples of food items, for whom I have no idea, double facing a few wines on my racks, knowing that another slow week means more pushing back of orders and having to wait just a little longer to bring in wines that can give me more of those “feeding” moments like the one I had the day before. Not very inspiring I have to say and as I locked up the shop last night I felt a little helpless and like I was failing my bosses, my store and the customers I make my living trying to please and in turn inspire. Sunk into a deep funk on the long, dark drive home. In need of some serious perspective and true inspiration. 

Jumped right into dinner mode when I got home, didn’t even begin to think about wine. Just started chopping, searing and whipping olive oil and lemon juice into a viscous texture to coat my aggressively torn shreds of lettuce. Tossed some ice in a short glass, splash of gin, a glug of tonic and back to the compiling of a rather boring albeit tasty meal that much like the cocktail I drank with it, was more of a result of my lack of thought than anything else. Sat down at my laptop with the idea of writing a blog post, maybe one that would be fit to post on our Facebook page, (yeah right) that would trigger a mass of people to come through our front door. Empty word document and sweaty glass of gin and tonic…sigh.

Feeling the empty helpless feeling filling my chest I opted to stalk a few friends on Facebook. There are often things posted there that give me blog fodder, either in the form of a re-posting of something profoundly stupid or on occasion, something that makes me pull my head out of my whinny ass and think. That’s when I saw this picture posted by a customer and now through Facebook, friend, Raylene.

I was at first struck by the woman’s gorgeous skin and swath of salt and pepper hair but it was that smile, that beaming toothy smile that had me studying the picture far longer than I normally would of any picture posted of a complete stranger. Just looking at her, in a picture, I could feel her strength and confidence…I was craving that feeling for myself and I simply could not take my eyes off of her. I moved my cursor to the next posted photo of the same woman, this one

And my heart simply melted when I saw her grin even bigger and brighter posing for a photo with her adorable and hopeful faced son. I simply had to know the name of that sweet faced young man that wore his mother’s grin and bore the same kind of brightness of spirit so powerful I could feel it through the photo. I looked to the caption next to the photo and that was when I saw, “RIP Sonia”

Jordan, that little man’s name is Jordan and his life was forever changed yesterday when he lost his mother just days after his eighth birthday, which I can only imagine she fought tooth and nail to be there for. The tears streaming down my face, the knot in my throat choking the air out of me as I read about the 43 year old woman, with that gorgeous smile, a fighter for Cancer awareness, a mother taken away far too young, leaving behind a young man that shares her smile and will forever know what real courage looks like. I started sobbing as I thought about my own sweet faced and hopeful son, and I wanted nothing more than to scoop Jordan up, hold him tight to my chest and tell him how proud I feel just knowing that that woman, his mother, existed. Her smile in the face of Cancer, her fight to beat it and make others aware of it. She is a true testament to courage and hope and  will be an inspiration to me for years to come. I dumped my stupid cocktail down the drain, pulled out a bottle of Pierre Guillemot Savigny-les-Beaune Dessus les Gollardes, an inspirational white Burgundy if ever there was one, and sent my friend Raylene a message, “A toast to Sonia. Thank you for sharing her, and her story with me.”

A couple of slow weeks in a store that is thankfully still very much in business. An afternoon inspiring a customer and lighting him up with Meursault, a room full of people wanting to learn about the wines I spend my life preaching about and Friday morning I board a plane and will be met on the other end by my nearly 23 year old son that I will hug just a little tighter this visit…perspective.

Day changer indeed.
Thank you Sonia.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Newsletter Piece On New Chateauneuf-du-Pape

“I am concerned about the state of Chateauneuf-du-Pape today” the soft-spoken but powerful words from Anne-Charlotte Melia-Bachas as I sat down to meet with her. I was immediately struck by her words because we too have been perplexed by the direction with which many winemakers on our beloved Chateauneuf-du-Pape region have been going. Wines that were once restrained, balanced, nuanced and wildly spicy have been replaced by lavishly oaked, super-ripe fruit bombs with shockingly high alcohol levels that have no discernible taste of place. Big juicy red wines that could just as soon come from Australia or Paso Robles and why are so many of those Southern Rhone producers letting their fruit hang too long and using brand-spanking-new oak barrels? To catch the eye, and praise from a handful of palates in the wine press. Makes sense in a way, I guess, getting big scores will no doubt increase sales but what is to happen if, and when, the press moves on to its next darling? Yeah, you are stuck with gloppy wines that fall apart in the cellar after a couple years and a whole bunch of devoted fans, the ones that had bought those wines for years, picking splinters out of their teeth and shaking their heads. 

We watched as the prices for Chateauneuf-du-Pape skyrocketed and attended tasting after tasting of wines that bore no resemblance to the wines that made us ga-ga for Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the first place. I can still see the look on Randy’s face after an afternoon trade event of 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape; his teeth dark, lips stained deep purple and his palate burning from tasting over thirty wines with alcohol levels well above 15%. “What are they thinking?” his face sweet and genuinely confused. The wines he used to gush over and deem some of the most aromatically compelling in the world now tasting sweet, syrupy and lacking in acidity, not even a shell of what they once were. We opted to do as we tend to when trends take to take over in a particular region, rather than chase the scores and the customers that covet the wines that get them, we slashed the department and dug in looking for wines that still had that thing, that spicy, restrained thing that only Chateauneuf-du-Pape can have. Fewer wines to offer but the ones we have do in fact taste like Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Hearing a winemaker from the region voice similar concerns and absolute confusion as to the direction things in her beloved region were going, well I was pretty sure I was in for a treat tasting her wines. I buried my nose in the first wine and before I could stop myself I said, “Oh man, I remember that”. Very excited to extend a warm welcome to two new wines from this gifted and focused winemaker. 

2009 Chateau de la Font du Loup Chateauneuf-du-Pape $39.99
Comprised of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault and grown in soils that have less of the classic pebbles that you see throughout the region there is an even brighter snap of freshness here. Very elegant aromatics that remind me of older Vieux Telegraphe; freshness but also loaded with cracked pepper, snappy and tart red fruit. On the palate the wine is quite refined, graceful even and instead of creamy oak on the finish you get that dusty bite of firm tannin. Gorgeous Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

2007 Le Puy Rolland Chateauneuf-du-Pape $45.99
100% Grenache from 100 year old vines this wine is a Rhone lover’s dream.  Absolute purity, that sexy combination of spice, cooked red fruit and roasted meat. The fruit is so assertive that the blast upfront reminds me of biting into a fresh raspberry, astonishingly alive and welcoming and on the palate the wine does not trounce about or stomp, it simply floats. We often hear the word regal being bounced about with wine and if you ever ached to know what that means, you need only have a glass of this stunning Grenache to understand. This, this is as regal as they come.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Be Still My Beating Bubbly Heart

I sat down with Diane Coquillette on my first day back into the shop after a rather grueling “weekend” of deadline pressures and fruitless searches for inspiration and adequate verbiage to express my enthusiasm. A rather shitty way to spend your days off really but one I’ve sadly grown far too accustom to. I can’t seem to knock out my articles and notes while in the shop, just too many distractions, phones, deliveries and even the very welcome ones of helping customers, they just aren’t conducive to the kind of writing or story telling that I’m comfortable doing. Top that with the fact that I burry myself in panic so deep worrying about being behind that it quite literally chokes the words from my…um, fingertips. So needless to say I was a touch cranky that I’d forfeited my time off to the newsletter deadline paralysis, self-imposed mind you, but still.

I had forgotten that I had taken an appointment for that Tuesday morning, (I am the queen of, “Sure come on by. Oh no, you don’t need to schedule a time, I’m here all day” which of course I never write down…jackass) and completely forgotten that it was to taste through the entire lineup of a small grower in Champagne whose wines I had not tasted before, or if I had it was at one of those massive 100+ wines, sniff, swirl, spit and shuffle on, trade tastings). If there was ever a remedy for cranky, well tasting through a line of new-to-me grower Champagne might be the best dose of, “Quit yer bitching” around, or…it could end up adding another layer to my already crusty attitude. I have to admit that I tend to be a bit skeptical when tasting through new Champagnes and while Stephane’s daughter Diane was remarkably charming and shockingly beautiful, there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to be swayed by that, especially while somewhat cranky. Our Champagne department is already packed with so many beautiful wines that any newbies wishing to join them on our shelves have to pass a pretty rigorous evaluation from a somewhat hardened wine buyer. Can’t tell you the number of times a rep has told me that they have a line of Champagne that is, “A perfect fit” to my department only to bring me shit like Heidsieck, in its various incarnations, or some co-op bullshit. So yeah, when I sit down with five or six bottles of Champagne in front of me I’m not all twitterpated, in fact I tend to be wearing my, “Bring It” mug. That morning, with Diane’s gorgeous smile beaming at me, her size -2 frame folded perfectly into her seat, meticulously looped and braided scarf resting gracefully around her long thin neck….well let’s just say the 400 pound gorilla in the room was wearing her most fierce, “What now?!” face. 

Took all of about three wines for my cranky to vanish and in its place there was this excitement and energy. The first wine was good, really good in fact but I had to do as I always do, ask myself if it was as good, or better than what I already have? See when a customer comes in and asks for a recommendation on Champagne, and that is the one department where a recommendation is almost always needed/wanted, I need to know that I can grab any bottle off the shelf and make them happy. If I bring in something just to fill the, “What do you have that’s new?” spot I know I will just end up saying, “Well this is new but” and sell them something like Agrapart or Saves, assuring them that their money would be better spent there. That first wine while tasty, was frankly overshadowed by the All Stars on my shelf but the second wine….now we’re getting somewhere! Each wine poured for me was better, more layered and profound and as the house style emerged I could tell that these wines were in fact very serious. I not only loved them, I had to have them. 

I had a Champagne event coming up the following week, one featuring Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rose, the timing was perfect. Very rarely have I been so blown away by an estate that I would bring them in, and give them a spot in one of our Champagne classes so quickly but the wines from Coquillette were just that good. Poured both the 2006 Vintage and the Brut Rose at our event and both wines had customers whispering, “Could you pull me 2 bottles of that?” while I was still pouring and leading my class. Both of those soon to be All Stars sold out that night. Guess it wasn’t just me….

Champagne Stephane Coquillette is located in the Cote des Blancs village of Chouilly and the majority of their holdings are in Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. Stephane is a fourth generation winemaker in Champagne, his grandparents established, and father still runs Saint-Chamant, another Champagne we are wild about, (but are currently out of and waiting for another container from the importer) that produces some stunning Blanc de Blancs. Stephane’s vision for his own Champagnes was to produce wines for true Champagne aficionados. These are not wines for the, “Ice it down, serve it really cold in a flute” set. These wines are far too serious to be treated that way. Drink them as you would any great white wine, not freezing cold as to mask the delicate flavors and in a wine glass that allows the wine to open up and express all its marvelous complexity. Couldn’t be more thrilled to offer the wines from Stephane Coquillette to all of you lovers of layered and multi-dimensional wines. 

N.V. Stephane Coquillette Cuvee les Cles Blanc de Noirs Brut
You get just the palest bit of pinky orange color here from the 100% Pinot Noir and while beautiful it is the aromatics that killed me. My notes read, “This is the kind of wine that makes you never want to remove your nose from the glass. Each spin revels something new and utterly captivating.” The texture in your mouth is so delicate it’s nearly lacy and the finish leaves you aching for another sip. Was my favorite of the lineup but seeing as I was only pouring Blanc de Blancs and Rose for the event I had to bide my time and wait for newsletter to bring this back-arching beauty of a wine in. Guess who’s buying the first bottle when it arrives? You bet your ass I am. 

2006 Stephane Coquillette 1er Cru Brut
While not labeled as such the 2006 vintage is 100% Chardonnay. When I asked Diane why they didn’t put Blanc de Blanc on the label she told me that the percentage of what they use each year, (when and if they make a vintage bottling at all) varies depending on what the harvest gives them. If the Pinot Noir is better one harvest than they will use some or more Pinot Noir in their vintage cuvee, just so happens 2006 blessed them with glorious Chardonnay so they were able to make a Blanc de Blancs. I have to say I love that, the letting the vines determine what to make rather than try and force something that may not be up to their standards. This 2006 is one of those wines that walks the tightrope between power and finesse. Big, rich and staining fruit mixed with some creamy, buttery, custard-like richness but the bubbles and yeastiness are so elegant and fine. One of my favorite wines in the shop right now.

N.V. Stephane Coquillette Marie Aimer Grand Cru Brut Rose
Fan of simple and delicate Rose? Well then, this is not your wine. Very wine like in the nose; lots of wild strawberry, anise and something almost like violets in the background. The wine is quite rich on the palate but does not come off in the least bit heavy. It drinks like great Burgundy in that way it can fill and coat the mouth but leave you feeling refreshed and ready for another sip. Powerful enough to hold up to meat heavy dishes but refined enough to simply enjoy on its own and with fried chicken….fuck.