Truth is I have been bitching and moaning about this particular publication for a couple of years now, I think it was about the time I got one of their yearend issues and over half of it was advertisements or even worse, the “special advertisements” which is basically an add that pretends not to be. Fucking annoying as hell. I will say that I do find the recipes in Food & Wine some of the easiest to execute and for that reason alone I’ve not figured out how to get my goddamn American Express to quit renewing my subscription but I think after this latest craptastic issue I am going to have to call it quits.
The wine articles in this glossy rag that proudly boasts wine as half its name are simply dreadful, always have been. They used to just be boring and redundant…I mean whole articles dedicated to steakhouse wine lists…lemme guess, big reds? What the hot new sommeliers are favoring in place of Gruner these days and endless articles about what wines to bring to all those swanky dinner parties or (a personal favorite) perfume and wine, as in “this Barolo reminds me of Channel” or whatever. Trite and never all that informative, that was the way I saw most of the wine articles in Food & Wine, (all one or two in each issue), before but the utter pile of crap that landed in my mailbox this month had me not only saying aloud, “Oh shut up” but slapping the slippery pages of stupid down on the smashed beige carpet of my living room floor.
Anyone that reads much about wine these days is hearing an awful lot about Syrah. Now if you are a light reader or skimmer you might believe that Syrah is the hottest thing going right now….the flavor of the month if you will but for those of us in the industry…or uber wine freaks we all know that the current cheerleading about Syrah is a industry wide push to put some energy behind a group of wines that just aint selling. There is some serious mouth to mouth going on and I will spare you rehashing of why these wines aren’t moving. Steve Heimoff, Eric Asimov, Charlie Olken and many others have already had the conversation and they are far better, not to mention way more important voices than mine…that and an opinion about why, changes absolutely nothing about the situation. Dead. The sales for Syrah are dead or dying and marketing gurus, winery reps and the press are doing all they can to resuscitate. I’m not against that per se but when a leading food and wine publication tells the unsuspecting public that they should drink Syrah with their Thanksgiving meal?! Well that’s going too far in my book and in the end it is just robbing from Peter to pay Paul. You really think offering a shitty pairing will inspire people to drink and crave Syrah? You truly expect people to wash down turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce with Smoking Loon Syrah? Might these folks that came to you for pairing advice take a sip of that wine…with that food and come to the conclusion that either they don’t get it or worse, they simply don’t like wine? Yeah, that should fix things…jackholes.
Okay so I’m willing to admit that not everyone gets as hung up about pairings as I do, I get that and might even be willing to say that’s fine, (begrudgingly) might be able to overlook this dreadful combination they are pushing but…holy mother of all stupidity, the writing in this hunk of advertisements is bloody awful. Jesus, I avoid most wine blogs because I can’t choke through the clunky, sophomoric, snooze inducing, makes-me-want-as-much-as-a-eunuch-does sludge and now this publication…that I pay for goddamn it, is making me feel like an asshole just for having it come to my home in my name. As a wine professional I’m horrified that this is what we as a group are tossing about. Really insulting and honestly shit like this here does more to hurt our business than grow it.
Okay I am gonna try and ignore the little drawing of the “writer” that penned this hunk of garbage, the one with a megaphone drawn by his face that says, (no lie) “Rah rah Syrah”…sigh. I will instead stick to the profoundly stupid and slightly ironic might I add, premise of this steaming piece on Why You Should Drink Syrah on Thanksgiving…
1- People Who Buy Syrah Are Independent & Smart I shit you not, that was number one on the list! What the hell? What are you even talking about? Can we flip that fucking megaphone over and make you wear it as a dunce cap? You are advising people on what to drink and the number one reason you give them to drink the wrong wine with their meal is because they are “independent and smart”?! You sir are an ass.
2- Cool Climate Syrahs Are Exceptionally Food Friendly Have no problem with this…well other than this, “High end sommeliers tend to put down American Syrah in particular, dismissing it as bulky, ponderous, alcoholic and sweet. But cooler climate regions in California and Washington make streamlined, evocative, spicy, aromatic, food friendly Syrahs.” Um, what are the WalMart sommeliers saying? Just wondering if the low end guys know a little something about…the northern freaking Rhone, you know the place this “rah rah” grape comes from. Are the 7-11 sommeliers offering a reason as to why one might pair Syrah with Thanksgiving…because so far you haven’t…just sayin’
3- Syrah Is One Of The Safest Bets Around This is where this idiot goes on to say that finding a Pinot Noir under $20.00 is like finding a “diamond in your gravel driveway” and finding a delicious under $20.00 Syrah is like finding diamonds in a diamond mine. Okay not only are you “deficient” you are a liar AND um, dude….are Pinot and Syrah the only two varieties we have? What the hell happened to; Zinfandel, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Barbera, Dolcetto…oh and God forbid we talk about white wine….so for beginners and chicks that. Blow me.
That’s it. I wish I could tell you there was something more. Some insight as to why this article was written and someone felt it was fit for print but there you have it. You should drink Syrah with your laboriously cared for meal because…it makes you smart or independent or Pinot is expensive. I swear I just lost brain cells reading this hunk of crap and as I wine professional, a wine lover and someone that aches to have everyone have that little light go off…have their switch flipped, I just have to say….I’m sorry. I’m sorry this was what Food & Wine thought of you and I for one am yanking my pennies from their pocket for their flippant disregard for teaching people anything about wine.
I am calling in the morning and ending my ten year subscription to Food & Wine magazine and the only regret I have is that I didn’t do it sooner. I would like to thank whoever let this particular article fly…you kicked me in my waffling ass. I’m tired of rolling my eyes and cringing at what is basically a finger to the average consumer and as a result…our industry. Bullshit is bullshit and no matter how trained the palate this was a hunk of marketing garbage that wont salvage Syrah, in fact you may have just hammered another nail in the coffin. Write an article on how sexy and alluring these wines can be and I would freaking write you a love letter but peddling lies and bad pairings is just insulting and disingenuous. I’m out….
“If you had asked me ten years ago I would have told you that she would die of a heart attack in ten years” a much loved customers upbeat but still soulful voice when I asked how his mother was doing. He had come in last week and actually kind of apologized that he and his wife had missed my sparkling wine tasting because his mother, the one that had just been released from the hospital for some other old person issue had suffered a heart attack. My own heart sank, both when he first told me and as he spoke to me this evening about the very real feeling of actually losing the mother he had been preparing to lose for ten years now.
“I can’t stay long” famous last words for this particular, sweetly engaging man that my whole staff adores and even this less than pliable store manager cannot resist. “I can’t stay long. I’m making dinner for my mother” a slow Sunday afternoon at the shop, a regular customer and I sharing tastes of wine, sharing laughs and sharing stories….our stories. Part of me fell in love with him that day, the way he just sipped away and as each drop of leftover wine passed his lips his barrier, or maybe it was mine…fell apart in chunks about our feet. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this” his words landing on my full ears as sweetly and innocently as the stories that he spilled. My heart full of him, his stumbling, the chuckle in his voice as he spoke of his mother getting turned around and how his teenage son had to rescue her and help her find her way home. That first Sunday of he and I was fluttering around in my chest as we spoke tonight…
“So what ya making your mom?” I asked, “Pot roast, she loves pot roast” he responded which led into me asking about the dishes he grew up with, what this woman he was making dinner for made him. “Pies. She makes amazing pies” he told me and as he and I stood in the tasting room, his pours slightly deeper than mine, (I had math to do later with that whole closing business) me falling, he just spilling and our hour of true introduction bringing us closer than I’m guessing either of us was expecting.
“Come with me” I told him after he had run through the wines at this afternoons tasting. I had a bottle of Champagne that was aging, a bottle that had been opened four days ago and had just enough “spark” to massage my recovering palate, just enough sparkle to distract him from where he was headed. We slipped into the kitchen, me sliding my time card into the time clock, punching out…this time was for him. Not about the store, not about me, it was a moment for him to talk, for me to listen, ask questions…be there with a cold glass of Agrapart Blanc de Blancs, laughing, pouring and hearing…feeling with him.
“I thought I was ready but…” as those painfully honest words landed upon me it took everything I had not to wrap my arms around him but that was not what he needed from me. Not what he expected and not what I would ever think of imposing. “My husband’s grandfather used to say, They should line us all up…everyone eighty and older. They should line us up and shoot us. We are a drain on the system and on our children.” Me sharing my own remembrance of the one “grand” that stole my heart. My husband’s grandfather, he was like eighty four when he said it and watching that big eyed, old east cost macaroni factory worker turned nursing home curmudgeon rail against the fuckers that told him meatballs and sausage were bad for his health were in my head as I watched that sweet man struggle with the realization that his very own laughable oldster might not be around much longer.
Loss I know…know it better than most. Lost my father at six, lost my mother at twenty-nine…the less than laughable oldsters long before that. I became the matriarch of the family before I was thirty…soothing others is a role I can slip into without even batting an eye but tonight I found myself longing. Longing for wisdom, words…can you believe that, I was aching for words to heal this man that wanted nothing more than to stand in that narrow kitchen with me, eat little leftover bits of cheese…drink Champagne and not visit his mother who had taken a turn for the worse. What could I give him? What could I say….how could I keep my tears from flowing as I sucked in my breath and thought of this man making pot roast, sending his son to help grandma find her way home and his lifelong love of her pies?
Agrapart. I just kept pouring the Agrapart and let him talk. The conversation shifted from his woes to my writing, (Gawd how humbling) his wife’s writing and the shifts he has made in his life since his kids are now off to college. Just there. I was just there and cannot think of another place I would rather have been. An honestly open and exposed heart is a rare thing to be invited into and through all of his anguish and avoidance of what the rest of the evening held, this man found something in my adoration, in those bits of cheese…in those shared glasses of Champagne. I in turn found a massive reminder that selling wine is second to what it is we do at The Wine Country.
Bill, as I told you in the parking lot before we both went our own ways…I could not think of anything but you all evening. Thank you. Thank you for letting me close enough to feel this, for sharing your heart, for being that customer that we all love. We are all thinking of you and will be here with a glass of bubbles, Malbec, Petit Chablis when you need us.
“Don’t answer it!” my mother snapped as I pushed one of the two kitchen chairs across the buckling and stained linoleum floor towards the pale yellow wall mounted phone. I knew the tone and rested the chair against the wall letting my fingers slip in between the coils of the knotted, spiral phone cord as my chest grew heavy and full with the kind of tension that comes from a child watching their mother sit at a folding kitchen table…elbows stabbed into the mock wood table top, palms pressed against her temples, fingers buried in her wavy hair, checkbook and a stack of bills laying in the shadow of her hanging head.
I twisted the coiled cord around my fingers, my front teeth sinking into my bottom lip as the loud ringing sent tiny electric jolts through my seven year old body. My frame rigid and pressed against the slippery plastic back of the chair, my sockless feet that were slipped into my favorite red sneakers began stiffening almost as if my toes were praying for something, someone, anything to make this easier for her. “I got one of those chicken lunches at school today” my soft voice straining to make her hear me, listen to my words and try to ignore the ringing that was torturing her and through her…me.
“There was this big piece of chicken, a mountain of potatoes and some green beans. I am still so full I don’t think I could eat for a week” I sang to her in my lightest most exaggerated voice…big silly grin and arms crisscrossed across my still bloated from lunch belly. My mother raised her head, looked at my over animated face, eyes wide, brows raised extra high, mouth fashioned in the fakest but silliest grin I could muster. Her beautiful blue eyes fell on me and I sat up extra straight while once again hugging my tummy to show her how satiated I was. She shot me a half grin, a nod of sorts for the spirit with which I had presented this chicken lunch fib but she knew…she knew it was a fib and the same pressure that had me plastered against the plastic chair, toes praying and doing everything I could to soothe her as the bill collector calls rang loud through our dingy little apartment, that same pressure showed itself to me through those pained blue eyes filling with tears.
No such thing as a free lunch. She knew it and no matter how much I tried to convince her she knew that I had in fact gone without lunch that day just as she had. She took a deep breath and stood pushing the bills into a big pile on the right corner of the table and said, “How about something a little different tonight?” while winking at me. I watched as she pulled the ever present box of Bisquick from the pantry. I wiggled my then tiny little rump from the still pressed against the wall chair and happily began grabbing the mixing bowl and big wooden spoon with which this most hated dish was concocted.
She started to scour the cupboards for something, anything that might turn that Bisquick batter into Filet mignon but as she stood before the cans of creamed corn and bags of frozen peas she said something I will never forget. “Fuck it. Go get your favorite outfit on; we’re going out for dinner”. To this day I can remember what I put on before we drove to the liquor store where my mother would write a bad check for cash so she could take her clowning about chicken lunch daughter to Black Angus for dinner….a pale blue halter top, red shorts, rainbow underpants, (yes I even changed my crunders for the occasion) and my red sneakers. Terribly fancy and she even chuckled, like a real chuckle when she saw me emerge from my bedroom in my most loved outfit. The first time I had seen her really smile in weeks….
Big fluffy baked potato with all the trimmings, over cooked broccoli and a bloody slab of prime rib, what we both got and as I sat across from her I saw her light. The light that must have made men love her, feel for her but love her. Her laugh was so real and open as I retold her stories of my school day, my tales of stolen smooches with my then “boyfriend” and railing against my terribly unfair teacher that clearly didn’t understand my free spirit. Princess, I felt like a princess and as her warmth surrounded me I slowly dropped my way-to-big-fork and said, “I lied earlier Mom. I didn’t have lunch at school” and once again those striking blue eyes were filling with tears but this time, this time they felt different. “I know baby and I know why. You are simply the sweetest soul I have ever known and I am going to make things better” she told me. My eyes green, her blue, our pain the same, our tears of love the same. She piled a big mound of butter and sour cream soaked potato, nodded at me to do the same and there, in the Black Angus two Dugans clinked forkfuls of baked potato and through tremendously understanding tears loved each other more than they had just hours before.
I knew what “making it better” meant, it meant a drive up to Long Beach to visit her parents and ask for money. This drive happened a few times in those early years and they would forever stick with me and make me one of those women that would sooner eat a bucket of my own hair than ask for help. My mother’s parents were “comfortable” which to us meant wealthy and my mother wore the scarlet letter of a daughter that was forever a disappointment. A lovely, smart, talented woman that should have married better. Those drives were full of that VW Bug smell, that hard rubber smell and my mother’s voice quizzing me on the presidents and reminding me not to say anything about the cockroach problem in our apartment.
My grandmother was a strikingly beautiful woman; salt and pepper hair always fashioned in some slightly wild but very elegant style. Clothes that begged attention but in a subtle way and a penchant for remarkably stunning jewelry. To look at she was beautiful but….mean as hell. She would always make dinner the nights she knew we were coming and I hate to say it but she was a pretty awful cook. She reminded me even then of a woman that should have never had children and never grandchildren. She seemed so bothered and annoyed by the whole business, not something that I disliked her for, that is natural and given her generational constraints she was not really given much of a choice but man did I hate those visits.
She made two dishes when she knew we were coming, one was lamb shanks and by that I mean mutton shanks, this was the seventies and she was no foodie, the foul smelling, gamey, gray meat she studded with garlic was truly vile. The other was Shake-N-Bake chicken or pork chops…what a fucking relief those were. That assent up the stairs to their Bayshore apartment always found me sniffing….yummy breading or gawd awful rotten meat smell? Sadly on this visit it was the rotting old sheep smell that would have this girl believing that she hated lamb for years.
“Grandma, can I help with anything?” I asked as I pushed one of the heavy wooden chairs into the kitchen. “No” just that flat and just that cold…that was Joan. I pushed the back of the chair against the sink and rested my frame on my knees watching her make the one and only thing that I loved in this house of regret and disappointment, her fucking amazing blue cheese dressing. I sat quiet, almost holding my breath hoping she might not notice that I was there as she peeled the garlic, slipped the cloves into a press…watched as her big bluish veins swelled as she squeezed the juice and pulp from the garlic. My teeth once again digging into my bottom lip as I watched her unwrap the Roquefort and crumble it into the bowl of extracted garlic juice and flesh. Mayonnaise, sour cream, a pinch of sugar, a few shakes from the red and white tin of black pepper. Perfect. It was always perfect and that pungent dressing was where I would let my focus fall when the conversation would shift to the inevitable …money. Cold and crunchy iceberg lettuce and her sharp, rich, luscious blue cheese dressing were my playmates at this table of humiliation and as much as I dreaded the drive home….when mom would be so quiet, deflated and sad but would shake me and say, “Stay awake with me please” it was the linger of that garlic rich dressing that would sustain me, keep me awake and alert for her.
“Your blue cheese dressing is something I could dip everything in every day and be truly happy” Randy giving me a bigger compliment than he could ever realize. My blue cheese dressing now bringing others joy. I never got any closer to grandma Joan, she was a sad woman much like my mother was….spent their whole lives thinking about and bemoaning what they were shorted but, to me that bad check Black Angus dinner and that lesson in blue cheese dressing are with me always.
Clothes, hair, bills, hungry, sad, lonely, put upon….prime rib, baked potato, blue cheese, a seven year old seeking and aching for comfort and guidance. These women were not able to give it to me but I found it. Found it in my own kitchen, with my own son, with a life that is lived for me, a life that lives on my tongue and finds ways to pour itself out through my voice and my fingertips…through my son and my own dressing. So astoundingly lucky….