Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fed & Now, Fired Up

Got home this evening with the strongest desire to shut my mouth, fondle the remote and just quietly shut down each one of my stimulus switches one after the next. Turn off the senseless chatter. The “can I help you?” grin. The self imposed newsletter stresses. The head full of splintered plans for the rest of the week. The tightness in my shoulders and the sharp deep breaths that have been reminding me that I don’t do anxiety well. Feels like I’ve yet to come up for air since the beginning of the month, been spinning in this twister of visits, celebrations, long hours at work, travel, dinners, marketing for the store, emails, text messages, facebook statuses and the million tiny catnaps that stood in where the illusive sleep should have been. Crazy, not bad crazy, but crazy still.

Silently buzzed around my kitchen, scrapping plates and stuffing leftovers away in storage containers, wasn’t until the dishwasher was loaded that I noticed that the glass of wine….the one I had poured to drink with dinner, was still full, sitting in a puddle of its own sweat, generated while the cold liquid waited for me to notice it was there. Damn, even wine seems too much to manage right now….how freaking sad is that?

Bone tired, head weary and completely exhausted, this is not how a normal person should feel after a month that has essentially been The Summer of Sam, which is to say that I have been positively showered with affection, adoration and people coming just to visit with me. I don’t do this center of attention shit very well. That or the combination of that with a very short staff, (that is to say we don’t have enough people, not that we are tiny people or anything) and the reality that is this market right now…..busting your ass three times as hard for less return, has left me feeling spent but mostly, I’ve felt like something was missing.

Fully intended on writing a post, not so much that I fear folks are waiting to hear whatever insignificant drivel I wish to yank on about as much as I miss, painfully miss the process of staring at my screen and watching a piece of….maybe pile is a better word, of something come together as my fingers fly and letters dart across the page. I used to secretly think that I wrote to get a response, to please all three of you but I am beginning to see, I write to feed. Feed my soul, my mind, my security, sometimes my insecurity, to feel engaged, relevant, connected to my own voice….vibrant and alive. To dial it in, just show up for work and dinners, to feel so stretched that I fear any second that I might snap, that is never going to be me. If I have to work until my voice is raw and my fingers bleed, stay out late reveling and carrying on, flirt my way in and out of trouble to keep up…well then, I shall. But….something has been missing.

Words failing, much like my eyelids, (lazy fuckers) I went to the bathroom to wash my face of the day that was closing in on me. Face washed clean, little beads of water dripping from my freshly washed chin on to my pajama top I just stood still for a second. Looked at my skin, my eyes, the laugh lines, the sun damage, the patches of discoloration, the arch of my top lip, my teeth cinched down on the bottom one. I spread my fingers apart and ran them through the blonde hair that lies flat across my temples, pulled it all back away from my face, shoulders and head pointed at the wall behind me…back firm and strong. I looked back in the mirror, the way my top was framing and hugging my breasts, the indentations where the fabric was resting upon my waist, the way the bottom of my top widened and settled on my hips. My body, my imperfect but very female body, naked face with all of my life showing upon it, me, the me that I almost never see. I began to shake a bit as I was spellbound by my own curves, full mouth and green eyes, wrinkles and all…….for the very first time, in my entire life, I felt beautiful. 

For all the craziness, through all the nights crashed on the couch, the mornings after and long hours I had been feeding the part of me that aches to be loved but forgetting to feed the part that I am in love with….my passion. My passion for wine, stories, rants, to be touched, to touch back. My passion for being a woman and all the wild and expressive want that being one, unafraid in her own skin can inspire. Something has indeed been missing and after spending a few moments getting reacquainted with the curve of my hips and weight of my breasts, the way my gaze lowers and takes on an almost evil twinkle when my passion begins digging into my spine again….well I am so fucking ready to feed myself again. Thank you all for keeping me full, for making me so exhausted with trust, love and adoration that I had to crash in order to find my desire to devour with unabashed ferocity….I’m back and I want, more than ever before.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Domaine Tempier (Re-Post)


This post was written just over 2 years ago and I am re-posting in honor of drinking a bottle of the 2010 last night with a dear friend. We spent the night talking and laughing, (another reason for the re-post, we stayed up way into the wee morning we tend to do, so there was no time to dash off anything new) and I shared this story with her while we drained the bottle. As  I recounted the feelings I had the day that I stepped foot on the property of Domaine Tempier while letting the newest vintage from this estate slip past my chatting lips, the dense and full fruit, the stark minerality, the texture just that much more serious than the hundreds of Roses I've tasted so far this year....damn, there's just something about Tempier, I could feel myself being lit up from the inside out. Told my buddy the same thing I do anyone that questions me about the price of this wine, "Is it a $35.00 Rose isn't the question, is it a $35.00 bottle of wine? Yes. It brings me that much pleasure and simply having it on my table fills me with complete and utter happiness"

Haven't reread the post yet, again no time but I'm hoping that my 2 years ago me was able to capture this truly remarkable moment in my wine career.....if not maybe I can write a newer version. Won't that be fun for all of you?! 

“She goes down to the fish monger first thing in the morning to get the best and freshest catch. She goes to market and sees what looks the freshest before she plans her menus. People know who she is and she gets the best of whatever they have. She’s and inspiration to cooks the world over and here she is, just a tiny French woman in a tiny village…it’s amazing”

Cannot tell you how many times I had heard that story, how many times I watched Randy’s face light up when he spoke of her, how many times he told people they had to own her cookbook. I thought about her when he would retell this story to someone new, the way his words hung in the air, “she is an inspiration” the whole time thinking, “Here she is, a tiny French woman from a tiny town….inspiring him”.

When I finally got my copy of her cookbook, Lulu’s Provencal Table (by Richard Olney) I read the forward by Alice Waters, (a personal hero….of sorts) and there was this tiny woman again inspiring others…she was becoming a legend, hell she was a legend, long before I had heard of her….but for me, she was now this amazing woman, in a far off place, that I thought of every time I cooked something from her book. While standing in my kitchen pounding garlic into aioli, or making Soupe au Pistou, (Vegetable soup with garlic and basil) I would remember the pictures of her table on the terrace beyond the shutters, the black and white photos of her, young and sweet looking with two baskets of fish, one on each hip…but most of all I would picture the photos of her kitchen, bricked fireplace, tiny curtains hanging from the mantle and a leg of lamb hanging from a rope in the fireplace.

“Sam! Your itinerary is here!” Randy yelled after picking through the pile of mail deposited by our, less than friendly mail lady. I made my way upfront and tore into the thick package, I pulled out the binder sent by the importer and flipped through, looking at tech sheets and hotel phone numbers. “Well?!” Randy pressed, “Oh…oh yeah” I answered and pulled the sheet he was dying to see from the pouch. As my eyes scanned the sheet I felt a knot forming in the pit of my stomach. I had heard that the Kermit Lynch buying trip was brutal, but I was in no way prepared for what met my eyes, “19 appointments in one day?! In Burgundy?!” I blurted, “How is that even possible?”

I sat down with Randy and we went over the trip itinerary, after a few minutes I could tell that this was going to be unlike the other trips I had been on. There would be no schmoozing with winemakers, no walking the vineyards…this was all business, hardcore business. Kermit Lynch has so many estates that there really is no way to see them all in the time allotted, so much of the “visits” would be made to us…in the hotels, that way they could get everyone, or just about everyone in. Not what I expected but it didn’t matter, I was to be meeting with the wineries that I had been hearing about for 12 years…since I started at The Wine Country, Randy used to sell Kermit Lynch wines and the stories of those estates were woven into my education, they were a part of me in a way…through him, and that coming January, (2008) I would see, and taste for myself. So as I flipped through the grueling schedule something met my eyes that I was in no way expecting:

1/20/08 1:45 pm Domaine Tempier, tasting with Daniel Ravier and lunch with Lulu

Lunch with Lulu

Lunch with Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier…the woman with the fish, the terrace, the words by Alice Waters and the lamb in the fireplace…as someone that does not squeal, I just bit down hard on my bottom lip and held my breath to keep from crying.

I remember the first time I had the wines from Domaine Tempier, I was fairly new to the business, my palate was horribly green and my understanding of wines of place was non existent…but I had heard that Tempier was the best so I just had to have it….yeah, I was so not ready, they were far too rugged and earthy in a way I had never tasted, I remember thinking there was something savage about them, something wild…untamed, and at that time, for my palate, too hard. The white I found charming enough and the first time I tasted the Rose, (which was pricy at the time, like $18.99) I fell madly in love. Was it expensive, hell yeah, but even in my green palate state I could tell there was something about that wine…something amazingly different than any I had ever had….

The afternoon of January 20th 2008, when I felt the tiny stones crumble beneath each step as I made my way through the barren tree lined walkway, I again found myself…teeth firmly plunged into my bottom lip, eyes wide but getting moist and holding my breath. Once I was upon the shuttered doorway that led to the terrace and saw the long dining table, white tablecloth, shinning glassware, I thought for sure I was going to lose it….then I saw her, a tiny French woman, from a tiny town was walking towards me, arms extended, the smile of a woman that had known me for years and had been waiting all day for me to arrive, she placed her tiny hands on my cheeks and pulled me down to her eye level…I just looked at her, in her tiny, perfectly fitted suit, let my breath finally escape, her smile widened and she pulled my face to hers and planted sweet little kisses on both of my cheeks….inspiring.

We tasted through the wines in the barrel room, wines that by now had crept under my skin, wines that I now understood, they were still savage and wild, but in a way that I had learned to find horribly intoxicating, and wines that spoke of their place…herby, meaty and warm…I was beyond happy. We made our way back to the terrace area where Lulu was instructing her helper to get the mussels from the kitchen while she lit grape cuttings on fire and laid grates over them…I just stood there watching her place mussels on the makeshift grill and doused them with some kind of oil or butter and before I knew it I had a glass of Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose in my hand…there are no words.


As to not make a spectacle of myself I wandered around the estate a bit, I walked around to the side of the house and that was when I saw someone from my trip, that had been coming there for years, pouring a bit of Tempier Rose on a patch of land that had flowers on it, “That is Lucien’s grave, she brings him flowers” my Kermit Lynch rep whispered. I had heard about the passing of Lulu’s husband Lucien Peyraud years ago, I had also heard how much they loved….loved each other, loved entertaining, loved teaching and loved their home….Bandol. The moment felt so personal, an old friend coming to visit, to pay his respects…I felt I owed them a moment and snuck off around the corner.

I let my nose lead me, I was smelling wild herbs, dust, clay and….meat, and there I was standing in the kitchen…Lulu’s kitchen, the huge fireplace with the tiny curtains and a 3 legs of lamb spinning in the fire. I was standing in the picture, the picture I had looked at a hundred times, the picture that chefs like Alice Waters and Richard Olney had seen….inspiring.


So to say that Domaine Tempier has a special place in my heart is a massive understatement, but in light of the drama surrounding writing up wines that you may have a connection to, I thought I had better tell the story…for me it is a rather amazing story about a girl in the wine business that learned as much as she could and was finally excepted into the fold, able to walk where the others she had only read about walked, sit at the same table, eat the same food and appreciate the wines as they were intended and deserve to be. If that makes me bias, then okay…to me, it just makes it all human, real and as personal as it should be.
Now I know not everyone can spend an afternoon lunching at Tempier, but we can all taste those wines and know through the stories from all that have been there….that these people and these wines are true, honest and pure…they are real wines of place, and to me…that is inspiring.

2008 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose ($38.99)
I wrote the story above because the memory came to me while I was drinking this wine after a long day on Sunday. I wanted to write it up but thought with all the “disclosure” stuff that is floating around…I felt like maybe I shouldn’t…well, that’s bullshit. This is a remarkable bottle of, of wine…it is more than Rose, it is powerful yet graceful, reserved yet expressive and it seems to wrap around your palate and just dance there…the acidity and fruit in perfect harmony. It is worth every penny and is hands-down the best Rose I have ever had.

If it makes people more comfortable not to think about the people behind the wines, if they would rather picture some factory that churns out bottles…go for it, but for me wine is all about passion, hard work, dinners, flowers on a loved one’s grave and in some cases….a tiny French woman from a tiny town that smiles, cooks, kisses and inspires. I should only hope that someday I can touch, even a quarter of the people that Lulu and the wines from her estate have…how can you put a number on that?

(Me, Lulu and my friend Mairin)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Making A Mark

Not quite sure where to begin. Never even thought of writing this letter before, never once even crossed my mind. My relationship with you not being a relationship at all. My memories of you faded, so unclear in fact that at times I wondered if there were ever real in the first place. Any scars or wounds long ago sanded away by the years and a life that kept moving, shifting and changing….without you. Any pain or resentment replaced with indifference and an understanding that my life could be marred with self pity and a sense of emotional injustice or I could learn that I needed to stand on my own two feet, become the woman I always hoped to be and do it without wishing, longing or blaming you. Just as you made choices that would ultimately leave me behind, I let you go long ago.

“Sam, why didn’t you just make the card?” my mother, the woman once your wife, asking me why I refused to participate in arts and crafts at school, a little stunt that landed me in the principal’s office and had her receiving the much dreaded call from school while she was at work. I was in the fourth grade and we were asked to make Father’s Day cards. I sat there, my classmates with crayons blazing, my elbows dug into the hard desktop, my scrunched face resting upon my balled fists. Not angry as much as thinking it ridiculous that I was being forced….and graded on, a card celebrating an imaginary figure. I wouldn’t do it and as I sat in the office, piles of multicolored fliers, ladies milling about doing I don’t know what, the smell of copier ink and peroxide think in the air, my tummy a cauldron of worry, (Mom was not a fan of calls from school or blatant rebellion) watching the principal’s face shift as my mother explained that my father was “no longer with us” from irritated to sympathetic, that was the day I decided to stop pretending or making excuses for you.

“I’m sorry. How did he die?” was no longer met with my mother’s favored, “it was a heart attack” no, from that point on I would flatly respond, “Don’t be sorry. He died from an overdose” a comment that would for years have my mother reaching under my arm and giving me that nasty pinch on the soft doughy skin there. I now know that she lied less to protect your honor and more to cover her personal humiliation. Part of me feels bad that I couldn’t bring myself to help her with that but….well, I was unwilling to keep up some sham of a story, not for either of you. I just never saw the fact that you were an addict as any reflection on my mother, in fact I saw her selfless act of walking away from a man she was madly in love with, to protect me, as the kind of strength I wished some day to have. I took my zero on that Father’s Day project, took the sad, “I’m so sorry faces” and took hundreds of underarm pinches but I learned not to feel some sense of responsibility for the actions and choices that were made that had nothing to do with me. Lessons about personal responsibility that I would have to revisit from time to time, when I fell or lost my way…..

“Do you ever wonder?” always a question asked of me when people learned that you died when I was so young, a question that I never quite knew how to answer. Did I wonder? I think at some time I must have, must have been curious what you were like as a child, what your favorite color was, if you shared my almost unnatural love of all things pickled or ever spent hours lying on the grass, no matter how itchy it made you, staring at the shape shifting clouds as they passed above.  I knew, or had been told that I looked like you, had to take their word for that one seeing as I didn’t have a photo to compare my silly grin, slender nose and green eyes to. I never knew your face and had no one to ask about the kind of person you were, I’m sure I had to have wondered but practicality kept me from continuing to do so.

“If you are the Samantha Dugan I am looking for” your brother, my uncle…finding me. A flood of emotions and even more unanswerable questions but now, just a little more information about who you were before addiction and sadness crept in, before your need to escape, alter or dull some of your pain…a glimpse into what got you there. Your brother has been diligent in sharing you with me, giving of his stories and absolutely generous with opening his heart to me. Been an incredible few months getting to know you a little, getting to see me…

                                    (My father on the left)

In you.
We do share a face

I want you to know that I was never angry
Never felt responsible
I forgive you….

So Mr. Mark Dugan, your daughter would like to say…for the first time, “Happy Father’s Day” and I um, made you this card.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Greetings From The North

Okay let me start out by saying that I’m freaking thrilled that my laptop is working! After a harried morning of packing, trying to make drop off arrangements and discovering that my wine travel bags, (Wine Mummies as they are officially called) were missing in action I finally found myself standing outside the Jet Blue terminal at Oakland airport waiting to be picked up by, (let me just drop a fancy wine dude’s name here) none other than the Charles Olken of Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines. I was fumbling with trying to get in a quick smoke, craning my neck to see if I could recognize any faces in the oncoming onslaught of cars and futzing with my suitcase, juggling, feeling a little anxious and I dropped my backpack, which houses this laptop, not once but fucking twice! Cringed, cursed and hoped for the best but never had time to check on this beloved hunk of plastic, metal and boards that contain years worth of my silly babbling until now. Had to pop a couple things back into place and there is now an odd ticking sound but so far as I can tell all is well.

Arrived yesterday afternoon and was whisked away to Chez Olken where I was to participate in my second Connoisseurs’ Guide panel tasting. I was invited last year to blind taste bubbles but this time it was less about having a reason to have me here and more about timing. I was going to be up here, with Charlie in fact, to attend a dinner in honor of our buddy Thomas Pellechia, wine writer and educator that just so happens to be a fellow blogger……sometimes. Thomas is the East Coast faction of our little disbanded group of HoseMaster hooligans so he was unable to join us last year when we all finally met, broke bread, each others bawls a little and drank wine face to face. When I heard Thomas was heading west I sent out the email, “Thomas is going to be in Sonoma, who’s down for another dinner?” aside from one straggler, (Mr. Wark I is looking at you) the responses came quickly, of course we were all down.  Thus began the planning and schedule juggling but tonight I will finally be meeting Thomas face to face while being at a table with some of the most beloved people in my life. Simply cannot wait….

Last night was pretty easy. I had feared that my beloved Charlie would torture me with Lodi Zinfandels or something, but the tasting was Chardonnay and Cabernet which ended up being pretty cool for me. I so rarely get to taste California wines in flights like that; eight wines of the same variety, all tasted blind. Not to mention being able to taste, write about and discuss them with people so passionately knowledgeable about them. Was truly fascinating for me and I will come right out and say that I was quite impressed with the Chardonnays we tasted, not a oaky, butterscotch rich wine in the bunch. As for Cabernet, well let’s just say that nothing I tasted is going to be changing my mind anytime soon, still just isn’t my thang.

In between the tasting and dinner I slipped outside into Charlie’s backyard, lit a “get that Cabernet off my palate” cigarette, stood silently watching the water in the canal flow and ripple, the “thump, sploosh, trickle” of an oar as a father pulled his son and daughter along the canal in a rowboat, my head turning as I heard Charlie’s rumbling chuckle…feeling truly honored to be included. At some point in the evening, the tasting over, dinner picked away at and bottles being passed around, this time for consumption not for evaluation, the conversation shifted into a subject that tends to make me edgy and uncomfortable, me and my writing. Don’t get me wrong, hell I crave adoration as much if not more than most, it’s just so damn humbling that I find myself getting twitchy and looking for anyway to deflect. I don’t take compliments well. Oh you can bet your ass I want them, just unsure how to handle it when I get it and when you get Charlie Olken and Ron Washam in a room together….well I found myself fleeing for the “thump, sploosh, trickle” of the canal once more. As I sit here this morning, the house that last night was vibrating with voices and rich with the smells of smoked pork and fresh corn, now silent as everyone is still tucked away in bed, well I find myself feeling a little like an asshole…but I can kind of explain….

I can count on one hand the number of things I was ever told I was good at and um, I don’t even have to use all my fingers to do so. Sexy I got often enough, pretty once in awhile and though I shall never see that as the truth more importantly, those aren’t things that I did/do or make happen. If that happens to be true then it’s the luck of genetics or whatever, not my doing and not something I like spending too much time thinking about. You tell me I’m a good mother; well I will take that and wear it as a badge of honor. That’s something I earned. The wine thing, well that took some effort, lots of tasting and honing my skill but that too is as much luck, (as in being lucky enough to have a sensitive palate) as anything. This writing thing however, this is something that I do hold very dear. Something that I pour myself, my heart into, it’s very precious to me and to have that met with such appreciation, praise and at times gratitude......well that right there completely overwhelms me. I deflect not to make light or belittle the remarkably gracious and profoundly powerful things Ron and Charlie say….that many of you say. I’m not that big a jackass. It’s just, to hear those things and especially from people I love and so greatly admire, well it fills my heart to damn near bursting and it takes all I have not to be reduced to a blubbering pile of running mascara. Fills me with more pride than just about anything outside being Jeremy’s mother. I don’t dismiss the compliments, I hold them tight to my chest as some of the most cherished gifts I have ever received, I simply flee or change the subject to preserve my badass status and not look like Baby Jane.

So last night; Chardonnay, Cabernet, smoked pork, corn, Charlie’s infectious chuckle, heart filling words of encouragement and maybe a slight misstep in the gracious department on my part. Today, Sonoma, John Kelly, lots of tasting, dinner with Tom Wark, Charlie, Ron, Thomas, John Kelly and Marcia, hopefully no jackassery and a couple bottles of smuggled in French wine, little Pommard and Chevalier-Montrachet maybe? Feeling very lucky this morning, very lucky indeed.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why I Do This

Feeling painfully lonely tonight. Just one of those evenings when everything you want and need seems so far out of your reach that no matter how much you arch, stretch and balance on the very tips of your toes…no matter how much you wish, want or will your needs to be caressed or even visited, it just isn’t going to happen. It’s in these moments, of which I find myself floating far too often as of late, that I truly run through the agenda…the unwritten manifesto of what I really want, need, what I’m willing to give, and for how long before having to come to the somewhat harsh, and often crushing, realization that my attempts to breathe life into something that has long ago expired is doing nothing more than leaving me tired, huffing for my own breath and very, very sad….

The above passage was written two nights ago. Big tears in my eyes as the words bounced from my head, through my fingertips and up on my screen. The beginning passage to my final blog post, too heartbreaking for me to even finish. Been in my head for a few months now, this hanging it up and going the way of The HoseMaster thing, much of which I’m beginning to understand, has to do with missing that talented bugger more than I even let myself consider. I mean who would have thought that those perfectly penned and tears of laughter inspiring posts would have such a resounding impact? Sure they were hilarious, often cringe provoking and sometimes just out and out silly but that wasn’t what brought me back over and over again. Talent. The awe inspiring ability to string words together without the tone controlling aid of voice and physical gestures, he had that and I found myself just longing to be near it. 

Even now, almost ten months since his last post I find myself clicking on his blog, hitting up the archives and strapping myself into a post, letting his gift take me for a ride yet again. Letting my envy and admiration feed me, breathe a little more life into my desire to capture…using only my words just as he was able to do. Not only did he inspire me, his talent gave me something to aspire to. Never even really considered being a writer before stumbling on The HoseMaster of Wine just over two years ago, been feeling the loss, the lack of fire in my belly ever since he quit. I miss that voice more then he even knows, well unless he stumbles upon this post that is. If you happen to be poking around Mr. Ronald Washam I want you to know, possibly feel and take whatever pride there might be in the fact that your talent fed and nurtured this silly “voice” of mine. Your gift is something I craved to own just a tiny bit of, my desire to have you even notice me, the me here, pushing me that much harder….encouraging me to peel off another layer, swing my text just a little deeper. Without you I know this blog would have never lasted this long, without your inspiration it sure as shit would have never been written with as much heart. I hope to one day make you very proud….

Damn, feels better just saying that. So while my beloved HoseMaster was a giant factor, a massive reason why I sit here and pound away on my keyboard I was beginning to wonder if he was the only reason. Look, I know many a blogger that could give a rat’s ass how many hits and comments they get. Are just content flexing their writing muscle and tossing it out into the ether, I not only believe that, I envy it but for me….I need more than just my own voice to make it all worth it. I’ve long ago given up on checking my stat counter every hour, given up on blog awards and am near the point of realization that no one is gonna die if I don’t post every two days. I’m all good there but I have been struggling with finding a reason to keep posting. It’s not the what, surrendering my wine blogger status helped there and I knew/know that not everything here has to be related to wine but for me to keep splaying my heart wide open the way I do at times I just have to know that someone is getting something out of it. I’m just needy that way.....

Enter Jess. Last night I had dinner with Jessica, the first of my readers, (that was not already a customer at The Wine Country) that went out of her way to come and meet me. Can’t even remember how long ago it was now when she walked through the doors of the shop, big beautiful grin helping bat away at the butterflies in my tummy. I remember standing in the tasting room with this very cool chick thinking, “She came all this way to meet me, because of my blog?” pouring her a glass of one of the wines he had read about here, a glass of Tempier Bandol Rose. We have had many more meetings since that day, shared more than a few bottles and she seems to end up buying a case of whatever I suggest to have shipped home to her in Colorado, amazing. Last night we sat on the beautiful little patio of a local restaurant, picked at some pretty terrible food, drained two bottles of wine and just talked. Shared our stories, talked wine and nursed the last little drops in our glass as to not have the evening end. I shared my blogging struggles with her and as I was driving home one thing she said had my heart filling and my tummy jiggling with giggles, “Oh no Sam you’re wrong, I will die if you don’t post. I may not comment but after reading you I am often either bawling or wanting to touch myself” and while far from the truth it was assuring me that I am in fact touching people, making her curious about the wines that drive me to write about them, reminding me that wine is not just a beverage to many of us, it’s a feeling an emotion….a lover and for her, (and I hope a few others) this is the place she comes to be inspired. 

That, that is why I do this and thank you Jess for the birthday dinner, the loving the Clos Marie Rose and Azo Chablis, for wanting to spend time with me, both here and in person. You girlie, reminded me why I started this blog in the first place. Why I write and with Ron’s talent giving me something to aspire to, well I just might keep at this just a little bit longer. Thank you both.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wine Biz Interview #10 The Most Famous Wine Writer In The World, Eric Asimov

So I heard you’re like famous and junk, so how’s about telling me where you work?

Famous? Hardly. Junk? Maybe. The New York Times, of course!

You are aware that I asked that just so the first thing people read would let them know how wicked cool I am to be granted such an interview right?

Sam, I wouldn’t be talking to you unless you were cool. “Wicked’’ makes it sound like you’re a Red Sox fan or something crazy like that.

How long have you been writing for (ahem) The New York Times and was wine your first gig there?

I’ve been at The Times since 1984, before you were born, I think. Didn’t start writing regularly until 1992, when I began reviewing cheap, offbeat restaurants. I started writing about wine, too, in 1999, and full-time about wine in 2004.

When did you first discover that you had not only a passion for wine but a talent for articulating it?

Let’s just say that I used to write beer reviews for my high school newspaper, and they were well received. Things were different back in the 1970s.  To be honest, conveying passion is never hard. Describing taste sensations and flavors in a way that is meaningful always is.

Can you remember the first wine that flipped your switch?

When I was a grad student at UT Austin in the early 1980s , my friends and I often drank wine with dinners. Of course it was wine on a student budget – big bottles of  Minervois, that sort of thing. One day in 1982, for whatever reason, I splurged on an $8 bottle, a 1978 barbera d’Alba from Giacomo Conterno. Just luck that I blundered into it. It was a revelation, unforgettable – the clarity of flavors, the shapely intensity of the fruit, the refreshment. I vowed back then that I would  take whatever steps were necessary to insure that I would always drink that well. 

Boxers or briefs?

You’re not serious, are you?  You honestly believe those are the only choices available to men?

I find that Rombauer Chardonnay makes me gag, you ever experienced that sensation with a wine?

More with wine writers than with wine.

You are often charged with having an Old World palate….do you hate America?

That’s just crazy. Who says that, anyway? I do have my own palate, and I don’t feel that I should pander to anybody by being uncritical. America makes wonderful wines and it makes bad wines, just as Europe and everyplace else does.

How do you feel about, and what do you think the future is for wine blogging?

I was happy to see that Decanter recently named the “Wine Blogger’’ among the 50 most powerful figures in wine. Bloggers have been instrumental in increasing the variety of points of view heard about wine, and making people feel more comfortable. The future? As long as Apple doesn’t invent an app that does the job, we will continue to hear more voices regardless of the specific form or platform.

Ever chap your hide that you are among the most respected of all wine writers and have, as of yet, not won a wine blog award?

I don’t consider myself a blogger since the Pour blog’s demise. And no, I’m happy that the awards have not gone to corporate bloggers. 

Have you ever sneezed while peeing?

Was you ever bit by a dead bee?

As a fellow lover of lower alcohol and less extracted wines I have to ask, you ever feel like there is a massive double standard when it comes to what is deemed “acceptable” when discussing your preference?

Well, since you put it that way….I have noticed that some people have gotten upset if I try to highlight other styles of wine, which, over the last decade or so, got virtually no critical praise. I don’t remember them getting upset when James Laube suggested Monte Bello was better suited for chardonnay than cabernet sauvignon, or when Parker criticized Steve Edmunds for making French-style wines in California.

Do you consider yourself a critic or a reporter?

I consider myself a wine writer. However, my job title at the NYT is wine critic, which I think is important, at least in the nomenclature of the NYT.  It means that The Times considers wine, like art, film, books, food , theatre, architecture etc., an expression of culture worth discussing and analyzing. It’s more than just a beverage in a glass. We didn’t have a wine critic before 2004, which shows both how far wine has come in the United States, and how lucky I was to benefit from decades of Frank Prial’s brilliant work.

Hangover cure of choice?

Water. Lots of it. And Underberg.

Your most cringe inducing wine comment is?


Single worst wine you’ve ever tasted?

Purged my memory.

Is there a wine that still haunts you? One that slithers along your spine and digs it nails into your back…..left a whisper that you are still following?

I hope whatever I’m drinking with dinner tonight…..

Guilty pleasure drink?

Lemon-lime Gatorade.

Is there a wine writer, now or historically, that makes you say, “Damn, I wish I could have written that”?

Frank Prial. Hugh Johnson. A.J. Liebling. Andrew Jefford. Robert Camuto. People who can place wine in the context of culture without unduly fetishizing esoteric aromas and flavors.

How many wine blogs do you read on a regular basis?

Nowadays, whichever I get directed to by Twitter.

Playing rock star in your car, who do you pretend to be?

How about with an iPod on the Subway? Hank Williams, Howlin’ Wolf, John Coltrane, John Lee Hooker, Merle Haggard…..

Dry boogers, ever an issue when evaluating wine?

I try to avoid solids in wine.

Last two publications on the rack; Wine Advocate or US Weekly…what do you grab?

Wine Advocate. I’m a subscriber.

Is there a winery or winemaker that you find hits your, “Damn” button every time?

Do men have “Damn’’ buttons? I’m not sure.  I get a lot of chills in my neck and shoulders, though…..

Stumbling home from a long night of over consumption, what do you eat?

My mattress.

Percentage of overall consumption red to white?

40 percent to 60 percent

Chocolate and wine, yay or nay?


I’ve heard, (and yes I am boasting a bit) that you read this stupid blog of mine from time to time…how the hell did you end up here?

I probably googled  wine and lingerie, or something.

You have a way of writing that is so precise and focused but still informs and leaves us twitching to get our hands on that thing, that thing you just told us about…how do you do that? Is it like the, “take a look in the mirror and the most glaring object, remove it” kind of deal or is it really just that easy for you? (and yes, I am glaring at you)

If only you knew how difficult answering this questionnaire is!

If you had to describe your passion for wine, without words, by sharing three bottles with me, what would they be?

Impossible question! OK, I will finesse this by ruling out the historically great wine regions: No Champagne, no Burgundy, no Bordeaux. Let’s instead have three bottles nobody ever heard of, which I think express cultures that have developed over the course of centuries. We’ll start with a rosé from Iroulegy, from grapes grown in the Basque country in the southwest corner of France, a wine that transcends the notion that rosé is innocuous, and connotes mountains, hard work, sweat and pleasure. Then, to bring it home, a white from California, from Napa Valley, no less, a wine that represents free-thinking individualism, that goes against everything that people assume about Napa. It’s the Napa White from Matthiasson, a family venture that epitomizes the do-it-yourself American ethos that we venerate so freely in mythology but so rarely in real life. It’s a blend of grapes rarely associated with Napa, like ribolla gialla, tocai friulano and sémillon, along with sauvignon blanc. Finally, we must have a red. I want one wine that is indisputably great, yet also an example of uncompromising passion. I would choose a bottle – let’s make it a magnum! – of 1971 Monfortino from Giacomo Conterno, the same producer who made my formative bottle of barbera d’Alba . It’s a wine that quite simply leaves me speechless, which is the absolute best response a wine writer can have.  

The most frustrating part of your job as Most Famous Wine Writer in the World?

Parting the screaming crowd as I try to make my way to the limo that will carry me to my private jet for lunch on my terrace on the Côte d’Azur. Actually, you’re confusing me with Steve Heimoff. I’m the Most Handsome Wine Writer in the World.

You are invited to a party and bring a chilled bottle of Muscadet but when you walk in and hand your refreshing gift over are handed a glass of Molly Dooker Blue Eyed Boy….what do you do?

I say, “Thank you.’’ I firmly believe that bottles given to the hosts are for the hosts to enjoy on their own time.

Three wine bloggers you would love to spend an evening eating and drinking with?

You, Renee Zellweger and Keira Knightley. You all write about wine, right?

Worst trend in wine in the past ten years?

I actually think more great wine from more different places in a great diversity of styles is available today than ever before. Are there pernicious trends? Yes, mostly having to do with marketing, pandering, fad chasing, wine manipulation, etc. But, as with anything else, you have to learn to steer clear of the bullshit.

Most exciting?

The understanding that wonderful wines can come from all over the wine-producing world, not just those pantheon regions focused on obsessively by most wine publications.

When you read a wine description that is all, “Laced with Colombian coco, Washington cherries, #2 pencil lead, currants, mustard seed, sweaty leather and pork rinds” or whatever do you think the writer is crazy, has a brilliant palate or is full of absolute shit?

Delusional conveyance of useless information.

Region you find yourself drinking above all others?

These days, I’m fascinated with Sicily. Also the Jura, the Loire, the Mosel, Jerez, Beaujolais, Valtellina, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Advice for delusional bloggers that wish to make wine writing their full time gig?

Go for it! But don’t drain off the trust fund.

Gary V, super genius or crank yanker?

Genius. And a nice guy. And a great Jets fan!

Orange wines, fad or here to stay?

A fad since 1500 B.C.

If I told you that the night I heard that you not only knew who I was, but that you read and respected my writing was one of the most affirming and proudest moments of my wine and blogging career…would you let me kiss your adorable face and share a glass of Champagne with me?

Aw, Sam, make it a bottle and you’re on.