Wednesday, November 28, 2012

If I Were So Inclined....

I would be doing one of those jumpy-upy-downy things because we just threw down this...

                                                          (Well, the one with my name on it)

For a couple seats on here...

To here...

                                     (Um, Barcelona anyone?!)

Where we will rent a car and trek off to the humble little town that will be our home for two whole stinking weeks!

                                                                (Girona, Spain)

Where there will be...

And most of all....

Cannot freaking wait!

Monday, November 26, 2012


“Onions, melted butter and celery” a wide grin spreading across my still sleepy face as I tugged at the thick comforter and wiggled out from under the covers, eyes squinting in the morning sun as I dug my toes into the thick bedroom carpet. Whenever I recall my mother’s somewhat elusive but captivating smile, I will forever think of onions, melted butter and celery because when I woke smelling those three things, it meant only two things, it was Thanksgiving and my mother was going to be genuinely happy. That was her holiday, the only one that didn’t point out how much we didn’t have or what she couldn’t afford to give us. A day devoted to two things she loved, cooking for her family and eating. 

I woke Thanksgiving morning thinking of her, or thinking of onions, melted butter and celery and no longer that sleepy faced 8 year old wiggling out from under the sheets on the bed that she and I shared, it still filled my heart and in truth, brought a quick flood of tears to my eyes. Just as quickly as that tiny storm of missing took hold of me it left and I was there alone in my bed, my gown up bed that I have shared with my husband for 45 years, (okay, maybe a few less but some days….feels like at least that long) alive and thriving in this life I could never have even begun to imagine. A mother, a wife, a wine specialist, a friend, a sometimes writer and the thing that might have made her most proud, a pretty damn good cook who may have just found a bit of her passion for food and cooking over a pile of diced aromatics, a pan of milky and sweet smelling liquid, the steadying shreds and soothing feeling of thick carpet between my toes while my tummy bounced about at the very idea of an entire day of genuine smiles, mouthwatering aromas and plunging my three tined fork into that perfectly fluffy pile of boiled and beaten potatoes. 

Thanksgiving. A day of reflection, indulgence, reverie, patience and deep breaths. Long, slow cooking, hours of enticement and interaction, laughter and annoyance. A day once dedicated to bounty and thanks but now, sadly, simmered down to the obligatory family dinner and rushing out to trample people just hours after professing your gratitude for the things you have. Weird holiday that, but one that thankfully fills me with the sweetest of memories. The shuffling into the kitchen in the “big ugly house” helping my mother set the thick and icy bird into the sink as she cursed, (um, ever wonder where I got my potty mouth?) and hissed that the “fucking thing won’t be thawed in time” knowing that the second she drifted off I would be pushing one of the tall backed chairs from the dining room into the kitchen, lifting and huffing, making sure not to have the sturdy legs scratch or scrape the floor too loudly, my toes digging into the sides of the decorative and puffy fabric as I balanced myself reaching for the knobs on the faucet as I enticed our familial turkey into readiness for the oven with a slow stream of just-warm water. Hours, I would stand there for hours, slow trickle of water my soundtrack, fingers shriveled and forearms weary as I flipped the giant bird this way and that, trying to ensure that the second she shuffled to the sink in the morning, heavy flannel nightgown brushing against her dry skin…(another aromatic memory), pudgy fingers poking, judging and deeming the bird suitable for stuffing and that smile…it would start there and get wider with each one of her little kitchen victories. In her kitchen, when she truly felt like it was hers, that woman was my hero and to this day I am not only in awe of what she was able to do, with so little, she was and will forever be my hero, one that smelled of chopped onions, celery and melted butter when she smiled.

Of course she was with me the second I woke Thanksgiving morning, which is as it should be right? We reflect and remember on a day dedicated to being grateful and revolving around food, how could I not think of my buttery smelling, nightgown wearing grinner? Had to, she was there but it was the smell of my own sheets, the coffee that had brewed and was beckoning, and my jammies redolent with my aromatics that flipped those covers off my sleepy frame and drew me to my kitchen. The pans cold, my chosen red color, no bird resting in the sink, the eyebrow over my left eye raised as I pulled the butcher paper wrapped bacon and Styrofoam housed eggs from the fridge, the smells from my Thanksgiving kitchen as my son slept in his room for the first time, on that day, in four years. I knew how he would feel waking up, the way his toes would sink into the carpet as the wisps of bacon and toasted bread pulled him from his slumber, beckoned him to the woman in the kitchen in jammies, holding a plate of proudly prepared food, bearing a grin that can only come with the pride that is being his mother….of what I was able to make to satiate him. Never understood my mother’s Thanksgiving grin until she was long gone, there are very few things that I regret but not telling her how magnificent, (and I just typed mag-nis-a-fent which was how I said that as a kid, always made her laugh and just now, made me tear up a little….fuck I miss her)  her Thanksgiving was. How she made me ache to be like her, do what she did, create and inspire, bring joy and absolute peace with something as simple as onions, melted butter, celery and a genuine smile…

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thirsty For More

You know, there are a couple departments at The Wine Country that I can stand in, looking over the selection and actually beam with pride knowing that we have one of, if not the, best and most thrilling selections in town. Some of those come with the added chest puffering and self-congratulatory, “I built this” as they are departments that I am in charge of, that I buy for and I have to say one of the most personally rewarding departments for me is our Champagne department. We have been champions of small grower Champagne houses way before it was kind of hip to do so, back when people were still gobbling up Moet White Star and Veuve Clicquot assuming they were drinking something special and long before hipster sommeliers began putting things like Pierre Peters on their wine lists. We were one of the first, (and still one of the few) to get on board with these hand crafted wines and made room for them by kicking all those factory made Champagnes right out the door. They make millions of cases, our little chunk of business isn’t going to put a dent in their bottom line. Could we put a stack of Veuve Clicquot on the floor right now and have it move? Sure but is that how we really service our customers, by stacking bullshit wines that cost twice or three times what they’re worth and hope people just grab them? And what happens when one of those customers asks me what I think of that wine and I tell them, “I think it’s utter crap and would rather drink fart water”?! Yeah, not how we do business at The Wine Country, not at all. We like to see ourselves as educators as much as pleasure seekers and I’m pretty sure the only way to get any kind of pleasure out of Moet or Clicquot is by butt chugging, (look it up) and if you think about what those massive houses are charging for the quality of wine they give you….kind of what they’re telling you to do anyway no?

So we were lucky enough to get a really big jump start to the grower Champagne deal. Tuned into which domains were and are making the most thrilling and remarkable wines, listening to those winemakers about who they think is making wines like they are or wines they can’t wait to drink and established enough, especially now, that every importer and broker is trying to get their wines shown and placed in our Champagne department. You won’t hear me say this all too often but, I am way fucking proud of the work I have put into that department, including creating a fierce and loyal customer base for those wines and the only time I feel the least bit shitty is when I hear, “So what’s new?”…..fuck.

As we all know Champagne is a place not a thing so finding something “New” is tricky seeing as there aren’t a bunch of new houses just popping up and the great importers have scoured the countryside looking for more Champagnes to give their, “So what’s new” customers, (people like me) so I’m guessing much of the great stuff is already here, although there are a few I’d love to have here on the west coast that for now are only available on the east coast….but other than that, well new is often limited to new batches of old favorites and new vintages, not that that’s a bad thing. All this being said, every so often I stumble into a web of, “Where the hell have you been all this time?” while being tasted on Champagne, (and you can bet your ass every damn sales rep in So Cal is trying to get an appointment to taste me on their bubbles right now….more popular than the preacher’s daughter on prom night) and the past two months have brought about some truly stunning wines, rippling over with pleasure, that I have been gobbling up and stacking our shelves with. “So, what’s new?” is now met with a big ass grin and some added bounce in my, “Well let me just show you” step. Damn, I love that….

A couple of weeks ago had me hosting one of our much beloved grower Champagne Friday night tastings, the room not sold out but after taking a gander at the sign up sheet, full of the right people. We have several groups that like to sign up for these classes, a couple of which just turn it into a “Girls Night Out” deal, which is fine and all but it is when I see those names, the names of the people I know are head-over-heels for these wines, the ones that support them year in and year out, well when I see those names I know it is going to be a wonderful event and this time, I even had some new things to share with them. Look, I’m a retailer and my mind is always on sales, I mean it has to be otherwise I wouldn’t have a job to go to but, one of the most rewarding parts of what I do is turning people on to something that makes their heart pound away in their chest, flicks on all the little tingle buttons and takes their breath away. Big sales are needed but it is those, “Holy fuck” looks and people shaking their heads in utter disbelief that I crave, and what keeps me out there hunting and pestering my sales reps with, “What’s new?”

New Wines

N.V. A. Chauvet Carte Blanche Brut ($45.99) Brand spanking new to our shelves, this wine arrived the day before my event which had me in knots worrying that it might not arrive in time. Thankfully it did and much to my and the attendees delight, it was showing beautifully. Classic composition of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with Pinot making up the biggest part of the assemblage, this wine displays all those achingly delicate and ethereal flavors that many of us crave in our bubbles. Citrus weaved into yeast rolls with warm butter smeared on top. Glorious wine and very deserving of a place on our racks.

2006 Pierre Peters Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs ($75.99) I confess to being annoyed with Pierre Peters each time the new vintage comes in at a slightly higher price than the one before but….the second I put the wine in my mouth they are absolutely forgiven. Fuck, what a massive, sexy, bready, floral and crave inducing wine this is. Even thinking about it now makes my tummy flip about with want, too bad my customers bought it all that night! Going to try and get in at least another case….I need to, if only for me.

N.V. Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier 1er Cru ($71.99) A wine I like to stock for my new world wine lovers or people that love a bit of creamy oak on their wines. The fruit here is dark, like red cherries and brilliantly mouth staining along with a big, curvy body and a finish that is all creamy cherries and vanilla.

N.V. Laherte Les 7 Extra Brut ($79.99) Now I have to say that my rep for this Champagne house has been trying to get me on board with the Laherte wines for some time now and for some reason I just can’t get excited enough about them to bring them in, that is except for this geeky wine that is. The “Les 7” refers to the seven permitted varieties that can go in Champagne all of which are grown, harvested and fermented together to make this wacky and playfully intriguing wine. I have plenty of wines on the shelf that are all about deliciousness, this wine is way, way more than delicious, it’s intellectual. One of those wines I don’t want to stop smelling, watching and waiting as each new aroma peaks out then falls beneath another right before a big wave of something else arrives. Stunning aromatics that lean far more into the wine geek camp than the, “This is yummy!” one. I took the very last case the importer had and sold most of that single case the night of my event and when the evening was over, when I could relax over a glass of whatever was left, this was the wine I went for. Think I might be madly in love…. 

Late for work....more to come!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Measuring Greatness

Been thinking about this quite a lot the past couple weeks. Several reasons but the most demanding, (I mean other than the elections) and immediate, the store’s Wine of the Year nominations/tasting/judging thingie. An event that is much anticipated by our customers, (therefore fun to do) but has never really made any kind of sense to me as I fall into Kermit Lynch’s mindset of “The best for what?” as far as labeling of wines goes. 

Okay so Wine of the Year is where each of The Wine Country’s buyers is charged with selecting a red, white, sparkling and sweet wine of the year. We make our selections, based on several factors, (not the least of which is availability) get together one evening after closing, pop corks, make a case for our wines and vote. I do it and as I said, I know lots of our customers really look forward to seeing the results, so it is something I can’t help but genuinely care about and like my other coworkers, take fairly seriously but best, as in “The Best”, within the context of wine enjoyment….well I just can’t be sure that I have that kind of palate wielding power that can make any kind of proclamations of bestiness. Just can’t and moreover…I really don’t believe greatness can or should be measured in that way. 

I sit at the table each year and listen as the results are read, often with a, “Really?! That one?!” look splashed across my mug, wondering who among my coworkers voted for that wine, I mean other than the one that nominated it of course, above all others in the category, my heart often breaking a little as the little bits of folded up secret ballot are discarded and with it the label “The Best” stripped from whichever wines weren’t voted for. Thankfully at our shop Randy lists all the nominees in the December newsletter, and we do a Saturday tasting that includes many of the selections, not just the “Winners” so our customers get a fair sampling of the wines we put forward as exceptional. Of course they won’t be tasting them as we did, one after the next, reds first, with slices of cold roast beef and turkey to clear, or muck with, their palates, so the wines may taste very different to them and their results could be totally different, just another reason these lists and labels make little or no sense to me….

I was feeling a little anxious last night, just bored with being home, over the television, avoiding the internet, (seems to be my new pastime that, avoiding the internet) suffering with a pretty serious case of the blahs which in turn makes me edgy. Did what I often do in those situations, headed to and got lost in my kitchen. Wrist deep in chopped veggies, the sound of my knife landing softly against my bamboo cutting block, my mind methodically clicking through the list of steps and ingredients as I prepped dinner for my family. A good sear on the pork loin, mushrooms thinly sliced, garlic smashed into a paste, vinegar at the ready for deglazing as I tossed the mushroom slivers into the screaming hot, loaded with leftover cooked pork bits pan. Watching the spongy mushrooms expand and retract, change from off white to brown, the scrapping of my wooden spoon, my nostrils and lungs pulling in thickly vinegary scented air as I poured in a glug of stock and gave a twist to the nob on the stove. Pork resting, sauce reducing, mustard and cream awaiting their turn in the skillet I turned my thoughts to wine and what best to pair with this somewhat humble but very flavorful dish. A quick rummage through my little wine fridge and my hand fell, almost magically, on just the bottle I needed….and the pairing, a measure of greatness. 

I sat alone at my dining room table, the guys opting to nosh before the basketball game on television, fork and barely needed knife in hand, cutting little tender bits of pork, taking a generous stab of mushrooms and pushing as much sauce as would stay put upon both before depositing them into my open and waiting jaw. Creamy, succulent, vibrant with acidity and vinegary, mustardy tang, the dish was mouth filling, demanding and genuinely soulful. I sat there once again thinking of all the great wines we nominated this year, “The Best” wines and while I am truly proud of the wines we picked, (actually one of the deepest and most thrilling set of wines we’ve had in some time) I knew not one of them would have paired more beautifully with my dish than the Roland Schmitt Pinot Gris I was drinking. Once again I found myself thinking of Kermit Lynch and, “Best for what?”

I just cannot believe that greatness can be measured by one for all. Greatness, like wine, isn’t a thing to me….it’s a moment and in that moment, that Pinot Gris was The Best. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

You Gots To Go

While often accused of being a "wine snob" mostly due to the fact that I buy and drink French wines, (never understand how that makes me a snob, it's a preference not a statement against any other place or their wines...dammit) the truth is I'm about as far away from that derogatory and somewhat telling, (of the person slinging the bullshit) of ones own insecurities, comment. I am all for wine drinking period. I don't care where you get them from, how sweet or how dry, how classic or true I might believe the wine to be, so long as you are drinking wine and happy with what's in your glass, well then I am all in and will probably be the first person to come to anyone's defense when their tipple of choice is being sneered at or snickered about. In fact I have taken one of my staff to task after some pretty shitty and condescending comments regarding things like Stella Rosa or Roscato, won't have that attitude near me and absolutely won't have it stinking up the shop....

Sure I get annoyed, even chaffed at times, with those bullshit girlie labels and marketing gimmicks, stupid shit like this

But whatever, I might not drink them but if that's your wine thing, go for it, I won't even roll my eyes, (okay, I might a little for the wtf Pinot Noir) or anything but there is one place I have to draw the line and that is on the fruity cocktails being sold as wine. Stop it...just stop it.

I wrote a piece not too long ago about this chocolate flavored wine nonsense and right after that I was smacked in the mug with yet another such rantable product when picking up a flat of glassware from our tasting room only to see spent glasses with milky, pastel covered slime that smelled like a stripper pole. I was hell bent on making fun of that shit, that was until.....

Fuck, two big stacks of the crap showed up at the back door a couple days later! Never one to give my coworkers too much grief I gave up the post idea and just poked fun at him when no one was looking. Yeah, that was until Sunday when I actually put this loathsome shit, that's pretending to be wine, in my mouth...mother fucker, nearly horked just trying to expectorate the crap. I didn't think things could be worse than the CocoVine or whatever the hell, wrong. This Vine Smoothie is some of, no, not some of, the most disgusting stuff I have ever had the displeasure to deal with. So not only is it dreadful tasting there appears to be some kind of textural "issue" with this crap as well. I kept having people try it and once they rightly dumped the foul crap the shit started to separate!  

Yeah, slapped some redtags on those mother f'ers and I will stand/sit here in my snootiest tone, face all twisted with attitude as I say that this is truly horrific shit and as far from wine as you can get.

 Vine Smoothies and your "French Chardonnay" and "Holland's famous Dutch Cream" are two great tastes that DO NOT taste great fact it looks as if they can't even retain their relationship long enough to be poured down the drain before falling apart. Truly vile and now truly getting its ass kicked out of the store.