Friday, April 25, 2008

How Can You Not Like This?!

Last night I was watching Step It Up and Dance on Bravo, (Okay you caught me...I love me some reality t.v.! Top Chef, Work Out, Blow Out, Step It Up and Dance....I even watched The Real Housewives Of New York...could not get into the Orange County Housewives one, Intervention love, love, love it) and the challenge was stomp, (making of music with your feet, banging trash can lids and brooms) I was spellbound! I was on the edge of my seat, watching them thump around pounding their feet on the ground in unison had me bouncing my shoulders and wanting to dance. I called over to my husband who was working on the computer, (working is a stretch..he was playing like Frogger or something) "Isn't this amazing? Watch this, did you see that? God, doesn't this make you want jump up and start stomping your feet" to which he said, "No, not at all". It got so quiet in my living room I could hear my eyelashes slapping together with each stunned blink of my eyes. Tiny audible gurgles came out of the gaping hole that was my wide open mouth. "Are you high? What is the matter with you?" was my brilliant retort, because you know nothing will change someones mind like making them feel like you think they are a complete idiot....

I sat there shaking my head wondering how you could not be moved it occurred to me, just as much as I love that thunderous thump of a hard base line, the way it seems to slither into my spine and take control of my whole body is as much as my husband hates it. Much in the same way his guitar screaming, mumbling lead singer college complaint rock makes me want to curl into a ball and eat my own hair. So who is right?! In a very "grown up" moment I had to concede...we both are.

Now what the hell does this have to do with wine you might ask....wait for it....oh yea...points and wine writers. I've tasted a few wines that have given super high scores by Robert Parker and more often than not I thought they were clunky, insipid and over saturated. A wine he gave a 98 to I would give a...uh...yucky, blech, please hand me a glass of water to wash that down with. The Wine Spectator does not fare much better with my palate and when I taste these wines along with the write ups I think, "Are you high. What is the matter with you?". So who is right? Dammit it has been one humbling week for me, the answer is we all are....but who is right for you? A number means nothing to your palate. Does a 98 sneak into your spine and move you? If you are a fan of the wines that get a 85 does that mean you have cheap taste, have no taste, (like in the case of my husband and his music) don't get it or are less enlightened than the so called professionals? If the high scoring wines hit you the right way then might it just mean that you have similar taste with the pen yielding number giver? For me, if I had to consume the wines that are considered the, end-all-be-all by the wine press.....I would drink less wine. Not their fault, we just have very different taste. So what to do now, in the whole who is right thing? The answer is you are. What you like to drink is worth 100 points plain and simple. Find a retailer, (ahem...much like The Wine Country in Siganl Hill CA...ahem or 800 505-5564) that can work with you, learn what it is that makes you move, makes you happy and remembers it! A relationship with a wine shop is the key to a lifetime of 100 point palate happiness.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Reason I'm Here

You ever look at your life and ask, "How did I get here?", and no I'm not being all existential looking for the meaning of life, or what hand fate or destiny have in where we end up. I'm talking about what little unforeseen events land us in our current state. I was in my French department this afternoon, listening to one of my favorite Cd's pound through the speakers box cutter and price gun in hand, wheeling cases around preparing for this weekends tasting, admittedly shaking my hips and singing aloud, (sorry to anyone that heard's bad I know) timing the click, thunk, click, thunk of the price gun to the beat of the music when it hit me....."This is what I get to do for a living...this is my life?". Now trust me when I say that there are also days when I crawl home, back screaming in pain, wounded by the memory of a grumpy customer, palate fatigued and frustrated asking myself the same question...but today was a good day so I'm feeling much more romantic about the whole thing. I work with people I adore and spend most of my free time with, I get to taste some pretty freaking amazing wines, travel to Europe, (3 times in 5 years...I'm 36 that is pretty amazing for a girl that grew up in "assisted single working parent" housing...that's a nice way to say the projects) dine in some of the most amazing restaurants and have partied with winemakers that many only dream of meeting. Seriously how did this happen?!

It started with Randy Kemner, (Owner of The Wine Country) my second or third cousin that I saw maybe once a year as a kid, I knew he was larger than life and seemed to take up all the air in a room...even then I could see that he was force but was unsure in my awkward pre-teen state of mind what to think of him. He was too Euro for my milk toast way of life and to be frank he made me skiddish. Full on the lips kisses and fighting with me about weather Pretty Woman was sending a tweaked message to young girls was more than my self interested teen aged mind could process. Little did I know then but he was curious, an instigator and full of the kind of self assured, "I'm going to call you out on this" personality unlike anything I had ever seen. It was Randy that first brought wine into my life, he had to do so with me at 25 dragging my heals and fighting him the whole way. I refused to taste wines in front of suppliers and would stand in front of him red faced with steam pouring from ears trying to assure him that, "I cant do this". He would let that beautiful smile spread across his face and in his most calm voice say, "Sam, yes you can". Very annoying to a know-it-all twenty-something that was sure he was wrong but there was just something about his nature that made me want to try, try and please him, make him proud of I did keep trying and one afternoon with a glass of wine from Alsace he got me! I've been his ever since. Even now I wait with baited breath as he tastes a wine that I brought he going to like it....will that grin spread across his face in that way that lets me know that I, "did good" or will he crunch his nose to let me know that it is not to his liking? The older I get the less the "crunched nose" gets to me but I still love that grin.
Without Randy there would be no "Me" at The Wine Country and after years of laughter, tears, pain and pleasures unlike any I could have ever imagined I can only offer a humble, "You are the reason I'm here".

My other, "Inspiration" was Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports. I first met Mr. Sullivan on a rainy afternoon umpteen years ago when he was tasting Randy on some of his wines. Randy yelled my name across the store and I lumbered over to the tasting room, (a dance that had been going on for some time) to taste this, whatever wine that blew his mind. Meeting an importer to me was akin to meeting a movie star and being the horrifically shy person that I am....I basically wanted to die! Michael Sullivan stood there with the confidence that can only come from a wicked wealth of knowledge and a comfort in one's own skin that comes from growing up in a life very different than mine, so in short he scared the shit out of me. I was a mute that afternoon as I was on the next few visits but after a couple of years I started to find my voice if you will and even found myself commenting on his wines here and there but an actual conversation was more than I could even imagine dealing with...he was just too huge and his wines were without-a-doubt my favorites in the store.....what could I say to him? Fast forward to November 2002 when I pick up the phone to hear Michael's voice say, "is this you are coming on my trip to France next year" ACK!!! I tried no fewer than five times to get out of it, don't have a passport, too short on money, not able to leave the store because we were short staffed...none of my lame excuses worked and I boarded a plane for the trip that would change my life. I left a too afraid girl and came back a woman with a passion that was, and is insatiable.....I have never looked back.
Michael was, (and still is) an amazing teacher that has shared his knowledge with me in an effortless coolness that has formed my personal's grape juice...lets not get all serious. French wine and Beaune Imports by way of founder, Michael Sullivan remain my favorites and without that trip and Michael's nurturing I simply could not be where I am today. So you, Michael Sullivan are also The Reason I'm Here.

I bring this up now because this Saturday I will have both of the people responsible for my personal growth, or plight depending on which day you ask me will be at The Wine Country at the same time...Saturday April 26th from 1-4 PM a tasting with Beaune Imports founder Michael Sullivan....and the ever grinning Randy Kemner. Come in a meet the people that make me try harder and push me to find the very best for all of you!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wine and Cheese Fest!

For this years Cheese and Wine Fest I wanted to change things up a little and put a twist on the conventional, "Wisdom" of cheese pairings. First of all I am a strong believer in white wine being better suited to pair with cheeses, there is just something about the acidity and brightness of white wine that balances the richness in most cheeses in a way that red cannot so we featured more white than red....something that seems to surprise a lot of folks but I only seem to hear the, "What more white than red" comments at the beginning of the tastings not at the end...I think people are getting on board! I also wanted to offer more unusual pairings this year, everyone knows Stilton and Port taste fantastic together but what else might work with such a great cheese? I was very committed to my whole, "Thinking outside the cheese box" thing, in fact so much that I ended up in a bit of a pickle when it came to actually putting the pairings together and then putting them in an order that made sense for both the wines and the cheeses which ended up being no easy feat. After a long afternoon of chompping, sipping and the occasional, "Blech...try a different wine" the line up was set and ready to go.

We started with N.V. Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, (44.99) paired with St Andre, (Cow's Milk) smeared on potato chips. It was a decadent way to start but who wants to dip their toes in the pond when you can go splashing around with both feet! It turned out really nice, good balance between crunchy, salty chips, creamy soft cheese and toasty refreshing Champagne.
Second was more of a classic pairing, Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc, (9.99) with Capri Chevre, (Goat's Milk). I called this the green pairing as is was so bright and refreshing.
Third was the first of our, "Say what?" pairings. Groth Sauvignon Blanc, (16.99) with a young Spanish Manchego, (Sheep's Milk). I almost always pair Manchego with red but there was a waxy note to this young cheese that just needed a wine with a little more lift so I went with the Sauvignon Blanc. The pairing was very nice but in my opinion not stellar.
Fourth up Jean-Pierre Seve Macon-Solutre, (15.99) with Comte and the pairing was quite lovely...on the rich side but in a good way. The Chardonnay, (Macon) had just enough sweet fruit upfront to highlight the fruity nature of the cheese.
Number five was one of my personal favorites, Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Bourgogne Rose, (18.99) with Abbaye de Belloc, (Sheep's Milk) and both offerings were so delicately beautiful but together....damn!
Six was the first red, Zenato Valpolicella, (13.99) paired with Fontina Valle d'Aosta, (Cow's Milk) and the creamy earthiness of the cheese really made that wine pop...quite yummy.
This was Nancy's suggestion and she was dead on! Delvil's Corner Pinot Noir, (14.99) and Sottocenere al Tartufo, (Cow's Milk..with truffles). This one was tricky as the truffles in the cheese were pretty aggressive but the tangy cherry in the wine just lifted the cheese in the nicest way...bravo Nancy.
This is where things kind of go a good way. N.V. Balivet Bugey-Cerdon, (19.99) with Beemster XO Aged Gouda, (Cow's Milk). The sweetness in the Cerdon balanced out the nutty richness in the cheese perfectly, this is a pairing I would do for a dessert course to blow my guests minds.
I thought Randy was gonna freak when I put this on the table! Domaine Piquemal Muscat de Rivesaltes with Farmhouse Stilton, (Cow's Milk). Most Muscat is too delicate to hold up to a cheese as powerful as this Stilton but this is a rich, very sweet style with just enough weight to hold its own. Another wonderful option for a dessert course.
And how do we finish this monster event?? N.V. Stone Brewing Double Bastard Ale and Idizabal, (Sheep's Milk, slightly smoked) yes, yes we did! The cheese has a waxy, very faint smoke flavor and with this hoppy beer it just sang...such a cool way to finish, not to mention the crispness of the beer helped cut through all that cheese.

We had 109 people show up but there were only a few times when things felt seriously crunched, (there was a bit of cluster______ at the first pairing but that was just a spacial issue and from that point on things went really smoothly. A giant thank you to all that complimented my pairings I send you all virtual hugs, (those work better for me because I'm really the touchy type) and my gratitude for your kind words and continued support.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tickled Pink

As the customers trickled through the door yesterday afternoon my standard, "How are you" was met with a flat, "I'm hot" and I could feel myself getting grumpy. I am a Southern California native but once the temperature starts to click above 85 I start to feel uncomfortable and that makes me, well....pissy. I don't love sweating for no reason and find that I have a general lack of motivation when the simplest of tasks makes me puddle. I was quite glad that I was at The Wine Country where it is always a cool 60 something degrees but each time a customer walked through the door I could smell that cooked asphalt and I dreaded the moment when I would have to get in my, cooking in the sun all day car for the ride home.
I tried to keep myself busy with article writing and helping customers and just as my pouty, "Why is it so freaking hot" attitude started to vanish I got the call...."What do you want for dinner"....Ugh! My daily call from my husband has become a bit of a chuckle for me and the rest of The Wine Country staff as it happens everyday and even Randy has said, "Was that the whats for dinner" call? I was tired, (Late night at Amy's house), slightly cranky and in no mood to cook. I couldn't even wrap my head around the idea of cooking so I suggested sandwiches....cold sandwiches, thankfully he was drained from watching The Masters all day in the heat so he didn't put up a fight.
He was in charge of getting bread and various cold cuts and my job was cheese, (lovely Comte left over from the tasting on Saturday) Red Pepper Pesto, (we love this on our sandwiches as it brings a brightness to the doughy, meaty, cheesy flavors) and wine...sweet we had all of that at The Wine Country so no stopping for me! Now, what wine? Not knowing for sure what meats my dear husband would come home with but after 14 years together I was pretty sure there would be turkey, ham and roast beef, (and guess what..there was turkey, ham and roast beef) and as the ideas swirled around in my head the front door swung open and a blast of hot air hit my back as if to say, "Hey jackass are you not standing in front of piles of pink wine?". I grabbed fist fulls of Rose and tossed them in the cold box and began to see a light at the end of my roasty tunnel.
I walked in the front door and saw that the all day golf fest was now going to be an all night hockey playoff viewing on television, my plan to get right into sandwich assembly was replaced with a corkscrew and a long pour of 2007 Chateau de Puligny-Montrachet Bourgogne Rose, ($18.99). My glass already frosty from the icy cold wine joined me on the couch where while trying to ignore the "Slap, Bang, Crash" and toothless bloodied face hockey players, I pulled off my shoes and socks and let myself exhale.
Everything about this glass of wine made me happy, the color made me smile, the coolness of the glass in my hand felt wonderful and the bright refreshing flavors that spilled across my palate were soothing, they calmed me and "chilled" my inner cranky.
Sip, "Slam..cheer"
Sip, "Bang, cheer, scrape"
I was tickled pink...