Friday, August 27, 2010

You Just Never Know

“I like right bank Bordeaux, I think it’s the softer fruit and less tannin that I like…can you help me pick one?” a sweet faced, slightly nervous customer’s answer when I asked if he needed any help. I directed him to the 2008 Chateau Falfas Les Demoiselles Cotes de Bourg, opting to key into the flavors and texture that pleased him rather than the place. As we stood there he shared a story about being at a blind wine tasting (insert rolling eyes here) and he confessed that he got every single wine wrong. “It was just guessing the variety, not place or vintage or anything. Just guessing the grape and I got them all wrong” he told me. I could tell he was a tad embarrassed so I tried to soothe him as best I could, “I think I would get many wrong too. Plus you never really know how or why certain wines were chosen, I mean they could have slipped a Cabernet Franc from the Loire or a Sauvignon Blanc from Tuscany into the mix…that can throw off your guessing for sure” I said while watching his nervousness slither off leaving in its place a beaming, reassured dude. “Know what was funny?” he asked “My favorite wine of the night was a Cabernet Sauvignon. I always thought I didn’t like Cabernet” he grinned as we walked up to the counter. You just never know….

I used to have a friend that was very…set in her ways. She would not try new foods, talk to new people or even go out very often. This always perplexed me so one day…being the super cool friend (insert rolling eyes here) that I am, I decided to ask (read challenge) her about it. She was painfully looking over the menu at a restaurant that we had been to like a billion times before. Just woefully weighing her options, rattling off things like, “Maybe I’ll get the________ this time”. I sat there watching her, seeing the fear and mild panic set in. I laid my menu on the table, sat back in my chair and said, “You’re going to get the cheese enchiladas. You always get the cheese enchiladas. Why do you put yourself through this every time?” this moment marked the beginning of me pulling away from a “friendship” that had long since run its course.

“I like them. They are always good and what if I order something that I don’t like?!” she snapped back. “What if you order something you like better?” I said the irritation in my voice matching hers. This very uncomfortable but much needed “Ladies lunch” went from a somewhat phony (on my end) civility to me just drilling her and her lashing back at me with a flurry of “What ifs?” kind of ugly but I just didn’t get it. I let the inquisition fly, this woman was older than I was, like I said, very set in her ways and I knew even as the questions flew from my snarling lips that I would never really get an answer, never change her, (not that it is my place to do so) but I think I hoped that I would, at the very least, alert her or shine a light on what I saw as very limiting behavior. You just never know….

These thoughts we racing through my head this morning, 5:30 AM and this…this is what my mind feels like doing, ugh. I tried to trick my brain into going back to sleep but the squeezing of my eyelids wasn’t fooling, um…me. I just could not get out of my head all that I would have never tasted, the people I would have never met or love that I would have never felt if I never tired. I once met a man that would show me the most spiritual, the most overwhelming, the most frustrating…the single most powerful and beautiful love I have ever known. The situation or situations I should say, that surrounded the relationship marked it for failure from the beginning. I knew it, I’m sure on some level he knew it too but, fuck sometimes reason is no match for love and this one…well reason never stood a chance. That one year of my life would teach me so much; things that I learned to love about myself, hate about myself, an expression of sensuality and sexuality more intense than I ever thought possible…pain that at one point actually made me feel like my heart was literally going to rip from my chest just to be near him, my breath seemingly holding me hostage…refusing to leave my lungs until I let it go.

I thought of him this morning, let his smell, his touch, his laugh slip back inside me and as I felt the tears wriggle past my firmly closed lids and dangle from my earlobes I asked myself…knowing all that I know now, would I give myself over to him again? Relive the longing, the loneliness, the abandonment, that heart stopping pain? Absolutely. The answer was absolutely. It was a truly remarkable love….to experience that amazing feeling, I had to take that chance, live with what happened, all worth it.

That first terrifying trip to Europe, meeting blog readers, swallowing that first oyster, taking that glass of Alsatian wine in my “non-wine drinker’s” hand….all things that were way out of my comfort zone, things that could have had a different outcomes…but if I hadn’t tried my life would be very different now. You just never know…..

I finally gave up on sleep, slipped out of bed and walked into my dark and quiet kitchen. My reliving great love eyes red and puffy, I began gathering the week’s bottles to dump into the recycling box. My fingers laced around the empty necks of the wines that shared themselves with me. I dropped them one by one into the bin and as the labels flashed past me I saw them; Chateau Canorgue Luberon Rose, Zaca Mesa Z Gris, Piron Brouilly, Chidaine Touraine, Bebame, Joel Delaunay Touraine, Ken Volk Pinot Noir….three out of seven domestic.

“I don’t much like California wines”
You just never know….


Sara Louise said...

Perfect lesson as why we should have an open mind.
I never did, I was always "the planner" and then seven years ago I sold my jeep and moved to Dublin without any plan other than if it didn't work out, I could always go back to Texas. Best decision I ever made, and now here I am in France with my French husband. You just never know.
And hey, maybe I'll give California wines a try next!

Anonymous said...

If you never try, you never know! Even failing or not liking something gives you perspective.

Tides have finally started to turn for me here, and everything is falling into place finally. You just never know...when.

Valerie said...

Ladies, you get it. I thought from the time I was 18 my career would go to 30 years, and there was no way you could have told me I'd have called it quits (happily) at just under 25 years to go do ... well ... you know, wine stuff ... and goof around between Europe and Colorado. This was never in "the plan" - but sometimes falling off 'the treadmill' wakes you up and allows your dreams find you!

Samantha Dugan said...

Amazing example of a fearless heart. I bow to you for your courage and I high five (no I don't I fucking hate those) you your outcome. You are very lucky girlie and I am very lucky to have you share yourself here.

Another Day of Crazy,
Good for you lady (insert high five hating here) I am truly happy for you and cannot wait to hear all about it...tomorrow. I must warn you though, my tides while changing have NOT been the best for me on a personal level. I hope to spare you...good luck with that.

Another sista' that gets that we have to try, I so love that. Wine is like the great love...the greatest love that I describe in this post, it will be with you, haunt you, soothe and adore you like very few things can. Glad you are "one of us" and so glad that you read and found me.

John M. Kelly said...

OK you just never know... Today I met Davie Mahaffey, a kindred spirit who is making Pinot (& Chard) from the coldest sub-appellation in Napa. Olivia Brion Pinot is the new star in my California firmament. The 300 cs production Palladian Cabernet he makes from near St. Helena was also a revelation - very un-Napa and very left-bank. Then I spent the afternoon tasting with Stephane Vivier at Hyde de Villaine. Another kindred spirit - 'nuff said. These are thy guys and wines I think of when someone tells me that CA wines are "too..." whatever.

Samantha Dugan said...

Awe kid I knew you would have somethin' here. Our shared palate and passion for the wines of France has made us friends, your belief in me and this place where I spout my crap will make it so for a very long time...or until the world runs out of Pastis! I look forward to hearing more about those wines and it is things like your comment that remind me that making broad statements of like or dislike are not only limiting but false.
Enjoy your trip with the family dude and thanks for being the lone one with dangling junk on this post...donde the dudes?

Thomas said...

Well, here's another one for you, a dude, that is.

When I worked behind my tasting room bar, and then later in my retail shop, the thing that scared me most about humanity was meeting all those people so set in their ways that selling them something new was like performing surgery without anesthetic.

Then, some of them (not all) would return and they would thank me for the enlightenment, and I would feel that much is right with the world--until the next person set in his or her way walked in.

Even if the known is bland, boring or detrimental, it's still a known and that makes it comfortable, so I fully understand people's fear of the unknown.

What I don't understand is why people don't think about the trajectory in less personal and more open terms. Nothing is new in this world--everything has been, is, and continues. We are just part of the continuum. It's damned wasteful not to try to grab whatever comes at you.

That lesson came to me from two directions.

The first lesson came from having grown up poor and insulated from the world outside our environs. Even as a boy I would think "there has to be more than this or why get up in the morning?" That set my sense of adventure in motion.

The second lesson came in my 20s, living for two years in Iran and then throwing in another year of travel through Western and parts of Eastern Europe. I discovered that there are literally thousands of ways to approach life, and that I wanted to get at as many of them as my time will allow.

With five careers, twelve countries, and 41 states under my belt, I haven't made a dent toward the thousands, but I have done a fair amount.

All of this applies to wine exploration as well. It escapes me, with thousands upon thousands of wines on the earth, how anyone could remain tied to one or two seemingly endlessly.

PS: Sam, we talked about this once before. The words California wine or Italian wine or French wine should never pass your lips. Every wine is unique and certainly no country makes just one type of wine.

chris said...

Ah, salty and sweet teardrop earrings...a sign of a soul searching cry and perhaps a change of course.

Samantha Dugan said...

You are correct of course, each wine...just like each person is unique, but can we say that some "stylistic" trends can smear some of that identity?

We have a very loyal and sweet customer that comes in every two weeks and buys a case of the same wine...been going on for about a year now. The same wine, just cannot fathom drinking the same wine every night for a year. Why?! There is so much to discover. I just don't get it but as always I am grateful for her!

"Teardrop earrings" I love that. It was not so much soul searching as allowing myself to live again in moments so powerful that they physically move me. Letting strings of words so beautifully put together and designed to make me feel like the most amazing creature on the planet....letting them fall against my skin as if he were there touching me. Knowing that no matter how much love, great love that I have....that one is no longer mine. Teardrop earrings. Worth it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting me explore new wines (and friendships) with you. Was wonderful, and I'm kicking myself for not buying more wine there when I had the chance. Will have to be a monthly get-together, it seems.

Awkward ending, rushing off the way I did. I don't think I fully expressed my thanks for your graciousness (and humor!) My cheeks still hurt from laughing this morning when I woke up.


Charlie Olken said...

Wine is the perfect place to learn the lesson of "you don't know until you try it".

I was back east last week, and on Friday night, after days of intense family doings, a group of us got together for a sit-down dinner and some wine.

Now, normally I am the guy who brings wine to any event I attend. Not only do I have plenty of wine, but I somehow intimidate my family and friends who worry about making a mistake. I keep telling them that very few wines actually give you a bellyache so stop worrying.

But on this night, because I was away, our hosts chose the wine. They went to the local wine merchant who had the good graces to say that he knew I wrote about CA wine so he would choose some foreign wine to try.

Well, the Chauche Gris was, indeed, a new experience, but I do not need to repeat it. The Vouvray was wonderfully fragrant with the wonderfully bright smell of honeysuckle and crisp pears. The Morgon surprised me by being not the least bit light or lively. Made me think of you, Sam, for some odd reason, perhaps because I, then and there wanted you to agree with me that not everything French is also interesting.

Still, and this is the nice part, it was a thoughtful gift for the hosts to choose wine for ten adults yet craft it for me.

And they were not from California--these wines. We don't do much with Chenin Blanc (but do try to find some from Blacksmith) and the few attempts I have tried of local Gamay Noir were no more interesting than the Morgon. But they were not from California.

Nice to see, Sam, that you are finding some CA wines to drink. There are a lot more of those around that are worth pursuing than you have yet to discover. Listen to John Kelly.

If one does not reach out of the comfort zone, one makes no new discoveries. How else did I learn to dislike Pastis? Why could it not have tasted like chocolate milk instead of anise?

Samantha Dugan said...

Another Day of Crazy,
It was my very real pleasure to meet you girlie! I so wished we had more time to just you and I talk, (my little band of adorable people are so sweetly protective) and I do hope that we get to get together again soon. I was already "in" as it were after reading you, even more so after meeting you.

I am so glad that you got to meet Vicki, Merzie, Bill and the others, I should have warned you...they look harmless but, damn. Thanks for being so gracious in the face of being damn near mugged by some of my Saturday regulars, those guys are actually harmless and I mean c'mon, you are like all beautiful and junk.

Glad we made you laugh, I so adore hearing that....even if it took a maxi-pad encrusted bottle of Champagne and a 4 year old's confession of slight perversion to get you there. I sincerely hope that we can make this a regular thing.

Ah Sir Charles,
Why did I have this feeling I would be hearing from you on this one? I am honored that you would think of me in the middle of your back east doings and I am the first to admit that not all things French are interesting. There is a sea of bullshit French wine out there, sure I rarely write about them but that is only because they almost never inspire more than a spit and a, "Nope" from me.

The French are notorious for underestimating the American palate, I mean how many truly great French restaurants do you know that are owned by French people? Just sayin'. Now I am willing to wager that you would be hard pressed to find an uninteresting French wine at The Wine Country, may not be your favorite but they are all pretty damn interesting. I spit and nope to make sure that it is so. No French mafia BS happening at our store, don't care if your grandmother made it...tastes like she washed her Depends in it, "nope".

There are some truly fantastic California wines out there and some of them even speak to someone with a palate like mine. I thank you and Ron for entering my world...opening me up to giving them a honest try more often. We just did a California Rhone styled wine tasting and I confess to being less than excited to run through them but once I did there were about 5 out of the ten that I would actually take home and drink. Rare, that's rare and I am not sure if I am changing or the wines are a bit but it was enlightening to say the very least.

Welcome back Puff Daddy, we missed you.
Big hugs,

Charlie Olken said...


Are the wines getting better or are your tastes changing?

Probably a little of both. But, I would venture to say that the real answer lies in familiarity. The more you taste, the more you will find that there are rafts of CA wine that suit your palate, and the expanded horizons of your palate.

Good Chardonnay does not have to taste like Chablis to be good.

Good Marsanne and Roussanne do not have to taste like they were grown in the northern Rhone to be thoroughly enjoyable. Go find the wines of JC Cellars, for example.

CA Syrah is never likely to taste like Cote Rotie, but it might ahve a kinship to Cornas or St. Joseph, will likely be deeper than Croze-Hermitage, and the best are more likely to reflect Hermitage itself than they are to act like Cote Rotie. They are out there, and the more you taste, the more you will find that these wines have their own fascination.

It is not that they lack terroir--a claim I hear all too often, but that they reflect their own terroirs (site and related factors) and thus are distinctive and different.

Ron and I are going to keep up the drumbeat for CA wines, not because we are proselytizing but because we know the range of possibilities and know that you will come to like parts of that range over time--as you so clearly have.

Thanks for welcoming me back from my week of non-wine events. It is good to back home amongst friends.

Dave said...

Darlin' Sam,

I'm blessed to have a number of good friends that also love to explore the wide world of wine.

I've been meaning to thank you for the introduction to the Manciat-Poncet Macon-Charnay (hope I got that right). I shared it with a few pals along with some excellent halibut and another fish that I'm blanking on. A hit with all that tried it.

Thought of you last night while sharing a bottle of Palmina Tocai Friulano paired with my wife's "Okie style" Coq au Vin. Fell in love with this one as well.

Also recently stumbled upon a nice food friendly, priced right for everyday consumption blend from the central coast, Clayhouse '08 Adobe White.

Love and Cheers,


Samantha Dugan said...

Dave My Dear,
Wow, look at me getting all thunked of and junk. Terribly flattering that. I am sincerely glad to hear you liked the Macon-Charnay, (yes you had it right) it is one of my most loved little value white Burgundies. As Charlie said, not all Chardonnay has to be Chablis to be good and that little Chard is no Chablis and I love it still.

I simply adore the Palmina wines, had more red than white but I think they are wonderfully balanced wines with real integrity...oh fuck, now Arthur might bust my chops on integrity...

Samantha Dugan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...


What you say is key:

"Good Chardonnay does not have to taste like Chablis to be good. Good Marsanne and Roussanne do not have to taste like they were grown in the northern Rhone to be thoroughly enjoyable."


Wines form one place should never be compared to wines from another place, because every place has its own identity.

I always chuckle at the proponents of "terroir" who fall into the trap.

This is not to say that individual identity is either better or worse--it is to say that blanket statements about wines of this or that place simply don't wash and they may also indicate a kind of laziness on the part of those who use the excuse.

Compounding the situation is the focus on grape varieties or varietal wines. To ficus on a varietal that allows as much 25% of another grape variety in the blend is, in my view, nonsense.

I prefer to focus on the individual wine.

Thomas said...

"ficus" not figs "focus" it is.

Charlie Olken said...

Note to Tom P.

There is a related thread running now on STEVE!, the blog.

Without repeating it all, I will at least repeat this--while direct comparisons are not entirely useful, especially if one standard is the measure of judgment, it does seem to me that people who do wine criticism ought to know about the grapes they are tasting.

I just did a large Riesling compendium including those Riesling from Finger Lakes that I could get my clutches on. All wines are tasted blind, and we did the drier NY Rieslings by themselves but mixed the WA and NY Riesling for the heavy Late Harvest wines. At some point, Riesling is Riesling and while the potential is different from one place to another, the wines are, after all, still Riesling and I guess they should not taste like Sauvignon Blanc.

John M. Kelly said...

OK I'll say it - terroir, schmerroir. I'm so over it. Sam will surely confirm that at least some of the uninteresting (to outright bad) wines she spits and "nopes" come from areas reputed to have the most schemmoir. There's oceans of crap red Burgundy, white Chablis, blue Bordeaux, and on and on. Interesting, nay - thrilling, wines can and do come from anywhere. But then I'm preaching to the choir, aren't I.

Samantha Dugan said...

Confirming foe sho. I've had more insipid wines from Burgundy and Rhone than just about anywhere else. As much as Charlie would like to have you believe I do not believe that French wines are any better or more interesting than those from anywhere else...well aside from Australia and maybe Chile, I just so happen to prefer them. Matter of fact I think that mass produced French wines irk me more than those from California, might be because I have a more personal connection to them but when I take a little Southern Rhone to my lips and it is either thin and acidic or packed with brown sugar and blazing with high alcohol...that I can both taste and feel, I am just as turned off and I am when I taste some sappy wine from anywhere. I crave purity and freshness and tend to find that in my beloved French wines more than those from anywhere else.

The choir is here listening kid....

Thomas said...


Just to clarify: what I meant by the 25% blending comment is that because of the combination of different styles, plus the allowance for blending 25%, it's crazy to say blanket things like, "I don't like Chardonnay."

It's much saner to be more specific about the individual wine that one finds ugly or attractive, and of course the same holds for regions, states, and macro/micro-locations, not to mention individual producer styles.

Thanks for the invite at STEVE! But I'll pass.

I've been limiting my visits to blogs ever since I realized that they are mostly like salt: a little of them. occasionally, is ok, but a daily diet of overuse brings one closer to a stroke.

Samantha Dugan said...

Well Thomas I thank you for letting my silly nonsense season you a little, quite humbling.

Thomas said...


I speak in code ;)