Friday, August 31, 2012

Do Over

“Yes, we would like to start with the guacamole, BUT, we want it with no cheese and I won’t eat it if there’s onion in it”

A couple of nights ago while at dinner at one of my favorite little inexpensive joints down the street. A place I go when I am seeking comfort or longing to soothe my soul. I pull the heavy door open and my chest expands as the smell of freshly made chips fill my nose, the dimly lit entryway awash in colorful tiles and splashy woven fabrics in vibrant shades of red and green line the walls. Mariachi music just this side of too loud but as I make my way to the hostess there is but one sound I can make out, the “slap-slap-slap” of masa dough as it is flattened and stretched between the tiny palms of the Mexican woman that makes her living cranking out disk after disk of thick and chewy corn tortillas, the ones that will be brought to my table still warm and puffy from the griddle. Yeah, my happy place.

I rarely pay much attention to anything when I’m at La Choza, those pillow-like tortillas my only focus as I smear their tender flesh with butter, a shake of salt, sometimes a thin puddle of green salsa, the almost sinful feeling as my teeth sink in and mouth fills with steam that is scented with sweet corn, animal fat and succulent salsa verde. One of my most savored moments, one that I crave and one that fills me with nostalgia unlike any other. So for me to be pulled away from that, yeah it had to be something truly noteworthy. Ordering guacamole, without cheese, (who the fuck puts cheese on guacamole?) and then tossing out a comment like, “I won’t eat it if it has”? With my folded over and dressed tortilla just inches from my aching soul and open mouth I found myself cocking my head and listening as the poor server explained that there was no cheese in their guacamole and that they made it to order so they could leave the onion out. Then began a series, a barrage actually, of questions that had me wishing I could hug that poor server as he patiently answered, “Do you guys use lean beef?” and, “What kind of salad comes free with my meal? I mean is it just lettuce or is there anything else on it like cheese or chilies or something, because I don’t like chilies” thickly accented server doing his best to work for the massive tip that comes from the $12 plates they serve. “Okay, so I guess we will start with the guacamole and I’ll have the chicken enchiladas with no cheese and no beans” the painfully annoying gentleman announced, in a tone that made very clear he felt he was doing the place a favor by being there and all I could think was, “Why the fuck are you here?!”

You don’t like cheese, won’t eat onion and shun chilies, want lean meat and hate beans, what about that combination of things made you think, “I want to go to that cheap Mexican spot”??! I swear, had he asked for something without cilantro I might have been forced to rip his big dumb head off. Dipshit. I was retelling the story to Jeremy later that evening, my eyes bugging out of my head as I ranted about the cheese-less, clueless, enchilada eater and my spinning head flashed on a moment in Europe seven years ago, one where I was face to face, across the table even, from an asshole just like that one.

“Sam, I think we need to send you on this trip” Randy standing in front of me, handing me an invitation for an all-expense paid 10 day trip to France and Spain, one being hosted by one of those big trade commission dealies that I tend to crinkle my nose at, but as my eyes skimmed the list of Rhone and Alsatian producers we would be visiting, most of which cranking out pretty boring and lackluster wines, my eyes hit one spot that made me look up at Randy and say, “Yeah, I think I can do that” with a grin spread from one side of my pudgy face to the other and my tummy doing cartwheels with excitement….we were being taken to Cadiz to taste, learn about and drink wines that had just started to blip on my radar, Sherry. 

Now another downside to those big sponsored trips, aside from the boring wines, (as the wineries in fact pay for all of this so the ones that can afford to sponsor are often ones that produce large amounts on meh stuff) are some of the morons that will be joining you. That particular trip, packed with them! Thankfully there was face I knew when I stepped off the plane in Madrid, and old sales rep of mine that was now running the wine department for a French store at the 3rd Street Farmer’s Market. A wonderfully sweet and handsome Frenchman that I always got along well with so when we saw each other, well that was it, we were fused at the hip from that moment on…well after downing like eight Pastis in the Madrid airport while waiting for the flight to Cadiz that is. 

The fact that we were inseparable was the first issue I had with one particular idiot on the trip, one that brought five large suitcases for a ten day trip, changed her clothes four times a day and wanted nothing more than to hop in the sack with my little French buddy, therefore a raving bitch to me of course, all that crap was easy to blow off but it was while sitting at a beautifully set luncheon table, at the bodega of Lustau which is one of my all-time most adored producers, being served a six course lunch that started with paper thin slices of sweet ham that melted in your mouth when you took sips of cool Manzanilla, segued into fried bits of chorizo scented potatoes served with Palo Cortado, softball sized mounds of foie gras set before me and that is when I heard, “Um, do you have any Pepsi? I can’t drink this shit anymore!” as the twat from Florida pulls out a small pillow from one of her giant bags, pushes her plates and glasses aside and lays her hollow fucking head on the table! I was just sitting there, mouth still vibrating from the glorious complexity, diversity and regality of the food and wine, my limbs feeling slightly weak from seduction, mind reeling with the possibilities, the promises of more and I was yanked away by some vacuous and ungrateful fuckwit….lost it and found myself snarling through fiercely clinched teeth, “What the fuck are you doing here?!!”  while pounding my hand on the table, a move that not only scared the bitch right out of her but ended up getting me a round of applause later that night when the real wine people gathered in the lobby of our hotel o sip on way too much, but heavenly sumptuous Spanish Brandy. While it was nice to know that I was not alone in my yearning to pound her stupid head in, that visit to Lustau was ruined for me and this is something that pains me still, but….

Tonight, despite the fact that I worked two evening classes last week, had only one day off and have another Friday night class next week, I begged to be scheduled to work our evening class today. Sounds kinda crazy I know but tonight, tonight I will be feeling the pull of Serrano ham, the burst of saline and brine from anchovy stuffed olives, the shatter of Marcona almonds as they break against my teeth, the slight sting of salty sheep’s milk blue cheese, the fatty spice of charred sausages and will be washing it all down with glass after glass of  one of the least understood but most powerfully seductive wines, ever…

Got me a date with some Sherry this evening and I am counting the seconds.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Small Stuff

A few weeks ago my boss Randy Kemner wrote a small piece for the newsletter about the things we can control. It was just after that horrible shooting in a Colorado movie theater and how he and his wife spent the evening with their closest friends and while the sadness and shock of the moment were still with everyone, just how much joy they found being close to people they care about, sharing something they love, food and wine. Resonated with me on a level that is still working its way through my armor and many fibrous layers. He intended to make a point but I know for a fact he didn’t intend to send my head and heart reeling the way he did. First of all he already has me so tightly wound around his effusive and exuberant voice he didn’t need to write anything to make me swoon, he was just talking from the heart and sharing his real life dealing and the discovering of the sweetness of the moment. It touched me and made me stop, for days now, and think about the things that are close enough to actually affect me….evaluate the things that are merely just hanging out there in the maybe and someday. 

Been a political monster the past week. So wrapped up in the rhetoric and arguing, the kind that pulls my lips back hard against my gums and shows my true fangs. Fuck with my right to do with my body as I see fit, tell me that there are types of rape that are less egregious, or that some fairy dust fed part of my womb, that doesn’t exist will protect me from a legitimate rape….well, I’m going to get fierce, pissed off and will verbally rip the nut sack off any fucktard telling me they know better and that I should just trust them. These arguments are in fact worth my time, venom and rage. They will affect me and all the women that come after me. Didn’t fight this hard, for this long, knife against my flesh, bat to my jaw, face smashed against a brick wall, forcefully exposed chest rubbed raw and bleeding as someone’s idea of legitimacy was imposed upon me, just to have some bloated, rich white man tell me what I have the right to do with my body….what my granddaughters and great granddaughters can do with theirs. This fight is worth the time I’ve spent sending letters, stupid Facebook posting and vowing of my time to march, vote and share my story. I used to feel shame for what happed to me, over and over again, but now…the only thing I’m ashamed of is that this glorious country of ours would employ or vote in even one sick fuck of a human that thinks we as the “gentler sex” aren’t capable of making choices, no matter how horrid, for ourselves. I’ve got your gentle right here asshole, come see me….and you can bring another halfwit with you, let’s make it a fair fight.   

So yeah, been seriously involved and wrapped up on that front, and with good reason but when I’m quiet, when the laptop is off, when there isn’t some new asshat comment in my grill making me wonder, “If your daughter were raped by a black man would you be half as vehement?!” Randy’s sweet words of appreciation and rather grounded observation of what really matters slip in and awake my subconscious. Reminding me of what does in fact matter in the right here and now of my life, the things I don’t have to rage against…the things that bring me joy in the face of the ugly, hate filled and self-serving. I can fight for my rights, try and fight for those of other women too afraid, but the truth is, I have my own silly fears, still, that pale in comparison but still plague me, the same kind of “I know better than you” kind of bullshit and head patting that are dripping with lies and omissions…taking a moment to reflect and simmer in the beauty that has come from all I, we, struggled for, the small things that make the fight worth it? Can’t help but find a much needed expulsion of warm, tight chest filled breath and the spreading shoulders that come with it. I find myself sipping slow, taking long drags, on those things, people, moments that make all the fighting, shock, confusion and struggle seem like tiny bits of penance and horrific blood stained battles, pleads of “please don’t” feel like they are a million miles away…so long as there is this to keep me fighting, hoping and believing….

Teaching my son about wine. Figuring out what moves him, flips on those switches and gets that palate vibrating for more. Knowing that I have within my feeble knowledge, the tools to help him become a force to be reckoned with in our field. Empowerment..

My much adored summer tomato sandwich. White bread, Best Foods mayonnaise, sliced sweet summer tomatoes with a pinch of salt. There is not one other thing, not even the sound or smell of the ocean that can evoke as powerful an emotion. I shun tomatoes nearly all year because I need to preserve this glorious and head spinning bit of perfectness. 

The relief filled roar of laughter when I let an “F Bomb” drop in one of my classes. Wine people deemed stuffy and all, I let a passion filled “fuck” fly and the whole crowd laughs and feels more welcome. An early lesson that has served me well….

Finding a new issue of Saveur magazine in my mailbox. I rip off the plastic like it was goddamn Christmas morning, spending hours lost in words strung so beautifully together that they make me crave each and every single bit of food or place they are writing about. Letting my toes twist and head swim as I dream of writing for them someday…

Always feeling like the least attractive woman in any room but…having a suspicion that if I did my thing, let the true me out, I could captivate and seduce anyone I wanted. Probably total bullshit but it serves me well in bar situations and fuels my Dave Matthews fantasies.

Being able to make my beloved Ronnie, the coworker I adore, laugh his ass off on a daily basis. Don’t care if I have to make poop schedule comments, I crave his laughter and am willing to make an ass out of myself to get it. 

Reading the email I get here on this blog. Some of the things you people have shared with me take my breath away. I know why I do this but am rarely convinced that anyone cares…until you write me. Been humbled here more than I can tell you and just so you know….those moments are with me each and every single moment of every day. They make me stronger and encourage me to keep going forward….so this is entirely your fault. See what I did there?!

Reading the face of an ancient native American woman as she fed me Navajo fry bread when I was too young to truly understand. Each wrinkle in her tired and hard life upon me as my young teeth took bites of the most ethereally light and airy bit of dough I had ever known. A start…

How aroused I am when I feel the not used enough muscles in my forearms force an opener into a cork. Watching the bulge and twist of the strength beneath my skin, the way it gets all my other parts ready…drives me wild.

Writing a sentence that makes me think, “Damn”

Knowing I have been in the cellars of, tasted, more great wine than most of the wannabes that wax on and on and on about wine. Until you’ve had a revered Burgundian producer ask your birth year and run off to retrieve a bottle…shut up. I’m getting tired of trying to down play my experience and what I’ve tasted, been a part of…..time for me to embrace the good fortune that has been shed upon me thanks to the likes of Randy Kemner, Kermit Lynch and Michael Sullivan. I used to feel embarrassed but now, in the light of all these other “specialist” I think it is time to let those lips pull tight against my gums and call out the BS when I see it. 

Having one of the wees from next door run over, in his Paul Frank jammies, to bring me cash for the gift basket that we made for his grandma. Sweet big and wide open face full of a new day’s promise, big smile as he finds me in my jammies too. Not to mention coming home to find….

Feeling the strain of opening five cases of Champagne because 70 people just had to be at our Champagne and Fried Chicken event, in my wrists. I’ll twist away over and over again for those events…they “feed” me just as much as they fed those 70.

Making “that” face at my husband at least once a day for the reward of hearing, “Fuck, you are the sexiest woman, like ever”

My mother teaching me to really cook. How even something as simple as Egg in the Hole can be masterful when prepared with the right ingredients. 

Working retail which has taught me patience and appreciation on a level I couldn’t have expected.

Gratitude, for still being here considering some of the horribly misguided decisions that fueled my youth, stuck a snarl in my jaw, had me facing that brick wall questioning what got me there….

Knowing that there is a breath of fresh air and empowerment beneath the next cork and being ready to jump in.  

Drinking and feeling....truly lucky. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Doing It Right

“I don’t drink Champagne very often, not really my thing, but I need a bottle for a special occasion tonight”

I’ve heard that same sentence at least 100 times in my many years as The Wine Country’s Champagne buyer, and while I am always happy to hear that someone is looking to buy a bottle of one of my beloved Champagnes, that first part….hard to wrap my head around. I know what the words all mean but strung together like that, “I don’t drink Champagne very often, it’s not really my thing” well I am not only baffled, I’m saddened by it. I get that people don’t like certain things, hell you just try and get me to enjoy a glass of Zinfandel but I can’t help but wonder, do you not like it or have you been doing it wrong?

“I love the wines from Coutier and Agrapart for their purity and astounding value, if you want to go higher end I don’t think you can miss with Camille Saves, Coquillette, Jose Dhondt and Billiot” my standard when walking a customer through my lesser known grower Champagnes, “Okay, so which one would be best with cake?” oh goddamn it. The problem with celebratory bubbles is they are often being purchased to accompany cake and cake, simply one of the worst pairings in the world for Champagne. Well that is next to the other two oft paired and always a bad idea, for the wine, Chocolate and caviar. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, you’re celebrating or trying to get your romantic swerve on, go for it, but don’t expect much from the wine. I understand the whole caviar and Champagne deal, it’s decadent, regal and carries with it the cache of luxury which is something we all crave from time to time…I guess., and truth be told the fruit in the Champagne does in fact make the caviar pop and intensify but what do those briny little eggs do to that wine? Um, yeah. With chocolate there is an indulgence aspect that I know people dig and that whole cake nightmare, have not a clue where that shit came from, maybe weddings? No idea who started this horrid “tradition”, but just as in the case of the fish eggs, the Champagne can make those sweet treats taste even sweeter, but what does a mouthful of rich chocolate or butter cream do to the Champagne? Makes it taste sour and robs the wine of any and all complexity is what. I’m never going to tell anyone what they can and cannot do with their wine, like I could stop them anyhow, but don’t expect to ever become a true lover of Champagne if you’re going to fuck it up with your mood food.

 Just as I would never tell someone to buy a $60 Champagne for their mimosas, if you are going to be pairing your bubbles with any of the three afore mentioned, spend less. No reason to throw down for grower bubbles in that situation because everything that makes them worth the price will be decimated by the pairing. Would you pair your high-end Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs with those foods? Not too likely, (and if your answer was yes, stop reading, I’m not talking to you) but this is where your grumbly Champagne specialist has a duty to point out…just what you think those bubbles are made from?! Yeah, that’s right, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. If you are drinking a Champagne that is 100% Pinot Meunier, well you already made your mistake by buying a doughnut of a wine, (all front and back, no middle) so the damage is done…why not eat cake? But with Coutier, Saves and Pierre Peters…wasting your money but might I recommend Moet Imperial Ice?

Last night 33 people sat down in our cramped little tasting room, all paying $60 each, on a Wednesday night, a school night, to taste my beloved grower Champagnes with a food that is not only perfectly suited to them, but kinda fills that, “I am a decadent badass and I’m so doing this!” thing as well. Had the usual baskets of potato chips at each table, those chips another harmonious partner to the bubbles, but the star, the reason….I mean aside from the wines of course, that all those folks turned out on a school night, handing me their $60, fried chicken. Oh yeah…..

Savory, salty, crispy these three things not only love Champagne they actually do what every wine lover wants, they make the wine taste even better. The true key to any successful food and wine pairing is to have both things taste as good, or if you’re lucky, even better when put together and there are few finer and more harmonious than Champagne and fried chicken. The bubbles in the wine lifting and lightening the heaviness of the food and the salty, meaty, crispiness of the chicken frames, draws out and magnifies the serious complexity and nuances in the wines…success. 

We poured the first flight before giving everyone their Muggie’s fried chicken, two reasons for this, the first to get some bubbles in their glass, making the wait just a tad more comfortable, not to mention getting their eyes off my stuttering ass, and secondly, the first flight of wines were of a more delicate nature, and structure, so while still tasty, not quite as perfect with the chicken. Had we been doing lacy tempura battered shrimp and scallops….drool, this would have been the flight that sang with that. Something truly magical about delicately battered, plump and ocean sweet shrimp and scallops with Blanc de Blanc of the more feminine style, if you ever wanted to understand what ethereal “tastes” like, that pairing will make it very clear. But seeing as we didn’t have shrimp or scallops…dammit, I opted to let the salty potato chips do their thing with that flight.

N.V. Saint-Chamant Blanc de Blancs, ($44.99) Classic Blanc de Blancs. Light, tangy, body so delicate it comes off nearly fragile. More citrus than apples and a long snappy finish.

2005 Agrapart Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Mineral, ($72.99) Always odd to pour the most expensive wine so early in a tasting but I knew that had I poured it later all the graceful and layered beauty in this wine would have washed away or lost beneath the heavier weightier wines…was a good call as it turns out. Still quite young this wine is only showing a bare shoulder of what it will become but…damn, what a gorgeous shoulder it is. Elegantly spiced, showing citrus rind and tart green apples, cold river stones with a sexy blast of anise. Mouth coating without being heavy the wine gives the impression of richness without being dense or over the top. The concentration here is astounding and even as the most expensive wine of the night, it was one of the top selling. Brilliant stuff that will be even more so with a couple years to flesh out.

While the crowd oozed over the first flight we got the chicken passed around and I explained that the second flight also happened to be of Blanc de Blancs, they were of a very different style, bigger and more powerful, therefore much more fried chicken friendly. 

2006 Stephane Coquillette 1er Cru Brut, ($65.99) I fell in love with this little domaine last year and each time I open a bottle it’s like falling in love all over again. The 2006 is not labeled as a Blanc de Blancs as the cepage changes with each vintage but 2006 gave the estate marvelous Chardonnay so Blanc de Blancs it is. There is some serious base wine at work here, that and masterful assemblage. Assertive, toasty, warmed butter and cream over baked apples. Stunning.

2004 Marcel Moineaux Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, ($62.99) What an amazing display of just how diverse Blanc de Blancs can be this flight was! This is a Champagne for those with a more English leaning palate, which is to say, it has lots of toast, yeast and sherried notes. I adored this wine, the way the nearly salty, savory notes spilled across the sides of my tongue but were then followed by cooked citrus and spice. Damn sexy wine and with the chicken the fruit exploded even more. One of my favorites.

This was about when I started losing the crowd. Everyone fixated on the mahogany skin and succulent meat of their fried chicken, first four wines kicking about their bloodstream causing the noise level to increase by like a lot. As much as I tried to regain order half the room couldn’t hear a single word I was saying, but I knew what to do…pour the next flight, I might not be able to get their attention but a pair of Pinot rich Champagnes, they could. Pretty amazing to watch as people deeply engrossed in their food and conversation reached for their glasses, took deep sniffs and thus began the wave of silence that spilled over from one table to the other. Who needs to holler when I’ve got Camille Saves and Coutier?

N.V. R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut, ($39.99) I’ve said it before and I will say it again, there is no greater value on our Champagne racks than this wine. 70% Pinot and swinging all kinds of junk it its trunk. Deep, mouth filling gobs of red apples and buttered toast and graham cracker. A knock out wine for this price.

N.V. Camille Saves 1er Cru Carte Blanche, ($58.99) Top selling wine of the night and I can’t say that I am at all surprised what with the sexy beast of a bubbly this wine is. Best part about it, just as intellectual as it is sexy, therefore, even sexier. Layers upon layers of fruit and complexity that seems to show something a little different with each sip. When a new customer comes up to you at the end of the night, with two bottles in hand to purchase and thanks me, I know the wine is doing its thing.

I called the next two flights the, “Not for the, I like frothy stuff set” as the last four wines were clearly remarkable wines first, bubbly stuff second. These are wines that in some cases drink more like red wines both in body and in flavor and would be wasted on the flute wielding.

N.V. Stephane Coquillette Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs, ($52.99) This Champagne did something nearly impossible, it rendered me speechless. I could not stop smelling the dark red fruit it was casting, the depth of purity here was simply stunning. I felt like I was drinking Grand Cru red Burgundy, the flavors staining and heart stopping. I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about this wine until I have more.

2004 R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut, ($62.99) A much more restrained and refined offering from this powerhouse estate. Still fills the mouth but with more finesse and grace. Red fruit is present but you also get some baked citrus and pie crust mixed with a savory, almost herby element that carries through on the persistent and regal finish. I’ve had top-tiered wines from some very famous Champagne houses that could not come close to offering as much as this wine.

N.V. H. Billiot Grand Cru Brut Reserve, ($58.99) Damn, I mean, damn. I admit to having a bit of an on-again off-again deal going with Billiot, sometimes the wines shutting down or being a tad one dimensional, not the case last night. Not in the least. Stewed apples, holiday spice, cherries, barely cooked dough and sweet cream. Sultry, almost slutty and oh so stinking delicious.

N.V. Camille Saves Grand Cru Carte d’Or Brut, ($67.99) Who needs chocolate, this wine is all the decadence one needs. Opulent, rich, loaded with dark fruit, vanilla custard, butter cookies, caramel and salted almonds. Really curvy in the mouth, just this side of feeling heavy and with a finish that goes on, for ev-er. 

Was a tremendously indulgent evening that just my luck,  is so popular, each seat so coveted that we had enough people to do two, so I get to do it all again tomorrow night. Teeth breaking through crunchy, salty skin to be met by tender and oh so juicy meat…washing it all down with those resplendent, hand crafted, mind bending grower Champagnes….that right there is doing it right.