Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Can't Live If Living Is Without You.

Been spending a serious chunk of time contemplating big life changes as of late, the way they shift you, change your priorities and how we adjust, recover, learn to live with, or without. Change is easier for some folks than it is for others, I tend to think of myself as being resistant to change but once forced, able to adjust and roll with the onslaught of punches, knocks and eventual moving forward for better or for worse. I’m lucky that way I guess but after talking to a dear friend that is toe-to-toe with the kind of life change that comes with a complete overhaul, as in starting all over again, well it got my noggin churning for sure. While scrolling through Facebook this morning I stumbled on link connected to an aging 80s pop star’s list of 5 things he wouldn’t want to live without. A stupid list really but it did two things, one is I now have one of his songs so violently stuck in my head I think I might have to have it surgically removed and second, it triggered my simple brain to come up with my own list….

In the past few months I’ve been forced to give up and struggle with the living without two things I would have never assumed I’d have to, one far easier than I thought, the other far worse and I’m hoping somewhere in the middle I will come out unscathed, changed but hopefully for the better….or at the very least, smarter. When I began thinking about my list it was all the big things, the too big things that I haven’t the strength or fortitude to even think of living without so, as is often the case, this silly brain of my turned to my most beloved of beverages, wine, and what 5 wines I wouldn’t want to live without. Way harder than I thought. Might have been easier had I just made broad strokes as in, “Pinot Noir” but in an effort to challenge myself a wee bit, and step away from the shit that has been consuming my thoughts, I sat down and actually came up with tighter more specific list of wines that are so important to me and my happiness or pleasure that I would be truly devastated to live without. I’m sure both of you are dying to know and I am all for covering that last piece of shit post so here you go!

Wines I Can’t or Shan’t Live Without:

Pinot Noir based Grower Champagne- Shocking I know! I was going to try and just slip Grower Champagne in here but I figured I should be a tad more specific. I adore the many styles of my little grower bubbles but when seriously thinking, “I wouldn’t want to live in a world without” Camille Saves came bouncing to mind. Upon further contemplation and recollection I added H. Billiot and R.H. Coutier, all wines with higher percentages of Pinot Noir. I adore Blanc de Blancs, the Agraparts and Jose Dhonts but it is the junk in the truck having, curvy body sporting, palate staining wines from Bouzy and Ambonnay that truly get me off and I need them in my life.

Gevrey-Chambertin- Much like above I had to force myself to narrow the scope a bit here. Funnel it down from Red Burgundy to one village that drives me utterly stupid with desire and I had to go with the exquisitely sensual wines from Gevrey-Chambertin. Great producers are able to coax this sexy as fuck sort of stone fruit, almost peach-like, aromas from the grapes grown in this village and paired with the right amount of roasted coffee, smoked meat, bursting red cherries, rose petals and all with a sumptuous mouthfeel and a blast of fine tannin and balancing acidity? I’m in…all in. 

Sancerre- Sauvignon Blanc is probably the varietal I drink the most often. I love piercing acidity, tart flavors are better suited to the way I eat at home and when it comes to price you can always find a brilliant Sauvignon Blanc for $15.00 and under. So Sauvignon Blanc, most often from the Loire, are the wines that grace my table on a regular basis, I’ve not grown tired of them and the diversity, even within the Loire, is enough to keep me interested and coming back for more. That being said, it’s Sancerre I crave the most often and that particular flavor is one all its own. The intermingle of citrus, limestone, flint, oyster shells and at times a topicality…well I can’t imagine my life without that. 

Provencal Rose- These crisp, mouth filling but racy wines just edged out Bourgueil for my number 4 spot. In fact I scribbled it out and put it back on the list three times before committing. Just seeing the new vintages of the delightful Roses from Provence can make me happy, walking past stack after stack of them warms my heart and watching my customers excitedly purchasing mixed case after mixed case gives me a thrill. I love Rose season, adore the foods of Spring and Summer that they go with and I will gorge on Provencal Rose until I nearly burst. It’s true love, without question. 

Sherry- Cheating!! I know, I know. I just figured since I drink more Sherry than most folks I know, and more in one sitting than I should at times, that I could get away with one fairly broad category here….like it’s a public service or something seeing as all both of you are going to run out and buy loads of Sherry because I like it. (Sigh) If held at gunpoint and made to pick only one style, while I would miss my worshiped Fino I think I’d have to say Oloroso would be my desert island Sherry. Something in the complexity and texture, the richness of warmed nuts and the savory stock cube like flavors…pairing a glass with some shaved sheep’s milk cheese and cured pork, fuck. Does me in each and every time.


There you have it kids, my must haves and can’t live withouts. Thrilling no? Oh, and if given 5 more spots, I’d have picked; Chablis, Bourgueil, Madeira, Alsatian Pinot Gris and Northern Italian whites. I think.   I showed you mine now.... 


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blow Me One Last Wish

“Sam! You’re going to use the whole bottle!” the voice coming from the other side of the dust encrusted screen door sharp but it was only the shock of getting caught that caused my little ponytailed head to turn. I could tell it wasn’t one of those tones that warranted the sucking in tightly of my breath and the panic induced flips in my tummy. She was tucked comfortably into her couch corner, the rustle of stiff plastic book covering as she shifted and tried to balance the barrowed and bound story of someone else’s life in her hands. The tinkle of cloudy ice cubes bumping against the sides of her glass of iced tea. She wasn’t leaving that spot unless my ass was on fire. Easter morning and a much needed day of relaxation, for both of us.

I’d gotten up early, on her urging of course, “Sam! The Easter Bunny has been here! You have to come see what he brought or if he hid any of our eggs.” Even then my lack of tolerance for bullshit made things a little prickly between us as I lollygagged around, looking behind her potted ferns and under the coffee table for trinkets left by the Easter Bunny even though we both knew I had (sadly) figured out two years earlier, while counting the coins in my mother’s purse both in the evening before and in the morning after the Tooth Fairy had “visited” that it was all a rouse. Didn’t matter, she seemed to need me to fake it and while hardly over-exuberant, I placated her by holding up the puny grocery store plastic basket with the waxy and hollow chocolate bunny, which she was going to eat seeing as I never liked chocolate. Feigned interest as I sniffed around our house, my nose picking up wisps of the vinegar based dye which assisted in finding the less than stealthy hidden hard boiled eggs, the ones that I would be finding stinking up my lunchbox for at least a week. 

I wasn’t raised in a religious home, in fact I don’t think I had a clue what Easter was even about until some distant family member drug me to mass one Easter morning and fuck me, I was begging for bullshit egg hunts and hollow chocolate within 30 minutes of that bending, bowing and singing noise. Easter meant very little to me but there were two things that happened Easter Sunday that made all the bunny worship, stinky eggs, early wakeup calls and that yearly pop of a clear jelly bean in my mouth, my face all bunched up as I munched and chewed, thought and deliberated, “What the fuck flavor is this supposed to be anyway?” totally worth it….pan seared, salty, nearly painfully salty, ham steak, eggs fried in bubbling hot bacon grease, sourdough toast with thick and waxy slabs of mouth coating butter and a cup of heavily milked and sugared coffee. Breakfast Easter morning was a serious treat and even though I was never an early eater, (to this day I would rather have cold soba noodles or fried rice for breakfast and have the yummy rich eggs for dinner) I would speed up that egg hunt when I heard the toast ejecting from out dinky white plastic toaster. 

I’d sip my coffee first, let the milky sweetness stimulate my far from ready palate, try and ready it for the rather gut-busting assault I was about to give it. Cold fork heavy and still a little clumsy in my small hands, lancing the perfectly cooked yolks of my eggs, green eyes wide and delighted as I watched the opulently yellow liquid slowly break free from the tender white flesh. Grabbing my equally hard to manage butter knife I would quickly begin to slice away at my thin wedge of salty ham, careful to avoid the tiny circular bone that rested in the corner, leaving all the squishy and undesirable “mush meat” inside that bone as I excitedly shuttled my little shaved bits of ham into the river of still warm and astoundingly luxurious yolkiness. A quick toss to fully coat and it was all aboard the toast train as it were. Three greedy bites in a row, my nostrils pumping away extra hard to make up for the fact that my mouth was too busy to bother with trying to like breathe and junk, my teeth crunching through darkly toasted sour dough the only sound in our kitchen other than my mother rustling through my Easter basket, her slender fingers tracing the sugary extravagances…long nails tugging at the brightly colored foil that held what she desired. My torrid yolk, ham, sweetened coffee and waxy lumps of buttered toast making my little toes curl until I could feel the stitching of my socks rest like a bar separating my toes from the rest of my foot. The crunching so loudly rumbling through my still sleepy skull that halfway through breakfast I was dizzy. Too much…least for me, what with the acting and huge breakfast eating and all, my plate still half full I would push away from the table, “I’m done! Thanks Mom!” before plunging my hand into that puny basket and digging around for the actual best part of Easter..... the bubbles. 

“There's still a bunch in here!” I yelled back as I tipped the bottle of bubbles on its side, my little fingers so glazed with slippery suds that I could barely hold onto the wand. Never to be used again cap to the bubbles sitting atop the wee pile of pulled off and unneeded socks, tip of my tongue peeking out the left side of my mouth, one eye scrunched shut as I adjusted the container and tried like hell to coat that wand in as much bubble mojo as I could. I can still smell the gentle, soapy aromas and feel that same pull deep at my core that I did way back then when I would steady myself on the top of the porch stairs. Toes gripping the cement, right forearm and elbow positively encased in sudsy bubble juice, tips of my blonde ponytailed hair also saturated and stuck to my neck as I pulled the wand from the bottle, closed my eyes, took in a super deep breath and with everything I had in me poured all my wishes into the air that would press against the soapy plate. I would watch it give and sway, grow and fill before breaking away and traveling off, up, away taking my dreams and wishes with it. Early on I was frivolous with the bubbles, would dunk, press my wee lips into a ring, make a wish about being able to go around the ring set four times before my blisters would make me drop. Whisper wishes that Armando would kiss me (he did by the way, that one worked. Not only did he kiss me, we got caught pants down under the monkey bars playing, well I think it was mailman whatever the hell that was. Got our parents called and we were moved into different classrooms after that. Yay me! Sigh…)  that I would be able to hold my breath underwater longer than anyone else at the cove on our next visit and that I might someday be popular. The day would go on, my dreams and wishes littering the neighborhood in the form of gloriously beautiful, round, vibrating bubbles and my bottle of magic wishing serum growing all the more sacred with each dunk. When I got to the very bottom of the bottle is when I would truly contemplate what it is my seven year old dreams were actually made of…

“I want to dance professionally”

‘I want to be a nurse”

“I wonder what having a dad feels like”

“I want to make eggs like my mom does”

“I wish I were scared less”

“I hope to fall in love”

“I wish she were happy….”

Came home this evening, tired, on deadline, unable to get more than 2 sentences together while at work and feeling increasingly irritated. In one of those loops in my life that feels like the next big wave might just be the one that crashes against my dock and busts everything loose, splintering it into pieces my hands won’t be strong enough to pull back and gather. A million tiny things and a couple ginormous ones, take your pick and when it’s like this, not sure it matters the size, just sucks giant ass balls, and not in the fun way. Found balance in the place I always do, in my kitchen. The smell of winey mustard, blistering onions, caramelized pork fat and the earthy, woody scent of mushrooms releasing their moisture when bouncing around in a hot pan but sucking it back in once they become accustomed to the heat. The banging of cast iron pans, whoosh of water as I wash my blades, the sizzle of skin meeting a fiery hot surface that has been blazing away, just waiting. Hands moving, mouth tasting, lips a resting spot for my front teeth as I whisk and sauté. Head a trillion miles away from anything that can touch me, hurt me, better me…just in my mothering mode, finding and feeding love with what I can create in my beat up pans, with my tired and silly heart. 

Dinner over, bellies full, sock covered toes curled I reach for the big bottle of dishwashing liquid that rests on my counter. Hand barely touching the oversized bottle and two perfect, albeit tiny, little spheres leap from the lip of the bottle and start floating through my kitchen and towards the front door. I just held my breath, my back unbendable and chest tight…I was rooting for them. As they blipped through my living room, before I could even stop myself I was whispering, “I hope he finds happiness” and “I wish he was better Mom”….

I made dinner

Didn’t work the whole “get lost in” magic…dammit. 

Feel all slippery and like I’m looking one-eyed into a nearly empty container of bubbles as I make wishes, this time not for me and that feels just a little better. A broken heart and lost love and my brother once again succumbing to his lifelong addiction to anything that rid him of the memories and reality of being him…a desire so powerful for him that he now finds himself once again homeless and angry, not for his culpability in the expulsion from the last place that would have him, feed him, house him…no, likely pissed that they caught him and made a “big deal” out of his “casual” and "non-addicted" usage. Been the dame for as long as I've known him and no matter how low and degenerate. Found myself aching for just one more bubble, one that would land upon my sweet baby sister’s shoulders and upon bursting tell her, “it’s okay to let him go, he chose this”….my heart knowing that there will never be such bubble but so long as there is dishwashing liquid near my sink I have limitless wishes, for her.

I need a taste of something truly mind bending, breathtaking, worthy of griping your toes against the porch and taking big, chest filing gulps of air for…taking suggestions. Inspire me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Don't Know Much

I don’t know much, about anything really. I suck at historical remembrances, have not a clue about literature, can barely do rudimentary math in my noggin and I shan’t even begin to try and explain how little I know/understand about any sort of science. I was a horrific student when I was in school, as little as that was, and I fear I haven’t learned how to, learn, any better as an adult. I’d love to think that I have a bit of a handle on human behavior but I’m learning even that is something beyond my Flinstonian scope of comprehension. Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total WalMartian, (I think I stepped foot in one of those joints once, like 20 years ago…scared the living shit out of me) I know the basics, who’s in office on both the national and local level and I keep up with current events that don’t involve celebrities but if you are picking teams for Trivial Pursuit or whatever, well I am so not your girl. 

“You know he and I started here at the shop right about the same time. He already had a love for wine and had an inkling that this was to be his life’s work although in an entirely different way where I was still being clubbed over the head, kicking my feet and trying to resist this whole thing” me telling a story to one of my favorite customers about our ex-employee and much adored Eric Mohseni. Eric and I started at The Wine Country within months of one another and as I was telling Bill, we had two very different paths in mind. His to move on and eventually become a winemaker, never any question as to where his path would lead him, me…well I had no idea if there was ever going to be anyplace for me in this foreign world of wine, so my path was my next paycheck and another day being able to provide for my son. Eric and I came of age as it were within the walls and with the support of Randy and The Wine Country. We tasted deeply, learned as best we could, danced in a doorway to Into the Mystic, and agreed it was the best song ever from Van Morrison. Argued and acquiesced, struggled with the basics of drunken desire and young passion and in the end, Eric became a winemaker, a very accomplished one that makes the wines at Zaca. Mesa Winery as well as his own label, Osseus…and me? Well I’m still here.

“You ever think he sits back and thinks, ‘I’m a winemaker and Sam’s still there?’ Bill, (that one of my favorite customers guy)  posing the question in my direction as I drove an opener into the woody flesh of my however-many-thousandth-cork. I felt my shoulders tighten like they do when a question is asked that I feel like I know the answer to but my years of self-doubt and insecurity have my lips and voice tightly laced between their fingers. Took only that shoulder relaxing, tug, “creek” and, “whoosh” of the freed cork for me to find just enough of my voice, my pride and my “education” to muster, “You think I’d have it any other way?”  I guess I can see how a customer, even one that adores me, can see winemaker as the epitome of making it in the world of wine but that “dream” was never mine. 

“I didn’t really like retail. I didn’t hate it but I preferred the prestige of being a sommelier” the silky textured tone and words from a voice that has always been able make me swoon coming through the telephone line. The words unintentionally insulting but my knowledge of his heart and the fact that this “confession” was not intended to hurt me let me scrunch my ugly mug silently on my end and my whisper of, “You are aware I still work retail right?” lost in the endless loop of convivial conversation and he didn’t even hear me. He didn’t need to. His dream or want much like Eric’s, so different from mine, if I even had one. Aware and definite but miles from what I could see myself doing, wanting, pulling off, being good at or having enough enticement to keep me interested in. 

“Maybe you should practice that” and “You know, with a little hard work you could be really good at this” words I never heard growing up. I was never urged to hone any bit of skill I might have had, never told to focus and never encouraged to do more than find a way to steal the heart of some poor schmuck and retain a boyfriend…a skill I am assuming meant something to my mother, probably because it was all she was ever encouraged to do as well. Don’t argue too much, don’t challenge him too much, and don’t forget to make him feel wanted and special. Where I was supposed to fit in there I never knew, and maybe it never mattered. The women that sought to form me were woefully lonely and miserable but somehow felt that it was their philosophical duty to restrict and teach me how to be. Pretty fucking grateful that I was a shitty student…

“I sometimes buy my wines at another store. Don’t be mad, they have some California wines I love. Anyway, they always try and get me to buy Champagne and I just keep telling them no. So the other day the one guy there asked me what was up with that? Like did I hate Champagne or something? I was honest with him and told him I only buy my Champagne at The Wine Country and you know what he said? He said he admired Samantha’s Champagne department and her courage to go balls out with those grower wines years before anyone was. Isn’t that cool?” I stood there, eyes beginning to fill with tears of pride as this loyal and adorable customer retold me his story. “Um, yeah, that’s pretty damn cool”…all I could think to say.

“I always liked wine but never loved it until I started shopping here”

“You’ve never let me down”

“I was in yesterday but you were off….I told them I’d just come back. I need your help”

“This is so great. These are all so great”

“You and your selections always make me look like a hero…so I guess in a way, you are my hero”

“You write about wine with the voice of a woman. The heart and compassion of a woman. No one else is doing that. Most wine writing is that man thing, that I went out and got it thing. When I read your blog I get to feel you succumb to wine, like a woman and I dig that”

“I’ve been reading your blog for years and Samantha; it is so nice to meet you”

Yeah, I don’t know much and I’m still here at a less than prestigious job but, fuck I love it and no matter the offers I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m still tasting deeply, still learning each and every day and on top of that I get to be a part of people’s dinners, celebrations and moments of ached for relaxation. Me. I get to be there and they not only remember me for it, they come back and reward me with second, third, four hundredth chances…insane.

Got a text message New Year’s Eve, right about thirty minutes after all the fanfare and fireworks, “Happy New Year you” all it said. I scrolled though all my contacts with the stealthy precision of a woman that had been drinking Champagne for six hours, my one working eye feeling the weight of burden as the other was firmly slammed shut in proper drunk girl Popeye fashion. No name attached to the out-of-area-code number so I knew it wasn’t someone I talked to often but there was something about it, the last bit, that “You” that tugged at my heartstrings and rang a very comfortably familiar, albeit long ago tone.  Eric. It was my long ago Eric, thinking of, remembering and wishing me a Happy New Year. Random but so powerfully sweet and assuring to me. I don’t know much but I know wine, how to laugh…….how to love enough to leave a mark and somewhere in this ill-fitting and less than “educated” shell, I’ve found a voice that comes blurting out of me all oily and confident. When I think of the empty and lifeless lives of the women that raised me and how sallow and acidic their daily tone, well it makes me want to stomp around in muddy puddles, say fuck a whole lot, drink enough to act foolish and love so deeply that I may be remembered fondly. 

I’m no peach nor am I a student of anything other than life. I’ll never be the most popular, the most beautiful, smartest, the most compelling or the most wanted and that dream, it belonged to those sad women that beat themselves up for not being able to teach me anything. The ones that died alone and left a legacy of guilt and secrecy. I’m going to stay on my path of, “Dunno what might happen” that still pays the bills but has brought me, and taught me, more than I could have ever dreamed.  I’ve failed plenty and I’m sure that isn’t about to change but when I get it right, the perfectly ripe and oozing cheese with a wine that wraps around it with saturated fruit, appropriate pitch, density and searing intensity, the right bottle in the hands of a person that has, without their even knowing it, been longing for it, my words strung together in a way that inspires people to come in and meet me. This is the path I’ve chosen and would chose over and over again. 

No fame, no fortune and no real glory…I mean other than truly pleasing my customers and every once in a while getting a note or text that assures me that the path chosen is one that triggers others to open their mind, palates and heart. I’m way cool with that….