Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Uncivil War

I will preface this post by saying that I know it will likely land me in the doghouse with many of the people that I have grown to love and respect in this business of mine. I know it and yet I still feel compelled to sit here, nails clicking away, mind a blustery mess of opinions and rants, heart kind of deflated by the vitriol and, at times, simply venomous words that are being launched…both in retaliation and preemptive, at others about something as civilizing and subjective as wine. I shall refrain from silly abbreviations and ask frankly, what the fuck?!

I was recently watching a Law & Order Criminal Intent. The story was based around a wine collector that was found dead in his, bursting-at-the-seams and much envied wine cellar. This is where I confess, (once again to my long time readers) that I am wholly addicted to all things Law & Order. I watch them all; SVU, Criminal Intent and even the plain old regular ones. Love. It is true love and I can say that I have wasted whole days watching marathon upon marathon of this particular show. So imagine my elation when finding a whole show with my beloved wine as a backdrop for an episode, with Vincent “Smoking Hot” D’Onofrio to boot. Watching the tall bunch of smart and inquisitive picking up glasses of wine, burying his nose in it….spinning my business all around all while all the while getting into the head of the suspects he is after. Well shit howdy, color me one tickled pink wine slinger.

I was about ten minutes in and my giddy heart simply sank. Douche bags. Every wine person in the show was an absolute douche bag! I shit you not. Each one loathsome and repugnant, full of their own stuffiness and insider speak. Everyone from the young rich dude, with the mansion and phone call about Bordeaux futures he was unwilling to excuse himself from in order to talk to the detectives to the over the top wine critic, called “The Nose”…of course. The guy that was super effeminate, had his nose insured by Lloyd’s of London, for like a trillion dollars or whatever the fuck, and was given into fits of haughtiness that had him spewing zingers like, “Oh you don’t know your Bordeaux from your Burgundy!” what a burn! Take that mother f’ers! Ugh. Add some cloaked hobbits and wizards and we got us a Super Dork Asshole convention. Rad…

Just could not believe that wine people were still seen as such snotty and exclusionary dickwads. What with adds everywhere, more wine showing up on television and movies. More cultures than ever coming to the wine drinking table and still, wine professionals are still being depicted as uber rich, old white guys banging young twenty somethings, (um, Ron…hesh up you) that get whacked by spiking their Comte de Vogue with Viagra. The only chick they had in the whole show was a woman from India that was on her 100th level of WSET or something. Dude. Horrid. Horrid and quite honestly, embarrassing. I thought about boycotting Law & Order, because you know my fifteen hundred hours of viewing a month is keeping them alive but more than anything I had to wonder, “Where are they getting this shit?”

Didn’t take much digging to figure it out.

Now I have stayed pretty neutral on this ever growing, Us vs. Them, Old World (to some this will read east coast elitist) New World, (to some this will read beginners or unenlightened) Bloggers and Critics Wine War thingie. I’ve been silently tucked away in our little store watching it all. Loving many players on both sides of the bickering and mudslinging and at a complete loss as to what either is hoping to prove or moreover, win. My eyes so feverishly searching for a reason that they cause my brow to arch into that stern look that used to make my son quiver…the insecurity of my own voice keeping me from speaking up but now, now I would just like to ask everyone with some bone to pick or point to “prove” (and you know you never will right?) to shut the hell up and start thinking about what really matters. How the hell are we going to grow this business of ours?!

I sit here with my crave inducing Dave Matthews, (Oh come on Google Alert!!) groaning in my ears. Words like, “I like my coffee with toast and jelly but I would rather be licking you from your back to your belly” making me dizzy, making me….want, knowing all the while that one of my most beloved and closest friends hates Dave. Like a lot. She thinks he is horrible and is much more of the Bon Jovi, (sigh). I don’t get it. I think she is high and is missing the sensual and subtle nuance in a line like, “Kiss me won’t you kiss me now, and sleep I will inside your mouth” and she doesn’t get why I don’t’ get lit up by, “I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride. I’m wanted, wanted dead or alive”. Do I think she’s wrong? No. Not for her she’s not. Now if she is trying to seduce me, well then yes but for now she’s not and we are both content and extremely happy listening to our, very different crooners. And while I might never understand what makes her throw up the metal sign and nod her head to Bon Jovi, she will likely forever find my devotion to Dave’s sticky and dripping with sweat verbiage, “not the real way dudes talk”. 

Is My Amy wrong for thinking Jon Bon Jovi is hotter than Dave Matthews? Am I wrong in thinking that no matter how many times I am taught and schooled on classical music that it just isn’t for me? Is Ron Washam wrong for not loving Pinot Noir Rose? Is Randy Kemner wrong for not embracing Zinfandel? Is Charlie Olken wrong for defending Rombauer Chardonnay? Eric Asimov, Jon Bonne, Robert Parker, James Suckling, Alice Fiering, Alfonso Cevola, Steve Heimoff, Samantha Dugan….(check me out like putting my name in there where the fancy wine folks are, my blog goddamn it) we are all wrong when we perpetuate the insufferable wine snob and are unwilling or able to see anyone else’s point of view….and respect it.

Drink what moves you
Alice, get your natural freak on
Alfonso, I beg you…write what inspires you
Charlie, teach us with that loving heart of yours
Randy, show them all what I have seen…what made me love wine
Ron,  just write….anything
Amy, I still don’t get it but we can bicker over a glass of something icy cold and from the old world
Eric, I get you.

I crave more wine at the table. More people walking through the doors of The Wine Country. More people knowing what it is to cave and surrender, feel your throat expand and swallow, the shiver and “one more sip” of whatever wine speaks to them. 

                            (and a little of this. Damn....rawr.)

Now how do I get the producers of Law & Order to feature a funny looking, oddly shaped blonde chick that swears like a sailor, is not quite comfortable in her skin and wears glasses but is a wine geek of first order, to squash that “Nose” fucker…..

Originally posted July, of 2011..and yet. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sure You Can But....Does That Mean You Should?

Those of you that don’t have the very real pleasure of being a Facebook friend of mine, (count yourself so bloody grateful and smarter for not having wasted umpteen hours reading my drunken, “Hey, how come we say Tris-kit and not Tris-qwee?” or, “These underpants, an unwise choice” the, “My hair, being a total dick” and the ever-so-delightful spans when I say something and then answer myself in a succession of rambling answers. Funniest thing, ever, to me and me alone) have been missing out on my current undie-twisting rant that has me barking and pointing my pudgy finger, stomping my Chuck-clad feets and muttering like that wheezy math kid in your fourth grade class that would stroke out each time you missed a long division answer. It’s charming I assure you.

Long time readers of this blog have seen, or read I should say, the flared nostril and chest heaving bitchy fits I go on. I’ve gone after customers, suppliers, wineries, critics and my most seethed upon group, “wine writers”. Critics I get have a job to do, and have some very serious wine chops, customers are more good than bad, suppliers tax my time but are for the most part fun, these wine writers, oh, sorry, “wine writers” these people are getting on my last fucking nerve. I ran into a bunch of them at the writer’s symposium I went to a couple years ago, all these writers that knew very little, if anything, about wine. I walked away from that event feeling like I had just spent a few days with Raymond Babbitt. Super gifted, like in the writing department but, maybe not so much with the practical in the world of wine. I’m talking massive amounts of perfume, unaware that Vouvray wasn’t a grape and pitching stories that made me slunk down in my chair. “These aren’t wine people. These are people looking for a niche that isn’t as competitive by the truly driven and talented as the daily news, or as technically challenging or demanding of accuracy, and actual facts as economics or sports. Peddling pabulum to the unaware and slightly afraid” the slightly sad comment I made when I was picked up from the airport when I got back. Of course I didn’t mean all of them but…the most aggressive self-promoting fell in that camp. Made me nervous and the shit I’ve seen in the past few months that passes as “wine writing” well I was right to be.

“This wine was awful” a tight jawed customer pointing to a bottle of Lava Cap Barbera I had, begrudgingly recommend to him. I felt the knot forming in my throat and the “Dude..come on now” face trying to break through the retail perma-grin. I recognized him the second he walked through the door that day. It was him. The guy that had asked me to do the fucking impossible and gave me a ration of shit because I couldn’t pull a miracle out of my ass. 

“Yes, I need a wine to go with a skewer dinner” I stood there with my head cocked waiting for the next bit of actual, useful information…didn’t come. “Okay, well what might you be putting on those sticks then?” I asked with as playful a smile as I could muster. “Oh, two kinds. One is beef cubes with a brown sugar glaze and red onions. The other is shrimp with garlic and basil” my head did that little tick thing it does when my brain is revving over and trying to implode. “Well, that’s quite the range of flavor there. You were thinking two wines right?” my hopeful lilt. “No, just one wine and we only like red. My girlfriend is a big fan of Menage a Trois, so a nice dry red like that would be good with those dishes don’t ya think?”….thinking, that appears to be the error of my ways. “Um, well okay. There really isn’t one wine that is going to be super tasty with both of those” I spent over fifteen minutes doing my best to let this cat know that he wasn’t going to find a wine perfect for brown sugar glazed beef and basil scented shrimp….this guy was simply relentless, emphatic and arduous. He wanted a dry red, like the rather sweet Menage a Trois, to go with his skewers and was pissed off at me because I couldn’t, or wouldn’t concede that there was one. I ended up telling him to have some fun with a couple tasty reds and see what tasted right to him. “I won’t tell you it is a good pairing but you should enjoy the wines” I managed over a pained and puckery smile. “So, if you had to try and pair a wine with both dishes?” relentless and that was when I grabbed the afore mentioned “awful” Barbera. I knew it wouldn’t be a good match but simply hoped it would be juicy enough to please the sweeter Menage a Trois palate and with enough acidity to not smother the dish. “That wine is awful and too acidy” said with a stuck out tongue and all.

Hate that. Hate not being able to please a customer. I didn’t want to pair a wine in an impossible situation. I knew whatever he tried to drink with those two very different foods would taste like shit. “Acidy” shit even. My hands were tied and now I had this grumpy mug in my face. Where do people get this idea that you can find a perfect wine for every possible dish on the planet?! I mean that seems like a rather impractical idea to me, everything has limitations and flavors can be so wildly diverse, where could these consumers possibly get the idea that wine is appropriate, one wine even, with every imaginable food you throw at it?! Oh, that’s right….

“Wine writers”

So over the past two weeks I’ve seen wine pairing articles for Girl Scout Cookies, Cherrios…as in breakfast cereal, (and that was the third, third breakfast cereal wine pairing bullshit article I’d seen. If you are looking for wine suggestions for your Cherrios, well I hate to piss in them but you have much, much bigger problems to address than which wine will play off the delicate honey and oats, in your fucking breakfast cereal…but the last wank of a writer suggested Sake if that helps) peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and Buffalo chicken wings. Perfect. No wonder. A couple back and forth situations with one said “writer” that told me, “People want to read these articles” but had a strangely absent comment when I asked, “Does that mean it makes it right? Just who do you think ends up untangling all the damage those horseshit pieces do?” and an old friend,  who happens to be a  winemaker, telling me that I shouldn’t be so dogmatic about food and wine pairings. That they should be fun and people should just drink what they like…that also never responded when I asked, “So should wine writers be writing articles that imply that they will actually find wine and food pairing bliss with breakfast cereal and Sake or Thin Mints and Shiraz?” I happen to agree with him, it should be fun and I have zero problem with people slogging back Stella Rosa with their lasagna so long as they are happy. What irks the living shit out of me is people in an authoritative position, the people writing the articles, making shit up and forcing wine into places where it has no real function.  Maybe it is me…

So I turned to the ever knowing interwebs and did a quick Google search on food and wine pairing, holy shit! Lots to sort through so I felt very lucky to stumble upon a “Five Easy Tips” piece to food and wine pairing. 

    1)  Choose food and wine that taste great on their own. (Sage, this is sage advice and why they fuck didn’t I think of that? Here I was picking one thing that tasted good and one that tasted like shit…what a nincompoop I am)
  2)  When in doubt always follow #1 (Really? Only on #2 and we are already referring back to #1?) 
   3) Choose wine and food that complement each other. (Um, isn’t that sort of why I came here? To have you shed maybe a little light on that?) 
   4) Use contrast flavors to have a party in your mouth. (Anyone that says “party in your mouth” is a twat)
   5)  Keep it simple. (Yup, um hmm very useful that)

This. This kind of glib, loose and unreasonable junk is what is now passing as wine writing? Not sure how this is going to grow the wine business…in fact from the look on the skewer guy’s face he won’t be looking to wine professionals again anytime soon. My fault for picking that wine or the series of everything goes with wine articles that are trying to “bring it down” to the common folks fault? Are those articles bringing it down and making the idea more accessible or making wine and food pairing down-right stupid? I’m not saying don’t drink this with that, not my job or desire to yuck anyone’s yum but are we, as wine people/writers, doing those seeking our knowledge a service or a serious, and dangerous disservice by telling them “This goes with this” or that wine is always the right choice even when it doesn’t or isn’t? Got called a snob for asking that. As if me asking was looking down on people and those fakers making shit up, for the “un-informed”, aren’t being the very epitome of utter snobbery. “Oh, let me explain, in a language you might understand…like chicken wings. Oh and I can even scribble you a scratch and sniff if you need a visual aid” Where did these people come from and why the fuck should we take their advice?

Okay. Let me give ‘er a go…

 Bac'n Pieces- The texture and aggressive chemical smoke on this item, calls for something breakfasty, like Peach or Almond Champagne. Flip the plastic top, on both or all three and have a party in your mouth. 

These Vienna treats call for Gruner Veltliner. No other wine will do.

Well turkey dinner is a wine pairing nightmare. All the sweetness and complexity on the spoon can make one's head spin but tried and true classics like Nouveau Beaujolais and Zinfandel are just what the wine doctor ordered here...the latter having the added bonus of having 15% + alcohol content which also acts as a sleep aid.

Peppers can be a bitch as far as pairings go and add pickled to it, well now things are getting treacherous. Just gonna go with that chick on the can looks pissed so you had better get her something she really, really wants to drink, maybe a few shots of Reposado? Maybe she will forget why she wants to cut your heart out.

Easy, Muscat. Will induce vomiting which causes weight loss.

Who the fuck cares?! These are bacon wrapped hot dogs...the only thing as brilliant would be angel tears.

Caymus Special Select as the residual sugar is a perfect match for Green Flavor.

Duh, Champagne...preferably Boo Pecoche or Moet. (Sort of a cheater pairing) 

Jury is still out on these, just looking at them induced gagging but in a pinch maybe ChocoVine because if you are going to barf it might as well me coco scented? 

Now this is all about aromatics, as in your personal aromatics. Consider your signature scent when thinking about this pairing. Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and super botanical Gin is always a refreshing choice.  Have fun and experiment!

A good, even great writer is just that, a good or great writer doesn’t mean they know fuck all about wine. Let them edit your journal but maybe don’t let them be in charge of dictating what you put in your mouth! You just want to suck back wine with whatever you have on the table, dude, do it. I encourage any and all wine drinking but pounding a round wine in a square plate ain’t doing any of us any good and it sure as hell isn’t going to help prove or inspire the wondrous and possibly life changing moments that are the rare and breathtaking instances when you have that little sliver of this washed down with a winey splash of that. I guarantee, no Girl Scout Cookie, breakfast cereal or chicken wing pairing will ever unlock the magical gate to that secret garden.

Truth be told, those little palate staining, groan inducing bits of perfection are almost too much to take all the time. Just like we can't lock ourselves in a room and make love every second of each and every day, we can't and shouldn't be seeking perfection on the food and wine front, like every meal. We need to cherish them when we find them. Savor them and NOT reduce them to some bullshit game of Old Maid or Go Fish. The wines and all of us, we deserve better. 

Just freaking sayin'

Monday, January 20, 2014

Keep On Keeping On

There has been a very real shift in my life and the way I live in the past twenty-something years. I am sure this is true of most people, we all shift gears, change careers, have kids, move….any number of life’s little shimmies that cause us to hop off the path we were on, the path we were sure was what we wanted…what we were dealt or what we needed. It all changes us, adds texture and depth to the people we are and that one fact has always been extremely powerful to me. I’ve spent hours, weeks if we are talking accumulative, thinking about just that…truth is I have been grateful to each and every little sliver of, “life” that added more padding, (fuck like I need more padding…ugh) to this puffy person you see now.

I knocked out of work a little early on Saturday afternoon to have a drink with coworker and a customer that we all dig quite a bit. We were all sitting around, icy cold martini in each of our hands and the customer mentioned where his kids went to high school, “Oh I was expelled from that high school” I announced. The second the words leapt from my gin kissed lips I was aching to stuff them back in. The look on his face that mix of intrigue and shock…well it went a long way in reminding me how very different I am now. How the newer layers of my life have buried or built upon the stuff that was there before. Very weird feeling…a combination of shame and pride that kind of cinches around your melon and causes your spine to react in a stiffly uncomfortable way.

I sat there fidgeting waiting for the inevitable question, “What did you do to get thrown out of Poly?!” a school in one of the worst parts of town…a school with a serious divide between the amazing academic programs and the rest of us. A school with sliding metal gates that lock you in, (and the rest of the neighborhood out) a school that on my first day saw one of my good friends from middle school get jumped and stabbed in the head with a pencil. 

So I had to suck it up a bit, share that this woman he was clinking glasses with, this woman he had taken years worth of wine advice from was, well I was once a hood rat. I was running the streets with any number of shady cats, skipping school, telling my math teacher to, “Go fuck himself” when he called me a waste and getting into fights left and right. Stunning that the school didn’t want me back right?! It was a rather telling and frankly, embarrassing look back for me, I knew that girl, I was that girl but she couldn’t be more different than the woman I am now.

The day I accepted the fact that I was going to be a mother to an African American male, I knew that if he was to have any chance whatsoever I needed to stop beating myself and everyone else up. I needed to be a safe and strong place for this young man to come, to feel accepted, loved and to see in my pale skinned face, my green eyes, absolute adoration, hope, love and belief in him. I would harness my angst and rage, my feelings of inadequacy…all my fears. I needed to cinch them in, pull them tight, let that pressure cooker of feelings spill out all over him, but this time for good.

I used to spend hours just touching him, laying in bed near him…my fingers tracing his brow, my lips across his sweaty little hairline. I would talk to him about everything; warn him of the things that would be coming his way, his little fingers curled around mine as I made his chubby little arms dance while I cooed at him. I let my past be the rod in my spine when my sweet little son came home in tears after someone called him that inevitable, “N” word for the first time. Let my newly warmed heart teach him to laugh about the fact that he looked so different but so the same. He wears my face my son, he wears my smirk and raised eyebrow, my laugh, my sense of humor and I wear his heart. His gentle heart, the sweetest soul I had ever met was in my care…one of the angriest girls her friends had ever met was in his. We learned so much together my son and I, he learning to be strong with his words, his voice and his intellect and me learning to let myself be loved, needed and proud. I made up my mind early on that I would never again do anything that dishonor that bond, make him see in me any other light. I owed both of us that much.

Sitting in that bar with that customer, skimming over my history and feeling my son throbbing in my heart I knew there was not enough time to go over everything, not that he needed or wanted to know everything…plus I was unsure how to encapsulate 20 plus years over a martini. I drove home feeling so torn, sure I was thrilled that I didn’t come off like a hood rat, that our customer was unable to see that side of my history but more than anything…it made me feel Jeremy in my heart and reminded me of where we came from and how our love has brought us to this point, this here and now. 

 I spent over half of my life living with him, teaching and learning from him and when he went away to school in Louisville, I had to open my palms and let him learn without me. Me still here learning without him. The training wheels removed, the two of us on our own…no more sweaty hairline kisses, no more chubby arm dances, his adventure just beginning and my role in his life changing. Me here without his hands on my back pushing me, learning how to be this woman…the one without those hands on her back pushing her. Knowing that the love, the bond, the life changing relationship would made us both strong enough to handle it. There are two things that bring me tremendous pride; knowing Jeremy is one of those things, the being able to look at him and say, “That’s my son” is the other. 

I got home from my little bar date and I was feeling so full…full of love, joy, pride and sadness, feeling it all so close to the surface of my skin that I couldn’t even talk to my husband about it. I grabbed my ipod, poured myself a deep glug of Madeira and slipped off to the bedroom. I left the lights off, just flipped on the bathroom light so I was able to make out shadows, slid the headphones over my ears and let her say it better than I ever could

When my soul was in the lost and found
You came along to claim it
I didn’t know just what was wrong with me
Till your kiss helped me name it
Now I’m no longer doubtful
Of what I’m living for
Cause if I can make you happy I don’t need to do more
Cause you make me feel
You make me feel
You make me feel like a natural woman…

Aretha’s voice, my tears and a glass of creamy, citrusy, briny Bual to wash it all down and I was feeling better…stronger and more proud than ever. 

I think of the fight that so many others had to endure to make my life, my life with this amazing young man even possible and on this day, when we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his willingness to stand honorably and defiantly, the others that sat in, stood tall and fell to make this life and this pride I feel possible...from the very bottom of my immeasurably full heart....
 I thank you.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

By All Means, Proceed But....

“And Samantha, what is it you do for a living?” some poor cat at my husband’s holiday party, (first one I’ve had to attend in like 15 years, no pressure) that had no idea I was just seconds away from making him hate his life. “I sell wine. Specifically French wine and sparkling wine” although I say it sheepishly there are few other times that I feel that, “I am so gonna win this” tickle in my bottom, telling people what I taste and sell wine, often in France well those are the bottom tingling times. Ended up getting molested, time wise of course, this was a tech company party and all, by two guys, one that used to sell wine for a living and missed it painfully, the other a quirky, way funny cat that was captivated by the very idea of it. Several cocktails later, (the wine offered on the Queen Mary was, erm, pass inducing) and I was buzzily holding court on one of the ships many patios and this quick witted wine lover huffed cigars and grilled me. My favorite question of the night, “I love Champagne, what do you like to pair with it?”

I rattled off the regular anti truffle, (as in the chocolate jobies) and cake rant. Talked about salty, briny and savory and tugged at my necktie as I laid upon him my most favorite of all Champagne combinations. The one thing I crave above fishy eggs, oysters and even my cherished French fries, “Fried chicken”. I watched this fairly high strung guy’s head spin, his foodie mind twist and his envy bubble up around the corners of his mouth as he leaned in and said, “Are you messing with me?” wearing the kind of grin that assured me, he was questioning me….but hopeful. We closed every bar on the ship that night, met for breakfast and football the next day before he and his wife had to hop a flight home. We got along great, he seemed enthralled and it was just a couple days later when my husband got an email, with a subject line, “Your wife is on to something” and a link to a Wall Street Journal article recommending fried chicken as a perfect partner to…yup, Champagne. “Finally!” my holiday weary pant when I was handed the forwarded article.

Managed a couple sparkling wine events during the holiday season. One early on that was specifically to showcase a few, somewhat geeky wines that I got in just a wee bit too late to include in any of the other, earlier events. Too late and honestly, wines I didn’t want to mix in with the more showy, opulent and neck biting wines I tend to pour and sell buttloads of as we trudge into the holiday season.  An “off the menu” tasting  that was never included in the newsletter but one I was totally stoked about and as I read the names of the people that signed up to suck back some new bubbles on a Wednesday night, during the holiday madness, I was lit up like a kid huffing candy canes and figgy pudding. 

The wines showed intrigue and drew us all in. The salty wines from Lassaigne making people suck in their breath and furrow their brows. The herby layering of the Hure Freres, the lean tart fruit in the Laherte Freres, the gripping tang and stones on the Marion-Bosser Extra Brut and the heart-thumping sensuality of the wines from Coessens. The wines did their thing, I babbled and lead, my Champagne freaks totally got it and we even sold a bit but….well the next morning, when I woke thinking about and trying to compose my answer to the question I knew Randy would ask, the “Well? How’d it go last night? How did the wines show?” question, I ended up feeling much like I did as I did during the tasting, exhilarated but cautious. The bubbles still racing through my active mind, my desire to get back in the shop and wrap my palate around the leftovers, this Champagne zealot still trying to figure the wines out I knew what my answer would be, “They were outrageous, but not for everyone.” 

Our little Champagne department plugged along through the holidays. People shopping at price point for gifts more often than people coming in to reward or treat themselves, (we have to work on that folks, we deserve it) and while I did move some of the geekier Champagnes it was the more traditional, well traditional for us anyway, bubbles that I reached for most often. Some of that may have been out of habit but, for the most part I wanted to put bottles in people’s hands that I knew would blow the receiver’s mind. Pleasure them, seduce them and not challenge them, I mean seeing as they didn’t sign up to be geeked out and all. Right?

Somewhere in the middle or end of last month, (whole damn month is sort of a blur) I opened a bottle of 2005 Marcel Moineaux Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, a nervy wine full of tart citrus along with the typical Chardonnay apple notes, massive minerality and bits of toast with salted butter. I dug the wine, it was tight, but it showed me enough flesh to give me a pleasant show. I didn’t finish the wine that night, stuck it back in the fridge, without a stopper, assuming I would get to it the next evening…I didn’t. In fact I didn’t get back to the for at least four days and when I pulled the open bottle from the fridge I felt like you do when you leave your pet out in the rain, horribly guilty.

 I poured some wine in a glass, watched and a tiny bead of bubble gathered at the bottom of the glass, was shocked to see a steady stream of super-fine bubbles swirl its way to the surface before breaking apart into a smattering of rogue eruptions. Gave the wine a good spin, buried my nose in the glass, “Hmm, not at all oxidized. Quite fresh actually and showing way more roasted apple skin than the other day” I was dumbfounded. I left the wine sitting out so it could shed some of its icy sweater, giving me a truer idea of how it actually smelled and held up. Sat with that wine for nearly an hour….stunning and light-years better than it had been when I opened a few days earlier. Couple things at play here, from being produced by an actual human, one that farms his own land and has his family out in the fields during the harvest, to the fact that we are talking about one of the world’s noblest of varieties, Chardonnay and a Grand Cru Chardonnay at that. Brilliant wine that just needed a little time to ooze out of its clothes and spread across the palate. 

“I just love Pinot Meunier” a fellow I’d met once, a year earlier and seen another time at a trade event mid-year but sort of backed away from when I saw he was one of those lean in, check the name tag and lapel before greeting kind of guys. “He’s looking to measure his certification which is basically the wine hipster equivalent of butt sniffing” the winemaker I had been talking to called it. The words I’d heard before, “I love Pinot Meunier” and increasingly over the years, but rarely from the customers I serve, almost always from an importer and a few times from people like the cat standing beside me.  I stood there, super-tart, lean, rhubarb tasting wine sloshing about in the bottom of my glass, I could see how people could enjoy this, hell I was enjoying it and fully comprehend that quirky wines that are, out of the bottle as it were are especially fun for those of us that taste a bunch of wine but, how would this come across to the consumer? Could they crave, this? I tossed back the last bit of curious wine before moving on to a pour of H. Billiot Grand Cru Brut, a Champagne that I've known, and craved for over a decade. I let the powerful Pinot Noir rich wine coat my palate and massage my mind. Soothe me while drawing me back, sort of like a sexy but buttery voice in your ear that causes your shoulders to go soft and plushy….until you feel the lips on the side of your neck.

One of my first Sundays off of the New Year I decided I would start the day with a bottle of Champagne. Amazing how little resistance I get from this particular move, no matter how friggin early, I get around this here joint. I popped the cork on a bottle of Laherte Freres Brut Tradition, a wine I had been sampling but really hadn’t spent the time I would like with, popped the cork, cooked up some sort of anti-resolution breakfast and delightfully washed it don with the fiercely herby and profoundly intriguing Champagne. Super fine bead, floral, herby, solid core of fruit and toast, charming as all get out and the extra snap of citrus rind on the back end made it perfect for my eggy, cheesy breakfast fare. I did as I always do, left the wine out of the fridge to watch it evolve as it warmed and about forty-five minutes in I found myself returning taking smaller sips and being distracted by little shit, and before an hour was up I was plunking the wine back in the fridge. As lovely as the wine was earlier I found that as it warmed in the glass it lost weight, left a little more prickly and that rhubarb like tartness was making my eye slam shut. Well shit. What gives? Oh yeah, 60% Pinot Meunier. Remind me again why this variety is planted all over the world again? 

Grower Champagne, or Farmer Fizz, (I know this is a Terry Theise phrase and while I adore that ground breaking importer and champion of the genre, fucking hate the term, nearly as much as “Champers” ugh) is popping up all over. I cannot even begin to express how marvelously rewarding it feels to see people come through our front door, some bent newsprint, glossy ripped out article or printed from the internet list in hand asking for the wines I have been busting my sizable ass, (that’s a lot of busting to do dude) supporting and being a very loud mouthpiece for, the better part of my seventeen years in this business. Unreal. Really, just unreal. Couple that with the fact that people are now removing the far-too-long imposed stuffiness of caviar and tuxedos, replacing the pairings with simple foods like, fried chicken, grilled cheese and yes, my always served potato chips, well it gives me so much hope that far more out there will take the time to taste, learn and feel what truly great Champagne is. Takes me right back to that night of the geeky Champagne class and leaves me feeling exhilarated….and cautious. 

So along with the push from the media and added chatter of the newly onboard there comes the super-geeky or fringe element as happens with any newish trend. Those Pinot Meunier loving folks and their ultra-dry buddies are chattering amongst themselves and I can tell some of those importer folks, they’re hearing it. Never, in all my years buying Champagne for The Wine Country, have I seen more bone dry, teeth shattering high acid, salty and sinewy wines come across the tasting table. Wines that engage my inner bubble dork and drag me in but cause the buyer in me to hover over the snooze button. Not that the wines aren’t way fucking cool, they are, and I buy them in two or three case lots and even pour them….for the way-into-it folks but are these what we should be selling the article-ripping-out consumer coming in looking for grower Champagne to taste for the first time? The ones reading the Los Angeles Times and watching Fox News for wine suggestions? We should send these uninitiated grower virgins home with Marion-Bosser Extra Dry Blanc de Blancs and Laherte Freres Brut Tradition? Dude, sounds like a dangerous plan that just might send us, the us that have been fighting for just this kind of opportunity to share grower Champagne with as many people as the tiny production allows, that it just might set us back another five years, at least. Lets soften those shoulders with the sexy and buttery wines like Saves, Billiot, Coutier, Laval and Agrapart, then maybe let the others slip their intrigue around their throats and sink their teeth in. 

I love the attention these very deserving wines are receiving and I wholly encourage more importers to seek out and bring us more of them. The one word of caution I might express to both importers and winemakers in Champagne….don’t go changing to suit this fickle market. Maybe have a word with the Austrians and see how their Gruner Veltliner sales are going. Have a chat with the guys making orange wines and see if their numbers have continued to increase. See if those trend setters have stuck hard and fast with their wines or have already moved on to discover and preach to the masses, the next new thing. Stay true to the wines you make and let us find an audience for them. Please.

By all means, proceed but…might I suggest just a little caution? Maybe listen to the knocks that opened the door, wait to see if everyone is willing to stay for the after party....

Thanks so much

I love you lots, always have

Your devoted bubble slinger,