Thursday, October 23, 2014

Belonging, Part One

“I’m working the graveyard shift Friday night if you can come by, maybe bring something for dinner and we can eat together on my break?” my boyfriend at the time flashing me that smile that only he could, the one that made me vibrate, like from the balls of my feet, in a way I was just beginning to discover was even possible. We had been dating just about six months, our first date being my 21st birthday…..just months after his 42nd, and we worked together. Talk about your recipe for painful and gloriously dramatic disaster. Howie, his name was Howie and despite his horrifically archaic ideas about women even though he had been raised by a single mother, in south central Los Angeles, and the fact that he was “sort of" married and had 5 kids, (none of which from the wife on the way out by the way) he had…well he had me tightly spun around his dark and calloused fingers. 

Howie wore the swagger of a confident man but not at all like I’d seen in the high backed, educated rigidness of my mother’s father, and not in the way that the guys I snuck out late at night to run away from where I was from, and get lost in a world where I didn’t belong did. It wasn’t fake and it wasn’t inspired by righteousness or the belief he was better than anyone. He spoke low and mostly when spoken to. He spent his lunch breaks, before he met me, taking a quick run and doing pull ups beneath the tarp covered scaffolding that he would wheel from one refrigerated shipping container to another to make the repairs his union paid him to. Big grin, firm dark body that looked, and felt, like it was at least fifteen years younger than 42. And that swagger…. 

One night after far too many gin fizzes I felt a large rough palm gently grab my jaw in the elevator ride as I was being walked back to the, “No guests allowed” apartment where I lived with my mother, son and sister. A warm mouth sucked in the bottom half of mine that was left agape and stunned…terrified with wanting and fear. My lip growing as swollen as my desire and absolute terror as to what was to be waiting on the other side of that door when I returned from the date my mother hated, seriously hated, me being on. Powerful hands digging at the fabric of my shirt, the sounds in the tiny elevator shifting from wanting soaked groans to the banging of a vintage box carrying us up the shaft of a dumpy apartment structure. The vitriolic spitting of humiliating rage from a sad woman, the scent of hair wax and fresh sweat and for the first time actually craving something to make me feel good. I didn’t really drink, didn’t fuck around with drugs and before that moment I had only craved sex as a means to my own power, this time what was biting at me was the willingness to give into his. My fingers stretching and trembling as I flipped the toggle that would suspend us, in time and between apartment floors.

“Erica let me borrow one of the pickups and I got us some Carl’s Jr for dinner” big smile as I flipped up the thick blue canvas to Howie’s scaffold and was met with that grin that oozed sheer primal want and the mild arrogance that came with knowing he was going to get. I had driven the borrowed pickup truck, the one he taught me to drive as my mother would not, the length of the terminal. It was dark for the most part, just a few graveyard guys working on chassis and reefer units as well as the guys working the towering cranes that plucked stuffed steel containers from the massive ships that rested upon the docks. I could hear the bits of chatter over the truck’s intercom system as the soft wheels of my chariot drove me to find the man with the hunger I was desperate to feed.   I rested the oily sack on the planking of the scaffold and pulled myself up to him by tugging on the thick metal bars that would hold our night in their grip. As I climbed back in the tiny pickup truck an hour later, my entire body saturated, weary and leaking the kind of exhaustion that was actually exhilarating it dawned on me, Howie’s confidence wasn’t in the money he was making down there at the harbor, it didn’t come from being better than so many at his trade, (although he was) or even in the fact that he had a woman, (at least one) half his age breaking all the rules she knew to be with him. No, it was in his knowing how fucking good he was. At working hard, traversing hardship and adversity, at staying focused and driven, at teaching a young girl that she was worth the effort and fight he would endure with coworkers and her mother….showing her what it felt like behind the wheel of a car, the freedom to push against the possible life crippling shackles of “Oh I came from here and made these mistakes so I’m fucked”. Howie taught me that if you are willing to work just a little bit harder, like stretching for that toggle switch, life can be so fucking worth it.   A man about a thousand miles away from perfect, especially for me, but in that time and place….we belonged. 

“Samantha, do you remember this?” I was just settling my ever-chunky rump into one of the, “Oh for the love of cheesesteaks don’t let me break this fucker” chairs in the artfully draped and fairly hip salon at Marion-Bosser in Hautvillers, a rather fancy but still quite tiny and charming village in Champagne. Elodie Marion, young, beautiful, fit, never having to worry about busting an antique chair, and winemaker for Champagne Marion-Bosser, was handing a hardcover book in my direction. The hardwood floors, the smells of melting butter, seared whitefish and asparagus spinning around my already dizzy head as I glanced from a richly red saturated painting on the wall to the glossy pages in front of me. There I was, big dumb grin, stoopid flat blonde hair, button up black shirt with The Wine Country emblazoned across the top of the shirt pocket…a picture of me standing with Elodie back in the shop when she had come to visit and thank us for stocking her wines. Right there in high resolution color and hard cover, my ugly mug in a book that sat upon a table in a salon in Champagne showing all that come to visit the Domaine one of the people that work with and support the wines.  

Invited to come to Champagne by an importer that wanted, valued and asked for, my opinion in finding some new grower Champagne, sent there willingly by the bosses that have allowed me to make our Champagne department mine, at that dinner table with forkfuls of white asparagus that had been dashingly slathered with some rich creamy sauce prepared by Elodie’s father, glasses refilled as we discussed the region and  the plight of the small grower. The first night of several with Aline in Champagne that would prove to me that while never easy, this fight has always been worth it. Not sure I ever had a groove to get back but that night, as I sat in a quiet guest room in Hautvillers sipping the last puddle of bone-dry and mouthwatering Rose Champagne, I sure as hell got my swagger back.

I belonged there.

To Be Continued....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Three Days...

In Manhattan went by way, too, fast....

Already thinking about when I can get back


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Now I....

"Lay thee down to rest"

Said that 2 years ago today....

Gave up one partner and companion for the love and happiness of another

Turns out I ended up falling even more in love with being strong enough to end a relationship full of desire but also full of sickness, decay and panic inducing dependency. I got out.

I've looked back but for the most part, this second chance, this freedom, this breath of absolute fresh air, keeps me on the right track and the missing part, that ache and longing.....not loud enough to compete with the ringing in my ears of joy, and pride. I did it.

Two years
Wow....not sure I thought it possible but
Here I am, thinking about boarding a plane tomorrow without having to consider packing cigarettes, how many I'm going to be able to cram in my face before the flight, the torturous 6 hours until I can bust through the sliding doors and fill my lungs with a love that was quite literally trying to kill me. Feels pretty fucking awesome I have to say....


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Better Still (Newsletter/Champagne)

It seems that each year the interest and therefore the demand for small production, grower Champagne gets more and more feverish. I was actually in Champagne this year in April when all the small growers were putting on trade events, (like 4 a day for 3 days) and the crowds were rather astonishing, not to mention the comments from winemakers telling us that they have never before been so inundated with importers looking to come visit and sample their wines for export. As a store that has specialized and championed wines from those hard working little farmers and shunned the big factory produced, bland, flaccid and often insidious tasting Champagnes from the Grand Marques we can assure you, the past five years have been the most thrilling for grower Champagne we’ve ever seen. 

Years past when asked to sample some never before heard of sparkling wine from Champagne I would cringe, knowing that there was a reason we’d not heard of the wines and that reason was they were dreadful at worst and snooze inducing at best. Frothy, murky tasting wines that were rushed to export because some importer needed to have a bubbly in his, or her portfolio, not because of the merit of the actual wine. Our set here at The Wine Country remained pretty much the same for quite a few years, with a few new faces/bottles coming and going, but for the most part we stood with the artisans we had discovered early on, the reason being that there were so few other wines that could compete with the electrifying diversity and concentration of the wines that were already on the shelf. Now? Now I am constantly sitting across from an importer or sales rep shaking my head, wondering how to convince Randy to let me have another rack just to hold all the remarkable Champagnes we’ve been introduced to as of late. 

Seems to be this perfect storm of situations converging upon the region of Champagne, everything from the end of long standing contracts to sell grapes to the large firms, a younger generation, that has traveled outside the region to make wine, sharing information and new ideas about crop management, the shunning of soil rotting pesticides, site specificity and tank verses barrel aging, add to that a bunch of wicked cool importers that have fallen in love with the newer, fresher face of Champagne and aren’t at all afraid to stand behind the quality of those wines, as wines and not just bubbly stuff reserved for popping once or twice a year.   Like I said earlier, it is a truly thrilling and magical time to be in love with Champagne.

New Arrivals


N.V. D. Henriet-Bazin Grand Cru Brut Rose ($43.99)

Comprised of 50% each Grand Cru Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and a blend of 2010 and 2011 vintages, this darkly colored, bone-dry Rose is a screaming value. A special cuvee made for importer Charles Neal, one with a very low dosage, this wine is perfect to pair with all sorts of foods. Elegantly lacy bubbles, dark fruit, some hints of yeastiness and a very clean, refreshing finish. 

2006 D. Henriet-Bazin Grand Cru Brut ($49.99)

Pinot Noir makes up the majority of the blend here and it is very apparent on the nose that is blasted with supple and ripe red fruit. One of those Champagnes that you don’t ever want to stop sniffing as the wine keeps evolving and changing in the glass. Fairly toasty but not at all oaky this is a bright and gorgeous Champagne that would be brilliant with roasted chicken or fish, gooey cheeses and holds up gloriously to eggy dishes as well.


N.V. Demarne-Frison Goustan Brut Nature ($55.99)

A multi-parcel blend of several vineyards of Pinot Noir this gentle and refined Champagne has such a wonderful texture and mouth feel. Loaded with citrus, dried flowers, red cherries and just a hint of beeswax. Very subtle and dry with precision and beautifully tiny bubbles.


N.V. Demarne-Frison Lalore Blanc de Blancs ($68.99)

Made from 100% Organic Chardonnay this wine is all about texture, grace and refinement. Baked green apples, anise, under-ripe pears and night blooming jasmine all with some powerful saturation and a long, long finish. 

N.V. Laherte Freres Ultradition Brut ($35.99)

We could not believe our ears when we heard the price on this charming organic Champagne. Made up of mostly Pinot Meunier with a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir added this supple and easy drinking bubbly is a slam-dunk in the “Bang for your buck” category.  Easy, bright, super-fresh and uber friendly.

N.V. Laherte Freres Blanc de Blancs ($41.99)

Such a remarkably focused and pure expression of great Champagne here and for so little money. A zero-dosage, or no sugar added Blanc de Blancs made from organic Chardonnay , this wine is full of tart citrus, chalky minerals and bits of toasted almond. Leaning on the racy side with all that citrus this wine was built to be an aperitif or to be served with fresh and simply prepared seafood dishes.


2005 Laherte Freres Extra Brut ($59.99)

We poured this sensual sparkler at a recent tasting and it was the very first wine to sell out! Made from 85% Chardonnay with Pinot Meunier making up the rest of the blend. A wine with loads of complexity but not so much that it distracts from the amazing floral, tangerine rind, fresh cut flower stems and buttered toast aromas. On the palate is where you feel the power, just a mouth full of richness but with a brilliant cut of acidity and bite. I love this beautiful sparkler on its own but there is enough stuffing there for scallops, fried chicken, prawns or even cured meats.


N.V. Georges Laval 1er Cru Brut Nature ($77.99)

If you ever want to impress a true Champagne geek give or share with them a bottle of Georges Laval. The wines from this tiny estate are some of the most sought after by true Champagne collectors and seeing as he makes less than 1,000.00 cases a year the demand won’t be easing up any time soon. Made from old organic vines and with this Brut Nature no dosage or sugar is added. This is one of the most wine-like Champagnes we’ve ever carried. The aromas, the weight in the mouth, the complexity, the power, the length, all bring to mind the greatest of Burgundy and this Champagne of that same level. Not a pop and enjoy Champagne, this one demands, requires and deserves your full attention. Brilliant. Simply brilliant stuff.


2009 Georges Laval 1er Cru Les Hautes Chevres ($249.99)

Made from 100% Premier Cru Pinot Noir and is so rare I was only able to get two six packs, for the year. Still quite young this wine has deeply saturated red fruit, spice, elegant herbal notes and a core of warm buttered brioche. One sip and the wines crawls up the side of your tongue and refuses to let go, spilling its power and regality across the palate and leaving a stain that I for one will never forget. A rare, rare treat but….who deserves one more than you? (Only 4 bottles left at deadline)   

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Seeking Burgundian Fruit (Newsletter)

“It’s not like all the Burgundy lovers all over the world are just going to start drinking Oregon Pinot Noir or Bordeaux” my response to a rather worried faced Burgundian that was, timidly explaining why prices are going to take a spike upward and availability on our beloved wines from the region is expected to be, for lack of a better term, tight. Four vintages, (2011, 2012, 2013 and now after some summer hail, 2014, although a warm dry summer may be helping a little) of seriously formidable weather, in some severe cases losses of up to 80% of their crop in certain villages, have wedged the Burgundians right between a rock and a very hard place. While there are still gorgeous wines to get, with some winemakers saying that 2012 was one of the finest vintages they’ve seen, in terms of quality, in a very long time but with miniscule amounts of wine to share, and sell, the small farmers in the region are left wringing their cracked, stained hands and being forced to raise prices across the board just to keep afloat.  

We heard it over and over again this past April as I walked the woefully under-stuffed cellars in Burgundy, winemakers trying their best to sound optimistic while also hoping to prepare us. The importer I was traveling with also fearful as she heard allocations, on even village level wines, slashed by up to two thirds. Tasting through those stunning wines, the pure expression of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the grim news of shortages and higher prices couldn’t cloud the beauty of the wines or the spirit of the gracious people of the region. I meant what I said to that small producer in Aloxe-Corton, once you’ve fallen in love with Burgundy no other wine can do the same things to and for you. No other wine can make you crave the way that Burgundy does, make those tiny hairs on the back of your neck wiggle and stand tall. There are wines the world over that, it can be argued, are just as good but for those of us that hear the whisper of Burgundy and can feel it calling us, only the wines from that tiny region can calm that stir…and fire us up again. Pommard and Volnay may be more expensive than they were a few vintages ago, that is if you can even find any before collectors gobble them up, but there are still places to find Burgundian fruit with prices that won’t make feeding that sexy Burgundy monkey on our backs quite so painful. 

2012 Sylvain Pataille Marsannay ($41.99)
Marsannay is a village located at the northern end of the Cote de Nuits, its most well-known neighbor being Gevrey-Chambertin, was once only known for their production of Rose, not the case anymore, and it is producers like Sylvain Pataille that are leading the way, and in many cases surpassing those in villages with far more prestigious names. Loads of dark fruit here, like black cherries but with some cola, roasted coffee and kisses of soy. Flirty and supple on the palate with a wonderful bite of super-fine tannin. Drinks far and above its appellation

2012 Sylvain Pataille Marsannay Les Longeroies ($58.99)
Many have said that they believe Les Longeroies should be elevated to Premier Cru status and it takes just a few spins in the glass to figure out why. Deeper, darker, spicier, sprinkled with rose petals and crushed red fruit. Full and sexy on the palate but with a vibrancy that keeps the wine from feeling out of balance, or like it came from anywhere but Burgundy. I was only able to get one case of this suggestive wine so grab it while you can. Pataille is gathering a huge fan base, one that will nab this the second they see it.

2011 Domaine Charles Audoin Marsannay Les Longeroies ($34.99)
A very traditional Burgundy here, meaning lots of savory notes interplaying with sweet roasted red fruits. A lighter Pinot Noir on the palate with plenty of sassy green aromas and spice for days. Shows better the longer it’s in the glass so decanting helps this juicy and delicious Pinot Noir show all it has to give.

2011 Domaine Prieur-Brunet Santenay-Maladiere 1er Cru ($35.99)
Such a pretty and elegant Pinot Noir. Gentle, tart red cherries dance along the sides of this light and graceful wine. Plenty of earthy flavors along with the red fruit, some mossy, mushroom and charred meat flavors as well as a wonderful blast of not-yet-ripe strawberries. Lovely wine for simple meals where it won’t have to fight big flavors. Drinking good now but could improve with a year or two in the cellar. 

2010 Domaine Berthelemot Monthelie ($37.99)
Showing a light texture but one completely packed with sweet juicy black cherries, grilled meats, dark roast coffee and faint bits of teriyaki. Lots of stuffing here for a wine with such a shy price tag. The flavors are long, the tannin firm and the pleasure immense and the amount of wine to get, tiny. Pick up a couple steaks full of marbling, toss them on the grill pour yourself a deep glass of this wine and enjoy.