Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Well once again I am very thrilled to report, that even the day after Thanksgiving, a day where we stuff ourselves with poultry and all the fixings, many of us imbibing a little extra by way of wine either to celebrate or stave off any desire to talk politics around the holiday table, that even after all that our Champagne and Fried Chicken night not only sold out, it was a massive success.

Although we’ve been doing this event for over ten years we still get raised eyebrows and deeply concerned tones when we mention pairing the frothy and rich nobility of Champagne with fried yard bird. I guess we sort of get it. I mean when many think of Champagne they envision celebratory meals and royal parties, likely dotted with platters of cold seafood and decadent delights, which is precisely why we started putting our chicken where our mouths are as it were, and started doing these events once or twice a year. 

I’ve forever railed against regulating Champagne to a twice or thrice a year, special occasional drink, that is the equivalent of putting Baby in the corner if you ask me. No, don’t do it, let it hit center stage and show what it can do. On one level I do understand, I’ve tasted the wines that people shill as good, or name brand Champagne and doesn’t take more than a couple sips for one to find them utterly forgettable. Fizzy, festive in bubbles and not much else. That is true of the Moets and Veuve Clicquots of the world but the small grower, handmade, artisan Champagnes we have been stocking for the past 15 years? No, these are wines well beyond bubbly stuff and they merit a place at the dinner table. Plus I’m sorry, despite its humble beginnings, fried chicken is all sorts of decadent! Crunchy seasoned breading shattering between your teeth just before they sink into moist and salty flesh, to wash that down with a curvy wine, full of baked fruit, citrus, melted butter and caramel notes, the tiny froth vibrating along the sides of your palate, refreshing you, enticing you, for one more sip and one, more, bite? Well in the world of food and wine pairings it simply doesn’t get much better. 

The Friday after Thanksgiving, the 125 pieces of fried chicken being piled onto plates, the 40 bottles of selected Champagne chilled, checked for correctness and waiting, an eager crowd filing through the front door, checking in, finding their places at the tables, settling in and ready to get their bird and bubbles groove on, always a magical feeling.

The crowd was effusive and engaging, the wines all so different and full of character that there wasn’t one that didn’t find a home that night. Always cool to see the lines at the register but it’s also so very gratifying to see how many people are getting it and discovering just how amazing these wines, that happen to have bubbles in them, are. 

 N.V. Suenen Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 
Always a treat for me personally to open a bottle of this gorgeous Chardonnay based Champagne. I was lucky enough to be with the importer in Champagne when she, well I was going to say “discovered” him but the truth of the matter was, we were both over the moon after tasting and listening to young Aurelien Suenen, it was more like I was with her as she tried to convince him to let her import his wines to California. Been following along ever since and these wines just keep getting better and better. This young man is at the very beginning of his winemaking career and trust me, pay attention, now before his wines catch on here as they have in Champagne and other markets. 

The precision and focus here is rather remarkable. The aromatics are sewed together nearly seamlessly. Floral notes, anise, cold white stones and lemon curd. Just an elegantly balanced and aromatically regal wine to be sure. The average vine age here is about 45 years and you can feel that power on the palate, the length is tremendous. You taste white peach and quince with more lemon and just the faintest nuttiness. Bit of a heart-stopper and one of our most treasured finds. Less than 1,700 cases produced. 

N.V. Vazart Coquart Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 
I love pulling the wines from Vazart Coquart for events where we feature food, simply because the wines from this Domaine are designed to enhance the food on the table and they make a range of wines that compliment everything from raw foods to foie gras. Decadent in its palate coating texture but full of freshness and nerve. Tart green apple skin on the nose that folds into a rich doughy notes and then lifted to preserved lemons. Plenty of weight but not mucked up by heavy yeast notes that can, and do often, come off clunky with food. There is a brilliance in the crystalline clarity and snappy bite of this delicious wine. 

N.V. Robert Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 
All the fruit for this creamy but serious Blanc de Blancs is sustainably farmed with careful dedication the making sure the soils are clean, vibrant and offering the healthiest fruit possible. Loads of baked apples on the nose with a countering mineral and citrus flesh note. Nice tension and weight on the palate with a super friendly creaminess that reminds you of a citrus tart with warm custard. Astounding quality for this price. 

N.V. Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 
Now something for the toasty loving bunch. Produced from grapes grown in one of the greatest of Grand Cru Chardonnay villages, this wine is full of rich and sultry fruit as well as that pie crust and rising bread note. Fairly full on the palate this wine had the texture to hold up to a wide array of foods but that lovely yeasty toasty note make it a divine choice for simply sipping too. Huge value here folks. 

2005 Maurice Vesselle Grand Cru Les Hauts Chemins Blanc de Noirs 
This is a truly rare treat to be sure. I fell in love with the wines from this Domaine when I tasted their wines at a trade event in Champagne. There was something so fleshy, powerful, concentrated and elegant about them that I sort of nudged an importer friend to consider them for import to California. Luckily for all of us she and I were on the same page and in late 2014 the wines of Maurice Vesselle made their debut not just in California but in the United States! We are not only very proud that we were involved, we fall deeper for these wines each and every time we taste them.

This 2005 was tasted on a more recent visit to the Vesselle Domaine and I was literally rendered speechless when I tasted it. I kept hovering my pen over my tasting notes but the wine, this wine, it was too incomparable for me to find the proper words in that moment. It was too perfect to try and break apart. I dropped my pen and asked that 3 cases be imported for us.

Made from 100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir this wine is the epitome of nobility for its texture and length. A lower dosage has you truly tasting the purity and exemplary quality of fruit that made this base wine. Simply put, one of the best wines I tasted in 2016. Only 800 bottles produced.  


N.V. Pierre Gerbais Extra Brut Rose 
A new acquisition for us this year the wines from Pierre Gerbais, and one we are very excited about! Young Aurelien Gerbais at 24 years old is the 8th generation at the helm of the Gerbais domaine and is creating quite the buzz, both in Champagne and in savvy Champagne markets around the globe. Sustainable farming, lower dosage added and a somewhat unusual blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc this Rose is quite dry and very finessed. Tart red fruits with some pretty floral notes. Fresh, vibrant and utterly brilliant with food. 

N.V. Hugues Godme Grand Cru Brut Rose
Hugues Godme is considered, within Champagne, one of the most passionate and respected growers in the business. His wines are certified biodynamic and only natural yeasts are used. I find the wines from this estate to have a certain regality to them and this super dry Rose is no exception. Deeply aromatic but more floral than fruity. On the palate there is just the tiniest of bubbles that dance across tongue leaving in their wake a shimmer of fresh apple skin and pie crust. Loves dark meat poultry, salmon and shines with salty and briny foods.  

N.V. Marc Hebrart 1er Cru Brut 
Made from mostly Pinot Noir with a little Chardonnay which adds a great amount of lift. Pretty expressive and with plenty of bready notes on the nose. Solid core of stone fruit with a touch of yeasty flavor. Nicely weighted in the mouth but with super fine bubbles so it doesn’t feel, or come off, too heavy. Reminds me of Taittinger in the good old days. 

2009 Camille Saves Grand Cru Brut 
The Champagnes from Camille Saves have been some of our most beloved and bestselling Champagnes, across the range of wines, for quite a few years now. I always call the wines from this domaine, “Game Changers” as they have converted more wine lovers to diehard Champagne lovers than any other we have. They are some of the most luscious and generous as we’ve ever had.

2009 is one of the best vintages in the 2000s and this offering from Saves is comprised of 80% Pinot Noir and 20%Chardonnay, all from Grand Cru vineyards, so as good as it gets in Champagne for quality. Deeply saturated and bursting at the seams with baked apple, browned butter, salted caramel and brioche. Mouth coating, powerful, dominate and all the sexy that implies. 

2009 H. Billiot Grand Cru Brut
Laetitia Billiot recently took the reins at the Billiot domaine in I can say, in all honesty, they’ve never been better in all the 15 years we’ve been stocking them. She is getting tremendous extraction from her vines and it shows in the nearly chewy density of her thrilling wines. Been truly exiting t watch the elevation of this winery for so many years but the real thrill comes from popping bottles like this meaty, palate staining 2009 vintage. Wow. 

Caramelized pears, roasted cashews, salted butter, lemon oil and cream filled pie dough come screaming across the palate with flavors so intense and lavish that they leave an indelible stain. If you are looking for coy and lean this is NOT your wine. This is giving it all up, right up front and seductively unashamed. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Safety First

I’m willing to go $75 on both of them”

I know that to many of you it may seem as if I’ve sort of vanished from the wine blogosphere, and for the most part I guess that is true. I’m not sure I ever belonged in that group to begin with actually, seeing as my blog is more of a personal diary of sorts. My life, my son, my relationships, my passion both before wine wrapped its textured tongue around me, swallowed me whole, and after. I write, um maybe wrote is a more accurate word considering how often I’ve been here as of late, (Been writing some soul searching and blisteringly raw pieces for myself but I have been woefully absent from this space) for the joy of finding my voice, sharing and maybe, just once in a while, making someone feel a little more comfortable tucked into their own skin in this complex and confusing world we all amble through. Felt like I was there for a bit but somewhere along the way I succumb to the awkward tugging of these pages, my bare flesh and emotion so exposed the utter nudity of my words making me both moist with want to do more and susceptible to the lashings from those that shamed be for everything from my lack of education to the insatiable gnarl of sensuality that haunted me until I found this place to unzip.

Messes with one’s head I assure you and as I have mentioned in posts earlier, I feel like I have been binding and gagging myself in some sort of emotional self-mutilation. So fucking cliché that I feel like I am preforming an act of flagellation by stepping out from behind my silent cursor to strip down to my most naked and defeated, all my blobby and chewed up bits unprotected for the bottom feeders to feast upon. Fuck you. Eat the poison you fed me. Those toxic little injections of anger, mockery, accusation and utter disregard coursing through my already collapsing veins sending me seeking new ways to nod out….silence my opiate of choice, until.

“I’m willing to go $75.00 on both”

I was sitting with my son at the restaurant I am currently owned by. We were scarfing spring rolls, our teeth tugging through the chewy skin to be met with sticks of vibrant cucumber, crisp greens, densely packed charred sweet shrimp and a layer of deep fried wrapper skin that has been tucked in the middle of the utterly perfect roll, you know, just for added crunch and craveability. The viscous orange sauce I’d seasoned with floral, and throat grabbing peppers, a blanket of hedonism and punishment. The Vietnamese crepe with its painfully delicate eggy crustiness balancing on our chop sticks as we folded pieces into cool lettuce envelopes that we would douse with a sour bath of fish sauce and sweet vinegar and fragrant purple herbs. The packet brought to our insatiable palates, bean sprouts and tender shrimp bodies melting and exploding at the exact same time. It was nearly enough, until.

“Have you seen this?!”

“I can’t fucking believe this”

“Are you okay?” 

The text messages started mid meal and that sinking feeling I had been feeling for a month, it was now an undertow that locked around my ankles and pulled me under so deep and for so long I was terrified that I might not ever breathe correctly again. Worse, not sure I wanted to considering the fact that hate actually won.

 Election night 2016. I spent it in one of my favorite spots, with someone I love more than any other on the planet, then I came home, threw up and emotionally passed out on my couch. Clothes on, my sickened breath redolent with the gin martini I “needed” before heading home and the bile stirred up by a momentary loss in my faith. I don’t read a book, I don’t pray at any alter. My faith lies in the oft kicked in the gut belief that most of us, no matter how blobby and poisoned, scared, scarred and uncertain, we are at our core decent. Trying to find my faith the next few days would prove, erm, challenging and at times painful but….

“You got them both!”

A Facebook message from my coworker Andy. He had been at the shop working our annual Su Casa event. Su Casa, a group that helps victims of domestic violence escape and begin a new, safe life. If there are more courageous and selfless people out there I don’t know who they are. Each year Randy and Dale Kemner, my bosses, offer up our space, provide wine and staff as well as a few snacks to Su Casa so they can raise awareness, and funds that will provide much needed assistance to families that just need that extended hand and safe space. Those of you that have been reading me for any length of time will fully understand why this cause is so near my heart. These individuals are what we should all aspire to be, people that care for those so in need that even just the slightest beam of brightness and hope will inspire their own inner superhero. Inspire them to reach out to the hand that is being extended to them and run from the one that has been pounding and reigning down upon them.

I’m going to confess a weak truth. I never work this event. It’s too close and too hard for me. I look at the faces of the women that come in to set up. Prep food. Fasten balloons to tables and sign posts. Smell them heavily scented and feel their palpable excitement for the evening like a sweet stroke over long ago healed wounds, a whisper over my scars. I know I should be the first to volunteer but, but I don’t. I prep cheese plates in the back and before walking out the back door I look into our space, The Wine Country’s big welcoming embrace as newly glammed up women work together fastening name tags, prepping prizes for the raffle and shove big serving spoons in plastic bowls full of fresh fruit or mayonnaise dressed salads in order to raise some money for their sisters that will come, when they are ready. I soak it in each year and slip out the backdoor. Proud of the people I work for and amazed at the overpoweringly uplifting and, hopefully, inspiring nature of the whole scene. This year however…

Before I was running out, too afraid to look anyone too deep in the eye, not for how they might recognize my, edge, as much as for the fact that being in their presence tends to cause a reaction in me that most find unnerving. Watching a grumpy looking rock tear up is some sort of Hunter S Thompson level crazy and I find most would rather not. Can’t say as I blame them, can you? Anyhow, this time I took a few extra moments. Strolled the shop and decorations. Helped with affixing balloons and assisted a lovely woman with caramel colored skin, shiny jet black curls, cheerful eyes and full painted lips that stretched wide with every gesture that made her tasks a little easier. She was stunningly confident and comfortable and I envied her. Admired her. She had in her smile and wit something I was drawn to. A longing. A familiar flicker that made me feel at home. Safe. I followed her around with a tape dispenser taking deep breaths, hoping I could breathe in some of her hope.

Heading out just before the event was to begin and I was stopped, literally in my tracks, by two paintings. I leaned in close. Studied the lines like I’d seen people in museums all over the world do. My goofy uneducated noggin taking it all in. Hands folded behind me, back slightly curved as I inspected the work being displayed. Both pieces critically inspected I scribbled a, slightly low, bid on both of them before straightening up my spine and walking over to Randy as I grabbed my backpack.

“Randy, I want them. I’m willing to go $75.00 on both”

Randy’s big smile the kind of extended hand I was seeking. I knew, as I always know, he was looking out for me and would do his best to help me, help lots of us. Climbing into my car that night I knew I had an advocate, as a woman and as a person, in my corner and I knew he would raise his paddle as it were and fight for my instantly adored and longed for pieces genuine hope. 

So now? Now I get to wake up each morning, some easier than others but I wake up knowing that no matter how much hate there is out there, in my home, my homes if you include The Wine Country and this place, if y’all still want me, I have safety…and hope. 

Thank you Su Casa, Randy Kemner for all you do and thank you to Lamesha and Jose, your beautiful paintings full of honesty and hope grace my living room walls and remind me that as bad as things get, there is always hope. You give me the courage and desire to speak, loudly. Cry openly. Seethe secrety. Drink deeply. Love openly. Open my mouth and creek out my voice again, hopefully.