I’d like to offer this reminder to everyone….everywhere…no matter what season it is.
This month’s wine writing challenge is Epiphany, as selected by last month’s winner John, The Wine Raconteur. The first thing that came to mind was The Burgundy. But I feel quite certain you are sick of hearing about it….so, I thought I’d be bold and try something else.
The second best thing about working in a wine tasting room is
proving people wrong helping people try new things they were sure they hated.
BTW, I’d like to insert that if you didn’t know the best thing about working in a wine tasting room is drinking wine, then get out of my life–I don’t need that kind of negativity.
But back to
proving people wrong helping people try new things they were sure they hated. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. When it comes to wine, this is a rather fun challenge. I don’t do it to be cantankerous. I do it to prove to everyone I meet that there is a whole big world of wine out there–why limit yourself to just pinot noir or white zin or only true French champagnes [please hear that with all the snobbery it was intended] or only reds or whites or sweet or dry?
We all have a preference but to me there was nothing more satisfying than seeing a look of epiphany on someone’s face who bravely let me lead them out of their comfort zone and realized that they liked it out there.
What led me on this path to wine-enlightenment was that I started working at a wine shop that only sold Texas wine–this was back in the early 90s when nobody was talking about Texas as a wine producer. During my time there, I had many epiphanies there–but none more so than my first day.
On Day #1, I was told that being able to speak about the wines we offered and make recommendations was the most important part of my job, so my first task was to taste every single bottle on the bar that we had available for sampling. Whaaaaat?? There are 1, 2, 3…33 of them! Since that moment in time, I have found this to be THE BEST advice I’ve ever gotten in the world of wine (and it easily applies to most things in life): don’t judge, just try everything.
I’m not going to lie, I was not excited about trying the whites and rosés–I was a red wine drinker. And by red wine, I mean cabernet sauvignon and tempernillo. But I hated, hated, hated white and rosés–because my initial introduction to these wines were uber-sweet (of the added sugar variety) or mass produced (aka tasteless) pinot grigio or (shudder) white zinfandel or over-oaked California chardonnay .
Before you hit comment to defend your beloved [insert wine I just insulted here], KEEP READING!
Over the course of several days, I tried every single bottle that was available for sampling. And I’m not going to lie, I did not like 50% of it, but I did find some unexpected hidden gems, such as dry riesling, gewürztraminer, viognier, and French colombard. Suddenly my wine palate opened considerably! With these varietals and styles, I found fruity, but not sweet, flavorful white wines. Then I discovered dry rosés and French oak and realized that oak could lend itself to creaminess–not just tasting like I was chewing on a bark. So I revisited my arch-white wine nemesis: chardonnay. This time, I started with the French stuff, which had more fruit and just enough oak to get me used to the flavor. Eventually, I even found (gasp!) a few California chardonnays that I like. Of course, my hate also spilled over (pun intended!) into some of the red wines as well (**cough**merlot, pinot noir**cough**), but I now always try them because I have found some of each that I adore (think Russian River Valley and, hahaha, surely you had to know I was going to find a way to mention The Burgundy).
So it was in this spirit, that I would try to help customers who came into the wine shop with their broad-stroke declarations, like “I don’t drink Texas wine.” Of course not, because until two seconds ago you weren’t even aware that Texas wine existed….so you tell me what you like to drink and then hold on to your glass because I’m about to show you what’s been missing in your life!
What would a birthday trip be without a special birthday dinner? Granted this one was a lot more low key than the first one. It was equally as memorable–this time for the food–nor did I get drenched!
First stop: dinner! at a swanky seafood and steak house in St. Paul called Kincaid’s.
We started with Country Fried Calamari, which were (as one would imagine) battered and fried. What made them unique was the addition of artichoke hearts. I’m not a big fan of artichoke hearts, but when they’re deep fat fried and served with a garlic aioli, I am aaaaaallllllllllllll over that!
Of course, we were nearly done before I even thought to take a picture (I’m so embarrassing to take out to eat these days!), so I tried for an artsy shot with my Chateau St. Jean cabernet sauvignon!
When the main course arrived, I grabbed a few quick shots of my surf & turf and April’s shellfish fettuccine. Of course, I was way more focused on the food than on actually focusing the shot (as you can see)–but trust me, if you would have been smelling dinner, you would have been eager to get to it as well!
Everything was so delicious that stopping with enough room for dessert did not seem like an option. Besides, who am I to waste delicious steak, shrimp, and au gratin potatoes?
After dinner we took a stroll through downtown St. Paul, headed for our second stop: The Ordway Centre for the Performing Arts, where we had tickets to see Nice Work If You Can Get It. It was a fun show, with lots of great singing-a-long-songs (don’t worry, I refrained from singing–much to everyone’s delight!).
While a much more low key event than FNFBD#1, Birthday Dinner #2 was a great evening spent enjoying delicious food & wine, lots of laughs, and hanging with one of the coolest people I know–it doesn’t get much happier than that.
Just kidding…no such thing!
After an afternoon of wandering around downtown Minneapolis, April & I met up with a friend at the Smack Shack.
We started the feast with a lobster guacamole appetizer. I will admit it took a couple of bites to wrap my head around eating guacamole and lobster together. Once I did, it was really good. And by that, I mean, the lobster was amazing. The guacamole was okay. Don’t get me wrong, it was good–just a little less flavorful than I like it. But I didn’t make it, nor do I consider the Midwest a place where spicy foods prevail. Plus it did allow for the lobster to shine, thus: really good.
I also ordered another appetizer which the table refrained from enjoying: raw oysters. Their loss (although they don’t think so). I let our lovely waitress pick out a selection of both East and West Coast varieties. Going in, I thought I would prefer the West Coast, as they are from the same ocean as my favorite oysters (from Sydney and the southeast Australian coast). But no, I preferred (ever-so-slightly, mind you) the East Coast oysters, which have a more crisp, clean, and salty flavor. The West Coast oysters were a bit more creamy and mild. Both paired nicely with the local beer from (literally) down the street: Fulton Lonely Blonde.
All of that was forgotten when the main course arrived. Well, not the beer–it also paired deliciously with….The Lobster Mac & Cheese. It was everything amazing in the culinary world. Creamy, cheesy, buttery, big chunks of lobster. It melted in your mouth. I was truly torn between shoveling it in as quickly as possible and drawing out every.single.savory.bite to make it last as long as possible. I may have even used my finger to scoop out the last bit of cheese from the bottom of the bowl (the waitress assured me everyone did!).
While I’m always in love with a good meal, this was one of the very few meals I was truly sad to see end. Lobster, cheese, pasta, beer, oysters, guacamole: how could you go wrong with any of those combinations? 😉
I know I shared this margarita before on a certain [ahem, birth-] day a few months ago, but I thought it was fitting to share again, since this delicious margarita was a tasty part of Birthday Trip #2! Salute!
I wasn’t actually planning on Margarita Monday to be a regular thing, but I figured what the heck–who doesn’t like margaritas?!?!? Also, if you’d like a picture of your tasty margarita to appear here for Margarita Mondays, please tweet it to me @epicurioustexan!
In honor of today’s Big Birthday: Not 40, Just Fabulous, I thought it appropriate to honor this Margarita Monday with my cranberry margarita from Chevy’s during my Birthday Trip #2 (because when you’re turning Not 40, Just Fabulous, you get multiple birthday trips!).
Deep in the middle of Itasca State Park is Lake Itasca, the source of a small, unassuming stream that opens up to span over 2,300* miles to the Gulf of Mexico, creating the 4th largest river in the world.
April & I drove through the huge 32,000-acre state park, heading for the closest parking lot to Lake Itasca. I’d like to interject that this is a beautiful time of year to visit the park, the foliage is gorgeous, the weather is nearly perfect for hiking, and there are very few, if any, mosquitos!
We finally found the parking lot and hiked down a winding trail to the lake, with a dam of rocks that is the start of the the Mississippi river.
After negotiating our way across the rocks, we walked downstream to the next crossing and crossed back. We ambled along side the stream for a bit, marveling at the size–or rather lack thereof. It seemed a mere trickle to what I had seen at various points downstream, including its delta in New Orleans.
After a few more pics–and the obligatory selfie (us-ie?)–we got back in the car and continued heading south, Twin City-bound!
PS–You can read a plethora of facts about the Mississippi River from the National Park Service, but one of the most interesting facts (in my humble opinion) is that the elevation of the river at Lake Itasca is 1475 feet above sea level and drops nearly half of that elevation before it leaves the state of Minnesota.
*Also there is some discrepancy exactly how long the river is, with some sources, like the US Geological Society, stating it is 2,300 miles and others, like Itasca State Park, stating it is 2,552 miles and still many more than fall in between these two lengths.