MWWC 34: Memory

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I have often said that the best part of wine is sharing it with someone.  As such, there are some wines and/or wineries that will always and forever remind me of a specific person, like Teresa & Grape Creek or Nerida & Chandon.  Or even Matthew & Silver Oak–ironically not because we’ve consumed copious amount of Silver Oak, but because we arrived at their tasting room 5 minutes after they closed and I might have had a momentary meltdown that ended 4 seconds later with Matthew flatly informing me to get back in the car or he was going back to San Jose without me.

In case you’re wondering what this has to do with Hawaii: nothing.  What it has to do with is that this month’s wine writing challenge (#34), as selected by last month’s winner Kent of Appetite for Wine, is MEMORY.

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I was trying to figure out which wine holds the most memories for me, however, I realized that was a bit like picking a favorite child.  Instead, I decided to pick a winery.

I’ve talked about the Chisholm Trail Winery before.  I mean, any winery that can get me to love their merlot is quite special indeed–and their 1994 Merlot did just that.  But their cabernets–spectacular: fruity, but dry with just a tiny bit of spice and oh-so-smooth.

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But the wines aren’t the reason that I picked this winery.

Perhaps you might think that it has to do with winemaker, Paula K. Williamson, who is charismatic, has an infectious laugh, and is almost never seen without her signature black Stetson.  But no, while Paula is fabulous and I adore her, she is not the reason either.

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You might even think that it’s because Christi & I spent one hot August day helping Paula & crew pick grapes in the vineyard and then watched the bottling process while sampling some of the winery favorites.  It was a long, fun-filled, exhausting day, but no.  That’s not it either.

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The reason Chisholm Trail Winery holds so many memories for me has nothing to do with wine at all.  It is because the land where the winery sits used to be owned by my family.  Specifically my great-great Uncle Hugo.  Hugo was my grandfather’s uncle and we spent a lot of time at Uncle Hugo’s because he had the best fishing hole in the county.  As a young girl I spent hours and hours at the creek behind the house, which now runs long the south side of the vineyards.  I spent hours running around the old, gigantic trees scattered around the now-winery picking flowers for Granny, who rarely came with us.

It’s been probably 35 years since I last went fishing with Uncle Hugo, but every time I open a bottle of Chisholm Trail wine, memories flood back.  I feel the sun on my face, the cool water tickling my feet, and can hear Uncle Hugo’s hearty laugh.  There are many reasons to love Chisholm Trail winery and their wines.  But for me, I love it because tastes like home.

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Cheers!

 

 

MWWC #33 Once Upon A Time

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This month’s wine writing challenge (#33 if you’re keeping track or ignored the title of this post) is Once Upon A Time, which was selected by last month’s winner Wining with Mel.

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To most people, Once upon a time probably makes them think of a plethora of Grimm fairy tales or perhaps a certain tv show, but not me.  Once upon a time makes me think of college.  This is because at the time I was living with my BFF and whenever she couldn’t sleep, I would hear her yelling from down the hall: I can’t sleep, tell me a story.

All of my stories (at least that I can remember–it has been few years ago!)–started with: Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a beautiful princess named Christina.  If I were feeling loquacious, my stories would be rather long and involved, often based on my own travels.  If I didn’t, the story would be exceptionally short and sweet, like this*:

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there lived a beautiful princess named Christina, who drank all the wine in her castle. Unfortunately, her sommelier could not get her more wine immediately, so she had him guillotined, and then cried herself to sleep.  The End.

*This story has been changed to fit the parameters of writing about wine.  It is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event (don’t panic people: no castle has been depleted of their wine stores nor any sommelier guillotined!).

Of course, because it is a wine writing challenge, I feel if I just left you with a horror story about a castle with no wine and a guillotined sommelier, I would be banned from further participation in future MWWCs.   Plus, I’m feeling a bit loquacious…so Sissy, this one is for you!

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a beautiful princess named Christina. Princess Christina lived in a big, beautiful castle overlooking a pool small and peaceful lake and sprawling lands.  One beautiful morning, Princess Christina went downstairs to find her cook distraught.  The wine cellar was empty!  The sommelier?  Gone!  Neither of these were through any fault of Princess Christina (despite a previously mentioned horror story).  However, Princess Christina decided that moving forward she would be personally checking all references on job applications.

But hiring a new sommelier was the least of her worries–SHE HAD AN EMPTY WINE CELLAR!  What is a princess to do? Not wanting to wait through the drudgery of finding another sommelier, Princess Christina did the only thing she could think of: she loaded up her carriage and set off immediately in search of great wine.

Her first stop was to find a buttery chardonnay, so she headed west to California.  While chardonnays today aren’t quite as buttery as in the days of yore, she knew she could still find something delicious at the La Crema Winery.

la cremaShe was definitely not disappointed. The 2015 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, while not buttery per se (for definitions, click here!), is still very creamy and complex with oak and melon flavors.  It is hearty enough to pair with a meal, like Thanksgiving dinner, but is smooth enough to enjoy with a cheese course or simply paired with a good book while sitting by the pool small and peaceful lake.

As much as Princess Christina wanted to spend the day at La Crema, her empty cellar kept her on task.  With a few cases of this classic chardonnay loaded in her carriage, Princess Christina set off for Italy (she has a special flying carriage, don’t question–this is a fairy tale!).  Home of Italians, Chianti, Prosecco, Mount Vesuvius, and a delicious little thing called Montepulciano.

 

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The Tralcetto Montepulciano from Catina Zaccagnini is a great addition to the wine cellar as an Italian alternative to the traditional Chianti.  This Montepulciano is quite bold and fruity–although not as much as a zinfandel–but has a dry finish.  It is flavorful without being overbearing and because it is aged in steel then oak it is very balanced.  It drinks well with a wide variety of pastas (as any good Italian wine should!), especially venison ragù.  And in terms of pure novelty/coolness points, each bottle has a small twig of the vine tied around the neck of the bottle.

Princess Christina was very excited to add this to her carriage and as much as it pained her to leave, she still had to make at least one more stop before heading back to her castle.  There was some inner dialogue as to where her final stop would be, but she soon realized that there was only one real choice: Champagne.

IMG_2740Of course within Champagne, the possibilities were endless.  So–being ever the diplomat–Princess Christina decided to randomly pick and ended up at a quaint little house called Perrier-Jouët.  With a plethora of champagnes from which to choose, Princess Christina tried them all several times and perhaps she came home with at least a case of each.  It was hard not to do so, after all it is champagne and one can never have too much champagne on hand!  Like the Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut.  It has floral and citrus notes with a nutty, crisp finish that makes it very easy to drink.

Laden down with a carriage full of wine, Princess Christina decided that she had a very good start to restocking her wine cellar and the best thing for her to do is go back home where she could sit by the pool small and peaceful lake with a glass of wine.  Her only worry now was which wine to drink first.  And as she sat and enjoyed her glass of wine and the tranquility of the pool small and peaceful lake, she reminisced on the fun of her wine buying trip .  While she still wanted to hire a new sommelier, perhaps she needn’t hire one just yet.

THE END.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MWWC #30: Obscure

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This month’s wine writing challenge was picked by…well, me!  As last month’s winner for my glass-shattering tales in my Winestory, I got the honor of picking this month’s theme: OBSCURE.

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For full disclosure, Jeff helped me pick OBSCURE–and he was right, it was the word I was looking for in my quest to hear about the often-forgotten grapes.  What I sent to Jeff was a long rambling email about how I was enjoying Lori and Mike of Draceana Wines posts about Cabernet Franc and their push for #CabFrancDay.  I love Cabernet Franc, from the moment that I tasted it!  But a lot of people have not heard of this delicious grape and even fewer know of other Cabernet grapes, like Ruby Cabernet.

Side note: Grape Creek makes a delicious blend of these three Cabernet grapes, Cabernet Trois, which I highly recommend if you’re in Texas and/or can get your hands on some!

This got me thinking: I wanted to hear from everyone that one varietal that they love that perhaps few outside the world of wine have experienced.  Everyone (wine drinker or not) has heard of Chardonnay, Shiraz, the main Pinots (note: any snarky comments about me lumping Noir and Grigio into one will be ignored!), Rieslings, Cabernet, Merlot, and even (shudder) White Zin, but there are thousands and thousands of varietals out there–what about them?

Btw, this was all pretty much in my nebulous (his word, not mine–ha!) email to him.  Thankfully, he recently moved to Texas and was able to decipher my ramblings and come up with a–in my humble opinion–great word.

So it is in that spirit that I wanted to tell you about my favorite OBSCURE wine, actually wines.  There are four in fact, because well, go big or go home.

Gewürztraminer, Viognier, French Colomabard, and Dry Riesling

ANOTHER SIDE NOTE: I know Rieslings are not obscure and were in my list above, but DRY Rieslings are a bit harder to find…that is my story and I’m sticking to it.

At the time I introduced to each of these wine I was working at the wineshop.  I was very leery of white wine because I lumped them all (I know, bad Shezza!) into two categories: Chardonnay (gag!) and exceptionally sweet Rieslings (not so much gag as too sweet to drink more than a ½ glass!).

But as I worked my way down the tasting bar, my tastebuds discovered there was actually a wide variety in flavors and sweetness levels of white wines–far more than I ever imagined!  Along the way I found four wines that not only stood out, but that I would actually consider drinking–a HUGE feat at the time because, honestly, if it wasn’t red or bubbles, I did not drink it!

ONE MORE SIDE NOTE: I pulled the first three pictures from each winery’s website, as 20 years ago I never dreamed I needed pictures!

Bell Mountain Dry Riesling  /  Fredericksburg, Texas

bell-mountainWait?  There is such a thing as Dry Riesling?  Growing up in a German town, I was exposed to Riesling very early in life.  Not that I was drinking it, but it was the very first wine varietal that I knew existed (not that I even knew what “wine varietal” meant at that time!).  My first tastes of Riesling were Spätlese and Auslese, so I was delightful surprised when I tried the local Dry Rieling from Bell Mountain (exceptionally local, as the vineyard butts up to the part of the ranch!).  What surprised me was the fruitiness of the wine without the sweetness.  This wine, like many grown in the area, has very peachy overtones–both in the bouquet and the finish, which is dry and crisp.  It pairs well with lighter foods and soft cheeses, but can be enjoyed all by itself.

For the trivia files:  Being the star of German wines, there are many different ways to classify Rieslings based on region and sweetness at the time of harvest.  Wine Folly does a great job of explaining it, if one was interested in jumping into the deep end of the Riesling pool!

Llano Estacado Gewürztraminer  /  Lubbock, Texas

lew-gewurztraminer-webAs you may or may not know, gewurz means spice in German and this wine is perfect for spicy foods or heavy cheeses.  It has a very floral bouquet, with a medium mouthfeel, and tastes of honeysuckle with a bit of warm spice on the finish (allspice, perhaps?).  Personally speaking, I think it is delicious but is on the sweeter side, even for a Gewürztraminer, and best paired with food.

For the trivia files:  Gewürztraminer grapes are actually pink to red in color not white!

 

 

 

Becker Vineyards Viognier  /  Stonewall, Texas

becker-viognierI think it took me three glasses of Viognier to be able to properly and without hesitation say Viognier (as opposed to my German heritage which allowed me to say Gewürztraminer without any issues the very first time!).  What I found in this Viognier was a dry wine that I could truly enjoy without all the oaky/buttery flavors that are synonymous with Chardonnay.  While you would expect to find peach, this Viognier smells of apricot and honeydew.  It is full bodied, with a honeysuckle and apricot finish.  I think this a perfect wine for red wine drinkers who hate Chardonnay but are looking for an occasional white wine to enjoy.  Honestly, I can’t say what food this pairs well with because I usually just pair it with a glass 😉

For the trivia files: Viognier is genetically related to Nebbiolo and was nearing extinction in 1965 when only 8 acres were planted in the Rhône.

Dry Comal Creek French Colombard  /  New Braunfels, Texas

IMG_0993-1Like Viognier, French Colombard was a wine I had never even heard of prior to tasting it.  I was actually introduced to Dry Comal Creek’s French Colombard several years after I started working at the wine shop, but given its obscurity in the wine world except as a blending grape, I thought it worth a mention.  Dry Comal Creek make two versions of this, although I believe the Bone-Dry isn’t always available.  What I enjoy about the French Colombard is the long lingering flavors of tropical fruit.  It is medium-to-full bodied and has a touch of sweetness while drinking.  However, the sweetness does not linger–just the fruitiness (which probably doesn’t make any sense until you try this wine).  The Bone-Dry version is just that: less sweetness while drinking and a much drier finish with less fruity lingering.  Both versions are very mild and easy to drink.  I think they both pair well with light snacks, appetizers, fish/seafood (especially the Bone Dry) and just drinking on the back porch.

For the trivia files:  It was traditionally grown in France to distill into Cognac and Armagnac and because of its natural sweetness is used to sweeten baby food (presumably before it’s distilled…)

So that’s my tale of venturing into the world of the more obscure grapes, and in so doing, I even learned how to enjoy white wine.

Cheers y’all!

 

MWWC #29: My Winestory

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In this month’s wine writing challenge, John of Pairs With: Life challenged us to tell our Winestory, aka what lead us down the path of awesomeness that is wine writing.  Technically, I just dabble in the wine writing while drinking a lot, but here goes:

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Picture it: Fredericksburg, Texas 1994.  I was home from college for Thanksgiving break and a job opportunity presented itself.  My cousin had been offered a job at a local wine tasting room and declined because she was working at a winery (Grape Creek Vineyards) at the time.  She told me to go apply.  Having fell in love with red wine from the Riojas just the year before (read all about it here!), I marched (okay, drove….around the block 4 times looking for a parking spot) down to said wine tasting room and asked about the job.  My interview went something like this:  have you ever worked in a winery or wine tasting room before?  No, but I like to drink wine and honestly, isn’t that half the battle?  Can you wash dishes?  Of course, who says no to that in an interview?! Great! You’re hired!  (okay, it was slightly more in depth than that, but not much).

My first job?  Try all the wine on the bar available for tasting.  After all, how you could describe a wine you’ve never tasted before?  So I tasted and tasted and tasted some more.  Nearly every Texas winery was represented.  Right now, my inner wine-geek wants to name them all, but my inner OCD is afraid I’d miss someone and it would drive me nuts.

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Job 2?  Washing a lot of glasses.  TONS and TONS of glasses!  I only mention this because Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest weekend in the store and there were a lot of people in the tasting room that weekend.

Job 3?  Cleaning up an entire rack of dropped glasses.  The truly sad part was that I just hand washed and hand dried them all (sigh).

So, for the first few days that’s all I did: taste wine, wash glasses, and clean up (although thankfully the breaking of the glasses significantly decreased!).  But….I also listened.  I listened to my coworkers describe wine.  I saw how customers reacted to their descriptions and I noticed that whatever each worker liked best is what sold best on that day because they got excited about it and could get the customer excited as well.

I was determined to channel that excitement, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked.  First of all, I preferred (and still do) dry, spicy full bodied reds.  But I quickly discovered that wasn’t actually a popular choice amongst the majority of our customers.  They were looking for something fun.  Something easy to drink.  Something to walk down the street with while shopping (oh yeah, you can do that in Fredericksburg!).

Thus, I had to change tactics.  And instead of trying to get people excited about the wine that I liked, I tried to get them excited to find that special bottle of wine in the store that was going to make them love wine.  I started listening and asking them a lot of questions .  After awhile I realized I was good at something other than just washing and breaking glasses:  I was good at wine pairing.  Not just pairing wine with food, but with people:  finding that one  bottle that was going to make a them a wine lover.  Being a fellow beer-lover as well, I couldn’t fault the non-converts who just wanted to stick to beer.  But for everyone else, I tried to focus on creating an ambience where it wasn’t just about the wine, but was about having fun and allowing customers to go on their own journey to be able to proclaim “I love wine!”

Sometimes it was a challenge, especially when snobby wine people came in insisting that they only like [insert trendy wine region here] and they’d never like any that came from Texas.  They were the most fun to convert.  Did it always happen?  No! I was a wine peddler, not a miracle worker!

The other thing I really loved was getting to know the winemakers.  They are truly an amazing group of people.  We often had special tastings on the weekends and would invite the winemakers to join us to tell our customers about what makes their wine so special.  It was like getting a sneak peek behind the curtain!

But you’re here to hear how I got into wine writing–so let’s fast forward a few (or more) years when I decided that I needed a change and moved to New York City (with 7 cases of Texas wine, 3 cases of Shiner Bock, and a warning from my brother not to get pulled over for speeding otherwise I’d be arrested for bootlegging!).

I have to admit, it was nice to be able to walk into a wine store and just browse, but after some time, I started missing the wine-speak: the geeking out over a great $10 bottle or splurging on the bottle of bubbles.  I missed talking about wine. And then one day serendipity struck and I was followed by The Drunken Cyclist.  Of course, I immediately followed him back because I knew that anyone with the slogan: I have three passions: wine, cycling, travel, family, and math. had to be amazing–and I’m not just saying that for the vote!!.

A few weeks later, I noticed that he put up a Wine Writing Challenge (#10, I believe) and I thought why not?  I didn’t really consider myself a “wine writer,” but I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to do what I love most with wine: share it.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So that’s my WINESTORY…and I’m sticking to it.

🙂 Shez

PS–Okay, I can’t let it go, so I’m going to apologize if I missed anyone and maybe check back regularly to see if I’ve added more…or feel free to comment if you know of any that need to be added!

Texas Wineries when I started working at the wine shop, Texas Wines, Etc., in no particular order and as best I can remember after over 2 decades of consuming copious amounts of wine (but that’s a story for another time!):

  1.  Grape Creek Vineyards
  2. Bell Mountain Vineyards
  3. Becker Vineyards
  4. Sister Creek Winery
  5. Texas Hills Vineyards
  6. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards
  7. Fall Creek Vineyards
  8. Val Verde Winery
  9. Messina Hof Winery
  10. Llano Estacado Winery
  11. Cap*Rock Winery
  12. McReynold’s Winery
  13. St. Genevive Winery
  14. Spicewood Winery
  15. Wimberley Valley Wines
  16. Piney Woods Country Wines
  17. Homestead Winery
  18. La Buena Vida Winery
  19. Inwood Estate Vineyards

MWWC #26: Solitude

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This month’s wine writing challenge is SOLITUDE, as selected by last month’s winner Beth of Traveling Wine Chick.  Honestly, I’ve been feeling a bit at a loss with this topic, as I’ve spent quite a few previous MWWCs talking about how wine is best paired with great friends.  But even the most extroverted extrovert needs to reset sometimes, so with George Thorogood playing in my head–click on his name if you need background music!–here goes:

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I think one of the best things about summer is sitting outside and drinking wine.  Sure it’s a lot of fun with others, but it is equally enjoyable by oneself–sitting on the porch reading a book or lounging on the beach listening to the breaking of the waves.   It gives you time to relax, to enjoy, and to appreciate everything around you, like the delightful syrah-viognier blend you randomly picked out a few weeks back.

The thing I enjoy most about drinking in solitude is that it is very decadent. Opening a bottle of wine simply because you love it–not having to think about catering to anyone else’s palette or worrying that the food pairing is not quite right.  Taking your time to really get to know the wine.  Trying new styles and tastes you might not dream of trying in front of others (I mean, I know very well that my friends drink merlot when I’m not around!).

Plus you get the whole bottle to yourself.  Not that I’m telling you to drink the whole bottle (for legal disclaimer purposes).  I’m sure you can look up on Pinterest 846 things to do with leftover wine.  Personally, I always thought “leftover wine” was a myth or a horror story told to oenophiles…but if it is really a thing feel free to share your “friend’s” leftover wine horror stories suggestions.

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If the thought of a bottle is too daunting, find a great little restaurant with a spectacular view and start with a glass.  Take your time to enjoy all the sensations of tasting the wine without expectations or boundaries and just allow yourself to enjoy.  Order food.  Enjoy it more.

Several years ago, I found myself with a free afternoon in Sydney.  In need of a bit of respite, I happened across a little cafe near the Opera House with a fantastic view of the Harbour Bridge.  Fresh oysters were the special and I just couldn’t resist (I never can!).  The waiter recommended a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and while I’m not a big fan of the ol’ sauv blanc, I decided to give it a go.  BEST. DECISION. EVER. (or at least at that moment in time).  The crisp apple finish of the wine enhanced the creaminess of the oysters; the lapping of the waves and the cool breeze coming off of the water provided the perfect setting for allowing myself to just relax and indulge.  While I don’t remember the name of the aforementioned New Zealand sauvignon blanc (I know, epic fail!),  I vividly remember wishing I could bend time and make that moment last forever.

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That is the beauty of drinking in solitude: making an experience and enjoying the moment…of you.  I think in this day and age of technology we expect–no, we demand–to be entertained 24/7, when in reality what we need is more unplugging and appreciating not only what is around you, but what is you.

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Do yourself a favor and try it–you might like it.  I’m not asking you to make it nightly habit (for legal disclaimer purposes), but as a treat for yourself.  If you want to be even more decadent and celebratory, pop the bubbly (trust me you won’t be disappointed!)!

Still not convinced that drinking in solitude is for you?  Before I go open that blanc de blancs chilling in the fridge for a special occasion (you know, like Monday night), I leave you with this final thought:

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Cheers!

Have Wine? Will Travel!

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This month’s wine writing challenge is TRAVEL, as selected by last month’s winner: the hilarious and enlightening Loie of Cheap Wine Curious.

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Of course, my first thought was to write about Napa, the first place I traveled for wine–but then I remembered I’ve already written about my trip and since I haven’t had the chance to go back, there’s nothing new to report.

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Then I thought about allllllll the places in France and Italy I passed through many, many moons (aka decades) ago that I’d love to go back and visit now that I have a true appreciation for the beauty and intricacies of champagnes and burgundies and amarones (ohmy!)–but then I realized that this post may never end.

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So then I thought about all the amazing Texas Hill Country wineries around where I grew up, which seemed apropos since I’m traveling (see what I did there?) down there at the end of the week–but then I realized that I should wait and do a bit of exploring of all the new wineries that have popped up since the last time I visited.

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Then I thought about cleverly describing how going to the wine store is like traveling around the world–but about the same moment that idea popped into my head, so did another:

Hawaiian Mead.

I know, I know you’re probably thinking “no, no…go back to writing about the wine store/traveling the world idea!”  But nope!  Hang on to your hats, we’re traveling to Hawaii!

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If you know me in real life or follow me on InstagramTwitter, or Facebook (shameless plug!), you will know that last September I went to Hawaii with some amazing friends.  While on the stunningly picturesque island of Kauai, we stumbled across the Koloa Rum Company.  By stumble, I mean April quickly learned she was traveling with lushes people who enjoyed sampling local adult beverages and she was trying to keep us appeased.

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But of course, this writing challenge is about wine, not rum (although THAT would be awesome!).  Having had a great time at Koloa, we (aka April, who was quicker with her google-searching fingers since she was giving away her rum samples) looked for other local places that made adult beverages.

While on the Big Island we visited the Kona Brewing Company, and so despite having not seen a grape growing anywhere in Hawaii’s lush and volcanic landscape, we were hopeful that we could find a winery.

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Alas, no grape winery…but BINGO! we found Nani Moon Meadery!  Now I will confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of mead, however, when in Rome…

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Nani Moon is in the back of a shopping center in Kapa’a.  We pull up, walk in, and, well, started tasting!  It seemed pointless not to try the full line-up, so we did.

For those of you out there who are unaware, mead is wine (although it can also be beer) made from honey instead of grapes.  It’s been around since…forever (and I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate timeframe!).  Much more sustainable, when you’re smack dab in the middle of the Pacific ocean and you have access to local apiaries.

As Stephanie (the owner) took us through each wine, she paired it with an appropriate snack and talked about where she sourced the honey (they weren’t all the same!).  I think my favorite was the Laka’s Nectar, which was the driest and most crisp of the wines.  While a little too sweet for me, the Cacao Moon was a big hit–understandable, given its chocolate undertones and velvety chocolate finish.  Stephanie definitely got bonus points for her Deviant Beehavior, which packs a kick as it is not only made from honey, but also chili!

We finished the tasting with some of the local honeys that she used, which was great–not only because they were delicious, but because you could really taste how much the nuances in the honey affected the taste of the wine.

If you’re interested in learning more, visiting, or throwing caution to the wind and just buying a bottle, contact Stephanie and tell her what you like.  I’m quite confident she will find you something you’ll truly enjoy and give you suggestions on pairings to help you enjoy it more!  She even has a cocktail section that encourages you to “bee inspired and mix it up!”

It was a great way to spend a couple of hours–and I think that if you find yourself smack dab in the middle of the Pacific on a tiny island named Kauai, you should go visit Stephanie and try her meads.  I’m not going to say that meads are now my favorite type of wine, but I did walk away with a better appreciation for just how versatile a wine made from honey can be.  And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Aloha!

MWWC #23 New Favorites

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It’s that time of the month again: The Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.  This month’s theme–as chosen by as month’s winner, Chad of (Un)Common Grape–is NEW.  Of course, I’m getting this in just under the deadline–there’s certainly nothing new about that!

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In light of that new theme, I thought I would write about the one of the scariest things in the world of wine: buying a new* bottle of wine.

*by new, I don’t mean replacing your favorite bottles of wine that you repeatedly drink with the same stuff, I mean a  new-never-been-tasted-but-you’re-hoping-and -praying-all-the-way-from-the-store-to-the-glass-that-this-is-going-to-be-worth-it new.

While working at a wine bar/tasting room, I was quite adventurous with wine.  With reckless abandon I would try new wines and would be open to randomly picking out something I’d never tasted before and running with it.  Of course, it helped that I got a discount and had some amazing wine reps that would bring samples of things they knew that I would adore.

Fast forward to leaving my cushy wine job and moving to New York City, where I was/am on a very tight wine budget.  Suddenly trying something new seemed too great a risk to take.  Better to stick with what I knew would be tasty and worth not only full retail price, but the added expense of buying it in New York City.

apartment

Every time I would go to the wine store, I would go in with weak promises to myself that I would try something new.  But every time push came to shove and the wallet was opened I found myself sticking to my old favorites.

Oh sure, I’d politely listen to the wine shop workers’ suggestions and reasons, but I often wondered if they truly enjoyed whichever wine they were trying to foist upon me or was it just a spiel?  In typical me-fashion, I would start talking to them, asking both specific and general questions and working their full knowledge of wine because, well, having switched professions, I missed talking about wine.  We’d compare tasting notes, likes and dislikes of wine regions, I’d take up way to much of their time, but in the end it was a very rare event that I would leave with something new.

I just wasn’t willing to take the risk. I know, I know…I was being crazy.  After all, it’s wine–the likelihood of it not being drinkable was exceptionally low.  But it’s not about drinking wine–it’s about enjoying wine.

Over time two things changed this:

The first was wandering into the  Trader Joe’s wine shop.  It is a bit of a trek from work or home, so it took some time to actually motivate myself to get there. Additionally, the only thing I had heard about Trader Joe’s wine was Two-Buck Chuck–so I must confess to being a bit skeptical as to what I might find.  Once I did, though, it was like Christmas had come early!  I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting (perhaps all Two-Buck Chuck?) but what I saw when I went in was a delightful surprise–a wide variety of wine at very un-New York City prices.  Although, if you’re looking for Two-Buck Chuck in NYC, I must warn you it’s $3!  With much lower prices than anywhere in the city and a staff that seems knowledgeable, it makes it a lot more justifiable to my brain–and wallet!–to venture outside of my wine safe box and try new things.  I’ve even found a couple of varietals of Charles Shaw (aka Two Three-Buck Chuck) that I rather enjoy!

The second thing was finding the fabulous website Cheap Wine Curious.  If you are unfamiliar, CWC is authored by the lovely Loie, who uses her sharp wit and extensive palate to help you navigate your way through less expensive (aka cheap–her word, not mine) wines.  Whether you prefer reds, whites, rosés, or sparkling, Loie has diligently tasted and dutifully reported a wide variety of inexpensive wines to add to your wine cellar without sacrificing taste or budget.

I’m not going to pretend that current trips to the wine shop are only for new bottles of wine, but at least now I can say that it is a generous mix of both old favorites and new wines that have the potential to achieve old favorite status.

grocery list

Try The Wine…Again.

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This month’s wine writing challenge is Second Chances.  It was selected by last month’s MWWC winner, Jill from L’occasion.  And I must confess that it was a bit hard to focus on second chances when all I can think of when I see second is:

breakfast

But then I remind myself that the best breakfasts always include some sort of festive libation, which loops me back around to wine…and second chances.  And when I think about wine and second chances, three things come to mind.

wine stain

The first thing I think of in regards to second chances with wine is a reminder I like to impart to new wine drinkers: keep drinking and trying wine outside of one’s preferred palate and don’t forget to revisit these wines from time to time to see if and how one’s palate has changed…a second chance, if you will. 😉  As their palate evolves, so too evolves their choices in wine.  Many will find that initially hated wines end up being a house staple.  Over the years working at the wine shop, I saw a lot of this with my regular customers who initially came in with the silly notion that “I don’t like [insert wine here]” and within a few visits, were drinking aforementioned wine–or at the very least, something similar.

wine success

But I think it’s a valuable tip to seasoned wine drinkers as well.  Isn’t that why we purchase extra bottles?  To lay them down for months or years and try them again? At least in theory? At my house, rather than saving them, it usually ends up being “oh what the hell, let’s jussss open another riiiiiight now!”  And one turns into two, which turns into we’ll just get more at the wine shop later…stop judging me, it’s been a long week!

Anyway, I do a lot better hoarding my TEXAS! wine because you can’t purchase it here in New York City (or State for that matter), so I’m actually still sitting on a few bottles that I brought up with me 8 years ago (Becker, Grape Creek, Sister Creek, McPherson, Chisholm Trail, Messina Hof, and Flat Creek…alright, more than a few).  It is usually even more delicious the second time around (or third or fourth…depending on the number of bottles and your willpower!).  Although it doesn’t always go to plan and I’ve had to tragically dump a bottle or two.  However, that doesn’t mean that I go and dump them all–that would be a travesty indeed! For more tales about that, go here: Success.

Finally, don’t forget that the same can also be said of vintages!  So many things can have an effect on how a particular wine tastes from year to year.  Some years it is minute nuances, and some years it varies between “OMFG! This is the best they’ve ever made!” and “What the hell were they thinking?”

Take for example, Grape Creek‘s Cabernet Trois. Grape Creek has been making their Cabernet Trois for a looooong time now.  It is a blend of the three Cabernet grapes: Sauvignon, Ruby, and (my favorite) Franc.  It was THE first Texas wine I fell in love with.  It was deep and flavorful with just the right amounts of fruitiness balanced with spice.  At the time (mid-90s) it very much stood out from a lot of Texas reds, which tended to either be very sweet and heavy or thin and so dry the BFF likened it to leaving your mouth feeling like you’ve eaten sandpaper.  But not the Trois.  It was dry, yes, but with a lot of mouthfeel and delicate flavors.  It was delicious, won a lot of awards, and was my go-to Texas red wine for years.  But then slowly the taste of it changed.  I’m not sure if it was due to the grapes or the wine maker or the need to shake things up a bit.  Maybe all three!  People still loved it, it still won awards, but I was no longer a huge fan, preferring other varietals in Grape Creek’s line-up, like their merlot (shocking, but true, in fact, I still have a bottle of the merlot hanging out in the wine rack downstairs!).

cab trois

NOT my hand, btw, but you gotta love the internet where you can find pictures of anything, like a Texas wine from 20 years ago!  Click on pic to got to Vivino, where I found the pic.

Fast forward to a recent trip home where I was in my old wine shop tasting wines from all the new Texas wineries that have popped up in the last several years when my old favorite caught my eye.  Should I?  Should I not?  How could I not?  So I thought, “what the hell?!?” and gave it another chance.  And guess what?  It was back to having all those little nuances that I originally loved about the Cabernet Trois 20 years ago: the fruit, the spice, the mouthfeel.  It was like welcoming an old friend home.

Most importantly, it was a vivid reminder that in a day and age where it is always full steam ahead and looking for the next great thing, sometimes it pays to take a step back and revisit some old friends.  Thanks for the delicious reminder Grape Creek!

Cheers!

Like Peas and Carrots, Just Not With Merlot…

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I’ve never fully understood the phrase “like peas and carrots”–I mean sure, it was a popular side dish back in the day, but having an immense dislike for both when I was younger always made me want to argue that they did not compliment each other unless it was in providing a companion while they were both thrown out.  I’m sure you’re probably wondering why I’m even mentioning it.  Well, this month’s wine writing challenge (#MWWC21)–as selected by last month’s winner Jim of JVB Uncorked–is pairing.  And whenever I think of pairing the first thing that pops into my head is Forrest Gump’s thick ‘Bama accent saying “Jenny and I go together like peas and carrots.” But as an adult I find wine pairing is much, much tastier than peas and carrots.  Okay for full disclosure, as a kid I probably would have found wine pairing much tastier too….because….a) it’s wine and b) IT IS NOT PEAS OR CARROTS.

wine stain

 

Wine pairing is my favorite thing about wine.  Now before you argue, let me remind you pairing wine combines wine and food. wine and foodWINE and FOOD!  The only that I could think of as better would be visiting wineries because that pairs WINE with TRAVEL and if you’re lucky, meeting the WINEMAKER and quite possibly getting FOOD as well.  But unless you are fortunate enough to live in or very close a wine region, you’re probably not visiting wineries very often. As such, pairing wins this debate based solely on more opportunities–like every time you open a bottle.

wine pairing

The amazing thing about pairing is that it brings out the flavors in both the wine and the food, with results that can be truly magical.  Tragically, it can also enhance the negative flavors, like too much anise in your Amarone or overoaking in your Chardonnay.   In light of that, along came basic pairing rules like “red with steak” or “white with fish” or “riesling with spicy foods.” Obviously these are not unbreakable rules, but more like guidelines because the whole point of pairing wine and food is to bring out the best flavors in each one.  As our tastes are all slightly different, so too will be what we consider an amazing pairing.

If this is all new to you and you want to ask Google for help, you will be offered 413,000 article suggestions on the rules of wine pairing in 0.36 seconds.  After visiting a handful of sites, I found that in terms of general guidelines FoodAndWinePairing have a really understandable set of rules.  These start off with what should be everyone’s the first and foremost rule of wine drinking: drinking what you like takes precedent over “rules” of wine.  Their list goes on from there for pairing wine to balance and compliment the flavor of your meal and suggestions if you are stuck.  If you were looking for articles and recommendations with a bit more flair and pizzazz, then Food & Wine has a couple of articles here and here.

Of course, you have to give props to those who like to think way outside the wine pairing box and offer suggestions like pairing wine with Girl Scout cookies (sorry, I know the infographic is a bit small–click on it and you can read all about the proper GS cookie & wine pairings).

girlscout

Don’t look at me like that, you’re only mad because you are still on a quest for that perfect white wine pairing for your stockpile of Thin Mints.  TRY THE MERLOT!

Yes, you read that correctly: I yelled “TRY THE MERLOT!” Now, if you know me in real life or have had the pleasure–in one form or another–of listening to me rant about how I hate strongly dislike most merlots, you’re probably thinking that I’ve suffered blunt force trauma to the head or am WWD (writing while drunk)…but no, I said it.  With gusto, in caps, and an exclamation point!

For those of you who are new here or haven’t had the pleasure, I heartily dislike drinking merlots (with a very short list of exceptions) because they tend to leave a very bitter and astringent aftertaste in my mouth, much like eating cotton balls soaked in rubbing alcohol.  I would now like to interject a clarification that I have NEVER actually eaten cotton balls soaked in alcohol, but I would imagine it tastes a lot like drinking merlot.

But then…then you add chocolate, like, let’s say a Thin Mint, and suddenly even merlot is palatable.  The chocolate (real chocolate, that is–not the nasty fake white chocolate shi stuff) really brings out the cocoa undertones that are inherent to merlots and suddenly the cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol aftertaste is magically transformed into velvety smoothness.  It’s like a Christmas miracle, but any day of the year!

At this point I know you are no longer paying attention and are wondering if you still have that dusty bottle of merlot at the bottom of the wine rack and that bar of chocolate safely hidden from kidlets and spouses in a box of Grape Nuts in the pantry (you laugh, but I know someone who does that with his cookies), but before I let you go out into the adventurous world of wine pairing, The Huffington Post kindly gathered some great wine pairing suggestions from comedian Jeff Wysaski and they were just too good not to share!

Happy wining!

wine pairing Huff 1 wine pairing Huff 2 wine pairing Huff 3 wine pairing Huff 4 wine pairing Huff 5 wine pairing Huff 6 wine pairing Huff 8 wine pairing Huff7

MWWC #19: To Wine Or Not To Wine?

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I know you’re thinking “what a silly question,” but an appropriate one for this post…because a) wine why not? and b) Elizabeth of Traveling Wine Chick, the winner of the last Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, selected the theme for this month’s Challenge to be CHOICES.

wine stain

Everyday we make thousands of choices–some are subconscious, some are instinctual, some are habitual, some regrettable, some are hard, some are easy, and a lot are somewhere in between.  But I have a confession about these choices that I hope doesn’t get me lynched by my lovely wine blogging superstars: I don’t always choose wine, in fact, I rarely do.  That is not to say that I don’t enjoy, love, cherish, and revel in wine–because I do all the above.  I just…well…usually…pick beer.  I’ll give you a moment to sob uncontrollably while going through all the stages of loss.  I only ask that when you get to the anger stage and are threatening to smite me, you leave the Princess out of it…

Now before you gather the pitchforks and angry villagers, let me just say that it’s not that I like beer better than wine.  It’s that beer is easy.  And really, it’s the “easy” part that attracts me to the B-word.  I know what I like and while I also like to try new beers, I have certain go-tos that are non-negotiable.  If I go into any establishment (other than sporting events) and either Stella or Guinness are not on the menu, chances are I’m making a u-turn and heading out before you can even say “well, do you have…”

But this is not true with wine.  I mean, I have my favorites–but a lot of them are Texas wines and you can’t find them anywhere but the great state of Texas and my wine rack (and perhaps other wine racks–but most people are generally opposed to you walking into their house and pilfering their wine selection, especially if they don’t know you!).  So then it becomes a gamble of “is it worth $10-15/glass” for something I’ve never heard of?  Sometimes it is.  When out at a nice meal, especially when that meal is Italian or steak, wine is non-negotiable.

At home, the choice is probably about 50-50.  That is to say about 50% of the year (aka spring and summer), my choice is beer and 50% of the year (aka autumn and winter), my choice is red wine.  Part of the issue is that–as I’ve mentioned before–I’m not a big white wine drinker and when it’s 96F with 87% humidity, red wine is just too heavy.  I can’t lie, I’ve never spent 2 hours doing yard work and thought “mmmmm, I just want a nice glass of chardonnay.” [note: I almost NEVER pick chardonnay, so if you hear those words come out of my mouth, you should just assume my body has been taken over by aliens and consider locking me up!]

At home beer is also easier choice because at any given moment I usually have two maybe three kinds in the fridge: Shiner, Guinness, and whatever struck my fancy one day, usually like a cider…mmm…Stella Cidre

Ahem, anyway, the point being that my choice with beer is pretty easy.  With wine, it’s not so clear cut.  I currently have 19 bottles of 8 different varietals, so then I get stuck in the details: do I want something I can drink by itself?  Or something I can drink with a snack plate or something big and bold and in your face?  Do I want to wait while I chill a viognier?  Am I overthinking?  Perhaps, but it’s wine!  And these things can’t be taken lightly, unlike beer (because apparently, I’m trying to get the die-hard beer nerds to lynch me as well!) 😉