MWWC #33 Once Upon A Time

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Peas and Carrots, Just Not With Merlot…

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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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MWWC #17: Epiphany

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.

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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!

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Cheers, ya’ll!

Cooking with Wine (Thirsty Thursday #6)

I cook with wine…sometimes I even add it to the food. ~W.C. Fields

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This French Chardonnay-Sauvignon blend was a delicious pairing for my Mushroom & Corn Risotto (and a bargain–Cheap Wine Curious, I know you’d be so proud!). It had a light, crisp mouthfeel with a big apple taste and a delicate grapefruit finish–perfect alongside the creamy richness of the risotto. Add roasted chicken and asparagus, and I was a happy, happy girl!

Jazucci Wine

Drink what you like.

I’ve said it so many times in my wine career, I’ve lost count.  Well into the millions, if not billions.  I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t inwardly cringe a bit whenever a customer just loooooooved their $5 bottle of cloyingly sweet because 500lbs of sugar were dumped into the barrel red wine.  Do you have something else?  Just like it, but in white or blush?  A nice crisp sparkling muscato hinting of peaches and apples?  A beautiful rosato bursting with so much fruitiness that you don’t realize no sugar has been added?  Nope.  They were all about the $5 bottle of sweet red.   They liked the taste and they loved the price point.

And red wine is good for my heart, right?  Well, maybe not that red.  It has too much added sugar.  Let me introduce you to something my cousin likes to call jacuzzi wine.

Jacuzzi wine? They were hooked simply on the moniker.  Something fun.  Absolutely no trace of snobbery that the wine world has projected as it’s façade for decades.  Plus it wasn’t White Zin.  They didn’t know a lot, but they knew to stay away from white zinfandel–at least in a fancy wine shop.  White zinfandel was for purchasing at the grocery store where you could hide it in the bottom of your cart and drink it at home without judgmental eyes watching.  No this was a much more sophisticated choice in wine: it was a Cabernet Blanc. Granted, it too was sweet, but not quite so cloying.  However, it had something that the sweet red didn’t: it was light and delicate and offered flavors other than “sweet”–like peaches.  It was light and fun and peachy and wha–$16 a bottle?

Silence.  Of course, you can always buy a glass of it for $5–walk down the street, do some shopping.  Think about it for awhile.  Buy a glass and then buy a bottle of sweet red to take back to your hotel.

You see, what I learned very early in my wine career is that wine can be scary and it can quickly get expensive–and thus those in the wine world quickly learn what their wine values are.  Are they a $300 bottle of Dom?  Or a bottle of 2 Buck Chuck?  The truth is, they’re both.  To my palette, it’s definitely a bottle of good quality French champagne, but I don’t need Dom Perignon–Bollinger or Krug will do nicely thankyouverymuch!  Or a bottle of Artemis.  Or an elusive cabernet franc or petite verdot.  But to those just starting out, $5 bottle of sweet red is everything to them.  I know.  I’ve seen their faces alight with glee as they walked out of the wine shop.  They want so badly to like wine but big-buttery California chardonnays and spicy-in-your-face Australian shirazes and dry-despite-saying-semi-dry French champagnes don’t taste good.  And they’re expensive and why throw $20, $50, $100+ down the drain when it tastes disgusting?

They want to like wine…and they don’t want to spend $100 a bottle.

A fair assessment. I love wine and I don’t want to spend $100 on a bottle. I mean, I will splurge from time to time, but not often–not when you can spend much less and still get a great bottle. So to me, values in the great big world of wine come down to two things: do you like it and can you afford to drink it whenever you like?

Everyone is entitled to their own wrong opinion and that is blatantly obvious when dealing with wine. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many varietals or styles of wine available. But the one consistent is that we are all seeking that holy grail of wine that is the perfect combination of delicious and affordable. So you when you find yourself introducing people to wine, you suggest Muscato and Riesling and Gewürztraminer and then fall back to Jacuzzi wine and sweet red.  And when you set aside your values and focus on their values, they leave happy.  Sometimes it was with a case of Jacuzzi wine; other times with a glass of reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. But they were happy. They fell in love. They found their wine values and victory was oh-so-sweet…or spicy…or buttery…but always delicious.