Champagne Floozy: [sham-PEYN FLOO-zee], noun: 1. A woman of the early days of Champagne, before her time, who decided it was ok for women to partake in the drinking of Champagne. 2. A lifelong foodie turned wine industry professional based in Durham, NC.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My First Overseas Wine Trip

My work is sending me to Chile and Argentina in March of next year. The tour is sponsored by TGIC Imports, which was named "Importer of the Year" by Wine Enthusiast magazine.
Needless to say, I'm beside myself. Me, and a group of 30 or so wine professionals from around the country, will fly to Santiago, Chile, where we will spend 1/2 the week touring the wineries of Chile, then we will fly to Buenos Aires and then to Mendoza, where we will spend the second half of the week touring Mendoza wineries.
I can't wait to eat alot, drink alot, see another culture, buy an Alpaca scarf, and eat an Argentinian cow.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Champagne and some more Champagne and some thoughts on Wine Jargon

   Wine people just looooove wine-speak, right? You know what I'm talking about; it's all those words and descriptions that make all the rest of you non-wine people intimidated and unsure of yourselves. In the know folks like Robert Parker say things like: "This wine tastes of blackberries, currants, scorched earth, road tar, cedar, truffle, and smoke, with an undercurrent of sage and mineral on the finish."

   But here's the truth about wine, and the grasp of this reality could make any human being who can appreciate something as simple as the difference between a red delicious apple and a granny smith into a "wine person": Wine is an agricultural product, above all else. Just like an apple, a pear, a peach, or a stalk of asparagus. Granted, there is human manipulation involved, but at the heart of it, its a fucking fruit. You like fruit, right? If you can bite into a strawberry or a tomato and tell if it's ripe or not, you can be a wine person.

   Let's forget, for a moment, all that scorched earth. Let's rethink wine tasting. Rather than putting our noses in the glass and trying one up each other on who can get the most detailed, minute, arcane impressions from a few whiffs, let's instead ask ourselves: Does this wine taste good? What kind of fruit am I tasting? (and believe it or not, we do not have to be specific here...a color will work fine. Red fruit. Black fruit. Blue fruit. Yellow fruit. Green fruit. Get it?) Is this wine in balance? This last question is really the most important. What we are looking for is a balance between sugar/fruit and acid. Balance is the single most important factor in what makes a wine great, no matter how humble or highfalutin it's origins. And while Winespeak is fun, and can be a big part of the pleasure for some of us, it's certainly not required.

   It wasn't always like this. Rather than being entities composed of strings of adjectives, wines were described in terms of body, fruit, acid, and overall balance. Many of those adjectives are subjective, anyways. Truth be told, I don't want to be cerebral about my beverages all the time. Sometimes I'd just rather be hedonistic.

omfg i love champagne so much
   I am reminded of these sentiments every time I open a bottle of what has to be my favorite type of wine: Champagne. Not Cava, not Prosecco, not methode-champenoise from anywhere else. I will be a wine snob on this point. Champagne is actually just better, and thats why it's expensive. That's why we can't have it all the time, and why opening a bottle for a special occasion is the occasion. I've had crazy dreams of standing in Champagne vineyards that were WWII battlefields (historically accurate) and looking down to find that the ground was soaked in blood and Champagne. I think that, in a past life, I was a bottle of Champagne. I'm a little nutty about Champagne, but can you blame me? It's Champagne, after all. I try to have some every few months or so.  

Which brings me back to my original point. The wine I love the very most is also the wine to which I have the hardest time applying my hard-earned Winespeak. Who can really describe something as ethereal as this lovely beverage, with it's perfect tiny bubbles, astounding richness of fruit and acidity, and delightful feel on the tongue? (Not to mention it's heady after effects, which are pretty much guaranteed to put my notoriously moody Bigsy in a great and goofy mood.)  Not that we won't try to describe, of course.

On Saturday, at the end of our shift and the end of our twice-yearly Sale Week, Eb opened, as seems to be the tradition, a bottle of Champagne. (I had already picked out a bottle that was waiting for me in the wine chiller.) This time he opened the lovely Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose NV, which is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Rose Champagne available. It was delicious, practically weightless but packed with flavor, and possessing the most delicate red fruit aromas. The nose reminded me of Strawberry mousse (Eb said Raspberry), and that finish just sailed on and on and on and on.

After sharing a toast with my co-workers, Bigsy and I headed home, where I promptly opened a bottle of Pascal Doquet Grand Cru NV and parked my tired butt on the porch for the foreseeable future. The vineyards for this grower champagne are located in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a village of Grand Cru standing in the Cotes-de-Blancs sub-region of Champagne. Pascal and his wife Laure farm the soils biodynamically and all the grapes are hand-harvested. In the cellar, it is aged in both tank and cask before it sees at least two years resting on its lees, sometimes as many as three (far more than required by law), which help to impart it's notable richness and body.

And what richness. What body! This was the wine equivalent of that buxom secretary on Mad Men. Opulent aromas of toffee and vanilla were gently layered over a zesty core of ripe stone fruit and mineral. Damn, baby. Damn.

Bigsy and I sat on the porch, talking and enjoying a welcome drop in temperature as the sun went down, with the kitties lounging at our feet, watching Montford strolling by in it's summery short-shorts. And we drank some Champagne, down to the last shimmering, glorious, bubbly drop.Then we ordered cheap delivery pizza, because we were tired and hungry, and I suppose you can't be fancy all the time.

Koko insists that the Champagne must be grower. I won't argue with him.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Loire Cab Franc & Duck Breast with a Cherry Reduction

As is often the case with me, my dinner decision started with a wine decision. Milling about the market at the end of my Saturday shift, pondering what to take home for the all-too-brief weekend before the busiest week of the year. (Mid-July sale week, which means about 60 hours of hard physical labor under the guise of Your Friendly Wine Steward) But I digress. I spied a bottle of Loire Cabernet Franc that had recently snuck its way onto our shelves without my knowledge. I love Loire reds, and with the weather actually taking a turn for the cooler, this is the perfect opportunity for red wine and a meatier meal in contrast to all the couscous and eggplant and rose I've been consuming as of late. After a brief discussion with the boss-man, I discovered this wine demanded something pretty hearty. His first suggestion was duck. Hmm. Maybe. I bought a back-up bottle of Beaujolais just in case duck was not, in fact, in my future.
Turns out it is.
After reading a bunch of recipes online (I've never cooked duck myself before!), I settled on one involving roasted grapes and creme fraiche. But once at the grocery store, I discovered the gorgeously ripe and sweet cherries they had on sale. Cherries and duck, that's classic, right? So I swapped the grapes for cherries and headed home. Now what to do with the creme fraiche...
This is the part where we reflect on our wines.
 The Wine: Clos Cristal Saumur-Champigny 2009, from the Hospices de Saumur. Antoine Cristal labored tirelessly in his vineyards for the last 30 or 40 years of his life, working to create a name for the red wines of Saumur at a time (around 1900) when it was known exclusively for it's Chenin Blanc based whites, before bequeathing the property to the local hospital in 1928. Also worth noting is the ingenious method of grape-growing developed by the late Cristal. He built three kilometers of walls (the Clos of Clos Cristal) around which, and through which, the vines grow. This produces an ambient source of heat, especially after the sun goes down, which helps the grapes ripen in this cool climate. This is same principle of terroir surrounding the large stone galets that sprinkle the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The soils at this organic and biodynamically farmed estate are sandy, atop a table of tuffeau (sandstone) at varying depths below the surface, which causes the vines to struggle and take longer to root down. The average age of the vines is 45 years old, with some as old as 80.    

In The Kitchen:  I scored the skin of the breast, then seasoned it with juniper and thyme. I seared it, fatty side down, in my cast iron skillet for a few minutes then flipped it and finished it off in the oven. This was my first time cooking duck, so I relied heavily on recipe times for each step of the duck. We served it on a bed of arugula and Israeli cous-cous alongside some simple steamed green beans from Jean's garden. Topping off the dish was a beautiful savory cherry sauce - fresh cherries that were chopped in the food processor and cooked down with a touch of red wine, onion, garlic, and homemade chicken stock, then finished with a healthy swirl of creme fraiche. All in all, the cherry sauce was the only triumph. Word to the wise: Don't buy duck breast from Greenlife's freezer. It was really just a poor quality product. I overcooked the duck a little, but, even recognizing that, I think, in the future, I'd be happier to shell out a little more money for something good and fresh. Oh well, live and learn.

In the glass: Immediately upon pouring, Bigsy and I were both struck by the color: Dark, almost black. The black theme continued in an array of lush black fruit: plum, blackberry, boysenberry, and black cherry.  Also immediate was the firm acidity of the wine, a good backdrop for the fatty duck. Alas, I really should have decanted this. Some very interesting notes emerged with exposure to air: the trademark sanguine iron minerality and tobacco leaf, but also black olive, truffle, and after even more time in the glass, an herbal chord, almost minty. In retrospect, I think lamb shoulder rubbed with anchovy and rosemary would've been a better choice. Although the wine was not particularly tannic by Bordeaux or Napa standards, it was still awfully big. That being said, it possessed no hard edges and definitely caressed the palate with a lovely, softly velvety mouthfeel. Getting to the bottom of the bottle as I write this, there is a good bit of sediment in my glass. If I had to sum up this wine succinctly, I would say: Obviously Loire Cab Franc but burlier. Also, not a wine for beginners.
That being said, I loved it.
Vines trained through walls. Ain't that some shit?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wine and food and some Mormons. Yes, Mormons.

The Wine: Blanc de Coupe Roses, Champ de Roy 2009, Vin de Pays des Cotes de Brian.
Cotes de Brian is an sub-appellation of the prolific Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, which abuts the Mediterranean Sea and is bordered by Spain and Provence. The region is named after a rugged river valley near the high Minervois, where the producers of this wine, Francois and Pascal Frissant, own Chateau-Coupe Roses. Champ du Roy ("field of Kings") is the name of a 3.7 acre parcel of Viognier; this blend is composed of the usual southern French suspects: Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Viognier, and a touch of Muscat.
The Company: My dear friend Heather, who has briefly worked with wine, and who makes up for lack of technical experience and certified wine lingo with an astounding ability to verbalize the essence of a wine in somewhat esoteric terms. For example, she once said that a particularly refined Moscato d'Asti was like skinny-dipping, that is, it embodies everything thats great about summer. I love her. I love tasting and drinking wine with her.
The Food: Italian chicken sausage from Greenlife that we crumbled and cooked up with zucchini, garlic, penne, and feta.
The Match:Perfect.
Tasting Notes: Immediately mineral. First thing outta Heather's mouth: "Saltine crackers. Like my lunch box." (side note: I've tasted this wine before in a trade show context.) The wine was too cold, off the bat, for the fruit to emerge. But once it did:
An immediate lemon note to accompany the (rightfully dubbed) saltine thing. Mineral. Saline. On the initial palate: Waxy. Very, very waxy, but not in an unpleasant way. As the wine warmed, even more emerged: Boatloads of stone fruit: Peach, nectarine, etc. Slightly floral, but in a gentle white flower kinda way. With a "just acidic enough" mouthfeel, it was beautiful and just slightly exotic.
The evening: Wonderful. It was so nice to be with Heather, after months apart. She's such a great friend. We had to run to Greenlife for emergency Rose. Imagine that.
The best part of the evening:
After the initial “whatcha been doin”s and “ gee, I like this wine” we just settled into our usual M.O. - which is, a very specific yet vague spiritual talk. We were going at this for awhile when I spied a couple of fellas in nice white shirts, ties, and books in hand heading up the sidewalk. “Heather,’s your call,” I said. “Nah, not tonight,” she replied. As we looked out, the two young fellas noticed us and hesitantly headed up the walk that leads to the porch. “Can we talk to you?” they asked. Heather smiled and threw up her hand, palm out, in a benevolent sort of way. “Naw, man, I respect you but this is the wrong tree for you,” the Comparative-Religion-Degree-Holder said.
They must’ve sensed something, perhaps a certain religiosity or the spiritual conversation that hung in the air thicker than our cigarette smoke, because they persevered, and stood on my lawn for a good 30 minutes or so chatting with us (a chat we eagerly drew them into), surprisingly intellectual and awesomely respectfully, about ideas of savior, life, goodness, heaven & hell (not what I thought they'd say), man’s place in all of it, and alot more. I gotta say, those guys were cool, and alot more open to discussion than many of the leftists I know and wholeheartedly love. We had a really beautiful “Agree to disagree” kind of conversation. Right before they were about to leave, I asked them if they had a spare Book of Mormon. Of course they did. And I will actually read it, or at least some of it. Not because I am religious, but because the exchange of ideas is a beautiful thing.
emergency rose

The Book of Mormon. No, really, the Book of Mormon.

Everyday is Sunday.


Thursday, July 7, 2011


 I really dislike the misuse of the word "sommelier". It's so misleading, and it makes the person using it, more often than not, sound like an idiot. The use of the word "cheesemonger" is a similar sign that the person I am speaking to is ill-informed and full of themselves.

Let's be clear: Sommeliers work in restaurants (usually in places like Vegas or Manhattan.) They paid alot of money to an upstanding British organization to earn their title, and part of that money was used to prove they know how to cut a cigar. And they make a shit ton more money then I do. They do not own or use non-slip gloves that they purchased from Ingles for $2.78. They cannot handle a handtruck with 6 cases of wine on it, much less push it uphill as I do, daily. I could best them all in an arm wrestling contest.                                                   
I assure you, it's because we sell more wine. You can't move cases and cases a day without sturdy biceps. And the reason we sell a metric fuck-ton (look it up) of wine, daily, is because I work for a brilliant man who absolutely knows his shit. In a wine way.

A former co-worker of mine has a blog titled: The Wine Mule (it's good; read it), which points out the whole Beast of Burden aspect of what I do (and he did.) My boss once joked that we should put a handtruck in his coffin with him.

So to be clear: I am not a "sommelier", though I am more confident with each day that passes that I could hold my own with any of them, save for that cigar-cutting shit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


This is Hazel, Sam Cooke wrote a song about her called "Lovable." (or at least that's what I tell her.)

Hazel enjoys group snuggling, putting her paws on things, sleeping in windowsills, and long walks on the beach. Turn-offs include cigarette smoke and large crowds of strangers.

If Hazel has a choice, she would be Bigsy's cat. She loves to stick her nose in his armpit. She loves him so much.

This is Koko. He also goes by Kokes, Shimmy, Sir  Kokesalot, Choh-Choh, Choche, and "Hey, you cat stop fucking biting me!"

Koko enjoys the company of ladies, hanging out with everyone on the porch, being the official pretty-girl- walking-down-the-sidewalk greeter, and waking me up to force me into snuggling at 5:30 am.

Koko loves me best. The rest of you are fresh meat.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Melting Pot

When we think of "American" food, what comes to mind? Apple pie, fried chicken, clam chowda.... While all these are well and good, nothing has ever struck me as more American than creole and Cajun cuisine. Not only is it a cuisine born and bred here, but it embodies what is supposed to be the American spirit - that is, the "melting pot". African, French, Spanish, and Native American traditions all combined to create this extravaganza of deliciousness. And speaking of melting pots, how about one filled with shrimp, potatoes, and corn, all seasoned to immaculate perfection.

This is what we encountered at my bar (I'll just call it "The Local" from here on out) this just passed July 4th.

A little background info: The Local is a sweet little place I go, only serving beer and liquor, filled with a handful of sweet people. The owners and fellow patrons love to feed. There is no working kitchen, but they have a nice grill and patio area, and the tradition in the year and a half they've been open is to take turns feeding. Asking for money if you've provided is not allowed, and if you cook, everyone gets to eat. Period. No matter who shows up. The only rule is: if you eat, you sometimes have to cook. That's it.

This holiday's feast was brought to you by the two owners and my friend Dave, a kind and excellent guy and a personal chef by trade.  Aside from the aforementioned low-country boil, there were grilled Italian sausages with mozzarella, peppers, & onions, grilled corn and asparagus, and the most beautiful perfect grilled peaches dressed in ricotta, almonds, and candied ginger. And boatloads of watermelon, which I ate with what my mother would call a "shit-eating grin", gleefully spitting seeds into the gravel. A feast of the American South. Yet the best part was still "the boil." As soon as it came out, dumped in a majestic, steaming pile onto the paper-covered picnic table, folks gathered around, cell phones flying at full mast, snapping pictures of that glorious mess.

A beautiful pile of food like that invites folks to stand around picking and eating and shelling and picking and eating and shelling. And talking. And smiling. And laughing. The smacking of lips and the grinning of grins and the talking of talk. And that's exactly what we did.

Thanks, the Local, thanks Dave.

Makes me proud.