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.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Popping my Ruché Cherry; Part Two

     Last we spoke, I was about to pop open my first bottle of Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. We'll get to that in a moment, but allow me to digress, as I am wont to do.
     A year ago, the Il Gatto Ubriaco blog started in a somewhat fitful manner, before it fell by the wayside. Then, along came 2012, and with it, a healthy jolt of motivation and a re-visioning as Champagne Floozy. This year I've also had the good fortune to fall in love with an awesome man who happens to earn a living as a professional filmmaker and freelance videographer. When he suggested a video blog, well, I can't say I didn't jump.
    So today I introduce to you, dear reader, the first episode of the Champagne Floozy video blog.
    I want to extend an enormous thank you to this episode's guests, Dave and Ryan, colleagues for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration.  When I approached them about participating in a tasting panel, I knew they would enjoy the opportunity to taste something completely different, but I truly appreciate their willingness to submit to the prying eye of the camera. 
     I want to thank my wonderful fella, Troy, as well, for taking the time to direct, produce, film, edit, and perform all of the wizardry that good and interesting video work requires. I think he did an excellent job, and I am very excited about the future of this blog.
     Now, back to the Ruché...

     You can also watch the episode here on YouTube.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Popping my Ruché Cherry; Part One

     Every job has its annoyances.  I try not to complain too much. After all, I sell wine, which is pretty much an awesome thing that makes the world a better place. Shit, some people sell paper. Or tires. Or insurance.(shudders) There is, however, that one thing that makes every wine-lover-turned-retailer feel as though we are on a tireless crusade to right an egregious wrong: the idea that a single wine can be replicated ad infinitum, and that picking X bottle of Cabernet over Z bottle of Cabernet is like having a preference for Nikes versus Reeboks. At this point, I could run off into a preachy diatribe about small production, artisanal quality, and low yields, which is just the tip of the iceberg. But I will be succinct; it is the concept of branding.
     Americans, in particular, are very good at branding, and I would be a fool if I did not recognize and acknowledge that branding is a necessary and effective tool for every business, be it Gallo Wines or the Grocery Co-op down the street. Still, I am left scratching my head by the kind of consumer that says, well, if you don’t have Ferrari-Carrano Chardonnay, do you have their Fume Blanc? Don't get me wrong; there is a lot to love about working retail.  It is incredibly gratifying to introduce a delicious, affordable, artisanal wine to someone who is eager to soak up the knowledge and branch out, and fortunately, that is the kind of customer that we cultivate.
     One of the most astounding joys of wine is that of discovery.  Every day there is a new wine to be tasted, a new region to explore, a new vintage to assess, new producers and techniques and volumes of information to be learned, pondered, and hotly debated amongst ones’ peers. Even, or more accurately, especially the venerable Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers out there know that the subject is limitless.  It is not only a key factor to the fascination with wine, but also a strong indicator of the personality types that are drawn to it beyond the realm of casual consumption.
    In April I went overseas for the first time, as part of an industry group tour of the Chilean and Argentinian wineries represented by TGIC Importers, who took us on a whirlwind, wine-soaked extravaganza. It was a prize to their top sellers across the country, and most of the 19 professionals on the tour were representatives of large wholesalers, who had sold the qualifying amount over the course of a number of different accounts. There was only one other retailer, a buyer for a high-volume fine wine shop in California. Brian was a bona-fide wine geek, and as you might imagine, we were fast friends. His outright nerdiness for the subject matched my own, and the wholesalers were lost trying to follow conversations that often went something like this:

Brian Holowka, Certified Wine Geek

Brian: Name your favorite wine grapes no one knows about.

Me: Scheurebe. Arneis. Jacquere.

Brian: Ruché.

Me: Wait, what?

     We also had a number of conversations regarding the importers and hard to find European producers we have access to on our respective coasts, and commiserating about the treatment of wine as a brand (somewhat ironically, considering the good folks who footed the bill for the trip are very much in the wine-branding business). When we parted ways, we agreed to ship each other a mixed box of unique wines, which were most likely unavailable in each others’ markets.  The criteria for selection was small production, exceptional value (>$20/bottle) from quality driven producers.
   Which is pretty much my M.O. 
    So you can imagine my delight when this arrived, along with many other very cool wines in the wine-nerd box:

Brian: Ruche    Me: Wait, what?

     Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato was recently awarded DOCG status only in the last couple of years, after being awarded the more humble DOC status in 1987. From my research, which includes both internet, wine texts, and talking to knowledgable folks like the my friend Dave Erickson over at the Wine Mule, no one is really sure yet what Ruché is or where it comes from. It seems to have been growing in the Piemontese hills of Monferrato for quite some time now, perhaps generations, and while some people argue it is native, others argue it is some variation of a French import (I've heard grumblings of gamay).
     I'm completely stoked to open this bottle, as you can imagine. A totally new wine that I have never, in my close to a decade in the wine biz, had any experience with!  A new grape! A new DOCG! A new producer! Awesome! A new everything!
     Anew! Anew! Anew!

     I cannot help but hear that message. I cannot help but take that advice. Stay tuned.

     "Champagne Floozy: Popping my Ruché Cherry; Part Two" arrives next week.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

All of the Above

Baby, you so foxy.
There are grapevines growing outside my kitchen window. When I do the dishes, or stand at my stove and stir the marinara, there they are. Southern Appalachia is not suited to European wine grape varietals, so undoubtedly these are some cultivar of a muscadine. They were here at the beginning of last summer too, but a storm came along at some point and knocked the potential grapes off somewhere in between flowering and fruit set. I hope they make it this year, though I do have mixed feelings about them - grapes would be so aesthetically pleasing but the smell of scuppernongs is overwhelming to me, and not in a good way. (Please don't let them be scuppernongs.)

     Either way, summer is obviously here. We all have our favorite hot weather wines, and I am no exception. As a matter of fact, this season is perfectly suited for the wines I naturally gravitate towards - roses, high-acid whites, light bodied reds, and of course Champagne (or almost anything with bubbles, decidely un-chic Moscato d'Asti included). I start dreaming of rose somewhere around Winter Solstice, when the wines I'm pining for are most likely just starting to rest in bottle after fermentation, and the rest of the world is moving towards slumber and pot roasts.

     As much of a food nerd as I am, I still very much enjoy these kinds of wines without food. And, when summer comes calling in my seasonal, tourist-driven city, I need wine I can drink without food. After sweating and slinging cases of wine for 9+ hours, often times I just can't cook. And aside from that, I take entirely too much pleasure in cooking to force myself to do it. It's not work, and I won't let it be, goddammit. Sometimes take-out or cheap chinese delivery is fine. Food snobbery does me no favors.

     There are few things that give me more pleasure in this regard than an aperitif from Bordeaux called Lillet. This delicious concoction starts with red or white Bordeaux, and is then infused with a top-secret blend of macerated fruit liqueur, herbs, and quinine. It's got the tiniest bitter edge, and is wonderfully tonic after hard physical labor. It's my favorite porch wine, traditionally served on ice with a twist of lemon. If you've never had Lillet before, well, a warning: It's high in alcohol, close to 20%, and dangerously refreshing. If you are hot and tired, or god forbid both, it is entirely possible to consume a glass in the scope of about five minutes without even noticing. I don't even want to tell you how fast me and and one of my co-workers once consumed an entire bottle.

     Lillet has been made since the late 19th century, with it's current formula dating back to 1986, and as astonishing as it is to hear of a Bordelaise doing something untraditional, the folks over at Lillet recently did:

"Cats and together...."

      Ladies and gentleman, I give you Lillet Rose, fresh off the boat. When it first came in, my colleague Larry proclaimed, in his best Ghostbusters Bill Murray:  "Cats and dogs! Living together!"

     I, too, had to question what kooky parallel universe we had entered. Yet we are all fans of Lillet and each bought a bottle the same night. Somehow I managed to resist it's allure longer than them, but tonight I think I will crack it. Truth be told, I've learned not to open a bottle of Lillet on a school night, if you know what I mean.

     I like to drink Lillet on the porch in my GoVino glasses on ice, forget the twist, alone or with friends and preferably a cat at my feet. Honestly, for me, this beverage is about pleasure and relaxation. Proper tasting notes seem a little silly, but I will say, it tastes just like pink grapefruit for breakfast, the way my mom used to slice them in half and sprinkle the top with sugar. In true Lillet fashion, it makes you want to take another sip.

     Tonight I was sitting on my porch, alone, enjoying my utterly delicious Lillet and a cigarette when my neighbor Kenzie came out on to the porch.
     "Kenzie, come taste this!" I said. 
      She came over, tasted, and declared, "Oh my god, I had a wine spritzer the other day but I wasn't gonna say anything because I thought you'd look down on me."

      The last thing I want to do, ever, is look down on anyone for their tastes. If you want to drink scuppernong wine on ice cut with 7-up, I could give less of a fuck. I like what I like, and I think it is interesting enough and delicious enough to bother telling you about. For me, it is more important that we share our beverages and meals with the people we love and the people who inspire us on to those other human necessities: Conversation, compassion, creativity, the world of ideas.

     And have I mentioned that snobbery gets me nowhere? Yes. Yes, I think I did.

     Let's be honest. People like to say they drink red wine for their cholesterol, or only drink wine with food. Sometimes, though, we like it white and cold and for no other reason than the fact that it helps us relax after work, or stimulates conversation, or inclines us onto to other very human, physical pleasures. I see nothing wrong with any of that. Personally, I want all of the above. I work too goddamned hard for anything less.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Ciao il Gatto Ubriaco, Bonjour Champagne Floozy

Sunset in Colchagua Valley, Chile
     I've let this blog fall by the way side, mostly because I thought no one was reading - that and plain old laziness. Also, its been a busy year.  Then someone I never expected to even know it existed, asked, "Why did you stop writing your blog?"
     So I'm gonna get it up and going again, new and improved and re-named. The new name comes from a handle I had adopted on an internet forum where I talk (and argue relentlessly) about wine. It was an expression that popped into my head one day (anyone who knows me will understand why I chose it), and after a google search to see if anyone else had claimed the moniker (they hadn't), I found this on a random travel blog, describing a visit to Champagne, France:

"Some of the walls have carvings depicting the monks of the early champagne days as well as one of the "Champagne Floozy", a lady before her time who decided it was OK for ladies to join in with the drinking of this fine champagne."

     So, of course, now I like the title even more. So, if you are reading this, thanks for doing so. I welcome comments, feedback, arguments, love letters, gifts, chain mail, hate mail, fan mail, jokes, and free booze, preferably champagne.
     I've got plenty to tell you about, obviously. This past year I have worked my ass off, drank some great wine, spit out some insipid crap so you didn't have to, and busted the cherry on my passport.
     I also fell in love.

     I've got some big things planned for this year, and for the years to come. So stay tuned.