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.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eyes on the Prize

Good morning St. Emilion.
     Three months in, and 2013 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for yours truly. My best intentions to attend to this little blog here have not materialized as often as I would hope, but in my defense, I've been a pretty busy girl. Well, I suppose I should rephrase that. I've been a busy woman. At the risk of sounding cliche, life really is getting better as I get older. I'm happier, more content with myself, and my goals have come into sharper focus. I have more self-discipline than I ever would have imagined, or desired, when I first moved to this little mountain town ten years ago.
     The most noteworthy achievement of 2013 so far is a complete reversal of my night-owl lifestyle. With few exceptions, I'm up and out of bed and walking the dogs at 6:15 in the morning, and asleep well before midnight. I doubt I'd even be considered a regular at my bar anymore. Believe it or not, I spend more money on coffee than beer. I don't blame you if you don't believe me, but I assure you, I drink very good coffee.
     After the dogs are walked and fed, they go back to sleep and I settle in at my big, rustic kitchen table, books and notes spread out, and, more often than not, my Siamese sleeping next to me on the wooden bench. For two hours I take down the minutia of wine regions: soil types, grape varietals, climactic factors, terminology, prominent producers, appellation regulations, historical events, and more. I generally work in a threefold manner for each region: First I take notes from the Society of Wine Educators CSW textbook. Then I move on to the corresponding pages of the hefty World Atlas of Wine and take even more notes. Finally, I pick up a specialized book (i.e. Vino Italiano or Julian Jeffs' The Wines of Spain) on the subject and drill even more mind-bogglingly complex information into my head. At some point, the sun comes up, and light begins to creep through the kitchen windows and into the living room. I've consumed almost an entire pot of coffee. It's time to shower and go to work, where I'll stare at the labels of wines I've spent the morning intellectually consuming, or better yet, pester the German with questions.
     I am studying to take the Certified Wine Educator exam at the end of July. The accreditation is offered by the Society of Wine Educators and boasts a meager pass rate of 12%. The exam consists of a written/theory portion involving 100 multiple choice questions as well as an essay, and a blind tasting both to identify classic wine styles as well as to identify faults and practical imbalances. After those portions are successfully passed, the CWE candidate must teach a 15 minute symposium to the Society on an approved theme (i.e. "New World Sparkling Wine," "Carbonic Maceration," or "The Wines of Sicily.")
     Last fall I successfully passed the Certified Specialist of Wine exam, which is the prerequisite for sitting the CWE. That was something I had been putting off for a few years, and I finally just decided I needed to put my money where my mouth was, so to speak. The day I received my lapel pin in the mail, I knew I had to take the next step. I want that next lapel pin quite possibly more than I've wanted anything else.
     But why? Remember what I said about my life getting better with age, about goals coming into sharper focus? Well, I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to one day make money with my mind instead of my back. I want to teach, or write, and most likely both.
Champagne Floozy, C.S.W.
     After the sun comes up in the morning and I put my books and notes back on the bookshelf for another day, how much of that minutia sticks with me? Some, but not all, of course. But about 2/3 of the way down the Appenines, I realized what is happening. A broader view, a more complete depth of understanding is taking form. Rather than getting bogged down in arcane academia, I am, as a friend of mine astutely pointed out, creating the forest from the trees.
     I have to admit, it actually feels a little silly to write about this, to feel the marvel that I do. After all, isn't all that the whole damn point?

     Spring is starting to stir here in southern Appalachia. Daffodils in the snow are a common occurrence, and the weather forecast seems to change every ten minutes. This really is a magical place to live. A few of the trees have dared to start greening, and soon the gnarly old muscadine vines outside my kitchen window will enter budbreak. And the sun is going to continue rising earlier and earlier, although I think I'll stick with 6 am, at least for now.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 Year in Review

      I traveled to a foreign country, this year, for the first time in my whole life, and earned my CSW certification from the Society of Wine Educators. I wrote a whopping four blog posts! I learned how to strip wallpaper and I fell in love. It was a really good year. I made space in my home and my heart for two sweet and goofy beagles and an awesome partner. The cats adapted, and I learned to smoke outside. I'm better off for it.
     2012 has come and gone. I don't know which was more laughable: the threat of the Mayan Apocalypse or Mitt Romney. Either way, here we are: we survived another year on planet Earth. Today, January 3rd, is my ten year anniversary in Asheville, NC.
     As you can imagine, I've tasted quite a few delicious and astounding grape-based beverages over the past year. While there are plenty of truly great wines that I have been fortunate enough to experience, what follows is a smattering of those that have really stuck with me. Just for clarification, these are not necessarily the "best" wines I've come across, as much as those that seem to have truly resonated with me.

Cascina Vano Barbaresco Canova 2000
     2012 was the year I fell in love with Piemonte, Italy - both in spirit and in glass. While I had tasted plenty of wines from the region before, and certainly enjoyed them, this was the year that I actually "got" Piemonte. This Cascina Vano was one of the "a-ha" wines that cemented my feelings for the region. My colleague Dave Erickson brought the bottle to one of our wine group tastings, and it was just a stunner. I think that it also stuck with me because it was one of my first experiences with a properly aged wine from a region that is known for requiring patience. Needless to say, there are some Barbarescos and Barolos in my tiny winy celler now. My notes include: "honeyed, honeycomb, gorgeous!, plentiful raspberry, sweet and rounded."

Domaine Leroy Bourgogne 2004
     I am a modestly paid retailer without any kind of big showy cellar or rich friends. While I've been fortunate to taste a handful of things that are well out of my price range, its an uncommon occurrence. A really exciting, well-made, and complex $25 bottle from some weird pocket of France holds more allure to me than all the cult-y, expensive, Napa cabs you can think of. That being said, this wine made me understand why people who have money are willing to spend it for certain wines. This wine made me wish I was rich.
     While relatively inexpensive by top-echelon Burgundy standards (I think the original retail was something like $100/bottle), the Domaine Leroy Bourgogne 2004 was easily the best burgundy I have tasted. I hate to admit how I had the chance to do so: a customer of ours, who purchased it long ago and has stored it properly for years, returned it to the store, thinking there was something wrong with it. The boss happily bought his remaining bottles back, and of course, kept them for himself. But we got to taste the two that were returned uncorked.
     Without boring you with the details, this is declassified pinot noir from that hallowed region, the Vosne-RomaneĆ© in Burgundy, and from a superstar producer. My tasting notes read: "Murky, dirty brown color. Unreal complexity. Still vibrant with fruit. Dusty red cherry, forest floor, mushrooms, brown spices. Can't wrap my mind around all of it. Finish that goes on for minutes. Holy Shit."

Champagne Alfred Gratien Brut 1990
My employer likes champagne as much as I do. One thing I like, no, love about my employer is that he likes to share wonderful things from his cellar with his employees from time to time. He brought this out at the end of the shift on the day before Thanksgiving, a day which requires more kick-ass and brute strength than non-retailers will ever know. While, certainly, there are better champagnes produced, this is the first I have had that was over two decades in age. In case you didn't know, or couldn't tell, I adore Champagne.

     Tasting notes: "Rich and absolutely bracing in the same breath. Attractive oxidative notes. Caramel. Dried figs, dried dates. Reminiscent of a dry Sercial Madeira with bubbles."

A Flight of 1995 Bordeaux: Chateau Rauzan-Segla Margaux, Chateau l'Eglise-Clinet Pomerol, Chateau Clerc-Milon Pauillac

     I have worked for my employer for two and a half years now, and our employee Christmas "party" (which is actually just a big, awesome dinner) has become the food and wine highlight of the year. This year we had a special menu prepared for us at Rezaz, which is arguably one of the best joints in Asheville. We started the meal with some great wines - a single-vineyard Riesling sparkler from Steininger in Austria, Champagne, Domaine Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling...
     And then the lamb course came. And then came a trio of 1995 Bordeaux from Margaux, Pomerol, and Pauillac. This was such an amazing treat for little 'ol me. While I was too busy enjoying a lovely meal with my colleagues to stop and take notes, this is my recollection: "The Rauzan-Segla had a lot of cedar, licorice, underbrush, and red fruit character, with a vibrant acidity. The Clerc-Milon came afterwards and was much bigger, more brooding and dark-fruited. The l'Eglise-Clinet at the end had the most gorgeous, round and velvety mouthfeel."

     Looking back on these wines, and at the dates on the bottles, I am reminded of a word that I have found myself using repeatedly this year: Context.

Context (Merriam-Webster):  1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning; 2: the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environment, setting 

     I am approaching a decade in the wine industry. I have seen friends and colleagues move about the varying tiers of retail, wholesale, and supplier. I have chosen to stick to the decidedly unglamourous retail side, for my own reasons. Working for the particular caliber of retailer as I do affords a certain education and a context that is virtually unavailable elsewhere, and that's where the 1990 Alfred Gratien comes in, as well as all those 95 Bordeauxs: Context.

     Its just one of those things. Like might get it, you might not.