Sunday, October 31, 2010

Goodbye, car; hello, holiday season

One thing doesn't have anything to do with another, except that both happened this weekend. I had to say goodbye to my loyal car of more than 10 years, the car that has gotten me to many a place and has been my office for the last 2 plus years while I have been doing outside sales. But even before that, it got me to jobs, runs, some near-by vacation spots, and much, much more. Here it is being towed away by the charity it has been donated to. Sigh. Goodbye, beloved car.

Okay, onto Christmas. Yes, it's Halloween today, and that means - last day of October. Meaning, tomorrow is November, one more full month before December madness. This weekend, to numb the pain of giving away my car, I stocked up on wines for Christmas at The Wine Country.

I have now 4 special wines planned for sharing with family at Christmas - this year, they will be all European in origin. Sometimes I do a few California wines, but most often, it is special wines from Germany, Austria, Champagne and other parts of France and Italy that tend to be shared.

This year, I'll have 2 wines from Germany, and 2 wines from France.

They will be:

Both German wines were given to me by hand, in person, from the winemaker who made them. How sweet is that? The memory of receiving these gifts is still strong. Both were given to me this year by German winemakers who had travelled here to the U.S. to promote their wines. The first was Gunter Kunstler, winemaker and owner of Franz Kunstler in the Rheingau - he gave me a bottle of his top notch dry wine 2007 Kunstler Kirchenstuck Riesling trocken. If this is not a GG (Grosses Gewachs, or Grand Cru) wine, then it is damned close! Gunter had specific instructions for a food pairing for this wine - he said make a roasted veal chop and top it with a cream sauce and shaved black truffles. Yum yum! I'll see if I can do the wine justice this Christmas season. I think a nice white meat like veal would be perfect with this rich yet elegant Rheingau dry Riesling.

The second hand-given wine was from Bert Selbach of Dr. F. Weins-Prum. He is one of my favorite Mosel people. The first few times I met him, I found him to be quiet and withdrawn. Later, when he got to know me better, I found him to be one of the warmest people ever. Bert Selbach is the sole owner and winemaker at the wine estate and his wines are always so focused and pure and classically Mosel, in my opinion. Not too fat, not too rich, not too anything - just clean, crisp, bright acid with crystalline fruit. Very delicious wines, and so well priced. He was here in June for Rudipalooza and gave me a bottle of his very unique 1998 Dr. F. Weins-Prum Bernkasteler Johannisbrunnchen Riesling Eiswein. This is a 750 ml bottle of Eiswein. I am very excited to share this with others. I did taste it when Bert opened a couple of bottles at an event in June and of course it is unbelieveable - Mosel Eiswein from 12 years ago in a perfect Eiswein vintage...... it cannot be less than perfect.

Okay, then there are 2 French wines, and I picked these up at The Wine Country today. I'll first talk about 2007 Domaine de Montille Beaune Premier Cru "Les Sizies" which was featured yesterday in a tasting with the winemaker and owner Etienne de Montille and importer Michael Sullivan, owner of Beaune Imports out of Berkeley, California. I didn't make the tasting, but I have had these wines before and they are consistently lovely to the point of out of this world. Admittedly, I have not had much Burgundy lately........ haven't bought any and have been out of the loop of tasting them. Today, Sunday, I went in to The Wine Country and there were the leftovers of yesterday's tasting. There was not only the 2007 Les Sizies, but also de Montille's Nuits St. Georges...... I got a taste but more importantly the aromas of both wines...... out of this world! There's just something about great Burgundy! Spring for these premier cru wines, they are worth it. I was actually shocked that the Les Sizies was under $50 a bottle as I could swear that a few years ago, the wine was elected wine of the year by the staff and the wine was at that time at least $65. Perhaps that was at the height of the Euro vs the American dollar. At any rate, the wine is gorgeous and a steal and I'm happy to have picked up a bottle for the Christmas stash.

Finally, there is a bottle of 2001 Calon Segur which is a Bordeaux wine that I special ordered. The reason I chose Calon Segur, while I don't personally have any history with the wine..... my in-laws drank this wine when they got married more than 50 years ago. Can you believe it? Now that's history! A wine well regarded over 50 years ago is still fetching the dollars today. Now that's a classic. I hope to surprise them with this wine this Christmas season, though if they are following this blog, they will not be too surprised, but that's okay...

So there's 4 wines. If I don't get into them earlier... for example, that Sizies is calling my name..... if I can hold on to them till the holidays, then this is my set for the Christmas season. Not too shabby eh?

The lovely thing I adore about wine is that it is for sharing. I love that I have the memory of winemakers sharing their craft with me, and I love that I in turn can share these wines with others. And at the end of the day, I like to see what I do for a living as sharing great wines with many people. And why not. It's a little bit of peace and happiness to all, even in times of loss and letting go.

Okay, I know, it's just a car! I'll get over it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where I don't see going to have a glass of wine

So funny thing... this week, as I started to feel better, my car died. My trusty little green Honda Civic finally decided to quit. On a Tuesday. Were there any signs? Only 30 minutes before it died did it give me any indication. It's normally fantastic air conditioning - I mean, literally, the car can be 110 degrees inside and once I start it up and turn on the AC, it cools right down to a comfortable 65 in mere minutes. Not bad for a little economy car.

So, on Tuesday, as I was headed back home from 3 very good account visits in Santa Monica and Venice, the air conditioning started to not work as terrifically as it usually does. It was spitting out lukewarm air instead of ice cold. Weird, but I didn't think it was terminal. A bit later, as I was coasting down the freeway, the "check engine" light came on. Not good. But again, didn't think it was terminal. And, the AC started picking up again... yay! Did I specifically check the temperature gauge of the car? No, not specifically. My eyes didn't wander to that part of the dash... but in retrospect, that would have been a good idea. But there was no smoke coming out of my car, and I decided to continue driving toward home till there was a safe place I could pull over.

Well, I pulled into my local post office, went in to stock up on Bart Simpson stamps.... found out they had some new cool ones called Sunday Funnies - got some of those too - came out, thought, well maybe my car got over it, maybe the check engine light won't go on after I start it.

The car started, but it wasn't making pretty noises. Something was definitely amiss. The check engine light remained on. The car sputtered a bit. I drove toward the exit of the PO parking lot. Then the car stalled, right at the exit.

I managed to turn the engine and maneuver the car over to a parking space. I managed to call AAA (what an awesome service - yay AAA!) The rest is history - car towed, the diagnosis - major overheating leading to major internal organ damage, and what they said could not have happened quickly (meaning what?? that I've been driving with a messed up car for ages and I missed all this? my fault, I guess).

Anyway, short story long, today, I'm on my feet, walking if I need to get anywhere. I needed to go to the ATM machine, so I walked a little over a mile toward downtown in my village to go to the ATM.

On my way, I checked out a new wine bar. It was closed, but I pressed my nose to the window to check it out. I had heard that it had opened. I wonder how it does. My impression is that I'm not impressed. I'll tell you why.

I likely won't go drinking there. It's the location. It's located at the base of a tower of a nursing home. This nursing home is in a historic building in the downtown of my village. It has a high-end restaurant at the top, on the 13th floor or something like that. I have been there. It's nice. The food is average. I'm not a huge fan of the location, though, because it's in a nursing home. And now they have a wine bar on the first floor, a tiny place. And I'm wondering, who wants to go to a wine bar on the first floor of a nursing home?

My issue is that wine is more than a beverage. It's an aura. A fantasy. A romantic escape. It's not that the aura is unreal or not realistic, but it is a delicious fantasy and it doesn't jive mentally with the image of your heirs putting you in an institution when you're 90 because your mental faculties have left you and you're demented and can't swallow and you're prescribed a pureed diet with thickened liquids and you are not allowed to drink any alcohol because you're on 10 different medications. Wine has nothing to do with the sad end that befalls people when they are institutionalized and demoralized and need to walk with a walker and need caregivers to wipe their butts and give them baths and cut up their food. When people are drinking wine, they are thinking romantic wonderful good-life thoughts, sitting in a chateau overlooking gorgeous vineyards, sunny day, birds in the air, your lover looking into your eyes, conversation flowing, the food coming out of the kitchen the best and freshest you've ever tasted, the restaurant staff loving you for appreciating the finer things in life, you're laughing, enjoying, feeling like this will go on for all eternity, and it will because you'll always have fine wine, you'll always have your terrific cellar full of gems, you'll always have your neighborhood restaurant where they love you and you are always welcome, and you'll always have your lover, your friends, your beautiful family members all around you, laughing and loving and being and enjoying the best that life has to offer.

This is why people drink wine. It is all these things. All the good things in life.

And that's why I don't think wine bars belong in nursing homes, hospitals, another places where those delicious thoughts clash in our brains and make us frown.

Wine is about the good life and the never ending good time.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I'm on a 10-day course of antibiotics, and have taken myself off all alcohol. And prior to starting the antibiotic, I had not been feeling great (little did I know I had pneumonia). So there were several days of self-imposed non-drinking even before the prohibition of the antibiotic treatment. At this point, I'm about 5 days from finishing my course of drugs, and starting to feel better (GREAT compared to before), so wine looking really good. I even had to go to a wine dinner (of which I was one of the hosts) and not drink (much). Today I had a taste of a really good Spanish tempranillo put in front of me - I had to taste - the wine had a terrific, enticing nose, like a really good red wine should, and the palate was nice and meaty, smoked meat.... great. What I would have given to have a glass of that. But sigh..... I want to get completely better, so had to do without.

What I'm learning in my temporary prohibition is that life is sweeter with wine. A glass of Riesling here after work, a glass of rich red wine there later with dinner, it's not a bad thing. And I've got a great bottle of one of my favorite Champagnes sitting in the closet waiting for me (non-vintage Billiot.... yum) - this was supposed to be our celebratory Champagne after running a half marathon, but since I bailed on that (sick), I couldn't celebrate either (would have been a waste).

Well, when I finish this course of antibiotics, I think that Champagne's getting opened!

Oh, the wine dinner the other night - yes, a wild game dinner paired with German reds, and some German Rieslings thrown in for good measure. I was under the weather so enjoyed the evening somewhat but not to the full extent that it should have been enjoyed. Others told me it was terrific, so that was good! My favorite items at dinner were the boar sausage (so flavorful - really, we should eat more boar) and the sitka deer medallions from Japan. I have never heard of Sitka Deer - it sounds like something from Alaska. But it was tender and delicious. We even had venison liver which was quite interesting....

What showed well: 2007 Schnaitmann Samtrot, 2007 Schnaitmann Lemberger, and 2007 Heger Pinot Noir. I also liked the dessert wine which was paired with a hunk of Cambozola blue cheese: 1999 Bert Simon Wurtzberg Riesling Gold Cap. Fresh and zippy after 11 years.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Vegas then, Vegas Now

About a month ago, my husband and I went to Vegas for a weekend to meet friends and partake in a hockey tradition called Frozen Fury. It's a pre-season game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Colorado Avalanche - a group gets together and converges there and make a mini-group-vacation out of the weekend.

I looked forward to going, not so much for the hockey, though I don't mind hockey at all, but because I have always loved the excitement of Vegas. The adult Disneyland, the forbidden fruit of gambling, the neon of the strip, the old school charm of downtown, intermingling with my own childhood memories of our first family trip to California when we made a side trip to Vegas, with our parents and grandparents. I even remember my grandmother loving the lights when we drove up the driveway to our hotel, and how we got upgraded from our reserved rooms (which which given away by mistake) to suites, and how that made us feel like VIPs. That was back when I was 11 or so and living in Vancouver.

Yes, that was the first time I went to Vegas - when I was only 11 or so, my siblings even younger, the adults taking turns to go on the casino floor to gamble, or to go to shows, while the kids got to go to Circus Circus and win armfuls of stuffed animals - really good ones - better than the ones at the local PNE (Vancouver's annual summer fair). Later times I went to Vegas including one time when I was already living in Los Angeles, and my grandmother came down with my two sisters and met me there - that was a whole lot of fun also, but it was also when I realized my grandmother wasn't doing that well - she took a lot of time to walk from one casino to another, and finally just felt too worn out and took to the bed one evening. But on a positive note, I do remember on that trip I played a lot of blackjack and won.

Another time I went to Vegas was after I graduated from my MBA program in 2001, and my dad and sister came down for my grad, and the day after we hopped into my car and drove out to Vegas and spent the night, again, terrific fun. I remember being so pooped after arriving there that night, but my sister had the energy to go out for a late night stroll on the strip.

Other positive memory was around the year 2006 or so when I worked for The Wine Country and bought wine for a couple of different departments - Germany/Austria and Southern Hemisphere. That meant that I had to taste wine from different vendors to choose what to stock in those departments and build departments that were attractive and made sense. There was a tasting presented by a group of Australian producers who were in the U.S. mostly to make a presentation to Robert Parker for the Wine Advocate - they had been on the east coast, and the importer was trying to schedule them to fly to LA for a tasting, but in the end could only arrange a tasting in Las Vegas. I was invited to the tasting with an offer to pay for the plane ticket if I chose to attend. I chose to attend! Booked the flight - a same day flight - flew to Vegas in the morning and flew back in the evening, as my husband opted not to come with, I opted not to stay the night, so it ended up being a single day event.

It was in the middle of August. It was 80 degrees in Los Angeles at the time, 100 or more in Vegas. I flew there without luggage, just my purse and a notebook I think, boarded a shuttle, surprised the shuttle driver with no luggage and tipped him anyway, got to Cesar's Palace, found the restaurant where the tasting was held, and found my way to the tasting room. Was faced with about 15 winemakers from Australia, all showing about 9 red wines each and 1 white wine. In August in Las Vegas. Everyone was dying for cold, crisp white wine, but there was about 8 of the those among 100 high alcohol robust Shiraz, Cabs, and Grenaches.

The tasting was good and a good deal of fun anyway. The people were terrific and I was happy and excited to be there, and still high from being flown over to Vegas for the day to attend a tasting. "This is my job!" I thought to myself, and the glamor of it extended to how I felt about Vegas.

After the tasting, even after spitting each wine, I was under the influence. There was a couple of hours to kill before catching my flight back to LA, so I headed to onto the strip to one of my favorite places to gamble, O'Shea's. There, I played $5 blackjack for an hour or so, winning money, and enjoying myself as I did so. Then I grabbed a shuttle to the airport, flew home, and closed another great visit to Vegas. My only regret is that I didn't push hubby to go with me and spend the night there.

Then in 2008, I went to Vegas with hubby for Frozen Fury for the first time. Drove with a friend at night and got there around 2 am as though we were characters in a movie. Had a great time again playing blackjack everywhere and I won money everywhere. Went to Lotus of Siam for the first time and bought everyone dinner along with a bottle of 07 Gunderloch Jean-Baptiste and one of their bottles of single vineyard Donnhoff Spatlese after picking up my jaw looking at Bank's awesome wine list (about 10 pages of German wines, maybe even more, on Sommelier Bank's amazing list - a must-see if you haven't seen it). Terrific wines, delicious food, fantastic pairing.... and my friends liked it too... Great times, even though this was the fall of 2008 and Vegas already showed that look about it that it was falling into recessionary times. The bon temps were not rolling so much; tables were only half open and the dealers were looking a little more glum than usual.

Fast forward to October 2010 - Frozen Fury 2010 - first off, the friends and company and hockey were terrific. I wouldn't have changed a thing here. But the town, it has gone to hell. Or, I my tastes have changed. Or both. Maybe gambling doesn't excite me as much now that I'm in full time sales where every day my work is a gamble, and mostly, I win, whereas in a Vegas casino, forget about it. I could swear that in the old days it was so much easier to win in Vegas - it was like they wanted you to win there, so you would love being there and come back - but now, they want you to lose it now, lose it large, lose it fast, and don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.
The gambling is what is supposed to be "the thing" in Vegas - it is now horrible. Minimums are high. Dealers are unenthused. They are obviously not making much money, that tells me. When dealers are making money, they are happy, they are chatty, they make the whole experience fun, and then they get tipped more. This must not be what is going on. The whole gambling experience there is now very dreary and depressing. At least that was my experience.

The skank factor is way up. Dancing girls in skivvies are the biggest asset now in Vegas, not good solid entertain or fun gambling, but young girls in stripper costumes pretending to strip or pole dance everywhere - in gambling pits, on tables in restaurants, you name it. Perhaps I'm old or a prude, but it's not my cup of tea.

Service - the absence of this in a tourist town is striking. The staff are clueless, not interested in helping, give you the feeling of trying to rip you off, and do not make you feel like you're on vacation. Pass. I can go to Santa Ynez or Paso Robles and feel like queen for a weekend in a small inn, dine in small cozy restaurants and go wine tasting, and feel like I'm on a real vacation instead of constantly battling with employees who are clearly hurting and being screwed over by an overzealous, awful management company in a town that's going to pot.

I could go on. I looked at condos in this town because of the idea of investment property. You can buy a beautiful almost new condo in this town for less than $200,000 (unheard of in LA) but it is in a virtually empty building where no one else hardly lives, and the management fee for month is close to $900/mo. Pass.

The soul and all that was good to me about Vegas has been sucked out of the place, and replaced with a skeleton. A blogger that I read and enjoy called Vegas Rex, who has that dark sense of humor I enjoy in writing, said something like Vegas used to be the spoiled girl who had daddy's platinum credit card; now she is some troubled girl who ran away from home and is turning tricks behind the truck stop. Distrurbing reference, but totally agree. Las Vegas used to give me an image and idea of fun, partying, gambling, short-term excess; now it has left me wanting to avoid it for the forseeable future.

Give me San Francisco, Vancouver, Napa, Santa Ynez, Paso Robles, any of these places for a weekend instead.
P.S. I did go to a Van Morrison concert and that was fun. Van Morrison singing Brown Eyed Girl - I didn't think I would get to see that in my lifetime, but I did!

Friday, October 15, 2010


In recent weeks and maybe even months, it has occurred to me that I suddenly have come to be regarded as having experience, in the wine business, that is.

How did that happen? In a blink of an eye, I have 5 years experience in the wine biz, 2 years in sales on the "street," with 3 years in retail.

Just last evening, I was working an event at a terrific wine bar in Santa Monica called Pourtal, and I met fellow wine people also pouring for Oktoberfest - a terrific line-up of German and Austrian red wines, including Blaufrankish, Zweigelt, St. Laurent, Portugeser, Spatburgunder, Samtrot and more. Fantastic, eclectic bunch of sales reps all selling some of the most interesting wines in the world. I met a new gal who recently started her own business importing and distributing wines after years in the business, and she asked how long I had been working for Rudi Wiest, and I said, "A little over 2 years." She replied, "Oh you've been doing it for a while then." Is two years a while? It seemed like yesterday that I started.

I'm glad that the time I have spent in the business has been successful so far, and has made me appear experienced beyond the years. I'm grateful for that! I don't think 2 years doing outside sales is much time at all - I spent over a decade working in health care as a dietitian and I still don't consider myself very experienced in that, just moderately experienced. But in all, I'm happy to give people the confidence that I seem to know what I'm doing and seem to know a little about the products I sell.

By the way, last night at the Oktoberfest tasting, the 2007 Schnaitmann Samtrot rocked, if I may say so. Great velvety texture, nice integrated acidity along with a smooth rich red fruit body. This is a red wine variety that is a regional clone of Pinot Noir. It tastes like Pinot Noir, but also not like Pinot Noir. We're going to have this wine at the Fora Restaurant Wild Game and German Wine Dinner next week on Sunday Oct 24 and it will be terrific with the wild boar sausages!

I also got to taste my cohort's Spatburgunders (Weinhof Scheu, from Schweigen, same village Friedrich Becker is from!), Pinot Noir from Austria (Juris), Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch, all very delicious red wines... more people should drink these. I'm glad there are other wine folks other there promoting the good word about these wines. And I love working an event with them - they are so much fun! Good seeing you Adam, Stetson, and Amy!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

End of summer impromptu wine & steak night at friend's house

Is there anything better than dinner & wine at a friend's house? If there is, it's hard to remember what it could be when you are there. It really is the essence of fun and the good life.

A couple of weekends ago, good friends Linda & Bennett had us over for what started as an initial idea of watching the Swedish movie "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," since we have been obsessed with the Stieg Larsson trilogy, read most of the three books, and heard that the movie was graphic and worth watching. Of course, mostly we heard it was worth watching from folks that had not read the book, so we didn't hear much "the book was better," which I'm sure is what most people say most of the time about good books..... but anyway, movie night on Sunday night turned into dinner, with Bennett firing up the grill and putting on delicious Chateaubriande slabs onto the hot grill along with autumn squash. But first, before that, we tucked into a delicious bottle of Rose that our friend Derek had left us, from a producer in Washington State we had never heard of.
As it happened that it was a rare hot day in this summer, we downed this puppy pretty quickly, the 2009 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese. It was juicy, round, fruity, not too alcoholic, and fit perfectly with the weather and the home-grown tomatoes, savory dry salami, and addictive cured olives we were munching on.

Next up, we opened the red wine we brought, the 2007 Burrowning Owl Meritage that my sister and her hubby painstakingly brought back for us from the winery in Oliver, British Columbia (that's in Canada, just north of Washington State!) This is a region I have not visited, but plan to do so in the near future. In fact, my plan is to do a driving trip through the Washington State wine regions (Walla Walla, and others) then drive up to Oosoyos (hottest town in Canada) and Oliver and do all that area. I think that would be quite rugged and fun. Especially now with all the wineries there (I'm sure the area was considerably more rugged back in the day when the winery craze had not yet hit).

The Burrowing Owl Meritage (Bordeaux-style blend, which, if I recall correctly, had all 5 of the Bordeaux grapes in it: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Admission: I didn't remember exactly, and I wasn't sure if Petit Verdot was a masculine ou feminine, so I cheated and went to the Burrowing Owl website, and man, are those pictures of the winery stunning. I mean, if you like that sort of thing - nestled in the mountains, gently sloping vineyard, pristine interior of B.C. type scenery... if I learned anything in my recent weekend in Las Vegas, it is that appreciate more and more the look and feel of nature (I even admired the mountainous backdrop of Las Vegas more than I admired the neon and the gambling - new for me).
Anyhoo, I do plan to go there sometime. A driving trip sounds like a nice adventure, especially combining it with a jaunt down to Washington State, whose vineyards I have yet to visit as well.
Oh, the wine: I found it oaky; perhaps it needed more time in the bottle to integrate its oak, but the fruit was fantastic, and it went terrifically with the steaks that had some terrific char on the outside and juicy middles. I have had Osoyoos Larose, another somewhat well-known B.C. wine from this general area, and I also found it to be on the oaky side - again perhaps I need to age these wines a bit longer before I will like them. But I do think definitely that these wines from B.C. see more new oak than French wines that I like, but perhaps they are as oaky as Napa wines? Perhaps that is more the model? I don't know. I haven't tasted too many Napa cabs as of late, but maybe I will soon...
(From the website's tasting note, it indicates that this wine is aged 22 months in a mixture of French, American, and Russian oak, of which 25% is new. Perhaps what I taste is American oak, which I find stronger.)
Next time, perhaps I will lay a bottle of Burrowing Owl down for a few years, or who am I kidding? Maybe I will try to source an older bottle that someone else has had the patience to lay down for a few years! :)

After the Burrowing Owl, we moved on to something from Bennett's cellar - he stayed with the Pacific Northwest theme and pulled out a wine I have never seen before: 2000 Cayuse "Camaspello." This is a Bordeaux-style blend with three Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
I really liked this wine, perhaps because it was a 10-year old.... not only am I starting to like nature more, I'm starting to like older wines more. It seemed complex and layered (those are things that come with age in good wine)....aside from that I don't have any more accurate tasting notes. I felt that it was old world in style, but my host thought it was quite a big wine, so perhaps I wasn't really tasting at that point, just enjoying.
Later, Bennett told me he is selling this wine - he had a couple of bottles - if I was interested, and I was - in fact, we're going to a wine tasting at someone's house tonight and the theme is new world Bordeaux varieties (and I think we are tasting some 2000 Bordeaux too), so I thought this 2000 Cayuse would be kind of fun to open. So I got one from Bennett!
I don' have any more Burrowing Owl Meritage at this time (I have a Pinot Noir left) but if I did, I would bring that too.
Wine - what fun. I look forward to an exciting tasting tonight as well, and I'll try to take some good notes and pics.