Cheers!

I realize it’s a cliche for me to post to my blog on December 31, vowing to write more in the new year. It’s even is a cliche for me to make fun myself for being a cliche. But while this time of year shouldn’t be the only opportunity for self-reflection, it’s as good a time as any.
The simple act of moving back to Wooster has itself been responsible for a great deal of self-reflection. Perhaps because my life has slowed down a bit, I’ve recognized some aspects in myself that I didn’t realize were there before, both positive and negative. I’m hoping that in 2012, I can use that knowledge to achieve goals, as well as avoid making mistakes… some time and time again.
I also started a new job this year that has tested my skills in many ways. Selling wine, as silly as it may sound, is both the most fun and the hardest job I’ve ever had. Certainly promoting wines that I love is enjoyable… but trying to convince a land of California wine lovers that they should open their palates to indecipherable French labels is a bit more difficult. Realizing that I have faced few true challenges in my life is humbling, and to think that I would give up on this job just because it’s difficult borders on embarrassing. I sell an amazing product, my coworkers are supportive and whip-smart, and my customers (for the most part) are a pleasure to work with and in several cases have even become my friends. I’m looking forward to proving that I can be successful in a difficult, competitive market.
I can say with 100% conviction that every year of my life has been better than the last. Growing older (or less young!) has meant getting to know myself better, improving my relationships with other people, pursuing activities that are meaningful to me, and in general, always learning how to have more fun. I’ve had my setbacks along the way, and I’m not always proud of of the decisions that I make. The best I can do is take responsibility for those lapses in judgment and understand why they happened.
Perhaps the most fundamental resolution I can make this year is to love people – including myself – for who they are, and not for who they aren’t. A very happy new year to all those loved ones! And of course… drink plenty of bubbly tonight! Cheers!

Discovering Indianapolis

Despite its proximity to Ohio, I had never ventured west to Indiana, bizarre as that may seem. But when a close friend moved to Indianapolis, it was the perfect opportunity to discover what the city had to offer. It was a quick trip, and I was really just looking forward to two days of nonstop gossip, and yes, drinking. We didn’t waste much time, as we immediately headed to brunch after I arrived. Broad Ripple, an adorable hipster neighborhood, was our destination, and my friend took me to the amazing eatery Petite Chou by Patachou. The wait was long, but we knew what would make it more bearable – Mimosas! From the long list, we selected Lavender, and we gripped our pitcher tightly as we crouched in the corner by the door. Once we got a table, the amazing menu was even more daunting, but I was very pleased with my Ratatouille Crepe Provencal selection. Fantastic!
After some casual window shopping in Broad Ripple (and a purchase of two colorful champagne flutes!), we headed back to my friend’s house (which is adorable, by the way) and uncorked a bottle of 2003 Alovini Armand Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata, Italy, imported by Specialty Wine Company, $24). It tasted better after it opened up a bit and was a lovely, rich, complex wine with some great herbal and earthy flavors. It may have been a bit much after the Mimosas, but heck, I was on vacation!
For dinner, we had hoped to go to Ball and Biscuit, but the website basically lied and said it was open on Sundays when it actually wasn’t. Nevertheless, we ended up having a great time at St. Elmo in downtown Indy. Being a steakhouse, it wasn’t ideal for me culinarily (is that a word?), so I focused on the wine and the company. :-) We shared a 2008 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, $81 at the restaurant). While certainly not a bad Pinot, I don’t think its $40 retail price is justified – it just didn’t have the complexity or elegance that I was looking for. I guess I’ll have to spring for the higher-level “Laurene” bottling to find out what Drouhin’s real chops are like. :-)
The following day, as I dragged around my rather massive hangover (my fault, I know!!), we¬†entered what is basically my paradise – an amazing wine store, Vine and Table. Similar to West Point in Akron, they had both an extensive wine section as well as gourmet food. The most impressive part was the Burgundy and Bordeaux collection that they keep under lock and key in the climate-controlled room which also includes other high-end bottlings. A case of La Tache, anyone? By then I was feeling better and definitely ready for lunch, so we headed to a fantastic little place, Blu Moon Cafe, which had several kinds of gourmet sandwich and a dessert display to die for. My sandwich was yummy – Brie, roasted pears, and spinach – but dessert was what we were both looking forward to. It was a tough decision – especially with the homemade ding dongs staring us down – but we opted for the Orange and Kumquat Cheesecake with a gingersnap crust. It was delicious, to say the least, and perfect since it wasn’t too sweet. The kind server thought she was doing us a favor by cutting us a gigantic slice, but even with two of us hacking away at it, we barely made a dent. Somehow, however, I managed to consume most of it on the drive home…
It went by two quickly, but I had a wonderful time in Indy… the food and wine certainly helped, but it’s friends that make it worthwhile in the end! :-)

Cameron Hughes Coup

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When I first read about the Cameron Hughes Lot wine series, I became determined to find them. Like other American negociants, if you will, Hughes has capitalized on the recession by acquiring wine from high-end wineries that they are unable to sell at the regular price, rebranding the wine under generic lot numbers, and slashing the price. The origin of the wine is kept a secret. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to try wines that would otherwise be a splurge?
Unfortunately, Hughes was originally only available in Ohio at Costco, or by mail order. But recently, my boss realized that one of our distributors carries them, so we loaded up. Even though I hadn’t tried any of them yet, I began recommending them to customers, and they flew off the shelves with glowing feedback! I realized it was about time I snatch one for myself.
Being a Pinot fanatic, I opted for the 2009 Lot 203 Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley, for the reasonable price of $18.99. While I had very high expectations, I wasn’t disappointed. The wine is elegant and refined, with gentle strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavors, with refreshing acidity. This is not an earthy, taste-the-terror type of Pinot, but its beauty is in its simplicity. Highly recommended!

Teaching Wine and Living the Dream

Please pardon the somewhat cheesy title of this post, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I accomplished something last night that takes me further down the road of my dream wine career. At SoMar, we are holding a series of five classes under the banner “Wine 101,” and I taught the second class in the series on Italian wine. Overall… I think it went well!
I had been preparing for weeks for class, but in recent days I had really ramped up my efforts, and my nervousness increased correspondingly. Since I started working at SoMar and taking wine classes myself, I’ve claimed that teaching others about wine is something I would love to do. But now that I finally had the opportunity – and while I was TRULY grateful for the opportunity, which I don’t think I would have had elsewhere – I was also terrified that this dream of mine would erupt spectacularly in flames as it turned out that I was a rotten teacher. This is a bit embarrassing, but I actually spontaneously started crying before I went to work yesterday, and it wasn’t until then that I realized how much teaching this class meant to me. I think I can honestly say that nothing I had done earlier in my career meant as much to me in terms of personal fulfillment.
Knowledge-wise, I think I was pretty well prepared. But the practical experience of teaching is completely different from talking to myself in my living room. I was very lucky to have amazing students/customers, who were enthusiastic and engaged. I ended up having a lot of fun!!
I definitely realized that, of course, I have a LOT to learn about teaching. For instance, when throwing around acronyms like DOCG and trying to explain the difference between Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, I can’t just assume that people are going to follow along at my pace – the map in front of them is not enough! Fortunately, I have an excellent role model for a boss. He gave me great advice, and although I didn’t get to pay much attention when he taught the first class, I will definitely be more attentive when we switch and he teaches the next class! He is excellent at engaging the students and throwing in funny anecdotes, as well as moving along at an appropriate pace. I don’t think he gives himself enough credit!
I now have another month to prepare for my next class – on Australia and New Zealand. I have to admit, as much as I love the idiosyncracies of Italy, I am looking forward to teaching a class entirely in my native language! :-) I still have a long way to go, but I really do feel like I’m living the dream.

Whites Outlast Reds – Beware the Closeout!

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Lesson learned – research the age-worthiness of wines before buying them on closeout. This has less to do with saving money, as the wines are typically super cheap, and more with avoiding a traumatic wine experience.
One of our distributors recently offered us some closeout wines: 2005 Costieres de Nimes, 2003 Cotes du Rhone, 2005 white Burgundy (Chateau Philippine-le-Harding), and a 2006 Methven Pinot Gris from Willamette. The first, being mostly Syrah, I thought had the potential to be ageworthy, while the second was a gamble. The former was too backyard-y ( Bret, perhaps?), and the latter was vinegar. Disappointing, but no huge loss.
Surprisingly, the older whites stole the show. The years passed allowed both the Chardonnay and Pinot Gris to develop into fuller-bodied wines, with enhanced tropical fruit and nut flavors. I drank both on their own, but they would have made excellent food pairings too. This was a great reminder that well-made whites can be cellar-worthy, whereas reds may need to be consumed faster than you may realize!

Just Wow – 1997 Chateau Margaux

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I’m not sure if I can adequately express what this experience was like, so I think “wow” will have to suffice. All in all, I’m a pretty simple girl. My MO is to find excellent wines at a fair price, and occasionally I allow myself to splurge, by which I mean spend $50 on a bottle. Grand Cru Burgundies, cult Napa Cabs, fine Piedmont wines… these are not part of my typical wine repertoire. Of course, when given the opportunity to drink like a queen, I jumped at it.
Initially, when my friend told me that The Melting Pot has some amazing high-end wines, I was skeptical. After all, who goes to a fondue place looking for Opus One? Clearly, I shouldn’t have judged the place so harshly. With some prompting from my friend, the bartender/wine guy let us into the temperature-controlled wine room, where it was pretty amusing to see big-name Napa Cabs next to $10 bottles of mass-produced wines. Ultimately, we settled on the 1997 Chateau Margaux, one of only five Premier Crus from Bordeaux. The wine drank beautifully – elegant, silky, unabashed cassis and berries, and no rough tannic edge. The bartender was clearly surprised that we weren’t celebrating anything, just popping in for a Premier Cru. He even rewarded us with some delicious chocolate-covered strawberries.
Although of course, I wouldn’t mind if I could experience such amazing bottles more often, but I’m afraid it would go to my head.:-)

Two Fantastic Bottles – One Splurge, One Value

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To my distress, I’ve realized recently that it’s getting harder and harder for me to find wines that I would gladly drink again that are around $10. I hope that it’s not due to snobbiness, but rather, to the large ratio of poor wine at that price to good wine. However, as I’ve noted before, southern France provides a bounty of terrific bargain wines, after years of mainly being known for Vin de Tables. Now, the appellations within Languedoc and Provence, as well as Vin de Pays, have come into their own.
I was pleased to experience this phenomenon with a bottle of 2008 Domaine de la Royere L’Oppidum from Luberon, which is in Provence. The blend of Syrah, Grenade, and Carignan was lush and fruity on the nose and palate – blueberries and plum – without being jammy, and it also had a slight floral hint on the nose. At $9.99, it is hard to beat! (Let me insert a quick rant – I am SO very sick of the term QPR. You will never hear me use this now-ubiquitous abbreviation again!)
Let me also mention that although I don’t have the means to purchase many expensive wines, sometimes I still get the opportunity to try them. Recently a very generous customer shared a 2008 En Route “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley. The wine is named after the once-abundant Apple trees in RRV. Now although this wine is about $30 more than the Luberon, I promise it will not disappoint. This is a perfect example of wine that shows terroir, with an underlying earthiness and funk to the explosion of cherry, raspberry, and strawberry. If you are going to pay a bit more for a Pinot, it’s hard to go wrong with this one!

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