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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚
The following day, as I dragged around my rather massive hangover (my fault, I know!!), weΒ 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! πŸ™‚

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!

Happy New Year, Woo and Wine Fans!

Happy 2011 everyone! The beginning of a new year is always a good time for reflection, and I have been thinking a lot about how much has changed over the past year. I’ve found my passion, become closer to my family, met lots of wonderful people, adjusted my priorities, and of course, drunk lots of amazing wine! I’ve also realized that some improvements could be made, starting with this blog. If I am serious aboutΒ  making wine my career, this is a good launching pad – not necessarily because it will make me famous, but because it is an ideal place to post both tasting notes and describe the fun times I’ve had. I look forward to a wonderful year of love, laughter, and libations! Cheers!

An Ideal Welcome to 2011

New Year’s Eve – that frustrating holiday which never fails to raise our expectations and often promises to dash them. Many people seem to think that if they’re not invited to the biggest party in town, then the night is a bust. I actually learned a few years ago that for me, there’s no better way to usher in the new year than with a few of my favorite people and good food and wine. Fortunately, the food and wine have improved over theΒ  years, while the friends have been consistently great. πŸ™‚ This year, I was very pleased to have a laidback dinner with five amazing people, and of course, some very high-quality wines.
I felt it was my obligation to obtain some good value bubbly, so I asked one of our reps for the two best Champagnes in his portfolio under $50. What he recommended were the Chartogne-Taillet “St. Anne” Cuvee and the Gaston-Chiquet “Carte-Verte,” both of which are NV and Brut. Both of them were wonderful (although admittedly the latter was consumed quite late in the evening, so my memory of it is less vivid), with good fruit-forward qualities balanced with a light toastiness. For the price, these were amazing. The first Champagne was paired with a delightful cheese plate, including homemade Parmegiano-Reggiano crisps, Walsertolz (Austrian raw cow milk), Le Fleuret Le Chevrefeuille Moulage Manuel, and 5-year aged Gouda.
We then moved on to the appetizer, which was my and Heath’s contribution. (All I really did was find the recipe – he thankfully made it since I had to work earlier in the day!) It turned out wonderfully – a Mushroom, Butternut Squash, and Gruyere Tart, on puff pastry. Our hosts paired it with a 2008 Zepaltas Chardonnay “Babushka” from Keefer Ranch in Russian River Valley. It accompanied the dish well, although I am clearly very sensitive to oak, because even though the winery website says this was aged in only 40% new French oak, it was still a bit oaky for my taste.
Although we probably could have stopped eating at this point, we would have been sorely disappointed if we had. The hosts served a Couscous dish with Braised Tofu, Dates, Figs, Moroccan Spices, Raisins, and Toasted Almonds. It was divine, particularly since I love all those dried fruits. I should have also mentioned that our hosts were kind enough to agree to an all-vegetarian meal (as was Heath), even though they are all meat eaters. With the couscous, we enjoyed two French reds – a 2007 Domaine Jean-Louis Tribouley Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes “Orchis,” (a Grenache blend from Languedoc) and a 2007 Domaine de la Mordoree Lirac Cuvee de la Reine des Bois, a Rhone blend. I know that I am not living up to my status as “Woo Wine Girl,” but I was too full/tipsy/relaxed by that point to take good tasting notes. Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed them. πŸ™‚
Somehow, on New Year’s Day, we managed to gird ourselves for another round of feasting. At another friend’s house, we gorged on Thomas Keller’s French Toast, Heath’s Black-Eyed Pea Curry, and a wave of Mimosas. It was a peaceful, relaxing afternoon, complete with Rock Band. Afterward, we joined my parents for ANOTHER meal, but this time I got by with just a bowl of lentil soup – after all, I may need some money in the new year. πŸ™‚
I can’t think of a better way to usher in 2011.

A Very Chill Christmas

Ahhh… getting out early on Christmas Eve and then having two days off in a row is rather unprecedented in my world, so I was prepared to thoroughly enjoy a lovely, relaxing weekend. Christmas Eve started off with a breakfast meeting with my college roomie and her mom, as well as their holiday sweater-clad dogs. After work, I raced over to City Square Steakhouse to meet some friends. Knowing that I could grab a quick drink with some friends before heading to my folks’ for dinner truly made my day. My parents had a delicious dinner waiting for me – fried catfish (which looked delicious, but I did not partake), deep-fried mushrooms, mashed potatoes, roasted butternut squash and apples, and . To accompany it, we enjoyed a 2008 Oregon A to Z Pinot Noir and a Shooting Star Blaufrankisch from Washington State. The former was a bit light with basic cherry flavors, but food-friendly, and I really loved the latter, which was a shout-out to Central Europe. In Hungary, the grape is known as Kekfrankos. We topped it off with an out-of-this-world White Chocolate-Raspberry Cheesecake – wow! We all opened a gift that night, per tradition, and I received a very useful straightening iron, which I am hoping I will continue to have to patience to use on a daily basis.
We started Christmas Day fairly early – 9:00 – as I brought over freshly-baked Cherry Banana Muffins with White Chocolate Chips (mmm!). I inadvertently left out the canola oil, but you couldn’t even tell! We then proceeded to toast with our Christmas Cocktail – a Champagne Cosmo. No better way to start the holiday! The nephews – well, Olley at least – were thrilled to tear open their gifts, although we discouraged them from ripping open ALL the gifts. Sadly, Lilly and her fam had to leave for Christmas dinner at her in-laws’, but I stayed all day at my parents’, barely moving from the couch. I would highly recommend the 1938 The Christmas Carol and The Godfather as an ideal holiday movie combo. πŸ™‚ We eventually dug into a late lunch/early dinner. My parents prepared the traditional duck, and we also had a Fennel and Parmesan Gratin I had made, soup that had been cooked with the duck’s leftover parts, braised red cabbage and apples, and some leftovers from the previous day. With the meal, we opened a 2009 Cline Viognier, which is a steal at $9.99! It has the unctuous and peachy qualities of a Viognier twice the price.
I’m always a bit down when Christmas is over, but I have a feeling that 2011 has a lot more fun in store!