also known as…

Woman on the Verge of a Glass of Wine

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Really, It's Not the Wine. It's Me.

I just got back from a few lazy days in Phoenix. My business partner and I took our staff from AOC on an out of town retreat to Pizzeria Bianco, one of our all-time favorite restaurants. Pizzeria Bianco, for those who don't know, is a legendary pizzeria housed in an adorable old-time brick building that has won a James Beard award for its food and has such a devoted following that people often wait for up to three hours (no exaggeration) for a table. Part of the attraction to this place, besides the insanely delicious pizza, is its owner Chris Bianco who is not only incredibly talented, but is also quite a character. He's sort of a combination of Bobcat Goldthwait and Bruce Willis, with a head of wildly curly dark hair, baby face and raspy voice. He's one of those charming genius types who can ramble on about this or that culinary idea or inspiration with sincere excitement and child-like enthusiasm. He is amazingly self-deprecating and though he looks kind of tough, is actually a sweet and gentle person. We had an incredibly fun night there with our staff and ate and laughed our heads off. It was one of those nights that just passed by too quickly.

Of course, Suzanne and I both saw this retreat as an opportunity to spend a coupe of extra days in Phoenix with our husbands at the Sanctuary, the perfect zen spa/hotel for relaxing and doing nothing aside from reading, sleeping and getting pampered. And let me tell you, "doing nothing" is pretty much all you can do when Phoenix gets so cold that it actually snows! We did nothing...which took some getting used to. You see, my husband and I are such constantly moving city peeps that we have a hard time wrapping our heads around the idea of actually not doing anything. The first day of any vacation, we look at each other and say, "Well, what should we do now?" and talk about how we should probably go back home. We always feel like we should be accomplishing something, fixing something, making something, going somewhere. It's not until half way through the second day of any trip that we grasp the concept of chilling out and finally just go with the idea of inactivity.

It was on this second day of our trip, after a day of just lying around that we went out with Suzanne and her husband to listen to jazz at a place called Kazimierz World Wine Bar. Kazimierz is a dark and moody joint (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) that feels a little bit like a speakeasy and is owned by Peter Kasperski, probably the best wine buyer in all of Arizona. Peter's got a ton of personality, as do his wine lists which are loaded with anecdotes and winemaker profiles, making it about a mile long and something that one could curl up with and read by the fire. The list is so big that it made me wonder how many people can possibly come into that place to support such a huge investment in wine. This list truly rivals many of those in the finest restaurants in the world, but in a far more casual, down and dirty setting.

Because of what I do for a living, it's usually left up to me to choose the wine for the table, understandably. It's just like at dinner when we all looked to Suzanne and her husband to tell us what we should eat. But I have to say that this task of selecting the wine feels like an enormous amount of pressure. It is not an exaggeration for me to say that I feel as though a poor choice is a sign of personal failure on my part. Thus, the selection process is a long and arduous one, usually provoking glares of, "come on, we're thirsty here!" from those at the table. I am also a bit obsessive compulsive. Combine this with the length of the list at Kazimierz, and I had a recipe for disaster on my hands. I was trying hard not to cave in to the pressure I was feeling and yet I was paralyzed by the selection. (I have to interject here to say that even though this feeling of anxiety never leaves me, I am normally quite successful in the wine selection thing.) That is, until this moment when I did a spectacular job of picking what I thought was one of the worst wines I've ever tasted. I chose a 2006 Côtes du Rhône from a producer (who shall remain nameless) that I normally like quite a bit, but it was so intense, dark and funky that I literally couldn't drink a sip of it. My friends at the table were kind enough to drink the stuff, I think as a way of making me feel a little better.

I wasn't sure what had gone wrong with this wine. Was it tainted? Did it have bret? Was it just not my style? Was it the vintage? Or. maybe it was just me, something that wouldn't have been unusual since wine is such a subjective thing. I decided to do a comparison and taste a 2006 Côtes du Rhône that I just happened to have at home to see how it was holding up. The wine was a 2006 Catherine le Goeuil, Côtes du Rhône, Cairanne, Cuvée Léa Felsch that I bought from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants. And although the first sip was a bit tight, I am happy to say that the wine restored my faith in myself and the vintage. Catherine le Goeuil makes a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan from a 14 hectare vineyard in the village of Cairanne. She has been farming the vineyard organically since 1993 and makes only this one red wine from the property.

After the initial sip, the wine opened up fairly quickly to reveal a nose of soft, cooked plum and dark berry notes with touches of dark green herbs and the very slightest hint of vanilla. On the palate, layers of tobacco and smoky game meat intermingled with dark fruit notes and delicate hints of cedar spice. Although dominated by dark fruit notes, the wine maintained a decent amount of acidity resulting in a feeling of freshness and youth. It was actually the perfect wine to drink with the pork and cavolo nero I made last night as the dark earthiness of the kale was the perfect partner for the wine's herbal component. I liked this wine so much that I'm inspired to buy some more of it to keep on hand for more cold weather meals.

I'm sure it seems pretty comical to hear that I have a hard time ordering wine in a restaurant, at least one that is not my own. And in the end, not loving that particular bottle of wine wasn't really the end of the world. I don't have to have a "relationship" with each bottle of wine I order. Besides, everybody else at the table was totally fine with it, so maybe it really was just me.


  1. I always feel the same way in the restaurant wine picking department. If there is too much choice, like at any of Peter's places in AZ, I freeze and usually pick the worst wine on the list.

    But, conversely, when given a smaller choice, I feel almost invincible and almost always choose wisely.

    Maybe your mind tricked you as you kept going back over the list thinking you could have picked something better?

    Love reading the blog.

  2. Maybe you're right! I think I may turn this into another experiment...I feel a blog coming on! Thanks so much for reading!