Monday, April 25, 2011
There is nothing quite as perfect to drink for a celebration than Champagne. And there have been few times in my life that were as worthy of celebration as Thursday, April 21, 2011.
Where do I begin? It's taken me a week to get this one out because I've just had the most whirlwind week of my life. I can honestly say that I'm still not quite over it and that just thinking about the whole experience and contemplating what to write down here is making my heart beat a little faster than normal. I know this may sound pretty melodramatic, but seriously, meeting the President of the United States, or POTUS as we insiders like to call him, is a big f-ing deal! This truly may have been one of the biggest thrills of my entire life. So just how am I supposed to condense this whole experience into just a few paragraphs?
In truth, I think this experience, or at least portions of it, are going to have to be spread out over more than one blog. So for now I've decided to focus here on the fact that after much contemplation, one of the main feelings that I have taken away from my "presidential week" is the sense of how people come in and out of your life and how they leave a lasting impression on you for future relationships and experiences. I say this because, besides the craziness and the feeling of euphoria that I experienced from meeting President Obama himself and just being in his elegant and charismatic presence, the thing that I think I miss the most about the experience is the people that I worked with all week to make the event at Tavern happen.
I met this cast of characters at what I thought was going to be an intimate meeting about the event last weekend. That is, until I pulled up in front of the restaurant and found that the building was awash in clean-cut men in dark suits with small gold pins on their lapels and dark sunglasses over their eyes. I actually began to laugh out loud at the sight of so much not so secret Secret Service. I mean, when one or two USSS agents are out together, they blend in to their surrounding and look like most other people on the street. But when there are fifteen or twenty of them together, well that's a different story. I should interject here that I have a deep love of the Secret Service. I have had only positive experiences with these men in the past, like when John Kerry ate at Lucques during his presidential run and when we catered a fundraiser for Mrs. Obama last year. Not only do they tend to be incredibly polite and nice people, but they make me feel incredibly safe because, let's face it, they are protectors and they've got to be willing to take a bullet. I feel about them like I do firemen: I'm always insanely impressed by their bravery and selflessness. And for some reason, they're all really good looking. But I digress...
I can only describe the people at this meeting as what one would expect to see at a casting call for a film about Washington DC. Among others, there was the tall, eloquent logistics guy, the twenty or so suit-clad Secret Service men, the various casually dressed and sharply tuned-in men and women who work with the President, and my favorite of all, the White House aide who was sporting a tidy suit and thick horn-rimmed glasses. This would end up being a group of people that I would spend my entire week with and in the end, become pretty attached to. They would come to symbolize to me the experience as a whole and as a result, be the thing that I miss the most about the whole adventure.
And let me tell you, this week was quite a ride. The amount of coordination and logistics involved in having the leader of the free world in my place of business, for what would be a total of one and a half hours, was mind boggling. Communications people ran phone lines. Security people inspected the building. Dogs sniffed for bombs. Military and medical personnel came through. I think that I had contact with every form of law enforcement known to man. I literally have a business card with a badge on it in every pocket of every item of clothing I wore last week. (I'm thinking that I should hold on to each one of them, of course, just in case I get into a bind somewhere down the line.) The whole week was pretty intense and each of these interactions seemed to add to the tension.
Throughout it all, I spent a good amount of time with my White House pal Mike and my super cute Secret Service Agent Matt. They were my main contacts and would be the people that I would turn to for help, guidance and the occasional call of distress. I came to look forward to all of our daily conversations, emails and planning sessions. I loved seeing them become more and more L.A. in their dress and manner as the week progressed. And like anyone that you work closely with, we all got to learn a bit about each other over the course of the week. Not only were they consummate professionals, but they were pretty fun to be around. I really felt by the end that I had formed a friendship with these guys.
Not only did I bond with my new-found friends from Washington, but working on something so intense and so special brought me and my Tavern staff even closer together as well. Each day, I and the managers who were "in the know" would find ourselves looking at each other with wide-eyed amazement at the full-throttle security coordination happening around us. I can't count the number of times we said to ourselves, "This is insane!" On the night of the actual event, every member of the staff was beaming with excitement and anticipation. Every one of them deeply felt the importance of this night. At one point before the dinner began, I and my service staff had an inspirational huddle in the dining room where we spoke words of encouragement and gave ourselves and an uplifting group hug. This was our Superbowl and surviving it made us all closer for it.
And like any other major event that takes hours of work, preparation and planning, like a wedding, bar mitzvah or other special occasion, the day went by in the blink of an eye. The dinner itself went off without a hitch and when it was over, I nearly passed out from exhaustion.
Of course, I made sure that we toasted with some super cold and delicious 2000 Champagne Dom Perignon. I know that I'm always the proponent of the small, grower-producers in Champagne, but I have to say that I'm a sucker for Dom Perignon. Dom is always incredibly finessed and elegant, and for me is the ultimate wine for a celebration. You've got to give props to the monk that created it all, and besides that label just says "party" all over it. So, after popping those beautiful corks and raising a glass to our beloved staff, we proposed a toast to the Secret Service and to Mike from the White house. We couldn't have done it without them and we truly miss them already.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Looking back on my formative wine drinking years, I can see that having wine be a part of my everyday life was inevitable. Now, this can sound like a pretty nutty thing to say, particularly in light of the fact that it sounds like I'm saying that I drink every day...not that there's anything wrong with that. I don't actually drink everyday, but I can say that I've always been a bit "old for my years" when it comes to wine appreciation, at least in my younger days.
My business partner and I laugh because when she was young, she had an early love of the culinary arts and often played the role of chef at her parents' dinner parties, cooking for their guests herself while her parents entertained. At my home, I played the role of wine steward and service captain. I would set the table, open the bottles of Bordeaux and pour wine for her guests throughout dinner. I just loved pulling out all of the pieces of silverware from their special cloth covers, folding the linen napkins just so and especially pulling the corks from those mysterious bottles with the incomprehensible French writing all over them. Funny that Suzanne and I still get such pleasure from doing these things today.
My wine adolescence happened during college. I'm not saying that I didn't consume my share of white zinfandel and wine coolers in my four years at university, because believe me, Bartles & James were my good friends. But once I was able to move beyond the sugar-laden sweet wines, I ended up cutting my wine drinking teeth on more complex and satisfying, chewy red wines. I have particular memories of being in my early twenties, dining out with my long-time boyfriend and ordering bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. We loved the dark, hearty and slight smokiness of the wines of that region and particularly loved the rustic qualities of the labels and the bottles themselves with the emblem of the region molded into the glass. He was a Spaniard who loved hearty, spicy food and Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe seemed to be the perfect counter to that. Call me a pushover, but I enjoyed eating and drinking what he did, and in this case it was clearly a good thing.
It was only a few years later that I discovered my first bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe blanc while on vacation with a new boyfriend in the South of France. And this is where I really fell...for the wine and the guy. I can closely describe my feelings towards white Rhone wines, and white Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe in particular, as the wine love of my life. This, my friends, is a love I've never gotten over. To this day, I feel a particular excitement when I get the opportunity to taste a white Châteauneuf. I feel myself start to get slightly giddy, like a child at the door to an ice cream truck, at the sight of that golden liquid being poured into a wine glass. This happened just the other day, when one of my favorite "wine guys" Jerome showed up with with a bottle of the 2009 Clos Saint Jean. I literally saw the words Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe and started to drool just a little bit.
Clos St. Jean, located in the famed Le Crau lieu-dit, is a family owned estate that was founded in 19o0 and has been making wine generation though generation. In 1991 brothers Pascal and Vincent Maurel took over the estate when their father died and hired on Philippe Gambie, one of the greatest oenologists in Châteauneuf, to consult. Their vineyard practices encourage natural methods, low yields and an overall respect for the environment. This relatively younger generation is working to create wines of excellence, which makes sense since their vines are some of the best situated in all of the region. Like all of the newer generations to be taking over family estates, they are trying to make their mark and to focus on quality over quantity. So far so good.
I could tell the minute I saw it in the glass that this was my kind of wine, dark golden color and sparklingly bright. It's made from a blend of equal parts Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc and is the essence of refinement. The nose shows delicate honeyed aromatics that continue on to the palate where they mix with fleshy rose, honeysuckle and unripe peach notes. Beyond even the palate, the texture of this wine really blew me away with its rich, oiliness and bright acidity. It was the perfect balance of soft and firm, lush and lean, fleshy and structured. The wine was partially aged in new oak barrels, giving the wine a rounded, slightly new world feel...but not in a bad way.
And like those old bottles of red that my boyfriend I loved to drink, this wine has a label that is unforgettable. On it is a portrait of a saint with a gilt halo that appears to be taken from a 16th or 17th century painting. Reflective of the the wine itself, the combination of the image and clean, contemporary text on the package is a study in opposites; old with new, classic with modern, history with present day. This seems very much in keeping with what the new generation in the winery is trying to achieve. It also reminds me of my wine past and my wine present, reflecting where I once was and where I am now.