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Woman on the Verge of a Glass of Wine

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Rosé By Any Other Color

I decided to try out an experiment to test a theory that I'd had. The theory surrounds a study that showed that people who consumed 14 glasses of wine per week were 60% less likely to contract a cold than other non-wine drinkers. One can see how I would find this to be an "au courant" investigation as we in Los Angeles are right in the midst of flu season and everyone around me seems to be dropping like flies. I myself have been teetering on the brink, so I started wondering if drinking a glass of wine or two could actually cure a cold. Many of my friends in the Latino community swear by the shot of tequila cure, but for a wine lover such as myself, I'd much rather drink a glass of fermented grapes, especially if I can find a good excuse to do so.

This all started as I began to feel the tell tale signs that I was coming down with something. I'm one of those people who just always seems to get sick. I swear I'm not a hypochondriac. The problem lies in the fact that I have two school-aged children who bring home every communicable disease known to man and I work in a business in which I shake many many hands every night. And although I wash my hands constantly and carry Purell, I still get sick all of the time. I've tried various methods for curing my various viruses including Oscillococcinum (do those little white balls of sugar really do anything?), Tamiflu (very expensive), feeding my cold (not great for my rear end), starving my cold (hard to do, but I felt really thin for a few days there), loading up on vitamin C (got tired of swallowing those horse pills), sweating it out (got thin again) and Theraflu (fell asleep at work!). This time I'm just ignoring my symptoms and working through it, which is not really doing anything to relieve my cruddy condition, though I do feel like quite the trooper. In my desperation to find a way to feel better, I decided to do one last search for a cure, which is how in my Google-based due diligence I came upon the delicious fact about wine drinking and cold avoidance. Immediately a light bulb went on in my head....maybe I can drink my way out of this illness!

I immediately went to my newly-dubbed "medicine cabinet" to find the appropriate bottle of wine to test out my theory. Within a few minutes I came upon a wine that I've been meaning to taste for a while now, the 2009 Scholium Project Rhododactylos, Phillips Farms, a wine that an employee at Tavern gave me after she worked with the winemaker during harvest and bottling. What struck me immediately about this wine was that I had assumed by its color that it was a white wine, until I actually read the label to discover it was rosé. I suppose that this wouldn't be strange for the Scholium Project as they are known for making wines that are fairly unusual.

It turns out that they actually made this wine by accident, an example of the curious things that happen when we try to control nature. The mistake happened in 2008 when they initially planned to make a deep dark red from 150 year-old dry farmed Cinsault, an utterly unheard of find from Phillips Farms in Lodi. But instead of yielding the anticipated small, dark berries from the vines, they got large, round, light colored grapes much like table grapes but with a muscat-like fragrance. They bled the juice off and fermented it into a rich and delicious white, or more accurately, light pink. They loved it so much that they decided to recreate it in 2009. This time they gently whole-cluster pressed it, fermented it in stainless steel and aged it in old white wine barrels. And though they say the wine was initially pink, it eventually lost it's color and became quite a serious golden color, somewhere between rose gold and 24 karat.

The wine showed aromas of roses, honey and allspice, all of which I was somehow able to detect through my runny nose. This honey intensified on the palate, resulting in a wine that drank much more like a mature white than any rosé I've ever had. It was rich with ripe stone fruit, exotic spices and incredible weight and texture, not unlike white wine from the Northern Rhône Valley. Although the wine was an unexpected rosé surprise, I would expect no less from The Scholium Project whose wines are always incredibly layered, intense and complex. They make the kinds of wines that are not only interesting to taste, but are also a pleasure to drink.

I enjoyed this wine over a couple of nights and though it didn't do anything obvious to help my cold, it certainly made me relax about my illness. This may be the same effect that tequila provides in a smaller, more potent dose. I've decided to make myself an experimental guinea pig and keep testing this theory in hope of finding a wine cure. I figure that it's the least I can do for the medical community.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Catalonia, Take Me Away!

I know things are getting rough when I start desperately pining for my June vacation in January. I think that this actually happens every year as I hear myself saying how badly I need a break while looking longingly at the calendar and the many months between now and then. When these days of rest in a far away place are truly so far away, I often find myself trying very hard to imagine what I would be doing on said trip, and I attempt to recreate it at home as a form of fantasy escapism...a pre-trip cultural immersion, if you will. This way, I can trick myself into thinking that I'm just a little closer to where I'd rather be.

At this very moment, I find myself in the post-holiday moment of getting back to normal life. Of course, normal is a relative term in the restaurant world, since there is never really a time one can call business as usual. Each day at work literally brings a new crisis, a new drama, a new adventure. It could be the ever-glamorous plumbing problem, the overly intoxicated and therefore irrational guest or the random computer crash that can set my mind desperately searching for escape. So today, right as the local neighborhood crazy woman attempts to steal one of our water glasses and then proceeds to punch our bartender in the stomach, I feel my mind wander off to the mountains and villages of Spain, my family's summer destination. I imagine myself walking down a cobblestone street or dining in a charming sidewalk cafe. Of course, this dreamy moment in my mind also includes a glass of wine. In fact, one of the first things I usually think about when it comes to travel, is what wine I will be drinking on my trip. Whereas most normal people think about the sights and the adventure, I think about the wine.

This happens to be the perfect moment to be wondering off to Spain for me because I'm in the middle of an all-out Spanish wine obsession. I just can't seem to get enough of those yummy white Riojas and earthy, concentrated wines of the Priorat. So it seems fairly appropriate that after dealing with yet another not so normal moment, I eagerly reached for a glass of 2005 El Castro de Valtuille Bierzo Joven, a recent addition to the Tavern wine list. This is a wine made from 100% Mencia that is so delicious, I can't seem to stop drinking it.

Mencia is sort of an underdog variety, one that's gotten less attention than the more well-known Spanish grapes Garnacha and Tempranillo. Though Mencia is grown in a few different regions in spain, Bierzo is without a doubt the most famous. Castro Ventosa, maker of Valtuille, is owned by the Perez family of who have been farming 75 hectares of old vine Mencia since 1752. This is one of the top producers in the area and although this wine is called "joven" or young vines, these plants actually range from 20 to 40 years-old. I love anyone or anything that considers 40 years-old young!

The wine's nose shows intriguing black fruit notes of amarena cherries, cassis and black raspberry along side a delicate brininess that I often associate with Spanish reds. On the palate, the dark berry notes continue along side touches of anise, black tea and tarragon. It has a silky texture with firm tannins and a general softness that makes it a pretty easy-drinking, yet complex wine.

When I close my eyes, breathe in the aromas in the glass and finally take a sip of this wine, I am literally transported to Madrid, to a place where business comes to a civilized halt in the middle of the day and where long, lazy dinners last until late in the night. My body instantly relaxes and the tension just seems to melt away. It's enough to help me deal, if only for a few minutes, with the craziness that is my reality. If only June wasn't so far away.

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.