Saturday, December 3, 2011

Talk Soil to Me: A Tasting Visit of Glen Manor Vin Rouge

Tasting a wine first then  visiting the winery is second.  Why? I think it’s more civilized that way.  I’ll never forget listening to a wine blogger go on about if she does not like a wine, she’ll film herself pouring the bottle down the drain and then proceed to post it.

I’ll write about the wine if:  1) I like it and 2) If it is varietally correct and 3) It makes me think.  Number 3 may sound odd but this very topic came up when someone asked my favourite wine.  I don’t technically have faves, but I am partial to those wines that indeed make me think:  of a past boyfriend, my grandmother’s house at Christmas, that Hawaiian pizza after that crazy party…  It’s all about the memory association.  But of course before that association, I’m seeing, smelling and tasting the wine’s story.  I’ve tasted many a wine and I’ve also had the training to know good wine from not so good, so if I report negatively on a small winery’s mediocre wine, I’m doing no one any good.  But when I find a wine that gets the pistons firing and before I realize it I’m on memory lane and half the bottle is missing, that’s quite the exciting bottle.

A wine’s story comprises quite a lot.  It tells me, believe it or not, about the farmer, vineyard manager, winemaker and everyone else who had a hand in producing this bottle of wine.  Jeff White is the current winemaker of Glen Manor Vineyards and The Virginia Commonwealth recognizes the entire property as a Century Farm with a history of four generations of family farmers / winemakers.  Talk about a story.

What I’ve noticed about Glen Manor is that they are soil conscious and cognizant of what will grow properly with each soil composition, elevation, sun exposure in relation to the “glen” effect from the nearby mountain range, and natural rain runoff.  Mix in the classic Bordeaux varietals and without even tasting the wine we can figure out what the wine will taste like.  But let’s do taste.

Glen Manor Vin Rouge 2008 Virginia
When tasting wine, the majority of all sensations will come from our sense of smell.  The palate merely confirms what you smell.  Then your brain tells you if you like it or not and how much to drink.
Pour, sniff once, twice, then swirl, swirl, swirl.  Let’s see if what I’m smelling and tasting is actually in the wine:
53% Cabernet Sauvignon:  The juicy scent of blackberry, dusty rocks and the unmistakable pencil graphite, sweet vanilla, acid
33% Petit Verdot:  Alcohol--a little biting, exotic spices, violet finish, chocolate?, a little meaty, tannins
7% Cabernet Franc:  Slightly vegetal—green pepper
7% Merlot:  Coffee notes, juicy mouth feel, crayon

The only “issue” I’m finding with the Vin Rouge is the mid palate is somewhat thin.  What I mean is this:  When the wine hits my mouth, there is an explosion of flavor, then it’s as if it all drops off for a brief moment, then it returns with a long finish.  Wine is a living liquid, constantly changing, evolving: opening.  Sometimes during its life cycle the wine will “go to sleep” (call it natural preservation,) especially if it has the ability to age, which I do believe this does.

Again, a vigneron who understands the value of planting thick-skinned grapes that resist rot, those that ripen later or flower earlier, and those that resist frost and damp soil.  This way, weather variations are easily negotiated.  Couple this with the right soil, and you have a varietally correct wine.

I purchased the Vin Rouge from a small shop in Fredericksburg, The Virginia Wine Experience.  A tiny bit of a thing, Bethany, spent a lot of time with me, discussing her favourite Virginia wines and why.  If you’re in the area do go, it’s well worth the time.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Abbott and Costello Meet the Half-dressed Wine Bottle

I akin this to Who’s on first? Third base.
With the arrival of cooler weather, red wine seems to dominate the old “liquor cabinet”.  Inevitably, the Hubs and I rarely finish an open bottle, so at any given time during the wintry months, we could have upwards of five bottles in different states of “undress” if you will.  If we were still in San Diego, we’d have some folks over, with both the inside fireplace roaring and the outside fire pit keeping up. And a huge pot on the stove would be the simmering cauldron of Mulled Wine.
Medieval Europe being a practical lot, they made a lot of wine.  Sometimes it didn’t work out, but they still had a lot of “wine” liquid “goodness”.  What to do? Mull it of course.
Below are ingredients I’ve used for years.  Sorry, no measurements because I never know how much wine I’ll have at any given time and frankly, it’s not rocket science.  The only important instruction of note:  never boil the below concoction, it will make the resultant mulled wine quite bitter.
Red wine
cane sugar (gives it a slight caramel twang)
whole cloves
cardamom pods
anise stars
cinnamon sticks
zest of orange and lemon
a shot of brandy or cognac for a little bite
Infuse spices, simmering for about 30 minutes.  Third base.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Boxwood Winery: A Southern Belle in Northern Virginia

A Virginia July can be brutal: temperatures in mid 90s to 100s, humidity topping 98%, give or take. I tasted some of the best wines on just such a day at a wine conference, from Boxwood Winery of picturesque Middleburg, VA. After living in California the past twenty years and tasting some of the world’s highly regarded wines, I found something quite intriguing about Boxwood. By now, we’re all familiar with the story: In 2001 John Kent Cooke, with his wife Rita, purchased the former horse farm and began plans to construct a state-of-the-art winery on the rolling hills and forested property. With guidance from successful viticulturist Lucie Morton, Executive Vice President Rachel Martin, who runs the winery, said that what sets the winery apart is it’s “quality level of our plant material and rootstock , our practices in cultivation and selection of site on the property.”

Of Granite and MicroclimatesI’m no stranger to Virginia, and living farther south and driving up on a cool, somewhat overcast Virginia Wine Month October day, I was unprepared for the rock outcroppings that dotted the landscape. When I reached the winery I asked winemaker Adam McTaggart if it was granite and he confirmed. Middleburg, where Boxwood resides, sits on a bedrock of granite, with sightings of limestone and of course Virginia’s ubiquitous clay. And although clay is ideal for food crops, which Virginia is known for, it’s not the ideal soil-type for growing wine grapes, although just the right amount can work perfectly. Middleburg bears a unique microclimate: mountains and rolling hills combined with a primarily granite and limestone geography, produce an ideal terroir: spring rains, dry summers and mountains to break up rainy weather patterns. Include 2010 vines per acre, like the Bordelaise use, and you get dense planting which controls the vine’s vigor and concentrates grape flavor, which means more complex wines.

It Takes Only a FewAt the moment, Boxwood creates five wines, and as vintages differ, so does the blend—that’s the beauty of what’s going on at Boxwood: the result is not 100% varietal, because frankly, in such a varying climate, that just won’t do. It’s not the varietal itself that matters, rather the combined end result—intelligent wine making at its most refined.

2010 Topiary Rose, Cabernet Franc, Malbec
2010 Boxwood Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
2009 Boxwood Trellis, Petit Verdot and press wine
2009 Topiary, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec
2009 Boxwood, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot

The grapes are nurtured with whole berry fermentation and the end result is evident in the finished product. “The fruit is harvested based on its ripeness and maturity”, says Martin. “When berries are not crushed, wine ferments little by little and adds to the complexity.”

It’s in the GlassRachel’s enology studies began at Napa Valley College and at the University of Bordeaux. In 2006, she convinced flying winemaker / consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt to visit Boxwood: “I met Stéphane through my friend, Jean Baptiste who I met while at the University of Bordeaux. I explained to Stéphane about Virginia and her history in wine. But most importantly I told him of our passion to make a wine true to our Virginia terroir and more pointedly Boxwood terroir. He was hooked. When he came to visit Boxwood and saw our plant material, rootstock selection, vine spacing and site selection, advised by our vineyard consultant, Lucie Morton, he fell in love and took the job.”

So what grabbed my attention during my first taste of Boxwood, was that it reminded me of a Bordeaux. Varietal correctness spot on: graphite, blackberry, tobacco…and what really struck me was the structure. Acid, tannin, mouthfeel, lingering finish—all were present. Those extra phenolic scents and tastes are gorgeous, and they’re present as well, but ultimately, the structure of a wine tells the full story. Good wine ages, good wine pushes you to sniff again and again until the wine evokes a long-forgotten memory, and once it hits the palate it sings even louder.

What’s the Price for a Talented Singer?One look at the stone, glass and wood modern building, with a nod to the property’s past farm roots, and you know that a great deal of money was spent: from an award-winning architect to advanced systems of weather-recording, planting, pumping and bottling. And yet, Boxwood’s wines are priced to move, and move they do. As Rachel points out: “The Virginia wine industry is young and hungry for knowledge and exposure. Having new wineries with ownership that can fund the highest quality in grape growing and winemaking is naturally a positive addition to the Virginia wine industry and we all recognize that.” Boxwood has gone one step further and applied for a new American Viticultural Area (AVA) designate for Middleburg, Virginia. It’s a big boon for Boxwood Winery and the thirteen other wineries included within the proposed AVA.

Names on a MapAccording to viticulturist Lucie Morton: “Once you really understand things from the vine's perspective, you are better able to help someone create a vineyard according to their criteria, from the cheapest scenario to shooting-for-the-stars. You also know that there are some things money can't buy," she said. "The real core issue beyond viticulture itself revolves around the people--their goals, temperaments, values, intelligence and vision." With vine and wine lovers like John, Rachel, Adam, Lucie, Sean and Stéphane, Virginia certainly has the makings to plant itself and grow roots in the fine wine arena, with Boxwood shepherding the way.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Wine Points Crap

Crap crap crap crap crap crap.  Crap! Crap, crap crap crap crap points crap crap.  Crap points crap. Wine points are crap.   Crap crap crap crap crap crap.  Crap! Crap, crap crap crap crap points crap crap.  Crap points crap. Wine points are crap.

Crap! Crap, crap crap crap crap points crap crap.  Crap points crap.  Wine points are crap.
Crap crap crap crap crap crap.  Crap! Crap, crap crap crap crap points crap crap.  Crap points crap. Wine points are crap.   Crap crap crap crap crap crap.  Crap! Crap, crap crap crap crap points crap crap.  Crap points crap. Wine points are crap. Money. Crap, crap crap, crap.

Crap crap crap crap crap crap.  Crap! Crap, crap crap crap crap points crap crap.  Crap points crap. Wine points are crap. Money. Crap, crap crap, crap. Wine Points crap money.

Crap crap crap crap crap crap.  Crap! Crap, crap crap crap crap points crap crap.  Crap points crap. Wine points are crap. Money. Crap, crap crap, crap. Wine Points crap.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Debriefing the Wine Dinner

As we were settling into our seats at Dudley's Farmhouse Grille, meeting some folks for the first time, a friend asked me if I was nervous. Pausing for a few heartbeats, reaching for that familiar butterfly stomach and hot forehead, I surprisingly replied "no."  Don't get me wrong here, I needed a drink, stat, but confidence was quite the snuggler for the evening.  Having successfully, and nonsuccessfully unfortunately, conducted many wine dinners in the past, this first in a new home environment felt, well, right.

I took the remainder of the weekend to ponder this revelation.  A little background information here:  I can be intense and I'm sure I've scared away many many people. It's a wonder the Hubs has stayed around this long.  Anyhoo, the one quite important realization I've made in the past few months is that shit happens and how we weather it defines us as human beings.  So, all the planning in the world can never guarantee success, it can certainly help, but when so many personalities are involved, it's just impossible.  So in that moment when my friend asked if I was nervous I realized that although there is some anxiety about talking in front of a group, I also realized that the dinner really meant something to me:  I was promoting Virginia food and wine.

Thankfully, no "shit" actually did happen and the night went rather well.  Courtney Mailey's cider was breathtaking, tart and fizzy with quite a bit of depth:  appley and leesy. Her blog is quite comprehensive, the consummate cider maker:

First course was the butternut squash, apple and applewood smoked bacon soup paired with the 2010 Annefield Vineyards Viognier.  This was quite the favourite pairing for most guests.  The tart acid cut through the richness of the soup, the smoky bacon playing nicely with the distinct smokiness of the viognier and the fruit of the wine connecting with the background flavour of apples. Yum.

The only time I had elk was more than fifteen years ago at the home of an avid hunter.  Insert the word "gamey" here.  Shiver.  Jim, the chef, assured me that would not be the case with his elk and pear sausage with pear chutney. I paired this dish with my friend Angela's 2009 A Tribute to Grace Grenache from Santa Barbara Highlands.  (I know, shame on me, it's not a Virginian.)  Most wines would have paired fabulously with the sausage but I was concerned with the chutney which is sweet, tart and a little spicy.  Well, that sums up Angela and her wine superbly so that's my reasoning.  Throw in a meaty quality and I loved the pairing.

The main course was jumbo quail stuffed with Foie Gras, black truffles, smoked bacon and fresh herbs and frankly the only Virginia wine that could hold its own is the 2010 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir.  An absolute gem of a wine that sung next to the quail.  The minerality and earthiness danced with the truffles and herbs while the cherry scents awakened the quail wonderfully. Christine and Dennis Vrooman, owners and winemakers are an absolute joy to be around.  Their enthusiasm and vitality was contagious!  Next visit will surely be to their vineyard.

The goat cheese cheesecake rocked it!  Light, delicate, the perfect combination of richness and sweetness.  I had a wonderful time.  I caught up with old friends, made new ones and most importantly I'm hoping that this dinner was the first in a series of wine dinners showcasing Virginia wine.  More to come:

Happy Halloween!

some spectacular websites to visit:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

We'll Eat, Drink and Discuss the Virginia Wine Industry!

Dudley’s Farmhouse Autumn Wine Dinner

Courtney Mailey Cider
Butternut Squash, Apple and Applewood Smoked Bacon Soup
2010 Annefield Vineyards Viognier
Elk and Pear Sausage with Pear Chutney
2009 A Tribute to Grace Grenache
Jumbo Quail stuffed with Foie Gras, Black Truffles, Smoked Bacon
and Fresh Herbs
2010 Ankida Ridge Pinot Noir
Goat Cheese Cheesecake, Cheese sourced from Cherry Glen Farms, Md
Coffee and Tea

Some of you have asked to bring bottles to share toward the end of the evening and by all means please do so.
James Kennedy, Chef and Owner
Dudley’s Farmhouse Grille
7816 Richmond Road Toano, Virginia 23168 / 757-566-1157
Please call for reservations.
Saturday 29 October 2011
Six o’clock

65 – all inclusive

Saturday, October 15, 2011

We’ll eat, drink and talk about the Virginia wine industry.

Hi Friends,

Many years back the Hubs and I happened to be in the Pacific Northwest and we found ourselves making reservations at a small, world-renowned farm-to-table, which served food and wine as theatre: the entire staff passionate and engaging.  There were only two seats left, indeed, at a communal table.  New to us, but being adventurous, we accepted and this experience changed the way I approach the table.

I recently found this similar passion and engaging personality with Jim Kennedy, Chef and owner at Dudley's Farmhouse Grille, just outside Williamsburg.  It's not often that you find a Chef, let alone a business owner, so open and generous with his food and wine. His Farmhouse is a feast for the senses, both intellectual and palate-pleasing.

I've touted the Farmhouse as a treasure to many folks, including many in the wine and food industry who have expressed a desire to participate in a communal dinner on Saturday, 29 October.  I'm inviting you all, as friends, local business owners and lovers of convivial conversation and delicious food and wine to join the "industry" folk to round out Jim's Table.

I hope to see you all at Jim's Table.  Menu and particulars below.


Dudley’s Farmhouse Autumn Wine Dinner

Butternut Squash, Apple and Applewood Smoked Bacon Soup
Elk and Pear Sausage with Pear Chutney
Jumbo Quail stuffed with Foie Gras, Black Truffles, Smoked Bacon
and Fresh Herbs
Pinot Noir
Goat Cheese Cheesecake, Cheese sourced from Cherry Glen Farms, Md
Coffee and Tea

Wines TBD
Some of you have asked to bring bottles to share toward the end of the evening and by all means please do so.
James Kennedy, Chef and Owner
Dudley’s Farmhouse Grille
7816 Richmond Road Toano, Virginia 23168 / 757-566-1157
Please call for reservations.
Saturday 29 October 2011
Six o’clock

65 – all inclusive

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Are We the Sum of what We Drink?

When I first met the Hubs, I was involved with student government in college and I needed some printing done.  He worked at the printshop and agreed to help.  He had been meeting with friends on the opposite side of campus so he had to haul ass to make our meeting on time.  (He's going to kill me for relating this but, hey, it's for the greater wine good.) He was a little sweaty, but not that yucky "man stink." It was quite pleasant, earthy, natural body scent that was his alone. That scent memory remains with me and now that I have the ability to express the scent, because of my wine studies, the true description is a recently mown spring meadow mingled with ramps pulled fresh out of the soil and a hint of truffle.

Autumn, to me, is full of the craziest scents, much like forest floor leaf mold, rain on stone, herbs, wet earth, baking spices, apples and that gnarly, raw pumpkin astringency as the poor things are smashed on  mischief night.  So just for kicks and giggles I made a list of some of my favourite scents:

st joseph aspirin
puppy feet
fresh dirt
raw pastry dough
wet stone
leaf mold
fresh mown grass
gasoline out of the pump
a country field—sweet earth and green
ocean brine salinity
moth balls

I was wondering if we are the sum of what we drink? Do I drink the types of wines that I do because I like the above scents?  I suppose I could go into Phenol compounds (derived from grape parts and floating yeasts) that chemically are scents which, as individuals we can recognize.  However, what I'm most interested in, is how we recognize these chemical compounds and then effectively communicate what our beaks are sniffing.  So if I like the above scents, does that mean I'm more likely to like wines that carry those particular phenol compounds?  Let's check out a few:

armpit:  remember the Hubs story?  that's a resounding yes because I love Burgundy.  (Jacques Seysses, owner of Domaine Dujac, speaks of certain Burgundies smelling like a mistresses' armpit.)

gasoline:  I'm getting dizzy just thinking of the myriad of Rieslings I've enjoyed!

smoke: Some Loire Valley (and I haven't met a Valley wine that I didn't like) Sauvignon Gris smell of smoke, just like some Riojas.

basil:  Albarino has a distinct basil quality for me, as does Gruner Veltliner

dirt, puppy feet:  Rhone anyone? Why yes, I do.

I could go on with the rest but I think you get the picture.  Humans can recognize 10,000 different odors. However, no two people sense anything the same.  Does this mean anything?  Well, it could mean that I have a large memory pool so I'm able to match a wine with my scent memory.  Or, it could mean I drink way too much.  Either way, what I do think is that we each of us possess the ability to memory associate, which means a memory locked in our brains will surface sometimes years later due to a particular scent we experience.  Maybe the reason I detest Pinotage is because my father ran me over with his car and all I can remember is the burning scent of rubber as he accelerated.

That's a total fabrication of course, but I suppose that's my point.  I really have no memory of anything that includes rubber, the main scent of that wine, so is that the reason why I don't like it?  I don't know, it's all quite interesting though. 

What wine tastes of St Joseph aspirin?  Time to find out...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Morales!!! Annefield Vineyards Harvest

I am an Autumn fanatic: just the thought of October gets me all, well, a little crazed.  It's those crisp mornings where you find yourself slipping into your warm fuzzies after months of flippies.  And the east coast big Fall change:  the closet switch.  Isn't it like a birthday or Christmas? Hey, Mr. Red Sweater, it's good to see you.  How's it hanging Macgyver-like khakis--can't wait to do some serious exploring in your sweet, many-pocketed embrace.

So best thing to do on the first of October--Annefield Vineyards Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon harvest! We arrived bright-eyed Saturday morning, a brisk 62 degrees registering on the truck's temperature gauge.  Owners Stephen Ballard and Michael Leary (and dogs) greet the handful of volunteers with coffee and croissant, amid their beautifully restored 1858 Italianate villa house which is absolutely breathtaking.

A car ride down the road and we're off to the vineyard site, tucked inside a cluster of tall trees, birds of prey calls piped in to deter the birds from devouring the grapes. A quick tutorial from the professional crew and it's time to snip--thank the wine gods we brought gloves, otherwise I'd be licking the grape juice off my fingers: that's the stuff alright. As I'm snipping (and trying desperately not to chop off a finger) I'm noticing lots of bumble bees, hornets and harvestmen (daddy long-legs), a sure sign of a healthy vineyard.  Paul Mierzejewski, vineyard consultant for Annefield was on hand of course and he commented about how "good the vines looked" compared to other vineyards around the county.  Could it be because Annefield uses biodynamic methods, namely compost teas which act as innoculating agents against pathogenic organisms.  If those aforementioned good insects are any indication, I certainly think so.

Cabernet Franc cluster
 A brief lunch respite, graciously provided by Stephen and we're back at it--finally finished with our two rows! Man are we slow. We're looking forward to the wine tasting up at the main house.  The 2010 Viognier is stunning! I knew it was a Viognier before my beak hit the glass--honeysuckle, orange blossom, almond paste and a little tobacco.  The palate confirms what my nose knew:  more of the above, a neat backbone of acid, a distinct minerality and a long finish.  Well done.  My other perennial favourite is the 2009 Cabernet Franc--pure raspberry, spice and a delicate whiff of violets.  Tannins are weighty, and the interplay between earthiness, fruit and herbs stands out. 

Annefield Tasting Room
Well, I think six plus hours at Annefield Vineyards is enough, and we say farewell for now, wine-satiated and feeling all around good--there's just a friendly, cozy vibe about the place that makes you want to curl up on a setee.  Goodnight Cooper.



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wealthy and Narcissistic: Eat Me.

The “Man”
There’s something about this bald man—spicy and dark, colourfully dressed, glistening with sweet secrets—secrets that have helped him manipulate his way through the ages. Who is this plump, yet stick-like man, where did he come from and what does he want?  To find our answers, we start at the beginning…

He has been seen since the Medieval Crusaders brought home a plethora of ingredients that would become his playground:  almonds, citrus fruits, spices and sugars.  Of course these ingredients were too expensive for the common folk so guild craftsmen began crafting elaborate likenesses of rich lords and swarthy soldiers and selling them to these very same lords--wealthy and narcissistic; a perfect match indeed.

Times changed, and eventually those inflated prices decreased and the common folk started making their own.  Practicality being their main tenet, our subject lost his illusions of grandeur and became a simple, more humble creation.  However, this did not stop him.  At around this time the discovery of ginger brought with it new meaning for our man—preservation.  He would last much longer.  As time wound its sultry way, his spicy popularity grew, until we find him at local country fairs.  And of course we find evidence of inevitability:  unmarried women eating “husbands” which meant they then had a good chance of finding flesh and bone--shocking, but true.

We cross the ocean, following our philanderer into the New World, ambitious as ever, cuckolding the housewives and professionals alike into sustaining him forever--yes, the cookie cutter was born.  And with the proliferating cutter came the likely merge:  the “man” and the Christmas tree.  Our subject connects himself with a celebrated holiday by having him festively adorned and lovingly placed on the tree.  He’s practically winking at us.

Is he content for now? What further secrets does he hold and where will we find him next?  No one knows, but that angel may be looking for a new job.

I still like this piece, probably the more sedate out of the revisited bunch. Below is a picture of a book jacket that I snapped last weekend in Richmond (delicious, fun-filled post to follow.)

What wine to drink with munched cookie?  Coffee.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More late night finds...Basil is Sexy!

Oh Basil, My Basil

So now what?  You’ve made the pesto and you’ve eaten about as much as you can of caprese salad.  You want more of your home-grown perfection, but you’re having doubts as to what to do with it.  Look no further, because dessert has arrived and basil is the star.

With more than 150 species of basil, the most widely known is of the species Ocimum basilicum or sweet basil.  For me, basil’s fragrance is incredibly earthy and sexy.  Picture The Wizard of Oz and the scene where Dorothy and friends are running through a field of wildflowers—now change those flowers to a valley of basil and all of its many colours and sizes:  pale to deep greens, cabernet reds, and patches of golden sun with small leaves and large ones too.  And as I’m running and jumping, I release scents of mint, clove, anise, cinnamon, and citrus, all vying for my attention as I slowly lay down in my bed of sweetness, sleepy and satiated...Only wake me when it’s time to bake!

When preparing basil for desserts, it’s important to remember that basil bruises easily—turning black if handled too much.  After washing the leaves, dry them thoroughly with paper towels.  The preferred way to cut basil is to tear it into smallish pieces with your hands.  To get these pieces even smaller, stack 5 – 6 leaves together, and gently roll into a tight bundle and with a very sharp stainless steel knife, slice into thin strips, called chiffonade.  From this point, mincing is just a few knife strokes away.

Basil and Citrus Sorbet
4 cups loosely packed basil leaves, washed and torn
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
1 ¾ cups organic lemon juice

Combine first four ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cook three minutes or until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and chill.  Strain mixture through a sieve, pressing basil with a wooden spoon to remove as much liquid and goodness as possible.  Discard basil.  Mix basil syrup with lemon juice.
Pour syrup into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Spoon sorbet into a glass container, cover and freeze at least one hour or until firm.  Remove from freezer and let sit for 10 minutes before service.  Garnish with flowering basil sprigs.
Yield:  5 servings, 1 cup each

 Basil Butter Cookies
1 cup softened unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups sifted all purpose flour
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, washed and minced
¾  teaspoon salt
½ cup sanding sugar
Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer and mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add yolks and vanilla scraping the bowl.  Add flour, salt and basil and mix on low speed just until incorporated.
Divide dough in half and shape each into a log.  Roll logs on sheets of parchment to 1 ½ inches in diameter, pressing a bench scraper into the parchment to make tight, even rolls.
Wrap in plastic and freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll logs in sanding sugar and slice to ¼ inch thick.  Arrange 1 ½ inches apart on baking sheet.  Bake until edges are just golden, 20 – 22 minutes.  Transfer to wire racks and cool.
Yield:  About 4 ½ dozen

Sublime Strawberry-Basil Sundaes
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon organic honey
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, washed and minced
2 pints ripe strawberries
1 quart vanilla ice cream
Basil butter cookies
Bring balsamic vinegar, honey, cinnamon stick and bay leaf to a slow simmer and continue to cook until syrupy.  It will reduce considerably.  Cool to room temperature. 
Wash and slice strawberries and place in a bowl with the syrup and basil.  Mix to combine and marinate for 10 minutes.
In coffee cups or sundae glasses, add a scoop of ice cream then drizzle on strawberry basil mixture.  Garnish with basil butter cookies.
Yield:  7 servings

I wrote this piece for an online food magazine eons ago and I still use these recipes today.  So feel free to use these time-tested recipes, especially the basil butter cookies--deliciousness!

In fact, I just found a Patrick Bottex "La Cueille" Bugey Cerdon Rosé, which is somewhat of an odd little sparkler from Savoie in Eastern France.  Made with 80% Gamay and 20% Poulsard it's low alcohol 8% and light sweetness of strawberries and raspberries make it a nice accompaniment to the desserts above.



Monday, September 26, 2011

Strung up and Stringing the Lights

Absurdity, frailty, vulnerability, inevitability—a thousand subtle voices screaming. The once and future susceptibility to fail—regardless.
“Should I worry?”
“No, Olivia. Worry is for the weak.”
“Worry is a human emotion.” She countered.

She walks; the softly swaying movement of her hips lulling her. A heavy pitter patter of rain on leaves penetrates her senses and memories reach. Small scenes of laughter, disappointment, anger, joy, sorrow, confusion. Somehow stained with the unwanted—those emotions which surface time and again, unwelcomed yet intimate: her longing rises—that tangible sensation where her surrounding motion increases: clouds scuddle across the sky—too fast, leaves twitter, falling, rain stinging, the trees shuddering…she clamps her teeth, and swallows her rising bile.

“Mother, Father,” she shouts to the water-saturated trees. “Where are you?” Her world answers as she knew it would—twilight descending—magical and frightening.

Strung up, strung out, stringing the lights, strung fragments…She reaches for her emerald sister and is embraced greedily, exhilarating in the pure numbness of her. And within her dark reveal she becomes emboldened and she discovers. Somewhere between the circles that ensorcelled her, she finds him. As her sylvan surroundings wrap her in their damp, leafy approach, the realization pierces and a gasp escapes her lips. Years and more years, infinite, but so disturbingly short.

The finding was easy she muses to the heady soil; the journey rife with confusion and angst. And yet knowing it, no, experiencing it, makes that difficult journey all the more sweet, like black liquorice finding the tongue.
She frowns.
“Too late?” she asks.
“Never, Olivia, never too late.”

It was a fitting sobriquet she earned, never sanctioned lightly. Extricated as she was, with the noblest of purposes. Fitting indeed—years of self-doubt, longing and with just a hint of madness. But that’s my purpose she quipped to the leaf rot. My cross, mine alone so the moon child can revisit, recapture…

Her breath releases and again memories rouse. She remembers those days. Young, many years ago; Isn’t it always that way, the ferns remark.
“Yes,” she answers, a bit too slowly. Vulnerability lurks in the clinging moss, and for an instant she falters.
“Did you know,” she cries to the babbling brook, its cool, spring-fed water warmed by her proximity, “that moon children are protectors? They are unselfish with their love, asking for little, on the outside looking in, unstable but somehow dynamic, transitional, transitional scapegoats…!” Her voice rising, chest heaving—the babbling brook creating waves, timed to her erratic breathing.
She turns her head, eyes closed, a darkened shadow falling upon her face—cloud over sun. Her violet eyes open, hooded, staring.
“Becoming,” she mouths.


Peter, Paul and Mary, I wrote this five years ago and it still sucks.  If anyone can find any redeeming qualities about this piece, by all means comment and I'll send you a bottle.  Late-night desktop cleaning uncovers the darndest things... (Oh man, I just noticed the date--wow.)

" black liquorice finding the tongue."  krikey

Monday, September 19, 2011

Do I Take the White Pill Now, or the Green Wafer Later?

I've begun reading the Wall Street Journal again, print edition.  This way I feel as though I have a handle on the news without staring at a computer screen any longer than I need.  There's the typical doom and gloom, but every now and again I'll find an article that resonates with what I have on my plate for the day, week or month.  One particularly poignant article series is the plight of the American rancher.

Now, I am not a vegetarian although I desperately wish I could be.  In fact, I eat less meat protein now than I did five years ago and I've reduced my intake to about twice a week.  I'm sure I'm bordering on malnourished, but the less I eat of it, the less I want it, but because I'm thin, my body does need much more protein than I'm feeding it.  For instance, tonight I made pot roast, a roast which the Hubs and I purchased from Belmont Butchery, where they believe in animal welfare (more on them next post.)  My choice to purchase from groups who care about animals as much as I do helps my decision-making.

The above whole thought process led me to a gastronomy conference I attended back in 2005 at Boston University. A major focus was the emergence of urban farms, which I found absolutely fascinating.  None of this was new, mind you, but beginning to become publicly known.  I took away an inordinate amount of knowledge from that conference, but the part that stuck with me most was the possibility that the world's food and nutrition source could be widdled down into one large, extremely white pill.  Why? because with the rising population, climate change and economic issues our big company food sources are becoming scarcer by the second.

The strange thing about climate change is that those changes are different in each part of this glorious country of ours.  So at the risk of sounding naive,  here's a thought:  why not send those cattle on a little jaunt to a reciprocal farm a few states over where there isn't a horrific drought.  Seems to me we'll need to start thinking outside of the proverbial box otherwise we'll all be swallowing the green wafer, Soylent Green (brilliant film.) 

And speaking of swallowing, my Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout has now warmed to perfection.

Eat and drink up now, 'cause the future looks a little dense.


Monday, September 12, 2011

of Cordial Bows and Bugle Trills

I wrote this post yesterday, but since it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11 I felt unworthy of actually posting on such a day.  For content’s sake, I left the present tense.

The Hubs and I slept in this morning.  For the past two months I awake quite restless—ought I to be doing something? and I can feel it, too, that aching, longing.  But this morning I fought it, so I stayed in bed, languishing in the warmth.  The previous evening we participated in a blind wine tasting at a newfound group, and the subject of how we would prefer to leave this world (speaking of our dogs of course) and as human beings we have choices.  And at first I thought peacefully and quietly but then I wasn’t so sure. If I’m going to bite it, I want to go down doing something worthwhile.  Don’t we all imagine ourselves in some epic battle with the forces of evil, saving the day while we go out in a blaze of glory?

Today is Patriots Day, 9/11, and again that feeling of restlessness and sadness.  We don’t have television, but I wanted to engage in at least one program commemorating the day.  I made a beeline for one in particular: a tribute to Father Mychal Judge, Franciscan Monk, NYFD Chaplain. And the thread of how do we want our last moments to be really hit home.  He chose to be at the towers during the first moments of the attack, praying, administering, rescuing.

His father died when he was a young child and he always said he could never remember calling anyone father.  At the “wordly” age of 15 he entered the seminary and his friends say that his wish of calling someone “father” became reality.  I immediately thought of Walt Whitman’s poem:

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!

On April 14, 1865, a war-weary nation was plunged into shock when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Across the country there was an outpouring of grief, especially from a man who was a great admirer of Lincoln’s.  Whitman: “he embodied the American virtues of plain-spokenness, courage, and horse-sense”. Apparently he would see the president on horseback around town and the men would exchange “cordial bows.”

I find this scop's evolution so ironic, from my blind wine tasting last night (my favourite was Jefferson Vineyards 2008 Meritage), to my longing sadness, to my watching Father Mychal, then to Walt Whitman's poem.  I like to think as Americans, we're all somehow connected.

I’ve included the entire program’s link below, please watch if you have time.  I’m reminded of a particular quote of Father Mychal’s where he says, “let’s love the hell out of eachother.”  Indeed.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Me, Myself and Irene and Eight Rosés

Rosé, you say?  Hell yeah I say! Coming off a 20-year stint in San Diego I can honestly say rosé imbibing is alive and well on the west coast.  But the east coast?

A couple months back I received an email newsletter from the  Blue Talon Bistro in Colonial Williamsburg touting that they were sporting a huge list of rosés by the glass.  Well, as you can imagine, I sauntered over to find out just exactly what they were sporting.  I contacted Adam Steely, Owner, General Manager and wine buyer for the Bistro and mentioned I"d love to try some rosés.  I don't think I finished typing the message and he answered!  (Not because I command attention, he's just an exceptionally nice guy and genuinely passionate about wine.)

Adam Steely, Blue Talon Bistro
So this past Friday, just before the hurricane mind you, with notebook and phone camera in hand my mouth began to water at the mystery of what I'd be tasting.  And of course Adam was there to greet me, he sat me down at the bar and poured me 4 of 8 rosés.  What's so endearing about Blue Talon is that they make their customers feel welcome, always.  I've eaten there several times, from brunch to half-price wine night Tuesday to lunch and I"ve always had a wonderful time.  Nothing is ever perfect, but the funny thing about perfect is that it doesn't exist.  And that's why I like the Bistro:  good people, good food, better wines, always a good time--and that is true life experience.  

2010 Rosé me:
Vina Altaba Bobal, Manchuela SpainStrange fact about the bobal grape is that it carries the same genetics as tempranillo, garnacha and mourvedre--all fine wine varieties but it doesn't seem to carry the same weight.  Sure, it can be fickle, and it requires super hot conditions to properly grow and the best wines come from 40 year old wines, but its ageing potential is phenomenal and it contains higher than average quantities of resveratrol. Good news for me--I loved this rosé!  Right away on the nose is biscuits and dried earth, then rose petals flutter around.  And on the palate it's the same, with puckery, slightly just-before-ripe strawberries and finishes with that earthly rose petal velvetiness.  Drink more bobal!!!

Chateau Grande Cassagne Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Costieres de Nimes FranceThe Darde Brothers do it once again near the village of St. Gilles in the Rhone Valley.  Always a structured wine, full of lemon-lime zippy acidity coupled with delicate notes of strawberries and Rainier cherries. This is a big winner in San Diego.

Quo Grenache, Campo de Borja SpainWinemaker Roberto Perez Martinez is making exceptional wines in The Ebro River Valley on the eastern side of Spain.  With vines at an elevation of 1000 - 2000 feet and hand-picked grapes, this wine is a must-try! Extremely fruity and "sweet" nose with hints of cherry and cranberry and the mouthfeel follows with a hint of tannin, revealing a bigger wine than I thought it would be.  Interesting label art as well.
Bender Zweigelt, Pfalz GermanyIn the wine world, Andreas Bender is a young'n--born in 1980, what he lacks in years he more than makes up for in his modern wine philosophies.  He grew up among the vines in his Father's vineyards in Mosel, Germany, but young Andreas wanted something more, and styles himself as a "maverick" winemaker. His rosé is a testament to that thinking with its gorgeous salmon-colour and nose of fresh garlic--woops, the gentlemen seated next to me ordered mussels robed in garlic, shallots and white wine and the scent is heady! I'm still saying young garlic, but then ripe strawberry appears.  Quite acidic and racy but incredibly delicious with a long finish. A young winemaker to watch.

Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Syrah, Grenache, Vin de Pays de l'Herault Languedoc
I must admit, this has always been a favourite of mine.  The Moulin line is actually a second label of the Mas de Daumas winery, under the ever-wondrous Guibert family.  They wanted to produce fun, inviting wines that pay tribute to the surrounding rocky, hilly countryside so they paired up with a co-op in the coastal town of Sete.  Right away notes of ginger and liquorice explode from the glass, then I always get a bit of pasta water from the Guilhem, a distinct marker for me.  Acid is apparent but not too in-your-face and this rosé finishes long with a candy twinge--fun!

Laurent Miquel Cinsault, Syrah, LanguedocThe Miquel family has been working the vines in the Languedoc hills for over 8 centuries!  Ponder that for a moment won't ya.  So, I suppose they'd better be doing something right.  Hello!!!! Bright, rosey pink colour that is just a blast to swirl.  It's spice city here, and with the last remnants of the garlic-shallot mussels to my right the scents are powerful.  Strawberry and cherry pop out with hints of dry stone minerals.  A long finish completes this beautiful wine.

Chateau de la Selve Maguelonne Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Coteaux de l’Ardèche I recently found their website and it's killer! All sorts of information regarding soil composition and what varietals grow best on which vineyard site--tells you the background information for what you're experiencing in the wine.  Delicate asian apple, strawberry, and a little bit of white flowers.  Finishes beautifully with a punch of minerality. 

Famille Bougrier, Caves de L'Angevine d'Anjou Gamay noir, Cabernet Franc, Grolleau, Loire ValleyI am not a fan of slightly sweet rosé--or I thought I wasn't.  This wine threw me and I wasn't expecting it and it felt good!  Of all the rosés, it had the most intriguing nose.  It came off gritty, dusty, with large stones mixed in for good measure.  And I thought, "hey, this is going to wow me."  The wine hit my palate and I was totally floored:  slightly sweet, slightly tart strawberry/raspberry jolly rancher!  Not what I was expecting and yet I'm so happy I tried it.  I might not have if I was told it had a touch of sweetness.

And that's why it's important to find a place in your neighborhood where you go and partake of a delicious meal, surrounded by individuals who you trust and who know the value of community, good food and good wine.  Big thanks to Adam Steely of Blue Talon Bistro and his lovely staff for a fantastic and eye-opening rosé  flight tasting.

It's not too late, get out there and bid a fond adieu to Summer with a few gorgeous rosés!


Monday, August 22, 2011

the new jerusalem, dude

I have become a glorified Independent Film Junkie—crazy about these humanly significant films.  I recently experienced, and I say “experienced” rather than watched, because these films push and pull and after the physical film is over, the metaphysical remains embedded in your being so much so that they shape thoughts and actions—experience.  Anyhoo, I kept passing over this film titled ‘Sabah’ because it didn’t seem particularly engrossing to me.  So, with a gorgeous case of insomnia looming, I decided to experience the film.  Unfortunately, it didn’t have the intended effect but I’m relieved for it became the axis for this scop. (and I loved it.)
Young Syrian family immigrates to Toronto.  Highly liberal Father, who wanted a more open life for his son and two daughters, unexpectedly passes.  As the family ages without his influence, they revert to a Syrian culture:  a male-dominated environment.  Frankly, it makes sense.  Their main influencer is gone.  And I wonder if they had lived in the States would the outcome have been the same?  Would an American culture have had any influence on them? Or is that too broad? Should I have said an east / west United States culture or even more specific, state, county, city or village?
As Americans, how do we shape others?  What sets us apart from other cultures around the world.  We used to be called a melting pot, in use by 1780, the term referred to the assimilation of immigrants into one larger culture.  As much as this was good at the time, flash forward to about 1970 where folks didn’t necessarily think this was such a good idea.  Proponents of multiculturalism proposed something a little different:  the term mosaic, which refers to distinct individuality within the whole.  My grandfather, who came over on “the boat” as a little boy, returned to Ellis Island as a man, a man who carried a wet rag to erase chalk marks the “authorities” placed upon the shoulders of those people who weren’t as good as the rest, those that may not be easily accepted for whatever reason.
For that matter, how do we influence other Americans? And now I can’t help but make the leap to our wine culture.  Do we chalk mark those viticultural areas and grapes that we don’t deem as important as other areas and varietals? Do we discriminate grape varietals?  Do only vitis vinifera varietals make good wine? Are we grouping all of our wines together, and not seeing the varied microclimates?
I asked the above to a new friend of mine, Denise who works at one of my favourite places in the Burg right now, World of Wine, and she said, “the essence of…what is the American culture of wine, I think we need to look state by state; coast vs coast.”  She goes on to quote Kermit Lynch:  “We Americans with our New World innocence and democratic sensibilities tend to think that all wines are created equal, and that differences in quality are simply a matter of taste.  The wines produced by each nation are different…. One understands the style of California wines better when one understands the pioneer spirit, and one cannot appreciate French wine with any depth of understanding without knowing how the French themselves look at their wines…..”
I recently tasted a few Virginia nortons and I thought they were structurally well-made, delicious wines, tasting of salty bacon fat, dusty pez candies, light spice and a haunting savoury woodsiness on the back end.
Norton belongs to vitis aestivalis which is pest resistant and cold-hardy but, unfortunately, is difficult to propagate through dormant cuttings, the primary commercial means of propagation. As one of the oldest known American cultivars, the official heritage of norton is still debated, although most believe it to be a hybrid between aestivalis and vinifera.
According to Jack Keller, the “father” of wine blogging, “If people allowed their senses to taste the wines without engaging their biased brains, many non-vinifera wines would be best sellers.”
The point is this: America is an infant on the stage of the world's wine regions. We have the dirt, the climate and the passion, but in our attempts to legitimize our wines, we give them French and Italian sounding names. We use the grape varieties that spent millennia adapting to climates that are not ours, and with some early success we have developed a façade of culture, one that's not yet earned. In other words, we are the lusty rakes throwing our grappling hooks over the walls of Burgundy's Clos Vougeot, trying to co-opt wine culture rather than evolve our own. And as often happens in fables, the treasures can turn to dust. We want to steal the luster from the Tour d'Argent. We may not have earned a proper American wine culture yet, but we're on our way. All we have to do is take deep breaths, cook our hearts out, and sit at table with friends, food and good bottles (and maybe leave the smartphones in the car). Wine can't be appreciated in a vacuum, it has to become an integral part of our lives.
Those of us alive today aren't likely to see an American wine culture that has divorced itself from Europe. A wine tradition defines itself over centuries as generations of vintners incorporate new grape varietals that, mutating from the cuttings that spawned them, exquisitely adapt themselves to the soil and situation they find themselves in. Understanding how regional wines mesh with local game and produce at the table is what creates an authentic cultural experience, one so primally rewarding it's repeated, and over time becomes tradition. The real sign of progress is not in putting "Chateau" on your label, but in being European with your patience, in giving the American wine scene a few relaxed centuries to evolve. " (Wes Hagen is the vineyard manager and winemaker at Clos Pepe in Santa Rita Hills, California.)
I’d like to think Americans can have a culture of acceptance, a culture of “dude.”  Ooh, I like that.  Seriously, think about that word, by changing our inflections and facial expressions, that one word conveys all that you’re saying, but inherently, remains unchanged.  Dude.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Are you with me, Kyra?

So I've been in Vegas this past week and needless to say I've never been a big fan.  The Hubs had a conference here and since he was kind enough to accompany me for mine and since we can now travel together again (see previous post, Sea of Change #44) I figured it would be a nice respite to the emptiness that is the Burg house.

TV!!! Since we moved to the Burg we never bothered to get another fool tube and now I know why:  there's nothing worthwhile! Like now, for instance--it's Sunday morning and I'm waiting around so I can get our seat assignments for Southwest and I stumbled on something called Nashville and Cash, (or something like that) about two young lawyers--absolutely ridiculous.  What fool said this shit is entertaining? Click. I kid you not, the only shows worthwhile are the real life crime shows.  At least these are concerning plausable human beings, albeit horrific, but at least it's real.

Anyhell, speaking of violence, it's been many years since I visited Vegas and what I do remember is the filth, always the juxtaposition between the beautiful, clean hotel structures and the dirty streets.  Not now.  Streets are clean, porn sheets are all behind those glass newspaper doors. And although I haven't been out too much, except to the pool, the work parties that we've attended have been fun, in fact, I've spoken more to tech people than I did at my own wine conference. I suppose I've nothing to lose and most folks seemed eager to talk of something other than techie geek jargon.  And for a few days it's all good.  Until...

Reclining at the pool, minding my own business, hoping my fat ass isn't hanging out one side of my bikini and amid the cooling wet of the misters I hear:  "Hon, what do you think we saw more of last night, boobs or vagina?" He responds most emphatically, "vagina" and the whole Vegas revisited is shattered.  I start to lose it.  Then her voice changes and she starts screaming something about "stinky feet" and I can only assume that she's now talking to a child on her cell.  But the "stinky feet" reference gets me thinking about a southern Rhone wine I had and the lingering smell of puppy feet and now I don't know whether I should drown her in the shallow end or maybe leaving the pool area is best.  I chose to leave.  And I realize I'm in desperate need of wine.

I've abstained this trip--I had so much good and bad during the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 that I thought it a wise idea to take a break. But now I'm finding myself desperately wanting a glass, and not just any glass of wine, but a wine that I've had before, something familiar, something that I know will make me warm and fuzzy, a wine to soothe the savage beast.

And now I'm overwhelmed--the need to hold the bottle in my hands, feel its weight, its smooth coolness.  I know I'll remember if I purchased the bottle or if it was gifted and I'm comforted and now I'm yearning for the Burg, for my wine cabinet.  The scents in my nostrils, (stinky puppy feet, a Burgundy barnyard stink, the garrigue of Provence, that sexy smokiness of a Spanish Tempranillo) traveling up to my brain and the realization that I know it and it's not the alcohol for me but the connection it provides:  the vintage, and knowing the weather that year, I could imagine the vines at the moment of flowering, veraison, harvest, the people involved, and how the farmers and winemakers felt with a successful vintage, when they taste the finished wine and say, yes, we're ready to bottle. The feel of wet liquid on my lips, in my mouth, the swallow--and now I've become part of everything that went into the choreography that is this bottle, and I'm calmed.

Amid all the crap that we all see and hear on a daily basis, it's important to find that which calms, that which helps us, as human beings, create connections that make us feel a part of something larger than our individual lives.  Oh, I can taste it...

I was always with you.  I was.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nitty Gritty Scop: Danger No Floor

There is a distinct disconnect between wine bloggers and the wine industry.  I’d like to think that each path will eventually merge, or at least meet up for a glass, but from what I experienced recently at the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference, Charlottesville, VA that meet and greet seems rather unlikely at this particular moment in time.  As my brother informed me today though, “you have high hopes teen.”  Indeed I do.
I refuse to write a diatribe; long, unbroken paragraphs about what everyone else is writing--lame.  Instead, I want to relate my first impressions of events, only because first impressions can be skewed, often quite funny and sometimes downright insulting, but I can always argue, hey, it was just a first impression, don’t take it seriously.  Or should we?
First Impressions #WBC11
International Wine Tasting Night:  queue Disney World’s, “it’s a small world, after all, it’s a small world after all.”  Insert creepy puppets.
Registration and Meet the Sponsors:  fantastic, lots of meet and greet or just plain gawking.
JR’s keynote:  American wine bloggers suck
Friday Breakout Sessions:  hmmm, where’s dinner? I should have stayed w the hubs in the room for a quick shag like he wanted.  But noooo, I had to be on time.
Monticello Meet the Winemakers:  So earthy…no, that’s body odor.  Hey, I’d rather suck in a little ass—it’s more preferable than perfume (this is especially for that gauche blogger at the Tom Work panel Sunday.) And by the way Tom, you were at fault.  Perspired profusely, but damn, those winemakers are hardcore.  Have to give them credit for not keeling over in the heat. True farmers.
Seriously, hot shrimp and grits? It’s frakking 103 degrees! But that iced tea was kick ass.
The Other 46 Tasting:  for reals? Oh, there’s baguette and packaged cheese. Lovely.
Wine Bloggers:  cliquish, rude, like to drink, passionate wine writers, weird, lacking tasting etiquette, need a serious wardrobe overhaul…some really cool people.
Virginia Wine Industry’s History, Geology and Business Climate:  LOVE Gabriele Rausse.  Really, Mr. VAtech guy, Virginia’s geology isn’t related to winemaking?  Really?  Jesus. David King:  tourism!
Local Vineyards:  Fantastic!  Hospitality went beyond what I was expecting.  Pippin Hill was the bomb and Veritas winemaker Andy was a blast! Did you know he was a neurologist?
EA: got a much-needed 20 minute nap, latter half was good.
Cognac:  Before dinner? Really? They seemed nice, I felt bad.  Rep was trying to speak w a defective audio system while one “blogger” in suspenders had his back to her during her entire speech.  Hello, she’s giving away free cognac! Krikey.
Somm emcee:  if only he was an MS, then I could say, “hey, it’s kinda funny that the majority of MSs I know, what they lack in height they make up for in ebullience. (we’re both from Jersey, I can say this.)
Meeting the award winners in a panel discussion would have been nice, to learn what they do and how they do it, but no.
Rioja Crawl:  the best:  Feast! You guys rocked.  They normally close at 6pm, but they boogied until way after midnight.  True food and wine artisan troopers.
Saturday night “after party”:  I brought a magnum of 2004 Chateau Montelena Cab, 1998 Justin Syrah and 2008 A Tribute to Grace Grenache.  I opened Justin first, went around pouring and I got to someone who is well-known in the blogging circles and his response, “what is it? Sure.” It was late, he’s older. Bridget, Kitty, Jen—good times!

Random, disembodied first-impressionisms:
Where’s the journalism?  And for that matter, where’s the beef?  (that’s funny, I’m not a big beef eater.)
The pompousness polluted the air, but again, just glad it wasn’t perfume.
Couldn’t we have had serious glasses?
Wine bloggers blogging is like my telling you I stubbed my toe.  (no, seriously, I stubbed my toe.)
Tweeting at the conference seemed surreal, as though I was transported back to grammar school and we’re passing notes about Johnny and doesn’t his hair look so absolutely dreamy today.  But whatever, I’ve never been overly verbose.
Do you spit, or swallow?
The wine industry is incredibly small, whether you’re in it or writing about it.  I appreciated every wine rep and winemaker who attended.  That cost them money, just like it cost me.  It’s tough to pour your life’s work for people who aren’t spitting.  There was a lot of wine at this conference and only a handful of folks were spitting.
There were several bloggers who reached out and made efforts to truly make my experience worthwhile—thank you, you know who you are.  Let’s put all my bitching into context:  first impressions only.  And at the end of the day, it was MY choice to attend, MY responsibility to reach out.  And if I didn’t get what I wanted, it is MY fault.  But I think I have a better understanding of how to make it better for me:  without a doubt, reach out to folks before the conference, arrange lunch or coffee.  And by all means, say hello to as many people as possible.  No one will remember you if you don’t take that first step, you know, make an impression—Find your Voice!
PS Scop:  There should be a caption on future badges that says something like:  I’m a wbc newbie, please for the love of wine, someone talk to me before I bust some caps in all your asses. Something like that.