I’ve always been baffled when people say
they don’t like or don’t drink Champagne,"I don’t really drink much
Champagne” I know what each word means, but put together that way…just
sounds like jibberish to me. How could a beverage that inspires such
passion in me be so easily dismissed by so many people?! Sadly, I think I know why, "The Fancy".
to be out with the (Insert Giant Champagne Conglomerate Here) rep this week, can we come by and taste you
on a couple things?” the email read, I’d had the wines before and never
thought that much of them, didn’t hate them, matter of fact, they
didn’t even inspire enough intrigue for me to hate them. “I’ve tasted
them before and didn’t really care for them and I don’t want to waste your
time” was how I responded. Got another email saying “doesn’t hurt to try
again” so I agreed to sit and taste with them, one sniff and I
Now I’m pretty reserved when I’m tasting
with a sales rep, even more so when they have a supplier with them. I
don’t dig hurting people’s feelings and don’t feel the need to tell
these people what I think is “wrong” with their wines, I know other
buyers that do but that aint me, I taste, take notes and “it’s not my
favorite” is the worst you will ever hear come out of my mouth, (unless pressed which has happened. They regretted it). When I
got up from the table I said, “Not my favorite” but walking away I was
kinda pissed that I caved and that we wasted each other’s time. I knew what was going to happen but I am always waiting for someone to change my mind. The tasting was an absolute bust and as the day progressed I found myself even more annoyed that
wines like that have the marketing budget to get their bottles on lists
all over town, which when tasted, leave consumers saying, “I don’t
really like Champagne”…well, with overpriced, boring, tired, lifeless bubbles like that,
it’s no wonder!
fell in love with great Champagne 16 years ago, it was a bottle of 1989
Billecart-Salmon Nicolas Francois, it was more than I would have
normally spent, $89.99 at the time, but I was talked into it
and I have never been the same, that being said I feel that the wines
from that estate have been creeping beyond what the bottle delivers…but
Nicolas Francois will always have a special place in my heart, who knows if Champagne would have ever stolen my heart, crept into my soul and
yanked me deeper into this world of wine that I love so much. So yes, a special place in my heart but with the quality it has now, and a much higher price tag, no place on my racks.
Before that fateful night, that rich mouth coating wine prying my eyes and heart wide open, I'd had plenty of bubbles but they were the mass market brands
that grace every supermarket shelf…the ones that most people drink, and
while I never turned down a glass of one of those, I rarely asked for a second one and almost never thought about buying them. Then I was drinking the idea or feeling of
Champagne, now I drink the flavor.
While I put one after the other of those "Fancy" brands in my mouth, gave them a swish, felt the sizzle of raspy bubbles and tasted flavors that reminded me of stale butter cookies I kept asking myself, "What would
inspire anyone to buy this wine a second time?” which of course had me
taking a pass on bringing them in…I’m not in the business of selling one
bottle, one at a time to one customer, 12 times, over. Shit that's what the grocery stores are for. I want you to love them like I do,
crave them like I do, dream about them like I do and come back over and over again to fall in love all over again. If I
sold anyone wines like the ones I was tasting that day, not only would I be unispired, (in fact if that were all there was I would flatly give up drinking Champagne, honestly. Rather spend that money drinking a nice Sancerre or white Burgundy) I would be contributing to that, "I don't really like Champagne" thing that bums me so.
I try not to spend too much time shit
talking on the top Champagne houses, they do have some good wines, maybe
a tad too pricey, but some solid wines to be sure but for the most
part, their basic or non vintage bottles are really freaking BORING…that
and they make so damn much of the crap that it often sits in
warehouses, (of the distributor) for God knows how long, getting tanky
and stale tasting…ewe. I can honestly say I have had more off bottles of
Veuve Clicqout. Moet and Taittinger than any other Champagne I have ever
had….really harsh when you think about the fact that I try those maybe
twice a year…if that, stuck at a trade event, handed a glass at someone's house, or in a restaurant with a friend in the middle of a serious Champagne
jones…that’s a pretty crappy average if you ask me. So I won’t go so far
as to say I hate them, but I will say that I don’t trust them…and there
are just so many better bottles to be had. So if you don’t like
Champagne or don’t drink it often, maybe it’s just that you haven’t had
some really good ones, and by good ones I mean wines made from special little plots of land, created by a person and not some recipe handed out by the marketing moguls….don’t go thinking Perrier Jouet flower bottle when I say
good because it costs a lot. I’ve had it, it’s fine…not great, not that exciting, but fine. The thing is, for that kind of coin you can get two bottles of exceptional grower Champagne and discover what greatness truly is.
Last night I had the very real privilege of hosting and pouring some outrageously cool, tiny production, somewhat geeky grower bubbles, even some from right here in Cali-for-ni-a. It was a last minute tasting that I sort of begged Randy to let me do. We like to plan our events way in advance, gives us time to promote them and fill the seats, that was why I had to do my little "Pop Up" event on a Wednesday, calender was full for the rest of the year. I was watching all these wicked cool wines come in, was stocking them on the racks and I found myself grinning like a fucking idiot and petting the damn things. I knew I had to get these wines in front of people. Not just talk about them but pour them, stand there and explain the salty, brininess in the Blanc de Blancs from Jacques Lassaigne. Let my pudgy arms flail as I groaned over the exotic spicing in the Laherte Freres Brut Rose. Lean over people's shoulders and purr, "How fucking sexy is that?" after pouring them a glass of Coessens Blanc de Noir.
Had to be done, if for no other reason than to settle my soul. Wines like those, they haunt me. They make me think of them long after, sometimes months after, I have tasted them. I knew there were others, (thank Gawd for you people!) and I knew they would get it. As I watched the reservations come in fast and furious, for a geeky little sparkling wine, midweek event and there are still a bunch of seats available for Our Best Cabernet Sauvignons of 2013, on a Friday night? Well I was, am, so goddamn proud of that. We were among the very first stores to walk away from the easy sale of Grand Marques Champagnes, to kick Clicquot and Moet out and instead offer Agrapart, H. Billiot, Jose Dhondt, R.H. Coutier and now many, many others in their place. Never and easy road and we talked and talked and talked some more...but that blue in the face, well it worked. Here we are, the morning after an event that we didn't even plan, me glowing like a idiot and getting message after message from the people that were in attendance, gushing and thanking us. Thanking us.... Unreal.
So do this old bird a favor, before you
utter phrases like, “I don’t really like Champagne” or just write the
marvelous, frothy beverage off as something you toast with, get your
hands on a couple of really serious grower Champagnes, really taste
them,we're waiting for you. Maybe let me...tickle your fancy....
On my way to work Saturday afternoon, my mood high
enough, ish. Nothing plaguing me other than some residual work anxiety, not anything
out of the realm of manageability, just your typical pre-holiday freak out along
with residual panting. Some of the little bits of my ever changing personal
life slipping into spots that while not totally comfortable just yet, have been
making me feel, which is just about as welcoming as anything I can think of. Least
in my current state. I was rolling in my badass ride, (Camry) about forty-five
minutes late, (the only thing I love about the closing shift, don’t have to
open so I can slither in a bit late) speeding a touch and with my music about
five clicks louder than it should have been.
are words that should be whispered gently
evidently the way to start
I tell you what my dreams have been demanding
call a heart a heart
you would call a true confession
indiscretion on someone's part
if I'm to say how madly I adore you
call a heart a heart”
Billie’s voice sticky with pain and saturated with her
preferred medication. I heard the smoke bouncing off her vocal cords and
flinched with each heroin soaked slur. The tin can sounding recording filling
the cavernous emptiness of my car, the pop and scratch of a tiny needle being
pulled across vinyl, the faint hiss and soft sputter of a disc spinning, the
sadness and begging of a tragically gifted soul. The words surged against me
like a giant wave taking me under. I held my breath, heard her, like actually
heard her, and pictured what kind of woman I might think I’d have been had I
been there, hearing her sing this song for the first time.
Fingers strumming the steering wheel, my own bruised
and smoke damaged vocal cords expanding in my throat as I crooned along with
the Lady Day. Visions of myself, in the early 40s, one of those women uncomfortable
in the days clothes, choosing instead to lounge about my, assuredly messy, and
tiny apartment in Harlem, (oh you can bet your ass that would be me) in some
sort of silky slip or sturdy bra and oversized panties, garters and a cigarette
hanging from my gin soaked lips. Feeling Billie and aching to contribute the
way she did. Maybe messy, maybe ornery, maybe sad and longing, but making
people tremble and want the way she was making me.
we are in a friendly situation
conversation may not be smart
if we've to have a perfect understanding
call a heart a heart”
The song ended and I reached for the car stereo
remote. A red light afforded me the time fondle and flip, settle on some
mindless and soulless piece of pop music that made me bounce a bit and think
just a wee bit less. Light change and I began my travels again. On my way to
the start of our store’s 18th holiday season. Coast, snarl at the
jackhole that cut me off, bop to the industrial and somewhat insipid music and
that was when I happened to catch a glimpse of a wonderfully familiar sight. A
vintage car resting in the driveway of a house I pass twice a day, nearly every
day. Saw big loopy burgundy colored
bows, fake green shrubbery, the subtle white lights dangling and while it was
daylight and they were not lit I knew, white icicle lights….always. I instinctively
reached for the knob on my stereo and turned the volume of whatever asshole bit
of senseless music I had thundering, down, rested my foot a bit on the brake pedal,
took a second to look and had tears in my eyes when I saw, “18 Years Cancer
Free” on a proud and noble banner that stretched across the garage door….of a
house that I pass twice a day nearly every day, and have for almost 18 years.
Got home that night, the day a bit slower than I had
hoped but still full of new faces, people coming in to rent our new wine
storage lockers, seeing Dale’s face beam each and every time we went back to
the office and told her, “There is someone here that would like to rent one of
your lockers”. Her bit of the business that doesn’t require tasting notes or
recommendations. A place for her, beyond gift baskets and accessories, a place
that she and her brother worked on to make happen, a place she had to finish on
her own. Her beloved brother sadly, and shockingly passing away before he got
to see the space, smell the “wood stained” metal, before the first lock was
clicked. I couldn’t stop watching her all day. Marking the angle of her
gorgeous smile, the height of her eyebrows when her eyes would expand with excitement.
I felt her missing him. Felt our store growing and changing because of what
My dance with Billie that morning still on my mind I
popped in my earbuds and spun the little turnie thing on my ipod. Shifted from
Dave to James Taylor. From Alison Krauss to Amy Winehouse and while I can
always find some sort of ease in music it was Billie that was on my mind. I pressed
the spinner again, hovered over her name and selected that dope soaked groan
and shallow, hard metallic stabs of vintage music to thump around in my noggin
while the number 18 swam about in my subconscious.
The Wine Country is now 18, my drive by cancer survivor
an 18 year reminder of courage and hope. 18, a number that seems so small when
I think of it in terms of age but when a more sane me thinks in chunks of time,
well that number is sort of a big one…
I had been 18 all of thirty eight days when I gave
birth to my son, two months early and with a mother that dropped me off at the
emergency room talking to the nurses but not me. I was seven months pregnant,
terrified, not working, not with the man that assisted in my situation and
assuming I would have to give my son up for adoption, to save us both. That wee
soul and his tiny fingers, three pound body that showed up without heartbeat or
breathing, he struggled to be here, fought for air, battled to feed, wiggled
closer to the incubator wall whenever I would awkwardly coo at him through the
thick plastic. The second those bitty digits bent around mine I knew, he fought
for me so I would do the same for him. Forever. From that day at 18 years old
until the day they had me plugged up to machines that helped me breathe…
“It doesn’t look good. I hope you make it” the late
night call that made me the matriarch of our little family. My sister had been
18 all of nineteen days when an embolism would change her life. Change our
lives in ways we weren’t even close to being ready for. She was 18 when she
came to live with us and while I would never, in a million years, give us any
credit for the woman that she has become, coming here was the start of a
journey for her that would lead to her life now. Meeting the man she would fall
madly in love with and marry. Her drive and resolve, astounding intellect and
compassion to help others that has her now a speech pathologist with a legion
of adoring wees that love her. How could they not? She’s amazingly strong,
beautiful, funny, and brilliant and has one of those laughs that make the
entire world within earshot laugh right along with her. Just being the tiniest
fraction of her 18, well as hard as it was on all of us, probably her most of
all, I am proud to have shared in it just as she did mine…
“Welp, here are the keys. We are going to head over
to the hotel and wash this humid off us” me making light and pretending that
the smudges of black eyeliner that had melted into my cracked face were due
solely to the humidity there in Louisville. Jeremy was 18 and moving into the
dorms, the ones that were a trillion miles away from me. I faked humid face
melting but I had been crying for weeks. I was barely formed when this tiny
person came into my life, tugged at my heart and boot straps, made me whole
enough to be there…saying goodbye to him. We grew up together he and I and
standing there, handing over the keys to his 1993 Camry before climbing into
the rental car that would take me away from that most crushing spot of land on
the planet, the one where I would leave my baby to make his own 18 year old
mistakes and triumphs, well it assured me that no matter how old we can still
have that 18 year old fear, and optimism.
ain't nothin' I can do or nothin' I can say
That folks don't criticize me but I'm going to do
Just as I want to anyway
And don't care just what people say
I should take a notion, to jump into the ocean
Ain't nobody's business if I do
If I go to church on Sunday, then cabaret all day Monday
Ain't nobody's business if I do”
Billie still in my ears as I swayed back and forth
in my kitchen making dinner. I made my mother’s Thanksgiving dinner that night.
The stuffing with way too much butter and plump raisins, the pan I would “over-cook”
to perfect crispiness. The super crunchy turkey skin and dried white flesh
beneath it. The sweet pickles, black olives, chunky un-whipped mashed potatoes.
Found myself adding a little jalapeno cream cheese to those chunky spuds,
reduced the gravy rather than adding Wondra flour, had picked out a Vouvray and
Bourgogne Rouge to serve with the meal, something that I’d never seen, wine, at
the Thanksgiving table until I started at The Wine Country, and didn’t bother with the tiny rolls that she
used to sweep with salted butter and sprinkle with sugar. My mother’s influence
there but with all the little bits of, 18, flavoring and seasoning me, my
family and our meal just as much as she did.
Did a tiny bit of internet scanning and found that
much like my sister, my son and myself, Billie Holiday started her life, no matter
how tragically, when she turned 18 and cut her first album. I sat here this
evening listening to garbled and sloppy sounding old recordings from her.
Melting under lyrics like, “I’ve got it bad and that aint good” and “Lord above
me, make him love me” and laughing as I picked at leftovers and slurped at
glass after glass of Vouvray, (the last wine I shared with my mom, it made her
toot which always, always made her laugh uncontrollably….which also made her
toot) when I heard a recording of her
from 1955 where she grumbled, “They kept telling me I had to sing up tempo. Pop
songs. I told him, fuck you, I wanna sing what I wanna sing”….
She sang what she wanted
The store continues to grow
I swallowed spoonful after spoonful of blood and
a few minutes ago, I passed through my home without one thought of you
but somewhere between washing the days grime from my face and passing
through the kitchen still lingering with the evening dinner aromas; onions, lemons, seared flesh, my
mind flickered, a faint memory, a night of which I have barely spoken…my
night with you, the way I had longed for it and the way it went tragically wrong.
not romantic by nature but there is something fascinating about the way
these things happen. The way one look, one touch, one unspoken but inferred and saturated line of words can peel off a layer of fear, skin, armor, or how something as
harmless as an invitation to dinner can change forever what you thought
you would…or would not do. How quickly we can get lost, lose our footing
and stumble into something we were in no way ready for…my night with
you, that night…I let myself stumble and I spend more time than I care
to admit thinking about it. I
have wanted you for as long as I can remember, thought about touching
you, having your scent envelop me, have my breath smell of you, feeling
your power overtake me and letting myself soften and squish beneath your weight. I
had let my mind spin about in wondrous stories about how it may happen, where
we would be, who might be with us, when I would know, know the second it
was about to happen…when you were ready to surrender, open up and let
me take you in. To
harbor such desire for so long, to let your mind play while your body is
unable to..only stokes the want, makes the longing more
deliciously painful, even thinking of those years before that night,
make me wish I could go back there…pay closer attention, know what I
wanted more, know what part of you I might linger over the longest. Would
I spend my, much ached for seconds hovering over you…taking deep lung
filling smells, let your aroma seep deep inside of me, saturate each open bit of me, or
would I let my tongue be my memory, let your taste spread all over me
and be the one that I would measure all others against? Flashes,
fantasies, seconds, minutes, hours…all you, they all belonged to you, to Us
and it was all lost, in one night.
you ever wanted someone so bad that you quiver at the very thought of
it, have a physical reaction to the mere idea of being close enough to
smell their hair, taste the salt on their skin, dreamed of that three hour
second just before your lips touch? The way your heart pounds and breathing
gets more labored and desperate with each tiny inch closer to touching, flicking, biting, shaking and the inevitable prying of the lips. Eyes closed, mouth open, welcoming, wanting and waiting...
there has always been all kinds of chatter on the internets about bloggers,
wine critics and credibility, and one thing that keeps
flashing before my skimming-of-the-chatter-eyes, "the only way to truly
judge a wine fairly is to taste it blind” and to that I have to say
bullshit, or sort of bullshit.
To remove the acquisition aspect of some
wines is like making love to that person you have been wanting for
years... craved, lusted for and spent hours devouring from afar....finally feeling them wet and beneath you or firm and above you, with the lights off. Would it mean as much if you had no idea who
it was? It may not change the actual physical sensation but part of the
pleasure is in the, having, for some of us anyway. So okay, you just made love
to someone, it was nice…maybe not the best you have had, but viola, you
turn on the lights and it’s Scarlett Johansson…change anything? Would it
have changed anything if the lights were on BEFORE?! Okay, I’m being sexist,
for the ladies lets imagine Denzel Washington, The HoseMaster of Wine, Adam Levine, (had to look that up, Sexiest Man Alive? Hesh up) or George Clooney…although
speaking as a hetero female, Scarlett? Dude, so down...she makes my flesh all pink and puckery and junk...
Spent a night years ago picking these wines apart...blind. Sat at a paid for dinner while a bunch of more-money-than-me jackwads pissed and picked apart these sensual, rarely seen this open treats. Me fumbling with my pen and even then wondering why I was there. You procured these wines, invited all of us to taste...
In the interest of, I don't know what. Honesty? Honestly, had I known what I was rolling about in my mouth, I might have taken a fucking second to pay just a bit more attention. If I had only known....
“I don’t need no concert in the city, got a stereo
and The Best of Patsy Cline.
Aint got no caviar, no Dom Perignon but as far as I
can see I got everything I want.
I got all I
need and it’s alright by me.
I got shoes under my feet and forever in her eyes
staring back at me. It’s alright by me”
A simple but soothing voice, warm and soulful
spilling into my ears, filling my head and causing me and my stress bearing
shoulders to sway. My neck loosening and all the tiny bones that run down my back
unclenching as the banjo, fiddle and honey soaked voice coaxed the exhale I’ve
been chasing for months from my chest. I felt the arches of my feet raise as my
toes did as they want to do. Tugging across the carpet, up, down, back on the
heels as my teeth dug deep into the fleshy bit of my bottom lip and my floppy
hair spilled across my forehead covering one eye, my head bobbing to the
playful, joyful, thankful bit of music that pumped through my entire being. Pulled
at my core and made me actually smile…like a real, genuine, sincere smile. That
ugly thing has been on hiatus as of late. Sure I can fake it like The Best of
Cinemax chicks but to catch myself in an increasingly rare moment of sheer joy?
Well I would have been pink-cheeked had I not needed it so fucking badly.
Wasn’t the music really, although I have found
former Hootie and the Blowfish star Darius Rucker’s solo, more country stuff
wicked enjoyable, and I do still find him a whole lotta dreamy, it was the
simplicity of the words, the story and meaning behind them that had me bent, swerving,
feeling the tender and plushy bits of old carpet scraping against my flesh as
my feet shuffled beneath my chair. The message, “I don’t need no five star
reservations, got spaghetti and a cheap bottle of wine….as far as I can see I
got everything I want. I got a roof over my head, the woman I love laying in my
bed. It’s alright by me.” Resonating and pinging like one of those silver
pinball balls through me, bouncing around and slamming against the bars gaining
points and momentum.
Yup, been sucked into some wretched pre-holiday
uckiness that has sunk its teeth into my neck and has drained everything out of
me. My laughter. My snarl. My bite. My inquisitive nature. My desire. My
indignation. My cravings. My drive. All of it buried under a pile of “How come?”
that probably hasn’t any answers. It just is. People come, leave, chose you and
chose to leave you. Move on to better themselves, dislike you for no and a hundred
reasons, the trying to figure it out and fix it, Your issue not theirs. With the
playful pluck of banjo strings and Darius Rucker filling me from the inside out
I started thinking about the things that matter. The ones that are “Alright by
my shoes off after a long shift. Alright with me because it feels nearly as
good as wet lips along my ribs.
sting of ice on my teeth when I sip a much needed, icy martini. Alright with me
because I fucking earned it.
the sleep timer on the television in the bedroom kicks off. That metallic pitch
right before the whole room goes dark and the silence. Feeling like I can hear
the tips of my eyelashes brush against my cheek as I lie in the dark quiet and
remember…Alright with me because I need that time to, well remember.
my mother’s face, in my face. Alright with me because I’m beginning to look
more like her, a legacy I’m proud to have changed a bit and when I see her
looking back at me through the mirror in the mornings, I miss her less and hope
that if there is a way, she’s proud of me.
while watching a sappy chick flick love story. Alright with me because I know
how they feel…
sting of bacon grease when it spatters on my skin. Alright with me because it means
I’m cooking and creating nourishment that will likely, hopefully, bring some
people I love joy…worth it.
a corked wine. Alright with me because I am still the #1 corked wine sniffer
outter at The Wine Country. Got a little skill there me…
because I failed. Alright by me because it means I tried.
way I rant, stomp about and create little flaming disasters. Alright by me
because as much heartbreak as I’ve swallowed and given, these veins of mine are
still vibrant and pumping.
way I can sometimes smell the night before leaking out of me. Alright by me
because I am fine with being less than fucking perfect.
I am often pinned against a wall with someone “misunderstanding” me. Alright
with me because if I’m throwing that off, well I can’t be mad, I feel sort of
girlishly pleased. But um, back the fuck up.
the last vintage of Pierre Guillemot Savigny Aux Serpentieres filled my mouth a
little more than this one. Alright by me because it means I’ve had several
vintages of that glorious wine spill across my palate leaving a stain that I
didn’t think that wine was drinking. I think I want more fruit or more aged
Burgundy than what you have here” sort of Alright by me because it makes me
strive harder, work harder, look deeper.
rash I have gotten from wearing sweats that are too big while I am working out.
Alright by me because those irritated little bits of skin remind me that I am
making myself uncomfortable in an effort to make myself more comfortable.
told that I am closed minded because I don’t tout or promote certain wines.
Alright by me because I am now looking for the best prices on airfare to France
in April because I have been asked to attend the Les Artisans du Champagne at
Les Crayeres as well as having the importer invite me to stay on through
Burgundy and the Loire. Big, (as in fat) fish in a smallish pond, never in a
million years would have thought…
get annoyed with my staff at times. Alright by me because it means that I
expect more, because I know they have it in them, and we wear the badge of
like a savant when I make love. I spend hours letting my fingers trace and file
away each and every inch of the very few men I have ever succumb to in that
way. Alright by me because it means I was in love enough to spend hours, days if
you would have let me, with my fingers, nose, eyes and mouth gathering and categorizing
your each millimeter. Loving like that is alright by me…
don’t particularly like Cabernet Sauvignon. Alright by me as there are so many
other varieties that need me, my nose, my lips and my particular brand of RAWR
was once married under the moon to a man that spent years trying to run away
from me. Alright by me because I still love him and all I need to do to visit
with him is slip outside. The trickle of water over stones, the in and out of
my own breath, the big swollen moon hanging above the both of us, the “My Love,
I miss you so” always just there beneath the moon and waiting…just as I will
like to fancy myself some sort of a writer and at times, I am terrified to
speak. Alright by me as it assures me that I am still as humble and befuddled
as ever. I still giggle when I hear someone call me a specialist and seeing the
names of the people I do in my email box….even now, takes my breath away….
At the end of the day, no matter how long and full
of bullshit…I have this one voice, these wide open eyes, a heart that while
bruised is still vulnerable to true love. A palate that is respected and
encouraged, willing and wanting to learn more. I wear an older lady’s face
while still having a young woman’s laugh. I protect those I love more than I
would ever myself. I am sad but full of hope. I don’t want to talk but I want
you to hear and feel me. I’m forever afraid and waiting for the other shoe but….I
got this stereo and The Best of Patsy Cline. Spaghetti and a cheap bottle of