Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Things We Do For...

“Sam! What are you doing? Are you still fucking with those malt balls?” my mother’s voice echoing through the narrow hive-like caverns that were our “quarters” in the big, fancy, beautiful house full of betrayal and ugly. I was in the 2nd grade, a proud student at Burroughs’s K-3rd school and I was, tongue poking from between my determined lips, making the love of my life the Valentines gift I knew was going to sway him to leave Jennifer M for me.  I wasn’t as pretty…by like a lot, nor was I as popular as Jennifer M (we had three Jennifer’s in my 2nd grade class so each was a Jennifer something) but I could feel from the bowels of my starting to be feisty soul, I was better for the blonde haired, blue eyed heartthrob of Mrs. Heathrow’s class, Tyler. 

There were no added letters to mine or Tyler’s name. We stood out in that our names were just different enough, at the time, to afford us no plus-one status. We also had last names that started with D’s so we were seated by each other, for like the whole year and while Jennifer M, with her wavy, (and I swear to this day…no, I’m not damaged) highlighted, super bouncy and washed, (I was a vile wash liar. “Sam did you take a bath?” –“Yes, of course” as I used my tongue wetted thumb to try and scrape the mud from my been-a-week-or-so-since-I-washed face) hair was like four rows over. She was pretty but, well she’d get older and less so, least with me he was safe in that the deflation of value was going to be far less traumatic. Plus, I was always first to be picked for every P.E. game. Of course it was my thick girth and not so girly willingness to take a fucker out for the point but still, and as I sat there with a Buffums’ shirt box in front of me, brown, (not from dirt, well okay, a little from dirt but mostly from being out in the sun) legs folded Indian style beneath me, I poured my undying love for Tyler out in words, made from those chocolate covered malted balls. 

This my friends, was as brilliant a move as I’d ever dreamed of. How better to woo the man of your relentless dreams, while in the 2nd grade, than by professing your love spelled out on the bottom of a Fan C. Pants department store shirt box, in fucking chocolate?! Still I marvel in the fact that I came up with that. I spent hours, literally, perfectly aligning each bubbled looking word, “Tyler, I think you are cute. I love you. Sam”…doesn’t sound like much but think of how tiny my fingers, added with the bending a pudgy girl in half….there was huffing and stretching I assure you, and it was downright impressive. An hour and a half past my usual dragging myself to bed, (even then I had no bedtime) I nodded, proud and assured I was to win the heart of the man of my dreams as I, very gently slipped the top of the shirt box over my heartfelt and hard earned profession of true love. I was to make him feel as loved as he truly was and he would like hold my hand, and marry me of course. I didn’t sleep much that night, my tummy tight with anticipation and pride as I wide awake dreamed of My Tyler kissing me, (but not the yucky tongue kind) and making me his wife. 

“We’re late! Did you stay up too late again?!” my mother once again bellowing down the halls as I ran around looking for, “cleaner” crunders and wriggled into my tan corduroy pants and while slipping on my still untied sneakers buttoned my bright green and pink shirt. My heart was pounding. Both because mom was barking at me for being late again and because I was about to wear my heart on my green and pink sleeve and Tyler and I were to be married soon. Backpack thrown over my shoulder, water splashed on my still not clean face, matted hair pulled back into a tight ponytail to hide the big knot of tangled and I brightly, excited but nervously, reached for The Gift. Could hear my heart thumping in my ears even louder than my mom’s voice, my blood pulsing through my body at a rate normally reserved for skating down a steep hill, or teasing a boy until he wanted to touch me, I picked up the starkly white box, “Thump-thump-thumpity-thump” pudgy fingers gently picking it up as to not bend or ripple, or dirty the edges and just as I heard the final, I knew I was seconds from being murdered screech from my mother, I swung around and felt my jaw and heart drop and I heard, and felt, hundreds of heartfelt chocolate bubble letters slide around like marbles in the bottom of the box. 

So the actual transport of The Gift, the admission and profession of my true love full of raw emotion and processed sugar, like I was to make sure those, round, balls of chocolate didn’t move around when I picked it up to deliver it, didn’t once occur to me. Not once. Spent my saved up allowance and hours thinking about and making this “Gift” the one that was to change my life, FOREVER and not once did I think it completely through. I arrived at Mrs. Heathrow’s room 3 with a box full of what looked like hamster turds to profess my undying love…..I hope Tyler and Jennifer M are supremely happy to this day.

“Your assignment is to make a picnic box for your favorite friend here at camp. We will have a special dinner for you, your friend and your parents in the gym in four days from now! So think long and hard about your dinner choices. What are your friend’s most loved foods? Have you eaten these things together? Why do you want to share that with them? What does your picnic box say about you? So the twist is, you can’t tell your friend which box is yours! They have to select your box based on the items you’ve selected and how artfully you display them!” the counselor at YMCA camp overly cheerily and egging us on to join in the super fun festivities. I had a friend alright. I had Charlie. Thin, smallish, crazy handsome, greenish brown eyes, a full mouth and curly hair. Charlie was special alright, he was the boy I spent all summer with. The one that held my hand, picked up those oblong pods from the Honeylocust tress that grew around the pool area, snapped them in half and splayed their sticky insides as we both buried our noses in their lusty, almost minty scent, lost in curiosity and the comfort in finding another young soul just as, weird. 

Charlie was, much like my 2nd grade love, popular but he wore a sadness that spoke to me and maybe scared the others. He was, and I know this sounds crazy now, but he was sexy. Brooding. Dark. Dramatic looking and just as heart-stopping in his quirk. I was stricken the first time we sat together on the bus and he found my green eyes intriguing in a sea of blue ones, and my own brand of seeable heartache a draw. We were not only close, we were inseparable. I knew who I was packing dinner for, it was Charlie and Me, fuck our parents. Astoundingly arrogant for a ten year old, but I guess to those that know me now, probably not all that surprising. 

At the time my all-time favorite food was Carl’s Jr. Food was always a reward in my house, for my mother and ultimately for her children. Carl’s Jr was a real treat and I knew that my mom would kick down and spend the money we never had to buy me the meal to please and impress my beloved and his parents, if for no other reason she got to eat there too. I spent exactly three days coming up with my design and picking my foods, I simply needed a few hours to create my box in a way that would make me stand out and impress enough my special friend that he would be able to pick it out, and want to spend the early evening dinning with me, his family and mine.

Back then Carl’s Jr. made a Western type burger but it wasn’t round like the normal burgers, it was a long oval. Still charbroiled and served with onion rings, (although I don’t remember any BBQ sauce) but it came in an oblong box that both reminded me of a coffin, (and no, I wasn’t a goth or death obsessed kid) or those pods that Charlie and I would run off, away from the kids we didn’t fit in with, to snap in half, sniff and talk about. I thought of that food, those boxes and I, in my infinite wisdom…and wicked smooth love skills, built a box that looked exactly like a graveyard. 

“Charlie. Look at those pretty pink ruffles and cupcakes! You want those don’t you? This girl made sandwiches, that’s so sweet, and look how nicely she cut out all the hearts she glued on the box” Charlie’s parents, that looked nothing like him, walking their thin framed young son down the long line of waiting to be picked dinner boxes. Their eyes falling on this perfect one and the next, and the next. Charlie’s determined, beautiful eyes scanned the puffery and grandeur, walked the rows with his parents words pushing him….either along or deeper in search. My palms were sweaty as I looked at my mother’s face, her looks assuring me that my black painted Vans shoe box and coffin stuffed burgers were just another thing that made me less like her, and a reminder of why I was alone a lot and just then I heard, “No, Charlie, not that one” as my special friend reached out and grabbed the meal I had, in fact, selected for us. I felt my heart and eyes swell as Charlie marched up to the podium and handed the box to the woman with the microphone in the gym. “Charlie and his family have selected box number 12. Will the maker of this picnic box please stand and join them at table 6” my teeth dug deep in my lip I stood, grabbed my mom’s hand, gave her the tug this time and pulled her to the plastic table with the hard metal chairs….the finest dinner I’d ever known. I was heard, felt, understood and chosen….craveable that.

That night Charlie and I did what we often did. We silently slipped away from the crowd and let them revel in their loud speak while he and I explored the compelling striations of each others eyes. Felt at home in our oddity, held hands and that night, we pressed our lips together and said for the first time, or the first time I felt it bounce about in my tummy, “I love you”. Can’t say as I ever eat at Carl’s Jr. nowadays but there is not a time, ever, that I pass one and don’t think of my curly haired, handholding, Honeylocust pod loving, beautiful eyed Charlie. The one that picked me because he knew me and loved how I knew him. Charlie’s parents were neither charmed by my box, nor my mother’s conversation so at the end of that summer I never saw or heard from my Charlie again. Doesn’t matter, still a great love and one that reassures me, when I follow my heart I might hurt, fail, look profoundly stupid but….for that one second when a sweet face picks you, in spite of all that you are, or because of it, it feels fan-fucking-tastic. 

So tonight, on the eve of one love having to prepare to say goodbye to a quickly adored coworker/boss and another having to discuss hospice with regards to his aging and sadly ailing mother I find myself here….doing the one thing I can do, be me. Share my stories and my soul in the hope that one other person can feel and or hear me…..maybe choose me from time to time. I don’t speak wine like most people do. I used to wish I could but the older I get the less I crave it and the more I rather like the splashing about in the pond of less perfect. 

Friday, July 31, 2015


Some of the dust off....

Friday, July 10, 2015

How Many Monies?!

“Come on Champagne lady, you have got to watch it” Randy ribbing me for not yet watching the recently released A Year in Champagne, a documentary about, well about a harvest, or year, in France’s famed sparkling wine region of Champagne. Randy had watched the movie and loved it so much that he bought the movie poster for the shop and even had it hung right behind the desk where I work. He was right, I was dragging my feet and one night last month I popped onto Amazon streaming, opened a bottle of wine and tucked into the end of my couch, wondering if there were any way for me to be more in love with my little Champagne department and producers than I have been for years. Just a few frames in and it two things were clear, I could love them more and Randy was once again correct. I needed to watch that film. 

Watching these small producers work their land, extoll their passion, share their families and stories. Watching them taste and assemble a wine for us to enjoy, well it went a very long way in reminding me why we fell in love with these small growers in the first place. These are wines carefully crafted, from the soil to the final cage that will restrain that signature cork until just the moment we decide to free it, these are wines made by someone very much vested in bringing us joy. How cool, and frankly, remarkable is that? 

You can see the determination of the faces of those small vintners, their wives and children in the vineyards too, as they pick Pinot Noir, in the rain, in an effort to rescue what tiny amount of fruit they have to produce their maybe five or six thousand case production. They harvest, ferment, let the wines rest on the yeast for upwards of three years before disgorging, labeling and sending the wines across the ocean to us, and we can buy all of that work, often for less than $50.00. That is simply amazing to me. Counter that with reading a recent article that mega-bubble-cranking-out-machine Veuve Clicquot, in an effort to move through their over three hundred million bottle, machine harvested, purchased fruit production, is introducing a super sweet Champagne designed to be served over ice and mixed with crap like cucumber, bell peppers and booze. No, I am not kidding, (as much as that sounds laughable) they are calling it, “Rich” and for this soulless, creepy elixir you will be charged around $60.00. A hand crafted, limited production wine designed to bring us pleasure, because you know, they need us to be happy so we keep buying their products, or a sweet, marketing scam of a wine that you have to actually mix stuff into, and serve over ice to make it taste good? I don’t know about you but one seems like a gift, the other sort of feels like a huge company giving us the finger. Seems like an easy choice to me….

Here's a list of my favorite under $50 Champagnes

N.V. Agrapart & Fils 7 Cru Brut $40.99
A wine we write about every year, but one we would be remiss not to include in the best of catagory because it just keeps getting better and better! This Chardonnay based wine from the tiny estate of Agrapart in Avize, sells 3 to 1 over any other Champagne in the store, in large part due to the wickedly small price tag but at the rate with which even The Wine Country staff gobbles it up there is more going on than just value. Plenty of tart green apple with a pronounced buttered bread note. In the mouth, the wine is full without being the least bit clunky; it's light and pretty with a gentle but persistent finish.

N.V. R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut $39.99
Quite simply one of the best deals in grower Champagne. Period. This Grand Cru offering is comprised of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay and packs a serious amount of power in a tiny little price tag! Rich, mouth filling, deep and busting at the seams with gobs of red fruit. Serve with fried foods, (like fried chicken or shrimp) strong cheese, seafood or on its own. You will not find more wine for this amount of money.

N.V. Jeaunaux Robin Extra Brut $39.99
A newer producer for us this Jeaunaux Robin is a very welcome addition to our ever growing Champagne department. Produced in a bone-dry style with very low dosage, this is a Champagne that is all about minerals, toast and tightly wound, elegant bubbles. Citrus and buttery biscuit come though on the very long but gentle finish. 

N.V. Bonnet-Ponson 1er Cru Brut $39.99
With all the rage in Champagne amongst small growers being very low to zero dosage it is sort of refreshing, and indulgent to find a wonderfully fruited and creamy Champagne like this one from Bonnet-Ponson. Super deep aromatics of slow roasted red apples in warmed, spiced cream. So sensual bready, no, more pie crust like flavors make the wine, while still a dry wine, remind you of eating a sliced of warm apple pie. De-licious!

N.V. Bonnet-Ponson 1er Cru Brut Rose $44.99
Man, do we love Roses with this much going on both aromatically and flavor wise! The nose is full of floral notes, like burying your nose in a fresh bouquet of wild flowers, stems and all. On the palate you get some of those floral notes but it's the blast of wild strawberries that comes leaping to the front of your palate. Wild berries, gentle spice and dried flowers carry through on the gloriously long finish.

N.V. Marion-Bosser 1er Cru Brut $49.99
Elodie Marion is a young, feisty, fiery beauty of a hard working woman that learned to make Champagne from her mother and her grandmother. Her wines, much like her, are regal, gorgeous and powerful in a way that defies tradition. Comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from her premier cru vineyards this wine shows classic, toast, yeast, green apple and just a hint of lemon rind. The bubbles are so fine here you almost forget you’re drinking Champagne, that is until you taste that rich yeasty bread dough on the long, super-long finish. Masterful wine. 

N.V. Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs $44.99
Finding any Grand Cru Champagne for this price is unbelievably rare, finding a Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs for this price is nearly unheard of! Chardonnay is the least planted variety in Champagne and it is used, at least in part, for nearly every non-vintage blend from every Champagne house big or small. So needless to say Blanc de Blancs is one of the more rare offerings from most producers. We were happily introduced to this Le Mesnil label a couple years back, we blew though it during the holidays and then after the supplier ran short on it we almost forgot about it. Thankfully, for all of us, we were reminded and now it's back! Lots of green apple and citrus, some stony, doughy notes and with a long brioche and warmed cream finish.

N.V. Laherte-Freres Ultradition Brut $35.99
We could not believe our ears when we heard the price on this charming organic Champagne. Made up of mostly Pinot Meunier with a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir added this supple and easy drinking bubbly is a slam-dunk in the “Bang for your buck” category. Easy, bright, super-fresh and uber friendly.

N.V. Hure Freres Invitation Brut $44.99
The brothers Hure, Francois and Matthieu are very passionate, young and eager to learn. I was lucky enough to visit with them last year and Francois was like an teenager in his energy and excitement to show us all the things he and his brother had been experimenting with. This Invitation is their entry level Champagne and the one they want to have show what their style of wine making is like. Made of 50% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay this is as complex a wine as you will find at this price. Lots of chalky minerals, tons of brioche and cream with apples and anise coming through on the fresh and snappy finish. This is a domaine to keep your eyes on as they are just now hitting their stride.

N.V. Hure Freres Extra Brut Reserve $49.99
Francois Hure is exactly the kind of young and adventurous winemaker from Champagne that are leading the charge and creating this palpable energy behind these super dry wines. Not afraid to experiment and share his findings with other winemakers which is the kind of communication that has helped this movement take off. This Brut Reserve is still showing ample fruit but here you get some playful yeastiness and an almost salted crust kind of flavor. Much more on the citrus line of things than the apple or pear but still feminine and a sheer pleasure to drink.

N.V. A. Chauvet Carte Blanche Brut $45.99
We had been stocking the brilliant wines from this tiny estate for years before I finally got the chance to go there and meet the people behind them. I arrived at Chauvet tired from a day full of tasting, literally hundreds of Champagnes, took less than ten minutes in that family's home before I was fired up and ready taste more! Rich, bready, brimming with gorgeous baked apples and pears with a wonderfully creamy note that caries through on the persistent finish. One of owner Randy Kemner's favorite Champagnes we stock, so that should tell you something! A steal of a Champagne produced by some of the sweetest, warmest people I've ever met.

N.V. A. Chauvet Grand Cru Brut Rose $48.99
Don't you love it when you find a product that you flip your lid over, then meet the people involved in producing it and they are such a joy to work with that you end up loving that product even more? The wines from A. Chauvet are those kind of products for us. This handsome Rose is full of wild strawberry and tart red cherry notes, along with a sturdy core of toasted and buttered bread. Nice weight and curve in the mouth with a fresh and dry finish. Graceful enough to just drink but sturdy enough to pair with things like cured meat, duck and one of our personal favorites, fried chicken! 

Go ahead, stream the film, tuck yourself in, pop the cork on one of these remarkable wines and give the finger right back to those factory fizz marketing wankers.