The Bottle in Front of Me

(Or; This is Why I Can’t Talk to You Right Now)

Have you ever had a wine that stopped you in your tracks; a wine that made you feel like moving, or talking or thinking about anything but the wine in front of you would be sacrilege? Of course, you have, once in a while. Maybe a few times in a lifetime. And, generally, those wines have been Old World, most likely from Italy or France. And they’ve probably been aged quite a long time, maybe even decades!

Tonight, the wine that made me stop in my tracks was none of that. It was New World, from California, Napa, Howell Mountain and made by Mia Klein. Cimarossa, Riva di Lavante, 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each sip was full of ripe black cherries, cedar, vanilla, dried flowers, spices, graphite, bell pepper, and dust. Each sip was lush, complex and intense. Each sip was structured and firm. Subtle it was not. But beautiful, balanced, integrated, it was.

Once in a while it’s nice to have a wine that rather than inspiring conversation, inspires reflection. This was not a wine to discuss. It was a wine to savor.


Old World vs. New World

There are four sure ways to tell an old world wine from a new world wine. Old world wines have ripe fruit on the nose and tart fruit on the palate. New world wines are ripe on both the nose and the palate. Old world wines have a mineral finish. New world wines do not. New world wines are more likely to have evidence of new oak, aromas of vanilla, spice and smoke. New world wines are, also more likely to be higher in alcohol. Another way to think of the difference in style between an old and new world wine is to think of them as party attendees. The Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, is full and opulent, loud and boisterous, like the glamorous, loud, sophisticated woman who’s personality fills the room as soon as she enters it. The red Burgundy is quiet, elegant and demure, sitting off in a corner observing. Both guests are great to talk with. The loud party-gal has you laughing minutes into the conversation. In fact she has the whole room laughing. She’s bright and witty, loud and fun. The woman in the corner speaks quietly, but she is endlessly fascinating. The more you talk with her, the more interested you become in what she has to say. But you really have to listen and ask the right questions. You have to work a little to get her to open up.

To my first protest I wore my American flag t shirt. I knew it was an ‘annoying, middle-aged, suburban white woman’ thing to do. But I am, after all, an annoying, middle-aged, suburban white woman. It’s time I embrace who I am. A protest march just felt very patriotic.

My poster had two sentences, ‘Take a knee for Floyd. Bend the arc toward justice.’ As we marched through the streets of Reno, several hundred strong, we chanted in one voice, ‘Say his name, George Floyd. I can’t breathe.’ I chanted until I could no longer. The power of that moment, hundreds of people speaking out in unison against the horrible injustice of George Floyd’s last few minutes on earth made my voice shaky and my eyes well-up.

There are still people who believe that Colin Kaepernick was disrespecting the flag when he took a knee during the pledge of allegiance. His was a silent, powerful, peaceful protest. He may have been disrespecting and thereby drawing attention to what America is, but he was showing tremendous respect to what America should be. He was demanding that we as a nation live up to the pledge and promise of our founding fathers, ‘liberty and justice’ for all. Colin Kapernick taking a knee is profoundly patriotic. I hope we can all respect our nation that deeply.

What are the next steps to wiping out systemic racism? First, people have conversations like we’ve been having for the past several weeks since the protests started. We have to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in our society. Then we all have to work to make racism unacceptable. That may mean calling people out on subtle racism or overt racist comments. Systemic racism doesn’t just exist in our police forces. It exists in our society. It exists in our conversations

Loud protesting can be riveting and educational. When the protester is loud and has a clear message it can be inspiring. But the wordless protester, the one who kneels quietly, is quite compelling, quite eloquent in his silence. Through both loud and quiet protesting we will bring the old world into the new world.

The Longest Blog I Have Ever Written; Why You Should Attend WBC18

For my fellow wine bloggers who have not, yet attended the Wine Bloggers Conference, here is an overview of all the things I experienced in a short four days. I write this in an effort to persuade you to attend next year’s conference in Walla Walla Washington. It is a fantastic experience for many reasons.

img_1931We arrived in Santa Rosa on Wednesday morning and after a quick lunch at Jack and Tony’s where I had the best burger of my life, we boarded a charter bus for a field trip to Mendocino County, a place I had heretofore not been. Mendocino, the bottom of a temperate rainforest is breathtakingly beautiful! We were taken to Fetzer Vineyards, just outside the small town of Hopland. Fetzer was founded in 1968 and has been implementing sustainability practices since its beginning. The winery also incorporates organic farming and is biodynamic certified. This is quite a commitment, especially from such a large production winery.

img_1894As we exited the bus we were led to a barn where we were greeted by Courtney, a master of organization, and enjoyed a glass of Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay. We sat on hay bails hearing the rain come down on the tin roof as we listened to a panel of experts in the fields of sustainability and biodynamics. After the talk, we were led by winemaker Bob Blue in a Zinfandel blending. We each had a chance to make our own bourbon barrel blend that was later judged by a tasting panel.

img_1920At the end of a fun and educational afternoon, we got back on the bus and were taken to Campovida Winery where we entered yet, another barn and enjoyed a wonderful family style dinner along with some lovely wines including the Campovida Arneis, a crisp, zesty little white wine. After dinner and dessert, we were taken back to our hotel in Santa Rosa.

img_1965The next morning we got on the bus at 7:30 am and were driven back up to Mendocino where it was still raining. In Ukiah, we had a tour of the Bonterra Vineyards. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the vineyards on a misty morning while sipping a Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc which was as crisp and fresh as our rainy morning. Bonterra is another large producer that practices organic, sustainable and biodynamic grape growing.img_1961

img_1976Our walk led us back to a barn where we had the opportunity to fill cow horns with cow pooh to be buried in the vineyards as part of the biodynamic practices. We washed our hands and sat down to a wine tasting in the barn where the wines were presented by the Mendocino winemakers. We got to hear from nine winemakers and tasted through close to 30 wines.

Once the tasting wound down, we returned by bus to Santa Rosa to begin the conference. Yes, all of these activities were a pre-conference excursion. The conference had not, yet begun.

img_2031That afternoon back at the hotel I attended a panel discussion and tasting on Zinfandel. My next session was on Etude wines, a discussion, and tasting. After my education sessions, I cleaned up for dinner and had time to stop by the opening reception which featured several (20 to 30) producers offering tastes of their wines. I could only stay for a short time, sampling a few wines and visiting with old friends from previous conferences. Then it was time to board the bus for my Jackson Family Wine Dinner, where we were treated like royalty at the beautiful Kendall-Jackson Estate.img_2036

On the second day of the conference, we heard talks on professional wine writing by speakers such as Andrea Robinson, MS and Debora Parker Wong, DWSET, as well as Cyril Penn of and Fred Swan of the San Francisco Wine School. After a short break, I attended a panel discussion on What Companies Want from Wine Bloggers. Lunch was catered. After lunch, I attended a tasting and discussion on the Carinena DOP.  There was another short break and then we heard a talk from the keynote speaker, Doug Frost, MS, MW one of only four people in the world to hold both a Master Sommelier and a Master of Wine. His talk was very entertaining and inspirational as well as educational. But the day was not, yet finished. We spent the next hour and a half Live Wine Blogging white and rosé wine. This portion of the conference is also known as speed tasting. The producers (there are 25 of them) came to our table and had five minutes to introduce their wines. We tasted and made notes on Twitter. Even with only half the producers making it to our table in such a short time, this was a very intense session that required more gut reactions than thoughtful evaluation of the wines. But it was an awful lot of fun. The day ended with another fantastic wine dinner at the Thomas George Estate where we had dinner in a cave.img_2076

My last day of the WBC began with the breakout session, Take Your Camera off Automatic given by Jeff Burrows who taught us a lot of great tips on how to take better pictures both with a camera and with a phone. My second breakout session was Lights, Camera, Action, a panel discussion on using video and working the various social media platforms. After lunch, I attended the Rias Baixas discussion and tasting. The afternoon offered discussions on the Wine Country Fires and How Media Can Respond to a Crisis. They were both sobering but needed talks. Then it was time for more Live Wine Blogging, this time with red wines.

The conference closed with one final wine dinner, with all attendees together. And this is what I loved most. The meals, the talks, the wines, the winery visits were all wonderful. But what I love most about the WBC is the attendees. Throughout the conference, I could and did strike up a conversation with whomever I sat next to on the bus, or at the dinner table, or in the audience or at the speed tasting, and know I would have a good conversation. Wine bloggers are a warm, creative, thinking and collegial group. I enjoyed the wine, but I really enjoyed the fellowship.  Cheers to you, wine bloggers!

Broadsides and Blogs; Reflections from the Finger Lakes

“All bloggers want to make money from their blogs.” That’s the accusation a trade person made during lunch at the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes region this past week-end.

“I don’t,” I told him. But his expression assured me that he didn’t believe that to be true.

During the conference a bit of a rift developed between some of the trade people and the bloggers. As W. Blake Gray points out on his blog, The Gray Report, we bloggers were there for the community. We were there to connect IRL with our virtual friends and peers. We were there to learn from each other. We were there to taste wine together and blog together about shared experiences.

That aspect which was central to the spirit and purpose of the conference seemed to elude some of the trade people; the ones who were there to work, to make connections not for community but for business.

Jeff Kralik, TheDrunkenCyclist“The only people who think they will make money from blogging are people who are new to blogging,” responded Jeff Kralik of TheDrunkenCyclist when I asked him if he was in it for the money. He’s right. Blogging never was and never will be a solid business plan.

“I blog because I love to write and I love wine.” Nancy Brazil of PullThatCork sums it up succinctly. It is as clear a reason as any I’ve heard why we do what we pics spring summer 2015 102

On July 19th in 1848 the first women’s rights convention was held here in the Finger Lakes region, in Seneca Falls. The movement began with broadsides, paper printed on one side for a specific purpose. Some broadsides were for advertising, some broadsides were ballads and poetry, some broadsides had a political message. The purpose of the broadsides of the suffragest movement was to begin a conversation. The purpose of the Seneca Falls Convention was to continue that conversation in person. It is not a far stretch to consider blogs as the broadsides of our time. Like broadsides, blogs are a medium of communication that is free from constraint. With a blog, “you have the freedom to do whatever you want,” commented Jason Subblefield of CorkEnvy during a panel discussion. There are, as yet, no rules to blogging and no format to follow. We are free to create whatever we want to create.

The reason we came together in Corning, NY was not to make business connections. The reason we were there was for the opportunity to be fully immersed in a wine region that many of us had not, yet explored; to talk to the local wine makers while  standing in their vineyards, tasting their wines.  We were there to learn about the wine, the geology, the geography and the community of the Finger Lakes region. We love wine, we love to write, and we love being part of the wine bloggers’ community. We were there to continue a very public and ongoing conversation about wine, to share some meals together and to say to each other in person, in a spirit of camaraderie, ‘Cheers to you fellow bloggers!’


Photo taken by Maria Frangieh @mariafrangieh In the trade and in the spirit

Marketing Wine to Boomers; We’re Not Dead, Yet.

Can there ever be a panel discussion on the Business of Wine without addressing the issue of marketing to millennials versus marketing to baby boomers? That issue was central to the Business of Wine panel discussion that took place at the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes District of New York last week-end. The panel included Kathy LaTour of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Monika Elling of Foundation Marketing Group and Zach Milne-Haverty of Beverage Trade Network.

It isn’t a new conversation. We’ve all heard it many times. The trend in wine marketing is to market to the millennials. As a boomer and enthusiastic wine consumer, I find that trend more than a little insulting. But the reasons given for this trend make it even more curious.

Millennials are marketed to not because they are driving sales, but because they are driving trends. Who is driving sales? Boomers, of course. Millennials are marketed to because they like to experiment with different wines versus boomers who are more likely to have brand loyalty. But if millennials like to experiment, then why would producers ever hope to build brand loyalty with them? Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend marketing dollars on building excitement about trends in wine with the people who are spending money on wine? These questions were asked at the conference. The ugly response was that millennials had more years of wine-buying ahead of them. All I can say to that is, ‘We’re feeling much better.’

Finding the Marks

Pierre Sparr Alsatian Gewurz“Don’t use ‘apple’ or ‘white flower’ as a descriptor for a white wine,” a friend told me at a recent wine tasting.

“But, I always get ‘apple’ and ‘white flower’ in a white wine,” I responded, inadvertently answering my own unasked question.

“That is exactly why you shouldn’t use them as descriptors. They describe almost every white wine and don’t tell you anything about the grape. Be more specific. Is it a red, green or yellow apple? Is it an orange blossom or a gardenia?”

There is an apple tree in my yard. By mid-October, the apples that have dropped from it are on the very far side of ripe, not overly so, but just acetic enough. That deep, ripe, slightly tart smell that comes just before decay is an aroma I will always associate with the marrow of fall, the depth, the middle, the point at which the days are as chilly as the sun is bright.

The marks for an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, the aromas that distinguish it from other white wines are ginger and honeysuckle. I always do get those strong floral and spice aromas from the Alsatian Gewurztraminer. But the tell for me is the scent of a mid-fall apple that has ripened as far as it can ripen to an unmistakable tangy richness. Nobody reading my tasting sheet will know what ‘mid-October apple on the precipice of decay’ means. But I will know that it means Alsatian Gewurz.

“Find the Common Denominator”

Sal Russo (inexact likeness, writer's depiction)

Sal Russo (inexact likeness, writer’s depiction)

“Find the common denominator,” Sal Russo advised me in his raspy voice. It was the mid 90’s. I was in Sal’s showroom in the New York garment district. I won’t lie. The man intimidated me. It wasn’t his stature. He was a small man, but with a feisty, menacing energy that was both blatantly aggressive and cooly calculating. That day, however, he’d softened his tone. He’d taken on a fatherly manner, taking me under his wing. I was new to buying, working for a company large enough to buy a cutting ticket, that is I could buy all 300 dresses, the entire production, for our stores. That gave me a certain desirability that had absolutely nothing to do with me, personally. The end result was that the vendors of the garment district liked me, or at least, felt compelled to be kind to me in order to grow their business. So, at this particular moment in the showroom, it wasn’t Sal who intimidated me. It was his friend, Jerry, who stood nearby, quietly, but with a bouncer-sized presence that spoke silently of Sal’s obvious ‘connections.’

It is human nature to sort information. Pattern recognition and feature extraction are innate abilities, and organizing bits of information is how we make sense of the world. Finding the common denominator is one way of sorting information in many different fields. Wine is one of those fields where this comes in handy. Wine is sorted by old world and new world, noting the differences of more acidic and less fruit forward for the former and higher alcohol and bigger flavor for the latter. It is one of the easiest steps in identifying a wine. Once it is sorted into old world or new world, the wine can then be analyzed further to determine its region.

Grapes can be sorted by type such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot. They can be sorted by acidity, tannins and other structural characteristics. They can also be sorted by flavors. What is the common denominator of Pinot Noir, Grenache and Cabernet Franc? They all have red fruit aromas; cherry, strawberry, cranberry. What is the common denominator of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat? They are all aromatic grapes. What is the common denominator of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo? They are all heavy-bodied, tannic wines. What is the common denominator of Barbera, Chenin Blanc, and Riesling? They are all acidic wines.

As scary as he was, Sal Russo gave me the best advice for figuring out what sells. Every Monday I took my selling report to the stores and pulled out my best selling dresses and looked at them. Just as Sal had advised me, I found a common denominator, whether is was wool crepe, a scalloped collar, ruching, or batik print. There was always some factor, some small detail that they all had in common. I practiced the same routine with my worst sellers. That was equally enlightening.

Studying wine can, also, be enhanced by finding the common denominator. It is much easier to master information when it is sorted. And finding those small details in character, flavor, region or structure that define the grape and make the wine memorable, greatly enhances the learning process.

Beyond the Seas; Confined by Beauty

(The wonderful wine blogger, and great Riesling enthusiast, Oliver Windgatter of The Winegetter graciously asked me to guest blog on his site. His topic of choice was Beyond the Sea. I was more than happy to collaborate with him and his other guest bloggers on this fun and interesting project.)


“What’s your favorite wine?” I don’t know how anyone could ever answer that. I’m all for a good ‘go-to’ wine, like a lovely Willamette Valley Corvallis Cellars Pinot Noir with its red fruit aromas peppered with nutmeg and orange, all nicely balanced, and when on sale can be had for $12.99. I’ll stock up on that and tuck it away for those nights when I don’t want to swirl and sniff and write and pair. You know those nights. You’ve had them yourself. You just want to sit down with a glass of wine that you already know will be good and you don’t have to analyze it to figure out why. But does its ease and accessibility make it my favorite? Certainly not.

Winzer Krems Blauer Zweigelt, 2009

Winzer Krems Blauer Zweigelt, 2009

Recently I came across an Austrian red, Blauer Zweigelt from the Niederosterreich region. It had earthy aromas with some red fruit and a lot of acidity which is not surprising since cold weather makes acidic grapes. It wasn’t my favorite wine, but it was certainly worth trying.

Callabriga, 2009

Callabriga, 2009

Last week I tried a still red Portuguese wine, Callabriga from Dao. Region. It’s made with Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (two of the three primary grapes of Port,) and Alfrocheiro Preto. Dark and deep in color the wine was full of flavors and aromas like violets, cherries, blackberry,plum, rosemary and cinnamon. It was a strong wine, rich in flavor and heavy in tannins, but my favorite? As much as I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t go that far.

Hermes Mavrodaphne of Patras, NV

Hermes Mavrodaphne of Patras, NV

I love fortified wines and recently tried one from Greece, Hermes Mavrodaphne of Patras. It had all the flavors you would expect from fortification, raisins, prunes and nuts. The balance was good, though it wasn’t nearly as rich and delicious as a good Port. But for an inexpensive, fortified wine, it was worth the price, though, again, not my favorite.

This spring I traveled to a beautiful island in the Pacific. Everything about it was perfect, the air, the water, the flora, the gentle trade winds. My husband and I began wondering what it would be like to live there. We both came to the same conclusion. As beautiful as it was, we’d feel stuck, because it’s an island the size of a small US state surrounded by water. We’d never be able to jump into the car and drive away. Leaving would always involve a trip to the airport. That felt confining to me. It seems like a funny conclusion to come to, however, paradise is a lovely place to visit, but I sure wouldn’t want to be stuck there.

As beautiful as any one wine is, I will never claim one as my favorite. The most beautiful thing about wine is that there are so many of them to try!

Wine and Travels

Next month, July, I am traveling twice.  In 2 weeks I’m driving over the Sierra to sit for the CSW.  Wish me luck! I think I’m ready (a shout-out to the Bubbly Professor and her wonderful blog site) but I’ll still be going over my flashcards obsessively for the next 2 weeks.

 While there are many things about wine that intrigue me, one thing in particular that I’ve learned a lot about over the past few months is the role of sulfur.  On the one hand sulfur acts as a preservative for the wine.  It can be used to kill natural yeasts to prevent early fermentation.  As an additive it is very beneficial.  Making wine without using sulfur is very difficult.  However, there are times when the use of sulfur can cause faults in the wine.  The three sulfur faults are hydrogen sulfide which smells like rotten eggs, sulfur dioxide which smells like a burnt match, and mercaptan which smells like garlic and onions.  I wouldn’t want to drink any of those wines.

A paranoid schizophrenic, a histrionic personality, a pathological liar and a passive aggressive personality were sitting around a table.  I’m not setting up a joke.  I’m describing my second trip in July.  I’m flying to Ohio for a family reunion. Wish me luck! Families, like sulfur, can be very beneficial, offering support, encouragement, and love.  But like sulfur, they can also be destructive, dysfunctional, stressful and a little smelly.

I don’t have any particular wine in mind to go with my travels this summer.  But I am anticipating that the stress of both trips is going to require a whole lot of wine.

Numb, Dumb and Confirmed

methodist This year is my 12 year old daughter’s confirmation year. She has had confirmation classes all spring and next Sunday she will be confirmed. This morning on the way to class she told me that she didn’t want to go through the confirmation ritual. This is a girl who has been publically performing in dance recitals since she was 3. She’s involved in an improv group that does public performances. She’s done music recitals and performed with the school band. Either she is nervous about speaking in front of the congregation, or she is having second thoughts about committing to the Methodist church. Given her history, I have to think it is the latter.

When a white wine is over-chilled, it is said to be ‘numb.’ The temperature of the wine is such that the volatile compounds, the fruit and floral aromas of the wine can not longer be detected. All that’s left to experience is the acidity and the alcohol.

Full-bodied, complex red wines that need to age for several years before reaching maturity go through what is known as a ‘dumb phase.’ When the wine is first bottled, it’s fragrant with fruit. As it ages, the fruit aromas begin to fade, the tannins soften and the wine takes on a deep, rich complexity. But sometime during that process, the wine goes dumb. That in-between phase will be nothing but faded fruit, in a simple structure. Any similarity between this description and a real life teenager you may know is purely coincidental.

Confirmation is an important spiritual rite of passage. Though the ritual has to be scheduled, the spirituality of it really can’t be scheduled or insisted upon. Perhaps my outgoing performer is shutting down a bit as she matures. Or perhaps she just needs a little more time to warm up to the idea of confirmation. It may just be the numbing effect of nerves or it may be the maturing process of questioning her own spirituality. Next Sunday I’ll find out which one is confirmed; my daughter or my fears.