Champagne Floozy: [sham-PEYN FLOO-zee], noun: 1. A woman of the early days of Champagne, before her time, who decided it was ok for women to partake in the drinking of Champagne. 2. A lifelong foodie turned wine industry professional based in Durham, NC.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Champagne Floozy's Guide to Bordeaux: A Primer for the Rest of Us

     I'll come right out there and say it, I love Bordeaux. Its one of my favorite categories of wine, and few dining combinations delight me more than a nice Bordeaux and a couple of perfectly-seared lamb chops. I am fortunate in that my tutelage on the subject began in the summer of 2010, as the wine world was riding the euphoric wave of news from the 2009 vintage, and I first became employed at the Asheville Wine Market. Although I am no longer employed there, I cannot say enough wonderful things about Eb, the owner of that shop, who gave me my primary education on this subject, and who also prevented me from getting wrapped up in the often false mythology that surrounds Bordelais wines in the minds of many American consumers. I have been inspired to pen out this humble primer on the subject of Bordeaux for two reasons:

     1. I can not help but notice that, amongst many wine drinkers, there is widespread confusion and intimidation about the subject of Bordeaux. This seems to be true for both new wine consumers who are put off by what seems like mysterious labeling and confusion about what is actually in the bottle, as well as more seasoned wine lovers who are sick of the wine media's Bordeaux hype machine. The two primary misconceptions I hope to dispel in this writing are thus: A.) Bordeaux is just too damned expensive. and B.) Bordeaux is just too damned confusing.  

    2. I have also seen, time and time again, perfectly average consumers - which means, in this regard, no wine geekiness or big bank account required - come to love Bordeaux as much as I do, and integrate Bordeaux into their wine-lives in the same way that they have with Chianti, Malbec, and Vinho Verde. I firmly believe that Bordeaux can be a wine for everyday consumption, and that anyone who loves wine is capable of appreciating it.

   So, without further ado, I give you Champagne Floozy's Guide to the Red Wines of Bordeaux: The Casual Consumer Edition.

   For the purposes of this primer, please note that I am covering a.) only red wines, and b.) only wines that fall into a price category consistent with a casual consumer ($10 - $30 USD).

   First of all, if we are going to dispel some myths about Bordeaux, we need to consider the most basic facts of the region: Bordeaux is ENORMOUS. With 300,000 acres of vines and a yearly output of 61 million cases, it would be the world's 12th largest producer of wine if it were a country. Languedoc-Roussillon is the only region in France with a larger output, and that is only if we include Languedoc and Roussillon as a single region, which most wine educators no longer do. 55% of the region's wines are bottled under the very humble AOC designations of "Bordeaux" or "Bordeaux Superieur," while another 14% carries an only slightly less-humble labeling of "Cotes de Bordeaux" or "Cote de Bourg." What that means is that a total of 69% of the wines produced from this very large region do not carry a prestigious label, and are, in fact, generally quite affordable. This 69% figure does not even include other regions that are known for high quality and relative values to be found, such as Graves, the Medoc, and the satellite appellations around St. Emilion.

   Alright, all that being said, lets back up a minute: yeah, in a big region like this there is also plenty of plonk to go around. Just because something says Bordeaux does not mean it is automatically great wine. But within this ocean of wine, just like the oceans of wine made in Spain, South America, and California, there are more than plenty of great wines to be had. This, of course, is where quality importers and wine retailers become your best friend.

   So how do Bordeaux prices compare to other regions' wines? Although I was unable to find an online price aggregator for all the Bordeaux-Superieur labeled wines of any given vintage, from a combination of my personal experience as a retailer and from running searches on both Wine Spectator and, I can confidently say that the average entry-level bottling of Bordeaux, for the American consumer, is roughly the same as the average bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot carrying a Californian label designation of Paso Robles, Lodi, or Sonoma, and perhaps even slightly lower. What about pricing on the high-end? Even though that is not the focus of this article, it is worth noting that a Wine Spectator search of 90+ rated Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley from the 2009 vintage reveals an entry-level price of $48. The exact same search for Pauillac (one of Bordeaux's most prestige zones, home to Chateau Lafite-Rothschild) shows an entry-level price of $30, even for the prestigious 2009 vintage.

   So when we combine this information here is what we come up with: Bordeaux makes a whole lot of wine, and most of it is quite reasonably priced, especially when compared to wines made from similar grapes and of similar quality in California. 

   Now that we have put that misconception to bed, we can get on to the good part: What Bordeaux actually is, why it is deserving of the wine lover's attentions, and how the casual consumer can confidently purchase a bottle of the stuff. I have boiled the rest of this primer down to four simple sections, and my sincerest hope is that you, the reader, find it useful.

1. Relax. Its just wine. 

And contrary to popular misconception, its not the big, bold, tannic monster that requires patience in the cellar. At the price range we are discussing, the wines are surprisingly elegant and more medium-bodied, with dark berries dominating the fruit character, and other nuances that range from oaky to earthy to mineralic. The best examples are polished, incredibly food-friendly, and imminently drinkable, and most have a drinking window averaging from 3 to 7 years.
2. Its probably Merlot. And here's why that matters less than you might think.

One of the first things a student of wine learns is the five grape varieties grown and used in red Bordeaux. The grapes are usually listed in this order: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. (And yes, an acre or three of Carmenere, to preempt the wine nerd who would call me out lest I forgot the include it.) Although Cabernet Sauvignon gets top billing, namely due to its dominance in the blends of the top estates of the left bank, in terms of actual acres of vines, the earlier ripening, easier-to-grow Merlot blows every other grape away. Merlot is planted at almost 165,000 acres, while the 2nd most-planted, Cabernet Sauvignon, is not even a close second at 65,000 acres. Cabernet Franc has less than half of Sauvignon's acreage, and the latter two grapes are barely worth mentioning. In the price range that this article is discussing, the wines are generally (no, not always, of course) dominated by at least 60% Merlot, usually more.

But here's the thing, and its one of the reasons why a bottle of Bordeaux should be approached as a bottle of Bordeaux, and not a grape variety: The grape used in the blend matters far less than you might think. Now, I'm not going to be one of those esoteric wine nerds who says that grapes don't matter because soil and terroir trump everything. Thats silliness, and the grapes that are used to make a wine certainly have enormous effect on the finished wine. However, in the case of the Bordeaux varieties - Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, specifically - these grapes don't taste all that different from each other. Really. Most tasters, including exalted Master Sommeliers, can't tell the two apart in a blind tasting, and certainly not without difficulty. While the flavor profiles of these two grapes are closely paralleled, some people think that Merlot has a softer, rounder tannin profile. This is true in many, but not all, cases, and there are many 100% Merlots produced throughout the world that are "bigger" than an average Cabernet Sauvignon.

3. How to decipher a Bordeaux label: First consider the shelf.

I am not going to dismiss many average consumers' concerns that Bordeaux labels are confusing and intimidating. Sure, they certainly can be. Hell, there are 60 different Bordeaux Appellations, but learning them all is far from necessary for the casual consumers' enjoyment. And, if one approaches the Bordeaux label armed with the information found above in section two (Its Merlot!), things get a lot easier. Other factors to consider when looking at these labels:
  • "Chateau" is just a fancy word for winery. For some producers, their "Chateau" is just a garage.
  • Just like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, most Bordeaux regions that you will find on the labels in our price range have more in common than differences. Three different wines, all labeled regionally with Premiere Cotes-de-Blaye, Bordeaux Superieur, or Medoc, all priced at $20, will have a heck of a lot in common. This is not to say they will all taste the same, and I certainly don't intend to over-simplify here, but they will all fit a very general flavor profile, in the same way that a Merlot of Cabernet Sauvignon from California or Washington State or Chile will all have a lot in common. 
  • Vintage variation is over-hyped. This is true for every price range, but is especially true for wines that are intended for immediate, youthful consumption. For example, the 2011 vintage was panned by the wine press at the beginning of 2012, as were the 2001 and 2004 vintages a decade ago. However, the 2011 wines now reaching the market have taken much of the wine press aback in terms of a surprising overall quality, and the earlier vintages mentioned have stood the test of time and proven far better than originally deemed. 
  • The most important decision you will make, when facing a wall of bottles gilded with Chateau and confusing terminology, comes some moments before you are facing that wall: when you walked in the wine retailers' door. Your confusion can be overcome by trust in your retailer. A good retailer is going to weed out the junk and stock their shelves with the best wines they can find for the money they are charging. Also, a good retailer should have a friendly, competent staff on hand to help guide you through the selection process. If they don't, find a new retailer. There are even a number of grocery stores, such as Whole Foods and Wegman's, that have excellent wine departments staffed with knowledgable folks. Obviously, things get trickier if you are trying to buy Bordeaux at Publix or Food Lion, which I would generally not recommend. 
Clos du Pavillon Puisseguin-St-Emilion 2009. Delicious. 20 Bucks.
4. Introduce Bordeaux to the dinner table.

   I discussed in section #1 some misconceptions that I have encountered about the stylistic leanings of every-day priced Bordeaux. It is worth noting again that these wines are not big bruisers, and as such, as surprisingly food friendly. There are a number of different wine categories that I think are worth keeping in the larder as utility pairers - these include Rose, Riesling, Rioja, Chianti, Gruner Veltliner, and Austrian reds. Bordeaux is certainly a diverse dining companion as well, and worthy of being introduced into your rotation. While it certainly has the stuffing for lamb and beef, it also plays well with chicken, mushrooms, hard cheeses, burgers, and pork chops. (I have even been told that the Bordelais like to drink it - yes the red wine - with white fish from the Gironde river!) 

   And here we have reached the end of my Bordeaux Primer for the Casual Consumer. My goal has been to dispel any misconceptions that would prevent any lover of wine from exploring this noble category of delicious juice. This primer is also, obviously, intended for an entry-level consumer, though I hope that a more seasoned wine aficionado might have gotten some good stuff from it as well.

  Finally, I would be remiss if I did not say that Bordeaux is one of the world's greatest wine regions, and, fittingly, can be as complex or a simple as one desires. For anyone who develops a profound love for the wines of the region, there will always be more to study and learn - about producers, nuances between regions and soil types, to vintage variations. For those fortunate enough to be able to collect and cellar wine - of all price ranges! - Bordeaux is one of the most rewarding regions to explore. I do believe that Bordeaux can be, in fact, is a wine for everyone. 

Note: All facts and statistics regarding Bordeaux's size, acreage, output, etc. are sourced from the most recent edition of the Society of Wine Educator's CSW Study Guide, published at the end of 2013.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eyes on the Prize

Good morning St. Emilion.
     Three months in, and 2013 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for yours truly. My best intentions to attend to this little blog here have not materialized as often as I would hope, but in my defense, I've been a pretty busy girl. Well, I suppose I should rephrase that. I've been a busy woman. At the risk of sounding cliche, life really is getting better as I get older. I'm happier, more content with myself, and my goals have come into sharper focus. I have more self-discipline than I ever would have imagined, or desired, when I first moved to this little mountain town ten years ago.
     The most noteworthy achievement of 2013 so far is a complete reversal of my night-owl lifestyle. With few exceptions, I'm up and out of bed and walking the dogs at 6:15 in the morning, and asleep well before midnight. I doubt I'd even be considered a regular at my bar anymore. Believe it or not, I spend more money on coffee than beer. I don't blame you if you don't believe me, but I assure you, I drink very good coffee.
     After the dogs are walked and fed, they go back to sleep and I settle in at my big, rustic kitchen table, books and notes spread out, and, more often than not, my Siamese sleeping next to me on the wooden bench. For two hours I take down the minutia of wine regions: soil types, grape varietals, climactic factors, terminology, prominent producers, appellation regulations, historical events, and more. I generally work in a threefold manner for each region: First I take notes from the Society of Wine Educators CSW textbook. Then I move on to the corresponding pages of the hefty World Atlas of Wine and take even more notes. Finally, I pick up a specialized book (i.e. Vino Italiano or Julian Jeffs' The Wines of Spain) on the subject and drill even more mind-bogglingly complex information into my head. At some point, the sun comes up, and light begins to creep through the kitchen windows and into the living room. I've consumed almost an entire pot of coffee. It's time to shower and go to work, where I'll stare at the labels of wines I've spent the morning intellectually consuming, or better yet, pester the German with questions.
     I am studying to take the Certified Wine Educator exam at the end of July. The accreditation is offered by the Society of Wine Educators and boasts a meager pass rate of 12%. The exam consists of a written/theory portion involving 100 multiple choice questions as well as an essay, and a blind tasting both to identify classic wine styles as well as to identify faults and practical imbalances. After those portions are successfully passed, the CWE candidate must teach a 15 minute symposium to the Society on an approved theme (i.e. "New World Sparkling Wine," "Carbonic Maceration," or "The Wines of Sicily.")
     Last fall I successfully passed the Certified Specialist of Wine exam, which is the prerequisite for sitting the CWE. That was something I had been putting off for a few years, and I finally just decided I needed to put my money where my mouth was, so to speak. The day I received my lapel pin in the mail, I knew I had to take the next step. I want that next lapel pin quite possibly more than I've wanted anything else.
     But why? Remember what I said about my life getting better with age, about goals coming into sharper focus? Well, I finally know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to one day make money with my mind instead of my back. I want to teach, or write, and most likely both.
Champagne Floozy, C.S.W.
     After the sun comes up in the morning and I put my books and notes back on the bookshelf for another day, how much of that minutia sticks with me? Some, but not all, of course. But about 2/3 of the way down the Appenines, I realized what is happening. A broader view, a more complete depth of understanding is taking form. Rather than getting bogged down in arcane academia, I am, as a friend of mine astutely pointed out, creating the forest from the trees.
     I have to admit, it actually feels a little silly to write about this, to feel the marvel that I do. After all, isn't all that the whole damn point?

     Spring is starting to stir here in southern Appalachia. Daffodils in the snow are a common occurrence, and the weather forecast seems to change every ten minutes. This really is a magical place to live. A few of the trees have dared to start greening, and soon the gnarly old muscadine vines outside my kitchen window will enter budbreak. And the sun is going to continue rising earlier and earlier, although I think I'll stick with 6 am, at least for now.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 Year in Review

      I traveled to a foreign country, this year, for the first time in my whole life, and earned my CSW certification from the Society of Wine Educators. I wrote a whopping four blog posts! I learned how to strip wallpaper and I fell in love. It was a really good year. I made space in my home and my heart for two sweet and goofy beagles and an awesome partner. The cats adapted, and I learned to smoke outside. I'm better off for it.
     2012 has come and gone. I don't know which was more laughable: the threat of the Mayan Apocalypse or Mitt Romney. Either way, here we are: we survived another year on planet Earth. Today, January 3rd, is my ten year anniversary in Asheville, NC.
     As you can imagine, I've tasted quite a few delicious and astounding grape-based beverages over the past year. While there are plenty of truly great wines that I have been fortunate enough to experience, what follows is a smattering of those that have really stuck with me. Just for clarification, these are not necessarily the "best" wines I've come across, as much as those that seem to have truly resonated with me.

Cascina Vano Barbaresco Canova 2000
     2012 was the year I fell in love with Piemonte, Italy - both in spirit and in glass. While I had tasted plenty of wines from the region before, and certainly enjoyed them, this was the year that I actually "got" Piemonte. This Cascina Vano was one of the "a-ha" wines that cemented my feelings for the region. My colleague Dave Erickson brought the bottle to one of our wine group tastings, and it was just a stunner. I think that it also stuck with me because it was one of my first experiences with a properly aged wine from a region that is known for requiring patience. Needless to say, there are some Barbarescos and Barolos in my tiny winy celler now. My notes include: "honeyed, honeycomb, gorgeous!, plentiful raspberry, sweet and rounded."

Domaine Leroy Bourgogne 2004
     I am a modestly paid retailer without any kind of big showy cellar or rich friends. While I've been fortunate to taste a handful of things that are well out of my price range, its an uncommon occurrence. A really exciting, well-made, and complex $25 bottle from some weird pocket of France holds more allure to me than all the cult-y, expensive, Napa cabs you can think of. That being said, this wine made me understand why people who have money are willing to spend it for certain wines. This wine made me wish I was rich.
     While relatively inexpensive by top-echelon Burgundy standards (I think the original retail was something like $100/bottle), the Domaine Leroy Bourgogne 2004 was easily the best burgundy I have tasted. I hate to admit how I had the chance to do so: a customer of ours, who purchased it long ago and has stored it properly for years, returned it to the store, thinking there was something wrong with it. The boss happily bought his remaining bottles back, and of course, kept them for himself. But we got to taste the two that were returned uncorked.
     Without boring you with the details, this is declassified pinot noir from that hallowed region, the Vosne-Romaneé in Burgundy, and from a superstar producer. My tasting notes read: "Murky, dirty brown color. Unreal complexity. Still vibrant with fruit. Dusty red cherry, forest floor, mushrooms, brown spices. Can't wrap my mind around all of it. Finish that goes on for minutes. Holy Shit."

Champagne Alfred Gratien Brut 1990
My employer likes champagne as much as I do. One thing I like, no, love about my employer is that he likes to share wonderful things from his cellar with his employees from time to time. He brought this out at the end of the shift on the day before Thanksgiving, a day which requires more kick-ass and brute strength than non-retailers will ever know. While, certainly, there are better champagnes produced, this is the first I have had that was over two decades in age. In case you didn't know, or couldn't tell, I adore Champagne.

     Tasting notes: "Rich and absolutely bracing in the same breath. Attractive oxidative notes. Caramel. Dried figs, dried dates. Reminiscent of a dry Sercial Madeira with bubbles."

A Flight of 1995 Bordeaux: Chateau Rauzan-Segla Margaux, Chateau l'Eglise-Clinet Pomerol, Chateau Clerc-Milon Pauillac

     I have worked for my employer for two and a half years now, and our employee Christmas "party" (which is actually just a big, awesome dinner) has become the food and wine highlight of the year. This year we had a special menu prepared for us at Rezaz, which is arguably one of the best joints in Asheville. We started the meal with some great wines - a single-vineyard Riesling sparkler from Steininger in Austria, Champagne, Domaine Weinbach Schlossberg Riesling...
     And then the lamb course came. And then came a trio of 1995 Bordeaux from Margaux, Pomerol, and Pauillac. This was such an amazing treat for little 'ol me. While I was too busy enjoying a lovely meal with my colleagues to stop and take notes, this is my recollection: "The Rauzan-Segla had a lot of cedar, licorice, underbrush, and red fruit character, with a vibrant acidity. The Clerc-Milon came afterwards and was much bigger, more brooding and dark-fruited. The l'Eglise-Clinet at the end had the most gorgeous, round and velvety mouthfeel."

     Looking back on these wines, and at the dates on the bottles, I am reminded of a word that I have found myself using repeatedly this year: Context.

Context (Merriam-Webster):  1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning; 2: the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environment, setting 

     I am approaching a decade in the wine industry. I have seen friends and colleagues move about the varying tiers of retail, wholesale, and supplier. I have chosen to stick to the decidedly unglamourous retail side, for my own reasons. Working for the particular caliber of retailer as I do affords a certain education and a context that is virtually unavailable elsewhere, and that's where the 1990 Alfred Gratien comes in, as well as all those 95 Bordeauxs: Context.

     Its just one of those things. Like might get it, you might not.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Popping my Ruché Cherry; Part Two

     Last we spoke, I was about to pop open my first bottle of Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. We'll get to that in a moment, but allow me to digress, as I am wont to do.
     A year ago, the Il Gatto Ubriaco blog started in a somewhat fitful manner, before it fell by the wayside. Then, along came 2012, and with it, a healthy jolt of motivation and a re-visioning as Champagne Floozy. This year I've also had the good fortune to fall in love with an awesome man who happens to earn a living as a professional filmmaker and freelance videographer. When he suggested a video blog, well, I can't say I didn't jump.
    So today I introduce to you, dear reader, the first episode of the Champagne Floozy video blog.
    I want to extend an enormous thank you to this episode's guests, Dave and Ryan, colleagues for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration.  When I approached them about participating in a tasting panel, I knew they would enjoy the opportunity to taste something completely different, but I truly appreciate their willingness to submit to the prying eye of the camera. 
     I want to thank my wonderful fella, Troy, as well, for taking the time to direct, produce, film, edit, and perform all of the wizardry that good and interesting video work requires. I think he did an excellent job, and I am very excited about the future of this blog.
     Now, back to the Ruché...

     You can also watch the episode here on YouTube.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Popping my Ruché Cherry; Part One

     Every job has its annoyances.  I try not to complain too much. After all, I sell wine, which is pretty much an awesome thing that makes the world a better place. Shit, some people sell paper. Or tires. Or insurance.(shudders) There is, however, that one thing that makes every wine-lover-turned-retailer feel as though we are on a tireless crusade to right an egregious wrong: the idea that a single wine can be replicated ad infinitum, and that picking X bottle of Cabernet over Z bottle of Cabernet is like having a preference for Nikes versus Reeboks. At this point, I could run off into a preachy diatribe about small production, artisanal quality, and low yields, which is just the tip of the iceberg. But I will be succinct; it is the concept of branding.
     Americans, in particular, are very good at branding, and I would be a fool if I did not recognize and acknowledge that branding is a necessary and effective tool for every business, be it Gallo Wines or the Grocery Co-op down the street. Still, I am left scratching my head by the kind of consumer that says, well, if you don’t have Ferrari-Carrano Chardonnay, do you have their Fume Blanc? Don't get me wrong; there is a lot to love about working retail.  It is incredibly gratifying to introduce a delicious, affordable, artisanal wine to someone who is eager to soak up the knowledge and branch out, and fortunately, that is the kind of customer that we cultivate.
     One of the most astounding joys of wine is that of discovery.  Every day there is a new wine to be tasted, a new region to explore, a new vintage to assess, new producers and techniques and volumes of information to be learned, pondered, and hotly debated amongst ones’ peers. Even, or more accurately, especially the venerable Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers out there know that the subject is limitless.  It is not only a key factor to the fascination with wine, but also a strong indicator of the personality types that are drawn to it beyond the realm of casual consumption.
    In April I went overseas for the first time, as part of an industry group tour of the Chilean and Argentinian wineries represented by TGIC Importers, who took us on a whirlwind, wine-soaked extravaganza. It was a prize to their top sellers across the country, and most of the 19 professionals on the tour were representatives of large wholesalers, who had sold the qualifying amount over the course of a number of different accounts. There was only one other retailer, a buyer for a high-volume fine wine shop in California. Brian was a bona-fide wine geek, and as you might imagine, we were fast friends. His outright nerdiness for the subject matched my own, and the wholesalers were lost trying to follow conversations that often went something like this:

Brian Holowka, Certified Wine Geek

Brian: Name your favorite wine grapes no one knows about.

Me: Scheurebe. Arneis. Jacquere.

Brian: Ruché.

Me: Wait, what?

     We also had a number of conversations regarding the importers and hard to find European producers we have access to on our respective coasts, and commiserating about the treatment of wine as a brand (somewhat ironically, considering the good folks who footed the bill for the trip are very much in the wine-branding business). When we parted ways, we agreed to ship each other a mixed box of unique wines, which were most likely unavailable in each others’ markets.  The criteria for selection was small production, exceptional value (>$20/bottle) from quality driven producers.
   Which is pretty much my M.O. 
    So you can imagine my delight when this arrived, along with many other very cool wines in the wine-nerd box:

Brian: Ruche    Me: Wait, what?

     Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato was recently awarded DOCG status only in the last couple of years, after being awarded the more humble DOC status in 1987. From my research, which includes both internet, wine texts, and talking to knowledgable folks like the my friend Dave Erickson over at the Wine Mule, no one is really sure yet what Ruché is or where it comes from. It seems to have been growing in the Piemontese hills of Monferrato for quite some time now, perhaps generations, and while some people argue it is native, others argue it is some variation of a French import (I've heard grumblings of gamay).
     I'm completely stoked to open this bottle, as you can imagine. A totally new wine that I have never, in my close to a decade in the wine biz, had any experience with!  A new grape! A new DOCG! A new producer! Awesome! A new everything!
     Anew! Anew! Anew!

     I cannot help but hear that message. I cannot help but take that advice. Stay tuned.

     "Champagne Floozy: Popping my Ruché Cherry; Part Two" arrives next week.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

All of the Above

Baby, you so foxy.
There are grapevines growing outside my kitchen window. When I do the dishes, or stand at my stove and stir the marinara, there they are. Southern Appalachia is not suited to European wine grape varietals, so undoubtedly these are some cultivar of a muscadine. They were here at the beginning of last summer too, but a storm came along at some point and knocked the potential grapes off somewhere in between flowering and fruit set. I hope they make it this year, though I do have mixed feelings about them - grapes would be so aesthetically pleasing but the smell of scuppernongs is overwhelming to me, and not in a good way. (Please don't let them be scuppernongs.)

     Either way, summer is obviously here. We all have our favorite hot weather wines, and I am no exception. As a matter of fact, this season is perfectly suited for the wines I naturally gravitate towards - roses, high-acid whites, light bodied reds, and of course Champagne (or almost anything with bubbles, decidely un-chic Moscato d'Asti included). I start dreaming of rose somewhere around Winter Solstice, when the wines I'm pining for are most likely just starting to rest in bottle after fermentation, and the rest of the world is moving towards slumber and pot roasts.

     As much of a food nerd as I am, I still very much enjoy these kinds of wines without food. And, when summer comes calling in my seasonal, tourist-driven city, I need wine I can drink without food. After sweating and slinging cases of wine for 9+ hours, often times I just can't cook. And aside from that, I take entirely too much pleasure in cooking to force myself to do it. It's not work, and I won't let it be, goddammit. Sometimes take-out or cheap chinese delivery is fine. Food snobbery does me no favors.

     There are few things that give me more pleasure in this regard than an aperitif from Bordeaux called Lillet. This delicious concoction starts with red or white Bordeaux, and is then infused with a top-secret blend of macerated fruit liqueur, herbs, and quinine. It's got the tiniest bitter edge, and is wonderfully tonic after hard physical labor. It's my favorite porch wine, traditionally served on ice with a twist of lemon. If you've never had Lillet before, well, a warning: It's high in alcohol, close to 20%, and dangerously refreshing. If you are hot and tired, or god forbid both, it is entirely possible to consume a glass in the scope of about five minutes without even noticing. I don't even want to tell you how fast me and and one of my co-workers once consumed an entire bottle.

     Lillet has been made since the late 19th century, with it's current formula dating back to 1986, and as astonishing as it is to hear of a Bordelaise doing something untraditional, the folks over at Lillet recently did:

"Cats and together...."

      Ladies and gentleman, I give you Lillet Rose, fresh off the boat. When it first came in, my colleague Larry proclaimed, in his best Ghostbusters Bill Murray:  "Cats and dogs! Living together!"

     I, too, had to question what kooky parallel universe we had entered. Yet we are all fans of Lillet and each bought a bottle the same night. Somehow I managed to resist it's allure longer than them, but tonight I think I will crack it. Truth be told, I've learned not to open a bottle of Lillet on a school night, if you know what I mean.

     I like to drink Lillet on the porch in my GoVino glasses on ice, forget the twist, alone or with friends and preferably a cat at my feet. Honestly, for me, this beverage is about pleasure and relaxation. Proper tasting notes seem a little silly, but I will say, it tastes just like pink grapefruit for breakfast, the way my mom used to slice them in half and sprinkle the top with sugar. In true Lillet fashion, it makes you want to take another sip.

     Tonight I was sitting on my porch, alone, enjoying my utterly delicious Lillet and a cigarette when my neighbor Kenzie came out on to the porch.
     "Kenzie, come taste this!" I said. 
      She came over, tasted, and declared, "Oh my god, I had a wine spritzer the other day but I wasn't gonna say anything because I thought you'd look down on me."

      The last thing I want to do, ever, is look down on anyone for their tastes. If you want to drink scuppernong wine on ice cut with 7-up, I could give less of a fuck. I like what I like, and I think it is interesting enough and delicious enough to bother telling you about. For me, it is more important that we share our beverages and meals with the people we love and the people who inspire us on to those other human necessities: Conversation, compassion, creativity, the world of ideas.

     And have I mentioned that snobbery gets me nowhere? Yes. Yes, I think I did.

     Let's be honest. People like to say they drink red wine for their cholesterol, or only drink wine with food. Sometimes, though, we like it white and cold and for no other reason than the fact that it helps us relax after work, or stimulates conversation, or inclines us onto to other very human, physical pleasures. I see nothing wrong with any of that. Personally, I want all of the above. I work too goddamned hard for anything less.