Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wine Epiphany

The comforts of your own home could never stand more true when the cork is pulled from great wine. What defines a great wine? Sense of place, taste, smell, finish, balance? These are all pertinent contributing factors; but essentially, to me, a wine is great when the overall finale is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy applies in this case. So a tale of synergy unfolds...

My minister, Father James—weird as religion sounds, seeping into my blog post—visited last week to bless my home for Epiphany. The first time I have ever done something so "homey-conservative-like." With all I had been through this past year, from having a baby as a single mom in the restaurant industry to changing my career path, I wanted to bless my house. Hope for new beginnings. Dream for better tomorrows. Aspire to weave my wraiths come true.

So, I went down to my fledgling cellar to gently pull out a 1999 Rinaldi Barolo and a 2005 Claude Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin. My roommate, and best friend, diligently worked over our marinated flank steak and 2 day-in-the-making red wine demi-glace, while I carefully decanted my hopes for the new year. After whipping the sour cream mashed potatoes, drizzling the demi-glace jus, and spooning out a squash-panko casserole spiked with a bit of Midnight Moon Gouda cheese, I poured the wines.

Explosive. Surreal. Contemplative. Bold. Meaty. Much to discuss.

2005 Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin unraveled slowly, bit young of course, but every inch masculine, brawny with foresty treasures, mushrooms, meat, horsey hide sprinkled with dark fruits. Specatacular acidity, my faith in God's good work confounding. Shy I was around the minister sipping vino, but the monks started all this magnificent craft! Where would wine be today without religion?

My hopes for the promising New Year were sealed with the 1999 Rinaldi Barolo. Pure finesse, perfumes of intoxicating rose petals, delicate but penetrating. Dried fruits abound, baked earth lined with smooth tannins. True bliss for sure. The exorcism could now begin. Out with the old, in with the new.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2005

2005 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc Grand Cru Classe de Graves, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France $90-$130
Tucked away from tourists, on a more humble farm-like setting, Domaine de Chevalier remains a youth in comparison to its neighboring wine estates within Pessac-Leognan. Much controversy surrounds this diamond in the rough, discension stems from quality critiques. After tasting, I must confess this barrel-fermented, small production white delivers substance and finesse.

Just north of this clearing within a pine forest rests the origin and heart of Bordeaux itself. Over 700 years ago, monks tended to fledgling vineyards in what is now the clustered suburbs of Bordeaux. The city itself cloaks the renowned estates of Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, La Tour Haut-Brion, and Laville Haut-Brion. Pope Clement of Avignon planted what is now Chateau Pape Clement in the 1300s, a commune just west of the previously mentioned Chateaux. But Chateau Haut-Brion established the fine red wine precedent for the world in the 1660s.

Unlike most grand estates of Bordeaux, Domaine de Chevalier has only had three owners since its founding in the late 1700s by Monsieur Chibaley--the Gascon meaning of knight. Unfortunately, viticulture fell into disarray due to the agricultural and livestock focus, but regained ground after 1865 upon the Ricard family takeover. Fabulous vintages mark the mid 20th century, and maybe the best are yet to come. Olivier Bernard, one of France's largest distillers, purchased the estate in 1983. Olivier Bernard, without a doubt, harbors the deepest respect for terroir and committment to balance. He preserves the tradition and style of Domaine de Chevalier, delivering wines of distinctive style and personality, a cord of identity linking the past thirty vintages.

The 2005 white consists of 85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Semillon. Pure, aromatic nose giving way to floral background and notes of lanolin, honeycomb, beeswax. The palate continues expression of purity and floral aromatics, but gives way to creamy texture, wine with depth and soul. Pristine fruit swells mid-palate; hint of grapefruit, leaf, pear syrup and quince blossoms. Stunning acidity pierces the mouth, washes palate with refreshing rinse, tinged with orange zest. Lingering finish, smooth, balanced, persistent.

Now only, what to drink with this formidable, and most of all, unique beauty?

Big John's Cajun Rub—FREAK OUT!

Beehive Cheese Co. Promontory Big John's Cajun + Green Flash Brewing Co. Le Freak Ale
Can we start with the tune, AHHHH FREAK OUT! the quintessential disco tune rapping in your head. Drum roll please! roll out the crackers, cut the cheese, uncap the beer, POUR, sip, nuzzle into your couch, or wherever you lounge for comfort, and pop that cheese into your mouth....AHHHH FREAK OUT!

I must name this zany pair, for oh so many reasons. Beehive Cheese Company from Utah claimed its fame with its promontory cheese, Big John's Cajun Rub, 2nd place winner at the 2008 American Cheese Society Annual Competition. Folks, this cow's milk cheese is not the product of your everyday grazing Jersey cow. Rather, these plump biddies range on 350 acres near the salt marshes, mud flats, and ponds of the mineral-loaded Great Salt Lake. Their alfalfa fodder just so happens to be fertilized by migrating birds who just nutritiously dined in these mineral-laden waters. Could this cheese be superstitiously tied to the healing powers of minerals--delivered straight from the bovine?

Better yet, cheddar lovers beware, channel the spices of this cheese to a milder, sweeter tone by adding the slurpy call: Belgian-style IPA from Green Flash Brewing Co. San Diego, LE FREAK--where American Imperial IPA meets Belgian Trippel. Between the cheese and the citrus back-tune of the beer, aromatics explode, basically giving way to a party in your mouth. Definitely want to be in the mood for rich, because these two culprits don't take the backseat to anything. nOOO, they FREAK OUT.

A Tribute--Audrey Elyse, A Bio of Me


I discovered the wonders of wine – oddly, or perhaps not so oddly - as a biochemistry student in Virginia’s wine country.  I come from a family of PhDs, and for most of my undergraduate career at the University of Virginia (UVA), I thought that I too would be defending theses for much of my adult life.  To my surprise, my studies took on a dramatically different path, as did my life. 

At some point toward the end of my stint at UVA, I stumbled upon a tiny wine shop near the downtown mall in Charlottesville, Market Street Cellars. I picked up my first fresh baguette, artisan brew, a couple bottles of Penfolds (ha!), headed home for the night to plan a party, and fathom over my first encounter with wine in my new adult world. Of course, my roommate from Ecuador quickly deflated my excitement by pointing out that Penfold’s Bin whatever could be purchased at any old grocery store. The sigh of disappointment leaked from my balloon of enthusiasm, but not to fear, I realized my new quest: educate myself about anything and everything vino.

My best friend, Doo-Hyun, better known as Dooshady, happened to have a French girlfriend who was an amazing cook, not to mention Audrey Hepburn’s identical sister. We set up shop in the world’s smallest kitchen and prepped my shabby chic living quarters for a night of culinary delight, copious alcohol—albeit refined tastes for college fare—and all the additional imaginings of laid back illicit activities. A colorful group of students representing almost every continent descended upon my humble abode to enjoy the experimental dishes doled out by the self-discovered foodie duo.  I enjoyed preparing global grub from the latest issues of Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and Gourmet magazines, but my true passion lay in meticulously choosing the perfect wine for each culinary delight, or better yet, tasting it!  This collegiate wine/foodie obsession of passing a simple pleasure unto others marked the beginning of my unending love affair with wine. Little did I know a decade would pass before my experiences would yield to the science of baking and I could draw from a basis of food and wine repertoire without having to incessantly Google. Assembling kitchen spontaneity with no recipe card in sight proves most self-satisfying.

Shortly after graduating, I pursued my passion and began my post-graduate career as a wine consultant with Country Vintner, an Virginia-based wine importer.  In this position, I designed programs and led client training on critical subjects such as wine education, proper serving etiquette, and wine pairing. I sold wine of course, in small amounts—always the underdog with the gigantic feat of building a client base in a market saturated with desperate wine sales people. I wanted more though, and I started considering the restaurant side of wine, time to get out of sales, and truly learn the art of wine paired with culinary endeavors.

After three years of experience with well-respected players in the DC metropolitan region, including Georgetown Wine and Spirits, Keswick Hall, and Kluge Estate and Winery, I joined the Kimpton Hotel management team in summer 2007 to launch Rosslyn’s first global wine and gourmet store, Domasoteca.  Featuring over 450 bottles of wines I personally selected, Domasoteca provided a distinct wine experience with a special emphasis on Italian wines.  In this position, I soon acquired Cowgirl Creamery, Tomales Bay Distributing, and a range of chocolatiers to add artisanal cheeses and chocolates to my wine world.  Working for such an artsy hotel chain, I quickly discovered my knack for creating imaginative wine events that excluded nothing. I matched wine to Aboriginal art, swirled the best vino at marshmallow-making demos, and wowed peeps with hands-on chevre making classes, chef demos, book releases, and progressive wine dinners paired to music. The project proved disastrous on so many conceptual and financial levels, and the economy spiraled to a halt with the housing market crash. But, I was able to mentor under a magnificent wine aficionado and educator, Lisa Airey, who now directs the educational programs for the French Wine Academy.

Overall, my experiences were finally taking shape—leading to a fledgling wine philosophy I could call my own. I teach simplicity, defined flavor, and Passion; yes, with a capital P. As a young, curious, and approachable woman, I represent the antithesis of the traditional wine expert and I want to expose people of all drinking levels to the profound intensity wine brings to life itself.

Currently, I am a certified Sommelier accredited through the Italian Association of Sommeliers. I hold an Advanced Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and a French Wine Scholar certification from the French Wine Academy. I am pursuing my MW in the hopes to consult and write in the fine wine industry. Ultimately, I want to imagine again and live for passion and tastes. Dream the passion. Live the dream.

Who knows when life will throw you a curveball? Good food, better wine rescinds the drastic blows, evens the playing field, and sustains true craft. I had to make a life-changing decision to leave a promising Sommelier career when I discovered I was pregnant. My beautiful daughter inspires me daily to pursue my dreams. I want her to know good wine, great wine, and legendary wine. Audrey Elyse is a beauty, and to her I will drink. I write this blog for her, in hopes to share my Tales as a Sommelier, record my most memorable experiences, and seek the good life. I want her to see her mother smile. Eat. Pray. Love—as it goes.

The attributes of a signature wine entail a sense of place, monumental flavor, intoxicating bouquet, ever-changing finish, and the epitome of balance. I strive to walk that line, search for mother nature’s perfect balance, write a masterpiece with my life. Maybe I will have to settle for average in the end, but at least I strive to write the masterpiece of my so called life.

Prost! To Audrey with Love