Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Wine Year in Review

It's that time of year to reflect on the year that will soon be in the history books. Not only that, it feels like a decade has just gone by, in the snap of a finger and a thumb, awfully quickly.

In an effort to recap, I'll review some of the top 10 moments (or situations) in wine that I have experienced this year:

1. Tasting a series of German Rieslings that were all over 50 years old, the oldest of which were from the vintage 1921. It was amazing to be in a room full of wine tasters, among them people whose names I had heard before but finally met for the first time - Bruce Sanderson, Bipin Desai, Claude Kolm, among others - and none of us were as old as many of the wines passing our lips. Wines made before either of the World Wars. Tasting through time. Tasting from the great estates, who are still making wine today, having passed their estates onto the next generations. Very amazing.

2. Tasting 1971 wines (my vintage) both on my birthday while I was in Germany, at JJ Prum - tasting a 1971 JJ Prum Goldkapsel, with the Prums, the Wiests, and my good friends and coworkers; and subsequently back in Los Angeles with my husband and friends, who brought a 1971 Cheval Blanc to open at a birthday dinner - outstanding. Thank you.

3. Taking part in hosting Rudipalooza with 6 German winemakers, driving them all over Los Angeles and Orange Counties, San Francisco, and even Napa. Crazy stuff. Overdid it. Overworked everyone. An exhausting 6 days with multiple tastings, wine dinners, one-on-one account visits. Completely amazing to work with Bert Selbach, Hanno Zilliken, Karina Stuhler, Jan Eymael, and Johannes Haart.

4. Bert Selbach giving me a bottle of 1998 Eiswein, personally, and Gunter Kunster giving me a bottle of his 08 Kirchenstuck dry Riesling. Wow!

5. Being in Germany while the Vancouver Olympics were going on, therefore not being able to go, but sporting the red Canada hoodie in support of team Canada, and sometimes even the red mitts. Watching some of the Olympic coverage on TV, especially the one night in this awesome small hotel in Fellbach where I got the best suite in the whole place - replete with living room, kitchen, and loft bedroom - I did not want to leave this hotel! Watching the Olympics late into the night then reading my novel - yes, that made me late for the next morning's meeting with Schnaitmann..... woops. Hate being late!

6. Working the Northern California market. This was a highlight of my working for Rudi Wiest this year. Being able to go up to Northern California once a month and share our wines with knowledgeable Bay Area wine lovers. Working in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Walnut Creek and the Napa Valley was a pleasure beyond compare. The entire spirit of this area is very attractive to me - people are pleasant, happy, healthy, knowledgeable and embrace the world of wine. My stint up there has ended, but I have come away with a great appreciation of this part of California.

7. Amazing dinner at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe. This was part of the weekend extravaganza that was the "50 Years and Older Riesling TBA Tasting" hosted by Rudi Wiest, featuring the wines from 1921 on up to 1959. This is one of the best dinners I have experienced, with wine pairs that were almost exclusively German - and dry German wines at that, with the most memorable being Pinot Noirs from Becker and Furst, and dry white wines from Rebholz and Salwey. I wish all naysayers of dry German wines could have been at that dinner because there would be no naysayers after that. Also very fun was socializing with Fritz Becker and Hansjorg Rebholz at that dinner, along with Bruce Sanderson and other fun people (who is not fun when belly is full of top-notch food and awesome wines?).

8. Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, which actually took place in Santa Ynez. This happens every year the weekend of Mother's Day in May - not on Mother's Day, but on the Saturday, the day before. A great many of us from our running club, AREC, headed up on this particular weekend to run a half marathon from Santa Ynez to Solvang, through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. One feels like someone doing the Tour de France - well, at least I did. The entire weekend was a cornucopia of friends, the countryside backdrop, local wines, cute restaurants, wine tasting, and relaxing. For me, there is nothing as soothing as visiting a wine region. This particular weekend in May had all the best. Oh, and I got to meet Peter Cargassachi on this trip too!

9. Champagne and caviar dinner at Petrossian. In July, I celebrated with my husband one of my best sales months to date. I offered to take us to Petrossian, the caviar place in West Hollywood. And with us we brought a delicious bottle of Champagne. That was awesome. Since that first time, we have gone again, the second time with an out-of-town friend, who also agreed it was a great way to enjoy life.

10. Surviving yet another year in the wine business. This year marks Year 5. I started officially Dec 13, 2005. 2010 was a fun, interesting and intense year, year 2 of working for German wine importer Rudi Wiest. It feels good that many of my customers are friends now, and they seem to like me. I look forward to what comes in 2011!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Amazing Multi-Course Dinner at Matt & Cheryl's House - w/German Riesling & an Italian mystery red

About a month ago, Johan and I accepted an invitation to a dinner in the home of Matt and Cheryl.

We met Matt and Cheryl just recently, when they invited us to their wine tasting group, where we tasted Bordeaux wines and Bordeaux-style wines from the new world. It was an interesting wine tasting group - all wines were tasted blind, but with food - food that was constantly pouring out of Matt's kitchen - exotic foods like veal meatballs, gravlax, roasted bone marrow, and various other rich meaty dishes that went so well with the wines... the food coming out of the kitchen was amazing and endless, it seemed, and Matt was chef orchestrating these delights.

Naturally, there was not so much spitting of wines being tasted, when tender morsels of inspired food were being eaten with the sips.

After this wine tasting, where we became acquainted with many members of this wine tasting group, we got a nice invitation to a private dinner, and so we went.

Little did we know it would be a multi-multi-multi course dinner that was utterly amazing! I didn't even get to take pictures of every course being served - there were so many - and the creativity of the dishes was beyond compare! Starting with a delicious chicken liver spread on crostini, then going to rice/bacon/egg/preserved vegetable dish that was intensely savory, then to two pasta dishes...

The above is just one of two pasta dishes serves - delicious thick homemade noodles in a rich meat sauce - might have been veal if I recall. The other pasta dish, which I didn't catch a picture of was the ear-shaped pasta with sausage and broccoli-rabe.

Above here is the pork shoulder roast with a cherry sauce, and a side of curried cabbage.

Below is a homemade custard with a fruit paste that I believe was passionfruit.

Not just one dessert but two - below is the chocolate covered pop-corn on a spicy homemade ice cream.

As someone who occasional hosts a dinner party - I am stressed to served an appetizer, a main, and a purchased dessert. Sometimes others will bring an appetizer, so I'll only be responsible for the main, with a starch and a vegetable. Sometimes I'll screw that up. But nevermind, I'm pretty okay with the main dish and I tend to serve decent wines, so I get away with it. But 8 course dinners? How does Matt pull it off? I just don't know how he does it!
For this dinner, we had 3 wines. Two are pictured above - we started with the 2001 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett which was delicate and pretty and a great wine to start with and pair with many of the dishes. Then we moved on to a surprise red wine from Italy - I did not guess it was from Italy by the way - a 2004 Bressan - I'm totally not familiar with this wine, but I enjoyed its earthy goodness. Finally we ended with a 2008 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Auslese, which was quite sweet, rich, balanced and enjoyable.
All in all, an amazing meal - and by amazing, I mean I could not have pulled it off myself, and don't know how Matt does it - but I imagine he can do it because he practises and cooks for others and enjoys it all. It certainly is inspiring to someone like myself, who struggles to put out one or two courses for guests!
I'll have to strive higher.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The holidays, from the wine distribution side

The holiday season, from the wine retail side, is one hectic long unending month of working from morning till night filling orders. One feels like one of Santa's elves. Everyone needs to shop and gifts need to sent out via UPS and they need to be picked up and packaged and everyone would like it all to be done today, yesterday if possible. So if you work in wine retail, and I imagine anything retail, the month of December means a great deal of time on your feet, a lot of problem solving for customers, and not a lot of time off.

On the wholesale distribution side, I'm finding it means a lot of conflicting things and trying to make two sides agree on things. It's being the middle man and finding a way to get things done in an expedient way. What I mean is that some of my customers are waiting for wine and wish they could get it yesterday, but I can't get it to them till next week, and that's a just a bit too late for comfort. Meanwhile, other customers would rather not take things that we have ready for them to take. It's a balancing act, and it isn't easy. There's a lot of urgency and pressure because of the holiday season. It would be nice if things were all flowing easily and quickly and I hope for it to do so, but so far, it is a test of juggling supply and demand and hoping that one meets the other. But I guess in economics and in life, it is rarely that. That which is in high supply is rarely in high demand, and vice versa. I suppose that's why some lament that people often want what they can't have, and don't want what they can. This seems particularly heightened during the so-called holiday season.

So here I am. I'll attempt another day of trying to balance supply and demand and get people to take the supply we have and wait for the supply we don't!

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's time for Christmas Beers

December is here, and it's time for Christmas beers, if you like gently spiced Belgian ales with that nice roundness in the mouth, richness on the palate, and a hint of Christmassy spice that makes you think you are in a jolly, dark pub somewhere in Europe, with the snow falling heavily outside, and you inside fortifying yourself with something as satisfying and appropriate as a glass of rich red wine.

On the eve of December (Nov 30), we headed out to our local Irish pub which features "pint night" every Tuesday, wherein a beer is chosen as a special, and you get to keep the glass. This night was dedicated to Delerium Noel, from the fine folks in Belgium who make Delerium Tremens (a golden ale) and Delerium Nocturnum (a dark brown ale). As we are fans of this brewery, and their glasses adorned with pink elephants, we looked forward to trying their Christmas ale.... and it was good! Not heavily spiced, just a hint of spice, but mostly a golden ale with a rich body, something that you feel good about drinking even when it is cold outside, not some summery beer that makes you feel cold when you don't want to be.

Another one we tried this week was the Christmas ale from Achouffe, which is another Belgian brewery whose beers are best recognized by the labels that sport the red-hatted gnomes. I believe the brewery is in the Ardenne forest somewhere, which separates the French-speaking part of Belgium from the Champagne region of France. This was also a rich, full-bodied golden ale with a gentle hint of spice, and maybe a refreshing citrus note as well. Also delicious.

As places adopt more specialty beers on their lists, it gets more fun to try these specialties, and I think it contributes much more to the holiday spirits than fighting at the malls for electronic toys and gadgets. Buy your gifts online, or shop on a Tuesday morning, avoid the crowds, and enjoy a Christmas ale this season.

Enjoy your Noel!