Requisite New Year’s Resolution Post

These are my Wine Resolutions for 2018, ones I actually expect to keep. 

So, every year I make a list and the list has two categories- resolutions I want to keep and resolutions I actually expect to keep. In the first category you have things like “go to the gym 4x/week”; “drink less wine”; “de-clutter the closet”; “learn to salsa”… On the other hand, you have resolutions you’re actually interested in putting in the work for: “read 100 books; post at least one blog entry/week”; “spend more time with my dogs”; “don’t wear PJ pants outside of the house” … see the difference?

I’m not going to bore everyone with my personal life here (although it’s seriously fascinating and you’d probably love it… well, maybe not, it’s hard to tell; however it’s not at all the point of Somm Bitch).  But, in terms of things I think people would like to hear about, here we go. These are my Wine Resolutions for 2018, ones I actually expect to keep.

In 2018 I will:

  1. Explore more. Look, part of my SommBitch personality may mean that I’m a little bit of a bitch about wine. Historically, I suppose, I know what I like and I’m drinking within those parameters. However, that’s somewhat limiting- I want to drink just about anything- I mean wines from Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria… occasionally sweet wines; top New Zealand Sauv Blancs and Pinot Noirs; dessert wines… If it’s out there and it’s interesting, I’m going to endeavor to not only drink it, but to evaluate as objectively as possible- (yes, I know this means it could be the year of Riesling for me, please don’t mock or hate, this is a serious endeavor that I’m not genuinely expecting to love- just to come to a better understanding).
  2. Keep up with this blog at least once a week. I know a lot of people probably wonder why that’s at all difficult to do- I mean, you drink the wine, you write about the wine, what’s sou tough? Well, to make this blog actually interesting and provide the right amount of education, snark and useful information- that isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Obviously I sample wines regularly and rate on social media (oh, hey, follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for mini reviews but all the snark,  pretty, pretty please!) But the work for one blog post is actually a lot of planning and hours in the making- and since this is my very NON-cash generating business, I have to fit it in with my day job, my family, my performing and my political activism… not to mention all the studying it takes to become a true Somm!
  3. Stop using a bottle of wine to try and cope with the way the world is outside. Look, 2017 was not a great one for some of us in America, and it was a lot of nights after spending the day reading the news and watching documentaries, reading books… there were too many nights I came home, angry or heartbroken about what is going on around me. I would open a bottle and take to angry tweeting on Twitter at politicians, trolls, commentators… and you know what? It didn’t usually change anyone’s mind, it frequently only made me more angry, and it was expensive as hell! (Note, never agree to a Trump speech drinking game- if you drink every time he says “I did…” or “Crooked Hilary” or “yuge”, you will end up with alcohol poisoning. Do not do it.) So, this year, I’m going to try to turn the noise off more, to drink for pleasure or education, not out of a growing sense of despair over this ridiculous hellscape.
  4. Stop worrying quite so much about cost. Seriously, I make almost 2x what I did when I first started to drink, about 8 years ago, but I need to stop making my default $12 and under, maybe start to splurge to the occasional $15-20 bottle? Don’t get me wrong, especially in places like Spain, Portugal, South America, South Africa, these price points aren’t even remotely difficult to find incredible bottles within. I’ve spent my entire life looking for the bargain bottles (and honestly will always be too thrifty to entirely move on from this mentality), but I will begin to treat myself a bit more often with the occasional truly special bottle of wine. In fact, and I know how 1st World Problem this is, I even resolve to–
  5. 6 times this year I will buy a bottle worth more than $40. Seriously, as a wine pro, the shade I get over my obsessive hunt for everyday, super-affordable wines, bargain wines. I use WTSO and Last Bottle for most of my best bottles at affordable prices, so I’m drinking damn good wine, but every once in a while, if I’m to truly get down deep into Barolo, Bordeaux, Champagne, California Cabs, etc, well, I’m going to need to open the pocket book a little wider.
  6. Complete my Level 3 WSET, my Cicerone Beer Server certification and hopefully be at least signed up for the first DipWSET course (you have to start with a specific one that’s only offered two times/year, so I’m mot sure that’s going to be possible to finish in 2018).

So that’s it- I’ll drink more from interesting places, crazy styles and occasionally splurge on myself. I’ll continue my education through WSET, Cicerone and personal study. And, I’ll keep you all updated on these as I go!

Happy New Year to everyone of you- let’s do this 2018!

Champagne Dreams and Birthday Wishes

Two Cork Dorks, 4 domestic Sparklings and a blind tasting as we search for the answer to what to drink and how to be as insufferable in the debate as possible…

Sometimes I wonder what normal people do with their best friends for their birthdays. This last weekend was my annual birthday trip to Philadelphia to spend two days with my Bestie- the real bitch (oh, and real Somm) behind this Somm Bitch. We’ve been friends since we were five and the fact that we have both somewhat randomly found this amazingly complex world of true cork-dorkiness (he majored in Economics in college, I was raised Mormon and majored in theater, then Marketing) is just another testament to the concept of platonic soulmates. His birthday also happens to be the day after mine, so we always get together for a weekend to do something fairly epic, but classic us.

Friday afternoon I embarked on my three hour journey to South Philly- my always messy Mini gassed up and raring to go, Season Three of my current podcast obsession (My Dad Wrote A Porno- seriously, go, listen. It’s good) plugged into the aux cable and plenty of seltzer water to get me up 95. An hour from Philly I texted Bestie to say, “An hour out, it’s birthday weekend so I expect to be greeted with a glass!”

As usual, he did not disappoint- in the door just as he’s cleaning up the smashed flute he dropped on the floor at my arrival (don’t worry, t was empty, no champagne was wasted or harmed). Cut to a bottle of 2005 vintage champagne! Michel Jacquot – grower (RM) Champs from Aube subregion- things Bestie (he’s definitely the more educated and dorkier of the two of us in all things wine) felt were really important I knew.

Spoiler: it was delicious. He did explain to me Jancis Robinson’s take on the 2005 vintage, a vintage she called mostly lackluster due to variable conditions that year, but amazing weather leading right up to harvest ensured ripeness but kept acidity on the lower side. My take? Wow, heavy on yeast- but I really enjoy that about a good champagne, the scent of rising sourdough almost a little too much to get anything else at first… and then, wow. I got flavors of lemon curd, caramel apples (green Granny Smiths at that), and a tiny bit of hazelnut. Bestie got the caramel apple, but kept going to a pastry dough- leaving us NO choice but to keep sampling until we had both seen each other’s points. Thank God we were heading to a MORE than substantial dinner then.2005 vintage

So, Saturday at 10:30 finds us ready to get serious- we’re both working on our blind tasting skills, but set up an admittedly weird challenge for us to test ourselves. Four bottles of domestic sparkling, all Methode Champenoise, all in the $20-30 range. Ok, four champagnes- we can do this, right? We wrap them up in the cool velvet bags so you can’t see anything about them and just as I think we’re ready to get started, he decides we need to “benchmark” with the ultimate- some Tattinger will remind us of the ideal we’re looking for.

Tattinger, Nectar of the Gods. Even non-vintage, it’s some of the best champagne I’ve ever put in my mouth. Again, it’s a bit heavy on the yeast- that’s all you can smell in the minute after you open the bottle. And then, those aromas mellow just a bit and you can start to get the notes of lemon zest, cream, honeysuckle, toasted hazelnut- some unbaked apple pie… pure heaven in a glass.

So now we move on. Now, let’s be very clear, this is a strange kind of blind tasting we’re doing- we’re trying to see if based on look, flavor, nose, etc. we can figure out WHICH bottle is which- from which region/producer does this come? The four sparklings:

  • Argyle Brut Willamette Valley, NV ($25.99)
  • Roederer Estate Brut NV ($26.99)
  • Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut MV ($27.99)
  • Tattinger Domaine Carneros 2013 ($28.99)

I suggested we taste and make comments BEFORE reading what the wasreviewers said of each one- try to form our own opinion first, THEN see how to apply it.

Bottle 1,  Roederer Estate Brut NV was delightful. It was a bit pale for me to think it was the Vintage, but the notes were dried fruit (there was SO much back and forth as to WHAT that fruit was, I think we settled on mango), bread like what you’d make with a batter- some kind of light baking spice and no yeast. It wasn’t particularly mineral (no sensation of licking chalk or limestone) but was definitely elegant and had more than a little complexity. It was also well-balanced with a long finish. We originally thought “This is the multi-vintage (where they mix in small amounts of the best vintages with the lesser vintages for a real layering effect)… until we tried #4, then it became pretty obvious.

Bottle #2, the Tattinger Domaine Carneros, stopped me in my tracks- it was just so light, I had to make sure he hadn’t tricked me and slipped a Prosecco in there. It was exceptionally light, ALMOST more frothy than bubbly, it had a strong nose of blossom, lemon curd, Bosc pear… but also a relatively light taste. This one was nothing if not ethereal- it seemed to live in the upper registers of our sinuses, it felt like it was floating- like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when they’re just ingesting bubbles and floating on them. I could almost taste the flavor evaporating on my tongue as it soared to the top of my mouth. Obviously, given the flavor, nose and pale straw color, it’s NON vintage.

Bottle #3, Argyle from Willamette, OR was a different beast entirely. This one reminded me of true, legit, straight-up  Champagne. It wasn’t dead on necessarily, but the nose had briney qualities; not exactly a day at the beach, but serious maritime/sucking down pots of oysters type memories were evoked. There was some sourdough bread rising both on the palate and the nose, some toasty, nuttiness (I’m going with Hazelnut) while still having plenty of baked red apple and baking spice. I started to wonder if there was some anise, but that felt like a fairly pretentious bridge too far. Then, at the very end, it reminded me of the smell of the wet limestone on my parent’s patio after a severe summer storm… it all came together in a visceral and compelling way. Given the flavor, the legs, the color, etc- I was pretty positive this was from Oregon (Argyle).

Bottle #4, Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut MV was pretty Champagne-esque… but didn’t check the right boxes for me. It lacked any kind of yeast/nut flavor-  There was stone fruit, some pronounced minerality, delicate Meyer Lemon.. it was gorgeous- Champagne-adjacent I would say.  While I very much enjoyed sipping (and eventually, to be honest, guzzling), it still didn’t evoke feelings of Versailles, of velvet, of oysters nor caviar. It didn’t make me want to revolt or put on a beret… it was just good- not perfection.



Actually Frequently Asked Questions for Holiday Shopping

The good news is that for every gift giving crisis, there is a solution (and yeah, chemically speaking, alcohol is a solution- and no, I won’t apologize for the pun). Every holiday season I make sure to spend at least a week in a store selling wine, beer and spirits to the huddled masses- it helps me to keep a finger on the pulse of the consumer and the typical problems they are facing- and this has helped me to create my list of questions I have been frequently asked and honest suggestions to solve them. 

Oh, the Holidays… for so many it’s a season of peace on Earth and good will towards man… and a never-ending hellscape of gift giving, receiving, shopping and endless attempts of trying to remember whether your boss likes red or white (false, turns out he only drinks gin). This isn’t even taking into your realization that it’s not longer “enough” for your child to take cookies to her preschool teacher, that’s apparently soooo 1998. Oh, and your neighbor who got your mail for you that long weekend you were away at a wedding? Apparently she’s expecting a little Christmas Cheer as well.

The good news is that for every gift giving crisis, there is a solution (and yeah, chemically speaking, alcohol is a solution- and no, I won’t apologize for the pun). Every holiday season I make sure to spend at least a week in a store selling wine, beer and spirits to the huddled masses- it helps me to keep a finger on the pulse of the consumer and the typical problems they are facing- and this has helped me to create my list of questions I have been frequently asked and honest suggestions to solve them.

Q: I need a gift for my (insert acquaintance-level here)- I don’t know if they drink red or white. What should I buy them?

A: How much are you willing to spend? For a neighbor, a colleague, a Secret Santa, etc- I’d keep it $12-18 dollars- just enough to know you thought about them, but clearly you’re not about to drop a ton on someone who you don’t even know well enough to really know what they like to drink. I’d stick to major varietals- the harsh reality is that even if they don’t like Chardonnay, they probably interact regularly with people who do that it won’t go to waste. If you swing really far, buying a NZ Sauvignon Blanc, there’s a good chance the person not only doesn’t really care for Sauv Blanc, but a super grassy New Zealand style is possibly a bridge way too far. I say stick to Cabernet (I like Sextant, Cruz Alta from Chile), Chardonnay (Angeline, Muirwood, or if you can find a great White Burgundy in your price range you’re all set); or anything Sparkling (I’m going to suggest a nice Cremant from France- all the elegance of Champagne but at a fraction of the price).

Remember, this is genuinely a time when it’s the thought that counts- having been thoughtful enough to think of getting them a gift at all is what really matters here.

Q: I want to buy wine for my (friend/daughter-in-law/friend/boss) and I don’t really know what they like to drink… but I know they like history/shoes/frogs/Spain…

A: Oh wow. This is probably one of the questions I legit get at least 12 times/day. I have a few thoughts: 1) Ok, Susan loves Frogs… so why are you buying her wine? Why not a great book about frogs, or maybe a gift certificate to a local aquarium? Trust me, I’m never one to talk you out of giving the wonder, beautiful, transcendent gifts of wine- but it’s not always the answer.  So if you really don’t have anything better to go off, than a love of frogs or history, maybe rethink it? 2) HOWEVER, if you’re determined- maybe you know that they absolutely adore wine and amphibious species, well, then maybe we’re cooking with gas.

So first step- think about the wine they love first- a love of frogs doesn’t mean buy Frog’s Leap Chardonnay if they only drink red. If they happen to love frogs and red wine, focus first on the red wine, let the love of frogs be secondary- trust me on this one. However, maybe find a wine that’s a price you can afford with a cute bottle stopper with a frog on top, or maybe you can find a gift bag with frogs on it- you’re so thoughtful and amazing for remembering not just one love but two!

Q: What should I buy for my boss for Christmas?

A: If you don’t know what he drinks, but know that he does drink-show you can find a superior product, but don’t be afraid for him to know you can find a bargain. Skip the Bordeaux, the Napa Cab, the $50 Champagne (you definitely don’t want him to think that he pays you too comfortably/well). But, don’t compromise on quality- this is where to show that you’re a forward thinker, creative, maybe out-of-the-box. Spain is an amazing place to look- I especially recommend something elegant and Bordeaux-like, maybe a Priorat? A Russian River Valley Pinot Noir or Chardonnay are also incredible best buys that just might indicate to him you have an eye on highest results, without losing sight of the bottom line. If that doesn’t scream promotion, I don’t know what will.

Q: I’m going to a party and want something crowd-pleasing, but I want the hostess to know it wasn’t a cheap gas station pick- what should I take?

A: When in doubt, go sparkling. For $8-16 you can buy out of this world Cava and Proseccos, even maybe some domestic or New World sparklings (Gruet from New Mexico comes to mind). Sparkling goes with everything- so if you don’t know what the food situation is going to be, if you don’t know what the crowd wants to drink- who doesn’t love to sip on a good bubbly while chatting it up with total strangers? If it’s a nicer party, instead of that $30 Napa Cab or maybe a Chablis you were thinking of, you can get an outstanding Cremant from anywhere in France that isn’t Champagne (again, my buddy Louis Bouillot is the best go to I can think of) or maybe you can find a good bargain on Argyle or Schramsberg domestic… even possibly true champagnes like Chateau Montaudon. These are bottles that will be completely drained within 30 minutes of your arrival, almost guaranteed (if the hostess doesn’t squirrel them away somewhere for personal consumption when she no longer has to share- I’d be lying if I said I had never done that before).

So there we are- some of my most frequently answered questions from this holiday season. Unfortunately, after ten hour days spent on my feet, climbing up and down ladders, hauling cases of wine on my shoulders and interacting with the lovely people of Florida- I’m exhausted. (And yes, I know it’s only 8:22 pm, but seriously, you try it, see how late you stay up). So I’m going to go and finish one more glass of my delightful Grao Vasco red wine from Portugal and curl up with a good book… of wine study materials because I still have three days of this madness to go and today I completely blanked on how to talk about Barbera and Dolcetto… so it’s back to the books, I suppose true greatness never stops, eh?

Tricky Holiday Scenarios and Their Pairings

Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, more pies than the people around the table can possibly eat in one meal (but isn’t it delightful to try?)

Thanksgiving is, after Halloween, my favorite holiday of the year. I have amazing memories of my giant family (8 siblings) gathered around the table, eating green bean casserole, Boston Brown bread- baked inside aluminum cans, and spending the day playing board games, watching movies and our family Turkey Bowl. (Note: If the opposing team forms a line in front of the End Zone to block your touchdown, there is NOTHING in the rules to keep the team from handing off the football to a particularly light and perky (not to mention overly adventurous red head girl who knows NOTHING about football) and launching her over the defensive wall, into the End Zone. It’s surprising to me that this strategy isn’t more widely used.)

Thanksgiving for everyone across the country is a day of family, whether it’s the family you were born to or the one you chose for yourself, it’s a day of love and happiness and gluttony unlike any other in the US.

Of course, with family comes conflict- it’s inevitable. But never fear, I have compiled a list of possible holiday scenarios and ways to cope. (Responsible Adult Note: I’m not saying drinking is the only way to survive a big holiday meal, but in my experience it seriously helps. Also, call an Uber, don’t drive.)

Scenario 1: Everyone in your family (besides you) attended a specific university (I’m not saying BYU- Go Cougars?) The football team somehow made it to a Thanksgiving day game and they’re getting the crap kicked out of them. This game is in overtime which means dinner is being pushed back by five “football minutes” (very different from real-time minutes). The turkey is drying out, the cranberry relish is warming, the gravy is forming a skin on top… oh, and you haven’t eaten in three days to prep your appetite. You’re hungry, they’re cranky and the pies smell amazing.

Pairing: You don’t know how long you’re going to need to drink, so keep it LOW alcohol, low in intensity. This is DEFINITELY the job for a beer (not a heavy craft brew) or maybe a Moscato d’Asti (around 5-6%) or an Alsatian Riesling at about 8%. Make sure it’s light and refreshing and keeping your palate clean enough to sneak tastes between now and the time dinner actually starts.

Scenario 2: Cousin Gary brought his new boyfriend- no one knew he was looking for a BOYfriend- his mom, Aunt Carol, included.

Pairing: So here’s the thing, THIS could be the gift that keeps on giving- the snark, the passive-aggressive comments, the “subtle” bible verses… This is a long game, a marathon, NOT a sprint- Aunt Carol can actually be pretty funny when in passive-aggressive mode. HOWEVER, on the flip side, a lot of what’s going to be said is possibly offensive to you, so being too drunk just isn’t going to work if you’re going to keep your mouth mostly shut. I’d suggest a light-bodied red, maybe a Cru Beaujolais (NOT Nouveau- just spike Welch’s with vodka at that point) or a Pinot Noir from France. You’ll be able to drink it all night, it won’t have too much alcohol for you, but they have the structure and “guzzle factor” that means you’ll feel a bit of a buzz as you hear Carol wailing about never getting to plan a “real” wedding or have grandbabies.

Scenario 3: “So… how’s that acting/music/English/art degree working out for you?”

Pairing: First of all, pro tip- DO NOT SHOOT BACK WITH “how’s your botched plastic surgery lawsuit going?” Believe me, it’s not going to go as well as you might think. But, what to drink when your family is picking at your life choices, your career immobility, your regrettable fashion choices now memorialized on social media? Well, I’d say go big- it’s tough being attacked on this level, something like a Chateauneuf du Pape would be the decadence you deserve. BUT, since you probably DID get that ridiculous acting/music/English/art degree, it seems unlikely you can afford it. So just try another Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre blend (the grapes in CNdP) from the Southern Rhone or even Australia; they easily run below $20/bottle, many under $15, and are just as decadent and amazing. Trust me, it won’t be too hard to forget about what Aunt Doris said- never mind the fact she didn’t even go to college and her precious William is more interested in playing D&D in her basement than studying for the SATs anyways.

Scenario 4: Your brother and sister-in-law just bought an AMAZING new McMansion- 4,000 sq ft, on two acres of land, a gourmet kitchen, it’s Suburban Paradise… so they’re hosting this year for the first time. Oh, and they don’t know how to cook. Turkey is dry, rolls didn’t rise, jello salad is melted and the gravy has enough lumps you’re slightly worried it has cancer.

Pairing: Embrace the fact that dinner is going to be terrible, but you still need a certain amount of calories in a day, so imbibe them via wine. But since red wines can feel kind of heavy on an empty stomach, I’m recommending keep it light with anything sparkling that isn’t too sweet- Prosecco, Cava, Cremant,Champagne- it’s all golden here. And don’t worry about glasses, feel free to chug it out of the bottle because you were promised dinner and this is fucking crap, so you’re entitled to get as drunk as you want. Not to mention, now you don’t have to pretend to help with the dishes- you didn’t use any!

Scenario 5: So, when are you two getting pregnant?

Pairing: Tequila. Unless you’re actually pregnant, (please don’t drink tequila if you’re pregnant). But you can say “none of your business”. You can try “I don’t know, we keep trying (insert disgusting and non-procreative sex act here) and it just hasn’t worked yet!” Generally speaking, in my not at all statistically relevant research, that bitch is going to ask that until you or her are dead.  She’s going to ask your gay Cousin Gary and his boyfriend named Sumner (don’t get me started on the name), and feel 100% entitled to know the answer. She won’t even care if this makes you break down and sob because you know you CAN’T have kids. This is a crappy question to ask people, they really should mind their own business, but in the meantime screw the wine, this is the job for our brother from across the border, Senor Tequila.

**Oh, quick side note: 3 tbsp pumpkin puree, 1 tbsp triple sec and a little bit of water, mixed with cinnamon and tequila make for an unbelievable Pumpkin Margarita- try rimming the glass with pumpkin pie spice and sugar if you’re really trying to impress. It isn’t common, it isn’t typical, but it’s delicious. Drink three of those babies and you’ll barely remember what ANYONE said around the dinner table on Thanksgiving!

Have a Happy Turkey Day! Remember, when in dout, Gewurtztraminer or an unoaked Chardonnay are my choice of whites with turkey dinners,  a French Pinot Noir (do not overlook red Burgundy- it’s like shooting fish in a barrel!) or maybe even a somewhat zestier but still less jammy Southern Rhone Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend.

Happy Holidays!