Wine Treasures

Tomorrow is December 1st, and I feel as if Christmas Eve is going to come out of nowhere, tackling me in its largest embrace.

I’m not going to lie.  I absolutely adore Christmastime.  Everything about it makes me happy:  the lights, the music, the joy, the excitement of children, the whole shibang.  I feel energy from the energy of the air around me, and when the season gets going, I am right there with it, crazy about every single moment.

My children and I traveled to Ace Hardware yesterday to select an eight foot tree to stand in our living room.  I have to give a major shout out to my friends at Ace who not only fitted the tree into its stand, but also delivered it to our front door.

Cynthia, Stephen and I woke up this morning, made our hot chocolate, turned on the holiday music channel and started decorating with a roaring vengeance.  Big Stephen quietly hung on the couch, looking up every now and then to examine an ornament or hear a story.

My daughter shares my love of ornaments, and the two of us have spent over half of her life finding little keepsakes that mean something to hang on our tree.

Whether it’s a black bear reminiscent of our time at Pop Pop’s in New York State where we watched a mama bear and her cubs out of his kitchen window or a Tiny Tim ornament saying “God Bless Us Everyone” reminding us of Cynthia playing the little tyke in our community theater, we have ornaments symbolizing many life events.

The observant child Cynthia is, she commented to me this morning that we sure did have a lot of wine ornaments.  From a silver wine glass to a porcelain champagne bottle to a ceramic Bordeaux and quite a few others, there is a whole lot of wine flowing all over our trimmed tree.

Cynthia and Stephen both love a story.  Whether it’s about my youth or their moments as babies or even a good ole’ restaurant story, the kids can sit quietly for hours listening to my recollections.

Today when Cynthia started talking about the wine ornaments, I immediately started talking about who gave them to us as gifts and where we were living or working when we received them.

Cynthia looked up at me and said, “The ornaments are the best part of Christmas because they each make us remember someone or something special.”

The irony of it is that wine often does the same thing.

I remember the bottle of Franciacorta I drank at Babbo when Stephen and I became engaged in 2002.

I remember the bottle of Iron Horse “Wedding Cuvee” that we drank the day after we were married in south Jersey.

I remember the Triennes Rose we drank at a friend’s apartment in Chelsea at three o’clock in the morning.

And I remember the bottle of Washington State Chardonnay that made me fall in love with wine at the ripe age of 21.

There is no price tag on a memory.  For the good ones, we would pay dearly just to remember every last detail of the moment.

For the bad ones, we would do anything to make it go away forever.

Memories are our treasures, and when wine triggers a beautiful memory, I consider that a true treasure as well.

4 comments

I Made A New Friend

How could I have possibly forgotten to post this the moment it happened?

About seven years ago, Stephen and I were given the major blessing of meeting Ben Knight and Vivian Howard, proprietors and chef of Chef and the Farmer in Kinston.

I will never forget one of our dates at our home where the four of us stayed up late talking about running restaurants in eastern North Carolina and how different it was from what we experienced in Manhattan.

We drank, we laughed, we ate, we drank, we talked, we drank.  You get the idea.

After that evening, a wonderful bond formed, and since then, we have shared meals, wines, family time and many a conversation.

In typical generous Vivian fashion, she gave my name to one of the producers of A Chef’s Life’s using me as a source for information on Muscadine.  Honored and flattered and thrilled to death, I received a phone call from Un Kyong Ho, a brilliant lady with so much joy and kindness in her voice, I immediately felt drawn to her.

Un Kwong and I spoke on the telephone for at least 45 minutes talking about eastern North Carolina, On the Square, the various strains of Muscadine, and my blog.  She was charming, excited and interested, and I have to say, I developed a mild crush on this dynamic voice on the other end of the line.  When the blog was mentioned, I explained to her that I didn’t always blog about wine, but I was always having a glass of wine when I blogged.  Same thing, right?

But I digress.

Un Kwong wrote bout our conversation on A Chef’s Life site, and I have been too busy basking in its glory instead of posting her blog on my site.

How incredibly rude of me or should I write #toodumbtoknowwhatsup.

Regardless, better late than never, and now is my chance to share Un Kyong’s incredible writing as well as give a shout out to beautiful Vivian who always makes me feel good.

#whenwinemakesmefriendsitsbetterthanieverimagined

Drum roll please…..

http://www.achefslifeseries.com/posts/16

 

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And Then Some

A friend of mine and I have a discussion quite frequently about why working mothers cannot come close to having it all.

She believes that it’s true.  When you work, you lose out on your children’s day-to-day activities that are as precious as losing a tooth or as simple as having an “aha moment” while doing one’s homework.

It wasn’t long after I had my precious Cynthia when I noticed trips out of town on wine excursions didn’t seem as exciting or as fun as usual.  Most of the time I spent away from home was time spent wondering about how she was adjusting to a one-parent circus ring.

No doubt about it, my travel is much more limited to what it used to be, but I still feel like I have plenty to do and more than enough places to be.

One side job I picked up for part of my Autumn was teaching a six-week wine class at Edgecombe Community College.  The class ended up being better than I could have ever imagined all in thanks to the students in the class.

Everyone who attended was excited and energetic and inquisitive, and I learned more in these past six weeks than I had in quite a while due to the interaction and the generous contribution from each and every student.

What could be more satisfying than teaching?  Teaching people who are into it.

I would say that’s a pretty big high, and I have been riding that high since the first Tuesday in October.

So now I have to play Devil’s Advocate and be on the same side as my friend who says one can never have it all.

The past six Tuesdays have coincided with my children’s soccer games.

As you probably have guessed, this means I did not make it to one of the games.  Not a single one.

I didn’t get to say Go Team or Go Cynthia or Go Away.  I wasn’t there.  Not once.

But my husband was.  He was there to take them to the field, to find the shinguards, to feed them dinner, to give them pep talks.

While I was tasting and talking about wine with wine enthusiasts, my soccer-hating husband was with my two children watching what he calls “herding butterflies.”

Life’s a ball.

And then I get home tonight.

I pull into the carport and all the car doors of our other car are wide open.

That’s unusual, I think.

Real translation:  These idiots don’t know how to shut the doors, what in the world is wrong with them?

I walk into the house and see a small trophy on the kitchen table naming Stephen’s team Soccer Champions.

My heart swells and then my heart hurts.  I wasn’t there.  I missed it.

As my head tries to reason with my heart, I turn to my husband who is cooking dinner and ask him why every door on the car is open.

“I can’t do it,” he says.  “I really can’t do it.”

“Do what?” I ask.

“Go in the bathroom.”

I leave the kitchen as little Stephen runs past me buck naked, and walk into the worst smelling bathroom of all time.

I’m going to say right now I don’t usually post potty humor or anything of the like, but I cannot help but finding the irony in this situation.  Here I am, at 8:45 p.m. on a Tuesday night, missing the fun stuff yet coming home to the poo.  Literally, the poo.  Can not all mothers find humor in that?  We are the ones who not only clean it up but also deal with it on a day-to-day basis.  We most certainly have it all because we have the good, the bad and the in-between, regardless of what we do or what we do not do.

Of course, my heart swells with pride as I go into the bathroom and find that my Bath & Body Works-loving daughter Cynthia who hasn’t tried to clean up the mess but instead has lit two aromatic candles trying their best to make a dent in the stench. There is poo smeared from one end of the bathroom to the other.

“Oh my God.  This is absolutely disgusting.”

I walk back into the kitchen to ask Stephen what happened.

“He couldn’t hold it.  I really cannot deal with this.  Sorry, it’s all you.”

In thanks to the candles and being able to hold my breath for a small amount of time, I get the mess cleaned up in about 10-12 minutes.

Who says we can’t have it all?

I got it all tonight, and then some.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3 comments

Broken

In November 2001, I took a job with B. R. Guest Restaurant Group as the opening Wine Director of Blue Fin, an upscale seafood restaurant located in the soon-to-be-opening W Hotel in Times Square.

It would be my first restaurant opening, and I became heavily involved from the moment I started in where the wines would be cellared, how we would get them to the two different bars and of course, the really fun stuff:  creating a wine list and cocktail menu.

It was intense in every way, shape and form, and I remember feeling so much stress from the moment I began until the day I left.

The restaurant opened on New Year’s Eve, and besides the fact that we were located in the heart of Times Square, New Year’s Eve in any part of Manhattan is pretty much insane.  Place your restaurant on the corner of 47th and Broadway and add an opening, well, insanity just got a whole new outfit.

Personally, my insanity heightened exponentially because my family came to visit me in New York during this particular week.

At the time, I thought it was the best idea ever.

But as I worked, I watched them break bread together, sip wine together and laugh together while I ran around a two-story restaurant like a wine bandit.

Do I miss that time in my life?

Absolutely not.

Was it a good learning experience?

You know it.

I grew so much during that short five month period that I still look back on those days as learning more about the operations side of restaurants than any other experience short of having my own.

At the time, the majority of us working at Blue Fin were in our 20s.  The chef was young, our staff was young, and I was young, 25 to be exact.

I loved getting to know everyone around me, and I absolutely adored talking about wine to all of these people who seemed to enjoy it from the moment we had our first staff training.

It was a crazy time for me, and more than ever, I so needed the friendships of those I worked with on a daily basis.  It was an amazing gift that I got to know so many talented and gifted restaurateurs in such a short period of time.

Unfortunately, I was not equipped to stay for a very long time because I was broken in spirit and emotion:  two things that shouldn’t be broken when working in the front of the house.

I will never forget accepting the fact that working wasn’t going to heal me and letting my superiors know I needed to leave.

I don’t think anyone was surprised by me saying I needed to go, but I will say the response was overwhelming.

On my very last night, the entire wait staff came together to give me an extremely special bottle of Ridge Monte Bello from my birth year, 1976.

To say I was touched is the understatement of the year.

My mind was blown, and I couldn’t say thank you without crying a month’s worth of tears.

These friends who I had all just met within the past five months had a created a community around me, a caring, forgiving and loving community who basically propped me up the entire time I felt like I was falling down.

They sustained me, they encouraged me, and mostly, they loved me, even though I wasn’t able to give them my all.

At the end of the shift, the crew had a going away party at a bar close to the restaurant.  I brought my bottle of Monte Bello 1976, holding it like a newborn baby.

This is the part where everyone will cry.  Please prepare yourself.

When I was telling everyone good night, I put the bottle down on the floor next to my right foot to give someone a giant hug.

Being completely clumsy, the moment I put my arms around my friend, my foot slipped and hit the bottle of wine.

It literally fell 13 inches and shattered right at my feet.

Horrifying.  Devastating.  Embarrassing.  Revolting.  Depressing.  Humiliating.  How could this happen moment.

I didn’t know what to say.  The first thing I wanted to do was start licking the floor.

The second thing I wanted to do was to get it up before anyone else could see what I had done.

These new friends of mine had gone to great extremes, financially and timely, to buy me one of the most special gifts I could ever receive.

The gift was broken.  I had broken it.  No more.  That wine was not for me to have.

The irony being I was broken too.

But I mended.

A bottle of wine that shatters cannot be rebuilt.  Once it breaks, it cannot be drunk.  It cannot be fixed.

But we can.

We can mend.  We can heal.  We can overcome.

I did.

And I thank God that I did.

I will never forget the people who loved me during a time where I didn’t feel very much love.

They didn’t know me, but they got to know me, and they helped me mend.

I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but I know it now.

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Constant

It’s that time of the year again, and even though 12 years have passed, we cannot help but think about September 11th, 2001, the day America and the world changed forever.

Regardless of where you are from or what you believe, everyone is familiar with 9/11 or 911 or September 11th in some way, shape or form.

I was 25 years old that beautiful almost-Fall day.  What a young, incredible age.  Sometimes I remember it well and other times, I can barely recollect.

Twenty-five as an age sounds young because it is young.  Back then, I lived from moment to moment without a care in the world except to think about what delicious meal I would eat next or what bar was calling my name when I left work in the evening.

On September 8th, and the days leading up to it, my only thoughts were my sister’s wedding and wearing a dress that had just been tailored courtesy of the seamstress at Windows on the World.  Of course, I was also stoked about giving my maid-of-honor speech at the rehearsal dinner.

Nothing was on my mind but a fun-filled weekend of total bliss.  Because I was young and carefree and beyond happy, life was absolutely grand.

It is truly amazing how one tragic moment can change everything and everyone.

In one blink, I, Inie Simmons Holderness, didn’t feel young anymore.  In one second, in one crazy moment, I started feeling very old.

My world as I knew it completely got rocked.  It got rocked so hard that for a long time I had trouble speaking in complete sentences.

In one blink of an eye, in one short blip on the television screen, I totally forgot about myself and what I was going to do and all of a sudden, I started thinking about the world and the people in it and all of the pain it must be experiencing to do something so awful, to feel something so awful, to hurt something so awful.

I stopped caring about who said what about who or if the vintage in Bordeaux was going to be the vintage of the century.  I stopped wondering about what job was the very best one or if I was invited to the latest and greatest cocktail party.  I stopped having dreams about when I would get married and how many bridesmaids I would have.

I aged.  I aged tremendously, and I aged quickly.

Fast forward to the eve of September 11th, 2013.

My husband and I live in Tarboro.  We have two children.  We live in a house in a small town, and we operate and own our very own restaurant.

I go to church–my husband makes fun.

I pack lunches–my husband plays mixed doubles.

I learned how to drive a car and not wreck it–my husband has learned to make pimento cheese and chicken & waffles.

Life is completely different.

I don’t have roommates, and the friends I socialize with on a regular basis are not the same ones as 12 years ago.

If I had to guess, that’s the case for most people.

Life has changed, and all of us have had to change with it.

It’s sometimes difficult to think of what might have been.

In fact, I try not to think about it.

Of course, when I look back on that day, there is one constant.

That constant is the father of my children.

Stephen has been there through it all:  through the very lows and the super highs.  He has let me be, and he has let me come home to the place I was always meant to be.  That’s a pretty amazing constant, don’t you think?

He knew me when I was completely different than I am now, and he has continued to love me for better or for worse.

About once a year, the two of us will reminisce about all of the people we miss from our days at Windows on the World.  We will tell funny stories; we will share a certain occasion where a memorable event occurred; and as always, I will shed a tear or two.

We cannot stop time, and that is the beauty of life.  It keeps going no matter what.

My life did not stop twelve short years ago.

It just changed, and when it changed, I changed too.

As for the past and who I was, it is definitely hard to remember.

But as for the people and all those who made such an impact on my life while I worked at Windows, I will never ever forget.

 

6 comments

How ‘Bout Them Apples?

Relationships matter in any business, and this statement could not be any truer than in the hospitality industry.

It is important to not just have a quality relationship with your customers, but also with your co-workers and of course, your vendors.

About 5-6 years ago, On the Square decided fresh flowers would really add an elegant touch to our dining room tables.

Of course, the obvious choice was to go local and use the beautiful, fresh, homegrown flowers of Daphne & Michael O’Brien’s Fishing Creek Flower Farm.

From there, a relationship began.

Through conversations made during flower deliveries, Stephen discovered Michael loved two of the hobbies Stephen considers dearest to his heart:  tennis and fishing.

They became fast friends, and have spent many Sunday afternoons on the Tarboro High School tennis courts and many long Mondays and Tuesdays fishing off of Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Daphne has reviewed some of my writing, and while she is an incredibly busy educator and mother, I value the moments I get to hear her knowledge in an informal setting.

In the past several years, Michael and his son Anderson have become passionate about another venture that Stephen and I obviously love:  the making of hard cider.

As many readers know, Cava is our drink of choice, and one of the reasons for that is the bubbly personality it possesses.  Michael makes a cider that has plenty of bubbles as well as a fruity yet dry flavor.  It is also made by our dear friends who not only supply us with gorgeous flowers but also make our lives happier ones.

Just one short week ago, after many, many tastings, and many, many cider conversations, Michael was able to sell me a case of L.L. Draughon’s Fishing Creek Hard Cider.  That evening at On the Square, we started serving it by the flute or by the pint as well as by the bottle.  If you ask about our flowers, which so many people do, we will also tell you about the cider that comes from the same place.

We all know how fun it is to hear a great story.

Michael’s story of making a dream come true by creating a libation that gives pleasure is one of my new favorites.

Come by On the Square to taste this craft cider.  We are excited to share it with all who love a great drink.

For more information about the O’Brien’s operation, please visit http://www.fishingcreekcider.com/

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The Countdown Begins

Forty-two days ago, Stephen and I launched our Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for Tarboro Brewing Company, a brewery and tap room that we envision will bring even more life and excitement (not to mention jobs and tourism) to our already-beautiful town.

We have 19 days left in our campaign, and I would like to humbly ask our friends and supporters to take a moment to seriously consider donating to the cause.

Disclaimer:  My aunt Cynthia says this is the tackiest thing she’s ever seen, me begging for money, even though I have tried to explain Crowd Funding to her on numerous occasions.  She claims she doesn’t understand crowd funding, and it’s still tacky.

Regardless, I truly believe in our town and in Tarboro Brewing Company so I invite you all to check out our link, and if you are willing and/or able, we would be extremely grateful.  We have even added more perks to sweeten the pot.

Cheers to a wonderful September!

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tarboro-brewing-company–2/x/2768053

 

 

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The Best Vintage

When I went to work as Wine Director at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, I was given the opportunity to go to Manhattan to buy wine at auction.

The auctions were held at Restaurant Daniel, and Sotheby’s was the seller.  I’ll never forget buying a magnum of Huet Vouvray Moelleux 1919 at a price I really cannot remember.

I didn’t know one thing about this particular vintage in Vouvray, but there was only one thing that mattered:  1919 was the year my Nana, my namesake, my best friend was born.

Was it careless buying?

I didn’t think so.

I wanted a wine in that massive cellar that would constantly remind me of the person I wanted and needed to be to have ultimate happiness.

Nana was that person.  From the moment I could speak, she was teaching me about how to be fair and just and true to myself and to others.

When I was in kindergarten, she was right there telling me how important it was to be nice to everyone regardless of skin color.

In middle school, she helped me with my student government campaign, and taught me about being a gracious winner and a gracious loser.

When I went to high school and entered the Optimist Club’s Oratorical Contest, Nana listened to my speech over and over and over again, telling me what content I needed to eliminate and what content I needed to add.

While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Nana called weekly if not every other day to make sure I wasn’t blowing my education drinking beer and slacking off.  I did do that my first year, but then I realized I was being a major disappointment to my namesake.

After graduating and moving to New York, Nana wrote me letters monthly always signing them with “Please don’t have sex in the city, or in the country for that matter.  Just work hard and save your money.”

Nana was on top of current events from the minute she could read and write up until the day she died.

A lover of Imus in the morning, and a regular watcher of CNN, Nana could tell you about the stock market in great detail anytime you asked her.

To say she was a role model is an understatement.

Two weeks ago, when I tearfully read her a letter telling her how much I loved her, I called her my soul mate.

She smiled at me and told me I was her soul mate too.

Word on the street is that we’re opening a brewery in Tarboro.

Stephen and I could not be any more excited about the new venture.  Four months ago, when we started the process on our business plan, we realized our 10,000 square foot building that is perfectly suited for a microbrewery needed a new roof.

There was no way Stephen and I could get the money to replace the roof in any quick amount of time.

As in typical fashion, Nana came through with a check to seal the deal and put a roof on our charming building in downtown Tarboro.  I promised her one of our first beers would be called Nana’s Roof.  She promised me she would not be around to try it.

Nana kept her promise.

Last Tuesday in the very early morning, Nana said good bye to Tarboro and to me in her 94th year.

It hurts to lose someone you love, regardless of how old or ready one may be.

My floodgates opened last week, and they are just now closing.

I think about Nana and all of the wisdom I counted on her to give me throughout my life.

I think about my future, and how scary it seems without her.

Nana was always asking me about the business.  She was asking me if we were busy, what our sales were, what did we need to survive.  It was always comforting to talk to her about On the Square because she genuinely cared, and she always had a relevant story from the news to explain to me why we had been busy or why we were slow.

1919:  a year when the greatest man or woman I ever knew was born.

She taught me everything I ever needed to know, and I pray that I will remember her words and actions so that I can be a fraction of the woman she always was.

Nana was the single best vintage I ever drank.  Forget about juice, and think about substance.

When our brewery opens, I will remember Nana and all that she stood for.  Fairness, justice, kindness and joy.

Be fair and just in my business.

Treat people kindly.

Take joy in what you do and serve.

Nana’s words, Nana’s life, Nana’s hope.

If I do what she taught me, then I have honored her in the best way I know.

Nana & Me

Nana & Me

12 comments

Writer’s Block

Last night something unusual happened while I was working the floor.

We 86ed three different wines from our list.

For those not familiar with the term “86,” it means you run out of something.  There are a few suggestions of where the term originated, but that’s really not the blog I am writing this morning.

Our wine list is 10 1/2 years old, and there are a handful of wines on the list we have cellared over that time.  Those bottles are far and few between, and for the most part, these wines are ready to be consumed.

Of course, from my point of view, these individual bottles represent time, time that can never be revisited.  A bittersweet experience, these wines are ready to be enjoyed, but once they’re gone, I will never ever see them again.

These wines have special meaning, and I have watched them lie in my bins for such a long time that I expect them to be there when I return to work the following day.

Domaine Dujac Morey St. Denis Blanc 2003:  the first wine to say good-bye to mama last night.  So pretty and yet so ready to be released. Dujac has such sentimental meaning for me because it’s the domaine where Stephen and I worked the harvest in 2002.  We lived with the Seysses family while we picked grapes.  It’s the place I performed my one and only pigeage, and it’s the wine that represents Burgundy for me.  Of course, 2003 was the year Stephen and I married so I think about that vintage as a super hot one (which it was), and when I say hot, I mean the temperature in France.  Ten years later, this wine was drunk by some of my favorite guests who gave it the attention it deserved.  My one and only bottle said good-bye, and I was fortunate to have a sip before she left me forever.

Gargiulo “Aprile” Sangiovese 2005:  Aprile is a friend I met when travelling to Napa about seven years ago.  We are roughly the same age, and what we have in common is we both attended universities 15 minutes away from one another.  What we don’t have in common is that she attended Duke and I attended UNC Chapel Hill.  That’s a major divide, but we worked through it.  Aprile invited me to dinner at her beautiful estate along with a few others, and she prepared this incredible meal to accompany her fantastic wines.  As soon as I returned home from my Napa trip, I ordered this wine, and this was the last bottle of the 2005 vintage.  I had hidden this bottle in a spot where no one could find it but me (any of you who have seen the wine room at On the Square will not have a hard time believing this).  When I got him out, we had a few words before I knew it was time for him to leave.  The minute I opened it, I smelled the cranberries and the wild cherries, and I knew he had developed into the wine he was destined to be.

Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2002:  Cathy Corison.  Female winemaker extraordinaire.  I have been buying her wines since 2000 when her fantastic 1997 was released.  She was highlighted on the wine list at Windows, and Stephen went to her winery in Napa in 2001 when I was sitting for my first advanced sommelier exam in San Francisco.  This was the last bottle, and I couldn’t believe it when I looked in the reserve bin to find there would not be any more after I opened her.  Eleven years after the harvest, this wine was finally letting go.  Some of my favorite guests had ordered this bottle as well, and they were excited about trying her after all of this time in bottle.  She did not disappoint, and as much as I hated to say bon voyage, I knew the minute I decanted her, it was time.

Time continues to turn, and I am constantly amazed at how long it’s been.  In 2003, Stephen and I were married; in 2002, we opened a restaurant and in 2005, we had a one-year-old daughter.  These are vintages in the vineyard, and they are also vintages of one’s life.  These years mark time, time where monumental events occurred.

The beauty of wine.  It triggers so many senses on the palate and on the nose, but it also triggers a sense of time.  Time that can not be revisited, but can be remembered.

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First Growth

On Sunday evening, Stephen and I were graciously invited to a dear friend’s home for a casual supper.  Excited about getting out of our house for the evening, the invitation was especially generous because our children were included in the invite.

You can imagine my excitement and my shock when I walked into their kitchen to see a freshly opened bottle of 2003 Chateau Lafite Rothschild standing upright next to a decanter.

Trying not to squeal, my voice did go up an octave when I said, “Oh no you didn’t!”

Chateau Lafite Rothschild on a Sunday night in Tarboro.  Who said my life would change drastically when I left New York for small town U.S.A?

We enjoyed the first two sips as a foursome without any food, and the aromas coming out of the glass were breathtaking, to say the least.  Dried cranberries, cigar wrapper, pencil shavings, rich earth, blackcurrants, there were too many smells to keep up with them all.

I continued to enjoy this magnificent red as a preamble to dinner as well as an accompaniment to delicious burgers.

In case I am writing Greek to some of you, Chateau Lafite Rothschild is one of the five first growths of Bordeaux.  The 1855 classification designated the top estates of the left bank of Bordeaux based on the price of the wine it produced some 150 years ago.  In the classification, it gave the top wine estates a designation of first, second, third, fourth or fifth growths.  In 1855, it deemed only four estates worthy of the prestigious title of first growth.  These four were and still are Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Latour.  In 1973, it added Chateau Mouton Rothschild to the mix, making a total of five first growths.

As you can imagine, these wines are extremely allocated and sought after, and collectors pride themselves in procuring small (or large) amounts of each vintage.

I have two in my cellar, and they were given to Stephen and me when we got married in 2003 by our New York friend Ed Lauber.

Our dear hosts who so generously invited us over for dinner and graciously opened this amazing bottle of vin rouge knew how special of a deal this was for us.  A 10-year-old first growth being poured in our glasses so we could ponder and reminisce about the time when these grapes were harvested.

For our friend, 2003 marked the year she and her husband took their children to France with her mom and dad.

For Stephen and me, 2003 marked the year we were married.

Ten years later, my friends both mourn the loss of a parent.

Ten years later, my husband and I celebrate a decade-long marriage ripe with two  healthy children.

First growths.

They can be magnificent and celebratory.  They can be painful and memorable.

Regardless of the emotions they evoke, we all need them.

A first growth doesn’t necessarily have to be the wine. It can also be the moment in your life when you feel like you have really grown.  On Sunday, I felt that way.  I felt very grown up, and I felt older with more life behind me.

We need a night with good friends and a special wine to show us how far we have come, and we need a ten-year anniversary to remind us of the amazing journey it has been.

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Hedonism in the form of Wine & Food.

I’ll be completely honest.  If I don’t get to travel to New York City at least once during the year, I am completely depressed.

Tarboro is my favorite town on the planet, but Manhattan is my favorite city.

Tarboro is my loving husband (where I want to be forever and always) and New York is my wonderful dream (the place where I go to be super happy but can always leave at the blink of an eye).

This past weekend I traveled north for La Paulee, an event dedicated to the great wines of Burgundy and all of the lovers it has collected over the years.

Hedonistic doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Rare wine from exquisite vintages that cost more than my house paired with food from the greatest chefs of New York and France, the weekend is truly unbelievable.

This year’s La Paulee was especially special because this was the first time I was given the amazing opportunity to work the Rare Wine Dinner hosted on the Friday evening before the Paulee.

Just in case you’re wondering how rare, the price per person is $4750.00 + tax.  A mere drop in the bucket, my nerves were pretty torn up just thinking about being there as a sommeleir.

Held at Restaurant Daniel on the upper East side, the dinner was prepared by not only Daniel Boulud and his incredible crew but also Michel Troisgros and his amazing chefs.

Not to bore you with words, I thought it would be much more entertaining to see photographs of some of the most beautiful food I have ever seen.

In case you are wondering was it worth it, I am assuming it is if you have it.

Cheers to Tarboro where our wine dinners are only $85 ++.

Panna Fritta a la Truffe

Beet Cured Hamachi with Horseradish & Shiso Cream

Meyer Lemon Pomponette with Ossettra & Caviar Lime ala DB

Foie Gras Mousse in Port Gelee & Brioche ala DB

Some type of Chestnut puree dusted with Black Truffles that made my heart stop via MT

Cream of Parsley Stuffed Chicken Wing, Cray Fish & Cockscomb ala DB--Cream of Parsley had not yet been poured tableside--when guests are paying that kind of money, I cannot take a photograph of the dish over their shoulder--may fly at OTS but not at DB

Monkfish Barberry ala MT

Lobster Civet with Red Berries ala MT

Shoulder of Veal Stuffed with Mushrooms, Root Gratin with Reblochon ala DB

Smoked Pigeon Mid-Salmi, Toast with Foie Gras, Mushrooms & Black Truffle ala DB

Raspberry-Cream Cheese Vacherin, Gel Berry, Yogurt Meringue

Wines of Domaine Leflaive

Sommeliers at the DRC Table

Happy Days!

What I Had for Dinner and Dessert!

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Napa & Sonoma

Oh, Wine Country, it’s so hard not to love you.

Just this week I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Sonoma and Napa to be introduced to some new vineyards as well as say hello to some very dear ones that have been a huge part of my sommelier career.

The first time I went to Napa as a wine buyer was in August of 2000, and I had flown out of New York to go take the Introductory Course for the Court of Master Sommeliers.

My dear friend Chris Goodhart had lined up tours and tastings as well as accommodations at Cuvaison, Trefethen and Silver Oak.  It was a week of studying intertwined with unbelievable visits to beautiful vineyards.  I soaked it all in with the sun, and by the time I got back to New York, all I could breathe was the magnificent juice of Napa Valley.

As wine would have it, while I sat in the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, I made a new friend in the person sitting beside me.  Her name was Ellen Hunt, and she was working for Rudd Winery, a relatively new venture in Oakville that was just getting ready to release their Chardonnays in New York City.

After several days in class together, Ellen invited me to Rudd for a tour with Damon Ornowski, an assistant winemaker at the property.  The winery was in its initial stages, and it was very cool to be able to say I had been to a facility that was just now getting started.  Ellen extended an invitation to come to Jean Georges for lunch three weeks later to taste the current release of its Chardonnays.  I couldn’t have gotten any higher if a hot air balloon had physically taken me to the moon.  Wine was bliss, and I was loving every single moment.

Fast forward to 13 years later, and here I am going back to Rudd for a 2:00 appointment on a Thursday, exactly the same day and time of the one over a decade ago.

A fabulous tour by Cheryl (who worked with Ellen back in the day), I saw a completely different facility than the one I saw in 2000.  Big cellar caves and extensive landscaping with a Bellagio-inspired fountain, the winery has grown into a mature adult, transitioning to Sauvignon Blanc from Mount Veeder for its main white with two Cabernet-based reds.

The wines are as beautiful as ever, and completely age-worthy with ripe fruit and silky texture.  Hard to believe something has grown up so quickly.  I guess that’s a sign I need to do the same.

Fountain at Rudd

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When No One Likes the Wine You Love

It happens.

We all know the feeling.

The friend, the food, the teacher, the team, the party, the wine.

We just cannot believe the “whatever” we love is not mutually shared by our family, best friend, neighbor, confidante.

Of course, our first reaction is what’s wrong with them?

And, then of course, our insecurities get the best of us, and we start thinking/believing what’s wrong with me?

There’s this wine I love, Le Tel Quel, made by Thierry Puzelat in the Loire Valley.

It’s funky and different and completely “not popular.”

I absolutely adore it.

Spoken to wine geeks and sommeliers alike, some love it, some don’t.

Most people don’t.

“What’s it like?” they ask.

“Bring on da funk,” I answer.

Does it hurt my feelings when they try a sip and act their best not to look offended?

My prayer immediately is “Please God, do not let me judge.”

Here’s the dealio:

Everyone on this earth does not like the same thing.

That fact, in itself, is a huge blessing.

Bring on da funk.

Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on.

It may be different, and you may not like it, but let me tell you something, that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

In case you were wondering, I’m not talking about wine exclusively.

Or explosively, Great Aunt Cynthia.

Wine makes you think.

Not just about wine, but about everything.

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2013 Begins with Beer

For Christmas, my husband surprised me with a kegerator.

Many of you know my love for beer, and it has only grown as I have constantly tried to keep up with the endless supply of microbrews from all over the world.

Yes, wine is regal and delicious and perfect and completely beautiful, but I have to say, sometimes, I just need a beer.

In fact, as much as I love to try a new wine, I just as much love trying new beers.

In my new kegerator is a keg of Carolina Brewery’s Copperline Amber Ale.  It is special because the beer is absolutely phenomenal, but of course, it is more special because of the relationship we have with the brewery.

My fun reign at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began in the Fall of 1994.  It was right around this time that Carolina Brewery opened its doors.

My best friend Emily and I could not be more excited because the gentleman opening the brewery was Robert Poitras, a Tarboro born-and-bred, and we just knew he would be happy to contribute to our illegal drinking habits.

Boy, were we mistaken.

Before we even got out of the Carolina Blue gate, Robert told Emily to make no mistake about it; if we ever dared trying to come in there to buy a beer underage, we would get our fannies tossed out on to Franklin Street faster than we could say ALE officer.

It scared us enough to stay away except when our parents were in town, and when we ate dinner at the brewery with them, we drank our fountain cokes while they enjoyed the pleasures of craft beer.

But time flies when you’re in the best college town on the planet, and on my 21st birthday, Mary Ann took me to the brewery for lunch where I drank my first legal draught beer.  I also bought my first growler before leaving to go back to my apartment.

The beers are incredible, and for Chapel Hill and east, it is the benchmark of brewerys.

My husband knows how I feel about beer and how I feel about people so at Christmastime, he had the perfect idea to get me a gift with meaning that I would use and love.

It’s relaxing and fun to sit back and enjoy a cold one.  Sometimes wine just isn’t what you’re feeling.  Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best:  “Some people wanted Champagne and Caviar when they should have had beer and hotdogs.”

Here’s the thing:  I want beer and hot dogs.

 

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Nana Says

My grandmother is 93 years old, and she is not only my namesake, but I give her much credit for the person I am today.

As of now, she lives in a rehabilitation clinic using her mornings and afternoons to try to walk again in a successful manner.

Nana knew about Sauvignon Blanc way before I even started thinking about wine.  She could also use the terms Sancerre and Pouilly Fume correctly in 1998, when most people in Edgecombe County didn’t know Chardonnay was a grape.

A native of Rexburg, Idaho, she met my grandfather in World War II in North Africa.  One look at her, and he fell madly in love, ultimately bringing her back to his hometown to be his bride and lifelong mate.

She never looked back, and has lived in Tarboro since the young age of 25.

I didn’t get to meet her parents, but knowing her, I cannot even think about how much they must have missed her when she permanently moved all the way across the country.

The other day when I was sitting in her room at Golden Living, she started talking to me about all of the people who were in pain in our community that were much younger than her.

Nana told me she wakes up in the morning getting ready to ask for God’s blessings upon her, but then she thinks of someone who needs it a lot more than she does.

She said this pattern continues until she goes to bed at night, realizing she has spent the entire day blessing others because she kept thinking of more and more people who needed God’s grace and mercy.

This random thought touched me so much, and I have been thinking about it ever since she said it.

Today, of course, most people’s hearts cracked as they read or watched the horrific news about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut.

It reminded me of Nana’s wise blessing: Waking up getting ready to ask for herself, but then acknowledging there are so many others who need it ahead of her.

I pray I will always remember these words, and that I will continue to ask for peace, comfort and love to these grieving families and to all those who mourn senseless pain.

At 36 years old, I find one of my life’s greatest joys is having my grandmother share her wisdom with me as I blindly walk down this path called life.  She has seen all kinds of hurt and heartbreak, and even today, she cries tears of grief from the hospital bed where a television is her constant companion.

Nana doesn’t say it isn’t fair at her age to still have to watch all of this awful pain and suffering.

Instead, she wakes up in the morning, asking God to heal those who she claims are in a lot worse shape than she is.

“If that’s possible,” Nana says with a gentle smile.

 

Nana at Christmas Eve 2011

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