The Drunken Elf

Well, it’s that time of year again, and as I blogged so lovingly last December, my trials and tribulations with the “Elf on the Shelf” are back in full force.

For those of you who may not remember, Elfie, the name of our sweet Elf on the Shelf, he is a small stuffed figure who comes the day after Thanksgiving and watches the children of the home to make sure they behave.  Each and every night, the elf returns to the North Pole to tell Santa whether the children should get coal or Cabernet in their stockings.

Freudian slip:  coal or candy.

The magic of it all is that the elf sits in a different spot each and every morning, convincing our sweet, innocent youth that he actually did, in fact, travel to the North Pole to give a full report to Santa. 

The elf is supposed to make things perfect for the parents, and in a way, it absolutely does. 

When Baby Stephen is running around the house swatting me with his blanket and yelling Poo Poo at the top of his lungs, all I have to do is nod toward the elf to get him to instantly stop.

When I ask Cynthia to do something she doesn’t necessarily agree with, like make her bed, help baby Stephen get his shoes on or fetch me a glass of Cava, I just mention our sweet Elfie, and her nos turn into instant yeses.

So, where is the trouble in that, you may ask?

I’ll be honest.  I’m getting really tired in my old age.  And when my kids finally get into bed and actually go to sleep, I am five seconds away from lights out myself.

The sleep is pretty good until I jolt out of it trying to remember if I moved the elf from his previous position or not.  When I finally convince myself I didn’t move it, I tiptoe down the stairs to get little Elfie and find a new spot where he can sit and watch.

It’s quite stressful, and just putting all of this in writing makes my mouth yearn for an 8 ounce glass of Cava.

Now, here’s the reality of the last 24 hours:

Last night, I get home at 11:35, and it’s cold and I’m really tired.  Long night at the restaurant, long week in general.

When Marina gets in her car, she finds it won’t start.  Being the hero she ultimately is, she pops open the hood, goes to the trunk and finds some car starter device with jumper cables hooked attached to it.  We get her car started, and five minutes later, she is heading home.

Big mistake number one:  Instead of moving the elf and going to bed, I pour my nightly glass of bubbly and watch Modern Family on

I’m not sure when I fall asleep, but it was after 12, and at 5 a.m., I awaken to Cynthia and Stephen saddled up beside me in bed.

Except I am wet, and it doesn’t take me long to realize someone has wet the bed.  And that someone, my friends, is not me.

Knowing I have 2 hours and fifteen minutes before I absolutely have to get out of bed, the three of us travel in a pack down to the guest bedroom and get in a dry bed.  It’s not fun, but it’s necessary, and while I am a little tired this afternoon, I am nowhere near as tired as I could be.

When 7:15 a.m. rolls around, all three of us are disoriented so I bribe them with Bojangle’s to quickly get dressed for school and get in the car.

Glory be to Bojangle’s because it works everytime, and the three of us are off by 7:32.

Bonus number one:  Because we were in such a hurry, my kids never noticed the elf was nowhere to be found.

When I get back home, Stephen is waiting for me in the living room.

“I have some bad news,” he says.

“What is it?”

“The Elf.”

“What about the elf?”

“He’s gone.”

Big mistake number two:  Letting my husband believe it’s a good idea for him to be in charge of the elf. 

Apparently, when he got home last night, he took it upon himself to move the elf to another location in the house.  Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well.

He tried to place him in a spot over the fireplace that just so happens to be hollow.

The elf wasn’t ready for his new seat, and instead of sitting nicely, he plummeted down to the bottom of the wooden structure with a fate that looked like he would not be found until 2101.

Once I realized what had been done, I climbed to the top of the wood above the television, and down in the darkness, I saw Elfie’s shadow.

The words I lamented after this revelation are not allowed to be published on my blog, but I will say I was pretty irritated.

“It’s fine,” Stephen cooed, “we’ll just go get another one.”

“Do you have any idea how much an Elf on the Shelf costs?  We are going to get this one back, if it’s the last thing I do.”

I tried using a broom, and I tried praying to Santa, but neither worked, and, before long, it was 10:30 a.m.  Stephen and I both needed to work lunch and hopefully, sell wine so we quit trying, knowing we would come back with new energy that afternoon.

Around 2:30 p.m., when I realized we had 20 minutes until we needed to pick up the kids from school, I jumped in the car to see if there was some way I could rescue Elfie from the depths of hell.

Stephen took some string from the restaurant and tied it to  a clotheshanger.  I got a flashlight and tried like hell to latch sweet Elfie. 

It wouldn’t work so Stephen left to go pick up the kids.

The clock was ticking. 

I found scotch tape and doublesided it all over the hanger, hoping the sweet, light-weight elf would feel my desperation and stick himself right to it.

No luck.

I had one more idea if I could just find Stephen’s tacklebox. 

BINGO!  I find two fishing hooks in the pantry.  I tie a small, Shad hook to the coat hanger, and lower it down, down, down, down, and then…..

It catches.  Marina walks in the house and I slowly, slowly, slowly bring Elf up into the light.

Thank God.  He is back. 

I place him on one of my Chateau Mouton Rothschild lithographs hanging in our hall.

Elfie looks happy and comfortable.

I am sweating and dancing for joy all over the living room.

Marina goes down to the basement to tell God she knows I am crazy, but she prays I am not dangerous.

Cynthia and Stephen come running in the back door.  

“Elfie, Elfie!” they cry.  “Where is he?”

Big Stephen gets ready to make up something right as Cynthia screams, “There he is!”

Elfie is back, for better or for worse.

Now, if I can just keep him safe for sixteen more days, I feel certain Santa will put a very nice bottle of Burgundy in my stocking.


This One’s for You

So, I haven’t written lately which I really don’t like.  The more time between blogs, the more pressure I put on myself to make sure I write something super meaningful.

Lately, I’ve been tasting a ton of wine, but I haven’t been contemplating and studying as I should.  The punishment:  I don’t have anything to write about or explain to the loyal readers who support my journalistic habit.

In fact, recently, my eldest cousin asked me to call him because he had a great idea for a blog.  Of course, three weeks after receiving his email, I check his facebook page to find the number where I can call him to get some ideas.

Interestingly enough, when I visit Jay’s page, two photographs on his wall catch my eye. Both are photographs capturing the sunrise in the morning.

Amazingly beautiful and incredibly moving, I feel compelled to write.

Stephen and I bought a house in Tarboro almost exactly two years ago.  We bought a business in Tarboro almost exactly nine years ago.  Both are our life homes.  We live in our house with expectations of staying there forever.  We work at On the Square in hopes of being there until we are unable to work any longer.

When I wake up in the morning, the sun is on my right.  It peaks through the clouds, and without any hesitation, I say to myself, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

That sunrise and that verse wake me up each morning.  It may wake me up to get my kids dressed and ready for school or it may get me up to make sure we are all ready for a day at the fair or a weekend of camping.  Whatever our goals are, the sunrise out my window gives me a sense of hope and excitement.

My friends, wine is another type of sunrise.  It is a beverage made from grapes (and sometimes other fruit) that wakes up the senses.  Whether it be white, red, rose or sparkling, wine is a reason to rejoice.

When I come home at night and think about the day that has almost ended, I drink a glass of wine.

And then I drink another.  And sometimes, another after that.

My children and I read.  My husband and I cook and eat and savor.  My dog comes inside and smells the trashcan.

The day may not have been great.   In fact, the day may have been downright horrible.

However, the day was still a day.  And at the end of the day, we came home to a place that was safe and enjoyed some delicious nectar.

It makes me remember the sunrise that started my morning and the delicious glass of wine I enjoyed before I see the next one.

For that, I am grateful.  Grateful for sun that warms the grapes to make the juice we can drink as the sun sets.


The End of a Legendary Bottle: A Tribute

Have you ever gotten to know someone by their handwriting?

Chris was left-handed, and his penmanship was so distinct I can see it in my mind as I type.

It had a slant to it, and it was remarkably neat with immaculate perfection.  No smudges, no erases, just perfect penmanship with a very distinct slant.

I grew to love that writing along with the man who owned it.

When I started working at Windows on the World in March of 1998 as an assistant cellar master, I reported directly to Chris Goodhart, the Assistant Beverage Manager.  His one request of me when I received the wine in the morning was to write down every single ounce of information recorded on the wine label, regardless of how insignificant I believed it to be.

Little did I know at the time, but this was a very important job, and a job that should not be taken lightly.

For instance, if the Nuits St. Georges from Daniel Rion had “Vieilles Vignes” underneath the appellation, it was quite different than the bottles that said “Les Vignes Rondes”  or “Grandes Vignes.” Even now as I write this blog, I am double checking my spelling for the label’s exact wording.

And of course, vintage was imperative.  The 1993 Nuits St. Georges cost much more than the 1994, and if the vintage wasn’t recorded correctly or at all, for that matter, Chris would have to page one of us so that updates on the 1500 label wine list were 100% correct.

Chris was thorough and exact and close to perfect in every way possible, but more than that, Chris was compassionate.  He listened to me when I worried about making a mistake, and he cared about my love life that was not panning out the way I thought it would.  When my older sister came to Windows to dine with a friend, he chose an affordable bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for them to enjoy with their dinner, all the while making them feel as if they were drinking the best bottle of wine on the list.

Chris continued to be a friend well after he left Windows.  He procured places for me to stay in Napa when I went out to take the introductory exam, and he even made the trek to Tarboro to eat at On the Square and spend nights with us in Tarboro.

Chris took time to be a friend, and his love for people and his knowledge of wine were not challenged by anyone.

My dear friend Mark called me on Thursday to tell me Chris had left our world.  The news took my breath away, and four days later, I am still asking why.

Why is this gentle, loving soul no longer with us?

Chris taught me many, many life lessons.  He taught me the significance of detail when it comes to anything you do, the basics of wine service in a fine dining setting, not up-selling wine when you don’t have to, and above all, the importance of friendship.

Chris will be missed by all who knew him.  He truly made a mark on me as well as countless others who were fortunate enough to know him.

Tonight, when I raise my glass, I will raise it in his memory.  The bottle of the wine of life just became a little more empty for all of his friends.

Cheers to you, Chris.  We love you and we will miss you.



A Little Shout Out

So, I just got this really great wine & food book, and I’m not just saying it’s good because the authors are all about the sommeliers.  I’m saying it because it’s incredibly insightful and cutting edge, and it’s in a league all of its own as far as wine books are concerned.

It started like this:

A couple of years ago, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of The Flavor Bible and What to Drink with What You Eat, emailed me at On the Square to set up a time for a phone interview.  I jumped at an opportunity to talk with such acclaimed authors, and the time was set to speak person to persons the following week.

Talk about charming, kind and super down-to-earth.  The two of them made me feel at ease right away, and after an hour and a half of talking, I felt like I had known them all of my life.

Soooooo, two years later, when an autographed copy of their book, The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine, arrives at On the Square via mail, I tear open the package with great antipication.  My excitement is not in vain as I read all of the rich text and history of wine and its magical ability to pair with all kinds of food.  The interviews and the stories from the sommeliers who work all over the United States are entertaining and informative.  In fact, three days after its arrival, I am re-reading to get more insight on the different perspectives on pairing wine and food, one of my very favorite things in the world to do.

For a wonderful interview on their book release, check out

It is an honor and a pleasure to be included in such a prestigious list of sommeliers, and I hope all of you will get a copy to enjoy yourselves.

Cheers to a great idea for Christmas!


Anything but Change

In January of 2000, I moved to Los Angeles to somehow find myself and my love of wine.  Of course, hindsight being 20/20, I should have gone north to Napa or San Francisco where grapes and fine dining were more prevalent, but I chose not to listen to my father and go to Hollywood instead.

Santa Monica, to be exact.  A beautiful city on the Pacific Ocean, my number one priority once I got off the plane was to find a job.

I put on a suit my Nana had given me for Christmas and took a stroll down 3rd Street Promenade with a resume that listed my degree from Chapel Hill and three previous jobs:  Golden Corral Waitress, Hector’s Down Under Bartender and Assistant Cellar Master at Windows on the World.

My first stop was Remi, an upscale Italian restaurant with a gorgeous dining room designed by Adam Tihany.  I asked the hostess could I apply for a job, and she kindly told me they weren’t hiring.  As I was telling her to call me if anything opened up, a gentleman sitting in the private dining area walked out and introduced himself as Brian Everingham, the restaurant manager.  He asked me to come back the following day for an interview.  Score!

My second stop was 3rd Street Deli, a massive restaurant with a casual dining area, a counter to buy to-go items and a super cool wine bar.  I asked to speak to the wine manager and a young guy with a midwestern accent came over to meet me.  He told me the wine bar was open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, and they did need a wine-tender, but only on Sunday nights.  I happily told him I was available, and he asked me to come train on Thursday-Saturday in hopes of being by myself on Sunday evening.

And there you have it ladies and gentleman, I worked these two jobs every week for six months until moving back to Manhattan to take the job as Beverage Manager at Windows on the World.

Many would say those six months were a waste for my career, that I could have stayed at Windows as an Assistant Cellarmaster and saved money on two cross country moves, in turn, moving up the career ladder much faster. 

But I don’t see it that way.

In those six short months, I made some dear friends, a few with whom I have just recently reconnected on facebook.  I also learned more about hospitality through my hostess position at Remi.  Another bonus was that my knowledge about wines of California and the Pacific Northwest grew greatly as most of my wonderful customers preferred to drink these over the wines of France or Italy. It was in Santa Monica that I tasted one of my favorite Pinot Noirs from Oregon.

I’ll never forget the label that got my attention first.  It looked like a red postage stamp stuck to a dark glass bottle, and the words on it were Benton Lane Pinot Noir.  The wine comes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and this Pinot took me to a newer place.  It had all of these flavors beyond the bing cherries, cola and soy.  The wine tasted different.  It had this lightness that seemed very fresh and rosy.  The wine was really beautiful, and I remember researching it to find it had the reputation of being the “healthiest wine in the world” due to the high percentage of resveratrol found in these particular grapes.  I guess you could say this wine made an impact on me that I will never forget.

In fact, when Stephen & I opened On the Square in October of 2002, it was the first wine I ordered to have in our store.  And, today, almost 9 years later, it is one of the 3 wines we have continued to carry.  Of course, it has risen in price, but not to the point where it isn’t worth it.

Benton Lane Pinot Noir is still super pretty, and it still has rosy flavors of cooler fruit.  I guess you can say it’s like one of pretty, nice girls in high school who was still pretty and nice at the 10-year high school reunion. 

As I drink this wine on a stormy Saturday night, I think about all of the change that has occurred in my life since the year 2000.  I have moved and I have left friends behind.  I have stayed and I have been left behind.  I have replaced wines that didn’t fit our wine store’s personality, and I have held on to some that should have been replaced a long time ago.

In this game called life, change is inevitable.  We cannot do anything about it no matter how hard we may try.

However, it’s very comforting when some things stay the same.  In my case, it’s the Benton Lane Pinot Noir.  Same label, same flavors, same feeling I get when I drink it and when I sell it. 

Cheers to some things staying the exact same.


Wine Reunites

Last night, On the Square hosted its final Summer of Riesling Wine Dinner with Dan Melia from Mosel Wine Merchants.

I know summer ended on the 20th of September, but Stephen and I forgot so we let it end last night on the 28th.  Of course, if you live in Tarboro or anywhere else in eastern North Carolina, you know very well that it still feels a heck of a lot like summer.

Dan Melia travelled from New York with an insane amount of insanely delicious wines, and our guests were educated and entertained for a solid two and half hours on the perfect trifecta of steep slopes, cool climate and slate-driven soil in relationship to Riesling.  Dan could not have been any more hospitable, genuine or charming, and everything he spoke about was relayed with passion and excitement.

Of course, the best part for me was at the end of the night when he sat down at the bar with our staff and tasted through the line-up of wines, educating us as a reward for working hard and serving our guests.

When midnight fell, I began to turn into a pumpkin so I said I was going home to indulge in homemade cheesecake that one of my favorite friends had made me.  Dan was staying with us so he said he would hit the road as well.

And this, my friends, is where craziness comes into the picture, a happenstance that can only happen when all the stars are in perfect alignment.

As we sat down at my kitchen table for one last conversation, I asked Dan where he worked in New York before Mosel Wine Merchants. 

“Prune,” he responded.

For those of you who have never eaten at Gabrielle Hamilton’s lower east side restaurant, it is one of my all-time favorite brunches ever, and I am not alone in saying that.

But when Dan said Prune, I had this flashback to four years ago, when the night time girls of On the Square and I travelled to New York to celebrate a high school graduation of one of our longtime employees.

The plan for our group was to eat at Prune for Sunday brunch, the moment our cab came into the city from picking us up at Laguardia.  I called because the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and I spoke to a gentleman about us coming in with luggage and of course, to see if they could make an exception this one time and reserve us a table.

I will never forget how awesome this guy was on the phone.  He told me he would put our luggage downstairs and hold it for us, and while he could not bend the rule on the reservations, he would work with us to make sure we would be seated as soon as possible. 

I remember hanging up and thinking “What a great guy, he was so kind and accommodating and, wow, I need to be more like that when I answer the phone.”

And, of course, when we arrived at Prune that Sunday morning, six Carolina girls and a whole lotta luggage, the same gentleman who had been so accommodating on the phone, became even more accommodating in person. 

He hauled all of our luggage downstairs to store while we ate the brunch of a lifetime, Bloody Marys and shots of Pabst Ribbon included. 

We had the best time, and it all started with this amazing guy who clearly loves the hospitality industry.

Soooooooooo, to make a long story even longer, it will come to you as no surprise that while Dan is talking to me about being at Prune, I realized I knew his voice and his face long before tonight’s wine dinner.

I asked him did  he remember six girls coming to eat there one Sunday morning four years ago, and all of a sudden, everything came into place.

“Inez!” he exclaimed.

“Dan!” I yelled.

The irony of that entire meeting reunited in Tarboro with our group getting to serve and pamper him as he did for us four years ago.

Again, it can only happen when a perfect trifecta occurs:  great wine, great food and great company.

For those who would like to see the menu we served, see below:


Harker’s Island Oysters, Chicken Liver Mousse on Sweet Potato Chips, Tempura Shrimp, Pork & Apple Crostini

Peter Lauer Sekt, Saar NV

Lobster & Marscapone Ravioli

Butternut Squash Cream

Stein St. Aldegunder Himmelreich Kabinett-Feinherb, Mosel 2010

Immich-Batterieberg Escheburg, Mosel 2009


Waldorf Salad

Crispy Prosciutto Chip

Clemens Busch Marienburg Fahrlay, Mosel 2008


Blackfin Tuna Au Poivre

Snow Peas, Whipped Potatoes

Peter Lauer Saar Riesling Barrel X, Saar 2010


Sliced Duck Breast

Autumn Vegetable Ragout, Cranberry Syrup

Gunther Steinmetz Kestener Paulinsberg Spatlese, Mosel 1990

Peach Sundae

Peach Coulis, Caramel Sauce

Dr. Loosen Eiswein, Mosel 2008


Adding Flavor

In our small wine shop in eastern North Carolina, I write shelftalkers for our displayed wines.  Many times I try to give a few taste and aroma descriptors along with at least one food pairing.  It is a great exercise for me as it forces me to describe wines in writing so that I don’t forget them.  It also allows customers to browse in our shop without having to ask questions if they don’t feel like it.

Today, during lunch service, a couple was strolling through our wine room, and they asked Frances could they speak with the wine buyer. 

Frances retrieved me from the kitchen where I was extremely busy inhaling french fries, and I made my way into the office to answer some questions about wine–my most favorite job in the world.

The couple was looking at the shelftalker describing the Domaine Seguinot-Bordet Chablis 2009, and I had written the following:

“An expression of Chardonnay that can only be described as pure, Chablis is one of my most favorite growing regions.  Tart green apple, oyster shells and minerality that doesn’t stop, this wine is perfect with Chicken Scallopine or a fresh Arugula Salad with Lemon Viniagrette.”

The couple had read the shelftalker, and they wanted to ask me a question about the flavors I had described.

The man looked at the bottle, and then he looked at me.  He asked, “Do they add green apples and oyster shells to the wine to make it taste that way?”

My most favorite explanation of wine was allowed to be expressed this afternoon as I excitedly responded with the following:

“Grapes are the only fruit in the world with the magical ability to taste and smell like other things once they are made into wine.”

“If you make wine from peaches, it smells like peaches; if you make wine from pineapple, it smells like pineapple; but grapes, vinifera grapes, that is (think Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay….), are the only fruit in the world to have the incredible ability to smell like dark plums, green apple, lime zest, smoke, buttered toast, the list goes on and on and on and on.”

In case anyone reading has ever wondered that question, and I hope you have so you’ll continue to read, grapes are magical.  They are crazy magical, and wine produced from grapes take on nuances and flavors you couldn’t imagine in a million years they would be able to have.

The next time you taste a wine, think about all of the many flavors you sniff out in the glass and eventually taste.  It’s pretty amazing grapes have that type of complexity, that type of ability, that type of magic. 

It is yet another reason to drink the juice, to get a little magic in your veins. 

Cheers to the magic of the vino!


How Do You Say Goodbye?

I didn’t really believe a 10-year anniversary would mean much to me.

However, as I should know already, most of the time I am completely confused and utterly dumbfounded by what affects me and what doesn’t.

September 11th, 2001 happened 10 years ago, making me 35 years old.

In great thanks to my cousin Penn Holderness and incredible teachers at Tarboro High School, Matt and April Smith, I have found some time to mourn and express some great sadness that needed to be expelled.

Brilliant and loving teachers at Tarboro High School, Matt & April invited me to speak about 9/11 (as it is so often referred) during 4th period today.  It is extremely difficult to talk about because I never want my words to be anything but humble and reverent.

These were my words:

My name is Inie Ribustello, and I graduated from Tarboro High in 1994.  I moved to New York four years later.

After culinary school, I found a job on the top floor of One World Trade Center.  It was the job of a lifetime, and my plan was to stay there forever.

When I was 25, my world changed in every way, shape and form.

I lost my job, I lost any sense of security I had ever felt and I lost 85 friends who I had seen everyday for the past three years.

Imagine this:  you go to school on Monday and you see all of your teachers, your fellow students, the principal and the custodian and coaches, everyone you come into contact with on a day-to-day basis.

Let’s say that the next day you stay at home because you don’t feel well, or maybe you skip school with a friend or maybe you’re on vacation with your family.  For whatever reason, you just don’t come to school.

While you’re not there, something terrible occurs.  Actually, the unthinkable happens, and everyone who came to school that day is either killed or unable to be found.

That is the cruel reality of September 11th, 2001.

My work, my friends, my life was on the 106th floor of One World Trade Center.

While I was in Tarboro for my sister’s wedding, I saw it all crumble on national television, never to be seen, touched or heard again.

Did I ever believe in one million years that my life would be affected by terrorists?


But it was.  It was affected and then re-affected and ten years later, it continues to affect everything about me.

I will never ever forget what happened, and because of 9/11, I have an entirely new definition of what forever really means.

My cousin Penn gave me the opportunity to speak about the events that encompassed that horrible morning, and for that, I am forever grateful.  He conducts a beautiful interview in the following:


When I think about September 11th, 2001, I don’t cry as many tears as I used to.

Instead, I am more saddened by the day-to-day events occurring right now in our present world.  My emotions run deeper than they once did 10 years ago, and my heart hurts a little more than the last time I rode up the elevator to the 107th floor.

Tears may not come as quickly when that tragic day is mentioned, but they do fall more freely for good-byes that weren’t supposed to be just now.


Livin’ La Terra Vita

What’s going on in my world right now? 

Well, for one thing, I am counting the days until Terra Vita, an awesome event highlighting sustainable foods, beers, wines and coffees taking place in Chapel Hill for the second year in a row.  The host/coordinator is Colleen Minton, a charismatic and beautiful redhead whose spirit is infectious.  She has used her many talents to procure chefs and farmers from all over our awesome state to come together for a great day of food, fun and drink.  It was my favorite event of 2010, and that is why I anxiously await the weekend of September 24th where good times will roll all over again.

For more information, check out  I’m not sure if any tickets are left, but if there are, don’t miss out on a super good time supporting our local farmers and chefs.

This year, in addition to the walk-around tasting, there will be a sustainable classroom where tremendous speakers will talk about wine, food, farm & garden or sustainable agriculture.  I am particularly excited about hearing Max Kast, Wine Director & Sommelier at the Fearrington House.  He is going to talk about American wines made using biodynamic practices and the great beers made in North Carolina.  Can I get a woop woop?  

I often hear people tell me they are looking for cool things to do.  My answer for the month of September:  If you want to have one of the coolest experiences in NC, come to Terra Vita.  Stephen and I will be there ready to eat, drink and serve.


Compliments to the Chef

Because this is one of the funniest things I heard this week, I thought I would share a short scenario of how funny children can be.

My daughter Cynthia and her beautiful cousin Shelton love to play pretend restaurant.

On Sunday night, they became even more innovative with their imaginations and placed a mailbox on the table asking all of our family sitting in the kitchen to fill out comment cards.

My brother, being the hilarious person he is, decided to mix it up a bit and write a complaint rather than a compliment.  His words were the following:  “Eggs slightly runny, server didn’t pay him any attention and the corkage fee was too high.”

Cynthia read the note with the help of my sister-in-law, and upon realizing she wasn’t receiving any high compliments, she proceeded to rip the paper in shreds and yell at my brother for not playing right.

If only that were the real world.

The scenario became one I will never forget five minutes later.  After recovering from being very angry at her uncle, she revisited his chair to ask him how was he enjoying his steak.

He told her in a very serious tone that he had ordered it medium-rare, but it came well-done.

Cynthia assessed the situation and ran over to Shelton, yelling with glee, “Shelton, we just received another compliment.”



So, I’m not going to write a blog confessing all of my faults (only because you’d be reading for days), but I will tell you my weakness when it comes to talking about wine.

Vintages ya’ll.

They are the death of me.

For those who may be confused, vintages refer to the year the grapes were harvested to be made into the vino.  And for wine that is made to be aged or consumed during a certain time, vintages are a very big deal.

Numbers were never my thing.  In fact, if it weren’t for my Algebra II teacher, Oneida Price, I would be math-illiterate.  However, I have had to work hard at getting my years straight to talk intelligently about wine at the table with my vintage-saavy guests.

I used to bog myself down with memorization.  German Riesling from 1976 is super, super yummy.  The Northern Rhone reds were awesome in 1999.  Champagne had a great reign in 1985.  Rioja ruled the roost in 1981.  Yada, yada, yada.  Blah, blah, blah.  Where’s the fun in that?

It wasn’t until one of my favorite wine peeps on the west coast (she knows who she is) taught me an awesome way to get my vintages straight without boring myself into a wine coma.

Her advice…take the year you’re trying to learn and relate it to something significant that happened in your life.  Her example was 1986, the year she lost her virginity (put the phone down, Aunt Cynthia, we’ll talk about this later).

The year 1986 was fabulous in Sauternes, a region in Bordeaux known for its lusciously sweet wines made from botrytized Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.  The year 1986 was a sweet time for her, and that’s how she remembered it was a great year for this particular region.

About once a month, I take a bottle from our cellar that has age on it.  I open the wine to enjoy first, contemplate second and deconstruct third.

This past week, when my family and I went to visit Pop Pop in upstate New York, I packed a bottle of Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 from Napa.

Opening this gorgeous bottle of 1997 on Wednesday night and tasting this fourteen-year-old California Cabernet took me on a trip of vintages, starting with the year the grapes were harvested and ending in the year we consumed it.

In 1997, I turned 21 years old.  My knowledge of wine at the time was limited to say the least.  The only thing I can say for sure is that I knew the color of White Zinfandel was pink and not white.

When I tasted my first sip of the Montelena, I thought about that year in terms of my life.  I thought about being a junior in Chapel Hill, living in Shiboomi Apartments on Airport Road, studying in Greece for history credits, working at Stack’s Steakhouse in Tarboro during the summer, going into my senior year, bartending at Hector’s Down Under.

It was a great year for me with lots going on and lots of mind changing.

Just like the Montelena.

The Montelena came on strong just like my junior year, lots of exciting, rich fruit yet easing into a smokiness (like working in the kitchen) and then ending with leather and reductive notes (similar to the bar stools at Hector’s).

As the wine continued to develop, more flavors and memories came to mind.  The moss in our backyard, sharpened pencils in my daughter’s backpack, the spice rack in our 1970’s kitchen.

My sommelier mentor in California is right.  When you remember vintages because of how they affected your life, it’s a lot easier to do as well as a lot more fun.

Of course, it is also quite beautiful to take the year of the grapes, remember that year in your life and then appreciate where you and the wine are now.


What’s the Coolest Bottle of Riesling You Have Ever Drunk?

I have to say I am an extremely spoiled Riesling drinker.

Unlike many of my friends, Riesling didn’t make me think of a cloyingly sweet beverage served in a tall, slender bottle. 

No, the first Riesling I ever tasted was the Albert Boxler “Sommerberg” 1996 that was served at a class in the dining room of Wild Blue in April 1999.  It was so good I thought I was going to faint, and while money was no object, I left the tasting headed for Union Square Wine & Spirits, knowing I had to have this wine to take home to my family in Tarboro. 

Sure enough, the shop had it, and it cost me $35.99, money I knew I shouldn’t spend, but I just couldn’t help myself.

The bottle travelled to Tarboro in one piece, tucked safely in my carry-on as I boarded a Continental flight from Newark. 

When I got to Mary Ann & Dad’s house, I could barely contain myself.  The only thing that was better than this bottle of awesome Riesling was the immediate love they felt as soon as they tasted it.  All three of us became major believers influenced by one awesome producer.

I’ll be completely honest when I say at the time I had no idea who Albert Boxler was.  Or anything about any of the wines coming from Alsace. 

But I was learning, and this bottle made me yearn for more information on what wine could be.

The fun train headed for Riesling town did not slow down, and a couple of months later when Mary Ann & Dad came to Manhattan for a visit, our sommelier, Alison Junker, poured us glasses of Domaine Zind Humbrecht “Clos Windsbuhl” at the end of dinner.

My friends, I don’t know what heaven is, but I’m pretty sure if you can put it in a glass, that would have been it.

We swooned, and we remembered.  We all were completely sold on Riesling. 

Last May, I had an awesome opportunity to eat and drink and visit with Vivian Howard and Ben Knight of the Chef and the Farmer in Kinston.  It was one of my favorite nights of 2010, and one of the wines we all enjoyed the most was Trimbach “Clos Ste. Hune” 2003, again from Alsace. 

It was pure deliciousness, pure intensity, and I remember waking up the morning after, still tasting that perfect flavor that cannot be replicated.

Tonight as I write, I am alternating sips between two Austrian Rieslings, both from Vienna.  One  is the 2009 Weingut Mayer Am Pfarrplatz “Reid Alsegg” and the other is the Weingut Hajszan “Pfaffenberg” 2007.  They are both incredibly killer, and in all possible ways, they convince me to blog about just how awesome Riesling tastes.

It also takes me back to other Riesling memories. 

Working at Blue Fin in 2002 and drinking Robert Weil’s “Kiedricher Grafenberg” Auslese.   The way that wine reminded me of the sweet, little drops of honeysuckle you get straight from the flower. 

I started thinking about a trip to Canada where I tried Inniskillin’s Eiswein. 

And I started reminiscing about my days at Borgata where the Riesling list at Susanna Foo’s “Suilan” was like a beautiful dream with the happiest of endings.

All of these thoughts make me want to ask anyone fortunate enough to answer, “What is the Coolest Riesling You Have Ever Drunk?” 

As someone who is a Riesling searcher, I would love to know so I can continue my trip that hopefully will never end.

If you have a moment, please share.  It would mean a great deal to hear from others who have found a rainbow that ened in a bottle of Riesling.


Four Beautiful Years

Four years ago today, I gave birth to a darling, precious son I didn’t believe I could have.

It may seem crazy, but I am one of two girls, and my mother is one of two girls so it just seemed natural that I would have two girls as well.

When Stephen was born, I remember feeling so anxious I immediately entered a state of claustrophobia.  I just could not wrap my head around what to do with a son, much less one who could do nothing for himself.

His first 8 months were shared with wine books and study questions as I geared up to take the Master Sommelier Exam for the first time.  I remember watching him sleep in his crib while I tried to memorize the four yeasts used in Sherry production.

Baby Stephen, as I named him, cried in frustration during these months, maybe in hopes of me leaving the wine notes to spend more time enjoying his smallness.

Not to be distracted or deterred from my path of becoming a Master Sommelier, I muffled his cries with frustrated sighs of my own.

The first two years of Stephen’s life were not simple.  It would be easy to blame him as being a difficult baby, but as I reflect, I know the truth:  I was a difficult mama.

A child doesn’t complicate your life.  A child makes you come to immediate grips with what you need to change in your life, and in my instances, the child is ‘right-on’ about what needs to stay and what needs to go.

A child requires nourishment, of course, but a happy child requires love and attention.  If you lack in either of these areas, they will be sure to let you know.

The year 2011 marked my fourth attempt at taking the Master Sommelier Exam.

When I came home from Dallas that Sunday, I said good-bye to the program with a letter to the court and a good cry to my husband.

When I woke up Monday morning, I felt a feeling that cannot be described, a high that reached the heavens, a relief that kept relieving.

Of course, it was tough telling people over and over again I had not passed, but it didn’t take away from that feeling of relief that had come from my decision to stop trying.

In fact, it felt amazing.  My family supported me through each and every one of my attempts, and they were even more supportive when I told them I wasn’t going back.

My exact words were, “I’m done.  I am worn out.  I can’t play anymore.  I have everything I need to be a wonderfully excellent, professional sommelier.  In fact, I have enough to run a successful restaurant.  I have enough to have two children and a husband who love me no matter what I pass or don’t pass.  Almost 11 years later, my ride is ending.  It is ending because I am truly happy with what I have and who I have become.  I thank the Court for being a major part of my wine route.  I would not be where I am without you.”

The minute I sent that letter, I believe my wine career reached another plane.  A plane that took me on a trip to loving wine rather than worrying about wine.  It also took me to a place where I could soar as a parent and a wife, a place where everything became balanced, in a very harmonious way.

It took me a while to write this blog and to actually admit to those who have been on my Master Sommelier journey that I am going to stay where I am.

Last night when I got home from work, I sat on the couch to enjoy a glass of bubbly before crashing in bed.  As per usual, Baby Stephen woke up and ran into the living room, crying about a bad dream.

He sat on my lap while I stroked his hair and watched him calm down in my arms.

About two minutes later, Cynthia, having heard his cries, ran out to join us.

Last year at this time, my other hand would have been on my laptop trying to memorize the aging requirements of Franciacorta Saten.

This night, however, my left hand was free to take Cynthia into my lap and to love on them both at the same time.

My friends, I am not giving up, and  I am not giving in.

I am just giving more. 

More to those who really deserve my time and energy.

My son turning four helped me see that very clearly.


Summer of Riesling 2011

It is with great pride and joy that I inform you On the Square is participating in the Summer of Riesling 2011.

What’s that, you say?  Summer of Riesling? Sounds awfully sweet to me.

Well, it is sweet.  Sweet, as in awesome. 

Until September 21st, On the Square, along with many restaurants all over the country, will pour Riesling in hommage to the most noble of grapes.

It is my privilege to offer Riesling from all areas of the world, not just Germany.  In fact, we enjoy pouring one from Central Otago in New Zealand, another from Bio Bio in Chile and of course, my local favorite, Shelton Vineyards from the Yadkin Valley. 

The Riesling contingency is big in this part of the world, and I am proud to say our list of Rieslings started the summer with a bang as all of our customers have been extremely supportive and mucho thirsty.

When we seat our diners, we hand them a piece of paper outlining our Summer of Riesling motto.  It looks a little bit like this:

So you think you know what Riesling is like, do you?  Then why take our suggestions?  I mean if you already know that it’s sweet, then why drink a glass when you don’t like sweet?

O.K. for those who have kept reading, let’s start with the basics:

1.  Riesling can be dry.

In fact, Riesling can be bone dry.  Just try the Cono Sur from Chile or the Pike’s from Australia…not a touch of residual sugar in

 either of them.

2.  Riesling is the single best wine to pair with food.

And we don’t just mean food with spice or tang.  We mean it pairs well with a juicy steak or green tomatoes.  In fact, if you want to find a wine that can match every dish on your table, just let us pour you a bottle of Riesling.  You’ll be shocked at its versatility and amazing ability to pair well with every single type of flavor. 

3.  Summer of Riesling 2011, Tarboro, NC

On the Square is offering Rieslings of all styles in hopes of showing our part of the world just how awesome Riesling really is.  No pressure, no hard feelings, no bad tastes, just an awesome opportunity to try as many Rieslings as you can.

And now, get your drink on!


Ressi Secco, Mosel, Germany 6 Sparkly

Cono Sur, Bio Bio, Chile 5 Dry

Next, Washington State 6 Off-dry

Childress, Yadkin Valley, NC 6 Off-dry

Sun Garden, Mosel, Germany 6 Off-dry

Mohua, New Zealand 8 Dry

Pike’s, Australia 9 Dry

Knebel Trocken, Mosel, Germany 10 Off-dry

Gunther Steinmetz Riesling Spatlese, Mosel, Germany 12 Off-dry

In case you don’t have the opportunity to come to On the Square this summer, check out for a full list of restaurants supporting the Riesling cause.  These are winos devoted to showing the world just how delicious Riesling can be, in all styles, from sparkling to dry to off-dry to super sweet. 

If you want to see a pretty cute clip, check out my video to see just how excited my children are about our Riesling-filled summer:  Ribustello Kids Love Summer of Riesling

Riesling everybody, it’s more than you think.


Change is Good

So, it’s been a month and I have yet to write a new blog.

Maybe not a big deal for ya’ll, but for me, it’s really depressing as my therapy comes from writing.

So much change these days.  Not just in my pockets but in my life.

I remember when it rained more and the crops thrived.  I remember when summer seemed like an eternity and the fireflies at night were endless like the tree frogs down the hill.  I remember when days were longer and I didn’t need all that much sleep to function.  I remember when I didn’t have to worry, or at least I didn’t think I had to worry.

Everything is different now.

I worry about not having enough rain rather than worrying the rain will ruin my plans at the pool.

My latest nightmare had me waking up before the first day of school and summer was already over.

If I don’t get enough sleep, my day is ruined and I feel deprived of the energy I should have received.

Now as I write this, my daughter comes to lie in my lap awakened by the loud clap of thunder signaling the rain I have thirsted for over the past few weeks.

She looks at our dog Simba as if he is a hero, and she welcomes him into our living room

I, on the other hand, cringe as more dog hair makes its way into our home.

I wasn’t always like that.

I remember my first dog, Bingo.  I remember loving him as much as my mom and my dad.

I remember being afraid of the drum roll that overtook the sky.

I remember being just like my daughter, same size, same fears, same loves.

About a year ago, I wrote about a wine called Vina Ardanza Rioja Reserva 2000 from La Rioja Alta.

I waxed poetically about its beauty and its grace and about the nostalgia that went along with it.

For the past 12 months, I have enjoyed selling that wine to those I knew would appreciate it, be it by the glass, with dinner or to take home to cellar.

I have loved that wine and I have shared my love to any who was interested.

Every time I would sell my last bottle, I would text the distributor to place an order for another case, maybe two.  Every time I did this I would remind myself to buy a bottle to take home and keep as a memory because great wines do not last forever.

You can imagine my surprise and my sadness when my Vina Ardanza came in last Friday with a different label and a new vintage.

How could I have let this happen?  I never saved one bottle for myself.  I let it go.  I let it be drunk until it was all the way gone.  I blew it.  What is wrong with me that I didn’t make sure one was stashed away as a keepsake?

I look at the new label.

It doesn’t say Reserva 2000.  It says Reserva Especial 2001.

I look it up, and I find it is the third time the winery has made this bottling in the history of the winery.  The years were 1964, 1973 and, now, 2001.

This is a new bottle, and it is special.

I open it and take a sip.

It is beautiful.  It is regal.  It is intense.

It is its own wine.

Change can be scary.  It can be sad.  It can even overwhelm.

But it can also be very, very good.