Monday, October 9, 2017

Autumn Glory

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky,
~WB Yeats

Monday, October 2, 2017

Whirl-winder through amazing Spain! Wines, vines, architecture, sublime seafood & history...

Trip to Spain with Gil Family Wine Estates


My flight to Madrid was delayed by two and a half hours, so I wasn’t sure I was going to make my connecting flight to Vigo. But, the pilot made up some time in flight and we landed in Madrid not too far behind schedule. The Madrid airport is more confusing than I had anticipated. It seems shiny and new and rather modern, but it is big and sprawling and there aren’t many people around to help you navigate.  Miraculously I jumped on the right train and made it to my connecting gate. The next flight was to Vigo on the far western side of Spain.  A motley crew of wine professionals from around the U.S. gathered in baggage claim and headed to lunch in a caravan of 5 Mercedes vans.

 We were delivered to the quaint and sleepy Atlantic seaside village of Cambados. Lunch was served upstairs in an authentically charming neighborhood style restaurant. The tables were worn, the windows were open and the sea breeze swept in keeping the air flowing and the mood lively.  Razor clams and various small crustaceans were served. Some meat, but seafood was the crux. After a lengthy lunch (that I would soon become accustomed to on this trip) we ambled down two blocks thru the village, past cafes and shops, to the cove on the Atlantic Ocean. Sight of the sea!  The west coast of Spain!  That night we checked in to our hotel in the nearby “metropolis” of Pontevedre.  I took a fast and explorative walk around, down to the promenade along the Pontevedre River and into the lively square.  The town was alive, like summer was in full swing, everyone was out enjoying themselves on a beautiful night in the warm evening air. A small chapel in the center endearingly drew me in. Old Spain! Old authentic village. Here I am! We had time to shower and change, and arrived at the Condessa Winery in the Rias Biaxas DO just as the sun was setting on the vines. Jamon, fresh octopus carpaccio, and then dinner was served. Crab, langoustines, baby prawns...whole bodies intact with their heads still on in the traditional Spanish way.  And the Albarino was a perfect match: Kentia, the unoaked version, Condessa the slightly oaked and fuller style. Both showed beautifully.




The next morning in the rain we rallied on towards Zamora and the Tinta de Toro vines. Tempranillo of a slightly different clone, particular to the Toro. Tinier fruit. More nuance and depth the locals proclaim.  Tiers of increasing oak and concentration. Entre Suelos, 6months in French.  Tridente Tempranillo 15months in French.  Rejon 2months in French. Pretty fantastic to taste Tinta de Toro in its home. In addition, two wines made from idiosyncratic grapes…Tridente Mencia from Bierzo and Tridente Prieto Picudo from Leon. I am always intrigued byesoteric and interesting grapes. Mencia is starting to get a lot of attention lately and rightfully so.  It is a pleasant grape with generally less tannin and alcohol and with brighter acidity.  It can make for a very charming wine and very different stylistically than what you find in much of Spain.  Spain is an arid and hot country and typically the traditional grapes of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, Carinena and Garnacha Tintorera show their muscles. Prieto Picudo…I am not sure it will ever find glory, but it was fun at taste nonetheless.



The wines were again poured with lunch. Roasted pork, tenderloin of beef and several rich fish, meat and bean driven soups were served.

Verdejo was next. The unoaked version “Arindo” and the oaked “Shaya”. The van pulled over in what seemed like the middle of no-where…but, there we were in Rueda stomping around in a bush-vine vineyard of verdejo. The Rueda in my mind was a much more significant place than the reality of the situation. Rueda is very modest and unassuming, she is pretty much the quiet girl in the corner. But her wines, while correspondingly not super showy, are quite refreshing and delicious.  


Our hotel that night was in Segovia. As we drove in to the village, up high on the cliff band was a grand and looming castle built in the 12th Century named Alcazar. Apparently, Disney used it as the model for Cinderella’s Castle. It is shaped like bow of a boat, ready to launch off the cliff. Alcazar is quintessentially castle-y with its turrets and stone fortress stature. Dinner was at a historic restaurant at the base of the legendary Roman aqueduct.  A group of us followed the impressive aqueduct down to the town square from our hotel on the hill. Looming above us, we reveled in awe that this massive aqueduct was built nearly 2000 years ago without mortar! The above ground portion is 2388 feet long and consist of 166 perfect arches more than 30 feet high. The single keystone holding up to its name!  As a student of History of Art & Architecture in college, I learned about the keystone, but never before had I seen it in its most amazing form. Can I reiterate?  No mortar. Ingenious technique of balancing forces! We viewed it from below, we hiked up and viewed it from above, we were truly astounded.  In the restaurant’s basement we were served the traditional suckling pig for dinner. Zamora wines showed nicely. Fine, velvety rich, Tinta de Toro.


The flagship wines of Juan Gil are in Jumilla, our next stop on the tour.  Jumilla looks somewhat akin to Moab, Utah. Here, Monastrell is king.  Monastrell is the same grape as Mourvedre, that you generally find blended with Grenache and Syrah in the southern Rhone Valley of France. Here, like in Bandol, it stands brilliantly on its own. 100-year-old head trained Monastrell vines dot the rocky limestone landscape.  Juan Gil Silver (12months in new French oak) is 100% Monastrell. Juan Gil Blue (18months in new French oak) is 60% Monastrell blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah for added depth and fruit.

Juan Gil Winery looks south to the Clio/ El Nido Winery.  While all of the Gil Family Wineries are state of the art and meticulously pristine, the Clio/ El Nido Winery shines far and above. It is a gorgeous monument to their two flagship wines. Trellised Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards flank the tres chic modern winery.  In the warm, late summer air, the winery garage doors we thrown up…with a bucolic view of the surrounding rolling vineyards. Clio is a wine that is hard to come by, the El Nido even more so. They are both released in the fall, two years after harvest. The Clio is 70% Monastrell blended with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.  El Nido (the most expensive wine in the Gil Family portfolio) is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Monastrell and is aged for 24months in new French and American oak. Both are amazing, brooding wines.  But, El Nido stands apart. It is a lovely, unfiltered, behemoth. 

At lunch, served from 2pm to 6pm in a grand fashion, baby lamb chops (very tiny and tasty) were served alongside Iberico Jamon. But, the highlight for me (aside from the fabled wines) was the estate olive oil. Smooth and somewhat “sweet” there was not a hint of bitterness.  It was glorious and made from the gnarly vined, character filled, old olive trees on the Clio/ El Nido property. Oh to know that tree’s life…to have seen what those trees have seen.  The innumerable slow days in the vast countryside of Spain, the iconic wars, the famous family and their wine legacy.



We did a quick fly-by visit to Altalaya Winery in Almansa.  Chris Ringland was there…knee deep in harvest and early fermentations. Garnacha Tintorera is the predominant grape in these wines. La Laya is 70% Garnacha Tintorera blended with 30% Monastrell and aged for 4 months in French oak. Atalaya del Camino is 85% Garnacha Tintorera blended with 15% Monastrell and aged for 12months in French oak. Garnacha Tintorera is a teinturier, one of the rare grapes with red flesh.  Most other grapes when you bite into them have white flesh, the color coming from the contact with the red skins.

Calatayud in the northeast province of Zaragoza within Aragon is almost to the Pyrenees. It is a sleepy town with very colorful architecture. Blue, pink, purple facades. It is also an area of civil unrest. Regional flags hang from apartment buildings. They want to secede from Spain. Poverty reins.  In the surrounding villages, nary a soul walks the streets. They say these villages will soon be empty.  That everyone has left for the cities and surrounding bigger towns. It is eerie. A moon like landscape, dry and shards of rock. Trash littered about the land. Neglected groves of almond trees. Quince and fig trees.

Membrillo hails from here…the thick jelly made from the pulp of the quince fruit…that is outstanding with Manchego cheese!  Calatayud is also famous for old vine Garnacha. Gnarly old bush vines grow from the decomposed slate and gravel. Atteca is 100% Old Vine Garnacha aged for 10months in French oak.  It is a layered and delicious.  It is more complex than some other classic “cherrybomb” garnachas. Blackberry, licorice and spice. Smoke, mocha and concentration. The palate is full and busting with profound flavor.  It surprised me and was one of my favorites of the trip. But, sadly much of this year’s harvest got too baked in the intense unrelenting summer sunshine. They said 50-60% of the 2017 yield was lost.


 “Zaragoza Rocks!”  my compatriot announced.  And I would have to concur!  85km from the town of Calatayud, Zaragoza is a world apart. It is lively, bustling with shopping, food markets, tapas cafes, great restaurants and beguiling archetypical architectural beauties. The Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is a Roman Catholic church with Goya frescos! A remarkable thing though, is that during the Spanish Civil war (in 1937) two bombs penetrated the basilica and did not detonate. They are placed on the wall near the altar.  If you look directly up, you can see the scaring on the Goya frescos and on the wall and ceiling where they entered.  It is an extraordinary feeling standing inside the basilica and seeing this. The history of Spain is palpable.  Suddenly I was full of emotion, teeming with the enormity of it all.

Meat and seafood were overflowing at each meal. If you were want for a vegetable you were out of luck, unless you proclaimed yourself a vegan (which is what my colleague is).  Half way through the trip I realized, that if I did not do so as well, I would never see a vegetable.  My body and I love vegetables, so “Vegan” is what I became for the remainder of the trip.  Gorgeous artichokes dripping with succulent olive oil, superb asparagus and a tomato soup made with olive oil whisked into the most amazing creamy, non-cream, soup I have ever had. Viva the vegan! Luckily many of the meals were served family style (except for the two “special” vegan girls…we got our own special plates) so I was able to pick and choose when the bounty of magnificent crustacean plates were passed around the table. More sweet langoustines, prawns, lobsters than you could dream of. It was a fabulous feast every night!  Sometimes lasting until 2 in the morning. 



The final day of the wine trip was upon us. Lunch was at Can Blau deep in the Monstant region, just shy of the Mediterranean coast. The soil looked mostly red, but as we drove through the winding, rainforest-like hills, you could see the famous llicorella black slate cut into the hillside. The neighboring Priorat is the more prestigious DO and the wines are generally more expensive than those of Montsant. Priorat and Rioja are the only two DOs in Spain with the highest qualification level.  These wines are designated with DOCa on the label. You could spit into Priorat from Can Blau. It is literally separated by the road passing through. Can Blau is 50% Carinena (Mazuelo), 40% Syrah and 20% Garnacha and is aged for 12 months on French oak. Mas de Can Blau is 35% Carinena, 35% Syrah and 30% Garnacha and is aged for 18months in French Oak. In addition, Gil Family Estates makes the Blue/Gray Priorat at a winery within Priorat, in accordance with the DO rules. It is a fantastic and astonishingly affordable blend of Garnacha, Carinena and Cabernet Sauvignon that is aged in French oak for 12months. An extremely modest and talented female winemaker is at the helm all of these distinctive and remarkably affordable wines! 

We stayed in the picturesque seaside village of Sites for our final two nights in Spain. It is a stunning town on the Mediterranean. Open restaurants line the promenade along the beach. Shops, restaurants and nightclubs are abundant. When we were there the weather was amazingly glorious (maybe 75* during the day and very pleasant at night) and there was some kind of local celebration going on complete with fireworks and festive costumes. It was an easy 30—40minute drive north into the heart of Barcelona. We ate at a fancy 1star Michelin restaurant in the Eixample neighborhood the first night. I was served a deconstructed cauliflower soup (a bowl arrived with just a few tiny peas and a small curl of carrot…before the saucer of soup arrived to be poured over) that was unbelievably silky and divine. The desert, served on a small piece of slate, was a “galaxy” of ice cream and chocolates.


For our final full day in Spain, a group of 10 of us returned to Barcelona to explore. Two van-fulls of us pulled into the city. As we were driving in, and very close to the Sagrada Familia (the famous Gaudi church that looks like a hand-dripped sand-castle) we noticed “Bomb-Squad” emergency vehicles. We quickly spotted a corner building with blown out windows.  With the recent terror-attacks in Barcelona (a week or so prior to our arrival) we were all immediately on edge.  The drivers dropped us off in front to the Sagrada Familia, one of the biggest tourist draws in the city, and our instinct was to get away from that area as fast as possible. So, our viewing of the Sagrada Familia was pretty short-lived, but we did get a glimpse of the amazing structure.  So modern, so cool, so unique for architecture. An amazing sight to behold. Nonetheless, we promenaded out of there and down to Las Rambas (ironically the sight of the terror attack). But, we had to see it, we had to walk it. Las Rambas is a pedestrian street filled with shops and people.  When you stand at the top and look down it looks like a river (of people) undulating down to the sea at the bottom of Las Ramblas.  It appears that no one does this walk in the opposite direction.  Everyone goes from the top down.

Halfway down on the right is La Boqueria, the spectacular, not-to-miss food market. Seafood in quantities like you have never experienced. So many different food carts. An impossibly vast colorful abundance of eating treasures.  Of course our group set up shop near the seafood station, and soon our table was overflowing with beers, rose and an astounding mountain of seafood. Lobster, langoustine, crab, mussels, clams piled bountifully on top of each other, a fantastic feast to behold.


After our resplendent banquet, we shopped in the narrow stone alley ways bursting with boutiques. Scarves and trinkets…chocolates, paintings and shoes! We all met up again at Barcelona Cathedral in the center of Old Town and not far off Las Ramblas. Construction on is was begun in the 1200s and the fa├žade completed in 1889. It is a gorgeous Gothic Cathedral, grand and fine, a monument of overwhelming beauty. Flying buttresses, arches, vaulted ceiling, 28 side chapels and stained-glass perforating and enlightening this grand, soaring interior. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill among men.”

We took the train back down to Sitges, our picturesque sea-side village on the Mediterranean. We had dinner and then came back for breakfast at the cafes along the water. The town was alive with vacationers enjoying the weather, the water and the view. It was a perfect, relaxing, Zen-like way to end our whirl-wind trip about Spain and some of its superb treasures. I’m still processing everything we ate, drank, did and saw.



Monday, May 29, 2017

The Met

Amazing afternoon...

Degas The Dance Class

Henri Rousseau  Repast of the Lion 1907

Van Gogh

Monet  Garden at Sainte-Adresse

Paul Cezanne  The Card Players


Renoir Still Life with Peaches  & Grapes 1881

Irving Penn

Renoir  Woman in Chair by the Seashore





A girl in

Sunday, May 28, 2017



Pasquale Jones
Spoon Table & Bar
Charlie Bird
Spotted Pig

Parker & Quinn
The Plaza Hotel
Aldo Sohm Wine Bar
Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table
Pearl & Ash

Chelsea Market
Bergdorf Goodman
Lord & Taylor
Saks Fifth Avenue

The Met

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Blue River

Oh the river she knows your name
From the brazos to the wabash to the seine
No two journeys are ever quite the same
But the river knows your name
Oh the river knows your name
~John Haitt

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Blind Tasting



Buying and selling wine is what I do. I buy wine for our shop/wine bar, and I sell wine to other shops and restaurants in my mountain town community. I am the boss of my own shop, and I have a few bosses at the wine distributor company I work for.  One boss was a GM who loved being at the center of attention. Super nice guy, don’t get me wrong, but he loved having all eyes on him and pacing the room. 20 or so of us (wine reps from around Colorado) would sit attentively watching him, responding to him and participating in his presentations, (every other Friday for the two years that he worked for the company). He was into it. He transformed our meetings into elevated environs for those 4-5 hours. He was fit and a fairly little guy…tight hipster jeans made him appear even smaller. But he had lots of energy, and certainly filled the room. A big monitor loomed in front of us with sales numbers and quotas for the month, it was no surprise now who was performing in their respective territories, and who was lagging behind.   This technique certainly had me (the quiet perfectionist) selling more quota wines and Howell Mountain Cabs than ever.  A girl has to save face in-front of her peers.

Our meetings take place at “the loft“(a well-appointed meeting space with two large conference tables, full restaurant caliber kitchen and $15-20k’s worth in an Italian prosciutto slicer and espresso machine…this company takes food & wine very seriously). These meetings are always intriguing and informative, but they were especially animated and intense under this particular GM. At some random point in the meeting, never fail, this GM would dash into the backroom and come back armed with a bottle in a paper bag (otherwise known as Blind Tasting Time). I saw it as another way to challenge myself, to prove myself as a worthy wine-rep in the shark infested waters of competitive wine-sales. My heart would start to race and my mind would immediately begin the sleuthing process.  What kind of shape was the bottle? Burgundy, Bordeaux? My inner discussion commenced into overdrive. What wines are currently on quota?  What wines are important to our company? What category were we not performing with? Which specific winery needed our attention and a quick turn-around in sales?  What containers of wine had just landed with a boatload of wine sitting in the warehouse that imminently needed our attention and depletions?  Generally there was a motive behind each blind tasting choice. 

He would walk around the room clockwise and pour a small amount into each of our glasses. My mind would begin to churn with the deductive tasting protocol. I learned this method from the Court of Master Sommeliers 19 years ago as a fledgling wine rep (a baby duckling really). I took the 1st level in Aspen after my first year as a wine rep and it has come in handy throughout my career.  Deductive tasting is how to taste wine…how to gather information from the wine in the glass in front of you, how to go through a series of logical and progressive steps and come to a reasoned conclusion based upon such evidence.  Sight. Nose. Palate. Conclusion.

Is the wine red or white or rose? Is it clear or murky (i.e. unfiltered)?  Does it appear light or dark? Can I see through the wine or is it opaque? All of these things give me a preliminary sense for the wine.  I ponder what I see. I swirl. I stick my nose in the glass.  (By the way, cardinal rule in the wine world is that you never wear perfume or cologne as it interferes with your olfactory receptors.  I haven’t worn perfume in 20 years!)  What do I smell?  Where does it take me? To a fruit? To a vegetable? To an oak tree?  To a memory of wine or a specific herb that I’ve tasted or smelled before? To a moment in time in a particular place?  The flood gates start to open…

I take a sip. Does the taste match what I was expecting from the sight and the smell?  What is the texture of the wine? Is it gritty with tannin or silky with clean fruit? What are the flavors I am getting? Which fruits? Red fruits, blue fruits?  Raisins? Peaches? Gooseberry? Cat pee? Jalapeno pepper? Dill? The sweet vanilla of toasted Hungarian oak? Where is this leading me? Does it have acidity? How much? Or is it soft and round? Is it New World (bright and cheery, full flavored from the sun) or Old World (more reserved, subtle in its nuances…more pensive)?  Is it heavy or light on its toes? Is it a pinot noir or a mencia? Where is it from? How old is it? How much does it cost? So many questions.  The more you drink, the more you think you know! (Sometimes you are right, a lot of times you are close, sometimes you are totally wrong.)

I have nailed the wine a few times.  I was the only one to claim Lewis Russian River Chardonnay.  It was dark yellow, full of nutty oak, pineapple, butter-scotch, weighty.  Some people guessed Rousanne, others were flummoxed. But I reasoned it was super distinctive, very full of personality and that there weren’t many wines like this one in our portfolio…and I made an educated guess.  Another time it was an earthy Patagonian Malbec that I had had recently. And another time I said “cool climate pinot noir” and everyone looked at me cross-eyed. It turned out to be a Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir from Austria). Once I guessed El Nido…it was a cloudy full bodied, layered and complex red, full of expensive oak and I knew I had never had this wine before…but had an idea of what it might be.  And I was right!  Everyone, including the GM, was aghast. J

There is something so satisfying in that moment. You have to think about what is in your glass. I believe it helps to have a history with wine, a myriad of experiences that aid in your summation. I have learned to ponder the wine, the setting and the circumstance…and go with my instincts. I have learned to listen to what people around the table say, to weigh and consider their opinion like Sir Francis Bacon.  Ultimately, I have learned to come up with and trust my own conclusion.  After 20 years in the wine business, I have learned to have faith in my call. Although that GM no longer works for our company, I will forever be haunted by his blind tasting sessions in our meetings. It is intense. You are on the spot. Everyone is looking at you. What will it be? 2014 AOC Chablis or 2013 Friulian Sauvignon Blanc?  

Monday, January 2, 2017

I am Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

On New Year’s Eve I had a nook of time, so I took it to finish the novel I had started reading earlier in the week: Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton.  I had enjoyed her previous book: Olive Kitteridge. I had found a familiarity with that book.  Elizabeth Strout grew up in Maine and so did I.  While reading Olive Kitteridge I could picture the faces of the characters, I knew the settings, I could smell the ocean… I could envision the roads they drove on, the houses they lived in, the doctor’s offices, the shops, the places they went, the way the protagonists moved through their surroundings and their lives.  It was all so familiar, so real, such a part of my Maine upbringing and fabric.  So there was a certain comfort zone when I picked up My Name is Lucy Barton, a sense that we had a common ground.  At least three “notably avid readers” in The New York Times’ “The Year in Reading” Book Review recommended the book as one of their favorites of the year.  I was intrigued, I was compelled and I was looking for a book that could keep my interest all the way through.  It seemed the books I had picked up as of late couldn’t keep my attention.  (There are at least 8 novels and memoirs by my bedside ½ or ¼ read.)  I saw it on the shelf in the bookstore during my week of Christmas shopping, and I instantly grabbed it.

In one of the reviews someone had mentioned crying when they reached a certain page in the book. For me, it was page 164. It is not a long novel, 209 pages and can be read in an afternoon. Some chapters are a succinct paragraph.  I zipped through it, totally engrossed …flipping the pages in a flurry until the end. Her relationship/ bond with her mother is such a strong one, not unlike my own. Her mother is a force in her life, but she is not a woman who hugs, or tells her she loves her, or comforts her in that way.  I don’t know if it is a generational thing (maybe it is just a mother/ daughter thing), but my mother and my relationship with my mother (and my father too) is like hers in a way that it pulled at my heart strings and had me weeping on page 164. It rang so true. It is a relationship hard to define, hard to describe, but Elizabeth Strout seems to capture it. I too spent 8 weeks in a hospital bed (waiting for my son to be born), and my mother flew out to visit me and sat with me on two separate occasions during that time.  Not sure I will write a novel about that time, but it had me reflecting, remembering and understanding that relationships with our mothers are complex… and as Lucy Barton says, they are ok.

I am Lucy Barton made me recall and reflect on moments in my childhood…moments in my neighborhood with my childhood friends, moments with my brothers and my parents that were hiding in a deep chasm in my memory, in my heart.  This book also touches on how we treat others, how not to judge people, and the various relationships we have with our doctors, colleagues, people we look up to for mentoring, friends, our husbands and our kids.  But it was the complex mother/ daughter relationship/ bond that really struck me.  I loved this book, the way it rocked me.