Dinner With People You Don’t Know (Or Care To Know)

If you and I are friends, you are probably one of about five people.

This is true of most of us; keep your squad close and all others, well, at a nice arm’s length distance. I don’t want to sound bitter, mean girly, or elitist. I want to come to you, as always, with the truth. I don’t like a lot of people.

I love people, and I am in a very loving kind of career that is people centric. That may be why I am black hearted with promises of BFF-isms and “let’s bare our souls” conversations. I’ll smile through it, laugh at the right moments, but I gotta say, I’ll forget about our conversation in about 5 minutes.

This is when I’m “on” by the way; when I am at a wine dinner entertaining. Because that is about 90 percent of a wine dinner; entertainment. If you think people are coming there to learn from me, then save your money. And, can I tell you, I am so good at making you feel like we have a burning lifelong bond. It’s just so under-fulfilling, and I think it is cracking my heart a bit.

Dinner with a great retailer (now this guy is cool) and his collector customer’s got to me this week. I tasted these customers on eight wines, all good, some great, some better than great. I was the perfect host; I told jokes, stories from my own life that may have seemed personal. (nothing I say in a wine dinner is even close to personal – illusions, all of it), I conveyed loving ideas of California on a cool April afternoon at the winery; sipping chardonnay, watching the grapes grow…I’m making myself vomit. My audience’s response?  “Go open another bottle; we need to drink more”.

This is not the Wednesday night of my dreams, but is a reality. If you find 1 person in about 10 that your are connecting with at a wine dinner (or life for that matter), you are lucky. I did find that one woman, and she bought 12 cases. I earned my keep that evening, but lost a little part of my psyche.

However, you came here to learn something, didn’t you.  Ok, lessons from this dinner:

  • My friend Al is a true gentleman and professional, and has a few stores (coming soon; Kearny location):

Clifton Commons Spirits and Wine: 132 Kingsland Rd, Clifton.  If Al isn’t there, ask for Babu.

Little Falls Liqours: 315 Main St, Little Falls – I buy my beer here.  Great selection of whiskey and bourbon in the back of the store. Don’t let the size of the store fool you.

  • You need a starter: An audience needs wine in their hand as soon as they walk in the door. If not, they will feel like this is a waste of their time. I like to serve something light, pretty, not to serious, low alcohol, and a conversation starter. I went with Matua Rose – a rose of pinot noir. Good fruit, pretty color, fun, palate cleansing, and a good prop to hold during simple friendly exchanges. We have enough serious crap in our lives: the beginning of a wine dinner should be a little get-away from that nonsense.
  • Pinot Noir will always be the winner for food and wine pairing; Everyone likes this wine.  You cannot go wrong.  It will pair with most all foods. Stick to California selections to be safe, and venture to the French stuff for a little sass.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is always a winner; But watch out. You may feel like you need to spend a lot of money. The Cab that everyone went back to this evening was the cheaper one. Why? It was easy to drink, but had all the qualities of a great Cab; abundant fruit, great tannic structure, finesse, style.  My selection for the evening was The Stag – and you can find this at Al’s store.
  • You always need a sleeper – I will consistently pack a wine that I think is good, but that no one would touch on their own. Now, this is risky. If played well, you come out looking like a rock star. I had my audience try Chateau St Jean Chardonnay; again, not to expensive, but not something that “experienced wine people” (I write this with a side smile) may reach for.  If you find a wine with balance, this move will turn out well. Ask Al for something off the beaten track. Don’t spend more than $20. Be honest with YOUR audience and let them know this may be a flop. You may surprise yourself.
  • Where was dinner? I highly recommend – Salute in Montclair.  Affordable, gluten free pizzas, brick oven pizzas, beautiful fish, homemade pasta, everything fresh…a winner.

 

Drink This! Frenching All Day

I can’t stop drinking French wine.

Six months ago I made the decision to “brush up” on my Frenchy wine facts.  Been a while since I needed to put a buyer in a comfort mode, and get them ready to accept European wines.  That is the switch you need to turn on in your brain.  YOU CAN UNDERSTAND THIS AND ENJOY IT AT THE SAME TIME.  I have seen the shift in my friends that read this blog; they are risky now with wine, open to a different palette experience, and wanting information.  I don’t buy a car without a review or knowing and liking the maker, so why is this different.  By the way, I know nothing about cars.

This blog is not sponsored by my own wines; I went and purchased this lovely with my own dollars.  I wanted chardonnay; I love the stuff.  I was going to eat sushi, relax, and celebrate a friend’s birthday.  I wanted light citrus flavors, roundness at the end, and structural acidity.

This Saint Veran, Domaine Delaye Alain,  “Les Pierres Grises” got to me, and even more than that.  A little review…

  • Saint Veran is the area that this wine is from in Burgundy.  Burgundy is a wine viticultural area in France.  Saint Veran ONLY makes chardonnay – so what does that tell you.  Focus!  Focus on making the best damn chardonnay you can get.
  • Who is this guy Alain?Domaine Delaye Alain is the producer.  Remember; the producer is the guy you are going to get hooked on.  European wines are about the place, and the people who make them.  This is a tiny little family estate going back to the 18th century.  They are known in this area as authentic, traditional, with an eye on modernization.  I’m looking for a man like this…
  • “Les Pierres Grises” – the vineyard name.  A little cooler of an area – Pouilly Fuisse is right around the corner and much warmer.  This vineyard will give you richness, but retains a pretty minerality.  This wine does not see oak, yet rounds itself out in the end.  Brightness will give you some tingles, but the grape itself will supply weight to the palette and balance to the entire wine.

Where do you get this stuff – I picked up this bottle at Angelbeck’s in Upper Montclair.  I grabbed it right out of the cold box; I love that.  Ask for Ann; she bought this store a few years back and has some nice, out of the way selections.  Her whole family is there including the sons – love that too.

  • Angel beck’s Fine Wines Spirits, and Beer– 621 Valley Road, Upper Montclair, NJ
    • Side note; if you are a beer freak GO HERE!  Ann’s son is a wiz…

What should you have in your purse – Around $15 to $17 dollars.  I think I paid $17.  Saint Veran is always a bargain.  Can’t go wrong; this viticultural area will always over deliver.

What do I do with it – Drink it on it’s own.  A friend is looking for her “Get me out of my Sauvignon Blanc” rut.  Here you go Mama G!  I paired it with sashimi – but not to fatty.  This wine is just enough to sing the solo.

Culinary Adventures With MaryEllen

I love the stories of your mother in the kitchen, cooking great meals, you and your siblings sharing in the chores of dinner, stories passed between all of you, aromas in the air seducing you and pulling you in……

MaryEllen Pajak tried; she tried.

There were a few good meals created by my mother in my youth.  I’ll give her that.  However, my mother is not an adventurous eater.  If it is not familiar and agreeable to her palate, it will not be made.  There have been some changes over the years, this is true.  The biggest change has been her new love for wine, and her acknowledgment that there are just O-K wines, and REALLY GOOD WINES out there.  She won’t stray from her chicken parm, but will snub a crappy version of Cabernet Sauvignon.

During my recent trip to Florida, I decided to cook for my mother, each evening, in her beautiful kitchen.  Every day the two of us would discuss the menu, shop for the ingredients, and pair the wine.  Yes, pair the wine.  I involved MaryEllen in all decisions from the focus of the meal, to the styling of the table.  She excelled at styling the table and I believed enjoyed this part the most.  Who wouldn’t with her array of dishes, placemats, cutlery, wine decanters – the list goes on and on….(she can be a bit of a shopper..)

You know how this turned out.  When first viewed as a chore, meal time became what we both looked forward to each day.  The two of us had a common goal and charged ahead together as a unit.  It brightened us.  Meal time became our conversation, and our converstation with everyone we met.

When I spoke to her today, she told me she was missing me.  I know she is, but it is different this time around.  She is missing the companion that oohed and ahhed over sauces.  She is missing laughing in the pool over taking Instagram photos of TBones.  She is missing eating late, (“which a lady should not do” – by the way, dinner was served at 7pm) and planning the meals moving forward.  Food can change us, but food experiences can alter us.

If I have just become the family cook, then so be it.  To see the face of a woman that thinks spaghetti and meatballs is a culinary masterpiece get turned on to stuffed pork chops is worth the effort.  Bravo MaryEllen, and keep on collecting pretty glassware.  We will need it for our next culinary adventure together!

This is a wine blog, right?  Here is your wine review:

Stags Leap Winery Chardonnay – Please don’t think you can’t have chardonnay and meat together.  We paired this wine with stuffed pork chops over yellow rice.  This wine is just gorgeous; the point of this chardonnay is to retain it’s freshness while delivering a purity of fruit and a nice complexity, brought on by the oak.  There is intensity and focus, but balanced with the core of nice citrus flavors.  It is getting hotter, and you are going to want to stray from this varietal; don’t do it – grab a bottle and chill, but not generously.  To much chill will mask this beauty of this wine.

And I can’t forget steak night…

MaryEllen dinner #2

Divide and Conquer – Judging Truvee Chardonnay

Have you ever felt the pull of another soul?

Two sisters, that do not know about each other, both fall into the wine business on two different continents, and upon their father’s death…

They connect.  That story alone gets me going.  How do things like that happen?  I feel the same about certain people I meet: I can feel where our relationship will go.  And there is someone, very far away, that I can feel as if I have seen him yesterday…

Enough about that – what about the wine they make?  Lately I’ve been drinking way to much chardonnay; good and bad.  Weird, in this cold weather, that is what I reach for.  So this made sense, and was welcomed on a Monday night when I really wasn’t in the mood for wine.  Here is my predicament though; will there be a stupid amount of oak, way to much passion fruit, bracing acidity that doesn’t make sense; you get it.  You too have drank your share of crappy chardonnay and live to tell the tale.

The fruit is sourced mainly from Monterey County in California; telling me I’m going to taste some white pear and peach.  Nice change from the lemon/lime crap I’ve been guzzling.  Also, a little addition of Moscato.  This is where I hesitate.  You got the French Oak going on, great area viticulture; why do you need that viscous candied fruit?  Ladies, I get it, and you are smart.  My New Jersey soccer moms will love this, so great marketing choice.  Really, I get it.

What to do with this wine.  I always like to paint a picture when I sell; helps the flow.  I’m thinking spring time; all those pastels and bunnies jumping around will love the roundness and luscious ending to this wine.  You know that moment, when the weather finally breaks, and you get a cool yet sensible evening.  The kind of evening where you bundle up in a sweatshirt and sit on your porch sipping, well, something.  You found your wine, and, you are welcome.

Great website (http://www.mcbridesisters.com/#about-the-mcbride-sisters) and gorgeous women that look like they are having the time of their life.  Plus, a promo shot of a Louis Vuitton bag filled with wine – my kind of broads.

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All About the French – Part 1

Let’s get something out of the way – wine is about what YOU like.  It is what warms your cheeks, makes you sexy, tells you stories, creates the mystery.  I WILL NEVER TELL YOU WHAT TO DO OR DRINK; in wine or in life.  Unless, of course, you want me to…

But yeah, the French got it going on.  When we discuss wines from European countries, or “Old World” wines (France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Germany) we see a shift in wine perception.  Put down your bottle of Barefoot because we are going in a different direction.  I think of my friend Anton, and the fact that at 35, he still goes to his mother’s house every Sunday for dinner; tradition people! (and I LOVE Anton)   There is something to be said for the way things are made year after year after year.  And sorry for the crack about Barefoot; continue to enjoy and ignore my humor.  It was the best example I could think of to show you that you will not see an opulent style of fruit in Old World wines.  There is an elegance, refinement, a earthiness (yes)…..and, well, it’s just more interesting quite frankly.

There are areas, producers, winemaking styles, wars of the winemaking families; where shall I begin?  Instead of living in confusion, I thought I would give you my impressions of a wine I tried at Legal Seafoods.  I was wondering if anyone ordered this wine by the grape or just for the fact it is a French white.  It IS the chardonnay grape.  Easy right?  You have had this, and I’m sure, you have liked this.  However, here is the curve ball.  If you like that butterscotchy, sugared pear and red apple flavor in chardonnay, you are out of luck.  The first thing that hit my palate was the minerality.  I best describe minerality in this way; ever walk through a stream?  You wouldn’t necessarily drink the water, but there is something left in your mouth after you leave the stream.  Yes, kind of like licking a stone, but in a prettier form.  It is cleansing, it is fresh.  It makes you want to drink more.

That is acidity you are experiencing.  The tingles, yes.  It sets up your mouth for the rest of the party.  (stay with me, we are talking about wine)  What follows is the fruit; fresh green apple, lemon/lime spritz.  Natural, inviting.  “Bourgogne” means this is a wine from Burgundy, France; a place where chardonnay and the grape pinot noir shine.  This SHOULD be good, and it is, well…just ok.  I would like a little more fruit on the back end, but I am overall happy with the experience.

Think about where I am; a seafood house.  Shellfish, lemon beure blanc sauce,  tuna tartar…winner with this wine.  Wine should be the pedestal for the food to sit on; it shouldn’t mask the flavors.  The wine shouldn’t win in the food and wine war.  We want to taste it ALL.

There will be a “All About the French” part 2, part 3, part 4…so much to discuss.  If you are looking for more in-depth conversation, that can happen; let me know.  This blog is about being friendly, and most of all, about making sense.  Wine jargon can be just crap if not presented correctly.  And I’m not about the crap.  Challenge for you – start to get over the scary label, and dive into the unknown – the Frenchies!

 

 

Totally Judging…Drinking Coppola Chardonnay

I’ve been angry lately.

I feel as if I am not being heard.  I feel like things are passing me by, and I don’t have control.  It’s getting to me.  And to be honest, it’s all in my head.  Nothing has changed but everything has changed.  I want answers from something that doesn’t even have a plan yet.  My mind has created a saga…

I am way to into what I have done; my experience, my wine education, my travel and life lessons.  Geez, I want to tell myself to shut up sometimes. EVERYONE has a story; why do I think mine is better than yours?   I know this is a weird way to tell you what I think about this wine, but there is a point…

If you sit and study anything, you get better at it.  If you pull it apart and make it ugly, well then, it is just ugly.

Enter Coppola Chardonnay.

This chardonnay doesn’t offend me.  Presume that is not a compliment.  What I mean to say that it is lovely to drink.  Does it have levels of flavor; no.  I think there was an attempt though.  In the life I live always wanting the “more” of something, this didn’t deliver.  Is that really so bad?  Can we just sip the wine and enjoy it?

My friend Joe did.  He was innocent.  He came to a dinner to see friends knowing two of them work in the wine industry.  He knew there would be wine drama, and didn’t care.  There is always wine drama around us, and it at times this becomes white noise.  Joe is interesting, charismatic, big hearted, caring, and someone I need to be around.  He liked the wine, and this is ok with me.

Look at the big picture.  I need wine to change my existence to be happy; you do not.  There are bigger things in the world than what I am drinking right now, but I don’t believe that.  You don’t need to understand, but just roll with it.

By the way, a week without wine is upon us, and your girl is not happy…

An explanation will follow shortly.

Check out what Joe thinks in the video below, and subscribe to my YouTube channel!

 

 

 

Holiday Wine Haul – Josh Cellars

I was not sure what to expect from a chardonnay priced at $12.99.

I did expect it to taste like it came from California.  Nope.  I wanted it to taste like the varietal chardonnay.  Close.  And I wanted it to be balanced with acidity, fruit and oak.  Closer.

My first mistake; I drank it way to cold.  As Americans, and as New Jerseyans, I see consumers make this mistake often.  Everyone thinks they need to ice the shit out of their white wine.  What this is doing is muting the flavors.  It’s like drinking the wine at 60%, and that is not what anyone wants to do, right?

Once it warmed up, I experienced that nice lemon/lime flavor that comes from Monterey fruit. (the area in California where this wine is sourced) It was, well, nice.  When I stated that I wanted it to taste like where it came from, this is what I was talking about.  I’ve always had wines from this area with more of a tropical feel; sexy, lingering, and a little spicy.  I got lemon/lime – eh.

And there was oak, but not to much.  I hate to say this, but I would have liked a little more.  Stating that is like showing more cleavage and pretending no one notices – more sometimes means MORE.  Chardonnay under $15.00 can be way over oaked and nasty.  I like oak components when done correctly.  That’s what this wine needed; a little oak kick in the ass to balance it out.

Didn’t light my world on fire, but did the job.  Was refreshing, but not life changing.  I wouldn’t be able to distinguish this wine in a blind tasting, but would not be embarrassed to bring it to a dinner party.  Better on it’s own, but could pair well with lighter dishes.  I had chicken with it, and it disappeared.  It’s good blog writing wine, or second bottle wine. (you know, when you are not really paying attention….)

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By the way – I had this wine in my Riedel “O” glass.  This is a stemless glass from the very famous wine glass company Riedel. They produce glassware that supports and influences the flavors in wines to release and tell their story.  This does work.  This is not bullshit.  I was a non believer and poo poo’d this for a long time; I was wrong!  Blog post coming on glassware and I will explain further.  Keep drinking out of your mason jars for the time being, but know there is a glassware makeover coming your way!