A Whiter Shade of Rose

I have a potentially sensitive topic to discuss. And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with something horrible Donald Trump said on Twitter or public breastfeeding or any of the other things people love to argue about on the Internet. It’s something way more important than that.

No, we need to talk about rosé.white girl rose

One of the more encouraging developments of the past few years is how much dry rosé as a category has exploded. Once we have our rosé display up at the store where I work in the springtime, I only have to convince maybe 3 customers a day that these pink wines aren’t sweet, down from about 8 per day in 2011. Who says we’re  not making progress as a society?

In addition to how beautiful the colors are, I think people are drawn to the seasonality of rosé, and how it’s become symbolic of, picnics, fancy resorts, and long afternoons with our sunglasses turned toward the bright summer sky.

Those of us in the wine business aren’t immune – I taste wine for a living, and one of my favorite times of year is late winter and spring, when all the new seasons’ rosés start to arrive. I seriously start to get giddy, like a kid on her birthday with a big pile of presents to open. Those fresh, zippy, pink wines are like the wine industry’s version of the cherry blossoms – pink and ephemeral, they remind us that warmer, more fun days are coming. Just hang on through a few more gray days, they say, and you’ll be drinking on a gloriously sunny patio somewhere in no time.

Many wine producing regions make rosé, and one of the more fun things about that is that it comes in a multitude of shades of pink and styles, from barely-salmon beauties that drink almost like a white wine, to deeper, almost fluorescent magentas that have a lot more dark berry flavors and even a little tannin. All of these different styles and shades, to me, have a different purpose and place at the table or a summer party. Something a little deeper from Spain for barbecued pork maybe, and one of those trendy pale numbers from Provence for your best friend’s wedding shower luncheon. Something a little off-dry with a hint of herbaceousness from Anjou for spicy food, cheese, or just sipping by itself.

But lately I’ve noticed something disturbing in the wines that are brought to our tasting table at our humble little wine store. The rosés…they’re all the same! Wines that in years past had a little more color, a little different flavor, quirky ones from the Loire Valley, darker beauties from Rioja or Bordeaux that were almost purple – it’s like they’ve all been bleached! And it’s not just the cosmetic difference I’m bemoaning, although that is part of it. I mean, I’m someone whose sexual preferences could be described as ‘co-ed, 90s-era Benetton ad,’ but it’s mostly the way this cruel color stripping is affecting the flavor of my favorite spring and summer wine that’s pissing me off.

In Provence, ancestral home of the super pale rosé, the climate and the way the grapes ripen lend themselves to that color and style. The wines are pale, but they’ve got a surprising amount of body and richness. They are not wimpy. Wines from other regions where this pale color isn’t traditional just don’t taste as good when they’re reverse engineered to be the palest salmon color possible. They taste aggressively tart, or too thin, or just bland and boring.

Earlier this spring I was pleased to see that famed Tavel producer Mordorée is still carrying the torch for a darker, richer style. There were others, though, like a fun, inexpensive number from Bordeaux that usually includes a little Negrette in the blend, giving it an almost Schiaparelli pink color, that looked like the color of bad 80s hotel wallpaper – a bland peach. It tasted worse – thin, hollow in the middle, and screechily tart on the finish.

Unfortunately, these producers are just following the money. It’s consumers that are to blame for this disappearance of color and variety. I’ve noticed in both my retail customers and my friends an overwhelming preference for paler rosés, the paler the better. Anything darker than canned salmon gets a distinct sideye, and a sometimes vocal expression of a fear that the wine in the  bottle will be sweet. Perhaps since historically, sweet rosé styles like White Zinfandel were a more distinct pink color, that’s what’s happening here? People are so afraid of sweet wine that they don’t even want other people to wonder if they’re drinking something sweet, it seems, and so now every rosé producer from California to Catalonia is chasing the same barely-there seashell pink, because that’s what people think is sophisticated.

So if you’re with me, and you don’t want every rosé produced from now on to be a sad, watery, flavorless, tight-lipped version of its former, more voluptuous self, pull a darker pink wine off the shelf once in awhile. That pale Provencal style is great, but you shouldn’t spend every minute of your summer drinking life channeling an overpriced restaurant in Cannes. You’ll start thinking spending $400 on sunglasses sounds like a good idea or something. These warm weather months are for relaxing, after all. Who cares if people on Instagram think your rose looks sophisticated?

Here’s to a more fun, diverse summer of drinking, and as many shades of pink as we can fit in our glasses.

 

 

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What I’m Tasting: Getting Ready for Italy!

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Next week, I’ll be headed to northern Italy’s Alto Adige region, famous for its Pinot Grigio and pork products. A few days ago, what should appear at our tasting table during our grueling (ha!) Tasting Tuesday than a lineup of wines from Abbazia di Novacella, a great producer from this area. The Pinot Grigio was of course on point, but for me it was all about KERNER.

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Kerner is a cross between Schiava, the light-bodied red grape of this region, and Riesling. It’s exactly the kind of white wine I love – lots of bright, juicy acidity, and lots of aroma and personality. To me, the aromas and flavors are a bit like Ranier cherries and peaches. I bet these will taste even better in their homeland!

A Little Monday Rant

I have a little bit of a bone to pick with some of our customers. And I feel bad saying this, because it’s not like I’m not happy that people want to shop at the store where I work. I like money. It keeps me in cheap rose and overpriced beauty products.wine shipping

 

But I don’t understand why people order completely anonymous, unremarkable wine from my store and have it shipped huge distances, in expensive, wasteful styrofoam boxes, driven by gas-guzzling trucks, at great expense to themselves and our planet.

Literally once or twice a month someone will order something like Gatao Vinho Verde from us and have it shipped to Manhattan. Gatao is a perfectly serviceable, but not at all noteworthy, Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde is basically adult soda pop from Portugal. It’s a white wine that’s light, low in alcohol, cheap, and not meant to be taken seriously. Ours retails for around $7. If you live in MANHATTAN, why on EARTH would you spend $40 to have a case of something shipped to you that you probably find mere blocks from your apartment.

I bet you could put Gatao in a lineup with 3 other Vinho Verdes you picked up in wine stores in NYC and have me blind taste them and they’d be practically identical to me, and I taste wine for a living! Again, a lot of the people doing this live in Manhattan, a place where you could probably get online and find someone to deliver cupcakes and blow to you on rollerskates at 3am in about 20 minutes. Why not get a local store to deliver wine to you? I know for a fact there are stores in New York that deliver.

Now, if you live in a deprived wasteland where there are no decent wine stores, then ordering average wine from a store like the one where I work makes sense. Our website is pretty easy to navigate an we have a nicely curated set of wines, if I do say so myself.

But you guys, wine is heavy! It’s expensive to ship, so unless you can get free shipping (which we rarely offer because we make no money on shipping, so there is nothing to discount), why pay to have it shipped such a long distance? Why are you doing the wine equivalent of having Kirkland brand bottled water shipped to you at great expense when you live across the street from a Shopper’s with an almost-identical product for less?

Explain this madness to me and win a free bottle of adequate, but forgettable Vinho Verde with a picture of a cat on it.

Frivolous Friday: Take Care of Your Feet!

I’ve spent most of my working life on my feet.  You’d think I’d be thinner, but unfortunately I love to eat and drink so much all the standing, walking, and schlepping cases of wine up and down stairs merely keeps me looking average.  Probably if I cut back my french fry and rose consumption even a little, I’d look like J. Lo circa 2000, but everyone can’t be everything.

Hola, lovers
Hola, lovers

One thing I have had to learn from all these hours spent standing, though, is how to stay comfortable.

The toughest job I had when it came to figuring out what to wear that would look decent and not have me clenching my jaw from intense pain 4 hours into my shift was being a hostess at a nice restaurant.  It wasn’t an explicit rule that I had to wear heels, but dress shoes of some kind were definitely expected.  The first shift I tried to make it through wearing some 4 inch numbers from the clearance rack at Nine West ended in blood, tears and a lot of cursing.

After that, I tried to get around my shoe problem by wearing dressy flats. Believe it or not, this was actually worse than the heels, because cheap ballet flats provide absolutely zero arch support. When your feet have no support, your legs, knees, lower back, everything feels that neglect.

I called my mother to vent about how hard I had it, and instead of commiserating, she told me, see, I’m always telling you to wear better shoes!  I decided to listen to her, never a bad idea, and  tried on lots of brands and styles of old ladyish dress shoes that promised better arch support and wouldn’t squish my toes or cut into my heels.

I found that Naturalizers are just hopelessly dorky and not actually that durable.  Dansko’s dress shoes make me look like a clydesdale.  Seriously, that clog style does not translate well into regular shoes.  Who looks good in those weird mary-jane type numbers with huge, bulbous toes?

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What I found is that the Sofft brand shoes are the shit.  Some of the styles are a little dorky, but there is a nice basic black or brown pump available pretty much every season, and some of the other styles are pretty cute.  Most importantly, you can stand for HOURS in these.  I have worked 12 (or more) hour shifts in Sofft brand heels and didn’t want to cut off my feet afterwards.  Tons of arch support, the perfect amount of toe wiggle room, and the back part doesn’t cut into your heel.  They are seriously the best.

I see these pop up at TJ Maxx and Marshalls quite often, too, so there’s no need to shell out department store prices unless you have your heart set on a certain style from the current season.

sofft red maryjanes

Once I started waiting tables, shit got really real.  I was working in a restaurant that had these polished concrete floors – a trendy look at the time, and it did look cool (the whole restaurant was gorgeous, actually), but it was hell to stand on for hours at a time. That’s when an older waitress, I’m 99% sure her name was Donna, and if it wasn’t, it should have been, told me to wear compression socks: “You know, the kind for old folks with diabetes.” The first time I stuffed my feet into those babies I thought she must be nuts (they’re supposed to be fairly tight).

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She saved my life. Compression socks are everything. If you ever need to be on your feet for long periods, especially if you’re standing a lot, rather than walking, you will notice a huge difference in how your feet and legs feel at the end of the day. You can buy fancy compression socks for runners and cuter styles on Amazon, but in a pinch, the plain old black ones from the drugstore work just fine.

Now I’m spoiled and I can wear comfortable sneakers to work, but for long shifts during the holidays, or working events or tastings where I’ll be standing at the tasting bar for long periods? I break out my trusty compression socks.

Thanks Mom, and thanks Donna, for getting me through those tough restaurant jobs with my feet intact. And to all you young whippersnappers out there, take care of your feet – you only get one pair!

What I’m Tasting: Dranks at the Beach!

When you taste wine and beverages for a living, it’s nice to take your expert hat off and just enjoy wine for what it is, without thinking too much about it.

This past weekend, I headed to Ocean City, Maryland with my two best girlfriends for a weekend of sun and doing NOTHING, and it was glorious. We lounged on the beach and enjoyed the gorgeous weather (we were so lucky – nary a cloud blocked the beautiful sunshine), swam like mermaids, and drank like fish.

While we had planned for it to be a #roseallday situation, and we certainly had our share, the star of the weekend for me was this little Spanish number I picked up from work before we left:

Palacio de Bornos Verdejo

Verdejo is a Spanish grape that reminds many people of Sauvignon Blanc. This one was super tart and refreshing, and reminded me of fresh tangerine juice. Delightful, even out of a plastic cup at the beach.

We also went to the famous Seacrets, you know, as an anthropological exercise. As a neurotic, chubby, pale, 31 year old in a cotton LOFT sundress from two seasons ago, I fit right in with the 21 year old gazelles in their neon colorblocked bikinis and flash tattoos:

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It was hilarious, and a total blast. Just don’t get in the water at the waterfront bar they have – with the heat and the crush of humanity wading around in there, it just seems like the perfect environment for the next crazy superbug that will eat your brain in 8 hours or something. Eek!

Another tip from me to you: try one of the multitude of ‘crush’ options that are so popular in this part of Maryland, but go for one with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice instead of orange, and sub gin for vodka. The result is like the more fun, trashy little sister to a Greyhound.

And with that, I’m about to head to the pool and soak up the last few rays of summer sunshine, but sans Verdejo. Even professional winos need to detox once in awhile!

Frivolous Friday: An Oldie But Goodie

Despite the fact that without adult supervision, I could spend an entire afternoon and half my paycheck at Sephora, I’m often super lazy about grooming and maintenance. You should see my roots. OK, let’s be real here, they’re not even roots anymore, my hair is just gray.

Some days even showering seems like a boring chore. UGH, I think. I have to take clothes OFF, get wet, and then put them on again? This feeling is especially strong if it’s a Sunday and I have to work. I love my job, but for some reason working on a Sunday just makes me feel so whiny and put-upon that I even annoy myself.

Unless! Unless. Unless I have a bottle of this shit in my shower caddy:

amande shower oil

Then, the only reason I don’t shower twice a day regardless of whether I’ve worked out is because I feel guilty about wasting water.

First of all, the scent is amazing. Most almond-scented products smell like marzipan and old-lady soap, kind of blandly sweet and powdery. Not this stuff. It smells like a real, unroasted almond, along with some light floral notes and this beautiful, fresh ozone aroma that reminds me of walking through wet grass after a summer rainstorm. I keep the hand cream in my purse just in case I want a burst of this smell to brighten up a ‘bleh’ day.

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The other great thing about the Amande Shower Oil is that it’s this bizarre, space-aged foaming oil. It’s a liquidy oil that foams once you put it on your washcloth and start scrubbing, and it gets SUPER sudsy if you use one of those shower poufs. But because it’s this soap/oil hybrid, it’s much more moisturizing than your average shower gel. Because of this unique texture, it’s great to shave your legs with, too, if you’re into that.

There are a bunch of other products in L’Occitane’s Amande line, including a some creams that are supposed to firm your skin, which I’m sure is a completely bullshit claim, but hey, it’s a beauty product, what do you expect? However, they all have the same addictive scent, and are all very moisturizing and nice to use.

from styleaffix.com
from styleaffix.com

This line has been around for long enough that I’m starting to get paranoid they’ll discontinue it like my beloved Compoir Sud Pacifique Freesia Vanille perfume and Prescriptives Fig Stain lipstick, but I’m trying to not be a hoarding weirdo and fill my hall closet with shower oil. That would be creepy, right? Right?

What products make you want to live in your shower?

What I’m Tasting: Soaking Up Summer

Summer is my favorite season – socks are optional, impromptu road trips are encouraged, and it seems more socially acceptable to drink rose in the middle of the day.

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Speaking of rose, this interesting little number caught my eye the other day when I was cheating on my wine shop at Planet Wine here in my ‘hood, Alexandria’s Del Ray. It’s an all-Syrah rose from Bulgaria! It had a little whiff of something smoky and earthy, but still did rose’s #1 job, which is to be refreshing and fun to drink.

 

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The new vintage of Kellerei Kaltern’s Pinot Grigio is even better than the 2013, if that’s possible. While the ’13 was very fleshy and aromatic, almost as though there was Gewurztraminer thrown in the fermenter by accident, the 2014 has a little more verve and bright acidity.

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One of my favorite roses this summer, Domaine du Tix, continues to shine, with its tart, sophisticated flavors of pink grapefruit and just-ripe strawberries. It’s the perfect bath wine. Or shower wine, if you’re in a hurry. What? Like you’ve never taken a glass of something into the bathroom while you’re getting ready to go out. Come on!

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And finally, these two elegant whites show just how much influence soil and climate can have over even very different grapes. The Saint Bris is made from Sauvignon Blanc, but the chalky soil in this part of Chablis really knocks back the pungent, grassy character Sauv Blanc usually displays in this area. And while Aligote isn’t the most expressive grape, its texture and chalky finish keeps things interesting.

I can’t believe summer’s almost over – what are you tasting as summer winds down?

 

Virginia is For (Wine) Lovers: Part 2

After my charcuterie at Early Mountain (I could have stayed there all afternoon and into the evening – that is a NICE tasting lounge!), it was time to head to Uphill House, a super charming bed and breakfast. The drive up the gravel road to get there (past a house with a Confederate flag – eek!), I arrived to a quiet, tranquil environment and a cozy room, complete with a coffee machine right outside my room and a plate of fresh baked cookies on my dresser.

I may or may not have had Keurig coffee and a cookie for dinner as I worked on editing my upcoming book, Occasional Drinking. Being away from my normal, everyday life made it really easy to just sink into work, and it seemed like the first time I got up to use the bathroom, it was time for bed! Time flies when you’re absorbed in a seemingly neverending project.

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The next morning I was treated to a breakfast of fruit salad with mint and honey glaze and ricotta pancakes and fresh-brewed coffee from a local roaster. I felt so spoiled – there were even to-go cups, so I brought some for the road as I headed to Glen Manor.

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It was a slightly rainy day, and up in the Blue Ridge mountains, the fog looked so beautiful and mysterious wrapped around the vineyards. The Petit Manseng, with its electric sweet-tart balance, didn’t hurt either.

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Then it was on to Linden, another producer in Front Royal, known for its wines made with minimal intervention. Jim, the winemaker, showed me around his property, and I loved seeing how stripped-down and broken in all the equipment was, like this old German press from the 1950s. So cool!

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The wines were all beautiful, but the single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc had a wonderful weight and chalky texture, with bright lemon flavors. So refreshing and perfect for summer.

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I can’t wait to take another trip to some Virginia wineries – I’m lucky to live so close to a wine region, and there’s a little bit of everything, from spacious tasting rooms with up to the minute equipment like Early Mountain, to tranquil and minimal operations like Linden.

Frivolous Friday: My Office

People always ask me if I write while drinking, and the answer is yes – but not wine or beer or absinthe or Madeira. I’m not Hemingway (and thank goodness for that!). I do most of my writing while drinking my other favorite beverage, coffee. I’ve spent a lot of time in coffee shops in my time, and I have a few thoughts on what makes a great coffee shop, especially one that you can use as an office.

Honorable mention to Killer ESP and their adorable espresso martini glasses
Honorable mention to Killer ESP and their adorable espresso martini glasses

I’m a big fan of being alone around other people, if you know what I mean. I do my best writing and creative work when I’m in a place where there’s just enough activity and contact with other humans that I don’t start to get antsy and feel like I’m staring into the void, but not SO much activity that it’s distracting. Hot and cold running coffee is a must, too, and the coffee needs to be on point. IMG_20141029_082816272_HDR Alexandria, Virginia’s M.E. Swings hits all the marks: chill atmosphere, and great, great coffee that’s roasted on site. The cold-brewed iced coffee is some of the best I’ve ever had, and they’re even doing cold-brewed coffee from a nitrous tap, too! It’s like Guinness and coffee had a baby. Swings is an integral part of my morning routine – when I have a great workout at the YMCA across the street and open up my laptop while sipping some delicious iced coffee, all is right with the world. IMG_20150713_145140559_HDR Would I have written (most of) a book without Swings? Probably, but I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.

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