Virginia is For (Wine) Lovers: Part 1

Sorry, low hanging fruit there in the title. I gripe all the time about how expensive Virginia wines are compared to other regions, and how the Cab Francs are always too green, and bla bla bla, but last week, I decided to stop being such a Negative Nancy and go visit some anyway – and I couldn’t be more glad that I did.


On Thursday, I headed over to Barboursville and met up with Fernando, their vineyard manager. They were so apologetic that their general manager was busy, but this ended up being my favorite visit, because Fernando was *awesome.* We got in his truck, which was so filthy that it made me feel bad about my own messy car. He drove me all over the property, and we checked out the Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, and some of the reds – the Muscat is almost ripe! Much of it stays under netting to protect it from birds. After a few sips of an already bottled Sauv Blanc (very refreshing, kind of like green melon and fresh flowers) and a walk through the barrel room, it was time to leave for Early Mountain – but not without a stop for lunch. I had a light chicken salad and a glass of Horton Vineyard’s Rkatsiteli at Stonefire.


Early Mountain was a completely different, and much fancier experience. CEO Peter Hoehn gave me a tour of the whole, grand facility – grand wine library, gorgeous airy tasting room, even the airstream trailer they bought to take their wines on the road! Early Mountain is committed to featuring wines from all over Virginia in their tasting room, and as I was leaving, they were setting up for a tasting group that they hold with other Virginia winemakers so they can taste and discuss each others’ work. Super cool.



After my grueling visit, I did a little writing with a glass of Thibaut Janisson bubbles and a fabulous charcuterie plate. Tough life, I know.


Stay tuned for notes on Day 2!

Frivolous Friday: Smell Like the Beach

It’s no secret I have kind of a…thing about perfume. I’ve shown the crazy sample vial collection before, but just in case:

perfume sample vials

Frightening, I know. So when I ordered a sample pack from indie perfumer Olivine Atelier, I thought I’d just try them out and move on, but when I smelled Amongst the Waves, it was love.

olivine atelier samples

Normally I’m not one for ‘beachy’ perfumes, because they smell too much like suntan lotion, or, worse, they smell like nothing at all, but this stuff could make you feel like you’re on a tropical island in the middle of January. Sweet coconut and a huge wallop of lilies, with a clean, musky base that has a really sexy skin-like quality, it’s become my go-to scent this summer. I love the way all of this company’s perfumes use classic floral notes in a way that smells new and fresh instead of like grandma’s soap dish.


Plus, check out the adorable packaging:


Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go lie in a hammock and drink out of a coconut.

Not really, I’m on my way to work, but at least I SMELL like coconuts!

What I’m Tasting: Summer Beer (And a Little Wine, Too)

We’re in the sticky, sweaty, clammy period of summer now, and that calls for beer!


I revisited Smuttynose’s Hayseed, made in an obscure style called grisette. It’s similar to a saison, but lighter and smoother. This had an interesting fennel note that made it really refreshing.


Wheat-based beers are a favorite style of mine, and this Japanese version from Hitachino has that plush, almost marshmallow-like mouthfeel that makes it feel like you’re drinking a vaguely lemon-scented cloud. So refreshing!


And over the weekend at the store I helped feature a great lineup of Umbrian wines from local importer Maurizio Farro. My favorite was, unsurprisingly, the light, all tank fermented Sangiovese. With a light chill, it would be perfect with grilled chicken or a hot dog!


Let’s all try to soak up these last few weeks of sunshine while we can. It’ll be fall before we know it!

What are you drinking this summer?

What Goes With Summer Reading

Grace Kelly Sunglasses

The best things to read while laying on the beach, by a lake, or just under the air conditioning vent in your apartment are either escapist and absorbing, or funny and not too taxing. Why work your way through some generic list of current-release books from the Huffington Post or whatever when you can read something that’s probably at the library? Now all you need is a beverage in the other hand. And maybe a hammock. I’ve always wanted a hammock. Can someone come set one up for me in my yard?

wine and book sunset

Despite the fact that it was released before some of you reading were probably even born, Bridget Jones’ Diary holds up surprisingly well. Even without the help of the movie, which I don’t think did it justice, you can just see Bridget’s mother after her makeover in those ridiculous, jewel-toned suits, or Bridget falling over in her bedroom trying to untangle a pair of tights that ended up behind her couch somehow. Whether you’re reading this modern, proto-chick-lit classic for the first time or re-reading it for the millionth, drink something Bridget would drink – cheap white wine from South Africa she found on sale. Chenin Blanc is always a safe choice for a South African quaffer, but I’ve really liked some of the Sauvignon Blancs from there I’ve tried lately.  Both Riebeek Cellars’ and Man Family Vineyards’ Sauv Blancs usually retail for less than $10. Just don’t go overboard and wake up with one of Bridget’s signature ‘acidic hangovers.’ I’m still not really sure what that means despite basically drinking for a living, but it sounds terrible.

And speaking of hangovers, just reading about the characters’ lives in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch makes me feel a little drawn around the eyes. All the drugs and anxiety (I guess keeping a stolen painting hidden for a large chunk of your life will make you a little…high strung) and late nights with crazy Russian guys make me think of the kind of wine people bring out at the end of the night when that in an earlier, more sensible frame of mind, they’d leave in the wine rack. Usually this kind of wine is of the sweet and complex variety – and an unctuous sweet wine from France’s Loire Valley definitely fits the bill. Domaine des Baumards’ Quarts de Chaume might not be quite as awe-inspiring as the famous painting the book is named for, but it’s pretty damned delicious – like candied apricots that have been hit by a lightning bolt of tart acidity that will keep you reaching for another sip. Just sip slowly, because you’ve got quite a few pages to get through.

For Hunter S. Thompson’s first novel, The Rum Diary, rum would be the obvious choice, but when I travel, or even eat at a restaurant that has reasonably authentic food, I like to try the beer that’s native to that cuisine. See if you can find a Magna, the best of the cheap Puerto Rican beers that I’ve tried, not that they’re all that different from one another. It’s perfect on a hot day with fried fish and sand between your toes, but a heady first novel from a famous writer and party animal will do just fine, too. In his Serious Eats column on Puerto Rican beer, Will Gordon writes that it’s meant to “ease cheaply and gently out of one hangover and into the next.” I think Hunter S. Thompson would definitely approve of this strategy.

The Robber Bride is my absolute favorite Margaret Atwood novel, not because it’s the ‘best,’ but because it’s the most fun to read, and it’s proof that a book can be fun while not completely turning your brain to mush. And while, yes, art should move us and make us uncomfortable sometimes and bla bla bla, sometimes you really just want to be entertained, especially when the sky is blue and your biggest problem is some sand that’s accumulated in the crotch of your suit. What makes Zenia, the novel’s central character, such a great villain, is that she’s terrible, but also kind of great? Especially if you’re neurotic and guilt-ridden like me, when you read about, or better (worse?), meet someone like her, in addition to being horrified, you’re also kind of…jealous? Like, I wish I could be that. I also wish I could be the kind of person who can just crack open a bonkers expensive, unapologetically luxurious bottle of Champagne for no reason. Among wine geeks, Veuve Clicquot is decidedly uncool, but would any of them turn down a glass of La Grande Dame, their high-end vintage bottling? The answer is no, no they would not. The widow Clicquot herself was a bit of a risk-taking badass, and I think if she read about Zenia, she’d get it.

Truman Capote’s Music For Chameleons is the perfect book to dip in and out of all summer long. It’s filled with little vignettes and character studies of people, famous and not, that Capote knew. Of course the little piece on Marilyn Monroe is amazing, but my absolute favorite is the story that follows him and this woman he’s friends with, a devout Catholic who cleans houses for a living and happens to be a huge stoner. They get baked out of their minds in this wealthy couples’ house and eat their ice cream and then get caught. Hilarious. If pot is legal in your state, well, by all means, get in the spirit. I was once asked what wine goes with weed, and my answer was Gruner Veltliner, since it’s often what sommeliers pair with pungently green vegetables. You can appreciate Rudi Pichler’s Gruner Veltliner for its refreshing brightness, but if you stop and pay attention, you’ll realize how much more is going on.

What are your favorite summer reads?

Frivolous Friday: Smell Like A Fancy Resort


In my continued quest to be a fancy lady, a couple of months ago I purchased this delicious body oil from MoroccanOil, the company that became kind of a culty favorite for its hair oil.


The hair products are nice, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not that great when it comes to actual hair functionality. What this whole line is great at, though, is scent. Good god this stuff smells fantastic – heavy on the vanilla and amber, it smells like a night out at a fancy restaurant after laying out on a private beach all day. Or at least what I imagine those things to be like.

The hideously expensive (seriously, it’s $50 for what is essentially moisturizer) body oil is, in my opinion, the best way to fully immerse yourself in the signature MoroccanOil scent, while still using the hair care products (might I suggest Oribe?) of your choice. Plus it gives you a nice sheen, which you can tell yourself makes your extremely pale legs look better. It’s also a nice alternative to actual perfume when it’s 95 freaking degrees, like it is here in the DC area, where August is what you’d imagine being nestled between the sweaty butt cheeks of a professional cyclist to be like.

Anyway, this stuff feels very luxurious, so if you’re feeling splurge-y and want a nice vanilla, amber, bronze-y scent for summer, get it! Stay tuned for next week when I’ll showcase my favorite niche scent that smells like really expensive sunscreen and coconuts. Then I’ll give a personal finance seminar. HA! Kidding.

What I’m Tasting: A Midsummer Hodgepodge

We’re taking a little bit of a break at the shop from our usual grueling tasting schedule at the store, so I didn’t spend my entire Tuesday spitting regrettable Zinfandel, but I have managed to taste a few notable beverages:


A pair of truly delicious California Chardonnays. I know, I’m as shocked as you are. Who am I? Cru makes two Chards, one oaked, and one unoaked. The unoaked was minerally, but still loaded with sunny, California ripeness: juicy golden apples and sweet meyer lemons, with a lovely mineral finish. The oaked one had a really lovely weight and texture and a little bit of that caramel note that usually veers too far into Werthers Original territory for me, but here was juuuust right. Really well done. If more Cali Chard tasted like this, my professional tasting life would be so much more pleasant. Can someone please get that memo out? Thanks.


I also revisited a beautiful Riesling from Tegernseerhof, a favorite Austrian producer of mine. The 2013 was just poised at the exact perfect moment: peaches, limes, mouthwatering acidity, just the right amount of texture and weight. Just perfect.


And finally, another Austrian gem, this one from the young hunk Paul Direder. His rose is made from Zweigelt and Blauburgunder, tastes a little bit like pickled watermelon rind, and comes in a liter bottle with a convenient screwcap. All this for less than $10 retail! Hubba hubba.

Paul D

What are you drinking this summer?

Channeling My Inner Jancis

99% of the time, I’d rather pluck my eyelashes out one by one than read anything written by one of the major wine critics. The ramblings of bloviated old assholes like Robert Parker could not be less interesting to me, but the one bright spot in this barren, ick-inducing landscape (let’s just stop calling things hedonistic, it’s starting to give me the creeps) is Jancis Robinson. The first ever person outside the wine trade to become a Master of Wine and author of huge, impressively researched tomes (I refer to the Oxford Companion to Wine as “the argument ender”), she is one bad bitch, but she doesn’t come across like a pretentious, douche-y twit. Her reviews and descriptions are sometimes criticized for being too vague, short, and, well, plain weird, and that is exactly why I love them.

Jancis Robinson

Her wine writing style can be summed up in a phrase she wrote describing a Champagne from a producer named Eric Rodez: “It smokes a cigar, that one.” My boss showed this to me when it came out with kind a chuckle, as if to say, “oh, Jancis, how charmingly eccentric of her.” I thought, this woman is my spirit animal. Because honestly, it’s a perfect description of this wine. If it came to life one day as an actual human, it would be a portly older gentleman who smokes expensive cigars. He’s leaning back in a leather club chair and making lewd comments to the waitress, but you kind of like him anyway.

In the spirit of Jancis, I’ve anthropomorphized a few recent wines I’ve tasted. None of them quite smoked a cigar, though.

Le Jade Chardonnay Viognier 2014 She’s training for a half-marathon and she’s SO excited! Have you seen photos of her new chihuahua? Or her food blog? She had a custom font created for it! Have you tried her recipe for chia see pudding that will give you diarrhea? It tastes just like pumpkin pie!

Langlois Pere et Fils Pinot Noir Val de Loire 2013 Now she’s one of those models you see who looks like she’s about 15 (and probably is), with impossibly pale, freckled skin, red hair, and features so striking she almost looks alien, but instead is just incredibly beautiful, at least when shot by an arty photographer. In real life she looks like a normal, gawky teenager. Unfortunately usually dressed in some kind of suit of armor covered in yak fur on the pages of Vogue, but that face!

Produttori del Barbaresco 2009 He’s a wiry older dude with ropey forearm veins who lives in your neighborhood. You always see him at your local coffee shop. He reads constantly and has the most interesting book recommendations, has faint BO, and is always trying to get you to go to his herbalist. You should just suck it up and go, it would probably change your life.

Spotswoode Sauvignon Blanc 2014 She wears Escada and St. John suits, coral lipstick, still tans, and seems like she’d be a gas to have lunch with because she’d give you lots of tough-love advice about men and your career, and also like she still has a landline and takes off one of her giant, door-knocker-sized earrings with a theatrical flourish before answering it. A broad, in the best sense of the word.

Puech Haut Prestige Rose 2014 She plays tennis and has a summer home, owns and actually uses nice stationary, and always smells like that fancy water with cucumbers and lemon slices in it they serve at eye-wateringly expensive spas.

Miner Napa Valley Chardonnay 2012 He’s got the build of an aging athlete and always remembers salient details about your life. Used to play football. Actually goes to town hall meetings. Coaches his daughter’s softball team. Unfailingly loyal. A total bore.

Casa Ferreirinha Planalto Vinho Branco Seco 2013 If this wine came to life, his name would be Glenn. He talks about his feelings a lot and took you on a date to an art exhibit that was supposed to ‘challenge’ you. Glenn, no one wants to be challenged on a date! And WHAT is with the exposed chest hair? That shirt is unbuttoned to your navel! Online dating is really the worst sometimes…

Wine Events, Ranked

Since I’m now in my fourth year in the wine industry in the DC area, I’ve been to a lot of wine events.  Some for just industry people, some that are open to the public, too.  I’ve worked at them and been a guest, both for work and for fun.

Basically, I’ve eaten a lot of hors d’oeuvres and jockeyed for a spot near a lot of spit buckets.

Downey tasting di lenardo

Some of these events are better than others, and I’ve spent the last few years mentally ranking these according to how fun and useful they are to me as someone who helps to buy for a retail store, and how good the snacks are.  The snacks part gets more weight, to be totally honest.

One of the best events, both usefulness and snackwise is the one put on by Michael Downey imports.  It’s held at a beautiful historic house in Arlington, and they usually have a classical guitarist playing, which really makes you feel like a fancy adult.

Downey tasting gazebo

The house setting is nice, as the different rooms keep people moving around instead of all clumping in one place.  And the company really makes an effort to bring in producers and winery employees from the various wineries and import companies they distribute to our area.  All in all, it’s a great event and always worth the time.

However, snacks are really where the Downey tasting really edges out the competition.  It has been catered by what I think might be Cork Wine bar, or the company that owns it, for the past few years, and the snacks are exactly what you would want for a wine tasting: charcuterie, small chunks of hard, salty cheese, breadsticks (some are wrapped in Prosciutto!), and little flatbreads with savory toppings.  Everything is really easy and not-messy to grab and eat, and everything is tasty and wine friendly.  I also appreciate how protein-rich everything is, both because it’s helpful to eat after tasting a bunch of tannic reds, and because it makes it easier to have a really satiating few bites quickly.  A+, Michael Downey Imports.

downey prosciutto wrapped breadsticks Downey tasting avo toast

Whether you’re attending a tasting that’s meant for the general public (con: fewer wines; pro: usually better snacks) or you’re in the industry and going to a vendor tasting, my advice is always to arrive a few minutes before the event starts.  This isn’t like going to a party, where it’s uncool and borderline rude to show up right at the beginning.  What I like to do is show up a few minutes before it starts and either by myself or with the person I’m attending with, strategize about which wines are the most important to taste, and number my route through the tasting in order of importance.

Every three to four tables, stop, get a snack, drink some water, and take a few minutes to jot down notes and reflect on what you’ve tasted.  You will get so much more out of the tasting and be far less cranky doing things this way. By the time the event gets crowded, you’ll be done with what you really came to taste, so when you have to wait longer for someone to pour for you, it won’t make you as annoyed and impatient, and if things really get intolerable, you can bolt and still feel like you accomplished what you want to.

Stay tuned for more of my blurry photos of industry events and wine-soaked ramblings!

Tasting Roundup

It’s been a busy few days of tasting, and it’s only Thursday!  On Tuesday morning I had the pleasure of tasting this delicious, crisp and flavorful Riesling from Alsace producer Leon Boesch:

Leon Boesch Luss Riesling

My boss thinks it’s even better than Domaine Weinbach’s, but I’m not quite prepared to go there yet.  Still, classic Riesling aromas that lean more toward that lime skin and pith kind of character you sometimes get in Australian Rieslings, but with a bit more weight and lusciousness.  Wonderful.

Then we were visited by local importer Maurizio Farro, and he brought along a wonderful winemaker from Umbrian winery Perticaia.  The wines were the perfect balance between ripe, soft tannins and fruit flavors that really had that ‘yum’ factor, and old-world Italian character.

Perticaia winemaker

And yesterday I got to taste through the current releases from classic Napa producer Chateau Montelena.  Matt Crafton, the winemaker, was there to guide us through the wines.  Their new Sauvignon Blanc was delicious – a Cali Sauv Blanc I’d actually drink!

Montelena Sauv Blanc

Looking through these photos is making me want to curl up and rent Bottleshock tonight.  Cheers to a cozy, rainy Thursday!

Montelena Cabernets

Montelena winemaker bottles

Tasting Tuesday: New Grapes and Old Favorites

Yesterday was a particularly brutal tasting day – appointments with 8 vendors and dozens of wines.  Unfortunately, not many winners.

I was pleased to taste this Cava from local importer Vin de Terra:

MS 4.7 Cava

I love Chenin Blanc in all forms, and this fun, fruity sparkler from Monmousseau made me think of brunch on the patio:

monmousseau sparkling touraine

And I tasted a new (to me) grape: Nero de Troia.  This one was like Carignan, Syrah, and Lagrein had a delicious baby.  Grilled octopus, anyone?

Bolonero Nero de Troia

Here’s to a lighter schedule next week, with more winner, and fewer  overoaked California Chardonnays with ridiculous names…

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