The Downside of Living with a Perpetual Wine Student (by Hubs)

In college I worked in a sorority house as a dishwasher.  In the rare instance that I relay this tidbit of information about my past to someone, without fail they cast a knowing smile, arch an eyebrow, and say something to the effect of “well, that must have been a tough job.”   You know what – it was.   There was absolutely zero Red Shoes Diaries component to my three hour daily shift of cleaning dishes for 100 girls while standing in what was lovingly referred to as “The Pit.”

Over the past few years I’ve once again become the recipient of that same sly reaction – only this time it happens when I tell people that my wife is a wine student.  While I admit it’s better than operating The Pit, there are some legitimate gripes to spending your life with someone who has chosen this particular academic pursuit.

#1 – The Bottles.   Sweet Jesus…they…are…everywhere.   We are now on our fourth wine refrigerator and the bottles just keep stacking up.   It’s like trying to stop springtime. I’ve found them stashed in closets, file drawers, desks, packing boxes, garageIMG_9783[284] cabinets, etc.  I think she has a problem.  Like a wine hoarder or some other  rare affliction we’re going to have to address with an intervention at some point.

This may sound trite – bottles are relatively small and stack easily.  Right?  Well, here’s a snapshot from move-in day to our new house.  To be clear, this is a small house, so you’re looking at approximately 25% of the total square footage.   You know it’s become a problem when the UPS guy is passing judgment!

#2 – Knowledge by Association.  I know very little about wine (true story).   Perhaps slightly more than the average person as a result of being married to a vinophile, but honestly – not much more.  Nonetheless, whenever I’m out with friends or co-workers and the wine list is presented they always give it to me because of Noelle.   Now, there’s really only two ways I can go here:  bullshit my way through it, or try to convince my dining mates that I have no idea what I’m doing.   I’m a guy, so I obviously choose bullshit every time.

Gramercy PicpoulHowever, once you choose bullshit you have to be totally committed to the bullshit process.   Last month I ordered a Picpoul at Gramercy Tavern in New York.  Do I know anything about Picpoul?  Absolutely not.  Do I know it exists only because of Noelle?  You betcha.  It’s kind of like saying Yellow Ledbetter is your favorite Pearl Jam song – everyone is going to pick Jeremy, so you have to pick a deep track in order to try and impress.

Now, when you try to the bullshit the Somm you’re going to get your test results back immediately.   She or he is going to think (but not say) either: “Wow, Picpoul?  Well I read this dude all wrong, that’s a great choice – clearly he knows his wine.” or “This guy has absolutely no fucking clue what he is talking about.  None.  I could serve him apple cider vinegar in a thimble and he wouldn’t say a word.”   My results?   Winner!!  The Somm was incredibly impressed by my choice and we excitedly discussed what paired best with Picpoul with my admiring table guests looking on!  (Of course, I bullshitted my way through that conversation as well.)  Look, it’s a 50/50 proposition at best when they hand you the wine list, but you have to go for it when Noelle isn’t in attendance.

#3 – The Interrogation.   While watching a movie with some friends recently, I asked Noelle to open – and I’m quoting here – “a bottle of white wine.”   What followed was a thirty minute interrogation that made the bar exam look like a true/false question on the back of a cereal box: What alcohol level?   Old world or new world?   Zippy?  Passion fruit?  What are you guys going to eat with it?  Is a little residual sugar ok?   My answer was: I don’t care!!  Any bottle of white will do.  Literally – any bottle.

And so it goes.  Every single time I open a bottle in our house I’m forced to render a dissertation on Spain’s climate in 2012, why French oak is vastly superior (or is it vastly inferior?),  AVA controversies of the late 1990’s, etc.   Want to know why I chose this particular bottle?  It was the first one I saw when I opened the door to the wine refrigerator.  You want real blasphemy?  I didn’t even look at the goddamn label!  Chardonnay?   Pinot Gris?   No idea – don’t care.  It’s wet and white, so both boxes are checked in order to pair it with this horrific Velveeta grilled cheese on stale bread I’m currently choking down.

At this point I should be clear that the upside to living with a perpetual wine student far outweighs these pedantic observations.  And for the sake of my marriage, I should further say that living with Noelle specifically does the same.   However, the next time someone asks me what my wife does for a living, I may consider telling them her prior career “tax lawyer” in order to avoid what inevitably follows.  Of course, if I do that I just know I’ll get a tax question about the deductibility of insurance premiums or some other scintillating inquiry.   Screw it – I choose wine student.

She Said/Hubs Said: “Live” White & Rosé Wine Blogging

As mentioned in a previous post about the Wine Bloggers Conference, one of the highlights for me was the “Live” Blogging sessions.  Lately when I drink wine, I’m usually in full exam mode, so I sit down with my trusty notebook and – slowly and methodically – take notes via the WSET “systematic approach to tasting” method.  In other words, I take time to analyze every element of the wine – structure, aromas, flavors, finish, quality, etc.  WSET Grid 1

In contrast, the “Live” Blogging sessions pushed me outside of my wine tasting comfort zone since we had, at most, five minutes to hear about the wine directly from the winemaker, taste it, and make notes of our impressions.  I keep putting “Live” in quotes because, while I tweeted the Red Wine session in real time, for the Whites & Rosés Hubs and I waited and compared our notes afterwards.  We read them aloud to each other over a beer(s) and, after I heard some of his comments, decided we had to put together a post.  I love his notes because they are so damn entertaining, honest and unpretentious.  Just like him. 🙂

So without further ado, here are the unedited She said / Hubs said tasting notes from the White & Rosé speed dating event” (his phrasing, not mine)….

1. Otis Kenyon 2017 Roussanne, Columbia Valley, WashingtonOtis Kenyon Roussanne

  • She Said: Med+ bodied, ripe yellow fruits – apple, pear, longer spicy finish (with a bit of heat). A perfect, richer fall/winter white wine. This might even sway some “I only drink red wine” people. I am such a fan of Rhône whites and wish more of these varieties were planted in WA!
  • Hubs Said: White.   Not very complex.  Citrusy lemon/zest.  It’s hard to give my opinion when the wine pouring people are talking about it – I just want to write what they are saying and pass it off as my own.   Amazing story behind this wine.   I like it but wouldn’t seek it out.   Again, really cool story (look it up).  I would drink on a hot summer day but that’s about it.  Nothing really unique – other than an awesome story. If stories sell wine, this one has an amazing story.   Love the matchsticks.  I would drink this wine just to tell the story.  Have I mentioned the story?

2. L’Ecole 2016 Semillon, Columbia Valley, Washington

  • She Said: 86% Semillon/14% Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of honeysuckle on the nose with some white flowers. Viscous, oily texture – reminds me a bit of Viognier. Glad they put some SB in here for some acidity – might be rather flabby without it. Another richer/fuller bodied white perfect for fall/winter drinking. And at $15 this is incredibly priced.
  • Hubs Said: White / Golden.   I’ve heard this story about the L’Ecole schoolhouse at least a hundred times.  I don’t know shit about Semillon.   I like it.  Why?   Some heat/spice on the mouth afterwards.   Again, not super excited about this one.   OK – not bad.

3. Peter Yealands 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand

  • She Said: I’m not usually a New Zealand Sauv Blanc fan, and this one is no different. Very herbal and grassy. Loads of tropical fruit on the palate. Med+ acidity, v. grassy palate. Intense aromas and flavor – it’s really just too much in your face/over the top. Some people love this stuff though. Maybe pairing with a salad or veggies would calm it down a bit for me, although – I don’t eat a lot of veggies.
  • Hubs Said: This is SUPER fragrant.  Gas?   Reminds me of the stuff my parents drank when I was a kid.  WOW!   Crazy fragrant.  Non-normal fruit.  Not sure what I mean.   Melon?   Super unique.   Higher acidity.   I would have to get used to this type of wine – not an everyday drinker but I could see pairing it with something fun.  It sticks with you forever.   Crazy flavors.

4. Desert Wind 2017 Chardonnay, Wahluke Slope, Washington

  • She Said: Definitely smells like Chardonnay – vanilla, oak, baking spices. Fuller bodied, creamy texture (full Mal-O).  Smells like a Madeline sugar cookie. Medium length finish and then . . . I’m left with the oak. I know I’m a boob when it comes to oaked Chardonnay. But to me, this is a little unbalanced because the oak dominates and overpowers the other flavors.
  • Hubs Said: Pretty color.   Tough to follow the Sauv Blanc – that aroma is still there.   Nothing wrong with it.   Maybe some vanilla and citrus?   Medium acidity.   Nothing particular exciting – it’s Chardonnay – not bad, just kind of there.

    Live Blogging
    Noelle writing her “she said” tasting notes.

5. Bouza 2017 Albariño, Uruguay

  • She Said: Citrus and salty sea spray aromas. Seems a little fuller bodied for an Albariño – maybe the 6 month lees aging is a factor? Riper apple and pear, and more salinity on the palate, crisp acidity. Would be perfect with seafood. Not bad for my first foray into Uruguayan wine.
  • Hubs Said: Uruguan wine.   Effervescent.  Zippy.   Lemon zest.   Low/Med. acidity.  Poolside wine.  Summer wine.   Well balanced (I’m not sure what the hell that means, I think equally acid and tannins).  Happy mouth.   Would be awesome w/ shellfish.   Could I find Uruguay on a map?  No.   Stays on the mouth/palate for a really long time.

6. Hard Row to Hoe 2017 Riesling, Lake Chelan, Washington

  • She Said: OMG – beautiful aromatics! Floral and stone fruit (peach, apricot). If I had this blind, I don’t think I would’ve guessed it was a Riesling. Smells more like a Viognier. I really like it, but it lacks the zip I expect from this variety.
  • Hubs Said: Eggs.  Weird.   Rocks.   Not traditional Riesling.   Great / fun story (note the flags on the label) – naughty.   But what do I think?  I would go with other Rieslings.

7. Rodney Strong 2016 ‘Chalk Hill’ Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California

  • She Said: Like wine #4, there is no mistaking this for Chardonnay.  This one seems more fruit driven though – baked apple, pear. Seriously – I am totally getting spiced apple pie on the palate. And this is on the back label – YAY ME! I think Hubs just rolled his eyes at me. Not my particular style, but I prefer it to the WA Chardonnay. This one is more balanced between fruit and oak aromas, plus it has more acidity and a longer finish.
  • Hubs Said: A little bit of fuel smell on it (or am I still smelling that crazy Sauv Blanc?).  On first taste I thought it was boring, but it really gets more interesting.  A little heat on it for a Chardonnay.  Not a huge fan but that’s because I think it has more to do with the varietal.   Noelle just said it tastes like “apple pie”.   Fuck that.  She’s going to kill me at this exercise.   Upshot:  It’s fine.  I just don’t like Chardonnay unless it’s a butter bomb.   Sidenote:  Where the hell are the Rosés???  We haven’t had a single Rosé yet.
Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay
“Apple and pie spice aromas”! 🙂

8. Cadaretta ‘SBS’ 2016, Columbia Valley, Washington

  • She Said: 67% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon. Stainless steel fermentation. Herbal nose, citrus (lime skin) jalapeños, tropical fruit. Med bodied, med+ acidity, med+ finish. Grassy notes on the finish. I MUCH prefer w/the Semillon then the stand alone New Zealand Sauv Blanc. This is so much better balanced, easier to drink and refreshing.
  • Hubs Said: Melon + Petrol.   What the hell is the fruit I smell on these Sauv Blancs???    Blog idea:  Wine words I misspell the most (bordo, Semillon, sauvignon).   I imagine that the Semillon calms down the Sauv Blanc.   It has such a unique smell.   We need to go to the glass house.

9. Frank Family Vineyards 2016 Chardonnay, Carneros, California

  • She Said: Much more subtle on the nose than the other Chardonnays.  Getting evidence of lees here too – yeasty, rounder mouthfeel.  MalO textures. Hint of oak – vanilla, spice along with some apple and pineapple.  Overall, aromas are pretty medium – I’m not getting a ton.  On the palate to me its more about the texture then the flavors. Vanilla crème.
  • Hubs Said: WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE ROSÉS?????  THE AGENDA SAID WHITE AND ROSÉS!!!!  Gotta say it’s really a beautiful color.  Unique smell for a chardonnay.   Way more butter on this one.  Maybe some vanilla and spices.  That’s a general statement.  This is what I want my chardonnay to taste like.  I want to eat a bowl of popcorn with this and not share it with Noelle.   The tasting may be getting to me at this point.  I really like this one and it would be interesting to compare it to other Chards.

10. J. Bookwalter Winery 2016 ‘Double Plot’ Chardonnay, Columbia Valley

JBookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay
Winner of the White Wine Blogging!
  • She Said: Medium aromas of white flowers, apple, and ripe lemon.  Hint of vanilla.  This smells (& tastes!) like an Oregon Chardonnay.  The oak is so restrained.  This might be my favorite of the lineup. Best balanced of the Chards – oak and fruit compliment each other and there’s a nice dose of acidity that was lacking in the others. Yay – ending on a high note from a hometown winery!
  • Hubs Said: Light color.  A little more acidity on this chard.   Butter w/ some stone(?).  Apple.  I seem to describe every chardonnay on the “butter scale”.  The more butter, the more I like it.   Otherwise, Chardonnay is a total commodity to me – it’s all the same.   I need to work on this.    Or maybe I don’t.  I just don’t like Chard, it’s so boring.

So there you have it.   In the light of day, what I really liked about having done this with Hubs is that it shows how wine means different things to different people.  While his “tasting notes” (and I use that term incredibly loosely) made me laugh out loud, they also reminded me that there are no absolutes –  no “right answers”.   Wine means to you what YOU taste and feel.  I think that’s what makes wine such an amazing pursuit.

Now….where the fuck are those Rosés?!  

 

 

Walla Walla – A Totally Incomplete Visitors Guide (by Hubs)

I’m on lunch break on Day 1 of the Wine Bloggers Conference and it dawned on me that many of you reading this blog have probably never been to the host city of Walla Walla.  Having lived for several years in the (somewhat) nearby town of Spokane, Washington, I’ve spent some time in Walla Walla and wanted to share my thoughts.   First things first, Walla Walla is located in the Southern corner of Eastern Washington.   Second things second, Eastern Washington produces some of the toughest people I’ve ever met in my life.  I mean like eight seconds on a bull tough and tractor accident tough.  I would never have survived growing up in Eastern Washington.  So while I’ll go on to describe the charming quaintness of this wine producing region, it’s important to understand that beneath that recently laid veneer lies an amazing community that built this city well before the doctors and lawyers started flying in for weekend tastings (yep, that would be me).

Until wine hit the mainstream consciousness, I imagine that Walla Walla was probably best known for one of three things: (i) Pretty damn cool name; (ii) Sweet Onions; and (iii) Drew Bledsoe.  If you know Bledsoe as the winemaking entrepreneur at Doubleback rather than an NFL quarterback, then you’re likely relatively new to the Walla Walla scene.

I started going to Walla Walla in the mid-90’s on hunting trips with friends to the base of the Blue Mountains.   At that time, you could count on one hand the number of wineries – almost all of which seemed to be located in trailers on grounds near the airport.   Those wineries are still there and I highly recommend touring them on a Schwinn (Noelle was  introduced to Five Star Cellars very early on in her wine education and still swears by their Sangiovese).  I understand that they have even added several breweries and even a distillery out there as well.

So what’s the status of Walla Walla today? Well, imagine if Charlie Daniels and Norah Jones sang a duet. With the proliferation of wine production in the area came the vinophile tourists, which has in turn changed the landscape to include higher end restaurants, a smattering of art galleries, etc. I can guarantee you that you will hear visitors say the line “this is what Napa was like 50 years ago” almost reverentially when you visit. And maybe they’re right – I have no frame of reference. Of course, Napa had the benefit of nearby major cities of San Francisco and Sacramento. As one speaker stated this morning “Walla Walla is on an island – five hours to the closest metropolitan area” (I’m sure Spokane won’t take offense). I can tell you however that you will find an amazing community that embraces both their position as an up-and-coming wine producing region along with its proud farming heritage.

With no further ado, here are a few of my favorite spots in Walla Walla, a list which is so spectacularly incomplete that I was required to change the name of this blog post:

  • Wine Division:   You don’t want Walla Walla wine recommendations from me (you want them from Noelle).  Nonetheless, be sure to check out Gramercy Cellars (our favorite), Sleight of Hand (best party atmosphere, seriously, I really want to share a bottle with these guys),  and L’Ecole (best school house).  Hot PoopMy apologies to Drew Bledsoe – I just haven’t been to Doubleback yet – but I promise I will on this trip.  Honestly, there are so many amazing wineries in the Walla Walla Region that you simply can’t go wrong.  Oh yeah, Rotie Cellars as well!!
  • Non-Wine Division:  Be sure to check out Olive (best informal meal), Hot Poop Records (best business name – ever), Whitman College; Public House 124; and a VRBO House Rental that converted a huge wine barrel into an extra bedroom.   Seriously.  I’ve slept there – it’s awesome (assuming you’re not claustrophobic).
    Barell
  • No Longer In Business Division:  I admit that it makes no sense whatsoever to tell you about these places that are no longer in business.  But alas, we can always hope for their return:  (i) Salumerie Cesario (Noelle once got kicked out of the cheese closet for making a mockery – true story); and (ii) Chillville – a collection of Airstreams that you could rent for a few nights next to the Airport district tasting rooms.  Of my great regrets in life, not staying at Chillville before it was shuttered is definitely top five (but still pretty distant from my ill-advised bolo tie phase in the early 90’s). Cheese Closet

 

Anyways, that’s my two cents on Walla Walla which is truly a kick-ass town that I highly recommend visiting to anyone with an interest in wine (or seeing the “Hot Poop” business sign).

 

 

 

 

Conference Survival Tips (by Hubs)

Room

With more than 20 years of conference going experience under my belt, I feel as though I’ve become a bit of an expert on this particular subject.  At various times over my career I’ve been an attendee, a speaker and even a chairman a time or two.  With the three day Wine Bloggers Conference just around the corner I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned over the years to help you successfully navigate your way around any conference and also avoid the many pitfalls that exist to the unwary.

Let me say at the outset that these survival tips apply only tangentially to the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference.  My conference going experience to date has been almost exclusively dedicated to the tax arena which, as you may surmise, is about as far on the other side of the fun spectrum from wine blogging as exists in the time/space continuum.  That’s right friends, there are entire weeklong conferences dedicated to the subject of taxes, and you can bet that they are just as hot and sultry as you imagine them to be!    As close as I’ve ever been to the fun end of the conference spectrum was speaking at a craft brewers convention a few years ago at which they asked me to present with a pilsner at the lectern.  My presentation was at 9am.

So with that in mind, here are a few lessons that I’ve learned over the past two decades of conference going to help you out…

Find the (better) restroom.  Rookie conference goers will use the restrooms Restroomimmediately outside of the main conference hall.  Don’t be fooled – no need to stand in line for ten minutes for the privilege of sharing the facilities with 200 of your closest friends.   These conference halls (either in a hotel or a dedicated facility) are labyrinths that are designed to host multiple conferences at the same time.  So just walk the hallway toward one of the other large conference rooms that isn’t currently in use and there you will find your very own restroom (just don’t tell anyone where it’s located). (Editor’s Note: spouses are exceptions to this “don’t tell anyone” rule).

Monitor your coffee and sugar intake.  This probably should have been listed as survival tip #1.  Either at the back of the main hall or in the exhibitors hall there will undoubtedly be a tanker sized vat of black coffee next to several trays of Costco chocolate chip cookies.  I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Awesome!”  No.  No it is very much not awesome.  Cookies and coffee are the opioids of the conference world and if you’re not careful you’ll be so hopped up on caffeine and sugar you’ll need a methadone clinic visit of your own to help you come down.  Allow yourself one of each in the morning and the same after lunch.  That’s it.  (Editor’s Note: as this is a wine blogging conference, avoid drinking coffee too close to any actual wine tasting to avoid completely screwing up your palate.  Same goes for brushing your teeth.)

Stretch.   Sitting all day is terrible for you so get up and walk around.  It’s ok to stand at the back of the room during an entire presentation.   You’re not being rude as long as you’re not the guy who shows off his yoga skills by doing a headstand in the main conference room.  FYI:  I actually witnessed a guy waiting at the departure gate at SeaTac Airport go into a full headstand right smack in the middle of everyone waiting for the plane.  I still hate that guy and that was like five years ago. (Editor’s Note: perhaps doing some yoga of your own my dear Hubs would help you with this anger that you’ve been holding onto for so many years.)

Hydrate.  Drink a ton of water – I’m not kidding.  Those conference rooms are where fresh air goes to die and you’ll otherwise dry out by the mid-morning break.  I’m talking Las-Vegas-casino-before-smoking-was-banned level of stale air, just without the lingering waft of desperation mixed with Drakkar Noir.  There’s typically a bunch of water bottles at the back of the room or in the exhibitors hall so load up accordingly.  (Editor’s Note: I completely agree with Hubs here – a rare occurrence.)

SpitbucketBe a good conference neighbor.  This should be self explanatory, but as with most things in life that fall into that category, it unfortunately is not.   Generally clean up your area, if you get a phone call take it outside (we get it, you’re a very busy and important person who owns a cell phone and we are all duly impressed with your station in life), don’t eat a bag and a half of Doritos so loud that we can’t hear the speaker, etc.  You know what, this goes beyond conference etiquette – just generally follow these simple rules in life. (Editor’s Note: another wine blogging conference specific: mind the spit buckets! Don’t go jostling the table too much or slamming your chair into the table behind you and putting your fellow conference goers at risk for dump bucket spillage.  Nobody wants to be Miles.)

Leave the cocktail reception early.  At the end of Day 1 there is always a cocktail reception for the attendees.  Go early and – here comes the really important part –  leave early.  Tomorrow is another full day of presentations and the last thing you need is to be sweating booze while wondering why the hell you decided to karaoke the entire soundtrack of Grease 2.  Also, if invited, politely decline attending the after party at a local bar with your newfound “conference buddies.”  Nothing good ever comes from attending a conference after party.  (Editor’s Note: Ahem… is there something you’d like to share with me?)

OK – that should be enough to get you through.   Godspeed my conference going friends.