Archive for the ‘Wine and Life’ Category

Hillary Clinton likes Cabernet over ice cream, Bernie Sanders is a beer man, Donald Trump doesn’t drink, and Melania Trump will have whatever Michelle Obama’s having. As we find ourselves mid-convention, there seems to be no shortage of alcohol-oriented trivia to reel off about the major political players of the moment—from the weird amount of wine loot Sanders has inspired to the Virginia winery that Trump owns “100 percent” of (and also not at all).

But today, I want to briefly mention a drink inspired by someone who’s more of a bit player on the current political scene—albeit an endlessly fascinating one. So it’s time to pull out a mug, fill it with ice, pour the white wine, and enjoy yourself an Ivana.

Now of course Donald Trump’s first wife didn’t invent the wine-over-ice phenomenon—but it’s apparently a favorite of hers, according to an anonymous Home Glass source who was hired many years ago to remove the storm shutters from her Florida home. And never got paid. To be fair, when Ivana realized she was short on cash, she offered to pay her helper in Champagne—before further realizing she’d mislaid the key to her wine cellar. No matter, said helper was amply rewarded with an introduction to a beverage he named for his former employer and happily imbibes to this day—although he drinks his Ivanas in a glass.

Like Ivana, I won’t hesitate to plop an ice cube into a glass of white on a hot day—and I know that we’re in good company because the internet says so. Search “ice cubes in white wine,” and the first three results are articles about why wine on ice is “totally OK.” (The fourth says Diane Keaton does it, so . . . further evidence.)

A reasoned counterargument comes from my favorite wine expert, Jancis Robinson, who actually thinks white wines are generally served too cold—especially full-bodied whites whose aromas are constrained by too much of a chill. She writes that serving wine at the correct temperature “really can transform ink into velvet and, conversely, zest into flab,” and she recommends storing only the lightest, sweetest wines at the standard fridge temperature of 40º, serving the biggest white wines at closer to 60º. And forget about that mug—anything but glass messes with a wine’s mouthfeel, Jancis says, but even a paper cup is better than pottery.

I think it’s fair to say that encouraging aroma and optimizing mouthfeel were not Ivana Trump’s top priorities when her shutter-remover noticed her enjoying that mugful…. But the woman who famously said “Don’t get mad, get everything” presumably has no qualms about defying convention. If only she could do something about the one that’s happening right now.


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I have an interest in the size of a wine pour that borders on pathological—just ask anyone who’s ever been in my kitchen. On the side of my fridge, a few inches above counter level, there are two pieces of blue painter’s tape. If you position a Libbey stemless wine glass on the counter against these pieces of tape, you see the exact measure of both a 4 oz. pour and a 5 oz. pour.

This compulsive bit of measuring dates back to my pregnancy, when I became just the teeniest bit obsessed with how much—if any—alcohol was safe to consume during pregnancy. My doctor advised that one 4 oz. glass a month, after the first trimester, was fine—but no more. That was when I learned the ugly truth about what a 4 oz. glass of wine really looks like. (It looks like a large sip.) And as this was not my usual pour size, Peter slapped some tape against the fridge to keep me honest. Post-pregnancy, we went nuts and added the 5 oz. measure.

If this all sounds a little crazy, well, it is. But no crazier than W. Blake Gray’s great pour-size experiment of 2013, wherein the esteemed wine writer went to four wine bars and six restaurants—all in San Francisco—armed with a carefully concealed Pyrex measuring cup. He ordered a glass of wine from each establishment, and when it arrived, his wife produced the Pyrex and quickly measured the wine pour before returning it to its glass. He found that the average pour size was just above 5 oz., with 4 oz. being the smallest (Terroir Wine Bar) and nearly 7 oz. being the largest (20 Spot). Upon reflection, he realized that the most generous pours came after he’d inquired about the wine and engaged his server in conversation. He didn’t necessarily have to take that person’s advice on what to order, but merely seeming interested in wine clearly influenced pour size.

Lately it seems that every time I go to a new—or at least new-to-me—restaurant, there’s an atypical pour size on the menu. AL’s Place in San Francisco’s Mission District offers wine by the glass, bottle, and “grip,” which is essentially a glass-and-a-half. Meanwhile, at 123 Bolinas in Fairfax, you can order a “smidge”—which is roughly half a glass. A friend in the business says he sees more and more places pouring against a measure—which could account for why restaurants feel compelled to offer a range of pour sizes, with pricing to match.

Perhaps one day we’ll walk into a restaurant and find a Home Glass (definition: as generous a glass as you’d pour yourself at home) on the menu. Back when I first wrote about the concept, my home glass clocked in at about 6 oz—but the burning question is, how big is your home glass? Please respond in the comments, and invite others to weigh in. Pictures welcome; I’ll start.

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I have a binder full of parties. It may not be as plentiful as Mitt Romney’s binders full of women (remember that?)—but extra points, please, for color-coding, elaborate labels, pre-party timelines and checklists, guest lists, menus and complementary wine selections, notes on table settings, a nebulous category called “inventory,” and post-party observations on what to do differently next time. There are lunch, brunch, and dinner parties, cocktail parties, barbecues, housewarmings, milestone celebrations, and a standalone section for New Year’s Day. Please note that I have not thrown this many actual parties, and the ones that I have were far less elaborate and well-coordinated than this level of detail suggests. But for a certain personality type, the binder is the party. And that, in my party-throwing heyday, was me.

When I looked at this record of past parties recently, in preparation for a cluster of holiday meals, most of what I read was vaguely panic-inducing. But I took great comfort in the post-event commentary—what you might call the Regrets Section. From Christmas Dinner 2011: “Next year: enough (and right size) tablecloths, iron them, enough chairs, figure out tables in advance.” From Thanksgiving Dinner 2012: “Halve rutabaga recipe.” From a winter dinner party in 2013: “Starting at 7 works well. Don’t do skirt steak on the grill again. BC can’t drink red wine if she expects to drink more than 2 drinks and wants to sleep.”

At least to me, these little bits give color to otherwise bland snapshots of parties past—a micro example of writer and self-proclaimed “wrongologist” Kathryn Schulz’s premise in her 2010 book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. In a November 2011 TED talk promoting the book, Schulz admitted to a past tendency to drink “our great cultural Kool-Aid about regret, which is that lamenting things that occurred in the past is an absolute waste of time; that we should always look forward and not backward; and that one of the noblest and best things we can do is strive to live a life free of regrets.” She later came to embrace regret, and to insist that “if we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best, and if we love people and we don’t want to hurt them or lose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets. The point is to not hate ourselves for having them.”

My favorite Regrets Section in the party binder comes from a long-ago New Year’s Day brunch and was penned not by me but my cohost. His post-event commentary was always far more literary and nuanced than mine—frequently peppered with gossip and minute personal details (who might be pregnant, who called at 4:30 p.m. to say he had just woken up, who brought a Protea plant). He wrote,

Next year: some sweets, maybe cornbread, video for kids, buy a small bag of ice. Mimosas. KIDPROOF and try to relax about it. Set EVERYTHING up two days before. Set up bar/table, glasses, silver, napkins, planters, chairs, pillows, bathroom. Cover couch for fear of children.

[Name redacted] broke a Champagne flute. And within 15 minutes of arrival had poured himself coffee, Champagne, and red wine. But, he brought red wine, figs, cheese, and donut holes!

In hindsight, I’m grateful to Name Redacted—and of course to the chronicler of his indelible party presence. Yes, I’m down one Champagne flute, but I’ve also got a permanent reminder that at parties as in life, what you break matters less than what you bring, and the spirit in which you bring it.

I thought about this yesterday as I was making cookies with my daughter (who clearly was not yet around for that aggressively kid-unfriendly New Year’s brunch of 2009). At one point as she mixed the dough with characteristic gusto, little pieces of it flew all over the kitchen counter. I quickly grabbed the bowl and said I’d take over for a while.

“I make one mistake, and lose my chance,” she grumbled. Not a lesson I wanted to reinforce. I gave her back the bowl.



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I forgot that Rieslings age well. It has something to do with a flavor compound with a 38-character name (TDN for short). Let this varietal age for too long and it starts to smell of kerosene—but if you give it just a few years, you’ll likely hit its sweet spot. This is one of those esoteric oenological tidbits my late husband taught me—filed away in a corner of my brain right next to the fact that Pediacoccus infections are bad, but Brettanomyces infections can be good—and that “aroma of geraniol” is an insult, and “aroma of pencil shavings” is a compliment.

So when a friend and I opened the last bottle I had of Peter’s 2008 Sierra Foothills Riesling this September, on the second anniversary of his death, I felt that I had to warn her: “This could be undrinkable.” Instead, it was delicious—“like nectar,” is how my friend described it. And in that moment, forgetting all of Peter’s lessons about Riesling, nothing about this wine made sense. Not its crystal-clear, pale yellow color, its delicate floral nose, its light, dry mouthfeel, its fruit. Not the absence of the person who made it.

Peter died at age 44, just 14 months after his diagnosis of non-small-cell adenocarcinoma. It was a mystery cancer of unknown primary origin that behaved like lung cancer, and upon diagnosis it was already evident in his lungs, right shoulder, and brain. For much of those 14 months, our family was able to live a kind of peaceful “new normal”—treatment cycles, breaks from treatment, quietly trying to observe and celebrate life’s big moments and small ones. His serenity and courage in the face of all of this was astounding, even to those who knew him well enough to expect nothing less.

For a while during this period, I intended to give The Home Glass—which began as Marin Magazine’s wine blog back in 2008 and which I continued to write until 2011—a reboot. I planned to document the reboot forced upon our lives, with wine, spirits, food, and family as the focus. But ultimately, even the few hours this would have involved seemed too much to give up in a year when time felt so precious and so fleeting. Better to spend those hours eating tacos and drinking margaritas with someone unparalleled in his talents for making both.

Oddly enough, it was stumbling on NPR producer Rachel Ward’s brilliant post on Medium, “I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago,” that brought me back here—particularly these lines:

When you experience a loss like this, you get to see a really wild new amount of life. Suddenly the range of the type of sad you can feel, to the type of happy you can feel, is busted open. The spectrum from happy to sad isn’t a foot wide anymoreit’s as far as your arms can stretch and then to the edges of the room and then up the block and over into the next neighborhood.

I feel a version of this and have felt it almost since the moment we learned of Peter’s diagnosis. Everything was instantly amplified then and is amplified still: love, beauty, fear, longing, sadness, anger, more beauty, more love. It helps that my agnostic husband believed he’d come back to us in nature in some form—so when the trees catch light in a certain way, or a hummingbird watches closely as our daughter makes chalk drawings in our driveway, I have to wonder.

Willa often asks me how old her dad is. It’s almost never “how old would he be” if he were alive, because she’s six and is only just starting to wrap her mind around the conditional. I love answering all her questions about Peter except this one, because this one makes me stop and do an excruciating bit of math. Last Saturday he would have turned 47. When I think of Peter at 44, I can picture a 44-year-old person that I knew and loved and got to a spend a year memorizing. Forty-four-year-old Peter feels like a gift that I can still vividly recall and embrace and enjoy. But I don’t know 47-year-old Peter. I never will, and saying the age that he would have been out loud forces me to stare the magnitude of our loss straight in the face, in a way I almost never do.

Life doesn’t always make sense. White wines don’t age well, except for the ones that do. People grow older, except for the ones that don’t. Sometimes the best you can do is to sit back and take in that infinite spectrum from happy to sad. But one thing that always makes me feel better is observing and celebrating those details of life—domestic, culinary, seasonal—that remind me of Peter every day. And this seems a good place to record those details—once a month, at least. I promise that not every post will be this long or this personal—but do expect, on occasion, more home than glass.


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Believing in the mystical significance of the number 47 was practically a graduation requirement at the college I attended. So when I brought a bottle of 2008 47 Friends Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($18) to share with some college friends on a recent Saturday night, I was pretty sure the label alone would favorably predispose them to the wine.

Yet another college friend had tipped me off to the 47 Friends label—she had seen them on Facebook and knew instantly that there had to be a connection. Sure enough, 47 Friends is the “little sister” winery—read less-expensive wines and a Millennial-friendly Web presence—to Ancient Oak Cellars, a Santa Rosa winery owned by Pomona grads Melissa and Ken Moholt-Siebert.

But back to Saturday. We all enjoyed the 2008 Pinot; not terribly Pinot-y and the aroma was somewhat muted, but it had nice red fruit on the palate and made for extremely smooth drinking. And Peter—who never says this—said it seemed worth the price.

Still, our favorite 47 Friends so far are the blends — simple red and white table wines that sell for $10 a piece. On Tuesday we opened the red, which Peter guessed was bulk Merlot. It’s actually a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with some Zinfandel and Syrah in the mix—all of which make for a ripe wine brimming with blackberry and other dark fruits.

Remember that I spent four years of writing a column about $10-and-under wines, and based on that experience, cheap California reds make me nervous. That’s why this one was such a pleasant surprise: mellow, moderate alcohol content (13.8 percent), and versatile enough to pair with a wide variety of foods.

Thursday we opened the white blend, and Peter was redeemed when he immediately pegged it as Sauvignon Blanc (it’s got a bit of un-oaked Chardonnay as well). It had a strong, really nice aroma of melon and freshly cut grass, and it was light, tingly, and delicate on the palate.

Pairs perfectly with an early spring heat wave.

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I’m sure we all have one: a Worst Valentine’s Day Ever. Mine involved teddy bears holding Mylar balloons, and I’m sure it’s partly to blame for the little shiver I get every time I’m sent a heart-sprinkled press release advertising a Valentine’s special. So I was relieved to see that instead of doing something schmaltzy on February 14, Napa’s Ehlers Estate winery is doing something classy on February 4.

To honor National Heart Month, winemaker Kevin Morrisey will preside over a tasting party from 6 to 8 p.m. at MO Bar in San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. For the $30 price of admission, guests will enjoy appetizers paired with several Ehlers Estate wines, including the winery’s signature “One Twenty Over Eighty” Cab blend. Proceeds from the event will go toward a gift to the San Francisco Chapter of the American Heart Association.

This pairing between winery and cause is much more than a well-timed marketing campaign; all year long, 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of Ehlers Estate wines goes to the Leducq Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to international cardiovascular research. For more information, visit fondationleducq.org.

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I experienced some major lifestyle envy yesterday after reading an article about a Marin County couple—Béa and Scott Johnson of Mill Valley—and the extremely minimalist way of life they’ve recently adopted.

I’m a wannabe minimalist, and I was intrigued by many of the practices the Johnsons have established. There were the obvious things, like keeping firm limits on the volume of clothing, toys, cooking equipment, and memorabilia in the household (never mind paper products and books, which are absent altogether), but also some less obvious ones like using compostable toothbrushes and sourcing wine locally from wineries that offer refillable bottles.

This last item caught my eye in particular because of the winery mentioned: Guglielmo. The Guglielmo brothers have a long family history in the Santa Clara Valley—a region near and dear to the winemaker in this household—and I’ve written in the past about the winery’s new-ish line of value wines, Tré Cellars.  The brothers have a reputation for being good to their neighbors, and with their reusable bottle promotions they’re also good to the environment.

For Guglielmo’s next “Bottle Your Own” event, February 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., customers are encouraged to bring their own clean bottles (or buy them at the winery for a dollar) and then fill them with a Guglielmo red for $5 —all while Italian delicacies beckon from a “chef’s table” and accordion music fills the air.

Know another local winery that offers to fill used wine bottles? Let us know here…

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A few nights ago I opened a bottle that some friends gave us in October—the 2004 Tyrus Evan Del Rio Vineyard Claret. As is my habit these days, I inscribed the bottle with the names of those friends and the date—and upon opening it two months later, I noticed that they had done the same whenever they received the bottle, which seems to have been at a fund-raising auction. I love the scribbled-on, personalized look of the bottle now (or at least I did before I recycled it), especially since those notes gave the wine a sense of history.

Years ago I worked at a magazine where Anne Fadiman—who later became the editor of The American Scholar—wrote a column about all things literary, and my favorite of those columns concerned the proper place to inscribe a book. (In case you’re wondering, it’s the flyleaf—that blank page in the front—rather than the title page, which is reserved for the author.) Revisiting Anne’s column recently made me wonder: As the printed book slowly (and sadly) goes the way of the telegram, could inscriptions on wine bottles become the new, hot way to say ‘I care’? And if so, what’s the proper place to inscribe a bottle of wine?

There doesn’t seem to be much authoritative commentary on this, so let’s decide for ourselves: The front label makes the most sense to me, since the winemaker’s signature usually appears on the back label. There’s also the option of just writing on the glass, and while there are pens made for just this purpose, any gold or silver pen from an art supply store will do.

While wine experts may not have much to say on where to personalize your bottle, many do suggest marking the bottle with the date you opened it, so as not to let it sit too long and turn to vinegar. In my house, wine is rarely open and unconsumed long enough to run that risk—but if it’s a problem in your household, you might try that system. Or, consider buying this gadget: a wine stopper with twistable date rings, created by designer George Lee. A great last-minute gift for your favorite wine lover….

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This Christmas, I’m giving one wine-loving relative a bottle of Bolinas-based winemaker Sean Thackrey‘s 2008 Andromeda Pinot Noir, made from grapes grown at Nicasio’s Devil’s Gulch Ranch. I have to say, it was gratifying to buy a bottle with “Marin County” proudly emblazoned on the label—especially knowing that what’s inside just has to be good, given Thackrey’s reputation. (Just don’t expect it to taste like Pinot, wine-loving relative… One reviewer of a past vintage said Andromeda tasted like Syrah, while another said it tasted like Sean Thackrey—but no one has called it a characteristic Pinot.) You can read more about Thackrey here, and for other ideas for buying local, check out Homegrown Marin Market online and sign up for their free membership.

One more way to work wine into your holiday: make a wreath out of cuttings from grape vines. I was a skeptic when my husband first suggested this, but now I love our grape vine wreath—which lives on our front door 12 months a year and gets decorated annually with (small, tasteful) ornaments. The wreath pictured above was a happy flickr discovery. My favorite part about it is the holiday-appropriate message on the beads, revealed by photographer Auntie Owwee to read:

life without confetti is only an existence

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My sister lived in Bolivia for a time, and she used to rave about the Pisco Sours she enjoyed there, even if they’re more closely associated with neighboring Chile and Peru. When I went to visit I tried the cocktail, and it didn’t really take — but I gave it a second chance a couple of weeks ago, at San Francisco’s La Mar restaurant, and now I’m sold. The Pisco (Peruvian brandy), lime juice, simple syrup, bitters, and egg white froth all came together in a not-too-tart, not-too-sweet form of poetry.

I realize this makes me sound a little bit Ugly American – like the kind of person who wishes aloud that the food in China tasted more like Panda Express. But La Mar is no Panda Express. Following that pitch-perfect cocktail, my friends and I enjoyed traditional Peruvian causas and ceviches and a bottle of 2007 Kingston Cariblanco Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s coastal Casablanca Valley — and the gushing never ceased.

With South America on the brain, a few days later, Peter and I opened a bottle of 2008 Carmenere from Casa Silva winery, located in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. Although I wouldn’t call it pitch-perfect, I thoroughly enjoyed its blackberry aroma and bold, tannic mouthfeel. Not food-friendly, but a nice, inexpensive ($12 a bottle) wine to drink on its own in the wintry months. I looked for Casa Silva’s wines in the Guía de Vinos de Chile, the country’s much-revered annual wine guide, and found that the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc actually earned a top-ten spot in the by-varietal category, as did the winery’s higher-end Gran Reserva Carmenere.

But back to that Pisco Sour. Something else was happening the night I sipped my new favorite cocktail in La Mar’s spacious bar: the San Francisco Giants were about to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 4 of the National League Championship. Me then: sighing heavily, my back to the TV screen, as my companions insisted that we wait and see the final outcome instead of moving to our table when the game was tied 5-5 in the 9th inning. (Who was that woman?? Can Pisco Sours really change a person that much?) Cut to me last night: glued to the couch for the third straight night until I had to join the rest of the Bay Area in the collective screaming frenzy that came after the strike that won the Series.

Another fine argument for giving things a second chance.

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