Wine: Think Outside the Box.

imageI’ve been invited to be an Editor for the FeedFeed — an interwoven website linking cooks cooking away in our kitchens with recipes from around the globe. I am thrilled. It’s a regular site I use when cooking (like Epicurious). And a one-stop place of inspiration. I’ll be introducing and editing posts with my ‘straight talk’ about wine, pairings, cooking with wine… Reader friends, you already know how candid I am about Wine.  How I think of Wine as people, as body types.  Loathing pretensions enshrouding this most democratic of beverages.  That whores have been drinking wine for as long as Queens.  If not longer.

Minestrone on the stove, I sit down to write for the FeedFeed today and wonder if more readers want that shiny verbage used by so many wine labels and sommeliers.  That people are more comfortable with scores and snobbery. That my honesty may be too unfamiliar. Cheap or pricey, Wine represents soil, weather patterns, sweat, and beer.  I feel our callouses and see our face lines knowing a bottle of wine represents YEARS of work.  A full year to grow.  Months to ferment.  24-36 months to barrel-age and even more to bottle age.  Many thousands of dollars just to bottle… And yet, here I am tasked with suggesting wine varietals with gorgeous foods cooked in a single night most ways across this globe of ours. I find this challenge fun and exciting.  But I also feel that it is important to urge us all to reclaim our glasses from the snobbery and falsehoods perpetuated by my industry (just like we’ve done our plates). Shaming that lie that all wine is good for you.  It is NOT.  All wine is NOT created equal (read and how to check.) And as I go about my editing for this very worthy website, I urge us all to drink good wine ($20 USD  and above) and learn about what is in our stemware like we’ve learned to be consciencous about what is in our food and on our plates. To buy local, support farmers, and eat organically whenever possible.

Without formal training in enology, I can only offer my truths and what I’ve learned through my Wolverine boots-clad cellar work, owning a winery, growing grapes, and listening to people much, much smarter than me.  And yet, my former life in politics was all about people. Influencing me even now to still think of Wine in terms of people and body imagery. How our perfect, rare Cabernet Franc is a “curvy ballerina” spinning with breasts and muscular legs in her burgundy hued tutu.  How 100% Cabernet anywhere reminds me of an industrial train conductor — all scrawny brawn and long distance squinting. Buttery Chardonnay brings Julia Child to mind, every single time — all 6’3 of her enjoying that first, life-changing, big butter bite of Sole Muenier.  A crisp Sauvignon Blanc being your athletic, globe trotting best friend — all sunshine and freckles, friendly everywhere. Pinot Noir, the “lipstick” of the group — lush and sensuous. And Zinfandel?  (Red, never white) boasts all the sexy spicing of an erotic belly-dancer.

Proactive, conscientous drinking is a good thing. Taking time and focus before enjoyment. My visions may make sense only to me. And I likely won’t use them often when writing.  But I urge you all to reclaim wine and your individual understanding of wine to make it your own.  If you want to buy anything, I 100% endorse buying Dr. Ann Noble”s WINE AROMA WHEEL.  She has codified every flavor and aroma in all wines into one laminated disc. Teaching your brain and tongue to speak English to each other. (Buy a few and take as house-warming gifts or start a Wine Group to learn new varietals each meeting (taste 5-8 wines each time).  I keep mine tucked away next to my measuring cups and cheese grater for easy access.  Also, Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course is top-notch.

Writing tonight, I wish I had a list of you what you thought for guidance. How do you drink Wine? Pair it? What would like to know? Please tell me. I’d love to know.

Cheers!

my Jelly Jar Trick: Not All Wine is Created Equal.

OKAY.  I admit it.  For years back in Los Angeles, I mostly sipped sh*t wine. Thinking it was good wine. And good for me. At $5-12 per bottle, inexpensive wine fit my wallet but still made me feel like I was “healthy.” A glass or two of red wine a day is supposed to be good for you, right?

…Right?

Wrong. Not all wine is created equal. And labels can be of little help. So what works? For we non-sommelier wine-drinkers out there? My Jelly Jar Test.

We make wine how we cook: from scratch, clean, healthy, and delicious.

We make wine how we cook: from scratch, clean, healthy, and delicious. Clearing tanks here with Winemaker extraordinaire Cecilia Valdivia at Deerfield Ranch Winery where we Custom Crush.

When I moved north to Sonoma in 2007, jumping from NASA to learn winemaking as  “Cellar Rat” for a Winemaster, I learned how toxic and fattening my cheap wines were. If you’re drinking wine that is $15 or less per bottle like I was — especially a red — I don’t care how delicious it “tastes,” I’ll wager you are drinking a synthetic concoction of chemical aromas, sugars, food dye, (maybe) some grape concentrate all wrapped up in arsenic and ammonia based sludge before being doused with high levels of sulfites to protect said concoction during it’s unknown lifespan after leaving the winery.

SONOMA means "Valley of the Moon" in Pama.

SONOMA means “Valley of the Moon” in Poma and is home to many boutique winemakers like us hand crafting quality wines you may not find in your home state, but which you can buy direct through Wine Clubs.

For if you think about every bottle of wine in every household, restaurant, bar, and store in every city in every State of this great Nation, you can see that wine has largely become a “fast food” commodity. For Cheap wine is designed to be “cheap.”  From Day One. Before those grapes are picked by combine and extended with additives in tanks stories tall. Now, giant labels, engorged Wineries, and big-box teams are not staffed by bad people. Far from it. Just working for very large corporations more mindful of the bottom line. Selling you something tasty, cheap, seems like a win-win for most people. But if you want to know what’s in your glass? Try my test at home.

My Jelly Jar Trick: Truth Shall Set You Free!

My Jelly Jar Trick: Truth Shall Set You Free!

Directions: Open a bottle. Pour yourself a glass and then another into a Jelly Jar or juice glass. A Mason Jar is my choice. Nothing fancy, you want to encourage wine contact with as much surface air as possible.  Cover the Jar with a paper napkin or paper towel — something so the liquid breathes.  Go enjoy your night. And come back tomorrow –12 or 24 hours later. Or more. AND TASTE IT.

What do you taste? What do you see? or Smell? Does it taste like the lushness of grapes (or some % thereof) you enjoyed last night? If so, then you’ve been enjoying Real Wine or a somewhat decently Vitis Vinifera based beverage.  For wines made from actual grapes?  Taste like the vineyards from which they are sourced. Grapes taste like Grapes. From vine to tank, from barrel to bottle, in your Glass, cool from the wine fridge or warmed to ambient temperatures — it doesn’t matter.  Wines grown conscientiously, made by hand, in volumes meant for regional consumption, minimal destinations like bistros and wine bars or direct to consumer (via Wine Clubs) will likely pass the Jelly Jar Test.

Real Wine takes Leg-Work. And Sweat Equity. Farm Manager Chicho bringing in the Grapes this past Fall.

Real Wine takes Leg-Work. And Sweat Equity. Farm Manager Chicho bringing in the Grapes this past Fall.

But what if you taste something bitter? Smell nothing like the drink you enjoyed last night? What if you see the food coloring begin to separate below a meniscus? “LIke the bottle has been open too long?” What you’ve discovered at this chronological point is Acid. Red or white tinted acid remains from the “wine’s” prolonged exposure to oxygen.  Barring any winemaking malfunctions, bad timing on barrel lifespans, corkage (TCA contamination), residual dish soap (or toothpaste), or heat/cold spoilage… What we’ve got there in your jar is a multi-billion dollar industry product sold as “Healthy” to the millions of good people cooking, eating, and sipping sincerely across America.  A tasty, inexpensive product fabricated for domestic consumption with “food grade” chemicals simulating mouth feel, “finish,” oak dust to fake barrel aging, etc… Down to using steel drums of sub-clone concentrate of Pinot 667 or Cabernet clone 37 for example. The cheaper the bottle? The more chemicals, food dyes, arsenic and amonia based sludge you’re consuming. Nightly. (Think McDonald’s pink slime burger additives. Seriously. And don’t even get me started on wines like Yellow Tail.) Because just like when fast food meals cool and taste disgusting? The same thing is happening in your stemware. Cheap wine warms /oxygenates to reveal it’s true self.

Grown Well. Our Estate Grown Merlot. Vintage 2015.

Grown Well. Our Estate Grown Merlot. Vintage 2015.

Let’s Talk Turkey: PRICE

In my experience bottles costing more than $22-25 for a white and $28-30 for a red have higher chances of being cleaner and longer-lasting. Over the years, I’ve done this little test on wines from $5-$100 per bottle. Keeping track of which made my neck itch (oak dust added to fake “oaky” flavors), get that 2am Sinus Headache (synthetic/chemical additives), or just plain feel gross and “fat faced” (added sugars and food dyes.) But I’ve been surprised — a lovely $19 red made by a huge producer and sold in Hawaii or that $75 bottle of famous Chardonnay that gives me a migraine each time, regardless of vintage. My rule of thumb is if you figure a wine — regardless of price — can be found in at least 30 states (or even five) in large amounts in most restaurants? YEP, these wines will likely fail your Jelly Jar Test.

Price is still a decent initial indicator of quality. Simply because Real wine is more expensive because it costs that much to make.

Counting Barrels.

Counting Barrels.

When your wine is grown nicely (like ours) made by hand (like ours), aged in barrels for years (like ours), and at least 80% grapes (let alone our 100% grape based wines), the price tag goes up. Because it costs us that much more to produce real, old-school wines. For example, if Chardonnay costs $3950 to purchase one tonne (equaling two barrels and approx 50 cases of wine) — that bottle of Chardonnay needs to start at $39.50 to recover just creation costs. But you’ll have a tasty, HEALTHY Wine with all of the praised body benefits attributed. A drink that lasts for days, even a week. Will not make you fat, give you headaches, wrinkle early, or junk up your body.  In fact, I cook often from leftover bottles opened months with very delicious, non-stale results.

Girl Scouts Honor.

Hand-Made efforts extends even to Cleaning Bins. Dear Friend Ben of Idle Cellars before he was the famous Winemaker Ben Larks.

Hand-Made effort extends even to Cleaning Bins. Dear Friend Ben of Idle Cellars before he was the famous Winemaker Ben Larks.

What You Can Do To Drink Well: Join WINE CLUBS. Buy Direct. Pay less for well made wines shipped straight to your door than you would for crap wines sold in bulk to your states’ distributor. I am also more than happy to connect you with solid wine families and small wineries producing wines in very similar, clean ways to us. (With zero kick backs. Just happy to spread the love!) Besides, buying direct? Is also cheaper for you and helps sustain solidly producing wine folk here in Sonoma.

Our Annadel Estate Winery wines are hand-picked, usually-family style, each and every time!

A Family Affair: Our Annadel Estate Winery wines are hand-picked, family style, each and every time.

What’s Next: There has been some successful movement against fake wines and their producers recently. For the FDA does not require anything but the Surgeon’s General Warning on wine bottle, not the inclusion of additives, sugars, chemicals, and high levels of arsenic. Misleading the American Public to think all wine is created equal. Several Class Action lawsuits are bubbling up, working to inform the American consumer and force bulk, cheap wine labels to list what ingredients are in their crap wines.  The most successful Class Action Lawsuit from TaintedWine.com against big, popular labels such as Sutter Home, “Two Buck Chuck” Charles Shaw, Cupcake, Beringer, and Franzia for unsafe arsenic levels. Or google “arsenic wines” in the WS Journal, NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, USA Today, BBC, etc. to read more.

Be careful with what your drink, dear readers. As you are careful what you eat.  When curious, please use my Jelly Jar Test. Works every time. I promise. And cheers! Proactive, conscientious drinking is a good thing.

Taking Up the Mantle of Our Mothers

Dawn of a New Chapter. For this old Winery Farm. And for our Family.

Dawn of a New Chapter. For this old Winery Farm. And for our Family.

This Holiday season was a first in many ways… The first Annual Holiday Tea Party. The first passing of family china to me. Complete with my grandmother’s jade dinner ring. The first antique “new” heirloom meant for Anni to inherit — a 19th century Samovar Tea Urn. The first Christmas without my Grandmother.

We haven't held a Tea in 14 years. This first year, my Mom "LaLa " helmed the Tea Urn for the Party.

We haven’t held a Tea in 14 years. This first year, my Mom “LaLa ” helmed the Tea Urn for the Party.  Urn found by Gryphon Estate Silver

“Taking Up the Mantle of our Mothers.”  That passing of torch from one generation to the next.  The gradual shift of mother to elder. Mother to grandmother. Daughter to Mom.  Five years old to Tea Hostess.  Deployed brother a planet away from his newborn and newlywed. Another on the way. Grandmother passing into the Sunset. Grandfather following a season and a half later. Living now in Memory only.

We are the three living generations now taking up the mantle of family traditions. For the “LaLa Branch” of the Palmer clan (buttermilk waffles, Global Travel, the perfect martini, collections in fine Art).  Blending in Dean’s Italian heritage (Sunday dinners, robust family gatherings — usually with an entire animal on a spit somewhere in the yard, Winemaking).  Seasoned with Richard’s Salmon dip and avocados.  Dad’s baked beans and margaritas.  All rooted in love and in family.  Raising two little people to embrace and cherish these traditions, these foods and our wines from past loved ones forward.

Passing Things Forward.

Passing Things Forward.

Reflecting back over the Holidays and in this changing of years, I realize I’ve neglected my root purpose in starting my blog and media presence… albeit what presence one can have as a winemaking mom cooking and painting away in some old farmhouse.  It is all too easy to lose focus in our collective daily fun and shared inspirations, especially on Instagram. To not find time to record the reasons behind my table’s foods and glasses of Wines.  Important perhaps only to me or the family, but important nonetheless.  For raising a family and building a winery (construction starts early 2016!) here in Sonoma is no small task.  Ripe  with fun vignettes and reasons that layer up and up into new traditions.  Things my kids might want to know one day.  Stories I don’t want to forget.

IMG_5760What’s Coming: A Cookbook (of sorts)

  • FOOD — our Family Recipes
  • This gathering and “putting pen to paper” while bringing this old Farm into restored brilliance.
  • My learning to cook once preggers.
  • Our healthy, clean approach to making Wine… The kind that doesn’t give you “fat-face,” headaches, or cancer.
  • Raising of children to grow not just food but also grapes for wine.  And to remember as much of it as possible.

Because Time stands still for no one.  One day? I too will die. Heading up into moonlit stars.  Leaving behind children with memories, recipes, paintings, and wine.  (God willing.) Because what remains behind with living generations should be Love, Traditions, and FOOD.

Pledging to write recipes and memories for our children.

Pledging to write recipes and memories for our children.

This Cookbook will be a history of Recipes from our family plus dishes we’ve adopted and made “ours.”  Complete with Wine. And why they mean so much.  This is the crux of my to-be “Cookbook.”  A collection of plates and glasses I started a few years ago — with a handful of killer recipes coming soon — even though no one but Anni may want it!  Or my mother, for that matter.  But an endeavor I am nonetheless picking back up to properly write and finish this time, and share with you here. CHEERS.

 

NOTES OF THANKS:

** Big Thanks to Asha from Food Fashion Party for helping to push me into this next chapter.

** “Taking Up the Mantle of Our Mothers” phrase written so beautifully by Sarah McGaugh at Bird in the Hand