Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wine for Getting Lost in Translation

Apropos of nothing, I came upon something fabulous the other day: one of the hotels I am looking into in the Mosel wine region of Germany has a website without English translation. Not wanting to unwittingly agree to stay in the room affectionately called "the dung heap" or something like that, I decided to seek out a translation of the room descriptions.

I chose the google translation website, which is actually pretty fantastic. On it, you can choose the languages you want to translate from and to, and then copy a whole chunk of text which it will immediately and very literally translate.

So it was that I discovered that, in this particular hotel, their "...small, elegant theme rooms smell upon entering after the summer". And why should they not, really? All those feet, those unwashed armpits, those hot summer days? I'm just thrilled that they're willing to be so honest about it.

My only question now, of course, is how long does it take for the smell to accumulate? Is it only upon entering after the summer? Does that mean that if I enter during the summer, the small, elegant theme room will not yet smell? How big is this non-smelly window? Could they describe for me the nature of the after-summer smell that will clearly assault me upon entering?

The mind reels...

On another note, I have started writing occasional tasting notes for an online wine sales site called The Wine Spies. On Tuesday, May 4th, they will be selling the Rodney Strong 2006 Reserve Petite Sirah. The tasting notes on the day of the sale will have been written by me, and the wine will be on sale for one day only at a significant price reduction.

Check the website out-they offer some great deals on some tasty wines!

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Travel Hiccough

Now, here is something I, as an American citizen, don't think about every day: with a Green Card, one cannot just leave the country willy nilly and stay away for as long as one likes and then come back. No, I say again, one cannot.

Who knew? I certainly didn't. And somehow, my delightful husband, ye olde Green-card-holder, did not know this either. So our plan to just fly off into the wild blue yonder, free-wheel our way around the globe, and wind up living in a Spanish cave house for the next two years, or in some Italian village where we make cheese from Yak milk ('cause, you know, those Italians are WILD about their Yaks), has hit a teensy little snag.

It turns out that if Steve wants to apply for citizenship in the near future, he cannot leave the country for more than six months, and if he stays out of the country for longer than a year, he could lose his Green Card. Those dirty rats!!!

So we have had to modify our plans a bit, but thank God we realized this now, and not after two years, when we return from our life of Yak-farming, to have Steve stripped of his Green Card at the airport and sent back to England. After being strip-searched, of course. I don't know why.

So we will leave in June as planned, and hit France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Norway, Prague, Budapest, and maybe Croatia and Montenegro, and then, in November some time, come home.

The Yaks, I'm afraid, will have to wait.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wine for Already Being in Love with Italy

So I have only four more lessons in which to become fluent in Italian in preparation for our visit there in September.

I think there might be a slight flaw in my plan, but no matter. I have already begun to fall hopelessly in love with Italy, and I haven't even been there yet.

Below, a list of the reasons why:

Reason #1: The language. No matter that I still can basically only say "The cat is white", "My name is Jocelyn" and "I am married" (I am making sure Steve learns how to say that last one, too), anything that is said in Italian sounds like the most beautiful, musical and romantic phrase ever uttered.

Reason #2: The attitude. Those Italians really seem to know how to enjoy themselves. Last I heard, they get 650 vacation days a year, they nap from 2-5 every day and their dinners last about 4 hours. The teacher of my Italian class, Alessia (beautiful name, yes?), was telling us that Italians, before they have children will, on a Saturday night, go out for dinner at about 10pm, after which they will go to a bar or dance club until 5 or 6am, at which point they will go to a cafe, have a cappuccino and a brioche before going home where they will sleep until being woken up at 1 or 2 for lunch with Mama and the rest of their immediate family.

Reason #3: The Maserati. Now I am not a car person ordinarily, and I know next to nothing about them, but even I can say with authority that the Maserati is a beautiful car.

Reason #4: Tiramisu, pizza, gnocci, parmesan, salumi, prosciutto, biscotti, spaghetti, lasagna, cafe, bucatini, bolognese, pesto...need I say more?

Reason #5: Il Vino. Of course...the wine. With all that wonderful food, you need some wonderful wine: Prosecco, moscato, vermentino, sangiovese, chianti, vin santo, and on and on and on.

One of the wines I discovered in the course of my recent wine studies was a Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva. I can't remember, to be honest, if it was the 2003 or 2005 vintage I tasted, but I think it might have been the 2003.

We tend to think more about the Italian wines coming out of Tuscany and Piedmont, but Sardinia is producing a lot of delicious wines, as is Sicily. Cannonau is the Italian word for the Grenache of France and the Garnacha of Spain, and this wine was full of the flavors of rich black and red berries, earth, spice and wood.

It's a powerful wine so will go well with food, though I was also quite happy sipping it by itself before my food arrived, when I savored it alongside a simple plate of sharp, crumbly Italian cheeses, raisin bread, dried fruits and nuts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Travel Must-Haves

In my last post I mentioned that I was trying to curb my desire to plan every last moment of our upcoming trip. I have, instead, turned my planning energies toward packing, and the eternal question of what to bring and what to leave. I have noticed, in my preliminary piles, a slight excess of pharmaceuticals.

In addition to clothes, shoes, and such staples as toothpaste, shampoo, soap, and the prescription medications I must take every day, my pile of must-haves includes the following:

travel journal
a few select DVDs, including, of course the Bourne movies and Casino Royale, for obvious reasons
my weight in travel books
fibre tablets
alcohol wipes
bug spray
cough drops
aloe vera gel
tylenol cold day and night
ginger capsules (I have heard that these are good for motion sickness, though, to date, I cannot say for certain that I even GET motion sickness)
cough syrup
masks (for airplanes that feel more like TB wards, and for a sudden excess of volcanic ash)
surgical tools in case we need to remove each others' appendix (ok, that one's a joke....sort of)

After looking at this list, I feel that it may be time to admit that I have a problem. I also just realized that these items will require a suitcase and Sherpa of their own.

What is on your list of travel must-haves? They don't have to be medical.

Anything you always bring with you whenever you leave home?

Please share in the Comments section; you might give me some additional items to bring, since clearly I don't have enough already.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wine for Vacation Planning

I am a planner. It is how I manage uncertainty and anxiety. I plan, I make lists. I derive great satisfaction from crossing items off and watching a list of things to do grow smaller. I like crossing things off so much that when I was in high school, I would actually write "wake up" on my to-do list, so that as soon as I got out of bed I could immediately feel as if I had accomplished something.

This trip is no different; there is so much to do, I have this massive list, and I am desperate to cross things off of it. I have planned segments of the trip: one week in Paris, one week in Newcastle, a friend's wedding in the Cotswolds, a week in London, two weeks in Lake Como, two weeks in Tuscany, two and a half weeks in Norway. But there are chunks of time, six weeks here, a week there, that we are just leaving open to see where the wind takes us. And while that is exhilarating in many ways, it is also a little scary.

But it is scary in the way that symbolically this entire adventure is scary: it is a leap into the unknown. Planning a move is always stressful, but to plan a move without actually knowing where, in the end, we might be moving to is even more stressful. And please know, I am not complaining, because I know that this kind of a trip is the stuff of fantasies.

But when fantasy becomes reality, that's when a lot of the fear can set in. We are uprooting ourselves, putting everything we own, our home, our sense of stability and safety, into storage, and leaving. We won't know anyone most of the places we are going; we are spending money we have worked for and saved without knowing for certain whether or not we will be able to make it back; we have faith that we will be able to both get jobs in the Bay Area when we return, but there are no guarantees.

The uncertainty makes me want to plan, every last moment, every last detail. But I am forcing myself not to, because in spite of my fear of the unknown, I believe that there is a kind of magic in going where life and the universe are leading you. It is the philosophy with which I began this year, and I am trying to follow it through in every area of my life. I am going to try and approach this period of our lives with a spirit of openness, adventure and joy, and I am going to to try to not obsess about what will or will not happen in the future, and just focus on what is actually happening now.

My "Wine for Vacation Planning" is the Ty Caton Upper Bench Merlot, Sonoma Valley-Caton Vineyard 2008. This is a wine that was given to me by a great online wine sales site called The Wine Spies, for whom I am now reviewing and writing wine tasting notes.

This wine is rich and medium to full-bodied, with a nose and palate of black and red cherry, boysenberry syrup, raspberry and chocolate-covered cherry. This wine has a nice balance of fruit and acidity, and it is delicious by itself, or with a meal like pork loin with fruit compote or duck. It's also nice to drink while hoping to be able to cross one more item off a to-do list!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wine for Inauspicious Beginnings

I mentioned in my last post that Steve and I have taken a few big trips together, and that they have all turned out pretty terrifically. What I didn't mention is that these trips didn't always get off to such a great start.

For the camping trip we took to Yellowstone, The Tetons, etc. we flew to Sacramento, rented a car, bought a bunch of gear at a local K-Mart, and were on our way. We had rented a compact car through Dollar Rent-a-Car, for some ridiculously low sum, especially since we were renting the car for a month. As some of you may know, at Dollar, the car you sign up for is seldom the car you actually get. Many is the time I have rented a sub-compact car for a great low price, only to wind up driving off their lot in a stretch limo, trying desperately to find street parking for what is possibly the biggest car in the world.

This trip was no exception. We went in expecting a compact, and after waiting around for an hour, we drove away in a mini-van. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since we had drastically underestimated just how much space all that camping crap would take up, and had we tried to cram both ourselves and all that gear into a compact, we would have wound up trying ditch each other by the side of the road after the first week.

On our first full day of driving said mini-van, we pulled into a gas station to fill up, me in the passenger seat, gigantic road atlas in my lap. Not being sure what side of the car the gas tank was on, I stuck my head out the window to see if it was on my side. As I did so, the window rolled up up up, taking my head with it, until I was was flapping my arms around, almost unable to breathe, gasping "Steve, roll it down, roll it down" desperately looking for the button that would roll the window down.

I felt like one of those dandelions we used to pick from the grass when we were younger, when we would sing "The mommy had a baby and it's head popped off", whereupon we would press our thumbnail under the flower and squeeze until the flower flicked off of the stem. I was desperately hoping that my head was not about to go the way of the dandelion flower.

I naturally assumed that somehow this predicament I found myself in was somehow Steve's doing. I thought he had turned off the car and that some security feature caused the windows to automatically roll up, placing a death grip on anything that might be in their path. Seriously, I think if I had had a hand in there and not my head, I would have lost digits.

The strangulation-by-window in reality only lasted about 2 seconds, as my fingers quickly found the window button and rolled the window down. This is when I discovered that I had actually, inadvertently, rolled my own head up in the window. When I leaned forward to look out the window for the gas tank, the giant atlas in my lap had pressed against the window button, causing it to roll up.

Now, something very primal seems to happen in your body when the throat is squeezed too tightly, and a strange sort of hysteria rose up in me, and the fact that I had just rolled my own head up in a car window made me laugh like a lunatic and then burst into tears. Steve was watching me with a look of concern, I think because he was thinking that it was going to be a very long trip...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wine for Unusual Proposals

As I mentioned in my last post, Steve and I are planning the mother of all trips, and in preparation for the Italy leg of our travels, I have enrolled myself in an Italian class. So far I have had two lessons, and I can now say various combinations of the verbs to be and to have, as well as the phrases: "My name is Jocelyn", "the cat is white" and "the car is red". Going forward, I will have to learn how to say "I do not want McDonald's" and "I did not vote for George Bush".

Steve and I in the course of our 9 years together have gone on quite a few fun trips, the main one of which was a big camping trip out west to Oregon, Idaho, Yellowstone and the Tetons among other places. The idea of me camping was something that surprised almost everyone who knew me, not least of all me because I am not really what you would call an outdoorsy girl normally.

I don't love dirt or being dirty, I tend to be very sensitive to bad smells and I have a bit of a fear of pit toilets, mainly because they are often disgusting, but also because you can never really be sure what is down there, and I imagine being attacked from below by a giant poo monster or some other beast of fecal origins.

But to my surprise I loved it. I came to enjoy not showering for several days at a time, I loved nothing more than sitting with Steve by the campfire at night, cooking corn, sweet potatoes, chicken and steak over it, and then afterward staring into the flames for hours on end; and amazingly, at the National Park Campgrounds the pit toilets were spotless and odor-free. I even managed, for the first time in my life, to pee outside while on hikes.

On one such hike, Steve and I had climbed six miles, essentially up a mountain. After a bit of crying (me) and a bit of cajoling (Steve), we finally reached the summit, and before us lay the most extraordinary views I have ever seen, and not another person in sight. Before starting back down the mountain, I made Steve hide behind a small, abandoned, stone Ranger's hut while I relieved myself, because if there's one thing i don't do, it's pee in front of people, not even my then-boyfriend.

So Steve obliged and hid behind the hut, assuring me that he wouldn't look at me. So I squatted down to do my business, staring down to make sure I didn't accidentally wee on my shoes, when I felt it: that feeling you get when someone is watching you. I looked up, and sure enough, not only was Steve watching me, but he was also taking my picture.

Outraged, I huffily flounced past him on my way down the mountain, when he grabbed me by the arm, stood me up on one of the rocks, and asked me to marry him. It was kind of hard to be mad about the whole wee-wee-photo debacle after that. Well played, Steve. That's one damn good way to get yourself out of an argument, that's for sure.

So, my Wine for Unusual Proposals is a Greenwood Ridge Vineyards 2006 Late Harvest White Riesling, because, come on, who doesn't love a Riesling, and a dessert, botrytis Riesling to boot? It's all the things a lovely dessert wine should be: peachy, apricot-ey, and honeysuckley, with a sweetness that is offset by some bright acidity. And at $22 a bottle, it's a steal!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wine for What Comes Next

So what now?

I can't really believe it myself, but Steve has left his job, and we will be packing up our apartment, putting everything in storage, and heading abroad for some major travel and wine exploration. Even as I write it it seems impossible. What are we doing??!! Are we crazy?! We love San Francisco, so why would we leave?!

The best I can come up with is that Steve and I both have what I think is called Wanderlust. We move. We are movers. Maybe that's just our thing. For me, my moves took me from Boston to Chicago, then Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Charlotte and now San Francisco. Steve's took him all over England, then to New York and Brooklyn where we met, then Charlotte and San Francisco.

Our plan is definitely to return to San Francisco, or at least the Bay Area, we just are going to have this little hiatus first. You can ask why, but really, you can also ask why not? At this point in our lives there is really no reason not to do something like this.

In some ways, it comes down to the old "life is short" cliche, but there is truth to it. There are so many places in the world I would like to see, and especially now that I have begun exploring the world of wine, there are so many regions to visit, and wines to taste that are not even available in the US.

We have chosen, at least thus far, not to have children, and a big part of that decision was based in our desire to still be able to be selfish and enjoy each other's company and use the money we are not spending on kids to travel and explore. So if we are not going to do that, then what is the point?

Plus right now, we are healthy, mobile, and relatively young. While we are lucky enough to be able to afford to go abroad for a nice chunk of time, we are going to grab the chance. We could wait, but why? Life is short, and you never know what happens. People get hurt, or sick, or worse, and I do not want to look back in 10 years and say "why didn't we take that trip when we had the chance?".

So in we go...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wine for Sunday Driving

I apologize, let me just say that right off the bat. I was supposed to write a new post yesterday, but we had a bit of an internet issue and I couldn't get online. The issue was this: we went to Sonoma overnight, and stayed at a hotel that was going to charge us $14 for internet access. I felt that was excessive internet. No internet, no blog.

We went to Sonoma yesterday because ages ago I bought Steve a gift certificate to the Jim Russell Driving School at Infineon Raceway, and finally he was able to use it. How was he able to go to Sonoma on a Thursday, you may ask. Tune in Monday and I will tell you.

Steve was like a kid in a candy store at this class. He got to practice spins, slalom, and driving on the racetrack, all in a Mitsubishi Evo. It's been a long time since I saw him looking so happy.

Watching him driving around this track reminded me of when I went Go-Karting about 15 years ago with my wonderful friend Heather, and her then-boyfriend Wade. We all went at different times so that we could take pictures of each other. I don't remember what Wade's run was like, but Heather was like a bat out of hell. She drove super-fast around the track, and side-swiped all the other carts on the track to get them out of her way.

Then it was my turn. and when the starting whistle blew, I was off. I had a little issue with acceleration, if I remember right, and for some reason I swerved from side to side from one end of the track to the other. I drove, um, shall we say, slowly. Really slowly. I let people pass me, I hummed to myself, I waved to the admiring crowd. I did one lap to every other driver's two. I got lapped by the 15-year-olds, and the 90-year-old blind couple.

Heather took a picture of me that day: there I am, driving along, no other carts in sight, waving as if I am at a Ticker Tape parade, smiling delightedly, just out for another Sunday drive.

My wine for Sunday Driving is a Baldassari 2006 Bennett Valley Syrah. I tried this wine at a tasting room at the Sonoma Wine Shop, and it is yummy. It has the nose and taste of lush, deep red and black berries, black and red cherry, currant, raspberry, and a little bit of pepper. It is smooth and mellow, it won't knock you out the way some Syrahs can. It cost me $30 at the wine shop, but I'm guessing you could find it for less online.