Friday, August 19, 2011

Wine for Being Afraid

One of the reasons Steve and I wanted a dog was for the relaxing, healthy benefits of pet ownership.

Especially for me, who has been known to wrestle with anxiety, the idea of stroking a pet in a quiet, soothing manner, was in itself comforting. To have a gentle, peaceful relaxing creature by your side every day, to calm me by its mere presence, held a great deal of appeal.

And so it is with great irony that I now share that we somehow chose a puppy who seems to suffer guessed it....anxiety.

How we did this, I'm not sure, he didn't seem anxious when we chose him, but there you have it.

Now I am the first person to fully understand anxiety, but I have to admit that some of the things that frighten Tuco are really beyond me.

For starters, the first few weeks we had him, he was afraid of other dogs. I found this odd considering he came from a litter of six pups, and was, himself, after all, a dog. But apparently this is common, and now he plays with the best of them, but i will never get out of my mind the vision of him running away from a tiny three-month-old pug who came to say hello to him in our puppy class.

Some other things he is afraid of:

Garbage barrels. This again is not uncommon, considering they make a lot of noise when rolled out onto the sidewalk.

His new treat dispenser: it is a red, honeycomb-shaped device which wobbles if you hit it with a hand, snout or paw, and dispenses a treat out of a small hole in one side. It scares him. I don't know why.

His harness: Tuco is the only dog I have ever met who is not excited to go out. Really, not even a tail wag. When he sees us take out his harness, he runs away, tail between his legs, and we have to coax him out with treats.

This one really baffles me because we only ever take him fun places in that harness: the dog park, daycare, walks.

But wait, you may be thinking, you probably take him to the vet in that harness! Well, yes, we do, but here's the kicker: he LOVES the vet. Loves it there. We live around the corner from the vet, and often on our walks we go right by it, and we can't walk by it without Tuco going inside. He pulls me, strains against the leash, running to get in.

He has to go in, and once inside he is beside himself with delight. He gets low to the ground, he wags his tail so hard you think it will fall off, and he flops over and presents his belly to everyone who works there.

Even when he sees the vet himself, he is delighted. Remember, this vet is the man who just a few short weeks ago was jabbing Tuco with a vaccination needle and grabbing his man-parts.

He also has, inexplicably, become afraid of his own poop. Now on the one hand I can understand, sometimes I'm afraid of it, too. But you'd think since it's his, he wouldn't fear it. But he seems to. Midway through the poop's exit from the ole chute, Tuco will suddenly turn around and look at his rear end as if to say "what the hell is THAT?!" and start running away from it. Needless to say, this leads to some rather interesting poop-dispersal patterns in the yard.

I know I'm one to talk about being afraid of random things. Once when my parents left me alone at home for the evening, I spent the last hour before their return huddled in a corner, because I had seen someone walking in the backyard and was convinced he was going to break in. Only when my parents finally came home did I realize that the ax-murderer I had seen was in fact my own reflection in the glass porch door.

Like mother, like puppy.

My wine for Being Afraid is a 2007 Vezer Family Vineyard "Franci" Black Muscat. The Vezer winery is located in the Suisun Valley of California near Napa. Franci is the name of the Vezer's 10-year-old daughter.

This Black Muscat is a sweet dessert wine, with lovely floral notes of lilac and carnation as well as plump blackberry and blueberry. It has a bright, lively acidity which keeps is from being overly sweet, and it will pair beautifully with black and red fruit desserts, as well as sorbets and anything chocolate. It is also yummy enough to be a dessert in and of itself.

You can order it online from the Vezer Family Vineyard website for $24.95 (375ml).

Just don't bring it to my house unexpectedly: it might scare the dog.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wine for Wine's Sake

Just for a refresher, I am currently the Asst. Sommelier and Bartender at a Michelin-Star restaurant, and every once in a while, I have a night at the restaurant that reminds me of how lucky I am to have this job, and why I love working with wine.

Periodically, a group of gentlemen rent out the private dining area of the restaurant for an evening of food and some extraordinary wine.

They each bring their own offerings, which we open, possibly decant and serve. My boss at the restaurant, who also happens to be the Master Sommelier there, is an excellent teacher, and he is always incredibly gracious in making sure I get to taste almost all of the wines that we open.

On this particular evening, the wines sampled included a 1990 Trimbach Clos St. Hune, a 1929 Chateau Bouscaut Blanc, a 1959 Chateau Ausone and 1982 Penfolds Grange.

But by far the most extraordinary offerings came at the end of the evening, with the sweet wines. First up was a 1906 Chateau D'Arche.

Let me write that vintage again: 1906. I almost can't get past the date. This wine is 105 years old.

In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake struck; Mount Vesuvius erupted; the Victrola, the first phonograph/record player was manufactured; the first officially recorded powered flight in Europe took place; SOS became an internationally recognized distress signal; the first radio broadcast occurred; the tuberculosis immunization was first developed; the first feature film was released; and gangster Bugsy Siegel, last emperor of China Pu-Yi, German war criminal Adolph Eichmann, writer Samuel Beckett, director Roberto Rossellini, entertainer Josephine Baker, screenwriter Billy Wilder, Estee Lauder, actress Louise Brooks, and director Otto Preminger were born.

This Chateau D'Arche, is a sweet dessert wine from the Sauternes appellation near Bordeaux, France. The wines are made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes, all of which have been affected by my favorite Botrytis Cinerea, or "Noble Rot".

The combination of sugar, alcohol and higher acidity makes for wines that tend to age well, and let me tell you, this wine has aged gloriously.

Over time it has darkened from its usual golden straw hue, and the nose and flavors have developed to those of raisin, prune, caramel, creme brulee, rum, port, butterscotch and toasted nuts, with a lively and bright acidity. It was heaven in a glass.

The final wine was one with an even more extraordinary history: a 1931 Massandra Collection A-Danil Tokay.

The Massandra Winery and cellar was built near Yalta in the late 19th Century under Tsar Nicholas II, to provide wines for the Tsar's summer palace, and specializes in sweet and fortified dessert wines.

The cellars took three years to build, with miners blasting deep into a mountainside to create a labyrinth of 21 tunnels, with air shafts providing consistent cooling and spring water adding the perfect humidity.

The Massandra Collection consists of samples of wine from every Massandra vintage as well as other European collectibles.

So impressed was Stalin by this collection in later years, that when he heard of Hitler's impending arrival, he ordered the entire Massandra collection moved to secret locations in the Ukraine.

This 1931 Massandra Tokay has held up beautifully. Though it didn't have the lingering acidity of the Chateau D'Arche, th flavors were still rich and complex, with a sweet. meaty, lingering prune flavor alongside caramel, dulce de leche and butter pecan.

Tasting both of these wines was really an amazing, possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience, and overall, a pretty good day at the office.