Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wine for Pepe

On Monday, my friend and co-worker Pepe passed away suddenly.

No one, not even Pepe himself, had any idea he was so sick.

He had been feeling under the weather for a while, and had a variety of different symptoms, one of which was a lump in his lower abdomen.

A couple of weeks ago, he went to the doctor, who diagnosed him with a hernia, and scheduled him for surgery last Monday.

During the surgery, they discovered that the lump was not in fact a hernia, but was actually a very swollen and infected lymph node.

During the rest of the week doctors conducted a number of tests and discovered that he had a very advanced and aggressive form of Lymphoma, and this past Monday, he was scheduled to go in to see his doctor to discuss their plan of attack.

Pepe lived alone, and when his friend arrived at his apartment this past Monday to take him to the doctor's, he discovered that Pepe had died.

He was 47 years old.

This whole turn of events is so shocking and so sudden, I can't quite wrap my head around it. How can it be possible that he is no longer here? How could everything have gone downhill so quickly; how could he have been at work one week and dead the next?

I keep picturing him at work, taking orders, sneaking chocolates off the candy cart when he thought no one was looking, panicking when the restaurant got too busy, humming to himself while he ate his pre-shift dinner, and going behind the curtain so no one in the dining room could see him to do various dance moves and strange stretches for us. He loved to talk about movies and was always asking people if they had a "black swan" inside them, and proclaiming, when he was in certain moods, that he himself was the black swan.

He was from Mexico, and his whole family still lives there, and he would often talk about how he wanted to go back there one day and maybe open a restaurant or bar. He was single, and he would often ask me if I thought it was too late for him to find love. It's never too late, I would always say.

When he left at the end of his shift last Saturday, he was looking forward to his surgery, because he was so excited to finally feel better. We all were excited for him, too, and hugged him good-bye, saying how he was going to have a new lease on life after it was all over.

Like most untimely deaths, it is hard to make sense of it; hard to have it feel real. Hard, of course to not think about ones own life and health, as well as the importance of living in the now.

It is so cliched, I know, but there is no doubt that this kind of sudden passing makes me think about my own life, and health, and the fact that ultimately, none of us knows what the future holds.

There is always this assumption that there is tomorrow, and a day after that, and a day after that. We assume, or at least, I do, that life stretches on, and there is time, always time, to do the things we want to do.

Pepe's death reminds me that that is not always the case. We don't know how many tomorrows we have left, and it is worth it to try, in as much as we can, to live our lives the way we want to be living them now. Make the decisions we have been putting off until "one of these days", go places we want to go, share things with people we have been putting off sharing, eat that gelato you've been depriving yourself of, allow yourself to forgive and move on, take risks, be brave, you get the point.

Above all, selfishly, Pepe's death makes me grateful, and thankful. Those are not emotions we are expected to have or express very often. We live in a culture that is all about wanting more. We are expected to live in a space of "never enough", of permanent dissatisfaction. We are never rich enough, famous enough, thin enough, young enough, successful enough, what have you. To be grateful is seen as laziness, as stagnation, how dare you be happy with who and where you are?

But Pepe has made me think, and the fact that next week is Thanksgiving allows me to put a certain frame around it: I am thankful, indeed.

I am thankful that I have wonderful parents and family; thankful that I have an incredible husband and amazing friends; thankful that I have an adorable puppy, a roof over my head, a job, and food to eat. I am thankful that I am healthy. I am thankful for good food, chocolate, and, of course, wonderful wine.

I hope, this season, you will allow yourselves to feel thankful, too.

Below are a few suggestions for wines that will enhance your Turkey-Day feast:

Schramsberg Brut Rose. A California sparkler that is a delicious way to start the celebration.

2009 Champalou Vouvray "La Cuvee des Fondraux". A beautiful white wine from the Loire Valley in France made from the Chenin Blanc grape. This off-dry wine is juicy and citrusy, peachy and honeyed with heavenly floral notes.

Canihan Family Cellars Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. You can't go wrong with any of these Certified Organic and award-winning wines from this family-owned Sonoma Valley winery. Pinot Noir is particularly good with turkey and cranberries, with its luscious cherry fruits and smoke. Visit their website to order directly.

Skipstone Ranch Winery Oliver's Blend. I have tasted the 2005 Oliver's Blend, but I believe the current release is 2008. These wines are also organic and hail from Geyserville, CA. Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends, these wines are full-bodied, elegant, smooth and rich.

Patrick Bottex "La Cueille" Bugey-Cerdon, France. This sparkling, sweet Gamay is a delightful and festive way to finish a meal. A gorgeous pink color, with sweet red apple and raspberry notes.

Niepoort Colheita Port 1998. When you have finished eating and are sitting on the couch exploding your zippers and popping off buttons, this is the time for an after-dinner drink. And in my mind, there is nothing better than Tawny Port. I am in love with this stuff. Sweet, with notes of dried fruit, apricots and figs. I can't imagine a better end to an evening.

You can find most of these wines through Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant or through their respective websites.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. I wish you good food, good drink, and good company.

To Pepe, I wish you good night, "[and] flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

You will be missed.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Wine for Having More Money than Sense

Thanksgiving approaches, and with it arrive new incarnations of the beautiful Williams Sonoma catalogues. Their Thanksgiving editions are always adorned with a picture of the most spectacular-looking turkey on the cover.

This bird looks gorgeous; perfectly browned, crispy-skinned, dotted with herbs and spices. It is the Thanksgiving turkey of my dreams.

It is not the turkey that I cooked several years ago for our friends Bonnie and Chang, which turned out to be just a little on the rare side when we started carving it and putting sloppy piles on a plate.

Luckily, neither of them cared, and they encouraged me to just toss the whole mess back into the oven for a while, which I did. It cooked; we ate, and nobody got sick.

Nor would this pictured bird taste like the one I made the year after that, which had brined for too long, or in too much solution, and was so salty it was almost inedible.

Although, let's face it, that turkey on the cover is probably not even a real turkey; it's most likely made of plastic and photoshopped to look real, in which case it probably does taste like crap.

But I digress. I was admiring the Williams Sonoma catalogue in its entirety, not just the cover. I love to look through these catalogues, if only to wonder who is buying some of the items in it. Some of them just seem so ridiculous.

At least, they do at first. Take, for example, their omelette pan. This pan is a rectangle with three segments, to enable a person to make an omelette that is perfectly folded in thirds.

Now, is this necessary? Is it such a terrible thing to eat an omelette which has only been (God forbid) folded in half? Is it so hard, really, to just use a spatula?

This catalogue, I scoff initially, is for people with more money than sense. I mean, come on. Does anybody actually need these things?

But then, invariably, something happens. I flip through the catalogue, I look at the pictures of the different wares for sale, and the pictures are all so lovely, and the descriptions of the items are all so intriguing and confident, and the actual merchandise so perfect-looking, that i find myself suddenly thinking, well yes, actually, I need them.

I want the omelette that has been perfectly flipped in thirds. And how have I survived all these years without the potato scrubbing gloves? I, like an idiot, have been using a vegetable-peeler!!

Or what about the all-in-one avocado tool, or the tomato corer, the tomato knife, the pineapple slicer and dicer, the melon knife, the banana slicer, the mustard scooper, the donut cutter???!!

I mean for God's sake, I've been using a regular knife and spoon all these years!! What have I been thinking??!!

I need that egg-waffle pan, and the filled-pancake pan, and the waffled-pancake pan, I mean come on!!!! I need waffles, and pancakes...and the Darth Vader spatula with which to flip them.

And what about the toast tongs? I mean, what kind of a moron removes toast from the toaster with her fingers?? Wake up, people, that toast is hot!!!

Not to mention the meatball grill basket. I cannot tell you how many times Steve and I have fired up that Barbeque, and decided that instead of hot dogs, hamburgers or steak, what we really wanted to cook over the burning coals were meatballs.

Well, you can imagine the nightmare of trying to get those meatballs placed just right over the grate, making sure they don't fall through and ignite in a fat-ball-of-flame. But then when I've made them bigger, the number of times I've burned my fingers, catching those suckers as they roll from one end of the grill to another, falling over the edge where I then wind up chasing them around the deck, trying to keep them out of the dog's mouth long enough to get them back on the grill and into perfect cooking position.

All the while shouting at Steve, "dammit, man, I need a basket for these meatballs!!"

My Wine for having more money than sense is actually two wines. Domaine Huet Le Mont Vouvray Sec and Demi-Sec.

We have these wines at the restaurant at the moment, and I believe the Sec is 2010 and the Demi-Sec is 2007.

These wines hail from the Loire Valley in France, specifically from the Vouvray appellation. The grape varietal is Chenin Blanc, which yields a lovely, floral juicy bouquet. The sec is supposedly dry and the demi-sec is off-dry.

I say supposedly because the sec still has a little bit of sweetness to it, and could certainly not be called a bone-dry wine.

These wines are just delicious, and the demi-sec especially makes a lovely aperatif wine, but we also serve it at the restaurant with a beet salad and a roasted squash appetizer, any dish that has a bit of natural sweetness to it.

I think it could be delicious on turkey-day alongside your sweet potato casserole and cranberries.

Just make sure you are using your special sweet-potato-mashing-gloves and marshmallow tongs. From Williams Sonoma, of course.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wine for Chateau Margaux

Last week a group of 8 friends in their late forties came to the restaurant for dinner. I had been warned that they would be bringing a few bottles of their own wine, but I was unprepared for what actually arrived with this group.

Apparently, periodically they all get together and pick a theme for the evening. This particular night's theme was Chateau Margaux.

For those who may not know, Chateau Margaux is one of the most celebrated wine houses in the Bordeaux regions of France, known for Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends.

The Chateau dates back to the 12th century, and by the end of the 17th century, the Chateau's lands covered 254 acres, one third of which remains devoted to vine-growing today.

Thomas Jefferson himself deemed Chateau Margaux the best wine of Bordeaux in 1784, saying "there cannot be a better bottle of Bordeaux."

Chateau Margaux was deemed a First Growth in the 1855 Classification ordered by Napoleon before the Second Great Exhibition in Paris. The classification system was based on how much the wines cost at the time, with the most expensive receiving the First Growth classification.

Today those first growth wines still command astounding sums, which added to my amazement at the array of vintages this table brought. They brought 10 bottles of Chateau Margaux between them, with representatives from the 2000, 1997, 1989, 1978, 1966 and 1955 vintages. Some vintages had multiple bottles. All told, about $7,000 worth of wine. That's retail. To buy all those bottles in a restaurant would cost two to three times more than that at least.

They opened all of the bottles at once so they could compare vintages from youngest to oldest.

My boss opened and decanted all the bottles, and was given a small glass of each to taste himself, and since he got to taste, that meant that I, too, got to taste.

This was a little bit of wine-geek nirvana. I won't bore you with a discussion of each vintage, but instead I'll tell you about the one which was the clear winner of the bunch. While the 2000 vintage is the most lauded of all, it was the 1989 which was drinking in all its glory.

This wine was exactly what I imagined the perfect Bordeaux should be: a gorgeous nose of dried and stewed cherry, tobacco, leather, coffee, earth and smoke and a beautifully balanced palate with a lingering cherry tobacco finish. I could have sniffed and sipped that wine all night.

All in all, not a bad day at the office.