Two Bees Wine

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On a plane back from Philadelphia today, a spunky flight attendant with a crystal bobby pin in her hair and perfume I could detect 3 rows away (oddly, it smelled of cigars when she passed by) escorted a young man of 8, Daniel, down the aisle. He was conducting a poll for school, and she broke the ice for him with unsleeping, headsetless passengers. It was the “Favorite Meat Survey”, and the choices were meatballs, chicken, hot dogs, steak, bacon, sausage, pork, lamb, and meatloaf – a list he recited in one quick breath. He permitted me to choose two: lamb (when the mood is right) and bacon (of course). I wonder about his final tallies.

It started me thinking about my favorite wine (probably because my blog entry was overdue and I was captive and agendaless). If I had to choose, which varietal would I have Daniel record?

I’m inclined to name pinot noir for its soft fruit, flexibility with food, drinkability solo, and for aromas that deliver the same pleasure that Jolly Ranchers did when I was a kid – the more I inhale or taste, the greater the bursts in intensity.

Yet my annoyance at its mass popularity due to Sideways (I liked it before the trend – really!) may suffocate my initial response.

My desire for originality means I’d need to pinpoint a rarer grape. And unfortunately, occasional ones I’ve sampled don’t stick in memory because I can’t pronounce them.

I’d probably choose a wine I can easily appreciate without food – though complementary pairings always surprise me when they’re orchestrated for me. This seems consistent with how I eat: with certain dishes, I strive to fork up all key elements into a single bite – they’d each taste delicious separately, but together the mouthful becomes divine. I tend toward pizza slices with evenly spaced toppings, calculate how to finish off my plate so that the last forkfuls carry representative ingredients, and loosely track M&M colors as I munch to ensure rotation. Alternating back and forth between wine and food can yield equal satisfaction – and might even heighten the individual elements. For instance, I’m not a foie gras fan, but at a celebratory dinner the other night I tried Anthony’s with a minced apple strudel chutney and a Royal Tokaj – a Big Bang effect.

But this philosophy depends on the particular food, making it impossible to choose a favorite wine.

My default answer: champagne or sparkling wine. I can drink it any time. With or without food, any season, morning or night, special excuse or not. It’s interactiveness almost flatters – given the slightest chance, it fights to be unbottled, to rise out of the glass, and its sparkles hypnotize like fire. The awe it inspires from enthusiasts and from those afraid to make it a habit, the patience it commands of vintners, and its link to milestone events further its mystique. It’s like the ficus tree in that sushi place in the mall that blinks with Christmas lights to the beat of the music, or a song by the B-52s – impossible to experience without feeling an inner smile.

And that, Daniel, is my final answer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wine Country window shopping

Living in Santa Rosa, one can’t help but notice ads, posters, flyers, and newspaper blurbs trumpeting imminent wine tasting weekends. They tend to draw the city and Marin folk looking for a getaway or Bay Area backroad. They range from the still-complimentary barrel tasting weekend in spring, to elaborate soirees with fine chef buffets, silent auctions, and a pricetag to weed in the proper attendees.

The wineries, of course, hope to lure potential buyers with samples. We locals know better than to fall for that trick – delay gratification and shop at the Bottle Barn. Stick to window shopping.

Locals who pay attention also know which events to pick and choose – weighing cost by such factors as number of participating wineries, munchies possibilities, and likely crowd sizes. My neighbors invite me along for the Wine and Food Affair, a post-harvest celebration where wineries pair a dish with a spotlighted wine. Participants take home a cookbook of the feasts. It’s not a bad deal for the Sunday-only pass, at $35.

Here’s a run-down of the day’s noble attempt to hit the 64 possible winery choices. I'd planned to go easy on trials until my friend volunteers to chauffeur; so, I surrender to impulse:

Harvest Moon

At 5 minutes to the 11AM kick-off, I collect my cookbook and glass at Stop #1. Chicken curry spooned onto leaves of endive plus just-thieved viognier jostle my palette. Not yet released, the wine is poured from an unlabeled bottle, shaken and frothy. I blame the early hour for not tasting the zins right – they seem acidic and too thin.


We cross over to this hefty salmon-hued facility and find Sunday brunch: banquet trays of zucchini frittata carved into checkerboards, platters of paper thin soppressata, and my beloved cheese of the moment, Fiscalini. I try a wine or 2, but it still feels too early to appreciate them.

Iron Horse

Tablecloths peeking from a side barn signal that we arm-banded tasters can bypass the standard tasting outpost for a more exclusive venue. A chef doles ice cream scoops of raw ahi onto sesame chips, while a bright-eyed woman with poetic vocabulary explains the chardonnay.

Marimar Estate

Past Graton, up a windy driveway, stands a Spanish-style villa overlooking vineyards – a new find for me. A stately woman, the winemaker, greets newcomers with efficient politician smiles. I prefer the welcome by her spotted dog Chica, who follows after me and my plate of sausage and fava bean stew (a stand-in for the listed paella). She has ties to the prince of Spain, as evidenced by photo-ops at her family winery overseas, blown up onto posters near the tasting bar. A young man pouring wine inquires about the symbolism of my golden Avon bee pin, but my Two Bees story gets cut short by the baroness, who tugs him toward more promising guests. We pass a tipped over metal cow sculpture on the way down the hill and wonder – Halloween prank or intentional?

Taft Street

My friends snap up their only memento for the day – an entire case of Peka pinot, a soon to be extinct label for their higher tier wines. Pressured at the thought of missing out on something big, I buy 2 bottles at their 30% off trade discount.


I’m intrigued to taste at this mega millions winery not open to the masses without
appointment (I was once turned away politely when I showed up uninvited, spoiling a private tasting in progress). It sits on the footprint of a pumpkin patch; a few years ago, I raked their field and stuffed my Jeep with Halloween Eve orphans – their donation to handicapped kids for painting and adornment. Now, I sit in their alfresco living room sipping pinot and overlooking ordered clumps of grasses, vegetable beds with mammoth specimens, and vineyards. A sign announces weekend pumpkin patch hours, but a tasting room attendant says it’s there “for nostalgia sake”.

Dutton Estate

I don’t recall the wine now, though I know my friends and I sipped some at a picnic table on their deck, speaking intimately about the pros and cons of having and not having children.


Last stop. None of us like the wine we try particularly. The soup they ladle seems a cop-out. The staff shows disinterest in us latecomers. We hang out on their patio for a bit, then fold, with 10 minutes to spare before the event weekend’s official conclusion.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dreams of a wine cellar

Last weekend, some out of town guests prompted a day of wine tasting. We shaped an itinerary around a picnic (smoked salmon fillets from the morning’s farmer’s market, shaved turkey sandwiches, olives, hummus, orzo salad, edamame). These friends had never seen Dry Creek or Russian River, so we surrendered to the glory of the amber leaves and hushed roads of autumn. We managed to hit 5 wineries on a par 3 course. Unbeknownst to us, a case of wine accumulated in back of the Jeep by day’s end.

This followed a recent 11-bottle binge, post Harvest Fair acquisitions. Where to store the stash?

Long ago, in an L.A. apartment far away, I felt sophisticated with my coiled metal wine rack on display next to the microwave. A move to Sonoma County quickly rendered the rack garage sale fare; 6 slots seemed amateur.

Next, a closet fit 4 cardboard wine crates sideways, a more important way to assess storage capacity than one’s shoe collection. Their 48 roosts flipped frequently.

But guilt following 100-degree summer days, along with a suspiciously raisin-like wine or 2, ultimately pushed the futon in the spare bedroom aside to make way for the real deal: a wine refrigerator.

Ah, the sleek splendor of polished stainless steel, a glass door to tease, a new hum from the bedroom… This was Wine Country living.

The manual touted a storage capacity of 60 bottles. Yet no amount of fuss achieved this sum, and I felt as flummoxed as when wrestling with a dismantled 3-D puzzle. A more careful read of the brochure revealed the secret to maximizing space: load only those bottle silhouettes that mimic a traditional sloping Burgundian design (e.g., pinots and chardonnays) – no long necks (gewurtztraminers, rieslings), no tall shoulders (merlots, cabs, sauvignon blancs), no chubby bottoms (champagne). These trouble-makers ruin the watertight design.

And so, tucked under a bureau, overflow cardboard carriers keep the excess, the inevitable misfit varietals, and we try our best to rotate stock.

Anthony logs occupancies and vacancies in the refrigerator as they might track guests at the resort where he works. He keeps a clipboarded grid with all names and arrival dates (of the grapes). Some bottles move in for an extended stay, while others may only be in for the weekend. This summer will be sold out; that’s when bottling happens. With 12 ½ cases of wine – about 150 bottles – alternate accommodations will be necessary. A refrigerator expansion? Perhaps a new sister property? Or, if the spare bedroom is to remain a spare bedroom, an off-site rental unit for the wine? It doesn’t seem too early to plan.