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hooray for laurie daniel

In another life, before I cared about wine, before I had ever seen the Golden Gate Bridge, before I cut my hair, I was a copy editor.

And I edited a wine writer named Laurie Daniel every week for the Wednesday food section. (My paper at the time was a sister paper to the San Jose Mercury News, hence our connection to Laurie.) I made very few changes to her stories. The spelling and grammar were good. And if I had to touch anything at all, it was usually just adjusting paragraph lengths and spacing and widows to make the column fit on the page. Laurie knew her stuff.

A few years later, I started to write about wine. This time, I found myself turning to Laurie again -- not to check her comma placements or her "their" vs. "they're" -- but for advice. I was looking for background info about the wine industry, which varietals certain regions are best-known for, who the major players are. (Can you tell I was writing about the business end of wine?) Once again, Laurie knew.

And today's column in the San Jose Mercury News confirms Laurie's fabulousness. Hooray for recognizing that not all wines from the 2000 vintage suck! Hooray for the great use of the terms "humongous" and "exaggerated"!

And, yes, hooray for voting for us!

Laurie Daniel knows, man.

strange dreams

I am at my parents' house. My mom has removed all the toilets. I have to pee. I am yelling, "I hate you! I hate you! I'm going to be late for work!"

new baby

And we picked out the newest member of our family over the weekend. See that little kitty on top? That's Carmel (who will probably be renamed). She's supposed to get spayed tomorrow, and then we'll bring her home this weekend, where she will join the Household of Orange Cats.

(By the way, Meep's new favorite place is on top of all the wine boxes. I've started calling him the Wine Sphinx.)

three-day weekends should be standard

So after the long weekend full of brunching (Dry Gewurztraminer is a fabulous brunch choice, by the way) and catching up on all of those things I never have time to do because I am either commuting, at work or too exhausted because of commuting/work (my to-do list included cleaning, laundry, sleeping in, learning how to poach eggs, baking strawberry muffins with fresh strawberries while it is still strawberry season, etc.), I am actually rested.

Yes, that's right. I got up this morning without repeatedly hitting the snooze button for an hour. I did not have to chew 5 million pieces of really sour gum in the car while driving this morning to keep from passing out behind the wheel. I did not have to drink the gross work coffee once I got here.

Seriously, every weekend should be three days long. Either that, or we should incorporate a nationwide siesta into the work day.

a little bird told me

This guy keeps coming over to my window and staring at me. It's actually really creepy. He's been doing this for at least two weeks now.

an ocean apart

The results from the young reds portion of yesterday's tasting are in, and I can't believe the difference between the U.S. and U.K. judges' preferences.

U.S. panel
1. Shafer Hillside Select 2001 / Ridge Monte Bello 2000 (tie)
3. Staglin Family Vineyard 2001
Lowest scores went to Joseph Phelps Insignia 2002 and Clos Du Val Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2000. (Ouch.)

U.K. panel
1. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 2001
2. Ridge Monte Bello 2000
3. Joseph Phelps Insignia 2002 / Clos Du Val Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 (tie)
And the lowest scores went to Staglin and Shafer.

Obviously, Ridge kicks serious ass on both continents. But look at the other wines! You've got the ginormous, lusty California cult wines at the top in the U.S., while the U.K. favors a more elegant winemaking style.

The same is true if you read wine publications from both countries. The U.K.'s Decanter criticizes high-octane wines from Napa, while U.S. mags like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast continually give these the highest scores. Then of course, there's the clash between Hugh Johnson and Robert Parker.

I honestly don't know if there's a resolution to this. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference, and I would encourage people to go beyond what critics and judges recommend (no matter which country they're from) and go by your own palate. In many ways, wine reminds me of my former life trying to get fiction published: It's so damn subjective. That's what's frustrating about it. But that's what's intriguing and exciting at the same time.

I, personally, tend to agree more with the U.K. palate -- I like my wine elegant, balanced and easy to pair with food. (And since I only weigh 105 pounds, big, high-alcohol wines aren't good for me!) I like slightly earthy flavors and being able to taste terroir.

But that's me. That's what I think. And not everyone will agree with me. But in the end, does it matter?

paris tasting

Just got back from the 30th Anniversary Paris Tasting event at Copia. California wines "wiped the floor" with France (said Steven Spurrier, via speakerphone from England). California took the top five spots out of 10 wines. (Ridge placed first, and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars -- winner of the original tasting in 1976 -- came in second.)

We came in fifth. I am disappointed. We won the 1986 rematch; I really thought we could do it again. But alas, the judges' palates were not on our side this time.

We're still waiting to hear the full results for the current vintage portion of the competition. The U.S. panel didn't put us in the top three (first was a tie between Ridge and Shafer, and third went to Staglin), but the U.K. panel hasn't turned in their stats yet. So I'm trying to be hopeful.



I finally used the gift certificate his parents got me for Christmas in 2004.

We went to Greens. We had a beautiful lunch, a table by the window. There were many sailboats. We could see the Golden Gate Bridge. I felt full.


Today when I called my mother, she was crying.

"We had to take her to a convalescent home," my mother said. "She wanted to go. Do you know what this means? Do you know what this means?"

Everything I know about my grandmother was told to me by someone else. ("Did you know your lola eloped?" "Did you know she is very romantic?" "Did you know at night she dreams that your lolo is talking to her? She thinks he wants her to go home.")

Our only conversations revolved around food. She would offer me something. Adobo. Soda. Rice. Lumpia. Orange juice. Whatever she had in the kitchen.

I always said no. "I don't like chicken." Or "I don't drink carbonated drinks -- they rot my teeth."

She would end up rummaging in her purse and handing me money. A $5 bill. "For your lunch," she would say.

Sadly, this is it. This is all I know.


Wasn't there a quote? Wasn't there something about "not doing today what you can do tomorrow"?

I worry that I wait too long. It is easy to lose track of deadlines.


So my friend Jessica, who also blogs about wine, wanted to write about the wines we served at our legendary Del Taco wine pairing last week.

And I thought, 'Hey, if she's going to write about them, I probably should, too.'

So here is our menu for that evening:

* 1991 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee Brut (served with pre-dinner snacks -- several different kinds of cheeses, flatbread with artichoke hearts and truffle oil dip, etc.)

* 2004 Flowers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast (paired with popcorn seasoned with smoked paprika and other spices)

* 2003 Brightwater Vineyards Nelson Riesling, New Zealand (paired with wasabi peas)

* 2002 Heart of Darkness, Madiran Appellation Controlee, France (paired with Del Taco!)

* 2003 Cline Big Break Zinfandel, Contra Costa County (paired with Del Taco)

* Warre's Otima 10-year-old Tawny Port (served with a raspberry fruit tart, but much better paired with the chocolate Aaron and Vidya brought up from Santa Cruz)

Wow. I'm really hungry now.

cheesy new jersey

Last weekend I was in New Jersey. I think many people underestimate New Jersey. Look how green it is. Look at the open space.

And look at these fabulous sheep.

These sheep are the source of the amazing cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery. You can feed them and pet them. And then you can go inside the creamery and sample their talents.

I am mad for the sheep's milk cream cheese (which was, unfortunately, completely sold out). If you ever go to New Jersey, look for this cream cheese. It will make you want to immediately buy bagels, just so you can eat the cream cheese. And there is also a garlic version in addition to the plain one. Both are divine.

The creamery also makes a Manchego-style cheese called (duh) Chego. Unfortunately, out of that as well.

But I did bring home some Valley Thunder, a Cheddar-style cheese made with raw milk and cave-aged for six to 12 months. We have been eating it with these random Italian shortbread squares that we got from the liquor store across the street. (Surprisingly, these flatbread squares are fantastic. Who knew the same place that advertises two hot dogs for $1 also sells such great gourmet crackers?)

Go to New Jersey. And make sure you bring a cooler to fill with cheese.

best berfday ever

He planned a Del Taco and wine pairing party and everyone came over and it was amazing and I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. and I heart Del Taco and I heart him even more because it is not every day that you find a man who truly understands the importance of Del Taco and wine.

vintage 1978

Happy birthday to me.

cinco de mayo

We had a party at work today. The vineyard crew foreman used to own a restaurant/catering business, so he and his wife did the cooking. It was absolutely amazing. The best guacamole I have ever had. And the pork tacos in warm corn tortillas? Heavenly -- meaty goodness all the way. (So much for being mostly vegetarian. I have fallen so far off the wagon that it's nothing but a little speck on the horizon now.)

The party was supposed to be an immigrant party. Which makes sense, what with all the recent protests regarding immigration reform, and also because we're a winery and pretty much everyone is from another part of the world, including me.

Which (in a very roundabout way) leads me to my question: What exactly is American food? Is there an authentic American cuisine that wasn't heavily influenced by another culture? I don't want to think of American food as McDonald's and KFC. But is that really what it is?

bursting at the seams

They should rename the Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend something like: "The Weekend of Extreme Eating, Accompanied by Wine."

And instead of giving guests passports to different wineries, they should give you a gym pass, or perhaps a voucher for a cholesterol screening. Or at least a pair of elastic-waist pants.

Because you will be fat, fat, fat when all is said and done.

We went Sunday, for the second (and last) day of the Passport Pig Out. We made it to a total of 11 wineries (which is the most I have ever been to during a single wine-tasting trip). And there was a ridiculous amount of food at every stop.

1. Pedroncelli Winery
The food was barbecued tri-tip, potato salad (the real kind, with actual mustard seeds and fresh onions -- not the nasty white mayo kind that you find in supermarket aisles), a dried fruit plate (I want to marry the dried kiwi), cheese, chocolate (peanut butter cups, truffles with raspberry filling, dark chocolate with dark chocolate filling). The wine that stood out for me was the 1990 Cabernet Sauvignon -- dried fruit, spice and some earth on the nose (typical of an older Cab, and I do love older Cabs), with cherry and some herbs on the palate. Yum.

2. Yoakim Bridge Winery
It was all about barbecued pig. And polenta. And olives. And Zinfandel snowcones. As for wine, I tasted mostly Zins. But there was a Merlot that stood out, largely because it had the strangest nose -- sort of cigar boxish and slightly herbal.

3. Ferrari-Carano Winery
The tasting was set up in stations, and every food item was paired with a wine (one that stood out for me was the barley salad with a Grenache Rosé). I also loved the macaroni and cheese with spring vegetables and the tomato-and-goat-cheese tartine.

4. Dutcher Crossing
Talk about bringing back the creamy, buttery, oaky, over-the-top California Chardonnay -- the two Chards I tasted went through 50 percent and 100 percent (!!) malolactic! (But there was some fabulous warm goat cheese with poached pears on the side. I heart goat cheese.)

5. David Coffaro Vineyard & Winery
I'm not a fan of barrel tastings. I often find the wine difficult to drink, and I have a hard time seeing "potential." But I have to say there were some great Zin futures here. And there were good baked beans as well. (And barbecue, but there was so much sauce on it, that it kind of scared me, so I didn't try any.)

6. Gopfrich Winery
By this time, we were getting full. And it was getting hot. And my shoes were starting to hurt. (Note to self: Wear flip-flops next year.) But I still enjoyed some Riesling and some (rather salty) meatballs) and potato pancakes.

7. Quivira
Aside from the creepy Austin Powers look-alike we were forced to take photos with before we could enter the tasting (apparently, Quivira had a "Hollywood theme" this year), this was a good stop marked by some nice Zin and garlic mashed potatoes.

8. Michel Schlumberger
Tamales and paella with dried chorizo. And the 05 Cab is going to be beautiful, as far as I can tell. (See my note on barrel samples above.)

9. Passalacqua Winery
I secretly fantasized about getting married here (if I ever get married, if I ever allow myself to go through the agony that is a wedding -- but that's another rant for another time) -- the place is gorgeous, the wines are good and the staff is awesome. We had a great conversation with one of the tasting room employees about driving down Balboa Street in San Francisco pre-stop signs. She said it was like a roller coaster, with the ocean bobbing in front of her. We bought a 2004 Russian River Valley Chardonnay and 2004 Sonoma County Zin. I ate dark chocolate gelato and almost exploded. (They were also serving pizza and Humboldt Fog goat cheese, which is my favorite goat cheese ever.)

10. Dry Creek Vineyard
There wasn't too much food left, but the wines that we tasted were good. I went home with a Fumé Blanc for summer sipping.

11. F. Teldeschi Winery
There was a garage band and a tie-dyed shirt. And tables covered in plastic checkered tablecloths. And Zins going back to 1994. (I thought you couldn't really age Zinfandel because it loses its fruit and you're basically just left with alcohol?? I like my Zinfandel fresher.) And there was a ton of barbecue. I succumbed and ate tri-tip and sausage.

Thank goodness I don't own a scale. It would just make me depressed.