Monday, February 25, 2008

How do you respond...

...when someone tells you that they don't keep white wine around the house because they prefer red, so when they run across a recipe that calls for it they just substitute the sake that they have in their refrigerator instead?

Me, I hid a gag and forced a smile.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Budget Travel

Yesterday over lunch I told my favorite aunt and uncle about my pending trip to Italy. My uncle has travelled to Europe several times for business, so we chatted about some of his favorite cities.

"I want to take you to Paris one day, my love," he said to my aunt in a goofy, sweet way. "I want to show you the world!"

"I've got nothing to complain about, darling," she said back, equally as joking. "Think about all the times we've been to Busch Gardens!"

"I suppose you're right, dear! Germany, France, Ireland... all with one $65 admission fee."

"Let us not forget your trips to Epcot Center!" I joined in.

"That's right! Japan, India..."

"You see honey, you have shown me the world," she smiled in a playful, serene way. "One log flume at a time."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Conversation with Mom over lunch

"Ok, so tell me the dates of your Italy trip again?"

"I leave on April 2nd at 4pm from Richmond and arrive in Milan at 10 the next morning. Then I leave Milan at noon on the 11th, and am home in Richmond by 9pm that night. Eight glorious days eating my way through Northern Italy and then perfect timing to get a good night's sleep and be refreshed for Shannon's (stepsister) wedding on the 12th."

"Gotcha. Do you know what you're wearing to the wedding yet?"

"You mean besides my SPANX?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Reader Poll

Everybody play! Answer in the comments box.

1. What's your drink?

2. Who are you voting for?

3. What was the last trip you took?

4. What is your go-to dinner when it is just you?

5. What is your favorite movie quote?

6. What is the last live music you saw?

7. When was the last time you made out with someone, high school style?

8. Paper or plastic? (Or canvas?)

9. Which magazines do you subscribe to?

10. Ask me something.

Monday, February 18, 2008

This is the problem with having clients in a mall...

Since most of my accounts are embedded in surburbia, I spend a lot of time in strip and shopping malls. And since I seem to have some sort of uncanny ability to be perpetually early, I often have time to kill. So needless to say, having two clients located in a mall with a Banana Republic, Anthropologie, and Saks Fifth Avenue is somewhat... dangerous.

Take this afternoon, for instance.

A series of events - crashing computer that must be replaced, kinda slow January sales, various bridal showers for a stepsister on the horizon, and buying a plane ticket to Italy (!) - have caused me to instate Operation Spend No Money. Operation Spend No Money is actually not as bad as it sounds because it forces me to get creative, and really does end up better in the long run. Instead of meeting a friend for drinks, I'll meet a friend for a power walk. Instead of catching up over brunch, I'll catch up with someone over American Idol. Clipping coupons isn't dorky - it's resourceful. Operation Spend No Money even justifies those evenings where I relish in doing absolutely nothing. So what if I'm being lazy and spending a Saturday night at home on the couch eating leftover chilli and watching the same DVD's I've had for years? I'm saving money right now. It makes sloth feel practically productive.

But this afternoon I was scheduled to do a staff training for servers at Brio Tuscan Grille, so I headed to the mall around 4:00. "I'll just duck into Banana Republic really quickly," I told myself. "Maybe they'll have a dress I can wear to my stepsister's wedding in April." (Another not-my-fault expense on the horizon. I'm not bitter, though.)

Ten minutes later I was in a dressing room with four tops and one dress that is perfect for work and matches my favorite brown boots beautifully. Fifteen minutes later, I had finally succombed to the pressure and applied for that BR credit card they've been hounding me about for years.

Damnit! Why am I such a sucker for President's Day deals that save you 20%? Why was that dress soooo much more appealing at $80 than $100? Why did I have to buy a cute shirt too? And am I really obligated to buy two shower gifts and a wedding present?

Humph. So much for Operation Spend No Money. Today my mission was unsuccessful. But at least I'll be able to show off my legs in my new dress.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I have absolutely no willpower

After a decadent birthday weekend in New Orleans (more about that later), I had decided to take the first part of the week easy. All day yesterday I planned on a very "good" evening. Spinning at 6:30 and then a modest dinner of baked chicken and steamed veggies. Maybe some educational reading and teeth whitening too, just for kicks.

All was completely on-track until late afternoon when a computer malfunction forced me to meet up with my boss at one of our favorite accounts. Lots of comraderie and joking with the buyer, some sampling of things in our various bags... one thing led to another. Corks started popping.

Next thing I knew, the buyer was opening things off of his reserve list and letting us choose. Twomey 2004 Merlot, Catena single vineyard Malbec, and the coup de gras - Hollywood and Vine 2004 Cabernet... let's just say it turned into a long evening of free steaks and big wines.

So much for being good. I could have easily left before all of the indulgence started. But what can I say? When corks start popping like that, any hope of willpower just shoots right out the window. I'm only human, afterall.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Little Rascal

Last week while tasting with one of my favorite accounts (an Italian restaurant with great pasta dishes and a wood burning oven for pizzas), I couldn't help but comment on the by-the-glass list.

"I love that you guys always have an Arneis on here," I said, "When I was a waiter I sold Arneis all the time. It was like a little trick I pulled out of my back pocket."

Arneis is a white grape from Italy's Piedmont region, specifically the Roero DOC. The wines are crisp, a little bit perfumy, and perfect for the standard Pinot Grigio drinker who is willing to try something new. I call it a "back pocket trick" for waiters is because it's a snippet of information that can be pulled out of nowhere at any time to impress guests. They have probably never heard of it, but are guaranteed to like it. And once you can do that with a table you'll have them eating out of your hand, and will earn a big tip.

The buyer and I began discussing this wine and the back pocket principle (which is not limited just to Arneis - Verdicchios, Soaves, and Orvietos work well as Pinot Grigio alternatives too), and he threw out a little piece of info that was new for me.

"Do you know what Arneis means in Italian?"

"No, what?"

"Little rascal."

"Love it! Perfect for cunning waiters everywhere."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hoping to leave with digits intact

Tonight five girlfriends and I will troupe to the local Sur la Table and participate in one of their most popular cooking classes - Essential Knife Skills.

The goal is to learn how to decently chop an onion, and maybe figure out how to make a flower out of a radish. Say a little prayer for us that no one ends up julienne-ing a finger. Especially since, in our infinite wisdom, we've decided to meet for drinks before class.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Spectator Manifesto

The main reason that I read Wine Spectator is to be able to hold my own in any business discussion that might come my way. Ratings and other people's opinions are not really that important to me, but they are to a lot of people, and I need to know what people are referring to if they mention it. So every few weeks I comb through the current issue to stay abreast of what is going on. Maybe its the fact that I am getting older and wiser, but for the last year or so it has seemed less and less like homework, and I'm finding myself getting more useful information from the pages. I tend to especially enjoy the news blurbs, love Mark Pendergrast's coffee series, and like reading the editors' columns.


In the latest issue, Matt Kramer's column titled "Without a Net" was about being lost in his local wine shop. It starts out innocently enough, with him lamenting that he had run out of every day drinking wine in his smaller San Francisco haunt, and he finds himself having to go to the store to stock up - which because of his position in life, he hasn't had to do in years. Not many of us can relate, but it's fun to put yourself in his work shoes. What an enviable situation to be in - always going to auctions, being right on the cusp of every new development in the wine industry and being able to take advantage of new websites and fun circles. Won't it be fun to read the rest of this article and go with him on his journey back into the real world? Browsing in wine shops is fun, right Matt?

Apparently not.

You would think that one of the most knowledgable and respected wine journalists in the world could navigate his way through the shelves and pick out a few decent cases, but the rest of the article basically just whines because the stores he went to didn't have enough shelf talkers and he couldn't seem to trust the opinion of the employees. In his own words, he was unwilling to take a chance and spend more than $5 a bottle on something that didn't have some kind of rating system attached to it.

This absolutely blows my mind, for several reasons.

First of all, I find it incredibly hard to believe that any reputable wine shop in the San Francisco area, did not have on the shelf dozens (if not hundreds) of producers that someone who has been writing for Wine Spectator since 1985 was familiar with.

Second, this elitist attitude is exactly what most people in the industry fight against, and why many people in the younger generation like me have more than a little bit of disdain for publications like Wine Spectator. His unwillingness and fear of taking a chance or trying something new, not to mention complete dependence on scores and other people's tasting notes, is exactly what those of us on the distribution side spend hours and countless tastings trying to combat. I cannot tell you how many fabulous wines I've had that sell for over $25, which retailers are shy to bring in because of lack of scores from a major publication - and not because they don't like them, but because they know that without the scores, the wines probably won't sell. It's a bummer, but something that we are working to combat by vigorously trying to educate and excite the public. Reading this article actually made my jaw drop, because before I thought that people who exclusively followed the scores were boring lemmings who just needed more exposure to different things and to have their palates trained. Naively, I assumed that the people behind Wine Spectator were probably on my side, but now it turns out that they are not. Here is a column from one of the editors that actually discourages shoppers from listening to sales people, or trying something new, or literally buying anything without shelf talkers, tasting notes, scores, and quotes (preferably from Wine Spectator, I'm sure).

Third, we need to be supporting the private retailers, not driving people away from them. The mom-and-pop stores run from a place of passion and excitement are the heart of this industry, and for someone of his influence, stature, and experience to be encouraging people to sit at their computers and decide what to buy rather than going down to the local store and - gulp - interacting with a person to find something that you would like is, in my opinion, irresponsible and missing the entire point of this great industry.

It is no secret that the economy is on a downswing right now. Wine is a luxury item, and in times like these, luxury items are the first to go. With the majority of Wine Spectator's readership being people with money to spend on these items, we should be helping them learn to trust and cherish their local wine merchant, not shy away from them. Consumers should be trained to get to know and trust their own palates. Wine Spectator should be a fun tool, not a Bible.

Wine should be celebrated, not feared. Wine should encourage interaction between people. Life should be lived around wine. So what if you go down to the local shop, spend $30, and it turns out not to be your favorite bottle? This is not something to break a sweat over. We should be excited about the journey, the experience, and the potential outcome, not nervously sitting at our computers looking for ratings and tasting notes for other people to tell us what think, and taste, and feel. People in Mr. Kramer's position should be encouraging this sort of experience rather than driving people away from it.

I guess the big guys aren't on my side after all. And that's ok. I don't need to be on the same team as someone who manages to suck the fun out of going into a wine shop. People like that can sit at home nervously researching - meanwhile I'll be out enjoying the experience. Anyone care to meet me for a glass of wine?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Why is it...

... that when you are sick, wine and coffee taste so terrible? Everything else is fine! Is God playing a joke on me that in addition to feeling like I am about to keel over, two of my favorite things now repluse me? What if I really was dying? Then during my last few days on Earth I would be unable to enjoy two of life's greastest pleasures.

Doesn't seem right.