Thanksgiving is, without question, my favorite holiday. Food, wine and football? What more could a vintage girl ask for?! But more than those things, it’s a day we stop to remember and share our blessings. And I am grateful my life is full of them. I have an amazing husband who loves and accepts me just the way I am. I have friends that take good care of me, even when I resist. I have parents that continuously inspire me and have always supported me unconditionally. I have three amazing, hilarious, supportive (albeit dysfunctional) siblings I wouldn’t trade for anything. I have an extended family I am honored to be a part of. I have a beautiful home. I have a stable job in a field I’mpassionate about that challenges me and brings me tremendous joy. And I live in a fantastic country, where I’m free to talk and write about anything I please, in spite of my sass and questionable language. Life is good.
Now, as the culinary part of the holiday goes, of course I’m ecstatic. And this is arguably the biggest, baddest, best day of the year for folks like me. There are so many awesome food and wine pairing opportunities! The trick here is not to play only to the turkey. We also have to consider the stuffing, the green bean casserole, the yams, the mashed potatoes. Then there are the audibles: Some families serve ham; my dad always made a pan of lasagna. Each family has its own traditions. And, in some families, we basically have to set out to please the masses, so in many cases a good Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay is perfect. But generally I’m most enthusiastic about off dry-whites and light to medium bodied reds. Riesling and Pinot Noir really reign supreme; but there are many interesting choices.
So, without further ado, here’s some recommendations for your Thanksgiving table:
The day before Halloween, a woman told me she was shopping for Christmas gifts and I almost fainted. “I’m not ready for this yet,” I told my colleague.
But ready or not, the holiday season is upon us. And when you work in hospitality and retail long enough, you really loathe this time of year. The added hours. The extra stocking, cashiering, bagging, cleaning. The stress and hassle. The headaches, backaches, footaches. Underpaid and underappreciated. Missing meals, missing spouses, missing social lives. And if you live in a winter climate like I do, the hours of extra time behind the wheel due to snow, lack of parking, and terrible drivers.
And for what? I miss almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve dinner. My life is turned upside down. I can’t do my own holiday shopping because I’m working during normal shopping hours, and the last place I want to be during my time off is in a freaking store. I just want to hide under the covers. My family still doesn’t understand how difficult a time it is for me. I’m a bitchy zombie at home for a month straight. At work? My bosses work me to exhaustion and don’t give me a holiday bonus or a party. The sales expectations are ridiculous, although we exceed them every year. And the shoppers? Good grief. Most are hurried, stressed, crabby and haven’t done a lick of thinking ahead. “I don’t know if he/she drinks wine but I can’t think of anything else to give him/her.” Ugh. Maybe one in five customers is actually decent to me and grateful for my help. In over ten years in this business, one regular customer has actually given me a gift (a gorgeous $40 bottle of Aussie Shiraz that I’ll never forget.)
“There is nothing fun about any of this!” I want to shout, then punch the jolly smiles off shoppers’ faces. But instead I greet them cheerfully, help them choose the perfect bottle and send them on their merry way. My company does 23% of its business in the last six weeks of the year. And it sure as shit feels like it. Every single second of it.
I know I could have chosen a different profession. I could have holidays off, I could spend the time with my family, I could actually enjoy the month of December. But when it’s all said and done, there is at least one customer every year that inexplicably makes it all worthwhile. With a smile, or a handshake, or a genuine “Thanks Barb, Merry Christmas.” I hope this year is no exception, and I look forward to sharing that story.
At 6:01 PM on December 24th, when the last customer has paid and the doors are locked, I will say “Merry Christmas” and actually mean it. But until then, I’m just trying to get through the day without strangling anyone. Then I have six days of returns to deal with and mad NYE shoppers. So please understand if I’m a tad cranky this time of year. And don’t take it personally if I flip you off in traffic.
Do not just walk up to me and say the name of a grape varietal. “Hello” is a nice way to start a conversation. Or “Excuse me.” Or, you know, “OH MY GOSH YOU’RE VINTAGE BARB!!” But honestly, a furrowed brow and an “Uh, pinot grigio?” will illicit an unenthusiastic point of the finger and a desire to kick you in the shin. Learn some freaking manners.
Many of my regular followers (and when I say many, I mean two) have been chiding me for not posting lately. Hey, Vintage Barb is a busy gal these days. Working 40+, taking care of the new house, fighting off the flu, experimenting with a new ice cream maker… It’s all I can do to even keep up with the news. Not to mention follow the NFL. And frankly, sometimes thinking and writing about wine just feels like more work.
But the truth is, I haven’t been inspired much lately. When I get into a rut it usually takes a real special bottle of wine to awaken my enthusiasm and get my blogging blood pumping. This time, there was not necessarily one such bottle; but several great bottles, some darn good homemade grub, and some terrific company.
I hosted my first dinner party in the new house a couple weeks ago. I spent most of the previous evening and that morning prepping and cooking. I had plans for wine but invited guests to bring something to share if they so chose. My wonderful oenophile friends did not disappoint. Everything was really fantastic. The real standouts were a white Rioja I’d been dying to try, compliments of a conscientious and generous rep, and a 2000 Bordeaux a friend brought from his cellar. But here’s the whole selection:
Desiderio Bisol “Jeio” Prosecco: A light, delicate and luckily, inexpensive sparkler from Valdobbiadene that’s always a perfect aperitif. Flavors of lemon, apples and sugar cane with just the right amount of fizz. We sipped on a couple bottles of this as everyone arrived and got to know each other. Also accompanied some nuts and prosciutto e melone. Delish!
Field Stone Gewurztraminer 2008: My dad sent me the newest vintage of one of my favorite FS projects. It was fresh, dry, and classically floral and spicy. It was quite nice with a light salad and almost perfect with my tuna tartare. We all wished for just a touch of residual sugar; in a do-over I would choose instead an off-dry riesling. But we enjoyed the wine nonetheless and agreed it would be better matched with a crab or scallop dish with slightly richer sauce.
Bodegas Palacios Remondo Placet 2007: This was the pairing I was most excited about. I chose this white Rioja for my potato and leek soup, which really brought out the smokey component. It was a very good combination, but the complexity of this wine really shone. It was creamy but balanced, with very distinctive melon, spice, peach and vanilla bean flavors. An enormous hit with everyone at the table, even the cola drinkers, with its only flaw being its $30 price tag.
Goldeneye Pinot Noir 2006: This wine inspired what may go down in history as the greatest thing I’ve ever accidentally cooked. I hadn’t planned a pinot course. I had debated for hours, knowing I needed something, but had been convinced by my spouse I was making too much food. Then, when more than one guest brought a pinot I knew I had to improvise. I had to give the people what they demanded! Luckily I’d bought some shitake mushrooms for my crazy vegetarian pal. So I ended up throwing together some farfalle with the sauteed mushrooms and a wave of truffle oil I’d picked up on the fly for no particular reason the night before. Sometimes things just work out. And there it was- after all my planning and prepping, this dish was ironically the best of the night. The pinot was, of course, a tremendous companion.
JC Cellars Rockpile Syrah 2004: Brought by a friend, this syrah was almost simply an afterthought. I opened it for the others to enjoy while I was cooking up some risotto. I poured myself some to sip as well, and was completely bowled over. Truly a remarkable syrah, with a lot of obvious new world flair. Several years in the bottle had softened up the tannins but the big, chewy wine was still driven by gobs and gobs of concentrated blue and black fruits. It could have slept in the cellar for at least another five years, but was quite exciting and impressive. I spared some for the main course and begged my guests to do the same. Ultimately, it was a fantastic accompaniment.
Clos du Marquis St Julien 2000: My friend arrived with this bottle around 5:30. We opened and decanted it almost immediately and didn’t touch it again until after 8. It was fairly tight and compacted, so a good amount of swirling ensued. What eventually came to life was an exceptionally elegant Bordeaux with all the trimmings: cassis, plum, spice, cocoa, a hint of licorice, and a slightly gamey quality that paired up quite nicely with my braised short ribs. A truly beautiful, albeit young, Bordeaux certainly worthy of its reputable sibling, Chateau Leoville Las Cases. Although, we did feel some of the subtlety was lost underneath all the sauce and spices of the dish, so I held some of mine and savored it once my plate was licked clean. A masterpiece!
Glunz Family Winery Angelica: This is a local company’s Sherry-style dessert wine I purchased a couple years ago on a deep discount and thought would be a nice finish to the evening. Very, almost excessively, rich and sticky, this wine was gushing with caramel and sweet nutty flavors. Not the best accompaniment to the rich chocolate chip bread pudding masterpiece I had created, but still very tasty. By the end of the long evening, we were all quite satiated, so the remainder of the bottle has made for fantastic leftovers.
All in all, I think it’s safe to say the first annual Vintage Barb Dinner was a success. I only have two regrets: One: Next time I will pre-cook the risotto. And two: I wish my new dining room table sat more than eight.