Solstice

Salzburg

From “Gourmet, The Magazine of Good Living”, Volume XXIX, December 1969.

Today is the first day of wintertime.

When I lived in Napa Valley, I looked forward to the quiet of the natural world during the winter months.  After the persimmon harvest was finished, the constant sunshine would turn off, and the ever-growing everything would nearly stop growing.  I would have the feeling that something important was happening behind the chilly rainfall, grey days, and foggy moor-like landscapes- Wuthering Heights style, but with rows of naked vines all around.

In the natural world, this is a time to shut down so that all can properly start back up again when the moment is right.  Beautiful things can brew during hibernation.

In the human world, we grow cold.  We seek out enjoyable and convenient ways to stay warm.  Here are a few words I wrote a few weeks ago for the lovely ladies of Sister Disco- 12 wine suggestions to keep you cozy this season.

Merry Solstice Everyone!

Yuletide Gifting

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From “Gourmet, The Magazine of Good Living”, Volume XXIX, December 1969.

It’s the time of year to find a special something for all your special someones.  If you ask me, it feels just as good to give a sweet gift as it does to receive one…so let’s enjoy the shopping.

As a jumping off point, here are a few ledes for your quest to find just the thing for the people you love who love wine.  Or even those who you would love to begin loving wine.  I mean, your 2012 gift could be the one that ignites the fire, opens their eyes to a whole new world (of wine).  It’s a nice world.  I’ll quote Mr. Steve Jobs when I say, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Bottles:

In NYC (and Brooklyn, too!) we are spoiled by a market saturated with almost every incredible wine you could (and couldn’t) think of.  In this day and age, most of that wine can be shipped to most places in the U.S.

In my opinion, if you’re looking to give the gift of wine- something unusual and of high quality, that you want to be sure has been handled and stored properly- look to a great NYC wine shop.  They know what’s up.  Ideas…

Aglianico del Vulture 2007 by D’Angelo from Drink Up NY.  $22

100% Aglianico grapes grown at the base of the extinct volcano, Mount Vulture.  Crafted into a boomingly tannic, blueberry-ish, mineral-rich wine by Donato D’Angelo, the man who pretty much taught every producer in his region how to craft the “Barolo of the South”.

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Antonin Rodet from NiNi’s Wine Cellar . $31

100% Chardonnay from this historic estate in Burgundy’s Cote Chalonnaise.

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St. Emilion Grand Cru 1998 by Chateau Gracia from Gnarly Vines. $95

Classic Right Bank Bordeaux.  Ready to Drink.  Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Give a grand gift of tradition.

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Barolo Cascina Francia 2008 by Giacomo Conterno from MCF Rare Wine. $159

100% Nebbiolo harvested from the venerable 5 hectare vineyard named Cascina Francia.  This wine is made by the talented Conterno family, currently headed by Roberto Conterno.  Aged for about four years in oak.  A gift for prosperity, as this wine should not be opened for at least another 10 years.

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Sassella Riserva DOCG Vigna Regina 2001 by A.R. PePe from Flatiron Wines & Spirits (Magnum Size). $235.

Show your love in a BIG way (the bigger the bottle, the better the home for the wine).  100% Chiavennasca  (nebbiolo) made from vineyards planted into the stony rich foothills of the Italian-Swiss Alps.  The region is Valtellina, the zone is Sassella, the cru is Vigna Regina.  Bright wine for bright friends.

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Books on Wine (& Food, & Stuff):

Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Jose Vouillamoz.  $111.92.

Recent release.  All the rage.  Every known grape out there.  Must-have.

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The Drops of God, Volume ’01 by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto.  $10.17.

A comic book for wine geeks.  Part 1 of the series (snort, snort).

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Edible Selby by Todd Selby and Sally Singer. $23.10.

Beautiful photos of beautiful food, made in beautiful kitchens (by beautiful people), and served on beautiful tables.

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The Selby is in Your Place by Todd Selby with Intro by Lesley Arfin.  $23.10.

Ok, this has nothing to do with wine, or even food- but such a gorgeous book.  Inspiration for amazing spaces…spaces where wine can be drank?!

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My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (With Recipes) by Luisa Weiss.  $16.25.

The (cook)book from The Wednesday Chef.

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Further Thoughts:

Wine Skin from MoMa.  $4

For travels with that special bottle or 2.  Spill and break proof.  Ease the mind- a suitcase full of white sweaters will be safe.

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De Long Wine Discovery Tools. $ Varies.

Maps, maps, maps!

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Sign up for Cynthia Hurley’s (almost daily) newsletter with informative and interesting descriptions of her excellent selection of French wines.  She will ship orders directly to your doorstep.

Take a class at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange.

For a serious enthusiast- give the gift of the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust).  Levels & $’s vary.

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“The Conosur” by the Anthony Picone. Check out his work at http://antpicone.com/

*Photo sources are links mentioned with products.

A Diplomatic Wine

Though life is politics, when it comes to election time, I try (lately) to keep my opinions to myself and my ballot.

I mean, to a certain extent, what is the point?  Our individual opinions (and the policies they lead to) will never ever completely align with everyone else’s.  And how could they?

We each come from our own little corner of the world- have had our own advantages and disadvantages, education, triumphs and losses, visits to the principal’s office, hairdresser, traffic court, theater and third world countries.  Each with a different pocketbook and lunchbox.  Each with our own history of friendship and kin and love with people …who each have a story all their own.  We are all influential and influenced.

Our vote translates to some cocktail of our experiences.  But real life exists in between, and at the end of the day we’re all just a bunch of human beings, so can’t we all get along?!

Yes, I think we can.  During dinnertime, at least.  With lambrusco.  I have not yet met a more diplomatic wine than lambrusco.

Photo by Chris Rogers

For awhile there, the sugary froth made by the likes of Reunite brought a certain reputation to the version of this wine that was mostly sent to the American, British, New Zealand, and Australian marketplaces.  It was what it was, but it was not the real thing.  The real lambrusco has been made and sipped by the people of its region of origin since the time of the Etruscans.

Diplomacy explained:  Lambrusco can negotiate almost any border- be it meal, occasion, or palate.

Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna is the region.  Lambrusco is the grape (there are around 11 or so subvarieties of lambrusco, like Grasparossa, Ancelotta, Salamino, Marani, and Sorbara, that are usually blended).  Frizzante is the style (somewhere between still and sparkling).  Alcohol usually hovers between 10-12%.  Rich foods (like Emilia- Romagna natives Mortadella & Parmigiano-Reggiano) that require a decently acidic and mildly tannic sip of refreshment to cut through its fat is the accompaniment.  Palate cleansing is the purpose.

Those who “only drink red wine” get to drink red wine.  Those who “only drink white wine” can close their eyes and allow themselves to enjoy the slight chill, light body, and bright acidity.  The grapey-ness of most lambruscos may please those with a penchant for sweet things, though their fruit is not offensive to those who prefer a drier style.  The wine is uneventful enough for drinkers who dislike bubbles, and bubbly enough for those who seek a little zing.

 Lambrusco amicably pairs with pastas and pizzas, cheeses and cured meats.  It can get along with poultry and gamey roasts.  It jives with Indian, Moroccan, Vietnamese, Chines, Mexican, Korean, and Thai.  It may even (and often has in my house) be sipped all on its very own (let me refer back to that measly percentage of alcohol…wink!).

Eric Asimov provides a solid list of producers that can be found on the market toward the end of this July piece (here).  I would suggest not to pay much mind to the whole part about it being a summertime wine.  It is that indeed, though also pairs perfectly with meals of every season.  Alicia Lini, daughter of winemaker Fabio Lini of Lini 910, told me a few years back that in Emilia-Romagna, lambrusco is actually consumed in greater amounts during the colder months than any others as it is a natural sidekick for heftier fare.

Be brave! ~ I promise it’s nice! ~ Don’t be afraid to give it a go!

PS- Grapes of Cath is beginning to rumble around on Tumblr.  Hopefully helpful visuals of only awesome wines!

PPS- I hope you were able to stay safe & dry & comfortable during the Sandy storm.  If not, I’m sorry, and I’m thinking of you.

On Keeping a Notebook

Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally; only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

-Joan Didion, from “On Keeping a Notebook” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Do you keep a notebook? Do you keep a book of wine tasting notes? I keep…neither, really….unless you put together all of the things that I write a down on the corners of important papers, post-its (so many post-its), the palms of my hands, napkins, the “notebook” app of my intelligent little phone, the first few pages of a journal that for a hot second I am always so dedicated to maintaining.

Most of my notes are rarely re-visited. Even if they are, I am lucky if I can decipher half of the scribble. But I wrote it down, so it happened, and that’s what counts.  For me, anyway.

Seen: Highly effective looking guy reading Secrects of Highly Effective People on subway. Recording something in a gigantic black Moleskine.

Heard: How can one remember thirst? (narrator of Sans Soleil, incredible film!)

Travel notes: Graziano Motta in his desolate castle where the quiet enters you and makes you sad. Atop the hill in the town of Montegrosso (Piedmont). 150 yr. old technique so that barbera doesn’t become too acidic. Closed tank so that CO2 bubbles into pipe that goes into water. 1 week of pumping over in ferm vat. Fiberglass until January. Barrels- botti made from combination of French/Slavonian oak. Pretty lunch spread in room with fireplace. Table set by elves? Russian salad, beef carpaccio, roasted pepper, egg fritter, chocolate dessert thingy. Barbera 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, ‘Ndre (a memory), Bonarda, 1 other wine hand-drawn label for Swiss market.

Random wine-type ramblings too: The La La La’s- like man, woman, and their kid. Are they really some of the greatest wines in the world?!…Old crotchety guy at Montague Street cafe upset that he was given a white wine when he ordered pinot grigio… Drank Woodbridge from a 1.5 liter bottle with Dee Dee and it was the most delicious fruit juice in the whole world because I was with her…Piedirosso, Pied de Perdrix, Piedmont, pied pied pied, feet, feet everywhere!!

And then there are actual tasting notes, which range from pretty technical to kind of dreamy. Comparatively, mine are barely informative. Would smoked wild strawberries, steadfast aciditymedium body, and the kind of wine that Julie Andrews would drink in her hill spinning scenes of The Sound of Music mean anything to anyone from one day to the next?

Some tasters keep them with great diligence. In organized composition books with their names on the front. Swishing, spitting, and communicating with wines for however long it takes to feel and taste and listen to what they have to say. Writing down thoughts and findings, facts and amusing notes in some sort of form, WSET inspired, or whatever.

I wonder if people ever go back to read them.  Actually, I shouldn’t wonder because I know for a fact that people do.  For professional purposes when buying for a shop or wine list, as a hobby, for pleasure.  Example- Melissa, the adorable manager of the similarly adorable Brooklyn wine shop, Atlantic Cellars, let me know that her “tasting tablet” notes are precious to her.  Wine is her everything, takes up a lot of her thoughts and energy and passion, and those notes are a kind of tangible proof.

Part of the thing about writing anything out is that it takes a moment and solidifies it. And the solidification is art because you can write it any way you like. A tasting note can script a wine into something ethereal and enchanting, downright gross, or simply simple with bare bone descriptions.

Even those can be tricky, though.  I remember reading a piece in Diner Journal a few years back about tasting wine. I don’t recall who wrote it, but the thing that stuck with me was that the author said he doesn’t like to ascribe certain attributes to wine such as “It smelled like a peach” or “it tasted like a peach”. That would suggest that a peach smells like a peach or tastes like a peach. And what is a peach?  A peach may taste like a pear, a pear like a Turkish fig, a Turkish fig like some exotic foreign land. Every palate reads differently, and the power of suggestion often reigns.

Is wine like any other aesthetic creature when business becomes involved, in whatever form, offering all sorts of potential for bullshit?  Do we all just smile and nod and ohh and ahh when we taste with someone who seems to know a thing or two and they say that this wine is brilliant and it’s got a cherry cola thing going on?  Are we just a herd of sheep tasters?

Dubious, I know.  Every wine tasted by every person will be a little different from one palate to the next, one bottle to the next. Is that the point? Does it matter? Does anybody care?!  And, considering that I seem to be questioning the importance of wine in the first place, the issue of how much weight a tasting note even carries seem to be mostly inconsequential, eh?

As cynical as I may sound, I do believe there is beauty beyond the bullshit. Lots of it.  I tasted a Bandol yesterday that proved it so.  I mean this. Was. Gorgeous.  Totally moving.  Old-vine mourvedre from the Bunan brothers at Mas de la Rouviere (disclosure- I work for the importer!) that brought me to a place, told me there is so much more to this- this day, this moment- than I go around believing.  Made me realize for the billionth time just how far out wine is.

A too flashy photo of a favorite bottle recently shared. Schloss Gobelsburg’s rosé (grapes: Zwiegelt & St. Laurent) brought in by Mr. Terry Theise.  Enjoyed with a friend at her house by the beach.  Tasted like I was sucking on both a clean river rock and a watermelon Jolly Rancher at once. Lots of fun and laughing involved, including spilling about half of the bottle while we were at it. And that’s all the note she wrote.

I don’t think tasting notes help anyone but ourselves, even if sometimes we pretend that they are so vital that a really great one could save the world from all its ails.  Just the same, I don’t think we should stop writing them out.  Like how one shouldn’t stop jotting down the thing that someone said when no one else was listening. Or recording the way the sky, or the sun, or the people in your world look to you on a certain day- the loneliness or joy or amusement that it inspired.  You know, minute to minute news.

Wine notes may be just that.  A cue to remember. Simply so that we don’t forget.  Homage to the transience of a glass of wine. Moments alive, and we were alive right along with them.  Maybe if we keep going we will finish stories, satisfy questions. Maybe years from now we will look back on our notebooks and find all of the answers. Maybe, maybe.

P.S. Too great not to share. Show some respect.

Subterranean Style

CELLAR AT CASTELLO DI VERDUNO

Whenever I think of cellars, Edgar Allen Poe’s morbid tale, The Cask of Amontillado, comes to mind. You know, the one where Montresor buries Fortunato alive in a pocket of his palazzo catacombs. Lured to a corner with the promise of a taste of rare Amontillado (oh, the things we will do for a beautiful sip), Fortunato is chained and sealed into the space behind a wall of bricks that Montresor, a mason, lays. The root? Pride, revenge, sick minds. But there he is- Fortunato- still in that cellar- laughing in his Carnival garb. Waiting, ageing, dying…

What’s in a cellar anyway- what’s in your cellar?

Stockpiles for just the right moment that may or may not ever arise? A cove of thoughts and dreams, plans and possessions. For posterity, for a rainy day, for safe-keeping, for the rager of the century. All things that will come and go. Time is a ____ thing, and when related to wine (when related almost anything), as mysterious as ever.

Cellar- survival- salumi and potatoes- (Nintendo, washer and dryer, Dad’s dumbbells?) shielding people and provisions from weather and time.

To cellar, it’s become a verb, cellaring. A collector’s hobby- what to acquire, what to seek, how long to keep it, define your cellar, your stock, your store. How much to squirrel away? To pursue the wines, or let them come into your world as they may? A special vintage every here and there? So many things to commemorate. Why do we keep them? Is it like displaying books that you have already read? To warm a room, show off a bit, conversation material, reference material, mostly because they bring you comfort just to know they’re there?

Regardless of the designated spaces that we create for our wine- a simple rack in any closet/ cabinet/ garage- there is something to be said for a true cellar to properly store precious bottles. Somewhere below ground, a consistent 55° F, a little bit moist (to keep the density of corks in balance), hidden from the sun. Conditions that exist naturally in certain climates, some of the best being built into hills. Where there are no hills, when you don’t feel like digging a giant hole, when you live in the Carolina lowlands- air conditioning will do just fine. There are also cellaring facilities which will store your wine as professionally as possible. A little impersonal, but it works.

I find it difficult to maintain much of a wine cellar myself- impetuous lush that I am. Always keeping in mind the whole being here now thing, it requires too much waiting. So rare for me to look at a bottle and say you are for another day. So excited to give everything a try- to see how it is doing- right now- I want it to be part of my world, my taste memory, not lonely in a cellar. Even old wines. Even venerable wines. Even bottles that really could use some more time to themselves. A shame perhaps, but what good is that Lagrein doing staring at me, awkward, belly-up?

Be patient, Ophelia. Love, Hamlet

-Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Don’t follow my lead though (too much, at least)- a little delayed gratification can yield immeasurable rewards. That 2004 Barolo- 2001 Barolo- 1996 Barolo (Spanna on the mind!) revealing more of itself after a long nap. There is nothing like opening a bottle on just the right day and finding it has hit its stride, has fully come into itself, is so ready for you.

How do you know? A little bit of trust, a little bit of chance. There are educated predictions about what you’ll find, but you won’t know until you try it since wine is, according to economists, an “experience good”. Drink enough and pay attention to what is going on. Eventually you will develop a sense about how a wine will age as you would with cooking or gardening or other such arts where we work in rhythm with natural processes- an experiment in science and beauty and time. All of those things that time can do.

Of every event in our life we can say only for one moment that it is; for ever after that it was. Every evening we are poorer by a day. It might, perhaps, make us mad to see how rapidly our short span of time ebbs away; if it were not that in the furthest depths of our being we are secretly conscious of our share in the inexhaustible spring of eternity, so that we can always hope to find life in it again.

-from “The Vanity of Existence”, Studies in Pessimism , A. Schopenhauer


CELLAR SCENE FROM FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT'S "STOLEN KISSES"

Au Naturel

Drive-by winter field, Slingerlands, NY

Have you heard of nature deficit disorder?  Usually mentioned in relation to kids these days growing up with a lack of dirt-digging and tree-climbing…it’s a real thing, or so the docs say.

Consider me a believer.  Living in Brooklyn, I crave me some mountains.  Despite NYC’s farmers markets, rooftop gardens, climbing ivy, sidewalk sprigs, Amelia’s fig tree, Edith’s blue bells, rainy day worms, daffodils, ducks, my cactus cultivation attempts, Union Square’s lone magnolia, great big parks, small patches of green, and other blips of nature in between- the vitality of the great outdoors cannot be replicated or dosed out.  It just can’t.  The way it puts our bodies in their most primal rhythm, our minds at unbelievable ease, its pine, birch, moss, spruce, dead grass, live grass, lilacs, and a bit of space for their melancholy scent to travel- are meant to be gulped if we are thirsty, sipped if we feel like going slow.  Mother Earth.  She’s good.

For city dwellers, an entire world of worlds await us at our clumsy doorsteps.  No shortage of inspiration- it almost comes too easily (until, of course, we remember that this is the benefit of living in a city so hard).  And if we’re here, it’s because we love it…or something close enough…

…and I thought of that old joke, you know,

the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says,

Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken,’

and uh, the doctor says, ‘well why don’t you turn him in?’

And the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’

-Alvy Singer, Annie Hall, 1977 

We can have it all.  Except the nature thing- that’s not to be found in an east or west village, on a graffiti-filled borough wall, Minetta, Waverly, Broadway, or Broome- it’s different.

When I begin to feel that… deficit… I open a bottle of wine (surprised?).  If we drink a wine responsibly farmed from a healthy plot of earth, a cure for the Brooklyn blues isn’t such a stretch.  Just a touch of dandelion (rosemary, mint, violet, bark, thyme, sea, sun, and sky too) may do the trick.

Because you can find a forest.  In a 750 ml. bottle.  Perhaps enchanted- dark and brambly, swallowing visitors whole, setting spirits free.  Fermenting witches, princes, dragons, treasure trunks, friendly thieves.  Snow White and her dwarves setting up house in a bottle of Cahors.  Like one of my recent favorites from Chateau de Chambert .  Or Monteforche’s Garganega, made by Alfonso Soranzo- former horn player, current champion of Colli Euganei soil.  Lucky for us, these are just two of the great many wines on the market that can bring us to that natural place.  If we drink them at the right time, on the right day,  we are golden (Steiner! how did you sneak into this fairy tale?  Glad to have you.).

And I’m not talking about “natural wine” here.  Well, actually that’s a total lie.  Natural wine is exactly what I am talking about, but I was going to try not to drive home the dreaded term as I’m in full agreement with the sentiments expressed in this January post from Jeremy (a little potty talk here, but his blog is brilliant).  The core of the topic of natural wine is fully important, but has been beat to so fine a pulp that it may as well be made into true blue denim, proudly worn by every progressive wine geek out there.  We’re all heroes.  We’re all guilty.  It’s better than a market void of awareness, but I think it’s been fleshed out to a point where should take what we will from the conversation and simply make it habit.  Be the change.  Stuff like that.

But I veer…from the trail…which I was hiking along…you should join me…we’ll dine at the top…I packed a bottle of this foggy aligoté …like pleasantly sour honey and small daisies… pollen and particles float in warm sunshine…a nap on a picnic blanket while crickets chirp nearby, and…

Found a lake in the Sierra Mtns. Glimmer.


Money Ain’t A Thang

Wine will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no wine.

-Hippies

It doesn’t matter if you make a bagillion dollars or play the recorder on the subway for small change- wine does not have to break the bank. You can get a damn good bottle of wine for somewhere between 10 and 30 clams. Actually, this is the best price point to experiment with more obscure grapes and styles on a daily basis. Don’t be intimidated by long names and high price tags. Nota bene- McQueen, Lagerfeld, and Chanel play muse to the threads we pull on everyday, but very few wear couture on a daily basis.

What are we paying for in an expensive bottle anyway? Bragging rights and wine-induced transcendence? Well yes, totally. Along with vineyard real estate, time and methods of aging, cost of living and producing on the property, market competition, rarity, importing hassles, government subsidies- you get the idea. Currency is always representation of so much more. But when it comes to what is actually in the bottle, price ain’t nothin’ but a number. I mean you could open a $2,000 bottle, and it could be corked/ cooked/ or simply not to your liking. It could happen, so what does it all mean? A gamble and conversation for the ages…

Of course there are wines out there (and ARE there) that are costly and gorgeous and it takes just a taste at the right moment to consider investing your life savings in the happiness they bring…

But let’s focus here! Wine really is one of the humblest things- whether you’re drinking it to accentuate food, friends, or for inspiration toward something that has absolutely nothing to do with drinking (cleaning, taxes, phone calls, reading, writing…emails, love letters, grocery lists), and no one says it has to be fancy (well, maybe we should define fancy- what matters to you?). I say we follow the lead of our friend, Hem, and drink styles typical of places and people who value good wine. Once you get out there and exercise this pursuit at your local wine shop- or wherever you shop- you will feel more and more comfortable finding out what is good, what tastes real, what speaks to you, even if it only says whaddup. Don’t feel forced to overreach on cost. Overreaching doesn’t work.

I take that back, sometimes it does.

I don’t mean to advocate for cheap wine- not cheap in quality at least- made by industrial and irresponsible producers who may as well be making pogo sticks or sneakers. I’m suggesting to think twice before purchasing that magnum of Yellow Tail/ Mondavi/ Woodbridge/ Vendage/ Gallo/ The Little Penguin for the next luncheon/ book club/ rager. I get it- big bottle, low cost, guests with smiles on faces because alcohol is in their cup. Believe me when I say that there is so much better for just a few bucks more.

Something like...this, or this, or this (this, this, and this too!). Just a few ideas of the many…embark on your own adventure.

In the end, hopefully you’ve got something in your glass that you like, and hopefully it moves you enough to remember that you can dream up beautiful things- and that your heart is pumping blood- and that your lungs are filled with air (did you remember to breathe?). No matter the means, that should be the end.

Socrates’ Prayer from Plato’s Phaedrus

Dear Pan, and all you other gods who live here,

grant that I may become beautiful within,

and that whatever outward things I have

may be in harmony with the spirit inside me.

May I understand that it is only the wise who are rich,

and may I have only as much money as a temperate person needs.