Friday, May 17, 2013

20th New Thing ~ Bless Our Hearts

I sometimes use the expression, "Bless your heart." And I mean it. May your heart be blessed.

But, not long ago, talking to a friend, in reference to a mutual co-worker's eccentric and peculiar yet endearing ways, I said, "Bless his heart."
"Oh, don't be mean," he scolded me.
"Wait. What? I was blessing his heart. That's not mean!" I said.
"You aren't from the South, are you?" Was that a rhetorical question? Was that?
"No. Why? 'Bless your heart' is a mean thing to say in the South?"
"Yeah, kinda."
This didn't sound right to me. It's blessings, for Heaven's sake.


On the original draft of "50 New Thing Ideas," I wrote: 
"Host a Cocktail or Dinner Party."

I've thrown kid's birthday parties and family holiday parties. Bridal and Baby Showers. But somehow none of these events felt like real grown-up parties.

I've attended other people's 'Grown Up' parties but I've never hosted one myself. 
So which would it be...Dinner Party? Cocktail Party? Both?
I was undecided but not really worried about it. There's plenty of time. (Yeah, just keep telling yourself that....there's plenty of time.)

Then one day at work, while talking about the Grape Stomping (see 14th New Thing ) and the Wine Making (see  Is It Wine Yet?), Genius Teresa in Circulation (that's her official job title) said, 
"You should have a wine tasting with the wine you made."  

Lovely line-up!
Well, of course! Forget the Dinner or Cocktail party. I'm hosting a Wine Tasting. (I love when something becomes instantly clear like that.)

I am not really a wine person. Other than what I've learned from Frasier & Niles, what do I know about wine? This is where Wikipedia, and other search engine results came to my rescue. It turned out to be interesting research. I was surprised.
These were the links I found most helpful and user-friendly:

The week prior to the tasting, I spent my time checking out books and reading up, shopping for supplies and watching movies with wine as the main theme: A Good Year (Russell Crow, Baby!), Bottle Shock (A true story) and my personal favorite, French Kiss.

I had a small and select guest list of seven people. (I'd have had more but my home is also small and select, so there just wasn't room.)

The day of the tasting, I spent a lovely afternoon in preparation:
  • Playing the soundtrack to Chocolat, 
  • Gathering all my stemware ('all' two of them), 
  • Lighting candles in every corners, 
  • Laying out my fancy-nancy appetizer forks (that I did not steal from seafood restaurants)
  • Slicing cheese and artisan bread

Messy, cozy beach house.

The guests carpooled. My Aunt Kay, her first time visiting my house, walked in and commanded, "We're packing you up and moving you out of here tonight. This is way too far."
"Welcome. Have a glass of wine," I replied.

After all guests arrived, I began with my carefully prepared Wine-Tasting Speech:
"Thank you for coming. I've done extensive research. There are very specific and preferred 'rules' for conducting a wine tasting. And we will not be following any of them." 

I outlined our casual approach:
  • We'll be tasting 4 different red wines from 4 different wineries (and 4 different planets for all I know):
    • Cabernet Sauvignon (Firefly Ridge - California) 
    • Pinot Noir (Beringer - California) 
    • Shiraz (Yellow Tail - Australian)
    • Concord (14th New Thing - Lakebay)
  • We'll judge each wine by four basic characteristics:
    • Color
    • Smell
    • Appearance
    • Taste 
  • For Color, we'll hold the wine at a tilt over a white surface to clearly see the color of the wine. 
    • Is it more transparent or opaque? Is it a purple red or a brick red? 
  • For Smell, we'll use the Twirly-Swirly Sniff Maneuver.
    • Swirling the wine does two things: brings air into the wine (aerate) and releases the fragrance of the wine. The better to smell you, my dear.
  • For Appearance, after the Twirly-Swirling above, we'll watch for the 'legs' of the wine.
    • My unofficial explanation of 'legs' is how the wine 'coats' or slides down the inside of the glass. Is it in streaks or more of a sheet? I read somewhere that some people assume that 'legs' are about the quality of the wine, but apparently it's more about the alcohol content. (Then the article started taking a mathematical turn, so I quit reading.)
  • For Taste, we'll take a sip. 
    • This is where things get a little wine-snobby for me. "Fruity, floral, oaky, smokey, nutty, butty, creamy, crispy, rich, light, sweet, dry, blah, blah, blah." 
    • We'll make this optional but what I'm really looking forward to with the tasting is trying to slurp the wine to make that Silence of the Lambs Fava Bean sound effect. 
  • Two additional notes:
    • Swallowing is optional but driving impaired is not. Spittoon available.
    • Scorecards are also available, and optional as well.

I pointed out the different types of tastings I'd read about:
Varietal tastings. Regional tastings. Price Point and"Big Eight" tasting, Vertical tasting. Horizontal tasting. I have no idea the difference. Vertical, you're standing up while you drink? Horizontal, you're lying down? I didn't say I understood them, just that I pointed them out.

I can't tell you exactly what type of tasting we were having except that it would be blind.

Each bottle was concealed and uncorked.

As the wine flowed, we spent time catching up. I took the opportunity to ask the expert.
"Jackie, in the South, is saying 'Bless your heart' a mean thing?" 
"Yeah, it can be," she said.
"So if you looked at me and said 'Bless your heart,' what would you really be saying?"
"You're an idiot but I love you anyway."

Okay, got it. Kind of like the phrase Ciara and I sometimes say to each other..."You're so pretty." I can definitely see "Bless your heart" coming in quite handy.

Before the type of each wine was revealed, we tried to guess what we were tasting.
Checking the COLOR.

Taking notes.

Ready, Set............................................................SWIRL!

Being relatively new to this wine thing, Jackie was a skeptic.
"Legs? I don't see any legs?"
"Oh Jackie, bless your heart," said Erin.


This was the best picture showing the 'legs' that I got that night. See, just along the top of the red? This wine (and myself)...just proof positive that good things come with short legs.  

We attempted the Fava Bean Slurping Sound.
"Oh no, I dribbled wine down my shirt."
"Oh look, you're right. Well bless your heart."

We tried to keep it a Vertical Tasting, although I think if Jackie had her way,
we'd have all been horizontal before it was over. The less we used the spittoon, the closer we got to horizontal. Funny how that works.

I can tell you in which order the concealed labels were poured and tasted. 
(Concord, Pinot Noir, Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon) 
What I can't tell you is how well we did at guessing which wine was which, before they were revealed. Bless my heart. Someone should have thought to write that down. 

Prior to the tasting, I assumed that the concord would taste noticeably different from the three store-bought wines. Not as smooth. Distinctly homemade. Harsh, perhaps? (We did stomp those grapes with our feet, after all.) But we were all surprised at how much we liked the Concord. Foot-stomping and all.  We all liked it. It was definitely stronger and more tart than the other three. But keep in mind it had only aged four or five months. A very young wine. And a significantly higher alcohol content than the others.

I've said for a long time that Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite wine. I'm not completely positive where this came from but I do have a vague memory of my 40th Birthday, sitting on the outdoor balcony of E.R. Rogers Restaurant (God Rest Her Soul), overlooking the water and drinking a Dirty Mother for old time's sake, hearing someone at the next table order Cabernet Sauvignon. I liked the sound of the name...Cabernet Sauvignon. I just decided it was my favorite. Say it...."Cabernet Sauvignon." It's so fun. So french. And when I say it, my face makes this goofy expression with a little nose-crinkle and lip-curl at the end. I've enjoyed ordering it for years. Just for the name.

Hey Wine Snobs, don't judge me! If people can love a wine because of its snooty-bootie floral bouquet, I can love one because of how fun it is to say the name. Shut up.

Before we started, I'd have guessed that my order of preference would be...
  1. Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. Pinot Noir
  3. Shiraz 
  4. Concord

But instead, the cabbie was not the best. I'm as shocked as you are. The Shiraz tasted better and easily grabbed my First Place. The Pinot was my least. (In fact, I didn't like it at all.) The Cabernet and Concord were very close for second and third. This outcome was slightly disappointing as Shiraz will not be nearly as fun to order.

Kay's favorite was also the Shiraz. Erin like the Cabernet best. Ciara really preferred the Pinot Noir. Eph, I believe, chose the Concord. Jack, wouldn't commit. 

What I learned about the art and chemistry of food pairings came as a real surprise to me. 

There's a lot to read about Wine and Food Pairings. But we didn't really follow any strict recommendations.  I had some classic wine-friendly foods (according to the Internet) available on the table near by and let people pair as they chose.

Buffet included:
Artisan breads and crackers.
A variety of cheeses:
Sharp Cheddar, Provolone, Havarti, Goat and Baby Swiss.
Stone Ground mustard.
Walnuts. Figs.
Dark Chocolate.

I've always loved wine with cheese, crackers & bread. But I am not a walnut fan, at all. The research, however, suggested walnuts specifically with the heartier red wines. So I tried, and I loved them with the Cabernet.

I also really liked the stone ground mustard with sharp cheddar, crackers and the concord wine. All very strong flavors, they worked really well together. Not knowing one from the other, the mustard I happen to pick up was Inglehoffer Full Strength Stone Ground. Now, I find myself putting it on everything and wondering "Where have you been all my life?"

And figs. Who knew? I had never had figs before. At least figs, straight-up. (Meaning, not as the filling of a popular cookie.) I can't remember what possessed me, but I swiped some goat cheese on a fig and tried it with a sip of Shiraz. Holy crow. This might be my brand new favorite thing.

Turns out I was a wine/food pairing skeptic but I'm a believer now. It makes a huge difference. 

There were no white wines in the Official New Thing Wine Tasting, but Kay, in her default generosity, brought along a bottle of Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay. Jackie felt very strongly that we should try it as well. "It would be rude not to!" Well, okay. If you insist.
And Jackie finally found her favorite, bless her heart. Good thing, we uncorked that one.

After the tasting,
we switched to dark roast coffee and chocolate ganache cake.

Apparently someone took a swipe of the frosting with her finger before anyone arrived. 
I don't know what you're talking about.

We had the best time. Hosting a Wine Tasting was a great New Thing! Even so, when it comes to wine, I don't like all the snobby, pretentious energy behind wine connoisseur-ship. I just want to enjoy the wine. Drink something that tastes good. I want to order a glass because of the cool winery name. Pick up a bottle because of its great, eye-catching label. Or, as I've already covered, how much fun it is simply saying the name.

I can love wine. Red wines and sparkling whites especially, without digging into why I like them. Whether the grapes were grown on the north or the west side of the valley. Whether it was a dry or a wet year. I have no tolerance for all that vintage foreplay people like to get into.

New Things sometimes hold a distinction all their own:
  • Most profound? 
    • #8 - September 11th Memorial
  • Most frightening? 
    • #3 - Riding Autocross
  • Most messy? 
    • #7 - Changing oil in my car
  • Most smack-down with barnyard animals?  
    • #11 - Sheep Wrangling

Most laughter?  #20 - Wine Tasting
We laughed until no sound escaped our lips. And at the top of our lungs. Eyes watering, stomach muscles aching, difficulty catching our breath. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. Oh wait...I can: with my family! One joke snowballing into the next. My favorite was the "Cabernet Savant" bit. There was also a good deal of "Bless your heart" going on in my house." It was glorious! 

I want  Exceptional Cousin Credit (it is so a real thing!) here for not posting the picture of Erin lapping the wine with her tongue as it's being poured into her glass. Bless her heart. I love you so much, Erin, that I won't even mention it here. That's just the kind of loyal person I am...

I've never hosted a Wine Tasting. And for the record, I've never even been to a wine tasting. When I think about how behind I am with the New Things & the blogging, I'm warning you now that I'm not above calling that a New Thing at the last hour. Not really, I'd never do such a thing. Probably.

As I'm writing now, it just dawned on me that I failed to pay attention to the year of each wine. Except for the 14th New Thing Label 2012 Concord. A very good year.

20th New Thing ~ Hosting a Wine Tasting

To you, my reader, I say in all sincerity, 
Bless Your Heart, 
(heavy on the love you part).


  1. What a cool way to celebrate the Concord. I am really glad it didn't end up on the bottom. I hear that making wine is a tricky thing. Congrats on a good batch!

  2. Thanks, Darcy. The next time you're out, let's share a bottle! ~ B