Hipper than Thou Know…A Moment of Reckoning by guest blogger Scott H. Smith

Well hello strangers! Long time no cheap whining. I must apologize profusely for abandoning you, my beloved audience, but I can explain…are you ready? Top 10 reasons I went on a year hiatus (or possibly longer?)

10. I gained over 25lbs drinking cheap wine for 3years and had to stop before I ended up needing gastric bypass surgery.

9. I got a freaking real job because I couldn’t figure out how to monetize my cheap wine blog.

8. I wasn’t a popular blogger – I failed to get an impressive number of followers. Of course my followers are the smartest, most sophisticated, loyal and erudite of all followers. One cannot amass millions of followers of that caliber – they simply do not exist! I keep telling myself.

7. I became insanely jealous of new wine bloggers who instantly got 100k+ followers (damn, even my favorite blogger buddies took years to get there) and then a social media expert told me followers can be bought. My will to swill was crushed.

6. I moved from Sonoma to LA due to work – I know, I know, pitiful.

5. I moved away from all my drinking buddies. (Just give it time, I’ll find more.)

4. Everyone in LA is sober or in recovery and now faced to drink alone, soon will I.

3. I decided to start a cartoon Who’s Counting? @bylmaxwell Twitter/Instagram and whoscountingbylmaxwell.com I now draw myself drinking wine.


2. I could only find 5 good cheap wines – so I ran out of wines to write about. Someday I’ll share the list.

And finally, the #1. reason….I like expensive wine.

There you have it. I’ve poured my heart out. Im sure you are getting the feels after my sob story but no fret. I’m dipping back into the vat with a guest blogger. Huh? Who? What the…

A man who needs no introduction, Scott H. Smith is a friend, colleague, fantastic writer and humorist. I’m very honored to have him contribute to this post. Take it away Scotty….

Why thank you Comtesse…It was never my intention to hijack a blog, but somebody had to. Amid the inspired reflections, the spirit of exuberance, and the sound advice that constitute the vast majority of this site, there exists a fallacy. It is the kind of bogus poppycock that can be at once debunked by its surroundings, yet for some odd reason my friend insists on perpetuating the myth. If you’re an avid follower of hers, as I am, then you most likely have already thrust an index finger skyward and exclaimed, “I know that fallacy!” But in the event you are a Cheap Wine Curious neophyte, I’ll let you in on a little secret: the Comtesse thinks she’s square.

“Say what?” you undoubtedly ask, given that she kicks it in Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic, hangs with shimmering socialites in the sun, and embraces only those giant butts that are artistically relevant. Solving such a riddle would require a deep-space exploration into the human psyche, however I’ll go out on a limb and speculate that the Comtesse occasionally equates hip with youth. Thus, it is my hope that by turning our gaze to a brand of wine successfully targeted to the Younger Generation, my good friend will come to see herself for that which she is: a purveyor of the new and the now. Because while it is true that she isn’t covered from head-to-toe in ink, and the color of her hair is more real than magenta, she is ultimately the shiznit. Assuming the kids still say “shiznit.”

Millennialing About

Marketers might see a wine-loving generation ripe for the picking, but Beth Liston just wants to have fun. According to the thirty-something winemaker behind E. & J. Gallo’s Dark Horse brand, Millennials – who studies have shown are indeed experimental – have no preconceived notions about what makes a great wine. That’s given her a green light to toss out the rulebook and go delectably rogue, sourcing fruit from all over and reeling in arcane varietals that are hitting a bulls-eye with tomorrow’s premium consumers. The result is an assortment of wines bold in flavor, smooth in balance, and deceptively affordable, making this Modesto, CA, label appealing to both the young and young at heart.

D0FF47D1-F4D3-47B3-8056-39C90D4A6FC8Dark Horse Merlot

Fueled by California sunshine, this coalescence of Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Dornfelder grapes utilizes Beth’s method of back blending, which adds in unique varietals prior to finalizing the wine. Precision French oak aging creates hints of toasted oak and warm spice, culminating in a plush finish that pairs well with everything from meats to mushrooms. Our taster – the lovely and talented Lisa (my wife) – right away noticed the tannins and found the product to be a bit on the drier side. Then a jolt of robust cherry and chocolate flavors hit her, and it became immediately apparent that the kids might be on to something.

Dark Horse Pinot Noir

Sporting a velvety smooth fruit balance typically reserved for pricier Pinots, Dark Horse’s Pinot Noir melds cutting-edge methods with Pinot grapes sourced from California’s Central Coast. Rapid sur lie aging, a pricey technique that Beth has perfected at a reasonable cost, creates an almost creamy wave of flavor, and back blending in Grenache and Gewürztraminer varietals produces notes of rose petal and lavender. Hot fermentation results in softer edges that make for easy sipping, and the final product is a laid-back wine that complements absolutely everything. “Smooth, earthy, with a hint of berry,” noted Lisa with a gleam in her eye that screamed, “Hey, I just found a kick-ass Pinot that won’t break the bank!”

Dark Horse Zinfandel (Limited Release)

Ready for round three, my wife placed the glass of Dark Horse Zinfandel to her lips, sipped the robustly fragrant liquid, and pondered. Observing spicy notes of cinnamon, she savored the rich flavor, which was again the product of Ms. Liston’s innovative techniques. “Ahhh,” said Lisa. “Tasty.” Known for its medium body and soft-textured hints of jam, this is a wine that displays little tannin and low acidity, and you’ll find that it pairs particularly well with most meats. In addition to its definitive berry bent, some have noted a smokiness, though this didn’t appear to be immediately apparent to our taster. What was apparent, however, was that it was damn good.

According to Google, the informal use of “square” describes a person considered to be old-fashioned or boringly conventional in attitude or behavior, and synonyms include “fogey,” “bourgeois,” and “fossil.” Validating this is The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which defines square as “a person who is conventional or conservative in taste or way of life.” A quick glance through Mrs. Maxwell’s blog entries confirms that she is most certainly not square, however in the event that she remains unconvinced, perhaps it’s time for the Comtesse to grab a glass of Dark Horse, peruse Pitchfork’s list of “Best New Music,” and then move to Brooklyn. Assuming the kids are still flocking to Brooklyn.

Smiles for Miles!

With a sheepish grin, I present my entry in the 28th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC28. To my chagrin, my Napa neighbor, fancy drinking buddy and the reigning #MWWC27 champion, @travelwinechick, chose the theme “SMILE.” Feeling inspired, I was coaxed out of my hiatus to bring you this treatise. Too many smiles to share, far too many words to write. I apologize in advance for the mental whiplash you may endure from my litany of reasons to smile.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not a disciple of the Marie Antoinette school of Philosophy and Moral Consciousness. I do contemplate the ills of the world everyday, as I’m sure you all do. And when that tsunami of helplessness, guilt, fear, and anger washes over me, I often find myself shipwrecked on the island of despair…which happens to be near my fridge. But look! The plane, the plane, here comes wine to the rescue. Fridge opens, corks pop, glasses clink, salutations and smiles all around…even when I’m imbibing solo. Self medicating? Escapism? Nonsense.

Like many a bon vivant, I am a sucker for temporal motivation – the theory that motivation is heavily influenced by time. If the idiom holds true that life is too short, then it is our duty to do everything within our power to enjoy it immediately. Even more so if you have been blessed with the opportunities and freedoms in this lifetime to do so.

Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting you sell the house, mortgage the children and let it all ride on red…that would be fun but impractical. I’m merely insisting you get out of a rut, turn off the news, call over a somewhat likeable neighbor and open that bottle you thought you were saving for a special occasion. Today is special. Open that bottle and pour. Maintenant!

Here are a few of my favorite things that make me smile…..they are not in chronological order and they are mostly pictures for posts I thought I would write months ago:

Bubbles under $10 make me smile.
My latest and greatest find under $10 is this bottle of Chardonnay Prosecco simply called Italian Bubbles. Light, crisp and very effervescent, it is a delightful bargain commonly priced between $8.99-$10.99. You can find a retailer near you on wine searcher.


Love makes me smile.
I had the good fortune to be invited to the beautiful wedding of very dear friends this past September. It was a special and intimate event held in the verdant hamlet of Monte Rio along the Russian River. Great food with delicious vegan options were paired with fantastic wines – too many for me to recall as I was thoroughly enjoying the moment. When the evening Pacific breeze rolled in from the coast, guests were offered cozy blankets and seats next to a wood burning fire. Filled with love and incredibly hip, most guests had dietary preferences as diverse as their sexuality. And I thought I was being avant garde by proclaiming my rekindled love for Merlot. Always surprising, squares like me greatly appreciate the San Francisco vanguard.

Harvey Nichols makes me smile, ka-ching.
On a recent business trip to London, I stole 2 hours to admire the fancy goods at Harvey Nichols, the London luxury department store that offers designer fashion, beauty, food & wine. Harvey Nicks is a very dangerous place for those of us who are impulse control impaired. Never fear, BREXIT is here. With the £ down and the dollar up, Americans can actually buy something without regret. I was visiting friends and decided to buy them a lovely Gavi and have it wrapped up by my helpful wine merchant, Emmanuele. As a transplanted Italian, he approved of my selection but encouraged me to take a look around at some of the pricier rare vintages displayed. I marveled and then resigned myself to the £21.00 Gavi. Sadly, I never had the chance to taste it as my wino friends had already opened several bottles of wine by the time I arrived. Alas alack, I was deeply obligated to imbibe their countless cellar picks. Shame.

Barbapapa makes me smile…even though I don’t know why.
I was at a fanciful trade show and bumped into this friendly blob. I immediately had to snuggle it. Why was I so drawn to its amorphous shape, kindly eyes, wide thin smile, snake bite of a nose? Well this was the very famous and wildly popular children’s character Barbapapa. As his site explains: “He is always ready to help. His goodwill is inexhaustible.” I think my thirst is inexhaustible and he triggers me to find a good rosé. Ah-ha case closed.


Wine Makers make me smile.
Humble, wise, grounded and generous, I have yet to meet a wine maker I don’t only admire for their talent, but for who they are as a person. Ok, ok, maybe I’m making sweeping generalizations and maybe somewhere there is a bad apple, but in my 3 years as a blogger with a few tastings in my notebook, I must say, I remain optimistic. Wine makers don’t only make great juice, they are also really cool people.

Bob Blue epitomizes my exact sentiment. Bob received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Drinks Business Green Awards 2014. The award recognizes Blue for his 25-year commitment to the highest standards of organic viticulture. Besides being an amazing wine maker, he is a steward of the pristine natural environment of Mendocino county and the air, water and soil that make these fantastic wines possible.I was particularly enamored with their “Gew” which has been grown for the past 30 years in the foggy Central Coast vineyards that bring a good Gewürztraminer to life. Honeyed apricots, stone fruit and not too sweet, I love the fresh floral and fruit flavors that make this wine a great pick for Thanksgiving. The Fetzer Shaly Loam Gewürztraminer can be found at most retailers on winesearcher.com for UNDER $8.00 – yeah, smile worthy for sure.

Fetzer Vineyards has been a pioneer in sustainable practices for decades with a long list of achievements that include: The first California winery to operate on 100% renewable energy in 1999, the first wine company to publicly report greenhouse gas emissions with the Climate Registry in 2005, the first Zero Waste certified wine company in the world in 2014, and the largest organic wine grape grower in the U.S. certified by CCOF. This latest luncheon I attended was to announce their B Corp certification, the highest standard for social and environmental responsibility in business. And over achievers that they are, Fetter is going above and beyond its history of sustainability toward creating a positive impact in the environment and in our communities. Hey, with all that is wrong in the world, it feels good to know that a company of this scale is doing more than enough good.

James Hall is the winemaker at one of my all time favorite wineries. I have yet to taste a Patz & Hall wine I didn’t love and I have never left their beautiful winery without buying a few bottles. James rode into the barrel room for our tasting on his white country cruising bike, basket in the front and rack in the back. Immediately, I knew this guy lived his craft, followed his passions and materialized his dreams as fluidly as he cruised around the facilities on his bike as if he were going on a picnic. For more than 30 years, James has crafted artisan, single-vineyard, small-lot production wines for which Patz & Hall has become famous for as a Sonoma destination. I was a guest of Patz & Hall aficionados and #sonomachat partners in crime @amylieberfarb and @SLHousman. Selfie smiles were all around. My fave that day – Moses Hall 2013 Pinot Noir Carneros. I left with 3 bottles. Only one survived  the week after..but not for long.

First Class Service makes me smile.
Invited by my well connected friend Elizabeth @travelwinechick, I had the unique opportunity to enjoy a private tasting at Ehlers Estate in the lovely Napa Valley with my favorite wine host and educator Bradley. When I saw my name on the slate with my very own lounge area and gift bag, I admit that I loved the royal treatment. Moreover, their 2014 Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rosé is DIVINE! This luxurious wine was recommended by Fortune magazine as one of the top 5 rosés to drink this last summer. The neon pink color is arresting, the first sip of rich fruit and bright, beautifully balanced body with a short but satisfying finish is all I need any time of year. Bravo! It’s a splurgy good buy at $28.00, ehlersestate.com Get yourself some of that #ehlerslove !

Of course Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic makes me smile, especially in my sleep. Nothing is better than a 10 hour transatlantic flight that comes with unlimited Champagne and a seat that folds down into a bed. Hey now, don’t hate the player, hate the game.


Parties make me smile…in moderation.
Let me tell you, I’m a lightweight and although I enjoy my beverages, sometimes I enjoy them more than I should. Here I am at the illustrious Red and White Ball Fundraiser for Sonoma Valley Schools with Laurie Galleon, the Mayor of Sonoma. If you didn’t notice, the theme is red and white and by the end of the evening, I barely noticed. So many great vintners were pouring that night I was happy I lived within stumbling distance.

Below, you’ll see me at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in bountiful Lodi California. Can you spot all the celebrities I had the good fortune to get a photo op with? I won’t go spreading rumors, but let’s just say, I didn’t get an invite to the “after” pool party at “the ranch.” Again, I’m a square. I brought my husband and my son so they could sit in a clandestine motel room on the wrong side of town watching cable until I called them to pick me up. While I was brushing my teeth, taking Advil and dousing my liver with water, these party people were reveling at a bacchanal love-in. I’m not one to gossip, I’m only sharing some highlights of the event that were shared with me by someone who knew someone who was supposedly at the afterparty. This definitely made me smile.

Spaaahhhhhhhs make me smile for many reasons.
Who doesn’t love a spa day other than the people working at the spa? The locals discount  at the Sonoma Mission Inn is a day pass to the facility for only $50. This allowed me and 30 of my friends to spend all day until they threw us out. Definitely worth the money.  I always enjoy a Salad Nicoise and a bottle of Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose by the pool. Take a stroll around the grounds and watch the awkward entanglements of guests in the Watsu® pool. I’ve never seen a noodle utilized like that but I’m sure it’s relaxing…..ok now I’m feeling guilty about taking that picture of those hapless guests in compromising positions. Keep it to yourself.

Tasting Lodi wines while a cat puurrrrves out on a shoe makes me smile….
I can’t think of a better pairing. Not much more to share here. It’s quite obvious.

Art makes me smile…because I’m juvenile.

My parting shot at making you smile involves the esteemed world of art. Every year the Tate gallery awards up and coming British artists the prize which is named after the English painter J. M. W. Turner, one of the most historically renown and prolific British artists. The annual prize is presented to British visual artists under the tender age of 50 and is staged at Tate Britain. Since 1984, this honor has become the UK’s most infamous art award. Yes, that is a giant butt. Anthea Hamilton’s work combines surrealism, comedy and uncompromising sexual imagery and she is one of the winners of the 2016 Turner Prize. Yes, that is a giant butt. Coincidentally, the exhibit is next to this seedy pub called A Hole In The Wall. Yes, that is a giant butt. Need I say more? So go on now, pop a cork and crack a smile.

Stay curious!


Wine Flight

IMG_2048Welcome aboard! Fasten your seat belts and secure your belongings. Before taking off, I would like to share some announcements about our flight. First, I had the great honor of selecting the theme “travel” after winning the #MWWC24, which was a lovely surprise. Thanks to all who voted for my post and continue to encourage my jack-assery. Secondly, some passengers may consider this theme broad and possibly unimaginative, but I selfishly stuck with it because of my enchantment with those tiny, precious bottles of wine served on airplane flights. A recent spate of coast to coast “travel” fueled me to share my inflight wine experiences. Not only has this been an idle curiosity of mine, but ultimately it should be useful information. After all, I am a pragmatic wino. Lastly, please remain seated as there could be some turbulence in my wine reviews. I may have taken my low standards even lower as I came to realize that a captive audience of strangers on a 6 hour fun ride at 39,000 feet will drink just about anything. There was no recourse and it was far too late to change our theme from “travel” to “vodka.” Nah zda-rovh-yeh!


VOTE by clicking HERE

Virgin America SFO to PSP
Bottega Gold Prosecco, Valdobbiadene (Veneto), Italy  $8.50/20cl Mini Bottle

My flight from SF to Palm Springs was short and uneventful. However, I cringed thinking of what was on the wine list. I had committed myself to tasting at least one wine per leg of my itinerary. After perusing my touch screen menu, I was pleasantly surprised with the offering. Being budget conscious (and sadly not drinking gratis in Business Class,) I decided to try the Bottega Gold Prosecco.

When in doubt my fearless flyers, get the bubbles. How bad could it be? And Prosecco mitigates further risk of gag-reflex due to the protective veil of bubbles and pleasantly high sugar content. This beauty did not disappoint.

Presentation was very chic for a single serve wine. I found the cap very clever – screw top but molded to look like a caged cork – clever! Nose was apricot, grapefruit and the first sip very citrusy, green apple, surprisingly dry, mousse copious and very effervescent for a Prosecco. Ok, the finish was a little bitter – this happens with some Cavas and Proseccos. Although the finish was abrupt, it didn’t ruin the overall enjoyment, it’s just a little reminder that you are drinking Prosecco on a plane and not Champagne in a Chateau. After all, we are in economy class and I’m just happy to have an aisle seat.  Rated an enthusiastic buy again!


The wine list was impressive for my low standards. I think I made the right choice passing on the splurgier picks and the “One-Hope” Cabernet, which I found to be rather pessimistic.

American Airlines SFO to JFK

Fruit and Cheese Plate, $8.79 
Fresh fruit served with Brie, Cheddar, Dill Havarti and Muenster cheese. Served with gourmet crackers.


Like them or not, I’m an avid American Airlines traveler, I want to keep my status, so they have my loyalty. I am just a couple of thousand miles shy of being a million miler. Not that it means much, but I’m hell bent on hitting that milestone one cheese plate at a time.

I NEVER order wine. It is too sketchy. But for you my fabulous followers, I did the deed. I manned-up and got myself a bottle of economy class white and main cabin red. I will be polite, but after my brief tasting, I tried to pass it off to the kid sitting next to me until she said she wasn’t old enough to drink. I then turned my head to the Chatty Cathies behind me and they gladly took the swill, tapered their conversation and fell asleep. 2 problems solved. Net-net? I’m glad I was able to savor the moment with the fresh flavors of my American Airlines cheese plate. I’ll take two more and a vodka.

La Noria, Villa Noria, Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc, Vino d’España, $8.00/187ml
Pineapple, first sip, peach, ripe apricot, hot alcohol and slight bitterness on the finish, lingers on the back of your throat with a little honey suckle and lemon rind. Rated politely drinkable. Pairs well with crying babies and chatty neighbors when imbibed copiously.


Orquestra, Felix Solis, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vino d’España $8.00/187ml
Grapey nose, tannins, Rioja, short finish of wet stone, not much fruit, dry, could taste and feel the alcohol. Mouthfeel was not smooth and creamy or rich and bold it was wet stone, asphalt, thin. Rated drinkable in times of horrific turbulence, a bird hit or when lightening strikes the engine and fills the cabin with smoke. Remember, serve yourself before you serve others. JuiceboxOxygenMask copy

Well, I am certain my experience is merely a product of my destiny. When I researched what first and business class were drinking it was very respectable, if not downright despicable to those of us who fly economy. But I’ll let you be the judge….I’ve included the American Airlines wine list for your perusal. AAWineList


bridesmaids plane-2

But for now, please return to your seats, put your seat in upright position, lock your tray tables and store your items safely below the seat in front of you. The attendants will be coming through the cabin to collect any garbage and recyclables. Please refrain from digging in the first class cabin trash for any remaining drops of Roderer Brut Vintage Champagne. Although it is not considered an FAA offense punishable by law, it is still absolutely appalling behavior. Just be grateful that you are permitted to breathe the same recycled air as those in the upper classes. Thank you for flying the thirsty skies. Buh, bye.

Stay curious!


Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #24–The Results

It is with my sincerest gratitude that I accept the honor of winning this month’s wine writing challenge #MWWC24. I thank everyone who voted for their support, appreciation and questionable judgement. I’ll take what I can get, I’m not one to admonish those who vote under the influence, especially if it improves my chances.

I was in very good company, the competition was steep, so admittedly, this was a pleasant surprise. Then again, this month’s theme is a subject I’m well acquainted with and the “pleasure” was all mine!

I will be pondering the choice of next month’s theme. I promise to keep it interesting.

Stay curious!

the drunken cyclist

The results are inIt is that time once again, time to announce the results of this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. In all this month, there were 14 eligible entries for the theme “Pleasure” which was supplied by last month’s winner, Ted of The Drunken Cyclist.

As I mentioned at the time of the vote, the number of entries almost doubled in the last 12 hours or so before the deadline for submission, which proved once again that we bloggers can procrastinate with the best of them! The voting this month was extremely close, with four posts within a handful of votes and it was not until late last night that a winner emerged.

So without any further ado…

And-the-Winner-IsCheap Wine Curious

Congratulations to Loie, another multiple winner of the Challenge

As winner of the Challenge, Loie is now responsible for choosing next month’s theme, and if her choice of themes follows her pattern of submitting…

View original post 43 more words

Wine Clubbing Weekend


Cheers to wine clubbing! Photo by Rachel, friend of clubber @travelwinechick , and retouched usung the coolest app Snapseed.

Hello there! Do you indulge yourself with a little wine clubbing? Does membership have its privileges? Are you thrilled with your shipment or dazzled by your pick-up? These are all thoughts to consider when making the decision about joining a wine club. 

Before Snapseed…


After Snapseed….whoa! Trippy, man.

 I know how fortunate I am to have several fabulous wineries within close proximity to research (Patz & Hall, Gloria Ferrer, Buena Vista, Hamel, Cuvasion, Artessa, Gundlach Bundschu and just in my neighborhood!) and research, and research, and research. And after a little more research, it soon became a reactive, emotional decision. I didn’t dip in my toe – I immediately jumped into the vat! I joined the most fabulous, most expensive, chicest wine club I saw. It was love at first sight. The architecture, the view, the food program. All exceptional. Oh, how good was the wine? Sure, I loved the single vineyard unoaked Chard. The Pinots were “nice”and the sparkling Blanc des Blancs was a delight. The staff was well informed and lovely, the attitude of the members, variable. Sadly, wine clubs tend to magnetize entitled douche bags but if the space is grand enough, you can dodge them or be seated so they do not obstruct your view. I wish they asked your preference of douche bag or non douche bag seating (like smoking, non smoking back in the day) but sadly, don’t join a wine club if you can’t suffer a few douches.(I’m beginning to sound like a staunch proponent for out-moded feminine hygiene) I digress – but this is a serious factor to consider. Other than excellent wine, all around kindness and civility with a healthy dose of frivolity is requisite for this clubber.


No douches here! Except that lady behind us discussing how she shot a Lion on Safari in Africa. we had our backs to her, all good.

So, I fell out of love with my club. It was too far. Too expensive. High douche factor. The beauty and the wine could not hold my interest. I strayed, and I liked it. In fact, I had already joined the other club, I was a wine list adulteress. I needed to end this charade.

My official departure was an ackward long goodbye. My allotment was auto-purchased although I had already informed them I was leaving weeks before. Oopsie. After a few teidious exchanges I was reimbursed. I reassured them I did not want to suspend my membership, I wanted to cancel it. Valerie, the loveliest winery concierge ever, expressed she was sad to see me go, that I was one of her favorite members because I was so nice and “cheerful.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I read her email, how could I leave Valerie to the douchie wine-wolves! (I can’t call them snobs as most snobs I know actually are more disheveled and bookish and put their money in wine and travel not Rolexes and Teslas. Am I being a snob about snobs?) Well, I felt much better about leaving Valerie to fend for herself after seeing my allotment credited on my bill. I’m sure she says that to all her departing guests. Bon chance Valerie. 

My parting advice on joining a wine club:

1. Love the wine – really, really, really love it. It’s actually the point of joining a wine club in the first place.

2. Sniff out the douche factor, calibrate your tolerance and if you happen to be a douche, you are probably in the right place unless it’s my wine club.

3. Is the club room accessible, totally fabulous, expanse enough that reservations are easy?  Is the space comfortable for members at full capacity? You should never feel like you have been relegated to coach class and stuck in the center seat while tasting your flight. 

4. How is the view? The architecture? The hospitality? Are the parties divine? Return to point number one. These  alterior “experiences” can be an utter distraction if point number one is not undeniably true.  

 Many of you may be members of an online wine club and never visit your winery but for a handful of times, if ever. I applaud you for stocking your cellars while saving gas and lessening your carbon footprint. Furthermore, enjoying your wine sans douchebags is the ultimate luxury. 

Stay curious,


Mixing Business with Pleasure

It’s that time of the month again – Monthly Wine Writing Challenge! And the theme chosen by the winner of last month, Ted from the Drunken Cyclist, is “pleasure” so enough of the preamble and on with the innuendo…


Click here to VOTE!  or go to mwwcblog.wordpress.com


Everyone has a day job. Some enjoy theirs more than others. Quite the understatement as the continuum of job satisfaction is broad and the reasons why infinite. One of the greatest pleasures one can derive from life other than the relationships you establish with family and friends, is building a purposeful career in a field that you are passionate about. I have had the good fortune to be inspired by close friends who have connected their passions with a purpose.

Some people struggle to do so, others fall into it quite easily (lucky bastards!) I especially commend those with the courage to pull the rip cord and jump regardless of what others think, say or envy of their ambitions. Redirection of one’s career comes with the deepest of fears. Failure, disparity of income, angry spouses, pleading parents who incessantly beg you to try dental school one more time. Chasing the dream can sometimes be a hellish nightmare, but when the net disappears, whether you free-fall or fly, you will feel the sheer pleasure and thrill of freedom.

Good news for us winos, there is a myriad of business to be had in this field. Those I have met in the business along my path are the most passionate, engaged and inspiring people I have ever encountered. Many decided at one point in time to ditch the day job as chemical engineers, school teachers, police officers, travel agents, hedge fund managers to make wine their life’s work.

I don’t suggest you run derelict of all your responsibilities to catch the next Greyhound to Napa, but if you believe there is a chance, a window, a slight possibility, I suggest you seriously daydrink daydream about it upon opening your next bottle.
I recently had the opportunity to mix business with pleasure while beating the bushes in NYC. I have done business there countless times, but this was the first time I actually had an open agenda to reconnect with East Coast colleagues, push my booze (Mezcal to be specific) and peruse tech incubators. I also indulged in parties, theater, restaurants, a little shopping and the beauty of New York in Springtime.

My dear friend Stephanie Lake PhD, had a fabulous launch at  Rizzoli, for her book Bonnie Cashin: Chic is Where You Find It. A highly praised book on the founding designer of Coach and one of the most influential and iconic American fashion designers you never heard about. Truly one of the greatest untold stories of the last century. Bravo Stephanie. Of course we drank Champagne in honor of the occasion. Alas, I didn’t get a glimpse of the label. Quel dommage.

IMG_1737I had the unique opportunity to set up shop (laptop, iPhone, lip gloss and Mezcal) at the office of friend, power broker and tech start-up CEO Jane Barratt. She offices her company Gold Bean (a securities trading tool for new investors) in a FinTech (truncation of Finance Technology if you want to talk like the cool kids) incubator, funded by Barclays. If this befuddles you, Google what I just wrote if you are the least bit interested. It’s inconsequential in contrast to our primary agenda: the wine selection for Jane’s cocktail party that evening. So we ventured over to Eataly to peruse the wine shop.

Eataly was originally a group of gourmet food boutiques in Europe until the B&B Hospitality Group, key partners include celeb chefs Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich, brought it to New York. With the resounding success in NYC, comes more stores in Chicago and LA. It’s a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Go, please, I beg of you, por favore.

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Please read Eataly’s “manifesto” by clicking here or on the image – it is inspiring and makes you love what they do even more. (Lucky bastards.)

I soon found out the shop only carried Italian wines. Duh.I feel perfectly comfortable selecting California, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chilean, Argentinian and Washington wines. Ok, I confess, I am Italian wine illiterate, at best remedial. When in doubt, ask the merchant! Here are his recommendations, albeit, I will take credit for suggesting a Campari or Aperol and soda with a twist as an apertivo. I know my Italian liquors very well thank you. Jane’s only request, stick within a budget. Well, that rule I can abide by!


2011 Nino Negri Quadrio, Valtellina Superiore DOCG, Italy $14.95 Predominantly Nebbiolo with a small amount of Merlot, this blend is a great value as it is a a rich, full bodied red with a dark garnet-red color.  Nose is berry and floral, raspberry and roses, with an herbal notes. First sip, it is tart, fruity with lingering tannins. You’ll also pick up some toasty oak. Enjoyable, and rated buy again – although it’s a splurgy good buy as it is over my limit of $10. Live a little.

Sono Montenidoli Tradizionale, Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, Italy $13.99 I read up on this maker and they have an intriguing story, click here for more details as I will not do it justice in my hasty review. Great white, pale yellow, light nose, rich on the palate, with a firm dry finish. This white is perfectly paired with Mediterranean dishes, roasted fish, lemony citrus on all kinds of seafood and I think it would pair nicely with sushi. It is a pleasant wine and one I would consider on occasion over the typical choices of Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc or a Vinho Verde. Rated guestworthy!

Caparzo Sangiovese 2014 from Tuscany, Italy $14.99 Ruby red color with an intense and fruity bouquet. Spicy with cherries, raspberry and vanilla rounding out with a nice lasting finish. Of all Italian wines, I do enjoy a flavorful Sangioveses and it’s my safe word when indulging in the pleasure of an Italian wine list. Of course, I enjoy this wine with spaghetti and bolognese – perfecto!

Non sequitor alert…..Of course one of the finest pleasures in life is ramen. If you are a ramen-phile like myself, you seek out the darkest, dingiest, smallest, clandestinely communal hole in the wall places where you will wait 45minutes to 1 hour in line with all the other aficionados to slurp up a bowl of that brothy, chewy, spicy, flavor-packed, salty, fatty goodness your body craves. A friend took me to Totto Ramen house in the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen (no pun intended as ramen shops are notoriously hot, steamy and as I mentioned, the lines are hell.) I dare you to go, you will become an addicted fiend like the rest of us. I promise.

After an indulgent ramen gorge, what could best aid in digestion? A foot rub of course. Conveniently across the street was a seedy, questionable and very A-typical Chinese foot and back massage “practice.” My white-guy former work colleague was taken aback and refused my offer to pay for his $15 15min chair massage. More for me! I can’t say it was truly a pleasure as my masseuse had just returned from an aromatic smoke break and his technique possibly fractured my C4 and C5. I failed to remember the Cantonese safe word, so I just whimpered away.

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I wouldn’t go in there if I were you ladies, unless you like your back rubs smokey and assaultive. Don’t be lured by the Rub-A-Dub-II-for-one deal.

Had I known that I would be starring in the sequel, Enter the Dragon II : 50 Shades of Black and Blue, I might have considered ordering some Mochi at Totto instead. However, I was consoled knowing my friend would return in 15 minutes. So much for happy endings.

Stay curious!


Like Magic : The Wines I’ve Been Drinking & Reviewing

Spring is here and I’m feeling renewed, refreshed and thirsty. Apple trees are blossoming. The poppies are vibrant. The roses are soaking in the sunshine and much needed rain.  Bottles of wine have magically appeared at my doorstep and I have discovered a few gems.

Before you envy me and my lavish lifestyle as a cheap wine aficionado, take note, this is hard work, especially for my palate. Waaa waa waa, poor me. No seriously, there is a special place in hell for cheap wine reviewers. You get a pauper’s ransom in cheap ass wine. Some is brutal swill. To be more truthful, most are blech! 98% of all the wines I recommend are ones I’ve precariously selected and bought myself. But when I receive a sample from a winemaker that is delish, well, hey ho, it’s payday. Oh yeah, I only get paid in wine, good or bad.



Everyday feels like beach day when sipping on Albariño. This wine is perfect paired with scallops, prawns, garlicky shrimp. Bright, citrus, lemony with a crisp, even, dry finish, this delightful wine will finish your last bite of wood plank grilled salmon perfectly. And for that, I rate this wine a buy again!

I was rather impressed and the winemaker, Katia Alvarez sent a lovely note about her vintage. Founded more than 25 years ago by 50 local farmers in the Galica region of northwest Spain, today Martin Códax is now supported by more than 550 families and cooperatives. The winery is located in the historic city of Cambados in the heart of the Salnés Valley and the birthplace of Albariño. Coastal wet climate, steep grades, and granitic vineyards make this grape produce aromatic and medium bodied wines. In ancient times, the trade of shells from the harvests of the sea were deposited throughout the coastal regions. The shell deposits can still be found in the vineyards today and the calcium brings a perfect balance of pH to the soil.

Fun fact: Martin Codax, the character who this winery is named after, was one of the most important medieval Galician troubadours. His ballads, the oldest in Galician-Portuguese, extol his love and passion for the sea. Hey, you had me at garlicky shrimp.


‘Cantigas de Amigo’ is a 13c. manuscript by the namesake of this winery, Martin Códax. I think ‘Cantigas de Amigo’ would also be a great name and menu design for a restaurant that served garlicky shrimp, grilled squid, pan seared scallops accompanied by bottles and bottles of chilled Albariño.



Well, what can I say, I forgot to shoot this wine because I was enjoying it to the point of utter dereliction. Riveted to the telly watching the fireworks of the US presidential elections can throw anyone off their game, but fortunately for me, I had this bottle as consolation. My appreciation to the winemaker and fellow Sonoman Aaron Piotter.


Halloween squirrel terrorises south of England neighborhood. As seen on crazyasabagofhammers.com @robtinbc

The name is intriguing, it is a poetic reference to the Gray Pines dotting the Northern California coastal hillsides. The marine layer can look ominous and obscure the fauna and flora. Hence, the “Ghost Pine.” While driving along windy coastal roads, hapless wildlife can be veiled by the fog as well, but obviously road kill “Ghost Squirrel” is not an appealing name for a fine Pinot Noir. But he’s out there…


First bottle, the Pinot Noir…rated: buy again. Cool ocean breezes and blankets of fog consumed gradually by sunshine are the desirable conditions for Pinot Noir. Both Monterey and Sonoma coasts provide the cool loving environment these grapes require to bring forth the bright flavors and acidic lift that a Pinotfile like myself expects. What I found interesting about this wine was the boldness and intense fruit. Ripe red cherry, pomegranate and lavender with a medium body, baking spice and cocoa finish – a very nice surprise.

Secondi, the Zinfandel rated: guestworthy. The tech sheet on this wine opened with “Ghost Pines knows no boundaries…” well, ok now….easy does it! My readers may be winos, but they are respectable budget conscious people. Possibly God-fearing but likely agnostic.


Well, what my very close future friend Aaron was actually referring to was their focus on the fruit. They look for quality lots in various vineyards and secure the best fruit regardless of AVA. What this has done is create layers and complexities that play to each regions strengths leading to unique flavors and profiles. Although this Zinfandel had the classic profile – bold fruit, jammy, ripe berry with some toasty oak – it also had lovely layered flavors of strawberry, spices and pepper with a long lush finish. I took this bottle of Zin to a dinner with friends at The Fig Cafe in Glenn Ellen.   A local favorite, they famously offer fabulous courses with no corkage. Although bold, this Zin paired perfectly with the fig arrugula salad with chevre, pecans and pancetta drizzled with a port and fig vinaigrette. Even better, my fancy friends were impressed. Mon dieu! One of them was French. When asked where I got this wine of course I told him it magically appeared on my doorstep.

Stay curious!