When I drink wine, people show up

He’s 40ish, Peruvian (maybe), dressed in slouchy indigo jeans and a chambray shirt, standing in broken-in Birkenstocks. And, he is stressed from a recent marital breakup. While this sounds like a person, in actuality, it’s typical of how I describe a wine sometimes. I see people when I taste wine.

Looking back, I think my earliest recollection of describing a person when tasting wine is when I wrote a short piece on amarone and described her as a beautiful woman from Veneto. I suppose others would agree that my attempt to “humanize” amarone was pretty accurate. However, at the time I wrote it, I wasn’t aware of seeing anyone in particular; this was just a creative writing exercise and I just felt like describing amarone that way. But, since then I’ve been increasingly seeing images of people in my mind when I taste wine. Could this be a form of synesthesia?

I’ve told a few people about what I see when I drink wine, just to examine their reactions, and I’ve generally received positive remarks with a little wonder of “is this girl loopy?!@*#” in the backs of their mind. I get it, because rather than coming out with a description like “lemon peel, crushed rock and saline,” my descriptors are “freckle-faced, youthful 15-year-old girl, whose parents own a bakery specializing in fruit tarts.” I  do think it’s rather bizarre and almost embarassing, so and I’ve been banishing this reality for fear that I’d get dismissed as crazy and, you know, scrutinized.

But the reality is, I do see people – from all walks of life, people I’ve never met –  appear when I taste wine.  So I thought, “why not?” Let me just pour my self-conscious thoughts of wackiness (hardly sophisticated like my wine peers) in my personal blog.

So here I was sitting with all these sommeliers at a German riesling tasting last month.  And like a good journalist, I was taking notes of the presentation and describing the flavors and aromas of each wine.  Admittedly, I’m not the best at identifying these things yet, so usually my notes are sparse followed by a number of question marks (still need help with this, friends). Anyway, I was enjoying this lovely tasting and at the end of the hour, I noticed that some of my notes were descriptions of people, not the wine’s flavors and aromas. Stunned by my scribbles, I carefully flipped the page so that nobody else would notice.

A  little nutty, you say? Because I think it is.  And, I really don’t know where this is coming from.  I don’t experience this with other beverages or foods, and I don’t need to have any background on the wine that I’m tasting before someone appears in my mind.  As long as it hits my palette and my olfactories, she/he is there – with a least half the wines I taste.

So when you ask me what I’m tasting and smelling in a wine, I’ll struggle to come up with an acceptable description, like “passion fruit, banana, lemon curd and slightly effervescent…” But, don’t judge when I say she’s is in her mid-40s, tan or olive skin, former surfer, but now mother of three who lives in a beach house provided by her husband who is never, ever home.  Once extremely frustrated, she’s now rejuvenated and resilient, pouring her emotions into her new love – oil paining.  By the way, that was the Pfeffingen Scheurebe Trocken 2016 from Pfalz.  And, yes, she was vividly delicious!

So yeah.

Recipe: English Lavender Chicken

This past Easter, Craig’s aunt, Charlene West, prepared lavender chicken during her stay with us.  For many years, Charlene ran a catering company.  Then, for the past 18 years, she owned a flower shop.  Now retired, it seemed fitting to celebrate her visit with this delightful dish that infuses the essence of English lavender with the common poultry.  It’s deliciously fragrant and very easy to prepare.

RECIPE:
4-5 lavender stalks
8-10 chicken pieces (trim excess fat)
6 cloves of garlic (rough chopped)
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pan and chicken)
salt
pepper
Extra lavender for garnish

Brine chicken in salty water in refrigerator for 24 hours.

Coat the bottom of a 9×13 pan with olive oil.  Tear lavender leaves into pieces. Add chicken, garlic, lavender leaves and flowers, salt and pepper, then coat with more olive oil.  Roast in oven at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until done.

 

Growing up with whisky

Dad loved whisky so much that he named his German Shepherd, Whisky. And when his beloved canine crossed the rainbow bridge, he named the next dog Whisky, too. As you can imagine, I was around Whisky a lot – the dog(s) and his favorite spirit.

As an only child, I was carted around to many social functions with my parents.  Dad was an advertising executive in the 60s and early 70s, working for a mega agency, J. Walter Thompson, out of the Tokyo office. (And if you ever want to know what that lifestyle was like, just watch an episode of Mad Men.)

As a result, I was around a lot of adults, adult foods and adult drinks. I was also exposed to many brands, but the one that stood out most from those days was Suntory, Japan’s first whisky distillery.

In Japan, the whisky highball was the drink. Because whisky was mixed with a great deal of club soda and ice,  it was easy to enjoy many glasses of them. And so as the night went on at these gatherings, I’d hear giggles, then bursts of laughter, quick exchanges in both Japanese and English languages, and of course, the ice clinking against their glasses. It must have been refreshing.

Thirty-five years later, I hadn’t given this drink a second thought, until I attended  Now Drink This Live, a series of immersive spirits-tasting experiences on the Las Vegas Strip, hosted by award-winning spirits writer Xania Woodman with special guest educators.

This particular evening her guest, Suntory’s U.S. brand ambassador Johnnie Mundell, took us on a virtual tour to Suntory’s first distillery, Yamasaki, located in the Osaka prefecture. He taught us everything we wanted to know about Japanese whisky, the history, the culture and the brand. He also introduced us to Toki, Suntory’s newest groundbreaking blended whisky.

By the end of the evening, I was completely enchanted. Not just from sipping Japanese whisky, but from the overwhelming resurgence of the fondest memories I had of my dad.

Ironically, the word “Toki” means “a connection in time” in Japanese. Whoa, I’ll take it as a sign!

The quality of the ice and water make all the difference.

The next day, I visited my mom’s house and I took notice of all the Suntory bottles she had saved over the years.  According to her, these were very rare and special gifts given to dad during his days in the advertising business.

750 ml. Released in 1989
An incredibly rare, “60 month old” Yamazaki single malt from Suntory bottled for the Japanese market. Circa 1970s

Indeed, that night was very special for me. I always embrace these educational experiences, as they further my education and appreciation for the field of food and beverage writing. But I had no idea, it would offer such a convergence of intensity and harmony. Needless to say, the next time I come up to the bar,  I’ll be ordering a whisky highball and having that drink that dad and I never had a chance to enjoy together. I know he’ll be there in spirit.

How to make the PERFECT Japanese Highball (courtesy of SeongHa Lee, lead bartender, Zuma in The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, who was a bartender at a Suntory Bar  – Keihan Kyobashi Hotel, Osaka, JAPAN)

  
Danielle DeBruno Photography

  1. Fill a clean highball glass with ice to chill the glass
  2.  Discard the ice and melted water
  3. Fill the glass with GOOD (clear, not cloudy) ice
  4. Add 1.5 oz of Suntory Whisky
  5. Stir 12 and a half times
  6. Add club soda along the glass to the top
  7. Stir 2 and a half times
  8. Say “Kanpai” and drink with friend

Bocce & Bottles 2016

For a long time, the game of bocce was purely for old Italian men. They wanted to get away from the wives and kids so they could smoke, cuss, scratch themselves when they wanted to … you know, the court was where they could do this all freely.   After all, women would just take the fun out of everything, right?

balls

These days the game of bocce has evolved to gather all ages, all genders, all abilities, making it one of the most social games, and it has truly become a personal favorite of ours. With a glass of wine in one hand, a ball in the other, it’s a symbiotic relationship that fosters hours of entertainment and laughter.

marisa

Finally, this year, we hosted our first annual “Bocce & Bottles” tournament.  The games got quite exciting!  Those with even the most minimal experience were able to get right next to the pallino. More vengeful players strategically knocked their friends’ balls out of the way. And when two balls were in question, we’d unravel the string from the copper cup to determine whose ball was closer. Yes, so much fun!  We are so fortunate to have such wonderful friends. Times like this is worth capturing and sharing. Here are photos (taken by Shawna Quenneville) to re-cap the event…

THE PLAYERS:group-shot

(L-R): Ada Feliciano, Craig Finetti, Eduard Ajdini, Marisa Finetti, Lisa Ajdini, Alison Bradley, Bill Bradley, Michelle Tenazas, Jared Cooper, Corinne Leo,  Liz Davar, Henry Davar, Kirk Peterson and Allison Bernhardt (George Chambers and Mini not pictured)

kirk

dinner

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craig

cup
“Cup the ball” with our homemade measuring device.

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cooper

gathering

scoreboard

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alison
Looks like victory!

michelle

group

THE BOTTLES:

wine-on-table

the-bottles

more-wine

opening-bottle

glasses

Egly-Ouriet, Brut Tradition, Grand Cru NV
Wind Gap Trousseau Gris 2013
Giovanni Rosso, Barbera, Donna Margherita 2014
Contratto For England Rosé 2008
Contratto Millesimato Extra Brut 2010
Jean Foillard, Morgon, Cuvée Corcelette 2013
Chateau Tourans Saint-Émilion 2010
Nigl Grüner Veltliner 2005
Unanime Gran Vino Tinto 2012
The Prisoner 2014
Contadi Castaldi Rosé Franciacorta
Chateau Touran Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010
Portal Reserva Douro 2010
Leeuwin Estate Riesling 2010

THE FOOD:
An array of delicious food brought by friends, plus local restaurant favorites, like Daily Kitchen’s family meal, which included Brussels sprouts, macaroni & cheese, Mary’s all-natural rotisserie chicken, Certified Angus tri-tip beef, kale salad and flourless chocolate cake.

dinner2

daily-kitchen-chocolate-cake

plates

eating2

eating

Chicharonnes from China Poblano
Chicharonnes from China Poblano

THE WINNERS:

medals


1st Place – Liz & Henry Davarimg_1586

2nd Place – Lisa and Eduard Ajdini
eduard

3rd Place  – Yours truly – Marisa & Craig Finetti

 

Photos:  Shawna Quenneville