The Wines of Corbières

 

During each of our two nights in Castelnaudary in southern France, we dined with friends at Chez David, a restaurant owned by Chef David Campigotto, a son of chefs, who prepares his renown cassoulet throughout the world.  Both evenings, based on the recommendation of our waiter, we selected a local 2013 Celliers d’ Orfee Corbières Cuvee

Chef David Campigotto

Sextant and were intrigued. Aside from the cassoulet, it also paired well with fresh cod on the second night. This newly discovered wine had a great nose, rich, fruity flavors and, most appealing, it was inexpensive.  While it sold for

2013 Celliers d’Orfee Corbieres Cuvee Sextant

twenty euros in the restaurant, we consistently found other wines from Corbières priced at ten euros. What else could we learn about these wines?

Corbières is the largest appellation in the Lanquedoc-Rousillon region, producing nearly fifty percent of its wine production on over thirty thousand acres.  Nearly all the wines are red blends, leaving about five percent for white and rose’ production.  They are similar to Rhone blends with one exception.  Among the five major grapes used in Corbières blends, carignan, also known as carignane or mazuelo, is often the main varietal.

Blended with grenache, mourvedre, the grenache-related liedener pelut, syrah and, at times, the more obscure piquepoul blanc and tenet noir, carignan clearly dominates.  During the late 1980s, carignan was the most widely produced grape in all of France, with over 400,000

Corbieres vineyard

acres under vine.  Then, in a comprehensive approach to improve the overall quality of  wines, the European Union hatched a “vine pull” program, offering subsidies to growers for pulling up their vines. As a result, production of Carignan dropped over forty percent and was replaced by merlot as the most abundant varietal.

Outside of the appellation, single-varietal carignane is produced by several California winemakers including the 2013 Carol Shelton Carignane “Oat Valley” ($28), from 60-year old vines in north Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley.  I recently paired this Santa Rosa-based wine with fresh salmon and found the creamy texture and smokey flavors complimentary, not overpowering.

We left Castelnaudary by boat, cruising down the Canal du Midi. In the villages and towns along the route, including Bram, Carcassonne and Trebes, the shops and restaurants proudly showcased their local wines, including the Cuvee Sextant.  Enjoying locals wines enhanced the cultural experience of the canal, especially at these low prices.

Vineyards in Corbieres

The Corbières appellation is so large and diverse that it has eleven identified terrors within its boundaries. Wikipedia defines terroir as a “set of all environmental factors that affect a crop‘s phenotype, unique environment contexts and farming practices, when the crop is grown in a specific habitat.”  This is a complicated way of saying that when factors like climate, sun exposure, soil types and conditions are matched with the proper varietal, stock and farming practices, a harmonious relationship ensues that creates a unique characteristic to the wine. The term “terroir” is not exclusive to wine.  It is used in growing coffee, chocolate, chili peppers, agave and others.

Still intrigued with this new-found region and what is has to offer, I began, upon my return, to research what was available in California.  Surprisingly, Corbières wines are readily accessible in wine shops and on-line.  It helps to know what you are asking for.  I have not tasted any of the Corbières wines described below.  However, based upon a recommendation or something in the wineries background that caught my attention, these are releases from the region that I have targeted.

From a small, organic winery described as a “true one-woman show,” the carignan-dominant 2014 Clos de l’Anhel

2014 Clos de l’Angel “Lolo de l”Anhel Corbieres

“Lolo de l’Anhel” Corbières($13) is a blend from limestone-laden soils, enhanced with small amounts of syrah, grenache and mourvedre. The low price reflects its profile as a great everyday wine. The Clos de l’Anhel winery also offers, at a higher price, the 2014 Clos de l’Anhel “Les Dimanches” Corbières ($23), that blends carignan (60%), from 80-year old vines, syrah (30%) and grenache (10%), boasting rich fruit and minerality, both welcome to my palate.  Les Dimanches translates to “Sundays.”  This is meant to be a special wine, reserved for special occasions.

From twenty-three different organic and biodynamically grown grape varietals that are field blended and harvested together, then co-fermented, the 2015 Domaine Tour Boisée “Plantation 1905” ($12) is as unique a wine that can be found within the region, from vineyards in the village of Minervois, near Carcassonne.  One of the newer producers in the region, dating back to 1826, the array of varietals in the Plantation vineyard were first planted in 1905.  I did not recognized the names of fourteen varietals used in this all-embracing blend, but, at $12 per bottle, I am very curious.

Domaine Tour Boisee “Plantation 1905”

Michel Gassier Corbieres de Nimes Nostre Pais

My interest in the Michel Gassier Corbières de Nimes Nostre Pais Red 2013 ($22) rose because the vineyards are in the AOC Corbières- Nimes appellation, located between the cities of Montpellier, Nimes and Arles, all places that we recently visited.  Secondly, it is grenache dominant.  Because the Corbières appellation is so large, these vineyards are within an hour of the Rhone Valley and share deep beds of limestone that influences the flavor.

Aside from grenache (40%), this blend includes equal parts carignan, syrah and mourvedre.  Awarding it 90-92 points, Wine Advocate described a wine that “exhibits pretty, perfumed notes of raspberry and passion fruit intermixed with subtle leather, violets and spice.”  With the history, unique terroir and reviews, this is the one that I will pursue first.

On the surface, the Chateau d’Aussieres Corbières 2013 ($30) is a typical Rhone blend.  Syrah-dominant and supported by grenache and mourvedre, this blend mirrors those produced in Chateaunef-du-Pape, Gigondas and other appellations in the southern Rhone Valley.  A wine that consists mostly of syrah, the tasting notes described fair amounts of typical spice (pepper), herbs and toasted flavors.  Of this vintage, Wine Advocate states, “Domaine d’Aussières has turned out an incredibly classy, elegant 2013 Corbières that checks in with the top wines of the appellation.”

For those who follow French rugby, apparently, Gerard Bertrand is a household name.  After 17 years as a star in the French leagues, he returned to the family wine business in Corbières and, recently, saw his Gerard Bertrand

Gerard Bertrand Corbieres

Corbières 2012 ($20), a blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre, land on the #55 spot of Wine Spectator’s 2016 Top 100 wines

Since his retirement from professional rugby, Bertrand has focused on acquiring regional vineyards and refining his organic and biodynamic practices. Wine Spectator describes the 2012 vintage as “Full-bodied and powerful, with decadent layers of raspberry compote, kirsch and red plum notes that are met with savory details of herb and cured meat.”  The release price of the wine was under $20, but I found that wholesalers are seeking higher sums since its recent recognition.

The Lanquedoc-Rousillon wine region extends from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea.  The Corbières appellation, bordered by Carcassonne, Narbonne and Perpignan is large and assorted enough to offer a range of styles and terroir. These wine are made to pair with duck, pork and other meats in the region’s rich cassoulet, but are also complimentary to chicken and seafood.

There is a “new age” renaissance emerging from Corbières wines.  The number of wineries has expanded in recent years and there is a strong desire to improve the quality of the wine and vineyards in a responsible, sustainable way.  We discovered and explored this region via the Canal du Midi, but their local industry is expanding to welcome tourists of all types.  Of course, you no longer have to travel to Corbières to enjoy these finely blended wines. I expect that awareness among US wine consumers will swell as they expand their presence in our market.


Wine and Cheese 2017

 

At a recent visit to the Sonoma County Artisan Cheese Festival, we were strolling through the books section.  Pointing to a book entitled, “Cheese and Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing and Enjoying”, by Janet Fletcher, I declared it as the best book of its kind on the market.

“So you like that book’” a woman said, as she approached us, “well, I wrote it.”

Janet Fletcher has written for several magazines including Bon Appetit and Food and Wine. She is a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written

“Wine and Cheese” by Janet Fletcher

several books such as the aforementioned.  “Cheese and Wine” lists cheeses throughout the world, in alphabetical order.  For each, it provides pronunciation, type of cheese (cow, goat, sheep), country of origin, information about the cheese’s history, taste, and texture and, finally, wines that work.   It was a pleasure to meet Ms. Fletcher and tell her firsthand how much I appreciate her writing.

Her book was in full use as I prepared for another cheese and wine tasting to support ArtStart, a local Santa Rosa-based non-

Janet Fletcher

profit that supports high school artists by providing work opportunities in creating public murals and other projects.  There would be repeat donors participating, so this year’s event must be unique and different than earlier years. The following menu highlights the adventure in store for this years guests.

#1: 2014 Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese (Mosel/Germany)

Comte – France (raw cow’s milk)

During a recent visit, I discovered that Comte’ is the largest selling cheese in France.  Made from co-operative diaries using milk exclusively from large Montbeliard cows,

Comte’

I enjoyed the smooth texture and brown butter flavors.  Comte’ is a perfect balance between sweet, salty and tart.

I chose a reliable favorite, the 2014 Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese, to pair with the Comte’.  Don’t let the long, fancy name intimidate you.  This rich riesling, from the Mosel region of Germany, is available at some wine shops and on-line for about twenty dollars.  My first taste of this wine, over a decade ago, served as an introduction to the mineral/metallic/petrol/wet stone flavor of a fine German riesling.

Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese 2012

The German word spatlese (spat-LAY-see) literally translates to “late harvest,” but should not be confused with the late harvest dessert wines produced in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Montbeliard cows

With regard to flavor and richness, Spatlese riesling sits between the more austere Kabinett (ca-bin-net) and sweeter Auslese (aus-LAY-see) styles, the later equal to our late harvest wines.  The Bollig Lehnert is always distinctive, but never overpowering.

#2: Auteur Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013 (Sonoma)

   “Mount Tam” – Cowgirl Cheese Co. (pasteurized cow milk)

This is an all-Sonoma County pairing that features a complex, non malolactically

Auteur Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2013

fermented California chardonnay from respected winemaker Ken Juhasz, with an elegant, buttery triple-creme cheese with earthy mushroom flavors. Cowgirl Cheese Company, maker of the popular “Red Hawk,” dedicates this cheese to Mount Tamalpias in Marin County, a popular place to harvest fresh, wild mushrooms, abundant this year due to heavy rainfall.

Many of the vineyards within the Sonoma Coast appellation are located at higher elevations, above the fog line, producing

Cowgirl Creamery “Mt. Tam” triple-cream cheese

distinctive flavors.  This chardonnay is austere with mineral elements that did not compete with the creamy cheese, but added hints of orange peel and honeysuckle to the mix.

#3:  2013 Seasmoke “Southing” Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills/Santa Barbara County)

#4:  2012 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvee (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

Monte Enebro – Spain (pasteurized goat milk)

Point Reyes Toma -Sonoma County (pasteurized cow milk)

When it comes to pairing cheese with pinot noir, the opportunities are so abundant that

Sea Smoke Pinot Noir “Soutwihing” 2013

I can’t restrain myself.  To show the range of pinot noir, I selected one from the southernmost appellation, the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County and the Yamhill appellation in the most northern region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, both premier releases awarded 92-points from Wine Spectator magazine.

Sea smoke Cellars produces three low-yield pinot noir releases

Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Yamhill Cuvee’ 2012

each year, available to a few select restaurants in southern California and allocation list members only.  The 2013 “Southing” expresses smokey flavors of red fruit, cinnamon and vanilla that pairs well with both cheeses, especially the dense, buttery and herbaceous flavors of the Monte Enebro.

Monte Enebro cheese

Equally creamy and buttery, the Point Reyes Toma was new to my palate and a good fit with the caramel and mocha notes expressed on the finish of the Domaine Serene Pinot Noir.  The Monte Enebro is available on-line through sites like “Igourmet,” while the Toma is seasonally available at fine cheese shops.

Known primarily for fine pinot noir releases, Domaine Serene

Toma

recently received accolades by placing a new chardonnay in the third spot in Wine Spectator’s list of the most exciting wines of 2016.

#5:  Tablas Creek Vineyard Tannat Paso Robles 2010

Rogue River Creamery “Smokey Blue” – southern Oregon (certified sustainable cow’s milk)

This was, by far, the most difficult pairing of the event. Tannat is a rare French grape

Rogue River Creamery “Smokey Blue”

that is generally used to give texture and deep earthy flavors when blended with other, more fruity varietals.  Tablas Creek of Paso Robles, arguably the finest producer of Rhone wines outside of the Rhone Valley, released this 100% tannat that has been in my cellar for five years, softening its harsh tannins. Luckily, I found this seasonal, gluten-free “Smokey

Tablas Creek Tannat 2010

Blue” with with deep earthy flavors of hazelnuts, caramel and candied bacon, one of the few cheeses that could stand up to this aged tannat

#6:  Hall “Eighteen Seventy-Three Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Napa Valley)

Abbaye de Belloc – France/Basque (pasteurized sheep’s milk)

Rutherford-based Hall Wines, in the Napa Valley, annually produce some of the highest rated cabernet sauvignon in California.  I knew this wine had been given a 93-point

HALL Cabernet Sauvignon Eighteen Seventy-Three 2103

rating by Wine Spectator, but did not expect that it would be included in their top 100 list of 2106 releases.  The “1873” retails for $80 per bottle, a moderate price for Hall Wines whose other cabernets range from $100 to $280 per bottle.

Surprisingly, my research of Abbaye de Belloc, a sheep’s cheese from the Basque region of the French Pyrenees Mountains,

Abbaye de Belloc

described it to be a good pair with cabernet sauvignon.  It is made in the Abbaye de Notre Dame de Belloc by monks and contains milk exclusively from the red-nosed Manech sheep, who look like a round bowl of fuzzy wool with skinny legs protruding out the bottom.  This cheese has a rich, buttery, fine texture with caramelized brown sugar flavor.  It is

Red-nosed Manech sheep

dense with a creamy, off-white color and the wine seems to have a “liquefaction effect” that breaks it down, nicely coating your tongue and throat.  It is somewhat difficult to find, but the effort is rewarding.

Thanks, again Janet Fletcher.  A desire to support ArtStart is my motivation and “Wine and Cheese,” among other books, gave me the choices to assemble another pairing event.  We will do it again next year.  Meanwhile, I have discovered some new and unique cheeses to enjoy with my wines throughout the next year.

 

 


Face of Five

 

“Damnit!,”

“What did you forget this time,” said Karen, responding to a familiar tone in my voice.

“My phone,”  I answered, tightening my grip on the steering wheel.

“Well, I’ve got mine, she said, reassuring us both that we would not be completely off the grid of modern life during the next few days.

It was 2009 and having celebrated our recent retirements with season ski passes to Mammoth Mountain Resort, we relished the concept of mid-week skiing and the availability of a nearby cabin, courtesy of friends, Cindy and Ross.  For us, the season passes were a metaphor for our new-found freedom and the ability to be spontaneous, to load the car on a whim and, within hours, be on a sparsely populated mountain.  Cautiously dipping our toes in the sea of invincibility that once dominated our early lives, we were happy, healthy and wanted to remain as young as we could for as long as we could.

Our plan was to ski Wednesday through Friday noon, have a quick lunch, then get out of Dodge before the weekenders arrived.  Today, there would be no standing in line to buy a lift ticket.  They were already around our necks, with photos, encased in plastic.  Season passes make you feel élite and special.

It had been awhile since Karen skied Mammoth and I was anxious to show her some new runs that I had discovered in a recent trip with some colleagues from work.

“Ross recommended a great warm-up run for me.  It’s called Mambo,” I said as we put on our ski’s at the bottom of Stump Alley.

Karen answered, “Sounds good, as long as they have already groomed it.”  To find her “ski legs,” she preferred that the first few runs of the day be free of moguls, chunky snow or ice.  Mambo is a series of plateaus, creating alternating degrees of steepness from the top to the bottom before merging with Escape, a chute that allowed us to build up enough speed to make it back to the Stump Alley Express Chair.  From there, we did it again, and once more until we realized we were falling into our comfort zones.  A very nice, cozy comfort zone where the challenge of the slope fluidly matched the skill level of the skier.   Feeling more confident, we were ready to push ourselves.

“Let’s go higher,”  Karen said.

So we did.  We ascended the mountain, Stump Alley to Chair #3 to a higher ridge line.

“This chute feeds into St Anton, follow me,” I pointed down the slope. From the back side, we could ski the St. Anton run which provided access to numerous opportunities on the northern side of the mountain.  There we were, me in my helmet and goggles and Karen, sporting a cute beret and designer shades, embracing the sense of freedom and euphoria that the mountain gave us.

On Thursday, I suggested we explore it’s back side.  The old two-person Chair #9  had been replaced with the new six-person Cloud Nine Express Chair which made many more skiers aware of these once-remote runs.  Off the chair to the right, Goldhill could be intimidating, but soon merged with great runs like  Haven’t The Foggiest and Quicksilver.  The calmness of this area, with the muted sun, struggling to penetrated the thick, grey-rust sky, painted a very heavenly portrait.  Nearly Nirvana but for the packs of helter-skelter snowboarders, passing through the silence like some Mad Max movie.

“Karen, do you remember Face of Five? I inquired. “We’ve skied it several times together.”

“Tell me about it,” she asked, signaling that her memory of it was, at best, foggy.

“The face is steep, right off the chair, sometimes chunky in the morning,” I said, “but it soon becomes Solitude, which you loved.”

“Where is it?”  expressing due diligence on my recommendation.

“Actually, it’s just around this ridge, follow me,” I responded.  And she did.

We skied Face of Five many times, benefitting by another new express chair until our legs began to tire.  On our last run, we would stay on Solitude, past the express chair, to connect with lower trails that would eventually bring us back to Stump Alley, where a beverage of our choice was waiting.   During this last run, it was important that we stay together.  My intelligent, educated wife is severely directionally challenged and I would like to think that she needs me to get down the hill.  Honestly, if we got separated, she would probably flag down a skier and ask directions.

We decided to spend our last morning on the back side, continuing to relish the challenge.  Skiing better than we had on our first day, we wanted more, but the early weekenders were arriving and clearly visible against the backdrop of the white snow.

“Let’s do one more, then go in,” Karen said, as noon was approaching.

Pointing to a narrow trail, I said, “This will take us back to Face Of Five and we can go down from there.”

“Great.”  There was an enthusiast tone to her voice.  She was feeling good and we would probably boast to each other throughout the drive home.

The trail merged directly into the traffic on Face of Five.  We pulled up to get our bearings and discuss a plan for the last descent.  Suggesting our usual route, I said, “Ski down to the sign, we can meet up there and then go down the rest of the way together.”

The sign is a large billboard-sized ski trail map that is located at the apex of the lower and upper slopes.  All the primary chair lifts coming from the various lodges dump skiers nearby and it is highly recognizable and helpful to those without pocket maps.

“You go first and I’ll meet you at the sign,” said Karen.

So I did.  I set the edges of my ski’s into the snow and stopped at the base of the gigantic trail map, listening to what my thighs were telling me.  I kept close watch for my partner for the next several minutes.  She didn’t come.  After another fifteen minutes, I became worried.   At the least, she had taken a wrong turn, descended to another area and, without my phone, it could take hours for us to connect.   This was the option that I was hoping for.

Polling slowly, I made my way back to the chair lift and rode to the top of Face of Five, looking off for signs of her.  I skied back down and still saw none. Beginning to feel helpless, I decided to ski down to Stump Alley, near where our car was parked.   Again, I waited and paced.  My mind was running out of good scenario’s and I decided to check the places that I was avoiding.

Neither of the two emergency first aids stations reported an accident involving a woman.  They recommended I check back later.  Thinking that Karen may have called the cabin land-line, I drove there and found Ross, an early weekender,  just arriving.  He is part of the volunteer ski patrol and has contacts and can ski areas most people can’t. Before immediately leaving for the mountain, Ross gave me his phone.  I called Karen’s phone and, for the first time in hours, heard her voice.

“Hi, you’ve reached Karen’s cell.  Your call is important to me, at the beep….”

Another hour passed and I found myself driving back to the places where she might be, including both first aid stations.  At 3:30 PM, the phone rang.

“Hello, Ross James please,” the voice on the line said.

“This is Ross’ phone, but my name is Lyle Norton,” I answered.

“Oh, Mr. Norton,  the voice answered back, “you’re the person I am trying to contact.  This is Dr. Siena at Mammoth Community Hospital.”

The scratches along the right side of her face and the broken clavicle would heal soon, but they were mostly concerned about the concussion.  Karen was resting, not so comfortably.  Dr. Siena explained that she had arrived in an ambulance sometime after 12:30 PM in a semi-conscious state.  She later regained full consciousness and he had spoken to her.  She recalled from an instant glimpse before the collision that it was a skier wearing a helmet.  She remembered parts of a bumpy, headfirst basket ride down the slope, briefly worrying about throwing up, then actually doing so as she was being placed in the ambulance.

Within seconds after I started down the slope, she was hit.  I was probably no more than fifty yards away and heard nothing.   Ironically, although it was a tragic event in our lives, neither of us have any recollection of what really happened or witnessed it. The resort accident report that I requested revealed nothing:  “woman found unconscious on Face of Five, evacuated at 12:18 PM and transported to Community Hospital.  No witnesses.”  The other skier apparently fled the scene and she was discovered, lying alone in the snow.  You really do ski at your own risk and radio communication between those on the mountain and the first aid centers is not always reliable.

Karen continued to rest.  After a few weeks, the facial scratches were gone and the fog in her brain was beginning to lift.  In April, two months from the accident, she was much better and, feeling the need to “get back on the horse,” we returned to Mammoth to finish the run on Face Of Five.  We skied for two days, mostly the back side (a reprise on Haven’t The Foggiest).  We were back, both skiing with helmets, one a bit worn and the other, new and shiny, still living the dream, day-by-day, acutely aware of our mortality.


An Afternoon At Flora Springs

 

My friend Jon began an internship with Flora Springs Winery in the heart of the Napa Valley and invited me in for a tour and a tasting.  The plan was to buy a bottle of sauvignon blanc, grab some sandwiches at the neighboring Dean and DeLucca and picnic in a nearby vineyard before tasting their extensive palate of wines.  This sounded like a nice Sunday afternoon in the Napa Valley; sunshine, a great albacore tuna salad sandwich paired with the creamy texture and mineral

an estate vineyard

finish of the 2015 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($25). With annual production exceeding 3,600 cases, this estate wine uses two different clones including the musque clone, fermented in stainless steel and aged on its lees in oak barrels with many stirrings.  Hence, we find creamy, complex flavors.

I first became aware of Flora Springs Winery in the mid-nineties through their flagship blend, “Trilogy” which has become a classic “meritage,” defining Bordeaux blends from California soil. If fact, “Trilogy” was first created over thirty years ago when successfully blending cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet blanc, malbec and petit verdot in California was a new thing. The result

Flora Springs “Trilogy” – a classic CA meritage

of a good vintage, the 2012 Flora Springs “Trilogy” Napa Valley ($90), aged for 22 months, achieves elegance through expressive aromas and rich texture with dark cherry and berry flavors, some spice and a nice finish. My first memory of this wine was being shocked at the $40 price.  Now at $90 per bottle, it is indicative of the increasing market value of Napa Valley wines.

Although Flora Springs Winery was first established in 1978, the land has an auspicious history dating back more than a century. The first vineyards were planted on sixty acres in the late 1800s by Scottish immigrants James and William Renne, the first known owners of the land. Later, a fire destroyed the wine-press and all their cooperage, leading them to sell the property to pursue other dreams.

Over the ensuing years, property ownership changed several times during which the vineyards were re-planted with phylloxera-resistant stock.  Phylloxera is a microscopic insect that attacks the roots and leaves of vines and destroyed entire vineyards in California and France throughout the

Flora Springs tasting facility

late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The only known cure is grafting the vines with stock resistant to the disease.  Admist dealing with pests in the vineyards, Prohibition became law in 1920 and this and many wineries were literally abandoned.

Louis Martini purchased the property in 1933, replaced the old structure with a new one and operated the winery until 1977 when it was purchased by Jerry and Flora Komes. The next year, their children, John and Carrie Komes and Julie and Pat Garvey, founded Flora Springs Winery, naming it after their mother and the natural springs on the property. The winery will

indoor tasting space

celebrate its 40th birthday in 2017.

Our afternoon tasting on the patio began with two releases, one white and one red, from their Family Estate Wines and

The tasters

evolved, through the “2012 Trilogy” to a series of five premium, high-priced, single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon with tremendous ratings, a special surprise given guests of staff.  With ten percent of its juice aged in concrete tanks, the medium-bodied 2014 Flora Springs Family Select Chardonnay ($35) is a beautifully balanced wine, lightly oaken, with flavors of fresh pear and subtle tropical fruit through the finish.  It is a very nice Chardonnay among many great options within the $30-40 price range. The red, from local sustainably-farmed vineyards, the 2014 Flora Springs Napa

Flora Springs Merlot

Valley Merlot ($30) was nicely balanced with notes of sweet spice like vanilla, a good value for merlot lovers.

Basking in the diffused sunlight under colorful stretched screens, our journey through these impressive single-vineyard Cabernet, priced far beyond my budget, was a special treat.  It began with the 100% 2013 Flora Springs Rutherford Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) from a sloping, benched vineyard near the winery.  Awarded 94-points by Wine Enthusiast magazine, it is most amply defined with “warm notes of blackberry pie, crème de cassis, coffee liquor and maraschino cherries that slowly evolve into a decadent core of melted bittersweet chocolate inflected with vanilla bean.”  It is as good as it sounds.

The Renne Reserve Vineyard in the St. Helena appellation is one of the finest blocks within their 550 acres.  After 22 months in new French oak, the 2013 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Renne

Flora Springs Single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon releases

Reserve ($150) has an impressive bouquet followed by complex flavors of black currants and coffee with a rich mouthfeel.  The lingering spice finish sets this Cabernet apart from the others, awarded 95-points by Wine Advocate

The next wine comes from the nearby Oakville appellation, known for limestone and granite soils.  The 2103 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Holy Smoke Vineyard ($125) displays firm tannins with intense black cherry, licorice and cinnamon spice on the palate.  James Suckling awarded this low production release a 94-point rating, citing nice chocolate nuances through the finish.  The most balanced and finely structured wine of the day was the 2013

Flora Springs “Wild Boar Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon

Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Wild Boar Vineyard ($125)from the

Pope Valley, east of the Napa Valley where elevations rise to 1,200 feet.  For me, the “Wild Boar” was the best that we tasted, expressing complex and robust flavors of ripened currants, plum, cherry, vanilla and caramel.  The tannins are firm, but rich and plush.

Remotely located in the Stag’s Leap District along the Silverado Trail, the organically-farmed “Out Of Sight” Vineyard produces dense fruit for the 2013 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Out Of Sight Vineyard ($125), a wine with vivid aromas of wild berries and layered tastes of vanilla and spice, woven within concentrated fruit.  Smooth tannins are present throughout creating a wine that they claim will be optimum for the next 12-15 years.

Flora’s Legacy Wines are remarkable, low-yield releases that honor the matriarch and namesake of the winery, Flora Komes.  One wine of depth, the 2014 Flora’s Legacy Chardonnay ($70), was our last tasting of the afternoon.

Flora Springs “Flora’s Legacy” Chardonnay

Again there is very impressive competition with other chardonnay at this price.  That being said, this wine, after 50% malolactic fermentation and aging sur lee with weekly stirrings, reveals rich, concentrated fruit flavors of orange marmalade, pear, jasmine and ginger.  The nice mineral finish sets it in the company of many superb California chardonnay releases.

The one wine not available for tasting boasts a total production of one barrel (25 cases).  Combining 50% juice from the Renne Reserve Vineyard in St. Helena and 50% from the Rutherford Hillside Vineyard in neighboring Rutherford, the sold out 2014 Flora Springs St. Rutherford

Flora Springs St. Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon ($300), aged 22 months in French oak, is their premiere wine.  We were told that the Renne brings the berry and fruit flavors and the Rutherford the earthiness and spice nuances.  How can my palate miss something that it hasn’t ever experienced?  Maybe another time. The high demand for wines in this price-range is still amazing to me.

Clearly, Flora Springs Winery has moved beyond their first-rate flagship wine, “Trilogy,”  to become one of the finest

Flora Springs vineyard

producers in the Napa Valley.  When I learned about the 40% discount made available to staff and their guests, I had to re-think purchasing a bottle.  Expressing thanks to the tasting staff, I invested in my palate by purchasing a 2013 Wild Boar single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon for $75.  It sits in my cellar waiting for a special occasion with special friends. We had a wonderful afternoon at Flora Springs Winery, located along Highway 29, south of the town of St. Helena, which has been named one of the “Best Napa Wineries To Visit” by Food and Wine Magazine and is great place to taste some of the best wines the valley has to offer.


Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films of 2016

 

At first glance, the best films of 2016 seem to share a depressingly sad theme.  My top four movies included horrific family tragedies , separation, life effects of drugs and violence and, although expressed through a comedy, unrequited love. However, true stories like Hidden Figures and Lion provided enough inspiration to go around.  For me, great writing, casting and acting is what set these films apart from the others.  Some are easy and some are difficult to watch, but, I continued to think about them long after leaving the theater.

#1: Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonegan)

If you can overcome the sadness, this is another great screenplay for Kenneth Lonegan (You Can Count On Me), who unexpectedly became the director of the film. The story and

Manchester By The Sea

#1 Manchester By The Sea

beautiful cinematography stand out as one of the year’s best. Casey Affleck’s performance as Lee Chandler is deserving of an Oscar and Michelle Williams brief, but compelling appearance enhances the story of a family coping with a tragic loss that has consumed their lives.

#2: Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)

Writer-director,Pedro Almodóvar, who’s film resume includes The Skin I Live In, Talk To Her and Volver, continues his female themes with the more traditional story of Julieta with Spanish actress Emma Suárez, in the title role. A widow, Julieta is

Julieta

#2 Julieta

preparing to move on with her life and move to Portugal with her boyfriend before a chance meeting with an old friend of her estranged daughter changes everything.  We begin to understand Julieta as the film unveils her compelling story.

#3:  The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)

Having become a fan of Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi after watching his last three films, I had to see The Salesman before compiling my list.  Another great, compelling story.  Emad and Rana are forced to leave their apartment because the building is collapsing and must find a new place immediately.  Their new landlord

#3: The Salesman

#3: The Salesman

failed to disclose that the previous tenant was a prostitute, working from home.  After his wife is horrifically attacked at the apartment, Emad becomes obsessed with finding the perpetrator.  It ends, focusing on the moral dilemma between revenge and forgiveness.  As they are dealing with the extended physical and emotional pain that jeopardized their relationship, Emad and Rana are performing opposite each other in a local production of Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman.  A must see for film buffs and, for those affected by visual violence, it is only referenced in this film.

#4:  Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

Moonlight follows the life of a young black man, growing up gay in a drug infested Miami neighborhood, the son of an addicted mother, portrayed courageously by Naomie Harris. It is not

Moonlight

#4 Moonlight

always an enjoyable film to watch, but reveals a human side to the drugs, violence and poverty that ultimately shape his life, but don’t change who he is.  This film has been branded with many notable supporting performances, all driven by Barry Jenkins’ screenplay and direction.

#5:  Cafe Society (Woody Allen)

I am always cautious of my “confirmation bias” with Woody Allen films, eager to enjoy because I expect to.  However, Cafe Society

Cafe Society

#5 Cafe Society

is a twisted love story set in New York and Hollywood, superbly cast with notably magnificent lighting throughout.  Kirsten Stewart seems to flourish under Woody’s style, turning me into a fan.  A period piece set in the 1930s, the design and lighting create an , “American craftsman” image.  Jesse Eisenberg nails Woody’s neurosis, on full display during his failed meet up with a novice hooker.  Note the lighting in that scene.

#6:  Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

Described as a minimalistic depiction, I found Paterson to be uplifting and refreshing.  There is no antagonist in this film.  Poet-bus driver Paterson drives a route in Paterson, New Jersey. Director Jarmusch takes pains to reveal the lives of both Paterson the

Paterson

#6 Paterson

man and Paterson the town, as routine.  Paterson’s delightfully spontaneous girlfriend, Karen, her English bulldog Marvin and, of course poetry represent the trifecta of his world. His calm reaction to the only (somewhat)tragic event sends a message to us all. Trivia:  After Karen’s dream of having twins, Jarmusch includes various twins in future scenes, adding a mystical quality. On second thought, Marvin may be the antagonist.

#7:  20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig are the two reasons that 20th

#6 20th Century Women

#7 20th Century Women

Century Women made my list.  The story of three women exploring new freedoms in the 1970s, much of it revealed through the behavior of the cynical matriarch Dorthea’s young son, Jamie.  Gerwig is a rising star and Bening deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance in this overlooked film. 

#8:  Hell Or High Water (David MacKenzie)

Two brothers, desperate to save their family’s land from bank foreclosure, set out on a series of small robberies of the foreclosing bank branches to come up with the money. Toby, played by

#8 Hell Or High Water

#8 Hell Or High Water

Chris Pine, is motivated to leave something to his son and estranged wife and ex-con Tanner seems to be in it for the fun. Soon, crusty small-town sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is in pursuit and things get out of hand in a dramatic ending. I would like to see Jeff Bridges win an Oscar for his performance.

#9:  Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi)

Why did it take over fifty years to learn about the significant contributions of these African-American women mathematicians to one of our nations most famous and heroic space flights?  Better late than never, they have been documented, through this film, in an insightful, yet charming way.  It reveals much about life for educated African

#9 Hidden Figures

#9 Hidden Figures

American women in 1964 Houston, Texas, including separate restrooms and lunch facilities.  I enjoyed the characters portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner as well as the closing footage of the real women. A story that is both inspiring and fun to watch, Hidden Figures is a deserving nominee.

#10:  Lion

Based on a true story,  Lion is the most inspirational film of 2016.  The story of young Saroo, a five year-old boy, artfully played by Sunny Pawar, who gets lost and miraculously survives, alone in Calcutta.  He is eventually adopted by a loving couple and has a normal childhood in Australia.  Decades later, a familiar smell

#10: Lion

#10: Lion

from his homeland has him yearning for contact with his birth mother and family in India  He sets out on a journey to find them and his story ends on a heartfelt and bittersweet note.

Others:  Toni Erdman, Captain Fantastic, LaLa Land, Zootopia, Nice Guys, Queen of Katwe, Elle


Walt and My Autopian World

 

In 1955 suburbia, our quiet street was typically filled with young baby boomers seeking to play in the remaining after-school sun.  In the late afternoon, we would hear the recognizable unique sounds each parent used to call their kids to come home.  They ranged from whistles to something between a scream and a yodel.  Mine was simply a shout out of my name and these days, I had my parental alarm clock set at 4:00 pm, the time that the new Mickey Mouse Club television show began.

Walt Disney’s first major achievement in 1955, the Mickey Mouse Club had many diverse features that were presented in a very regimented way.   Firstly, it was anyone’s

The Original Mouseketeers

The Original Mouseketeers

guess on the outcome of cartoon Donald Duck’s daily ringing of the gong to introduce the show.  Sometimes the gong remained rigid, like a stone, leaving Donald to vibrate off the screen and other times it had the consistency of watermelon, surprisingly exploding on contact.  Then, there was clubhouse time with the original Mouseketeers including Cubby, Annette, Jimmy, the adult leader and one of my early crushes, Cheryl. The Mouseketeer activities changed daily, always woven within a fabric of wholesomeness.  They were the envy of every seven-year old that I knew.

Twenty minutes a day was devoted to special family serial dramas like “Spin and Marty” and “The Applegate Mysteries.”  “Spin and Marty” was about two boys who grew up on a cattle ranch, always finding themselves with strange conundrums to resolve, usually before their parents discovered them.   Disney always revealed his latest cartoons on the Mickey Mouse Club featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy or Pluto, two mice, a couple of mutt dogs and an irritable, ill-tempered duck.  One of his most famous cartoons starred Goofy as a mild-

Disneyland (NBC, ABC, CBS) [1954-1990] aka The Wonderful World of Disney Shown: Tinkerbell

The Wonderful World of Disney Shown: Tinkerbell

mannered man-dog who became a crazed maniac when he got behind the steering wheel of a car.  This cartoon not only foreshadowed current life in the fast lane, but serves as a segue to the rest of my story.

Walt Disney used his new television show to market and promote a uniquely innovative and awesome new theme park, his second major achievement of 1955.  There would be nothing like Disneyland anywhere in the world and ample time on the Mickey Mouse Club and Sunday evening “The Wonderful World of Disney” television programs featured Walt himself, with models and drawings, looking like everyone’s grandfather, explaining new aspects that were well beyond people’s imaginative comprehension.  Anticipation throughout the country was so high that the grand opening was nationally televised, something unheard of in

Spin and Marty

Spin and Marty

1955.  Television personalities Art Linkletter, Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan hosted the show, guiding the nation down Main Street and eventually into a jungle boat, a delta riverboat, a castle, then to Autopia in Tomorrowland, the attraction that I most coveted.

It seems ironic today that the opportunity to drive a car on a scale model freeway usurped my fascination with visiting far away tropical forests or the Wild West.  Like Walt, I saw freeways as alluring conduits that would enhance our freedoms and connect our communities.  Sustained with cheap, plentiful gas and enough

Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings and Art Linkleter co-host Disneyland's Grand Opening

Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings and Art Linkletter co-host Disneyland’s Grand Opening

rubber plants in the world’s jungles, the new freeways would be filled with families passing in shiny convertibles, waving to each other on the way to the beach or a picnic.  The obsession with driving clouded my memory of the Goofy’s “road rage” cartoon, Walt’s prophetic warning of the dark side of his mobile utopia.

While watching the grand opening show, I said, “Mom…”   Without letting me finish my thought, she said, “I’ve already talked to Aunt Naomi and we plan to visit her next spring and all go to Disneyland.”   My parents were in their twenties and probably wanted to go as much as I did.  This would be a dream for most kids in my neighborhood, but as a somewhat spoiled, only child, I complained to myself that our visit was almost a year away.  Maybe I would be too old for Disneyland by then.  Turns out I wasn’t too old, just too short.

The drive from Aunt Naomi’s house in Encino to Anaheim seemed to take forever.  Once we passed downtown Los Angeles on the 101 Freeway, their was nothing but orange groves and blue skies.  Most people had never heard of Anaheim, dtour02California before Disney selected the rural area for his ability to secretly buy up several large parcels under separate, newly created real estate companies, a feat he would repeat in assembling vast contiguous acreage for his Disney World theme park in Florida.   An enormous sign announced that we had arrived at the Magic Kingdom.  After entering the property,  traveling along a half-mile entryway to access the colossal parking lot, waiting for a tram to pick up and deliver us to the entrance, we were about to experience the dream.

Originally, Disneyland offered five categories of attractions ranging from A tickets for the more common rides to the E-ticket for those most popular and exciting.  To this day, the term “E-ticket” is a commonly used metaphor for describing something thrilling like “Surfing the pipeline was an E-ticket ride.”  My parents purchased the largest fifteen-ride book for

Original Disneyland ticket coupons

Original Disneyland ticket coupons

$5.95 Adult ($12.35 value) and $4.95 Child ($9.50 value) that included the following tickets:  one A ($.10), two B’s ($.25), three C’s ($.40), four D’s ($.70) and five E-tickets ($.85).  By comparison, in 2007, I treated my son’s family to a day at Disneyland, who now sells simplified general all-day passes.   Responding to my request for two child and four adult passes, the attendant responded, “That will be five hundred and thirty-six dollars, please.”   In 1956, the attendant would have requested the hefty sum of twenty-nine dollars and seventy cents for the same entry passes.

Since it was on the way, we went directly to the jungle boat ride in Adventureland, an awesome experience for my generation and a true E-ticket ride.  Surprisingly, the Autopia ride was only a C-ticket, but I wanted to drive those cars around that beautiful miniature freeway, and begged to go there next.

After rushing everyone through Fantasyland, by the Madhatter’s Cup and Saucer ride, we were soon standing at the

Autopia

Autopia

Autopia entrance.  Moments later, my lingering anticipation and excitement would crash like a lead balloon falling from the sky.  With a red arrow pointing to the bottom, the sign said “You must be this tall to drive the cars.”   I walked under the sign several times in disbelief.  I was two inches too short.  My only option was to ride as a passenger, arms crossed, bottom lip protruding and silent while my father drove the car, boring for him and humiliating for me.  C’mon, I  experienced this on the drive down from my aunt’s house.  The consolation that “there’s always next time” was not consoling at this moment.  An otherwise tremendous day was marred by this episode.  I had a bone to

The sign

The sign

pick with Mr. Walt Disney.

In 1959, we returned and I finally drove the small cars on the Autopian freeway, though at age eleven, some of the original excitement had waned.  Besides, other attractions like Tom Sawyer’s Island and The Matterhorn had been added, enough new imagination for any young mind to feast on.  Later in the day, we were walking in Fantasyland when my mother, grabbing my shoulder, pointed and said, “Look, over there.”  It took a few moments, but I soon realized it was Walt Disney, strolling through his masterpiece, holding the hands of his two grandchildren.   There was no crowd or entourage following him around.  We asked for a photo and he said, “Sure,” adding, “are you having a good time?”  “This is the greatest place ever,” I responded, deciding to put the Autopia incident behind me. He was forgiven. Few people had more influence on the my generation than Walt Disney and this small, barely focused photo, is a constant reminder of the wonderment that he created in me.

Walt and I, 1959

Walt and I, 1959

Epilogue:  It’s always nice to get through these childhood disappointments and laugh about them later.  But, really, two fricken inches!

 


Margaux, by chance?

 

After sleeping in St. Emilion during the last few nights of a month in France, we dedicated the next day to exploring nearby Bordeaux and the renown wine appellations to the north of the city.   Famous regions along the Left Bank of the Gironde River, like Haut-Médoc, Saint Julien and Paulliac, were at our fingertips but I was focused on

Grand Vin du Chateau Margaux

Grand Vin du Chateau Margaux

Chateau Margaux, the Grand Madame of them all.    A bottle of their Grand Vin du Chateau Margaux sells  for thousands of dollars and has been in the discussion as the world’s finest wine for more than a century.  We understood that time-consuming post-harvest activities were at peak and any chance of tasting required connections and months of planning.  “I just want to be there,” I said, trying to maintain reasonable expectations, “to see it, to touch a vine,”  Karen, remembering that I had followed her into three Cro-Magnon caves in Les Eyzies-De-Tayac days before, was supportive.  “Let’s do it,” she answered, “I’m in.”  We try to be conscious and supportive of each other’s passions.  For us, the concept first became instilled after listening to the 1977 Joni Mitchell song, “Jericho”:  “I’ll try to keep myself open up to you and approve your self-expression/I need that too/I need your confidence and the gift of your extra time/ In return, I’ll give you mine”/

Chateau Margaux wine production buildings

Chateau Margaux wine production buildings

Although fairly commonplace today, these were poignant thoughts in 1977, for two twenty-somethings trying to make a go of it.   Today, thirty-nine years later, it’s more about managing round-a-bouts and reminiscing of the anniversary dinner with a bottle of Grand Vin du Chateau Margaux 1992, a gift from the parents of our German exchange student.   Karen would stop eating sugar shortly after and forfeit the enjoyment of wine.  If these were her last two glasses, what a way to go out.  Her apt description of “liquid velvet” remains a standard by which I compare good wines today.

The central city of Bordeaux was being victimized by its own progress.  Road

Chateau Margaux

Chateau Margaux

construction and the ensuing congestion was everywhere.  Thanks to modern-day GPS, we were able to maneuver our way through and, more importantly, master the round-a-bouts.  During a previous visit, entering a round-a-bout was quickly followed by a female voice on the GPS directing us to, “Re-route.”   This time, improved technology and graphics, along with experience, neutralized our stress level.  Streets soon turned into country roads that connected the small viticultural villages, a calming transition into a world that defies progress.  Royalty resides here but essentially these people are farmers from families that have worked this land for centuries.  The marbleized skies, poplar trees silhouetted by the afternoon sun and freshly harvested vines created the autumn Bordeaux landscape that I had always imagined.

The tiny village of Margaux was on the horizon.  Looking in the distance, I recognized the steeple of an old church, one that I had seen in photographs of the Chateau property.  I turned the wheel abruptly, veering off to a side road.  “What are we doing now, isn’t the village straight ahead?” Karen’s question made me realize that I hadn’t been too forthcoming about my new plan  “The village can wait,  I think Chateau Margaux is less than a mile from here and I want to get as close as we can,” I said, hoping for even a distant glance.

Suddenly, we came upon a vineyard near mustard-colored production buildings.  Vines

In a field of cosmos

In a field of cosmos

tend to look alike, but these were surrounded on two sides by a thirty-foot swath of multi-colored Cosmos, creating a Jackson Pollack-type border surrounding the uniformity of the vineyard.  As we stopped to take pictures, I noticed numerous cars passing by that seemed to access a large grass and dirt field about a quarter-mile away, then stop and park. Something was going on.  I could see other landmarks from the Chateau and knew we were close.

We entered the field strewn with uniformly parked cars looking like we belonged.   It

Chateau Margaux grounds

Chateau Margaux grounds

was a small, eclectic crowd that were leaving their vehicles and strolling along a poplar-lined path toward the Chateau’s entrance.  Karen fit right in with her fashionable jeans, tweed blazer and scarf while my orange sneakers, matched with faded jeans and gray cashmere sweater, may have eventually outed us as outliers.   However, we did leave our car and casually stroll onto the estate, immediately coming upon the Chateau Margaux mansion. On display behind iron gates, looking like it had in photographs over the

years, it defined grandeur, elegance and tradition.  Staff was working in the courtyards of the freshly painted production buildings on immaculately manicured pavement.  These building clusters resembled the backlot of a Hollywood film studio more than a working winery.

Soon we were walking on neatly trimmed, rustic paths that directed us and others

Chateau Margaux grounds

Chateau Margaux grounds

through a grove of large trees and over a stone bridge spanning a small canal.  One man, with large, working hands, wearing old jeans and a white starched shirt, unbuttoned to reveal his chest, strolled with a young woman in a navy business suit, struggling to walk with four-inch heels.  Another young couple looked very Goth with tight black pants and many piercings.  The moment was surreal, walking through the grounds of the world’s most iconic and private winery with no idea where we were going or what we may find when we got there.

Once across the bridge, we came upon another grove of the same Cosmos that framed a

stone building at Chateau Margaux

stone building at Chateau Margaux

large one-storied stone building with several  framed window openings, each with a small crowd gathered outside.  This was definitely where everyone was going.  We thought we were blending into the crowd as we looked into one of the windows to discover an elegant luncheon setting for about one hundred and fifty people with white linen tables cloths and napkins,  porcelain dinnerware, sculpted silver and five crystal wine glasses at each place.  We had seen settings like this before, but never of this size.

“May I help you?” said the nice looking forty-something man in a tailored black suit and open blue shirt, as he approached Karen.   We were busted.  She described our little sojourn and he patiently explained that we were at the Chateau Margaux Harvest

Discussing wine at the Chateau

Discussing wine at the Chateau

Luncheon, an annual event to celebrate the harvest and honor all the local vineyard owners and staff that contribute grapes and/or land toward each vintage.  This famous luncheon is both very exclusive and very local.

During our brief  conversation, I informed the gentleman of our Grand Vin du Chateau Margaux 1992.  “I hope you still have it,” he said, “the 1992s are peaking now.”  “No”, I answered, slumping my shoulders, “we drank it,”  adding, “But, it was damn good in 1995.”  Karen repeated her “liquid velvet” metaphor and thanked  him.  “We don’t want to crash your luncheon any more than we already have,” she said.  Speak for yourself, I thought.   We said good-bye and he reminded us to walk by the mansion on our way out.  At Chateau Margaux, even being bounced from an exclusive event is done with distinction.

Karen in Margaux

Karen in Margaux

My day visiting wineries in the Bordeaux region was over.  No other experience could match this one.  During a late lunch at a boutique hotel in the village, we  stared out at the vineyard, then looked across the table at each other and smiled.  Feeling exhilarated and mischievous, we knew that this would always be a good story and a great memory among many.