December 2005 Archives

When Divas make scents

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(ST. HELENA, CA) -- One of the most interesting aspects of a lifestyle that involves the enjoyment of wine is the varied vocabulary and discussion of wine's sensory experience, much of which centers around things olfactory.

I must confess that I fail miserably at the "Smell That" wine game. The recent pronouncement of a Bonny Doon Syrah Port "brimming with aromas of raspberry Kool-Aid on steroids" escapes me. This confounds family and close friends who have accused me of having a shark's keen sense of smell (apparently sharks can smell things as distant as two football fields away). But I guess my nose is a mother's nose, meant for deciphering activities of those close to me. Or perhaps, it is just that I have not educated myself enough to label the hidden notes that waft out of a glass of "inky purple elixir," yet I can clearly identify hidden hints of tobacco, secreted sweets, and other brushes with a day's by-products.

By M.L. Hilton

(YOSEMITE, CA) -- There are times when only a few hours separates you from the mundane daily work-a-day life, and journeys so delightful they seem worlds apart. Some trips are gifts in and of themselves; others take on dimensions so ethereal that there will never be a similar confluence.

Bright Autumn weather, spectacular ocean views and rollicking wine events tickled my senses (my sensibilities were otherwise engaged) in beautiful Monterey during the Great Wine Escape in early November.

A couple of days later and a couple of hours by road, the incomparable Yosemite Valley was my destination. I enjoyed an exquisite three days at The Ahwahnee. The trip was like a prism in bright sunshine, there was something delightful at every turn.

If you have an occasion to stay at The Ahwahnee, you must take it. My occasion was a session of the Vintner’s Holiday 2005 series. Moderator Gilles De Chambure, M.S. presided over wine tastings with Chris Benziger, Steven Canter (Davis Bynum Winery), Phil Bilodeau (Grgich Hills) and Bill and Dawnine Dyer of Dyer Vineyards (and other fame). The series included a Vintner’s Reception held in the stone splendor of The Ahwanhee’s grand common area complete with massive fireplaces, crackling fires, enormous windows, and generous pours of the hosts’ wines. Even more fun was the Gala Vintner’s Dinner in The Ahwahnee Dining Room. As unreal in its enormous space as Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter stories, the food presented by Chef Percy Whatley was as excellent as you would find in any culinary mecca.

The weather held amazingly, unseasonably, and old man moon waxed full. It was Yosemite’s magical lantern providing silver light on a deep fall landscape.

Opportunities to visit majesty are usually hampered by daily chores, beautiful weather is a blessing any time, but takes on significance when it is out of season, and romance . . . well, that is provided in books and movies, because there is too little available in most mortal realms.

When you have wine, and food, and weather, and place, what is there left but someone to share it with?

In Yosemite, ardor cloaks itself in many impalpable forms -- in the fragrant smoke of the fireplace that stokes the heart of intimacy. As night’s platinum glow illuminates tall granite towers. And during quiet walks among grandeur when eyes speak more than words.

Yosemite is for falling in love. Sometimes it is under a full moon with the tender heart of a companion; and sometimes it is again with Mother Nature where in her bosom you are reminded of the deep connection between man and his world.

By M.L. Hilton

(MONTEREY, CA) -- I am falling in love with Monterey. My crush has evolved into a full-fledged affair. Over the past year, Monterey has gone from a favored place to visit into the I-could-live-here category.

The first spell was cast by the spectacular scenery: majestic ocean views, pulsing dunes, fog-covered pines knarled by wind and sea spray, cold mists and fireplaces, sunny valleys, and dusty farming towns. The area, in a quiet ever-present manner, reminds you of man’s diminutive stance against nature. And the residents have worked, and fought, hard to keep it that way.

Of course, maybe my affinity has something to do with the fact that every time I visit it is for some fabulous party of one type or another. The most recent event was the annual Great Wine Escape.

But my kinship has another reason. Every time I visit, someone I meet invites me to come back and stay with them. No, not the lecherous (or otherwise) single men, it has been young families, wine aficionado marrieds, sweet widows; in Monterey, either the people are incredibly nice or I have been incredibly lucky.

This last trip, my table mates at the Pairings at the Plaza, part of the Great Escape Weekend, kept me laughing so hard that by the end of the day I wanted to throw my carefully crafted schedule to the wind and finish the day with them drinking martinis at some fabulous Carmel bar.

M and M (names fully withheld to protect the exuberant) are an over-the-top (of their glass) couple who were married a decade earlier by an Indian Elvis in Las Vegas. They met in London and began a party that has been continuing ever since. They consume substantial quantities of wine and know what they like, and don’t like. Viognier was dismissed as the "Trophy Wife" of white wines. “Why?” Because, M quipped, it is low in sugar and low in calories.

As a journalist, I am typically embraced by the business world – “stay here,” “taste that.” But it is the people that I meet on every trip that give me the flavor of an area or an experience. Those that provide their email addresses, exhort me to stay, “drink this,” “laugh with me,” “come enjoy . . . .”

I have been seduced by Monterey, its people and its timelessness. If you haven’t already, open yourself and be pulled into Monterey’s spell.

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