31 December 2005

Happy New Year; Restaurant Rant

I wish everyone who reads this a Happy New Year. I did most of my celebrating the night of the 30th--details on the roast duck might be forthcoming. Tonight I've really kept it low key, drinking rum and snacking on hummus and pita. I've got no desire to fight traffic with drunks and similar ignoramuses. I even passed up on a few parties--the girlfriend is out of town, as are several close friends. Due to an upcoming hellish week at work, I was really wanting a peaceful evening at home with the dogs. And thus I am quite pleased.

I've seen much linking to this rant about how to order wine in a restaurant without looking like an... ignoramus. I think I've touched on this before, but I rarely if ever order wine in a restaurant. Especially here in Memphis, where local wine taxes are ridiculous and, if ordering by the glass, you won't often be able to find out how long the bottle has been open. I'll give an example. There's a really nice seafood joint near my house. Great food. They list the Folie à Deux Menage à Trois White for $35. That's a $10 wine at retail prices; even being generous I assume it's maybe $7.50 wholesale. I'm not a cheap person*, but damn. And prices per glass are often as bad, if not worse--typically around here a glass of wine costs roughly the retail price of the entire bottle. This is discouraging, because if you like the wine you know precisely how much extra you're paying, and if it's a new wine that you're curious about, it hardly seems worth it to pay the cost of an entire bottle for a mere five ounces.

For those reasons, if I want wine with a meal I'm more than happy to bring my own and pay the corking fee. Heck, there are some joints around town that don't charge a corking fee, though they don't really advertise that fact. (One note: whether you charge or not, providing glasses and opening the wine are helpful. Recently I had a waiter ignore the wine through the entire ordering process and through the conclusion of the salad course.)

Now, I understand that restaurants are in business to make money, and there's a lot of profit to be made in the sale of alcohol... But I think that the pricing structure and taxation of wine in the US are crazy, and hinder mass acceptance of wine as an everyday accompaniment to meals. Wine makes food taste better and vice versa; why not price things in order to facilitate this? I'd love to have a local restaurant that had a small but constantly changing wine list, along with a guarantee that wines sold by the glass came from bottles that were open for less than 36 hours.

Since I don't do a lot of eating out with groups--in those situations I really enjoy cooking at home for everyone--a lot of my restaurant experiences these days are solo ventures with a good book or newspaper. And thanks to my recent trip to Boston, I've rediscovered a love of beer, which really works well for those informal lunches or quiet after work dinners when you just want to relax and unwind. And let's face it, when you're eating a Reuben, can any wine compete with a pint of Guinness?

*I'm honestly more willing to spend the money on all the wine and ingredients to feed eight people a fantastic meal than I am to buy myself a mediocre meal with mediocre wine in a restaurant.

27 December 2005

December Food & Beverages

On my personal site, I relay a series of photos and stories about cocktails, lamb, waffles, and more... Not a lot about wine there, but other alcoholic beverages are covered, as well as some delectable food. I don't know if I'm doing anything special for New Year's Eve, but it's been a good month thus far.

26 December 2005

WBW 17: Red Kiwis

Given the subject of this WBW challenge, I bugged all of my greengrocers for Red Kiwis. Alas, none of the local shops had anything other than the fuzzy brown variety with green flesh. But I managed to find a Pinot Noir from the Place Down Under That Isn't Australia.

All joking aside, I've missed out on the past several Wine Blogging Wednesdays due to travel, inability to find something fitting, or simple forgetfulness. So I'm excited about this one, and I'm dedicating every sip to the good health of New Zealand Wine Blogger Barbara, currently recovering from surgery.

For this challenge I picked up a bottle of the 2003 Brancott Vineyards Marlborough Pinot Noir. Brancott is the US name for wines from Montana Wines in New Zealand. Obviously because we have a state named Montana (that is not well-known for its winemaking), the distributors chose a pseudonym for our market. For some reason I chose to photograph this wine next to my old naughty Altoids tin that sits beside the computer. Hey, it's also red...

Now this wine runs for $11 in Memphis. I had two choices for this challenge--get the bargain bottle from a producer who makes a Sauvignon Blanc that I love, or dish out thirty or forty bucks for an unknown. I had been honestly curious about the inexpensive Brancott bottle, and decided that this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. I've been burned on sub-$20 Pinot Noir many times, but I was happily surprised this time.

Not a lot of nose here, but there's a hint of very ripe strawberries. It's got a mild beginning, fruity middle, and a dry, slightly tannic finish. The overripe strawberry flavors dominate, but aren't overpowering. I'm sipping on this while eating a couple of slices of vegetarian pizza from a local joint (artichoke harts, feta cheese, black olives, sundried tomatoes, yum). Pinot Noir isn't your typical pizza wine, but this one is fun and not pretentious, and should be a good match for just about anything. And it would be an excellent starter Pinot Noir for anyone that's caught up in the Sideways hype but doesn't want to spent the dough for a decent Burgundy or Oregon bottle.

24 December 2005

Christmas Spirits

It's been a fun Christmas Eve... I started off the day with some of the Sam Adams Winter Lager at lunch. Great spice, and substantial enough to be an ale. Probably one of the darkest lagers I've ever had.

Then it was off to the parents' abode to spend a bit of quality family time. Along with some gifts I'd brought along a wedge of Cranberry Wensleydale. I first glimpsed this cheese at a local shop back around Thanksgiving... Sold in one pound wedges, it had an attractive burgundy wax rind, creamy white flesh and a generous dotting of cranberries throughout. I lusted after that cheese, but never got around to buying it... A few days ago, I picked up a wedge and have spent the intervening time resisting the urge to consume it myself. Fortunately, the wait was worth it. This was an amazing cheese. Almost like cream cheese in consistency, tart and slightly sweet, and with a great richness.

We had the cheese along with some smoked salmon and the 2003 Jacob's Creek Cabernet Merlot, a good fruit-forward, medium tannic offering from Australia. I'd give it a little more time, but I was more focused on swapping stories and spending time with family.

Later in the afternoon, some neighbors dropped by to visit, exchange gifts, and play with my parents' spoiled Yellow Labrador, who happens to be the mother of my goofy Chocolate Lab. With several men present, Dad decided it was a great time to break out the 12 Year Old Macallan Single Malt Scotch. Dad and the neighbor preferred theirs with water and ice, but I just took a healthy splash neat. I'm not the biggest fan of Scotch, but if I sip it slowly over time it grows on me. This had a pungent, almost fishy aroma, but more time spent with it revealed deeper and more elegant qualities.

17 December 2005

2004 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèl "45" Côtes du Rhône Rosé

For some reason a few more dry rosés appear to be drifting into the market, and I am helpless in their presence... So I'm spending an afternoon watching old Steve Martin movies and enjoying a $10 bottle of the 2004 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Parallèl "45" Côtes du Rhône Rosé. 50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 10% Syrah, though I thought I could taste more Syrah in there. The great thing about this wine? It tastes just like a good Côtes du Rhône but with no tannins. An excellent wine to pair with barbecued pork or chicken, and a good transitional wine for getting newcomers off the sweet stuff and into some of the milder French reds. Nice tart raspberry flavors with a short finish and an enchanting deep red sunset color.

The name "45th Parallel" refers to the fact that that line of latitude that runs right by the vineyard. Just for trivial info, my hometown and current city of residence, Memphis, Tennessee, is at almost exactly 35°N 90°W, a major intersection often shown on maps. And living one quarter of the way around the world from the Prime Meridian makes figuring time zones much simpler. In addition to those two major cartographical lines, we're also the at the cross between two major Interstates (I-40 and I-55), as well as major rail lines and the largest river in North America. Though we don't manufacture much in Memphis, we're a major distribution center for the entire nation. Lots of products come here, get repackaged and/or stored before being sent back all over the country. Add in the world headquarters of FedEx and there's a good chance that lots of things you've bought have passed through Memphis at one point or another.

15 December 2005

2004 Bell Rosé Wine

Back in November, I attended a tasting with Anthony Bell of Bell Wine Cellars. I thought I had tried everything of his that would be available in this area, but while nosing around at another wine shop tonight I came across a little treasure: the 2004 Bell Rosé Wine. No direct link because there doesn't appear to be anything on the website about it. It's made in the Dry Creek Valley, and according to the tiny type on the back label, it's 2% Viognier, 3% Syrah, and 95% Zinfandel. Zinfandel? Zinfandel Rosé? But isn't that basically the dreaded White Zinfandel?

Relax. This is a dry rosé, which gives you an interesting opportunity to taste Zinfandel without the heavy alcohol and powerful tannins, but also without the sweetness of your everyday White Zin. It's got a lovely ruby color in the glass, though on the edges and during the pour you get to see that lovely grey/pink/lavender color you see in some similar French wines. It's got a Zinfandel nose, but more restrained, almost like the Zin has been poured for the person seated next to you at dinner. With almost no tannins and very light acidity, you get an initial berry flavor followed by some of the darker undertones of Zinfandel (that smoky quality that is so delightful). But the style provides a short finish, making you reach for another sip soon after.

This isn't really the time of year for a rosé, but I couldn't pass it up, nor could I wait to try it. I had a lot of writing to catch up on, so why not pour a glass of a fun wine, put some Christmas music on the iPod and get to work?

I was also surprised to see this bottle numbered--it's bottle #586 out of 1,020. I've had numbered wines before, but not for $11 retail.

12 December 2005

Castellblanch Rosado Cava

Following the sparkling wine tasting, I was really in the mood for some more... I didn't pick any of the selections offered, but once lured by the blanc de noirs I grabbed a lovely bottle of the Castellblanch Rosado Cava, a non-vintage offering from Spain. It's made from Trepat and Garnacha. Some berry flavors, mildly sweet (labeled as "Seco"), and easily drinkable. Once again, why is it that Spanish rosés have that slightly orange cast to them? It doesn't bother me, I find it attractive.

11 December 2005

Tasting Notes for December 10, 2005

I got in from Boston at 1:00, my friend picked me up from the airport and then by 2:00 I was at the wine tasting... Actually stopped there before going home. Some might say that indicates a problem, but how could I pass up the annual sparkling wine/champagne tasting?

A lot of these are non-vintage; a few are probably of a specific year, but I was worn out after the flight and didn't grab the dates off the bottles. For that matter, I'm writing these notes up at midnight on the day after the tasting, and I've got to be at work in the morning, and I'm in something of a foul mood. I'll try not to take it out on the wine. Baby, you know I'm not like that, I just get so angry sometimes...

Wine 1: Freixenet Carta Nevada Semi-Dry. Spain. A little yeast, slightly sweet, a creamy finish. Simple, but a good bargain. $11.

Wine 2: Mumm Napa Cuvée M. Napa Valley, California. Crisp nose, crisp acidic flavor, barely sweet and with a tingling finish. An excellent selection for a party opener or palate cleanser between courses. $20.

Wine 3: Nino Franco Prosecco Di Valdobiaddene "Rustico". Veneto, Italy. Lord, I loves me some Prosecco, but not this one. There was a toasty nose, but it was dry and with a dull flavor. Nothing too interesting, and I've had much better for half the price. $18.

Wine 4: Schlumberger Cuvée Klimt. Austria. I haven't drunk much Austrian wine. This is made from something called Welschriesling that is neither Welsh nor Riesling, just an ancient white grape popular in Eastern Europe. The bottling is in honor of the famous Gustav Klimt painting Der Kuß or The Kiss. Unfortunately, I never cared for Klimt and an ex-girlfriend was a huge fan, so the label didn't do a damned thing for me. As for the wine? I wasn't impressed there either. Not much of a nose, dry and crisp with no discernable flavors, really just sort of neutral. Not bad, not good, not interesting unless you're crazy about Austria. $20.

Wine 5: Montaudon Grande Rose. Champagne, France. Yeasty nose, dry and with slight raspberry flavors. Decent, but damn, the price. $35.

Side note: pretty much everything that follows is out of my normal price range. I won't complain about the price, but unless you've got the cash to spare I'd save these for special occasions. I know that alientates me from much of the wineblogosphere, but not all of us can afford to drop $50 on every bottle we drink. I've got a happy niche in the under $25 world.

Wine 6: J Brut Rosé. Sonoma, California. The first wine that made me a happy lad. Strawberry nose, very crisp and dry with amazing berry flavors. Might grab this for Christmas or New Year's Eve. $35.

Wine 7: Montaudon Brut. Champagne, France. This had a weird, funky aroma that turned a lot of people off, myself included. Strange flavor followed, a little crisp, but just too damned odd. $35.

Wine 8: Duval-Leroy Brut. Champagne, France. A Wine Spectator Top 100. Buttered toast aromas, a tiny bit of lemon on the palate, and exceptionally well balanced. A nicely crafted wine. $35.

Wine 9: Pommery Brut Royal. Champagne, France. Yeasty, dry, firm acids and a bit of pear on the tongue. Great wine. $50.

Wine 10: Bollinger Special Cuvée. Champagne, France. Baked bread aromas dominate, with medium fizz and acids. An older tasting, more mature Champagne. $60.

Wine 11. 1996 Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame. Champagne, France. Here was the big one out of the tasting, and the first Veuve Cliquot I've tried. Oh, I'd love to be wealthy enough to buy a bottle every time I eat a salad, or raw oysters, but that's why I go to tastings. This had the most alluring, but very subtle aroma of pine. And not an artificial pine scent, more the real smell you get while cutting down a Christmas tree. It had great balance of all elements, and there was just the slightest bit of mint flavor on the finish. Really an intriguing wine, and I might just have to get a second job to get this occasionally. $150.

Wine 12: Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui. Piedmont, Italy. A funny choice for a finisher, but they served some chocolate along with it. I had this back in January, and enjoyed it then. Lots of cherry flavors, but creamy and fun. I didn't even eat any of the chocolate yet found touches of that flavor in the wine. Excellent selection for people that don't drink a lot of wine, or for a dessert wine for the more discriminating palate. $20.

Beer Tour of Boston

I've been in Boston for the past week, and aside from a last minute wine tasting yesterday on the way home from the airport (notes to follow soon), I didn't consume any wine while gone. Rather, I took advantage of the city's rich beer brewing tradition. The trip was for business purposes, so I didn't have a lot of time to wander around. My co-worker stuck to Miller Lite and Jack and Coke. I'm not a huge beer snob, but why not try things that aren't sold in our home town? I took the same approach with restaurants--I wanted seafood, and lots of it, and attempted to avoid chain joints as much as possible.

The first night out, all of the local places were closed, so I was stuck with an Applebee's. I asked the waitress for a local beer, and she didn't know anything about beer. So we walked to the bar, and I glanced over the taps until something stood out: the Wachusett Country Ale. This was a fairly light beer, but it hit the spot.

Monday night was our first trip through downtown Boston... during a pub crawl I had Harpoon IPA and Harpoon Munich Dark. The former was a classic India Pale Ale, with solid bitter elements. God, I love a good bitter beer. The second was a good dark malt with a smooth finish. Things get a little fuzzy after that, though I had another Harpoon IPA at the historic Union Oyster House, over a massive sampler of fried clams, oysters, scallops, and haddock. Plus some damned fine clam chowder, even if the waitress made fun of my accent and refused to take the order until I said "chowdah".

Wednesday I sampled the Harpoon UFO at the Three Cheers Bar & Grill near the harbor. This was drunk alongside the best fish and chips I've had in my life. When you're literally on the edge of the water, good seafood is rarely far away. The UFO (UnFiltered Offering) turned out to be a decent Hefeweizen, which explained the lemon slice on top. I also grabbed Harp and Guinness at a couple of pubs--it was damned cold that night, with the wind slamming sleet and road salt into my face. A great excuse to dip into a pub and drink beer while consulting the map.

Friday I had a Berkshire at the Westford Grille in Westford, Massachusetts. Not sure which specific variety, but it was a deep amber ale with a just a little bitter touch from the hops. Had it with cedar plank salmon, green beans and roasted butternut squash. Praises be to those who appreciate butternut squash, an entirely ignored vegetable around here. (Though the desire for a dark orange, sweet and starchy side dish tends to be fulfilled by sweet potatoes.)

All in all, a great town. I didn't mean to neglect Samuel Adams, but we get several of their beers in Memphis. Supposedly there are 18 varieties of Sam Adams (including a cranberry lambic that I'm dying to try), but every place I visited in Boston only had Sam Adams and Sam Adams Light. One place had Oktoberfest. For comparison, this afternoon at my friend's place I had the Sam Adams Black Lager and could have had the Hefeweizen if I wanted. Had I planned a bit better, I could have hit some other microbreweries, but I had a good time nonetheless.

03 December 2005

Tasting Notes for December 3, 2005

Normally I write up my tasting notes on Sunday morning, but I'm headed off to Boston for a week (where I'm planning to sample as many locally brewed beers as possible). Given the star quality of this tasting, I felt like writing about it tonight.

This was an interesting tasting... The usual Saturday host decided to hold a high end tasting and charge admission. I'm more than happy to pay for the privilege, particularly when they list some of the featured wines ahead of time. For $20, I got to sample nearly $700 worth of bottles that I normally wouldn't have been able to try. This resulted in a smaller, more intimate crowd, and given the nature of the wines, I spent as much time as I could with each of the samples. Likewise, the hosts were willing to pour a little more liberally and permit seconds and thirds when requested.

As these tastings are held upstairs from a restaurant, I elected to have a late lunch after the tasting, reading a book and taking my time to sober up before driving home.

All of the beverages sampled today were of top notch quality, and while I rarely spend a lot of money on an individual bottle of wine, almost all of these could be considered recommended selections if you've got the cash to spare. I'm going to repeat myself a lot, but these were all well balanced wines. I'll point out my favorites. Also, I got to try three single malt Scotches, which I'll list at the end.

Wine 1: 2003 Domaine Weinbach Cuvee St. Catherine Riesling. Alsace, France. Ah, an Alsatian Riesling. Elegant bottle and label. There's an earthy, musky aroma, with a slight sweetness but balanced acids. An expertly crafted Riesling with great complexity. $60.

Wine 2: 2003 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Napa Valley, California. This is the '03 vintage of the famous '72 Chardonnay that won the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Not oaky or buttery, this is smooth and well rounded with large fruit flavors. There's just a bit of lemony acidity to even things out. If you do your research and feel like telling the story in a dramatic style, this would be a fun wine to present at a dinner party. $36.

Wine 3: 2002 HdV Chardonnay. Napa Valley (Carneros), California. A collaboration between Napa Valley and Burgundy producers, this is a lighter wine than the previous selection. There's some butter and cream, less acid, and just a little smoke. A lingering finish allows you to remember this wine for a good while. $60.

Wine 4: 2002 Beringer Sbragia Limited Release Chardonnay. Napa Valley (Gamble Ranch), California. A luxury offering from Beringer, peddler of bargain basement table wines? The name wasn't a liability here, but most people at the tasting really disliked this wine, myself included. This wine is so heavily oaked that several of us requested new glasses. Once you get past the aroma, there's some buttered toast, but there's an almost burned quality to the wine. Not recommended. $45.

Wine 5: 2001 Antica Terra Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley, Oregon. One of my two favorites out of the bunch. Very little nose, light and delicate, mild strawberry flavors and almost no tannins. This wine has that great "melt in your mouth" quality that is so hard to find in red wine. It's almost like a snowflake falling on your tongue and melting. $40.

Wine 6: 1997 Chateau Corton-Andre Grand Cru. Burgundy, France. Classy, with some red fruit, no tannins, and a short finish. Very sophisticated and just a touch of that French farmyard quality to it. Very dignified. It's hard to explain, but I felt like I should stand up straight and mind my manners while drinking this wine. $90.

Wine 7: 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer Vineyard, Georges III. Napa Valley, California. Alcohol on the nose, but with some dark plum as well. The tannins have mellowed into the background, but the fruit retains a bright cheerfulness. Great wine here. $60.

Wine 8: 2001 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Alexander Valley, California. This is the first time that the great Silver Oak has passed my lips... though this is the "bargain" version, only two thirds the price of the Napa Valley release. This was my other favorite of the tasting. There are hints of cedar and anise on the nose, maybe a little smoke and something that was not quite like caraway seeds. It has an incredibly smooth start with just a little tingle of tannins on the finish--sort of like those fireworks that go dark and then erupt into sparkles a few seconds later. This was another "melt in your mouth" selection. $66.

Wine 9: 2001 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley, California. The darkest wine of the tasting, this had a lot of black pepper and black cherry on the nose. Just a little whiff of alcohol, but bright fruit flavors emerge. A fantastic wine, but super expensive. $125.

Scotch 1: 14 Year Old Clynelish Coastal Highland Whisky. Highlands, Scotland. Though Scottish blood flows through my veins (not in the kings and heroes vein, more poor farmers and ne'er-do-wells who got kicked out of the UK), my grandmother visits every couple of years, and my father is a single malt aficionado, I haven't yet developed the ability to fully appreciate Scotch. I'll happily drink it when served, but I've never bought it on my own. So for this and the next two listings, I'm going to quote the host's notes: "Stylish, fruity, and slightly smoky." $59.

Scotch 2: 12 Year Old Caol Ila Islay Whisky. Islay, Scotland. Distilled on an island on the west coast. "Pale golden and peated, but not pungent and heavy, yet with an intense fruit.". At this point, I was savoring every sip and was getting quite chatty with the hosts. $63.

Scotch 3: 18 Year Old Caol Ila Islay Whisky. Islay, Scotland. Same distillery as the above. "A rarely available long aged whisky displaying a rich fuller body and more intense expressions of Caol Ila's unmistakable, peaty Islay style." By the conclusion of this tasting cycle, I was making friends left and right and was debating about whether to call a cab or just set up shop in the corner as a professional philosopher. $80.

01 December 2005

2002 Avenue Cabernet Sauvignon

The past few weeks have been a lot of fun wine-wise, as I've been given a lot of nice bottles by friends and family. There's a great looking Pinot Noir sleeping quietly in the cupboard that I'm dying to try, but I'm saving that to share with the lovely young lady that brought it back from California with her.

Tonight I'm sipping on one of those gifts, another from Dad, the 2002 Avenue Cabernet Sauvignon. Like the Mama Mia Zinfandel I had recently, this is made by the Silo Winery, located in Napa Valley. I've probably stated this a dozen times, but I don't drink a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon. Don't get me wrong, I love the grape, but I generally can't afford the good stuff. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir need a lot of care and attention, and can produce spectacular wines, but are almost never enjoyable at the bargain level. That's part of why I chase all of the weird grapes, as a lot of them make perfectly drinkable wines at decent prices.

I'm happy to report that this is a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon, even though I don't know the price. The aroma is amazing, but very subtle. Some wines have a powerful aroma, but if you can smell a wine without the glass even being in your hand, then there's generally something wrong. It's kind of like being in a diner early in the morning, sitting a couple of booths away from an off-duty stripper who's still wrapped in that melange of cigarette smoke, baby oil and cheap jug perfume, sending out the olfactory equivalent of a set of powerful sub-woofers.

You know that sensation when you're dancing with a classy woman during a slow song and she puts her head on your shoulder and you just get the slightest hint of some perfectly blended perfume, which she has just barely dabbed behind her ears? And you lean in a bit and breathe deeply and hope that the song never ends... A wine with a subtle aroma is a lot like that.

So here's what I get from this wine when I take the time to appreciate it: incredible chocolate aromas, with hints of cherry. Maybe some pipe tobacco. The flavor has more chocolate, but with some black pepper flavors instead of fruit. And even though it's 14.2% alcohol, you really can't smell it or taste it. Likewise, the tannins are present but not powerful. Excellent balance all around.

I don't think I've done any wine dedications thus far, but I'd like to raise my glass tonight to the memory of Elizabeth Hankins. She was my senior English teacher, though I had taken her summer creative writing course for all four years of high school. She was a published poet and taught me a great deal. By my senior year we were pretty close and I had a great time in her class, scoring a 5 on my AP English exam. She made all of us keep a weekly writing journal (an analog blog for my younger readers). I recently found my old journal, along with all of her comments in the margins. With ten years gone by since I last saw her, I decided to get in touch with her. She had retired from my high school, but one of the other English teachers I knew was kind enough to pass along her e-mail address.

I wrote her a long and thoughtful e-mail, bringing her up to date on what I've been doing since graduation, along with a lot of heartfelt thanks for everything she taught me, as well as the unique way that she dealt with students. Most people considered her a harsh woman, but if you worked hard and showed an enthusiasm for the written word, she really opened up. I got a reply a couple of weeks later, and she was delighted to hear from me. Unfortunately, she was suffering from esophageal cancer.

I wrote back offering whatever help and support I could, but didn't get a response. Two days ago, I got an e-mail from one of her relatives informing me that she had passed away. Said relative was moved by my letter and wanted to let me know what had happened. I'm glad that she's not suffering anymore, but at the same time, I'm really sorry that I didn't get to see her in person one last time. The whole unfortunate coincidence of my decision to contact her really rams home the idea that if there's someone in your past that had a great influence on you, that it's important to reach out to them and let them know before it's too late.

And with that, I have more wine to drink, and more letters to write.