Interview with Chef and Author Lynn Nicholson

Goldfinger0071473637_1 The wine industry is enjoying a boom in popularity today that began in the early 90’s with the airing of “The French Paradox” on the TV show Sixty Minutes.  On slow news days, the media still dust off stories about the health benefits of wine!

But not until now has there been a useful guide on how to integrate wine as part of a healthy weight-loss plan.  Now we have such a guide in the form of the new book “The Wine Lover’s Healthy Weight Loss Plan”, co-authored by Cardiologist Tedd Goldfinger (yeah, I too hear the James Bond theme song in my head, I bet he hates that) and Chef Lynn Nicholson.

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Lynn for our blog readers.  I’ve annotated our conversation about her love of food and wine and how you can include wine as part of a healthy weight management program…

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"How big is a Small Fire?" and "Pinot Harvest"

Since Thursday, the Wine Road has taken me to a memorable dinner in Napa Valley, a pinot harvest in Mendocino county, and our wine bar’s groundbreaking celebration in Santa Barbara county.  In Napa for dinner with friends in Yountville, we awoke to take our gracious hostess Jan to breakfast at Gordon’s, where you’re as likely to sit next to Napa’s famous as next to a tourist from Des Moines. 

Leaving Jan’s place we noticed neighbors milling about in the streets.  "What’s that, an ad-hoc homeowner’s meeting?" she asked.  Then we turned the corner and drove towards thFire_1e Mayacamas mountains and saw what everyone was looking at.  Smoke.  Lot’s of smoke.  The photo at the right shows the view from Gordon’s parking lot last Friday morning.  Though it looks as if the fire is coming from the building across the street, it’s in the mountains, several miles behind it.  We speculated as to the safety of Mayacamas Vineyards and Mount Veeder Winery, decided they were too far south to be threatened, and went in for breakfast hoping we were correct.

Gordons_1 Breakfast at Gordon’s is an interesting mix of small town breakfast spot and tourist trap.  Many of the latter stop in to see the former, and this may be the reason for much of its success.  But in the opinion of one in our party, it is because of Gordon’s great rough-hewn wooden tables, which make interesting lines when you color on them.  I do, however, believe this to be the minority opinion.

We were on our way to Mendocino’s Anderson Valley for, among other things, an early morning pinot harvest at the Abbey Harris vineyard.

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"Barefoot in the Air", or "Rule-Breaker Wine & Food Pairings"

“I can take off my Dora sandals when I’m on the airplane” our 4-year old daughter inforDora_sandal_largemed us with the glee that accompanies her fresh insights, “because there is no light saying you can’t have bare feet!”  Makes sense, there are lights telling her to fasten her seat belt, or that the restroom is occupied, or…

We were flying from California to Pennsylvania for a family wedding and had been barraged with the unending series of “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs?” directives that greet air travelers.  In the face of all these DO NOTS, the fact she still COULD take off her Dora sandals gave her great satisfaction. Ahhh, freedom.

Some years back I enjoyed a similar escape from the chains of convention the first time I succeeded in disproving the old dictum “White wine with Fish, Red wine with Meat”. This early success encouraged me to seek other contrarian pairings, a pursuit which renewed my love affair with wine…

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Aroma Hooey?

250pxylang_cananga_odorata "I’d like to tell you" I said to the perky sales associate "that this is the best shaving cream I’ve ever used.  But I loathe coming in to buy it because of your store’s over-powering assault on my nose!" Seeing her dismay I quickly added "You see, I work with wine, where a sensitive and well-trained nose is a valuable tool."

My comment had been offered in sympathy for the workers in this boutique shop, which features hand-made soaps and cosmetics with no packaging.  I figured they too must dread the over-powering essence of jasmine, watermelon, cucumber, Ylang-Ylang and dozens of other scents figuratively screaming for the attention of every nostril within 50 feet.  But my words were not taken kindly.  Visibly bristling, the Sales Associate gave me a look she likely reserved for the heathen, the non-believers…

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What!? Me? A Wine Geek???

Roger_1_1 One of the most alluring aspects of wine is the un-ending opportunity for learning it provides the eternally curious.  An entire lifetime could be dedicated just to exploring its history.  Another is needed to learn how to tweak a particular terroir to its best expression, and another just to keep up with developments in production.  That’s three lifetimes right there, and we have yet to put glass to lip, which is really what it’s all about, after all.

For centuries, the pursuit of wine knowledge and experiences have attracted the curious and the sensual (and, unfortunately, the insufferable wine snob which we’ll leave for other discussions).  We all know people who follow this path, people who get visibly excited when expressing their knowledge or opinion about wine.  They are most assuredly wine Geeks.  But it’s always easier to spot such characteristics in others while remaining blind to them in ourselves.  Here’s how to tell if you’re one of them too…

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Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

“You know how to buy stocks, but do you know how to sell them?”  So opened the article about how investors often "collect stocks" instead of selling them at their peak.  The author made sense, until he said “Your stocks are not like your wine portfolio, which rewards years of quiet neglect.”

Dusty_bottles The voice inside my head I wailed "Bulloney" (yes, Fatherhood has done wonders for my language.)  I don’t doubt the author’s insights into investor psychology, only his contention that wines reward years of quiet neglect.  Any wine collector with more than 25 bottles suffers from the same foibles of human psychology that plague the investor and the large wine collector alike…

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Traveling with wine a little more difficult

Early last Thursday we were returning from Vancouver when someone called with the news.  We were scurrying about in the pre-flight frenzy familiar to those with young children, so the news of some vaguely-defined terrorism threat was particularly un-nerving.  Fortunately, we made it home with relatively little delay, having been warned in advance about the newly-forbidden carry-on items.

Wine Now A Forbidden Carry-OnTsa_agent_ap
My crystal ball tells me there is air travel in your future, so you would be wise to remember that wine is no longer allowed in your carry-on.  It is a sad thing to see, the distraught oenophile forced to separate from precious wine by an over-worked TSA agent.  But it is put into proper perspective by the reason for needing to do so – these are crazy times when small bands of extremists impact large democracies…

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For one brief, shining moment

Postcard_1 Greenwood Ridge Winery, the host for the California Wine Tasting Championships, is located in the Anderson Valley, about seven miles from the valley floor (distance, not altitude, of course). 

It is so remote that first-time visitors often report turning off of Highway 128 at the "California Wine Tasting Championships" sign, only to grow increasingly convinced they either missed the place or their odometer is broken.  The familiar thought of the perpetually lost begins to haunt the driver – "Am I getting closer or FARTHER AWAY??"  Even after seeing the winery’s sign (and missing the driveway, requiring a quick u-turn), there are another two miles of dirt driveway to navigate.  That clean car you started out with?  Forget about it.

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Damn, what IS that, that…?

Friday, July 28, 2006.  I’m on my way up Anderson Valley for the 24th annual California Wine Tasting Championships.  My wife has kindly offered to drive so I can blog for as long as my laptop battery holds out.  Last year was my first year of participation, and was honored to have lost in the final round to two winemakers and a distributor.

The format is challenging – an unknown wine is poured into your glass and you have four minutes to determine the following:
• The grape variety (all wines are varietal wines, with at least 75% of the dominant variety) 6points
• Extra Credit (only granted IF the correct varietal is identified)
   o It’s region (3 points)
   o It’s vintage (1 point)
   o It’s producer (2 points)

Guess the wrong grape varietal, and you lose all points you may have earned for that wine! Contestants taste 8 wines per round.

This year I’ve talked to some of my industry friends into competing, one of whom rented a van to transport their entire staff to the competition!  This adds an extra element of pressure, of course.  And while I’m glad my friends are participating, it does add an element of stress to the competition. 

I don’t know about you, but my palate goes through periods of being really stupid.  It just flat won’t work.  Such periods don’t last long – a couple hours at the most.  When blind tasting, this is akin to instant defeat.

Unbeknownst to my wife, I’d stopped by Safeway and dropped a whopping $45 on seven practice wines.  She was kind enough to wrap them and pour them for me to practice with in preparation of tomorrow’s event.  I have to say, I did horribly.  And worse yet, I thought I’d done very well until the wine’s identities were revealed.  I went to bed in a restless mood, clearly dreading tomorrow.

Next – Saturday’s competition…