Johnson Estate Winery, nestled on the shore of Lake Erie, offers one of the most delectable spiced wines in the northeast: Red Ipocras. Modeled after the spiced wines of the Renaissance, Johnson Estate describes the delicious red brew:
“An Elizabethan recipe using cinnamon, cloves, and secret spices. Nice as a summer sangria with plenty of oranges. On a winter’s evening, it is the perfect pairing for spiced ham, for for dessert: pumpkin pie, spice cookies or cake. May be served slightly warm.”
Or, in our case, serve slightly chilled when among friends with a healthy admiration for all things Dickens and Blackadder. ”Elizabethan” and “Ipocras” shouldn’t be foreign terms to today’s wine drinkers:
“In 16th century England, Ipocras, both white and red, was a drink of the highest nobility. At a time when both sugar and spices were rare and precious, Ipocras was reserved for the use of royalty at the most precious ceremonial occasions. Indeed, Ipocras was the libation presented by the Lord mayor of London to Queen Elizabeth I at her coronation. Ipocras (the name derives from Hippocrates) is very sweet and is generously flavored with several of the spices popular in old England. These include ginger, cinnamon, and clove, and they leave a wonderfully warm and lingering aftertaste. Fortunately, we live in a time where the makings of Ipocras are not so dear, and it may now be partaken of by the lesser nobility as well as you and me.”
By far the most well-rounded spiced wine that has ever crossed my palate, Red Ipocras is rich with flavor, offering a smooth, medium-bodied mouthfeel and lingering accents of spice guaranteed to blend well with everything from appetizers to the most hearty of holiday meals. Add some character to your Christmas with this treat of a mulled wine.
According to Better Homes & Gardens, Thanksgiving is the number one holiday for wine sales. Following their list of recommended varietals, here are some New Jersey wine selections that should grace your Thanksgiving table this year.
For a fine Sparkling Wine, look no further than Valenzano Winery’s Cranpagne. The effervescence of this sparkling Jersey cranberry wine ushers in the holiday spirit like no other, making it the perfect sweet-tart traditional flavor to toast the autumn chill, fall foliage and hearts full of thanks.
If you love cranberry but aren’t as crazy about the bubbly, check out Sharrott Winery’s Cranberry Wine. Made from 100% New Jersey cranberries (think: Ocean Spray) this delightful elixir is the perfect compliment to your turkey-led feast. Leave the cranberry sauce for the kiddies and sip away at this bright red delight.
Red Wine drinkers will give thanks for two beautiful dry reds from Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill, NJ. A fruit farm that has been family owned since the Civil War, Heritage began wine making in the 1990′s and has cultivated a reputation as one of the Garden State’s best wineries. Their 2010 BDX Reserve, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cab Sav, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot aged in French oak, was the highest ranking Jersey red in the infamous Judgement of Princeton. Richly balanced, the 2011 version of the BDX will inspire many a good conversation at this year’s table. Prefer the spice of a Syrah? Heritage’s Estate Reserve 2010 Syrah is one of the most complex and balanced versions of the grape in the state. Both reds are round with a flavor that dances across the palate and promises to make a partner out of any holiday meal.
Our family loves vacationing at Walt Disney World in the fall. The weather’s perfect, the crowds aren’t as bad as in the summer, and Disney creates some unique experiences this time of year. Last week, I wrote about Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party – more specifically, about the crazy adult costumes you see there. While the Halloween Party takes place at the Magic Kingdom, another event at Epcot provides a different kind of delight for a more grown up crowd. The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival offers guests a worldwide experience of unusual flavors and native dishes.
This year’s festival, which runs from September 27-November 11, includes 30 pavilions featuring carefully chosen dishes from across the globe as well as booths for local specialties and items for those with special dietary needs. Each week the festival hosts celebrity chefs and winemakers in addition to once-in-a-lifetime culinary experiences. Many of the dishes in the pavilions are tapas-sized portions at reasonable prices.
This event has made its home at Epcot for 18 years now, and this year Scotland became the newest addition to the festival. Some of the booths offered tantalizing choices, including:
Australia, Introduced: 1997
- Garlic Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes, Lemon Myrtle and Rapini - $4.50
- Pavlova (Crispy Meringue Shell with Fresh Driscoll’s® Berries and Vanilla Custard) - $3.25
Brazil, Introduced: 1996
- Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans, Onions, Avocado and Cilantro - $5.25
Florida Local, Introduced: 2012
- Florida Grass Fed Beef Slider with Monterey Jack and Sweet & Hot Pickles - $3.75
- Florida Orange Groves, Key Lime Wine – $2.75
Hawai’i, Introduced: 2011
- Kālua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole® Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise - $3.50
Mexico, Introduced: 1996
- Shrimp Taco with Purple Cabbage - $5.50
- Taco de Ribeye with Salsa de Chipotle - $5.50
Singapore, Introduced: 2005
- Lemongrass Chicken Curry with Coconut and Jasmine Rice - $4.25
New Jersey is a tricky little state. Within an hour or so you can be hiking the mountains or sunning at the beach, walking a major city or driving through farm fields. You can even be driving through a suburb and run into a vineyard.
Tucked in the north Jersey farmlands, the tasting/barrel room of Beneduce Vineyards sits amid 10 Estate acres planted with a variety of grapes including Riesling and Pinot Noir along with some unique to New Jersey like Blaufrankisch and Corot Noir, reflecting the winemaker’s Cornell University background.
For $5 you’re offered a tasting of what’s available at the moment. ($10 includes a cheese platter with your tasting.) The five wines available to us were each impressive in their own right. The 2012 Chardonnay fermented on the lees in 60% new oak carried lively citrus notes too often stifled by winemakers looking to achieve the buttery oak flavor that has become the standard expectation of the varietal. Rather than live up to expectations, the winemakers at Beneduce found a unique balance of oak and fruit that produces a refreshingly lightweight, well structured Chardonnay.
If you, like me, are exhausted with the trendiness of Cab Sav (which, I’m beginning to believe, has unfairly become the go-to alternative to the much-maligned-by-Sideways Merlot) refresh your palate with Beneduce’s Cab Franc. The mother grape of Cab Sav, this Cabernet Franc opens with an essence of tobacco and offers up berries on the finish. Lacking the heaviness typical to a Cab Sav, this full-figured wine has a lighter mouthfeel and warm, rather than tannic nodes. This is a perfect dry red for Thanksgiving dinner.
Whether you drink once a year or once a day, no wine aficionado can survive without these basic tools in their cellar. While you can take a rain check on the fancy glasses (despite what wine snobs may think, you really can appreciate wine out of a Wal Mart glass) there are a few gadgets out there that make your wine experience so much easier and more enjoyable without breaking the bank. Here are my Top 5 budget-friendly wine toolbox must-haves.
5. A Foil Cutter
Ever try slicing at that wine wrapper with a steak knife? Yeah, not so good. Spend a few bucks on this little tool that will get you into the bottle that much quicker. This one from Le Creuset verges on high end (if there is such a thing in foil cutters, which there most assuredly is) in price, but the four-wheel system will spare you the wrist-cramps and keep going long after those cheaper models have jammed up and bit the dust.
4. A Good Corkscrew
The Butterfly Corkscrew is my personal favorite. I happen to own one that graced my grandfather’s bar since the mid-1960s. If you don’t shop flea markets or have access to that kind of nostalgia, be sure to shop for a heavier gauge model. Don’t waste your money on a cheaper model made of lightweight metal. If you do, you’ll bend the arms of the opener long before you pry the cork from your bottle.
Many friends favor the electric bottle openers, but don’t be fooled. Unless you’re willing to invest in a truly high-end model, these openers are all talk and no action, and nothing is worse than losing charge in the middle of opening a bottle.
The Rabbit Corkscrew, the favored opener among middle aged women everywhere, is an easy alternative. With a no-slip grip and lever screw, the Rabbit opens a bottle in 3 seconds making it the ultimate tool for Girls’ Night Out.
If you haven’t heard of The Judgement of Paris you should check out the film Bottle Shock starring a pre-Star Trek Chris Pine. If you haven’t heard of The Judgement of Princeton, you should check out Unionville Vineyards.
Tucked away in the hills of Revolutionary New Jersey not far from Princeton, Unionville is the leader in high class, home grown wines at affordable prices. With Unionville it’s all about style. Set amid the rolling acres of vines are a brick farmhouse dating back to 1858 and a huge red barn that houses a rustic tasting bar and seating area. Acoustic jams echo through the beams on weekends and special events.
For $10 we selected 8 wines from a list of 17 broken into four series: George, Fox, Artisan, and Single Vineyard. Given that this particular weekend was the launch of three new single vineyard Chardonnays, grown at three separate vineyard locations across the state, I aimed toward the latter series selecting the Bell Well, Mountain Road and Pheasant Hill to try first.
According to our tasting guide, the Bell Well is the most popular of the three single vineyard Chardonnays, described by the winemaker as “full but retrained with wonderful balance.” It is a friendly Chardonnay to be sure and my husband, who despises all things oak and dry admired it the most out of the three in the series. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with Bell Well. It is clean, fresh, smooth and lacking the kind of overwhelming buttery nature that makes a Chardonnay so incredibly offensive.
I’m a white wine drinker. I enjoy their complexity, their spirit, and their accessibility. Which is why on a rather hot and humid Labor Day weekend I opted to stick to whites on the tasting menu at Old York Cellars.
A gorgeous combination of modern and eclectic, the tasting room at Old York Cellars was buzzing with a diverse crowd of Jersey wine fanatics. You can tell the Jersey wine fanatic a mile away because while some wine tasters will mill about between sips, perhaps checking out the art hanging up around the tasting room, Jersey wine-o’s stand at the crowded bar determined to make their way down the list. What can I say? We’re used to waiting in traffic.
Claiming a spot at the bar our hostess supplied us with a wine list: six for $5. We commenced with the 2012 Dry Riesling. Rich and flavorful, this Riesling proffered a rather tangy finish. When it comes to a dry wine, I preferred the 2012 Vidal Blanc. At 0% residual sugar, this beautiful white gold wine played citrus notes as it danced across my tongue leaving a wet, smooth finish.
Their 2011 Sweet Riesling is truer to expectation. At 4% residual sugar it carried a pleasant flavor, richer, fuller body and almost creamy mouthfeel. A Silver Medal winner at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition is a serious honor given the fact that the Finger Lakes are the King of American Riesling. This wine should find a place at your dessert table with light, naturally sweet fare.
“Your cousin Vinny is blocking people in with his gold Caddy again.”
Only in New Jersey can you really have a cousin Vinny.
Tom Amabile, owner of Cream Ridge Winery, laughed at my observation. Amabile couldn’t be a more appropriate name for the man who began the winery 25 years ago: Sweet by name, sweet by nature. After giving one of the most informative tours we’d ever been on, Tom stuck around to give us special insight into the cork versus cap debate running hot in the wine world.
Excusing himself to attend to his cousin, Tom returned shortly with a need for more chairs. “Half of my wife’s family was in that car!”
My husband and I pitched in and trailed out front with some folding chairs. Once we finished setting up, Tom entreated us to return to the tank room. “As a thank you,” he explained as he led us over to the cold steel beauties with a mischievous glint in his eye, “take a taste from the tank!”
We held out our glasses to the tap. “That’s pure Niagara right there,” Tom explained, beaming with pride.
Rightfully so. The basis of some of their most popular wines, Cream Ridge’s Niagara embraces the full fruit of the white grape. Lacking the foxiness typical to labrusca varietals, this golden elixir is luscious. Blend it with red raspberry wine and almond essence and you have Almondberry, a unique delectable best seller that has been the winery’s most popular offering for 23 years.
Throw some country music on. My preferred tunes for the journey: Robert Earl Keen‘s “What I Really Mean”. Skip the highway and cruise the back roads through the farms of the Garden State, passing roadside stands offering zucchini, tomatoes, and zinnias with an honor system coffee can labeled “Money Can”. Make a few sharp turns, trust your GPS and there’s the sign: Laurita Winery.
Follow the curving driveway up and around to a massive building crafted from two historic barns originally slated for destruction. Walk the final hill to the entrance and be rewarded with a valley vineyard spread out before you, as far as your eye can see. In the center of the horizon a huge American flag waves proudly above primarily European vines.
Inside the barn, sidle up to one of two tasting bars offering 6 wines for $7. For an extra $4 you can try the Grand Cru, Laurita’s Chardonnay double fermented in aged Hungarian oak. This is a powerful wine, reminiscent of a single malt whiskey, meant to be savored after a great meal. A rich mouthfeel with flavors of butterscotch, oak and vanilla make the Grand Cru a succulent dessert experience not to be missed.
The Grand Cru wasn’t the only surprise in store for the tasting. Dubbed “extra dry,” the Lemberger, an Austrian dry red, proved to carry a remarkable fruit forward character. A light body carrying a black raspberry tang and spice nodes, I immediately took to this unique wine proving once again my palate’s preference for the spicy, fruit forward characteristics of German wines over the complex body of French grapes like Merlot or Cab Sav.
A family owned farm offering fresh Jersey produce, beautiful wildflowers and fresh-made baked goods including infamous Apple Cider donuts… that also makes their own wine? Terhune Orchards in Princeton, New Jersey is a one-stop shop for families and friends looking to get some fresh air and taste some great wine on a beautiful summer afternoon.
Our group descended upon the farm as the jazz band played. After sampling some gorgeous, fresh-made crepes we headed off to the tasting line. For $5 we sampled 5 wines each. Terhune’s Chambourcin was popular among dry red drinkers. This French-American hybrid is medium-bodied and leaves a tannic essence on the tongue. A bronze medal winner in the 2011 New Jersey State Wine Competition, Chambourcin is a great wine for pasta and barbecues. Another award winner, Rooster Red, pleased the palate with its smooth body and chocolate essence.
I found myself favoring Terhune’s white wines. Their Vidal Blanc had a rich mouthfeel offering a unique harmony of mineral and fruit. The Farmhouse White is a unique blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Vidal Blanc and Chardonelle. Clean and crisp, this wine offers the kind of detail that surpasses your expectations of a white table wine.
The standout in the crowd, however, is the Cold Soil White. I am an unabashed Gewurztraminer/Traminette fan. A white wine that carries strong floral and herbal notes, the Gewurz (or its American cousin, Traminette) is the easiest wine to screw up. It can smell great, like the best bouquet of wildflowers you’ve ever been given, and have no taste; it can smell lousy and carry an overwhelming sweetness, as if the bees drowned in pollen as the wine was being made. However, when done right, Gewurz/Traminette can taste as beautiful as it smells; light, flavorful, airy – a fairy elixir sourced in wooded wilderness. This is the kind of Traminette that forms the backbone of Cold Soil White.
Looking to get into wine? Look no further than Valenzano Winery. One of the Outer Coastal Plain’s finest, this New Jersey winery offers nearly 20 wines and champagnes to tickle your tastebuds. Located on Route 206 in Shamong, Valenzano has cultivated a reputation as one of the most well known and well loved South Jersey wineries.
The other week my husband and I dropped by for a tasting on a sunny summer afternoon. Having previously been to their wine tasting room, we planned to arrive shortly after they opened and were pleased to beat the usually busy crowd. Andrea greeted us from behind the bar; $5 to taste, a fee refunded with a bottle purchase. We began with the dry whites, a pleasant Chardonnay and palatable Vidal Blanc. Drinking the two together reinforced my preference for the Euro-American hybrid, Vidal and its clean, fresh mineral finish versus the buttery oakiness of Chardonnay. Among the dry reds, Valenzano’s Merlot Reserve was a standout in the crowd offering a rich detail, as if the fruit pursued that second date in oak knowing this was a sure thing.
Valenzano’s gift, however, is their careful manipulation of labrusca grape varieties including Niagara, Concord, and Ives. Often looked down upon by “serious wine drinkers” for their fruity flavor and foxy nature, these powerhouse grapes forge the backbone of the east coast wine scene. And call them the gateway wines if you will, they’re also the yellow brick road to the Oz of the wine world. While some drinkers remain satisfied with their sweet fruitiness, others pursue the more complex character of these grapes until they find themselves drinking the driest of vinifera wines with serious appreciation.
By the time you hit your late 20s you’re one of two kinds of drinkers: You’re downing expensive cocktails at bars and clubs, or you’re a young professional looking to cultivate your growing reputation at a hip social gathering. One professor liked to call them wine and cheese parties, to which a fellow classmate at the time responded, “More like beer and Cheez-Wiz!” Nearly 10 years later, my friends and I have hit the era of moving onto the real cheese and the beverages to go along with it. Here are some tips for transitioning into the wine scene, one glass at a time.
New Jersey’s Outer Coastal Plain has the same geological composition as the infamous wine region of Bordeaux, France, without the snobby undertones. And wine critics are starting to notice. Want to get in early on what promises to become the Napa explosion of the East Coast? Start drinking Jersey wines. And there’s no better way to begin than by sampling some of the Outer Coastal Plain’s finest at a Jersey wine festival.
Renault Winery, NJ’s oldest vineyard still in operation, hosts two annual festivals that aren’t to be missed: The Winter Chill and The Summer Chill. Opening their Tuscan villa hotel, ballroom, and French chateau-inspired tasting room/museum, Renault plays host to 12 of the Outer Coastal Plain’s finest wineries. After gearing up with hand-crafted wineglass holders (and picking up some unique wineglass charms) from AHG Creative, my husband and I set off to do some serious sampling.
Amalthea Cellars, best known for their vinifera wines, offered a well balanced Vidal Blanc with a light mouthfeel carrying tones of melon, honey and a crisp green apple finish. Their L’uva Rosa carried the slight oak flavoring of a vinifera red without the heaviness, making this a great choice for a dry rose.
For those interested in labrusca/vinifera blends (a.k.a. American/European grape hybrids) Bellview Winery was not to be missed. Their Jersey Devil White carried all the body of the cayuga grape with the floral essence of the traminette, making for an excellent dry white table wine. Jersey Devil Red is a blend of 6 vinifera grapes that creates a truly unique and flavorful chianti style wine perfect for an Italian BYOB. Like White Zin? Try Under the Arbor for a refreshing summer blush.
Renault Winery changed our opinions of chardonnay with its 2011 Chardonnay unoaked. Steel-tank fermentation allowed the slight buttery quality traditional to the grape to linger throughout a rich mouthfeel and full bodied experience. Instead of wrestling with oak, we were invited to linger in the perfect balance of tannin and fruit.
In 1972 (or what I like to refer to as “prehistoric times” before cell phones, internet or cable) I was a junior at Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.
In homeroom, my assigned seat was next to a student named Peter, who my friends had designated “most likely to die of a drug overdose.” But Peter, despite “having issues,” had cultivated a reputation for being on the cutting edge of rock music hip-ness.
So one day during homeroom “quiet time,” I passed Peter a note asking what bands he was currently listening to and he wrote back Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Fleetwood Mac.
These names fascinated me because I had yet to hear of any of them.
Why do I even remember this note passing incident from 40 years ago?
Two reasons: first, as predicted, not long after high school Peter tragically died of a drug overdose. And second, the music of the bands named in Peter’s note formed a prophetic soundtrack for my life in the years ahead.
Starting in September of 1973, Pink Floyd and I had a monumental first meeting during my freshman year at Ohio State University. The experience resulted in lifelong friendship bonds chronicled here a few months ago.
Then there is Black Sabbath, or rather Ozzy Osbourne. Although I was never a big fan of his, the lyrics, “I am going off the rails of the crazy train” is a favorite phrase that occasionally pops up in my writing, but more often in conversation when I am describing the current state of our nation.
But most prophetic was Fleetwood Mac, a band with whom I had a love affair which lasted years. Later in 1972 a friend introduced me to their new album called Bare Trees. A good album I thought, but not life altering.
But in 1977, during my senior year in college, Fleetwood Mac released the album Rumours and that was life altering. Songs from Rumours were always playing in the background as I transitioned from college to Washington D.C with first jobs and first marriage.
I will not bore you with all the tawdry details of why I am so emotionally tied to this album, but please do write some comments about yours! For if you are about my age I know you have some, because this album greatly impacted millions of baby boomers.
Especially one 1946 “first crop” baby boomer by the name of Bill Clinton, who in 1992 revived the popularity of Rumours and Fleetwood Mac by choosing Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow as his presidential campaign theme song.
President Clinton even convinced the band to get back together to play at his 1993 inaugural ball.
Back in the late 70’s, due to the popularity of Rumours, I discovered the first and only album by Lindsey Buckingham and Steve Nicks entitled Buckingham Nicks. This spectacular album, largely forgotten and never released on CD, was a foreshadowing of this duo’s future greatness. Here is the entire album if you have never heard it.
So in honor of Rumours, Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey, Stevie and Peter (may he rest in peace) what shall we drink?
Absolutely nothing but spring water! Because this morning I am sitting in Manitou Springs, Colorado elevation 6,412 feet with a pounding headache that started last night after I imbibed three glasses of Pinot Noir with my dinner of wild boar spare ribs and a few bites of my husband’s antelope.
Apparently, since I now live at sea level (literally next to the sea), an elevation of 6,412 feet and wine do not make beautiful music together for this aging baby boomer.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone and may I recommend that your family along with ours sing this really classic song before dinner.
And will someone please try that “favorite rock song conversation game” I wrote about recently over the long holiday weekend when gossiping about other family members finally runs dry?
No discussion of classic rock (especially among aging female baby boomers) can be complete without mentioning Yusuf Islam or “the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.”
(We all need to thank Prince for that phrase commonly used after he changed his name to a symbol.)
If you need your memory refreshed after over four decades, here is what Wiki says about Cat Stevens:
Yusuf Islam (born Steven Demetre Georgiou, 21 July 1948), commonly known by his former stage name Cat Stevens, is a British singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, educator, philanthropist, and prominent convert to Islam.
His early 1970s record albums Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat were both certified triple platinum in the United States by the RIAA. His 1972 album Catch Bull at Four sold half a million copies in the first two weeks of release alone and was Billboard‘s number-one LP for three consecutive weeks. He has also earned two ASCAP songwriting awards in consecutive years for “The First Cut Is the Deepest“, which has been a hit single for four different artists.
Stevens converted to Islam in December 1977 and adopted the name Yusuf Islam the following year. In 1979, he auctioned all his guitars for charity and left his music career to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community.
Now that you have been reminded of the pertinent Cat facts, it is time recall all the memories and emotions attached to his songs. Here are mine.
Besides Led Zeppelin, (which I have discussed ad nauseum) Cat Stevens, representing the mellow side of life, was also a sound track of my 1970 – 1973 years at Needham High School. (Needham is close – in a suburb of Boston, MA.)
During those years, Cat Stevens music consumed numerous hours of my time when I was alone in my room avoiding my parents or with my friends.
Four decades later two particular memories are invoked — lost teenage love and lost teenage job.
First the lost love.
It was during my junior year, when a song from the album Teaser and the Firecat, called “How Can I Tell You,” exemplified my dilemma as it related to the secret love I had for my friend who lived across the street.
(This is the same young man whose car my girlfriends and I “stole” as chronicled in the Three Dog Night, Joy to the World installment of this series.)
Now the lost job.
Sometime during my senior year I visited Cape Cod with some friends and did things kids in the ’70s used to do on weekends. Cat Stevens albums were playing non-stop, when as an irresponsible 17-year-old, I called my boss at the local drugstore where I worked part-time to inform him that I was at the Cape and was not planning to make it to work on Sunday. He told me this meant I would be fired and I told him I understood.
What is it about music that imprints moments like that in your memory bank for decades?
That is the question of the week and one about which you can ponder and comment as you recall your own Cat Stevens music memories. (Sometimes I get the impression this weekly series is turning into a therapy session on lost youth. But that is OK because there is no charge for occupying my virtual couch.)
Now, out of respect for Yusuf Islam, and his Muslim faith which abstains from alcohol, there will be no cheap wine recommendation this week.
Instead, here is a novel idea — why not conger up old Cat Stevens memories without any help from the “fruit of the vine?” Or try the fruit of the vine in another form, as in a nice warm glass of prune juice. Get a head start on a drink all aging baby boomers can look forward to imbibing in the coming decades while you listen to Cat Stevens singing, “Morning Has Broken.”
Besides sex, politics and religion no topic stimulates aging baby boomer cocktail party conversation more than classic rock music. For this is our music; we grew up with it and it is the soundtrack of our lives.
Previously, I have written that asking baby boomers to name their first rock concert is always an engaging conversation starter.
And here is another musical topic, just as engaging – ask boomers to name their five favorite classic rock songs.
Fueled by some adult beverages, this discussion could last until it is time to go home, which for aging baby boomers always seems to be around 11:00pm.
(Ahh, I remember the good old days when 2:00am was my departure time!)
Do you need a few minutes to name your top five favorites?
(Think of this as a Sudoku exercise for brains over the age of 50.)
While the wheels inside your head go round and round, here are my top five:
Kashmir by Led Zeppelin
Question by Moody Blues
While My Guitar Gently Weeps a Beatles song by George Harrison
Imagine just how much you can learn about a person by knowing their top five classic rock songs! (Obviously my selections prove that I am a complex, confused individual with a colorful past and zest for life!)
Now with the election finally coming to a close next week (at least we hope it will be over next week) this means 50% of your friends and family will be ticked off by the results.
So with family holiday gatherings just around the corner here is some useful advice.
Rather than stab your liberal uncle/aunt/sister/cousin/brother-in-law with the turkey carving knife when the dinner conversation turns to the election results, why not change the topic by asking folks to name their five favorite classic rock songs?
Try this friendly topic changer when the heat begins to rise, because if your family is anything like mine, I wish I had thought of this idea a long time ago.
Are you still contemplating your five favorites? If so, what shall we drink to stimulate the thinking process? Correction, what is in my refrigerator?
The answer is sake! Gekkeikan Haiku Sake with its 15% alcohol content.
Lately, I have enjoyed sipping cold sake on the rocks. The bottle, I just noticed has been partially consumed, a sure sign my husband has endorsed my new fad. (After all, he is married to a “complex, confused individual with a colorful past and a zest for life,” so the poor guy needs some relief.)
Gekkeikan Haiku Sake is according to the label: “light, with just a hint of dryness Gekkeikan Haiku brings hundreds of years of sake making experience to the modern palate.”
So when your gathering is boring and needs some lively conversation or it is too lively and relatives are at each other throats, then pour some Gekkeikan Haiku Sake over ice and ask folks to name their five favorite classic rock songs.
This is guaranteed to have the desired effect.
That is until someone yells Freebird and all hell breaks loose!
Did you happen to notice there were 63 million views of this Stairway to Heaven video?
As a loyal reader of this weekly series you know, (even at my advanced age) I am not ashamed of being obsessed with Led Zeppelin, so it is no surprise that Stairway to Heaven is my favorite classic rock song of all time.
When I hear it on the car radio it still “makes me wonder” what is the force that commands me to sit in the car listening to the very end – even after I have reached my destination.
Did you know that Stairway to Heaven has even become a popular funeral song?
But do not expect to hear it played at Robert Plant’s funeral some day because apparently he “loathes” the song.
So why is this 41-year-old eight minute masterpiece with the mysterious lyrics #1 on the “greatest ever” charts?
For starters, unlike most rock songs there is no repeat chorus. Instead the song slowly climbs, like musical stairs, up to an explosive instrumental segment where Jimmy Page shows us why he is Jimmy Page. After which Robert Plant launches into his “rock god” falsetto voice and in the process releases enough raw sexual power and energy to set off a musical “orgasm.”
Maybe that is why generations of young men and women love this song. It symbolizes pure passion without any commitment!
Curious about what my contemporaries now think of Stairway to Heaven I asked two old friends, who both happen to be musically hip aging baby boomers (aging exceptionally well I might add.)
The first, a media consultant who often appears on national cable news shows responded with this pithy one line email: “Stairway to Heaven was the soundtrack to my life in high school.”
The other is a classic rock radio DJ, so I consider his comments about Stairway to Heaven to be “expert opinion.”
He emailed: “Yes, I do like it….it’s ingrained into the fabric of my life!”
Interesting how both these comments reflect a “life” impact.
Then Mr. Classic Rock DJ continues his email with this startling calculation:
I’ve been on the radio for around 34 years….and played Stairway at least once or twice a week…
Let’s look at the numbers… (This is the low ball figure)
Song is about 8 minutes long…
8 minutes times 52 weeks = 416 minutes or 6.9 Hours
6.9 hours times 34 years = 234.6 hours
234.6 hours divided by 24 hours in a day = 9.8 days
10 days of my life have been spent listening to “Stairway.”
That’s just on the air….doesn’t include the amount of times
I heard the song from 1971 (when it came out) to 1978 when
I started in radio!
My takeaway on the song…
“No matter how much opulence she displays on the planet, she still can’t buy her way into the Kingdom!”
Was that the message of Robert Plant’s infamous lyrics? For decades later questions still remain over whether Stairway to Heaven’s music and message was divinely inspired or satanic.
While contemplating heaven or hell may I suggest a nice bubbly to further stimulate the brain.
In past columns, I mentioned my fondness for Prosecco (Italian Sparking Wine) which is growing in popularity because of its light pleasing taste.
Today, I recommend a brand called LaMarca priced at $15.00 or less.
So now, with a glass of LaMarca in hand, let’s toast to the greatest classic rock song of all time and sing some familiar lyrics to which every aging baby boomer can contemplate and relate.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
And it makes me wonder.
I wonder if someone will remember to play Stairway to Heaven at my funeral many decades from now. (I hope.)
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
In last week’s Classic Rock installment I wrote that if you wanted to spark a lively conversation among aging baby boomers just pose the question, “What was your first rock concert?”
Without a doubt the best answer is any Beatles concert.
But, it just so happens, a close friend, JW from Virginia, attended the first Beatles concert. This was held on February 11, 1964 at the Coliseum in Washington D.C. – two days after the Beatles made their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
After alluding to him in last week’s piece, JW wrote the following comment:
Late winter of ’64 we were still in a funk caused by Kennedy’s Assassination and not yet into the hoopla of the Johnson-Goldwater campaign. Saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s in NY, and they were to entertain down the East Coast: Washington and Miami. Manage to get tickets to sold-out Washington show in the round. Ringo was in the middle and on an elevated, rotating platform. They had made the mistake of saying that they like jelly-beans, so we all brought a supply. When the music started the crowd pelted the stage with jelly-beans trying to hit any of the Fab-Four, though Ringo was the principal target. He was up there turning on the platform, dodging the beans. Kids in the lower rows were pelted by the incoming from the other side. It was a blast!
For the record, JW was a high school senior at the time, born in the first baby boom crop of 1946, along with two future presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Reading JW’s comment piqued my interest so he agreed to answer a few questions.
Q. You mentioned in your comment that “we were still in a funk caused by Kennedy’s assassination.” Given that the two events were less than three months apart — can you further elaborate on the emotional connection between Kennedy’s death and the Beatles popularity?
A. The Kennedy assassination was a national shock: our emotions remained subdued during that Christmas holiday and into the cold of late winter 1964. I felt a sense of emptiness, since kids of my age had been so “grabbed” emotionally by the Kennedy Presidency, which was an exhilaration following the drabness of the 1950s. The Beatles lit a spark in us that seemed to re-enliven my peers, and lifted us into our college years. President Johnson was quite dull in comparison, and could not compete with the Beatles as a social phenomenon and distraction
Q. As a 17-year-old in the audience, did you have any inkling that you were watching history being made?
A. Definitely, yes: all the kids were a-buzz about the Fab-Four before they even came to the US. When the first US tour was announced, I knew it would be really big so I went out of my way to get tickets immediately when sales started, and it was sold-out early.
Q. From your perspective 48 years later, what are your lasting impressions of that first Beatles concert?
A. The frenzy of the crowd was unforgettable, and as I described in my comment, arching jelly-beans over the Fab-Four heads into the crowd on the other side was like the food-fight in “Animal House.” Also, Ringo turning around on his elevated turntable and ”I Wanna Hold Your Handdddddddddddddd!!!!!!!!”
Thanks for the memories, JW.
While we are regaling in baby boom nostalgia, JW is truly a walking exhibit! Besides witnessing the first Beatles concert, JW marched in President John Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade as a Boy Scout. Then later, as a member of Yale’s 1964 freshman class, that aforementioned 1946 born president, George W. Bush, was one of JW’s classmates.
Like many baby boomers, JW is a fruit of the vine connoisseur, so I asked him to make this week’s cheap wine recommendation. As a Virginian, JW takes great pride in his state’s small, but nationally award- winning wineries and thus chose Naked Mountain Chardonnay.
Fortunately, I am familiar with this quaint, picturesque vineyard situated about 60 miles west of Washington D.C. in Markham, Virginia. And, while enjoying the scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, have been seen consuming a glass or two of their buttery, richly-flavored oak tasting Chardonnay — so I applaud JW for his refined selection.
Let’s toast to JW and the first 1946 crop of baby boomers who paved the way and changed our nation forever. Now that 10,000 of their younger peers are reaching the age of 65 every day for the next 17 years, they are scheduled to bankrupt Medicare and Social Security — again changing our nation forever.
But that my friends is a discussion for another day.
Check out Myra’s previous Classic Rock and Cheap Wine columns:
If you ever want to start a lively conversation among aging baby boomers just ask the question, “What was your first rock concert?”
There is a definite pecking order of impressive answers.
First, is the Beatles. (I have a close friend who wins this prize.) Second, is Led Zeppelin and then there are many possible answers for third place.
For example, my husband’s first concert was The Who, an acceptable contender. Mine was Jimi Hendrix and if you continue reading you might decide to award me the bronze medal for third.
It was June of 1970, and to celebrate our graduation from Newman Junior High in Needham, Massachusetts, three girlfriends and I went to see Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix was performing at the now iconic Boston Garden, torn down in 1997, but then the home of basketball’s Boston Celtics and hockey’s Boston Bruins.
As we left the subway station and walked towards the concert, a store with the name Now Shop caught our attention. As 15-year-olds we were attuned to all the social and cultural changes taking place, but this store actually offered us the opportunity to change our look from suburban school-girls to “now.”
Shelves were lined with everything needed to dress like a hippie. There were tie-dye shirts, headbands, sandals, peasant blouses, fringed vests, peace symbols and of course piles of love beads. We all were salivating at the merchandise and bought as much as our meager budgets would allow.
My purchases included a small suede pouch with rawhide ties and two love bead necklaces. Now that the Now Shop transformed our look and our attitude, we were ready for Jimi Hendrix.
On stage he lived up to his reputation playing all his great hits including my two favorites, Foxy Lady and Purple Haze.
Hendrix was an amazing performer, but it was the entire rock concert experience that blew me away. The smells, (you know what I mean) the energy of the crowd, and above all, the excitement of being 15 and feeling a part of something that was so hip, cool and “now.” Yes, the times were a changin’ and we were part of that change.
Just seeing Jimi Hendrix would have been memorable enough, but, as fate would have it, this Boston Garden concert on June 27, 1970 was to be his last.
Less than two months later on September 18th, Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27 of a drug overdose.
Throughout my life I have felt an emotional connection to Jimi Hendrix since his last concert was my first. In fact, I even mentioned this concert as one of my classic rock credentials in the first installment of this silly series.
Now, what shall we drink as you listen to the actual recording of Jimi’s last concert, showcased at the top of this piece?
Since you are reading about an event that happened to me 42 years ago, that means I am old and old people must drink lots of red wine to sustain their heart health.
The cheap wine recommendation this week is Acacia Pinot Noir. The label reads: “An elegant wine with strong black cherry flavors and an unexpected hint of violet and spice that we believe conveys the essence of California Pinot Noir.”
Yea, yea, who writes this label dribble? I just like the stuff, especially when it is on sale, but can never taste the flavors the label says I am supposed to taste.
So let’s raise our glasses to the legendary music of Jimi Hendrix and a group of once “hip” 15-year-olds who wore love beads to their first rock concert that turned out to be both historic, tragic and unforgettable.
Classic Rock & Cheap Wine: A Three Dog Night Without ‘Joy to the World’ After a Trip to the Police Station
What is it about the power of a song that upon hearing it decades later instantly brings you back to a memorable moment in your life?
So now that I have your attention….
As a1 6-year-old high-school junior I found myself secretly “in love” with my close friend and neighbor, a handsome senior, who lived across the street. Dan (not his real name) and I had grown up together, but now as a blossoming teenager I saw him differently and fantasized that he was destined to be my future husband.
Dan had absolutely no romantic interest in me but started “going out” with my girlfriend Donna (not real name). That meant I was thrust into the position of gossip go-between, a position I relished.
Not too long after Dan and Donna became an item, Dan’s father bought a new Cadillac and handed Dan the keys to his old one.
Keep in mind that in 1972 it was rare for anyone in my high school to have their own car, especially a Cadillac. Therefore, Dan’s Cadillac, (which by today’s standards was the size of a gunboat) became a major status symbol and the ultimate party vehicle.
One day after school my three girlfriends and I started walking toward the town center when we spotted Dan’s Cadillac in the school parking lot. It was then Donna proudly proclaimed, “I have Dan’s keys,” so without any hesitation, we all jumped in the car for a harmless spin.
On the radio Joy to the World was playing and I remember us singing the famous lyrics: Jeremiah was a bull frog, was a good friend of mine, and the Joy to the World chorus at the top of our lungs while having a totally terrific time.
That was until we were stopped by the police.
It was 1977, and my senior year at Ohio State when my friend Mike invited me to see Queen perform on campus.
Mike and I were both cadets in the Ohio State Army ROTC program. Our friendship developed because we took the ROTC program slightly less seriously than some of our fellow cadets who we had identified as future Army “lifers.” (Mike and I were much “cooler” because as Reserve officers we would have a “real life” outside of the Army.)
As we were walking over to the concert, Mike casually mentioned that he had earned ten dollars that afternoon giving blood so he could afford our concert tickets.
Suddenly I remembered seeing signs posted all around campus advertising ten dollars for blood, but this was the first I had heard of anyone actually doing it.
My immediate thought was blood money to take me to a Queen concert?
Personally, I did not think I was worthy of Mike’s blood, but seeing Queen certainly was!
Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury now considered a rock legend, indeed gave a legendary performance, bouncing all around the stage wearing the same tight white shiny jumpsuit you see in the famous music video above.
Among the songs performed that night was Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen’s 1975 album, A Night at the Opera.
Besides Freddy’s costume, I also remember staring at the big gong on stage and looking forward to it being used for Bohemian Rhapsody’s final note.
Thirty five years later, Queen remains ensconced in my “Personal Pantheon of Classic Rock Greatness.” Their music, much of it sung in a harmonic style known A cappella, is considered by many to be some of the most masterful rock music ever recorded.
Tragically, Freddy Mercury was one of the first celebrities to die of AIDS, in 1991 and his death brought early attention to the disease.
Now what shall we drink to celebrate Queen’s royal greatness?
Ah, let me rephrase that question — What do I have in my refrigerator that I can write about and photograph this second? (I literally get up, look in the refrigerator and see a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay purchased during my last expedition to COSTCO for $20.00. Since my father-in-law’s 90th birthday bash is coming up, I have begun buying some pricier wines for that glorious occasion.)
This fine label is for you if you enjoy a more “upscale” chardonnay infused with oak and citrus. However, after drinking La Crema it is difficult to go back to drinking less expensive chardonnay.
So let’s raise a glass to Freddy, Queen and my ROTC friend Mike, who, the last time I saw him, in late 1977, had actually decided to become a “lifer” and is probably a 3-star general by now.
Thanks Mike for serving our country and for earning blood money so 35 years later I could write this silly column and dedicate it to you.
Here is an amusing classic rock tale from the musical archives of my memory bank. Warning: the beginning may sound a bit uppity, but that was our mind set at the time.
The setting is September, 1973 and I had just begun my freshman year at the massive campus of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Those of you who read the first, second and third installments of this series might wonder how I ventured from Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, to Ohio State. That journey was through a series of divinely-inspired events related more to the hymn, “Rock of Ages” than classic rock.
But since I came from Boston, Ohio State was like a foreign land. As a result, I became instant friends with Marian, (not her real name) one of my 10 “suite-mates,” who had just returned from living in Europe after being raised in a suburb of Philadelphia.
Marian and I took comfort in our mutual “hip-ness” compared to all those “small town Ohio girls” who had just stepped off the farm and into our dorm suite.
A week into our freshman year, while in the dining hall, Marion met an “interesting guy” named Marty (not his real name) who, she said, was “like us” (i.e., not an Ohio alien) so she invited him up to our suite.
Marty hailed from Scarsdale, New York, a tony suburb of New York City and displayed the proper amount of 1970s sophistication necessary to remain in our presence. Trying to impress, Marty bought along an album he said would “blow our minds.”
Oh yes, Marty did impress and my mind was blown as I listened to Pink Floyd’s, Dark Side of the Moon.
While writing this piece, I realized Dark Side of the Moon is the only album that triggers a memory image of precisely where I was and who I was with, upon hearing it the first time. Can anyone else relate to this?
See Part 1 of Clarice’s travel series: How I Learned to Bake French Bread in the South of France
One of the most fun things to do on a trip to Southern France is shop for wine. This visit my husband Howard, my friend Richard Perle, and I were lucky to be accompanied on this joyous task by Sheral Schowe, a wine educator from Park City, Utah, who is a certified French wine scholar and teacher at Wasatch Academy of Wine.
In my opinion, the lovely wines of the southern Rhone were long undervalued, though now more people are acquainted with some of the fine offerings of the region: Beaumes de Venise, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rasteau, Cairanne, and Seguret.
But even if you’ve grown to appreciate these wines, you may not be as familiar with the wines actually consumed here in the summer. You won’t want to miss out should you visit or if you care to experience these at home in warm weather — so please, let me take a minute to tell you about them.
It gets quite hot here and people tend to eat lighter food in summer than they do elsewhere in France — lots of fruits and vegetables, cold soups, the famous salad nicoise, and goat cheeses. Wine, which complements these foods, is rosé. It’s not the rosé of my youth — a sweet, unpleasant plonk. Rather, it is a light wine, served chilled. There are basically two kinds of it produced here. Vat pressed is a light wine produced much as champagne is in that the grapes are lightly pressed and then the skin and seeds are separated out before fermentation. Gigondas produces this kind using cinsault and grenache grapes. The second type is saignee, which is treated more like a traditional red wine in that the stems and skins are also crushed before fermentation, but the resulting juice is bled off before the skins turn the wine red. Domaine du Gour de Chaulé makes this type.
There is a certain bottle with a very tapered neck called a “skittle” in which much, but not all, of this wine is sold.