Sunday, December 26, 2010

Doing with less

The first thing one usually does when confronted with news like cancer is to spiral into a confusing array of emotions. Soon enough, however, the sane individual slows down the pace and begins to recognize that this is the verdict that comes for all of us at various times in our lives. With that, a kind of peace comes—except when it comes to my daily wine!

Weeks before I found out about my prostate cancer, I had grown tired of my puffy paunch. I know it’s a sign of aging, but I also know that it doesn’t have to be.  I decided to shed some extra weight. The decision was confirmed as a good one on the day in late October that I went to see my GP for a PSA blood test. I weighed in that day at 180 pounds. Even after I subtracted the five pounds my shoes, clothing and pocket change must have registered (for some reason, the medical profession seems to have done away with stripped down weigh-ins) 175 pounds was an all time record for me, and for my frame, it is 20 pounds more than I should be carrying.

In November, I embarked on a weight loss campaign, which was quite simple: I calculated the calories I took in each day from wine and decided to cut them in half. At an average bottle a day, that meant about 450 calories daily out of my diet—more than 3000 calories fewer each week. I figured that I had to lose weight.

I was right: in eight weeks, I shed nine pounds. Last week at the oncologist’s office, I weighed in at 171 (with boots and clothes, etc. that’s about 166). As a bonus, I’m saving a little money, too, what with buying fewer cases of wine (I always buy by the case; it’s stupid not to, as it is the least expensive way to buy wine).

The paunch is retracting and just in time, too. I’m told that along with potential hot flashes, the testosterone-reducing shot I am about to get might cause my muscles to turn to fat and so I must be extra diligent about maintaining weight and tone.

My problem now is this: having cut back to a minuscule half bottle of wine a day, that avenue of cutting back is closed to me. I’ll have to come up with one or two new directions—maybe have to cut some foods out or increase exercise.

For many years, I’ve walked no fewer than two miles each day—often more. It looks like I shall have to get the bicycle re-conditioned and get back on it and add some miles that way. Of course, I can’t do that right now, as we yet again are in the grip of a global climate change nasty cold winter in the Northeast.

Come to think of it, I have more than one problem. The expense of co-pay insurance is already eating into my wine budget. That has meant a dumbing down of my wine selections. But I am lucky in one way. I am more focused on perusing the wine shelves and have been truly surprised by the volume of solid, decent wines from Europe at reasonable prices.

I find that wines produced on this side of the pond at low prices often do not measure up to the wines of Europe at comparable prices. I wonder why that is the case.

It’s been hard, I admit it, but each evening I savor the no more than three glasses of wine that I allow myself. It makes each sip taste even better!

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Absence makes the heart grow fonder--we hope.

Not one for lengthy explanations, I find that this explanation concerning why it’s been two weeks or more since my last blog entry will in fact be lengthy, but I’ll start the long version with the short version.

Ten days ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

At this point, I’m told my condition is treatable. I’ll know more about that treatment regimen on Wednesday this week after a visit with a radiology oncologist.

It is a terrible cliché, but such important information has a way of focusing one’s mind. For the past ten days, while my emotions ran the roller coaster from anger to self-pity to depression to hope to positive thinking to rejecting the news to accepting the news to, to, to, my mind began to create what I call importance departments, where I began to separate what is important and should take up space in there and what is less important to get less space and what should be removed completely for lack of importance. Here’s what I came up with as it relates to wine.

The least important thing is to argue a wine point just to prove a point. While I’ve always railed against the massive egos that infiltrate wine conversations, I must admit that the fact that I engage in conversations at all proves evidence of a strong enough ego on my part as well. But here’s the interesting thing about my latest condition: prostate cancer is related to testosterone levels.

In two weeks, I will be given a shot to turn off my brain’s ability to produce testosterone. I’ve been imagining that after the shot I’ll become a conciliatory individual with big tits!

Seriously, if conciliation or better yet, avoidance becomes the norm for me in the future, I am certain it will be good for my blood pressure to avoid or laugh at the often low-level discussion that ego-based arguments create. In the future, I will not argue with anyone about wine. I will allow everyone to hold whatever opinion he or she has, I will make a stab at telling what I think I know, and then I will gracefully remove myself from the fallout.

As to the role wine and food will play in my future, I issue a great big Hmmmmmm.

Here’s what I was told to do about my diet: eat omega 3 foods like fish and oils; eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, etc.); in other words, pile on the anti-oxidants. It’s that free radical stuff we’ve read about for decades now.

This news pisses me off because the above describes what has been much of my diet for years—with the exception that I likely eat too much animal fat for my own good, and I have remedied that situation. Notwithstanding my relatively healthy diet, cancer cells managed to grow inside this otherwise healthy body. Genetics strikes.

Wine is allowed in my diet, but not in the volume that I have been used to: I must limit myself to ten or so ounces each day, certainly no more than twelve ounces. In fact, I’ve been limiting myself for about six weeks, when this process began and when I already assumed what the diagnosis was going to be (I knew the genetics issue). The limiting has made me lose six pounds—one pound per week!

When you receive information about your mortality, you have only two choices: heed or ignore. The former hands you a promise while the latter hands you almost devastating certainty. But neither choice hands you your life back, not as you’ve known it before. On the day that you are faced with your mortality, you learn (or should learn) to ease off, to find the moments that matter, to let go, and, most of all, to embrace—life.

You also learn who your loved ones really are, and that has been a lesson more overwhelming to my emotions than anything I’ve felt in the past ten days. Real friends have poured love my way; the others, well, I now know who they are, but that’s okay. It is not important. The importance is holding close to the ones that matter, and that most potently includes family.

It’s also important to hold close to the things that matter. Wine and food will always matter to me.

Of course, the cost of what we call in this country a health care insurance system but what seems to me to be a near criminal enterprise may demand that I cut my wine budget considerably. The irony of the situation will be that I’ll probably be forced to consume all those “Vinted by” and “Cellared by” wines that are made somewhere and labeled somewhere else and that I have railed against for years. If only I were the type to ask for free wine to review on a regular basis--hey, any producers reading, I’ll accept them now with joy…

When the news of prostate cancer came, I had a conversation with my wife of course, and also with a brother-in-law who is a writer. Each encouraged me to start and maintain a blog to track my journey; it’s not an unusual thing; people do it every day; the wine industry has been graced with the cancer journey blog of an East Coast importer for a couple of years now. But that sort of thing is too self-indulgent for me.

Still, as a writer, I cannot resist and so I am keeping a personal account of my journey. That’s because we writers believe that our every thought can in some way be transposed into an article or book for pay, as if what we have to say has value. What was that I said about self-indulgence?

My promise to the handful of readers of this blog is that I will try to come up with ideas to make blog entries about wine and/or food. But I’m unsure how well I can keep that promise and at what consistency level. It would help if a few readers were willing to think of subjects they’d like to know my take on and let me know what they are.  

For now, it is lunchtime here. I have an omega 3 sandwich waiting for me…

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wine review--of a sort

Recently, Clark Smith had an article published in Wines and Vines Magazine concerning--are you ready--minerality in wine.

Before I waded into the muddy terrain of that piece, I had already resigned myself to the position expressed by many who study viticulture, to wit: that minerals themselves are not taken up into the vine and then deposited in the fruit.

The consensus that seems to have built is that the so-called minerality of wine is either an illusion or a simulation, put there by the interaction of acids with other components; and generally, the mineral sensation is more forward in white wines.

In his article, Mr. Smith starts with the premise that minerals are indeed among the components found in the fruit and then he goes on not to report on how he came to know this fact, but on how he came to speculate its existence. From there, it was all down hill, not so much that his arguments weren’t sound, and they may or may not be, but because I understood almost nothing of what he was talking about.

On wine forum sites, a few chemists echoed my sentiment, and some went further to call Smith’s speculations completely wrong.

Unknown to me at the time, I was heading for a direct collision with the premise of Smith’s article.

Because there are today so many “reviewers” of wine, and because I truly don’t believe that what I like should have any bearing on what someone else should buy, I rarely write wine reviews anymore. At times, however, I am moved by a wine or by a wine and food pairing and I break my rule. At other times, something else happens that makes me break my rule. This is one of those times.

At the same time that I came across Smith’s article, I was preparing to sample some Cabernet Franc wines; some that had been sent to me to review, and some that I used my own money to obtain. My aim was to see how cool climate versions of the variety compare with warm climate versions—in the U.S. It was all for my own edification with the possibility that the comparison might give me something about which to write in the future.

Two of the wines that came to me were from Diamond Ridge Vineyards. One of them was named “2007 Aspects.”

I had no experience with Diamond Ridge wines, and I had no idea who owned the label. I don’t know if an actual winery exists under that name, because the two wines that came to me were not Produced and Bottled by Diamond Ridge; they had been Vinted and Bottled by Diamond Ridge, which means they were produced somewhere in California from grapes grown in the Lake Country Appellation, but no one was saying where. The vineyards, however, appear to belong to Diamond Ridge.

Anyway, here was my impression of Aspects: subdued and no identifiable varietal nose, although a hint of pepper underneath; kind of earthy but not in a vinous way, more like the dry dust of a second base steal and slide at the Brooklyn Park Circle baseball diamond of my youth; wish there were some fruit here, although glad that the oak is tame; pH seems rather dangerous territory for a chance at longevity. To me, a $12 retail value masking itself at a $28 retail price.

My wife, who often tastes with me, and who has a fine palate, agreed with my assessment of Aspects, except for the part about pH, which she never even considers

After making my notes, I read the “winemaker’s” notes that came with the samples. I discovered that the wine included 18% Cabernet Franc, that only 89 cases had been produced, and that the 30 months in oak was spent in neutral barrels. The pH was 3.73 (to me, that borders on the high side, but I am not an authority and those stats are not unusual these days).

My notes mention nothing about minerality. The closest is that dry dirt comment. That’s because, if there is minerality in the taste or finish of that wine, neither my wife nor I were savvy enough to pick it up.

As I ventured into the mud of Smith’s speculations in that article about minerality, he made mention of his winery and of a certain wine of his that he said offers up minerals. The winery and wine he mentioned was Diamond Ridge Aspects.

Now, I am completely baffled not only by Mr. Smith’s discussion of minerality but also by my talent (or lack of talent) for assessing wine.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
December 2010. All rights reserved.

Lifting a blog entry without the author's permission (and without recompense) is a copyright infringement--period.