How plastic makes us think about our five senses

Kala Maxym visits Lake Arrowhead in the summer

Did you know that today is International Plastic Bag Free Day? Yup, neither did I (thanks to all those free content calendars floating around there that remind you of super important things like this day... and National Donut Day and National... French Fry Day and such!). In honor of this totally rad day I thought I'd post a picture of a beautifully plastic free Lake Arrowhead. What does this have to do with Five Senses Tastings, special events, wine tasting, or music? Well, I'll tell you!

At Five Senses, we are about beauty in all its forms because we firmly believe that engaging with beauty and making a part of our lives is not a luxury but a necessity. Breathing clean air, tasting beautiful, fresh food, taking a sip of a yummy wine (or even one that isn't so yummy), and treating your ears to beautiful music - all these things can increase your connection with your senses and, thereby, with the world around you. ⠀

Tangent from the whole plastic-bag-free-day-thing? Maybe a little. But it's really all about being purposeful in everything we do. We hope you'll join us on this magical tasting journey!

Why does sound matter so much?

Sound is everywhere. Unlike most of our others senses, sound is something we cannot entirely turn off in our world and we take it for granted that our ears will never be at rest. Think about it:

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If you want not to see something, you can close your eyes.
If you want not to smell something, you can hold your nose.
If you want not to taste something, you can keep your mouth closed.
If you want not to touch something, well… there we run into a bit of a problem.

Touch of course is the only other sense besides sound that we really cannot “turn off” at any point. Just as we cannot not feel the chair upon which we sit, the clothes on our back, or the breeze caressing our skin, so, as Julian Treasure so aptly notes, “we do not have earlids.”

Ironically, with this in mind, it is interesting to note that our sense of sound is also the sense we most often tend to forget to remember. Because it takes some significant effort to trigger it specifically (this is of course less true in today’s world where we have every type of device imaginable at our fingertips), we allow and accept our experience of sound to be directed by those around us. We trust – if we think about it at all – that the music our favorite local wine bar or the Peruvian restaurant around the corner plays is picked to enhance our experience of the space, the food, the drink, and the general ambiance and mood of the place. But is this true? Should we rely on others to create a soundscape for us on a random Tuesday night? And more, importantly, what about when we’re celebrating something really important?

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We do not ask whether the sounds we listen to are appropriate for the experience we are having because we are not taught how to do so, or, more appropriately perhaps, that doing so is something we should even begin to consider.

Growing up in Europe and schooled for many years in the British system, I attended assemblies and morning chapel services for many years. Singing for me was always the best part of the day but I knew it wasn’t that way for most of my friends. Nevertheless, I specifically remember being amazed at how easily each of my friends could read the musical lines in the hymns we sang, how they were able to carry the tune if not produce a glorious sound, and how music was something they simply understood as a part of their lives. I also remember people thinking I was not a complete dweeb when I mentioned my music scholarship in piano, voice, and bassoon… well, until I came to the United States. When I landed in school in Connecticut, I had to give up the bassoon because there was no one to teach me, and had to resort to accepting comments such as “wow, I didn’t even go to sleep while you were singing” as my new norm.

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As I’m sure is no news to anyone living in the United States today, music education is not a large part of our schooling nowadays, and so we cannot be surprised that most people’s assessment of their sound environment is disengaged at best, nonexistent at worst.

Why does sound matter so much, though and why do I dedicate my time to finding the right sounds – and tastes and smells and feels and sights – to fit the special moments and experiences in life? Because I have seen time and time again how pairing the “right” music to the right wine, the right food, and the right sweet treat in the right moment creates a stunning sensory experience that lasts far beyond the few minutes of that actual experience.

But wait, what if I don’t agree with your pairings? You’re right, the process of pairing can be very subjective indeed, and I will address that repeatedly in this book. This isn’t a one size fits all approach. This article – and others to follow – is merely a first step in the direction of asking us to spend just a bit more time thinking about how we interact with ourselves, our friends, family, and coworkers, and the world around us on a sensory level.

 

Ten tips on how to work best with live musicians and make your next event a raging success!

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A good friend was recently hired to sing at an upscale dinner for a small group of wealthy arts patrons. She and her pianist, Irene, began the evening with a 40-minute set as guests mingled and then took their seats for dinner.

As their last song came to a close, they received a generous applause, some warm smiles, and were guided down two long flights of stairs to the basement. They remained in the basement for 90 minutes until required to return for their second set. They were served dinner, and dietary restrictions were generously observed.

The irony of this story is that this particular event was all about raising money for a performing arts organization. And what makes a performing arts organization different from any other organization? You guessed it: the performers!

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The event planner missed a golden opportunity here to make this dinner truly memorable for the guests. Here were two engaging, talented musicians hired for a fairly generous fee who were shuttled away into oblivion during the most important part of the night.

A better option for the artists and the guests would have been to seat my friend and her pianist at two of the dinner tables. Here, they could have interacted with patrons, shared stories of their artistry, and become part of the experience, rather than merely decoration or background noise.  

As a working musician who also runs a special events company, I am in a unique position to see both the event planner’s and the musician’s point of view when it comes to hiring entertainment for an event. I think there is a way for both sides to understand each other better and make this relationship much more mutually beneficial. So, in the spirit of musicians’ love for what we do, and for event planners’ love for how live music can elevate an event, I have compiled this list of 10 tips for how to make sure musicians and event planners can work together to make it a seamless, stress-free experience for everyone.

  1. Please provide a bathroom for your musicians. No, not a port-a-potty. An actual bathroom. These are professionals who want a private place to “go,” which includes running water, soap, hand towels, and a bit of privacy.

  2. Please provide water, coffee or soft drinks, and some light snacks at a minimum. This won't add much to your costs, and it is very much appreciated. Remember: hungry musicians won't play as well :) If you have vocalists performing, water is extremely important. A little goes a long way to make your performers feel welcomed and appreciated.

  3. Provide a room with decent lighting. You want us to look good, and we want to look good, also. Putting on makeup under one fluorescent bulb ain’t easy, and it’s not likely to produce the best results. Natural lighting (during the day) or generous lighting will help us look our best and keep us feeling refreshed.

  4. Tips are really appreciated. Sure, we’ve negotiated a contract with you, and we feel that we’re being appropriately compensated. However, a tip jar is a lovely gesture of appreciation for the incredibly hard work we put in, much of which guests don’t see.

  5. Please provide easy load-in and load-out. A string quartet doesn’t need all that much help loading in their gear but a band that consists of a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, and singer, all of whom need amplification… well, you see where I’m going. If possible, provide easy access from the parking area, a ramp to the stage, and an extra pair of hands to help lift and carry equipment.

  6. Understand the worth of a pro musician. Being a working musician is not easy. They spend most of their time auditioning for the next job, money is sporadic and often insufficient, and the benefits of a “real” job, such as health insurance, a 401K plan, and paid holidays are just not part of the deal. Between college, graduate school, summer programs, apprenticeships, and real life experience, most musicians have spent at least as much time studying and honing their craft as most doctors, lawyers, and engineers. A budget for hiring musicians needs to reflect the musicians’ experience and also the time they will spend rehearsing prior to your event to make sure they’re bringing you their very best performances.

  7. Talk to the musicians. They’re human, usually very nice, and they want to please you. If you notice something is wrong, or that they are not performing to your satisfaction, please let them know -- and not by leaving a scathing review on Yelp. Calmly pull one of the band members aside and let them know what’s going on. Perhaps they misunderstood a request or someone has fallen ill in the band, and they've had to replace them at the last minute. Be kind, courteous, honest, and flexible, and the band will be the same to you.

  8. Don’t ask for “extra time” unless you plan to pay for it. If you went to see your lawyer and used up more than your allotted hour, you can be sure you’d see it on your next bill. If you’ve contracted musicians for a two-hour performance, that’s what you’ll get. One or two extra songs… sure, that’s probably not going to be a problem. But if you want the musicians to stick around, please have them to one side, speak with the lead musician or band manager, and discuss the details.

  9. Set wardrobe expectations ahead of time. If you need your musicians to dress in something other than what they'd typically have in their closets, please be ready to provide the costumes or clothing, or to provide a stipend to be paid ahead of time for the musicians to acquire the necessary items themselves.

  10. Treat them like professionals. This is a no-brainer, but it is absolutely shocking how terribly many musicians are treated. Yes, we are “hired help,” as are the cooks and bartenders and cleaning staff and event planners, so I guess what I mean is, be nice to all of us. We’re all human, most of us have college, graduate, and post-graduate degrees, speak several languages, have children and homes and responsibilities just like the people for whom we are performing.

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Following these ten tips will not only enhance your relationship with your hired musicians, but will help ensure that they give the best live performance possible at your event - which is what we all want.

Please join us as for our first #AMAFeed!

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We're super excited about our opportunity to share our love for music, food, and wine on a live "Ask Me Anything" #AMAFeed on Wednesday May 23rd, starting at 11 am EDT/8am PDT. 

What is AMA? AMA is a "crowdsourced interview" where the community asks a host questions, and the host answers online. Usually the Feed is held live, at least for a few hours, and can last up to several days. This is our first time doing this, and we'd love to see some of you on there. Please look us up here: https://bit.ly/2GyL1pV

Did someone say cocktails?🍸🎵

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Our pairing this week introduces you to how we're pairing music, drink, and food through our cocktail branch, Song & Tonic.

While we're still staying true to the storytelling concept behind Five Senses Tastings, working with craft cocktails allows us to go deep into the ingredients in both the cocktail and the song. We deconstruct – then reconstruct – both the drink and the song through careful pairings of sound and flavor.

 

SONG
"City of the Angels" by Fred Astaire
DRINK 
Elderflower French 75
SMALL BITE
Spring pea puree, wild mustard flower on sourdough crostini
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SONG
"City of the Angels" is a perfect opening song for an event celebrating the sounds and flavors of this beautiful city. The lyrics speak to the open minded and open-hearted people who live here, the sunny air, the breezes, and the lifestyle. "Train or boat or jet there just as soon as you can get there, and I bet that you’ll be met there by a friend,” Fred Astaire sings. 

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DRINK
Classic, bubbly & crowd-pleasing, the French 75 is a wonderful welcome drink. Typically made with gin, lemon juice, champagne & sugar, we’ve updated this cocktail by adding elderflower syrup made from locally foraged elderflowers. Along with The Spirit Guild’s Astral Pacific Gin, the elderflower syrup makes this a truly LaLaLand French 75. 
 

Here's how they go together:

Bass - Astral Pacific Gin: The Gin is the constant ingredient in this cocktail, sneaky ingredient, giving this cocktail a punch

Keys - Lemon Juice: This drink needs the acid to expand the flavors just as the keys help to expand the melodies of the instruments and vocal line

Drums - Sparkling Wine: The soft bubbles add texture to this drink as the percussion adds texture to the song

Voice - Elderflower Syrup: Our LA ingredient is elegant & classic. The vocal line and lyrics are the love letter to Los Angeles

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SMALL BITE
Our small bite, presented beautifully by Chef Louis Pechan of Hundred Miles LA, lend vivid spring color and soft flavor to our cocktail and music pairing. We particularly loved how the spring pea was represented both in its truest form and also as another version of itself, in the puree.

All photos by Leslie Rodriquez Photography

So... what's the deal with all the opera music at your events?

Kala Maxym stands in front of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City

 

On this lovely #musicmonday, I want to share a bit about the question I get asked about the most: why does Five Senses Tastings use only opera music in our events. The answer is: we don’t! 

Our company‘s mission is precisely to broaden people’s awareness about different types and styles of music, wine, and food while we engage all of their senses in a meaningful and purposeful manner. To that end, we have a wide variety of music at our events: classical, jazz, tango, opera, classic rock, country, rock 'n' roll, country-rock, folk, blues, flamenco... But remember that everything is presented live so a Dixie Chicks song may not have an electric guitar, and an opera aria might be performed by a guitar and a cello. That is the amazing versatility of our events and of our musicians as they work to bring a new flavor to the music we perform

Of course, I do still love opera very much, and it’s always a thrill to be in one of the most hallowed venues for the art form in the entire world. In April I had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall, but of course no trip to New York City is complete without a drive-.... I mean walk-by of the Metropolitan Opera House

Here's a little video that I did in response to my #AMA feed questions all about opera. Enjoy!

So there's this island off the coast of Italy...

Pairing_Note_April 12 2018

Music:
"Hurrian Hymn No. 6"
Wine
2016 Vermentino di Sardegna by Antonella Corda
Cheese:
Ricotta infornata

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Music

Our musical selection for this week's Pairing Note is inspired by history... and by history, I mean, waaaaay back to the 14th Century. Before Christ. Yep, that far back. It's nowhere near the first piece of music written but it is considered the first melody transcribed in a way that we – modern folk – can interpret and replicate. The piece was discovered in the 1950s in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit and is etched on clay tablets, composed in cuneiform by ancient Hurrians. The melody is designed to be played on a nine-string lyre. The sound produced by the lyre is somewhat haunting but given how long ago it was composed, it is not all that unfamiliar to western ears.

Musically, it is actually quite complex as well. One hand at times keeps a steady strumming or harmonic foundation while another hand picks out a melody. The end of the piece becomes more urgent and ardent. We are excited to pair this fabulous piece of ancient music to a wine from a very old place, Sardinia. The complexity of the piece pairs wonderfully with the Vermentino variety, which at first glance might seem a fairly easy, non-complex wine but hides quite a bit of complexity in the glass.

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Wine
Sardinia is actually one of the oldest land masses in Europe, and it also happens to be one of the most prolific producers of the white wine variety, Vermentino. If you're a fan of Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre, this would be a good option for you to try. Higher levels of phenols can yield what some palates find to be a bitterness on the palate, though I have never tasted this. This particular wine is an excellent example of the wonderful value you can get in Vermentino. California is now growing some as well though the largest production still comes from Italy and France.

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Cheese
In my opinion, ricotta is an underrated cheese. Relegated to sitting between layers of pasta and eggplant in your lasagna, it is delicious in its own right. Its slight tartness combined with a creamy texture makes it ideal for spreading on a brioche toast with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. There are also many variations to ricotta. One that is popular on the island of Sardinia is ricotta infornata, or baked ricotta. Easy enough to make at home: simply spread a pound of fresh ricotta, drained and chilled for at least 24 hours, on into a buttered ceramic baking sheet, cover with a layer of salt, and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half. You might also add another layer of salt on the top for some extra flavor and crunch! Let us know how it went!

A slightly weird and somewhat impossible pairing for Easter 🐇

Easter is a big deal in so many parts of the world. Amazing music has been written throughout the ages in celebration of this time, and good food and drink are never far away either. This Pairing Note allowed me to indulge my love for the Renaissance choral tradition. I've still to meet the person who doesn't – even if secretly – totally love this music.

Music:
"Haec Dies" by William Byrd
Wine
2016 Sparkling Blush by Tessa Marie
Cheese:
Sirecz (Easter Cheese)

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Music
I have loved early music for as long as I can remember (probably since singing in the Canterbury Cathedral choir as a young girl), and the Kings' Singers are among the best in the world at this very difficult, intricate, and highly exposed musical style. Enjoy this short piece, “Haec Dies,” - written specifically for Easter - and then please go discover more William Byrd and Thomas Tallis on your own. Whether you're celebrating the religious side of Easter this weekend or not (trust me, I ain't judging), this music will keep you company.

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Wine
Ok, so don’t hate me but we have a problem: you can't actually get this wine anymore... it's aaaaalll gone! But I had to get in one last hurrah for this very special winemaker before she goes into retirement, and we can no longer enjoy her beautiful wine art. This 2016 Sparking rosé blush is nothing shy of transcendental, and we will miss it! greatly Rosés are great for Easter meals (they go with so many things!) and bonus, it's actually starting to warm up here in LA so you can bet they're going to start flying off the shelves.

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Cheese
I always love learning something new and this week is no different. It seems that Easter cheeses are all the rage Eastern Europe. This week we're featuring Sirecz, Easter Cheese from Slovakia. You can find a recipe to try it at home here. It is in some ways more akin to a custard than a traditional "cheese" as we know it and therefore should pair nicely with a nice dry rosé. Let us know if you try this out yourself!

What the Olympics can teach us about how our brains work

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If you’ve ever watched the Olympics, you probably recognize a couple faces – the “Stars” – but the rest of the faces blend into the background, unknown to us, unknown to most of the world, usually.

So why, then, by the end of the few weeks of competition, are we rooting for someone in particular? We feel like we know them, telling our friends, “oh, that’s the young woman (please note I didn’t say “girl”) from Idaho who is a lifelong vegan, remember? They had such an interesting story about her on the Today show this morning.” Or, “wasn’t that the athlete they said was the oldest guy on the slopes? Yeah, he said this would be his last Olympics ever! Remember we saw that segment on him the other day?”

And there you have it. The reason we remember things, people, events. Because of the story. It’s simple really, but if we take a moment to think about it, this can really be applied to all parts of life. 

(Please note that I cannot take full credit for the above idea. My good friend and partner in crime for Song & Tonic, Prairie Rose of Bit by a Fox, was talking about this the other day. I thought she was so spot-on, and so I started writing about it... so this article is basically in existence because of her ideas :)

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I’ve been reading a fascinating book recently called “The Influential Mind” by Tali Sharot in which she argues, many times against her instincts as a neuroscientist, that numbers, facts, and data do next to nothing to change our minds. We live with our prior beliefs and naturally succumb to confirmation bias to support only the arguments we are predisposed to believe. This means we remain ensconced in our cocoon of a certain belief system surrounded by individuals who typically also subscribe to that belief system. We are very rarely encouraged or required to step out of it.

My incredibly brilliant and no-nonsense college career at Barnard College, one of the seven sisters, was instrumental in allowing me to identify and see past my biases and question my own perceptions. Yet this book has helped me re-realize that I certainly find myself falling into this trap, especially in today’s political and social climate.

But why am I even talking about all this? Because if you’re asking someone to shift their thinking and begin to incorporate your belief system, your product, your company, even just you as a person, telling them this with facts, numbers, and data may likely have a minimal impact. Turning those facts, numbers, and data into a story that the observer can take with them past the moment in which this information is shared will yield much more meaningful results, however.

 

Building a better cheese board with WineGoals’ Liz Marsh

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Cheese is, hands down, one of my favorite food groups, and no party at my house is complete without a (practically overflowing) cheeseboard. Because of the wide array of different flavors of cheese out there, it can be confusing and overwhelming to create a cheese board. I recruited my good friend, Liz Marsh, founder of WineGoals and a certified wine and cheese expert herself, to share some of her tips to help create a diverse and delicious cheese plate, sure to please even the pickiest eaters.

How many cheeses should you include?

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According to Liz: “For the perfect cheese tasting at home, I recommend six cheeses. You want to have at least one cheese from each milk type – goat, sheep, and cow – as well as a range of textures from soft to firm and strengths of flavor from mild and milky to bold and stinky.” Liz often includes an ash rind goat cheese like Valencay, which is a little different than your standard goat cheese option and a heavenly pairing with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

“There's always a double or triple creme on my board,” she adds. “Brillat-Savarin and Mt Tam are two crowd-pleasing go-tos. You'll also want to have a stinky washed rind cheese, but most of the time its bark is worse than its bite.”

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Appealing to the nose

Speaking of stinky cheese, don’t forget that the sense of smell plays a hugely important role in our appreciation of the food we eat. When building your cheese plate, take an extra moment or two really to think about the aromas of the cheeses you’re selecting. Pro tip: make sure to take cheese out of the fridge about an hour before serving, as cheeses show of their truest flavor and smells at room temperature.

One of Liz's favorites that you can find at most cheese counters is Taleggio. “It's just stinky enough,” she says, “but won't engulf the rest of your cheese plate in a cloud of delicious dirty gym socks cheese stank.” Gruyère or Comté are always received well, as is Spanish Manchego or a sheep’s milk Gouda. Liz adds, “I also like to include a bold flavored hard cheese like an aged Parmigiano Reggiano or a Clothbound Cheddar. Finish it off with a blue cheese and you've got your perfect cheese plate.”

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For those who stick their noses up at blue cheese, Liz recommends just trying new ones… you may find one made just for you. The luxuriously creamy Italian cheese Gorgonzola Dolce is, as you may guess from the name, sweet and milky. Another trick is is to pair blue cheese with a dessert wine like Port or Banyuls. The combination actually tastes like sweet milk chocolate.

Engaging the eyes: presentation  

When it comes to presentation, the most important thing is to make sure your cheese plate doesn’t look crowded. Choose a board or platter that leaves room for eager hands.

“Slate cheese boards create a really beautiful color juxtaposition of the white cheeses against the black slates. It really just makes those cheeses pop, and makes you notice the variances in color between the different types of cheeses,” notes Liz. You’ll also want to assess whether you want your accoutrements to be on the same platter as your cheeses. If you do, you can either place them all to one side or distribute them in between the cheeses, which adds additional color and texture variety to the canvas. If not, put them into separate bowls and plates and display them around the board in an attractive manner.

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Liz and I differ a bit on whether it’s a good idea to include nuts, fruits, and other bits and pieces on your cheese place. Liz recommends staying away from anything too sweet if you’re pairing with wine but I like to offer a variety of options including dried fruits and jams.

“The sweetness in fresh or dried fruits or honey can often make your wine taste more bitter and tannic,” Liz feels. Where we do agree is on the Marcona almond. These plump little Spanish almonds are fried and salted and have a more delicate, sweeter taste than typical almonds. They're particularly delicious with Spanish sheep’s milk cheeses like Manchego and Roncal.

Pairing cheese and wine

Just like with your cheese selections, the key with pairing wines is experimentation. A good rule of thumb is to pair lighter flavored cheeses (goat cheese, younger Alpine cheeses) with white wines, and more flavorful and aged cheeses (cheddar, aged Swiss cheeses, and the rest of those “stinky” ones) with reds. Blue cheese is a challenge to pair pretty much across the board but try Rogue River blue with a good Willamette Pinot Noir.

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It is said that the best wine pairing is the one you like the best, and the same goes for cheese boards. Take a chance and move away from your standard options. If you can move a little bit out of your comfort zone, you never know what you’ll find so go ahead, try out a new pairing. Let us know how it went by emailing us at info@fivesensestastings.com.

Liz Yale Marsh is the Founder of WINE GOALS, a wine education and events company based in Los Angeles. Because wine and cheese go together like, well, wine and cheese, she also works as a cheese educator, and is always searching for those magic moments when a wine and cheese are enjoyed together and 1+1 equals 3.

 

Chatting with Marilu Guevara, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles?

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We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Marilu Guevara, the exceptionally warm-hearted Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles yesterday. Here's our conversation: 

As you can see, we're pretty excited about our Women's History Month event, which is just a few days away.

As a reminder, here's the music, wine, and chocolate you'll be tasting:

Rosa Parks - The Rebel
paired with the Dixie Chicks, Edith Piaf, and Lynn Ahrens (lyricist for the musical Ragtime), the 2016 Tessa Marie Sparkling Blush, and Strawberry Habanero Bark

Dolores Huerta - The Orator
paired with Joan Baez and Barbara Strozzi, the 2015 C. Nagy Pinot Noir, and Dark Chocolate Almond Squares

Eleanor Roosevelt - The Beacon
paired with Alma Mahler, Germaine Tailleferre, and a spiritual, the 2016 The Feminist Party GSM, and custom-made Raspberry Chocolate Almonds

Malala Yousafzai - The Future
paired with an original song by our pianist, Jacquelyn Schreiber, our only song by a male composer, and Violetta Parra, the 2013 Kità Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, and Catherine's infamous Pot of Sin!
 

Happy International Women's Day!

Music:
"All the weary mothers of the earth" by Joan Baez
Wine
2016 Feminist Party GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) by Sonja Madjevski
Cheese:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg from Dancing Goats Dairy
Woman:
Dolores Huerta, Labor Activist

Music
Joan Baez's is a voice I have known since my earliest days. The soft lilting of her voice soothes like a gentle balm and, once you've heard it, it becomes utterly unforgettable. You may also know her as a social activist, which she has been all her life. Her touching song, "All the weary mothers of the earth" speaks about mothers, of course, but also about workers, farmers, soldiers... those sometimes overlooked as merely cogs in the wheels of production. A beautiful melody with equally beautiful poetry. Make sure to spend time with her lyrics, too.

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Wine
"I approach winemaking the same way I approach writing. I can have a plan and a structure, but there's discovery along the way," says Sonja Madjevski of Casa Dumetz Wines. Sonja was a journalist before becoming a winemaker and still writes today. Apart from Casa Dumetz, however, which will focus on Pinot Noir moving forward, Sonja also runs two other brands: Clementine (for Rhöne wines) and The Feminist Party (for Grenache and Grenache-based wines). Impossible not to include this last brand in our International Women's Day pairing, right? You'll have a chance to try this outstanding wine on Sunday March 25th for our Women's History Month celebration as we hear from this powerful voice in the wine industry.

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Cheese
I try not to include products in our pairings that are difficult to find but it was simply impossible for me, like above, not to include the Ruth Bader Ginsburg cheese in our pairing for this special day. Dancing Goats Dairy is fairly new and is located far away on the North Shore of Massachusetts, also selling only in that state. However, not only the name but the story behind the strong woman who created the company and the saucy blend of this cheese (a cow and goat Cheddar jack made with whole black peppercorns), should make for a pretty fantastic pairing. Let's hope this cheese and this wine find one another someday. 

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Woman
Though most of us have heard of César Chavez, fewer of us have heard of Dolores Huerta, most definitely a force to be reckoned with in the labor movement and in the struggle for workers' rights. Very much an orator and organizer, Dolores was known for her outspokenness on behalf of the downtrodden and underrepresented – Sí, se puede! – and we celebrate her life along with the lives of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Malala Yousafzai at the end of this month. We hope you will join us

For a fun and sexy Valentine's Day, try something DIY

When we think of taking our beloved out for the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner, we conjure up images of filet mignon, a bottle of bubbly, a gooey chocolate dessert and, next morning, a negative bank balance. If a splurge is what you need, by all means, go for it! We all need to pamper ourselves once in a while.

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However, if you’re looking to do something different this year, maybe something a bit more low-key, we’d like to suggest that there’s nothing sexier or more fun than a DIY dinner starring cheese fondue. And – bonus – our menu won’t break the bank.

The food

Let’s talk practicality first. Fondue has four ingredients – cheese, flour, garlic, and wine or beer – plus the bread, veggies and/or fruit that you dip, so it’s one of the easiest dishes in the world to make. Depending on which cheeses you buy, this part may cost you a bit, but the other ingredients are cheap as chips, and you only need cooking wine or inexpensive beer.

Fondue also takes no time to make, so if you have other plans during the day or at the start of the evening, don’t worry, you won’t be spending hours in the kitchen. You can easily whip up a fondue in about 20 minutes from start to finish (and that includes taking some time for sips and kisses). It’s easy to clean up, too, which means you can either take care of the dishes at the end of the night without any fuss, or not feel bad if you want to leave them soaking until morning.

Lastly, a fondue pot is an essential to every household. They don’t cost much (you can get a decent machine for around $50 or a great one for $200), and they’re a wonderful choice for a cozy gathering around the dinner table when you have family or friends in town.

Is fondue sexy? They say the best part of sex is when you can laugh, and fondue is definitely a dish where you’ll be sharing some giggles with your cheese-loving dinner partner. From handling the awkward, long forks, to losing your bread in the lake of cheese, to those dangly bits of cheese hanging off your chin, fondue is a great way to have fun at the dinner table. And when that dangly bit of cheese does hang off one's chin, it’s the perfect opportunity to lean over and gently remove it from your lover’s face.

The wine

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Fondue is also a versatile dish for wine pairing. Whether you want to celebrate the night with some bubbly, ease in with a glass of white, go straight for the red or try all three, fondue is a dish you can pair with whatever you love the most.

A glass of chilled cava (Rimarts Brut Cava for about $18 is one of my favorites) will cut right through the fat in the cheese and provide a refreshing zing on your palate. You’ll want to stay away from full-bodied whites and opt instead for a dry Riesling (Trader Joe’s has a divine option, the Emma Reichart, for all of $5!) or a crisp sauvignon blanc. If you’re in the mood for red, again, avoid anything too heavy or aged, as it may overwhelm the flavors in the cheeses. Instead choose a pinot noir, grenache (or garnacha, if you’re looking at Spanish wines) or Valpolicella. Not as well known for its pinots as for sauvignon blanc, New Zealand produces some absolutely stunning pinot noirs. If you can find it and have a few extra dollars to spare, try something by Tom Block.

The music

And, for the crowning glory, the soundtrack to your special night! You could just search for “Love Songs” on Pandora; however, if you want something a bit more eclectic, head over to a very special hourlong soundtrack we created just for you. We’ve included music from a variety of genres to get you in the mood, everything from jazz to classical, tango to opera, blues to bluegrass. Enjoy!

Creamy, Crunchy, and Crispy

Music:
Piano Concerto in G by Maurice Ravel
Wine
2014 Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
Cheese:

Vacherousse d'Argental

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Cheese
I have to start with the cheese this week because ZOMG, Vacherousse has changed my life! Ever since I first tasted it when someone brought it to my house (yes, I will love you forever!) I have been obsessed with this cheese. Vacherousse (real name Vacherousse d'Argental) is an ultra-smooth creamy cheese from the Lyonnais region of France. It's texture is almost that of thick clotted cream, and the flavor is bright and what I might call "welcoming." You really need to eat this cheese with a fresh, warm, crunchy baguette or similar bread. No crackers will do it justice, I'm afraid. The only place I have so far found this cheese in Los Angeles is at Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica but please let us know where else you find it!

Music
Maurice Ravel is a composer of whom I've always been a bit intimidated. His music is not easy to comprehend or perform, but it is always full of character and meaning, and his Piano Concert in G major is no exception. Our version features pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, a Frenchman from ... you guessed it, Lyon, where our cheese originates. Enjoy the soft and gentle beginning of the second movement – Adagio – to dive into the cheese and relish how the many textures play with one another in our pairing as they do throughout this concerto.

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Wine
This wine is no shrinking violet! Bright and full of flavor, this lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Grove Mill Winery in the Wairau Valley of Marlborough is, like most, easy to drink and will pair well with many dishes.

The reason I chose this pairing is because even though the flavors in this wine are fairly bold, they won't overtake the cheese. The rich, creamy texture actually needs a bright and bold personality in its wine partner.

A great pairing!

A taste of San Francisco!

Music:
"I left my heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett
Wine
Sottomarino Lagrein
Cheese:
Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery

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Those who know me know that my heart belongs to the City of Angels. However, as the new year picks up speed, I have had the opportunity to reconnect with a lot of friends and colleagues up in the Bay Area. As I plan a trip up there a bit later in the spring, I'm reminded of some of my favorite tastes and sounds from up north.

Music
We might not have known this song as well as we do now if radio show hosts in 1962 hadn't turned over one of their new records and started to play Side B. This song was originally the Side B to "Once Upon a Time" and ended up winning the 1963 Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Treat yourself to the beauty of Tony Bennett's young voice with this version. I tried my own hand at it a while back, too.

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Wine
The Sottomarino Lagrein is a hefty wine, and we don't blame you if you haven't heard of this variety before... we hadn't either! The grape is native to the Southern Tyrol area of Italy and can also be found in Australia and in a small area on California’s Central Coast. Brian Cain – named the “Cult winemaker of California” in 2008 – has created a beautiful wine here: dark and full-bodied but not overpowering. The wine introduces itself well, we sense some plot development and then a climax on the mid-palate, but some say the wine falls short of a grand resolution. What do you think?

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Cheese
We are in love with this stinky/not-stinky cheese from Cowgirl Creamery. It's funny how something this pungent actually pairs well with a few different things: a big, hearty red such as the Lagrein, a sweet wine or port, or a hearty stout beer. This cheese was actually created by mistake – a pretty darn tasty one, though, if you ask us! 

Does blue cheese make you blue? Not with this pairing it won't!

Music
“Crazy” by Patsy Cline (1932-1963)
"Drinking again" by Dinah Washington (1924-1963)
 “Nocturne” by Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)
Wine
C Nagy 2013 Syrah
Cheese
Gorgonzola
Chocolate
Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds with Himalayan Salt
 

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March is Women's History Month, and we loved honoring women composers, winemakers, musicians, and other flavor artists through our program entitled, "The Playful Palate," which we presented with our dear friends at V Wine Room in West Hollywood. We featured guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Lois Blaisch, her daughter Jenny McNabb on backup vocals as well as pianist Jacquelyn Schreiber and violinist Lacy Rostyak.

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The three women we feature this segment left us too soon, and it is their legacy that we honor in our pairing. The 2013 Syrah by Clarissa Nagy is the, dare we say, funkiest of the wines we showcased in this tasting, and the combination of sweet and salty from the dark chocolate almonds and Himalayan salt (in addition to the saltiness of the blue cheese) offset the leathery, earthy flavors on the nose and the palate. We know you'll go "Crazy" for it and be "Drinking again" with us very soon once you've tasted this flavorful combination.

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Lili Boulanger was only 25 when she died, but her output in such a short amount of time was nothing short of remarkable.

The "Nocturne" smoothes out the dustiness in the wine, a characteristic of the Santa Maria valley where this wine originates and complements the strong flavors in the blue cheese.

Our only Argentinian Malbec of the year... could it really be?

Music
“El día que me quieras” by Carlos Gardel
“Depuis le jour” from Louise by Gustave Charpentier
“Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla
Wine
Santa Julia Malbec 2015, Argentina
Chocolate
Valrhona, Alpaco 66%, single origin, Ecuador

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Flash back to Valentine's Day 2017 at the gorgeous D'Vine Lounge Bar in downtown Los Angeles. Our third course of the evening introduced an Argentinian Malbec. Could it be – gasp! – the only Argentinian Malbec we've served ... all year long

"El día que me quieras” (“The day you love me”) is one of Carlos Gardel's most famous tunes. Here we taste one of the most eloquent expressions of Argentine sentimentality you will ever find. Just as Carlos (né Charles) was born in France, so was the Malbec grape, and it is to their home country that we turn for our one and only sojourn into opera this evening.

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Taste the rich, seductive quality of the rolled chords in Depuis le jour that provide a foundation for the soaring vocal line and mirror the rich, seductive dark berry, chocolate, and mocha flavors in this wine.

Our final selection, Libertango, indicates a shift in style in Piazzolla’s writing from classical tango to tango uevo, much as the Malbec grape shifts in personality and profile from its origins in France to its new home in South America. 

Taste how the violin and accordion exchange rhythmic and melodic lines with the piano as you take in the many and varied aromas and flavors in the wine and its accompanying chocolate from Valrhona!

Starting our countdown to our favorite pairing of 2017!

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As this year comes to a close (wait... whaaaa? How did that happen?!?!), we wanted to highlight some of our favorite pairings from this past year.

Our first is from our "American Mosaic" program that we performed just a few weeks ago in New York City. Our two musical selections, "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and "Life is beautiful" from the movie of the same name are familiar to us all, and we felt that each played to a particular role in the pairing. Their tasting partners were the Sonoma County 2012 Bucklin Ancient Field Blend from the Vinfluence portfolio, Sottocenere al tartufo from Murray's Cheese, and Dutch Dark from Honey Mama's (soy, gluten, dairy, and grain free, I'll have you know!)

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We were so taken by Will's – the winemaker – story, particularly his dedication to walking his vineyards every day and addressing the vines individually... as if they had their own personality. Our first musical selection has the protagonist, Lauretta, cutting through the cacophony of the rest of the opera to address her father very quietly one-on-one. "Life is beautiful," on the other hand, reflects the rustic quality of this wine.

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Sottocenere al tartufo is one of my all-time favorite cheeses. It's way up there on the flavor meter yet paired wonderfully with the dark, ripe fruit flavors in our wine. The Dutch Dark gave an extra flavor kick at the end of the pairing.
 

 

Definitely one of the highlights of our 2017 pairings!