Celebrate with Cremant

Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux, a bubbly that won’t break the bank

So, I’m alive and well and the family ditto and I’m grateful for that, but, tbh, it’s been a while since I felt, you know, actually stoked. Like I think the last time I felt that little electric stab in the ribs that I interpret as “heart leaping for joy,” was round about July when the Instacart shopper guy texted “good TP in stock.”*

So, the other day when I finished a big project, a week ahead of deadline, too, I decided to administer a bit of course correction. No, I didn’t feel like breaking out the Champagne, didn’t even feel particularly joyous, but gosh darn it, it was a milestone and It Would Be Marked.

So I reached for a bottle of something that is just the ticket when you want to celebrate without making a huge song and dance about it, Cremant de Limoux. 

Cremant refers to French sparkling wine that is made in the same manner as Champagne but is not from that specific (and rather expensive) region. Limoux is in Southern France, nestled next to the Pyrenees and is famous for a type of bubbly called Blanquette de Limoux, made by monks at St. Hilaire Abbey in the 16th century. The story in Limoux is that Dom Perignon (the Champagne guy) visited and picked up a few ideas. Probs not true? But fun.

Blanquette de Limoux is made primarily from the local Mauzac grape and has a distinctive, apple cider-y tang. But in the ‘90s, producers started making the more modern Cremant, which includes international varieties such as Chardonnay. It’s a lovely, crisp and dry expression of sparkling wine and it’s a bargain to boot. Here’s a story I wrote about the region. 

I discovered my most recent Limoux gem at my local wine shop here in Berkeley—Domaine Collin, founded by Philippe Collin in the 1980s, The Domaine Collin cuvée tradition is $15 and it is classic, balanced and smooth. It’s made from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc with a bit of Pinot Noir thrown in and it tastes light and fresh with notes of green (but not sour) apple and tangy, juicy lemon.

Just the thing for celebrating a job well done—or at least done—without feeling self-conscious about it.

*Reader, we did, indeed buy that TP and after the absolutely dire 2-ply nightmare we’d resorted to in the Great Panic it was pure heaven. A positive Taittinger of toilet tissue. 

Locke’s Whiskey

lockes-distilleryHappiness is finding an Irish whiskey distillery with your name on it.

Yes, friends, there is a Locke’s Distillery and I have been there.

These days the distillery is known as Kilbeggan, the name of the small town in County Meath where it is located, and there have been a few changes of ownership; it’s now part of the Beam/Suntory portfolio. But the original name is still up on the chimney and when you ask the hotel to get you a taxi they tell the driver to take you to Locke’s, so I am totally claiming it.

We’re probably not related by blood (the Lockes in my family are Welsh/English).

But we certainly are kindred spirits.

I visited Kilbeggan in September as part of a 10-day visit to Ireland. Because I am a big chicken (and unadventurous driver) I did not drive but took the train from Dublin to Tullamore for about 20 euros. I stayed in the Tullamore Court Hotel, which is large and modern so not so much with the olde country charm but it does have the virtues of being close to the train station (and walking distance from the Tullamore D.E.W. distillery), comfortable, clean and reasonable. I paid around $70 for a large double and taxied over to Kilbeggan, which cost 15-20 euros.

I did not get to go in this car, which would have been cool. kilbeggan-car

But I was driven in a very fine Mercedes Continue reading “Locke’s Whiskey”

It’s OK to like nouveau Beaujolais



Today is Nouveau Beaujolais day, aka the third Thursday in November, when wine producers in the French region release their newly fermented wines, an old harvesting tradition turned successful marketing gimmick.

Which tends to bring two reactions from the serious wine world:

1: A shudder.

2. Earnest blog posts on how you really shouldn’t be drinking this super-young, super-fruity wine but should be concentrating on the region’s conventionally aged (and admittedly fine) “cru” wines.

To which I can only say, Lighten up!

The reason people like nouveau Beaujolais is because it’s fun. And if there’s one area of the beverage world that could use a little more fun it’s wine. There was a time when producers would go all out with schemes to get to market first for the 12:01 a.m. release time. This started with races from Beaujolais to Paris and extended to other parts of the world. Things are a bit calmer now with wines shipped in advance, but there’s still a bit of a holiday feel about buying and cracking open a nouveau Beaujolais.

And of course yes, there are great cru wines from this region, some of my faves are from the Fleurie region,

This year’s celebrations included 50 winemakers driving around Paris in vintage Citroen’s stopping at landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. Nothing is quite as it was in Paris following the tragic attacks last weekend, but organizers decided to go ahead, incorporating memorials to the dead in their ceremony. Here’s a good story from Quartz about the way Beaujolais day looks in Paris this year.

The big producer is Georges Dubouef, which has sent a zingy, fruity product to market this year, priced at around $10.Classic purply red color with aromas of banana and cherry cola (when we say fruity, we’re not kidding) and a taste of tart cherries with a bit more banana on the end.

I won’t lie to you. While I like bananas and cherry cola as much as the next person, this is not a wine to be sipped solo. But, happily, it gets along with food just fine and in fact is a rather good pairing for Thanksgiving; the tartness cuts through some of the heavy sweetness of the traditional dishes and really helps that dry turkey breast go down.

DuBeouef sent cute little scarves out with its samples this year. So having a beret handy from Child One’s job at that Gallic institution, Paris Baguette, and having a willing model at hand in Mr. Ho I present this picture which I think perfectly sums up the festive spirit of nouveau Beaujolais.

Here is Mr. Ho’s tasting note, btw: Not bad. I quite like it. Did they send it to you for free?


IMG_1531 - Copy




The last time I saw Paris …


Liberté. Egalité. Fraternité.

It was July, it was hot, and I was slicked with sweat as I hustled up the escalator to the taxi rank at Charles de Gaulle airport.

“Taxi, Madame?” asked the guy with a clipboard managing the row of waiting cars.  “Oui,” I said in my execrable French.  “Je vais au Paris.”

“You will go with Mamma,” he said in English, at which the rest of the drivers took up the chant, “Mamma! Customer!”

Mamma turned out to be a statuesque African woman driving a black town car and wearing a knee-length gold lamé dress.

“Great outfit!” I blurted out as I scrambled into the back seat, following up with a halting translation, “Um, j’aime votre robe.”

I am not sure if Mamma really didn’t speak any English, most Parisian taxi drivers seem to, or if she just wanted to give my high school French a workout, but French we spoke on that 45 minute ride into the city. Pressed for time, I rose to new heights as I remembered the word for meeting, rendezvous, and even managed to communicate that we needed to stop by my hotel to drop off my luggage before going to my appointment with a guide at the Paris Sewer Museum.

She asked me what I was doing in Paris and I told her I was a journalist working on some travel stories. “You’re writing about the sewers?” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Yes. They’re very interesting, A triumph of — damn, what was the word for engineering? — of Paris work,” I finished lamely.

“Do you like being a journalist?” she asked.

“Yes, but I’m a freelancer and I don’t make much money,” I over shared. (The French for freelance, by the way is “free-lance.”)

“Culture is more important than money,” she replied firmly.

She told me she had been a radio reporter in her native Ivory Coast but now drove a taxi to support her family of six in Paris. From what I could gather she had come to Paris, like most immigrants, seeking a better life and for the most part had found it.  Still, she had regrets. “Driving a taxi brings in money, but I would rather be working in the world of ideas,” she said.

We got to the hotel and she turned off the meter without saying a word and waited, no charge, for me to leap out and deposit my bag at the front desk.

We drove in silence the short distance to the sewer museum where I got out and paid, thanking her profusely with words and tip.

As she pulled away from the curb, Mamma rolled down her window to call out a benediction.

“La culture, Madame! Toujours la culture,” she cried.

Despite the heat, my stay in Paris was magical. I saw the sights, rode the metro, ate all the food and walked the boulevards. I caught sight of myself in windows grinning the grin of the infatuated and I cared not one bit. “Here you are in Paris you sad, middle-aged has-been,” I exulted silently, “This is so freaking cool.”

I thought about the last time I saw Paris as I read about the attacks this week. I watched the video of soccer fans singing La Marseillaise as they evacuated the stadium, and I cried. I saw the hashtag #porteouverte pop up on Twitter as Parisians opened their homes to stranded strangers, and I cried. I read that taxi drivers had stayed on the streets, offering free rides home, and I thought of Mamma.

Darkness gathers, but I believe in the City of Light.

Toujours la culture.

Freelance Decoder

imagesPresented for your edification, a short decoder to smooth those freelancer-editor exchanges.




EDITOR SAYS: “Thanks for the pitch, but it isn’t quite right for us.”

FREELANCER HEARS: “They responded! I’m almost in! Next time will be the one!”

EDITOR MEANS: “This is sh*t. Please die immediately.”


EDITOR SAYS: “I’ll let you decide how to approach the story; you obviously know what you’re doing.”

FREELANCER HEARS: “I should decide how to approach the story. I know what I’m doing.”

EDITOR MEANS: “I have an exact, detailed vision of how this story should be written right down to which sources should be interviewed and what they should say. I plan to share this with you three weeks after you file, and I reject, the story.”


EDITOR SAYS: Send in an invoice and we’ll get accounting going on this.

FREELANCER HEARS: Money! Sweet, sweet, money. Costco Charmin super-pack, I am coming for you.

EDITOR MEANS: I have my spam filter set to delete all messages with the word “invoice” in the subject line and we have not had an accounting department since 1989. Please die immediately.


EDITOR SAYS: “I need 300 words on wines of the Rioja in three days.”

FREELANCER HEARS: “Ha, ha! Good one. Obviously, what’s really required here is 900 words in nine days. I mean, this is the Rioja, people, not the Central Valley.”

EDITOR MEANS: “I need 300 words on wines of the Rioja in three days.”


EDITOR SAYS: “Thanks, this is fine.”

FREELANCER HEARS: “Fine? I spend a week sweating over the land-use consequences of biofuels and it’s `fine’? I am sh*t and should just die immediately.”

EDITOR MEANS: “Thanks, this is fine.”


Day Out in Montmartre

Songs in the Key of Freelance

For that time when the editor kills the story (with no kill fee) after you’ve worked on it for a week and writes you a terse note about how you need to focus more.

For the end-of-the-quarter stock-taking where you once again resolve to buckle down and get serious about identifying new revenue streams.

When a website editor asks you to write for free because you’ll be getting “great exposure.”

When someone offers you a freebie you want but probably shouldn’t take.

When you’re sending your second follow-up invoice.

When you get that 50-cents-a-word assignment.

When you get that $2-a-word assignment.

Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few (Zillion)

imagesThe topic of how to deal with corrections came up recently on a freelance writers’ forum I follow. As usual, it was a relief to see (a.) that other people screw up and (b.) that I’m not the only writer who can spiral into days of recrimination and embarrassment over even a relatively small mistake. .

It got me thinking about errors, how to avoid them, how to deal with them. I’ve weathered many a blunder during my three decades or so of writing and here are my seven best tips for avoiding and dealing with mistakes.

1. Ask the stupid question. You look dumb stating the obvious but you’ll look dumber getting caught out by the fact you didn’t know you didn’t know. Take the (true) case of a woman who, when asked about her relationship to a man, told a reporter I used to work with “He married me!” The reporter didn’t think to follow up with, “So, you’re husband and wife?” so didn’t find out until after publication that the woman, who evidently fancied herself as a bit of a card, was kidding, the man in question had officiated at her wedding to another fellow entirely. Side note: People who make these kind of misleading statements should be flogged.

2. Don’t rely on the Internet. Google, Wikipedia, etc. are beautiful things that make reporting so, so much easier than it used to be, but they’re not infallible. Wikipedia actually isn’t bad, if only because of the many eyes upon it, but company websites can have outdated information on them and a lot of the stuff you see on blogs, content farms is of mixed quality. If you’re writing a travel story, for instance, shoot off a quick email to the hotel or attraction to double check rates or hours.

3. Write, read and read again. Running Spellcheck will catch that you had a typo in “conscious” but it won’t tell you that you actually meant to write “conscience.” Write your story, edit your story, walk away, come back and read it one more time. Sloooowly.

4. Record interviews. OK, this is a huge pain. Transcribing is boring and time-consuming, not to mention the horror of having to listen to your own inane voice rambling on and interrupting the best quotes. (Why, why do I still do this? And that horrible cackle I keep letting out. Am I auditioning for a part in Wicked?) But if you want to get it right, it’s the way to go.

5. Don’t be shy about fact-checking. Back in the day, the big magazines used to have armies of fact-checkers. They probably don’t any more and you, you poor overworked ink-stained wretch may very well be your own fact-checker. I’m not advocating submitting stories to sources for pre-editing approval. No, no, no. But I do think it’s OK to send brief chunks of text that describe some technical process that’s new to you to make sure you have it right. I always add a note saying the material is unedited draft and will change to make it clear I’m not asking the source to fill in as my editor. Every once in a while this may backfire and you’ll get someone who responds with a 500-word email about how he/she would have approached the story. If that happens, take a breath, decide whether the situation can be salvaged with a follow-up phone call, if not, decide whether to use the material anyway or drop it, and then move on.

6. Correct quickly, and calmly. Here are some examples of cock-ups I have made and how I handled them. In a piece, my first one, too, for a new wine website, I wrote a glowing review of a winery’s exercise classes only to find out after publication the classes were being canceled. As errors go, this one was not really my fault; I had checked the info. Still, majorly embarrassing especially first time out with a new client. I started to write a mea culpa-laden email but stopped myself in time and wrote a short, to-the-point email that the information was true when we published it, but there’d been a surprise development. I also had a substitute item ready to slot in place of the cancelled classes. Result: No problem. Usually my errors are more spectacular than that, like the time I decided to relocate Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey to … Kentucky. Got a few emails on that one, and I was positively writhing in self-loathing. Still, I forced myself to write the short, polite note to the editor of, “Got this wrong; here’s the right info.” And life went on. Which leads me to perhaps the most important tip,

7. Cut yourself slack. You are human and you are going to make mistakes. Sometimes you were rushing through a piece, sometimes you were flat-out careless, sometimes you got someone’s name wrong in your head and could not seem to self-correct, sometimes Mercury was simply retrograde. This is where having a good friend, or even Facebook group, to commiserate with can help. One of my worst blunders came when I was covering a murder trial some years ago. In court, the defendant, a child murderer, said something vile to the child’s father. The father, I thought, yelled back, “Burn in hell.” What actually happened was that the father’s friend, a lifetime acquaintance with the exact same speech patterns and accent, had leaned forward, his head obscured by the father’s head, and yelled the curse. The problem wasn’t so much that my eyes and ears had deceived me it was that I didn’t follow rule No. 1, Ask the stupid question, and hadn’t double-checked with the father outside the courtroom that he was the one speaking. The story and the anecdote were national news and when I finally figured out my error it had already run (as the headline even!) in several newspapers. At the time, I was working for the best boss in the world, so he didn’t make me feel as bad as I could have, but, I assure you, that was not a good day. I was absolutely distraught until around 7 p.m. when I and another writer, who’d made the same mistake, were glumly sucking on a couple of pints at a nearby bar. “Well, here’s to us, star reporters,” he said sadly. “Yep,” I said. “Two reporters so [bad word] stupid that we can’t even get our story straight when it happens six [very bad word] feet away from us.” And then we laughed, a bit raggedly, but laughter none the less, and I knew I was going to be OK.