A Case of Writer’s Block

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. ~ Margaret Atwood

I finished an assignment this morning. The writing went slowly, but at least, I knew what I was going to say. Earlier in my writing career, I used to get bad cases of writer’s block. Often, fear and anxiety fueled it. I learned that taking a walk, baking cookies, doing some mindless chore, reading a book chapter or embarking on some other activity relaxed me. With my mind distracted, brain cells would start firing and the words would begin to flow. (Now there’s a wine called Writer’s Block. More later.)

Sometimes, the writer’s block stemmed from taking on an assignment about something I had zero interest in. I’ve since learned never to accept such assignments. They ruin the reason I became a writer by turning writing into some soulless enterprise.

Hundreds of web pages are devoted to this bete noir of writers everywhere. I imagine new writers googling and googling in search of something to overcome it. But famous authors also have suffered from writer’s block–F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Mitchell, Fran Lebowitz. And of course, numerous fictional characters have suffered from it. Below is the movie trailer for “Wonder Boys,” which is based on the book of the same title by Michael Chabon:

When I saw this bottle of wine, I recalled all those memorable funny scenes in “Wonder Boys.” Steele Wines, based outside of San Francisco, makes Writer’s Block. I tried the Syrah, a tasty full-bodied red. They also produce a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Grenache and a few other whites and reds. Naturally, I wouldn’t recommend this wine as a cure for writer’s block, though I would bring it to a book party or other literary gathering. I’ve written about a few  others suitable for book-ish types in an earlier post.

Home Lawn Security

Today, I spotted this wine from Charles Smith Wines in the store:

I really must buy it the next time I’m there. Maybe my husband and I can have it for dinner on the anniversary of buying our house. The first year in our new home was quite memorable. Here’s the piece I wrote at the time:

Home Lawn Security

I spied out our living room picture window—true to my Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor on Bewitched, nature—to check whether the town’s water meter man in a pickup was still parked outside. He had been sitting there in his truck, motor idling, for 20 minutes. But he was gone. Instead, just beyond the yellow marigolds and hanging basket of dark blue lobelia on our front lawn, I saw a fireman. He pointed to my left, toward our driveway at the side of the house. I took a look. Nothing but our cars. He gestured again, only this time his hand made a curved line. Around what? I opened the front door.

“I need to talk to you, but at your back door,” he said. “Are you expecting a package?” We weren’t. “There’s a small box on your lawn. Have you noticed it?” I hadn’t. “Ma’am, you have to leave your house. The box has ‘tick, tick, bomb inside’ written on it and procedures dictate that you have to evacuate.” The meter reader had spotted the package and called the fire department. I ran into the house, told my husband in a string of nouns—bomb, package, tick, kaboom, lawn, exit—and shoved my cat, Tasha, into her carrier.

When I got outside, the fireman said, “I don’t mean to pry, but I have to ask this: You got any enemies, anyone mad at you?” “Uh, no,” I said, wondering whether to tell him my husband is a professor. He’s occasionally been the target of a student’s meltdown—usually in the form of a nasty e-mail or tears, although years ago an ex-con, who had done time for murder in San Quentin and who was in my husband’s course, spat at him—because of a low grade. But what teacher hasn’t pissed off a student?


The fireman suggested that my husband and I go somewhere, say, the town center, because this mishegoss—my word, not his—would last a few hours. The bomb squad, he said, needs to x-ray the package, but would take awhile to arrive. (Stopping on the way for triple espressos, just the thing for steady hands, I thought.) Three hundred feet on either side of our house had to be kept clear. Our neighbors to the left, right and front of us had to evacuate, too. That’s procedure, he said.

The use of jargon irritates me. Several weeks ago, a security company technician explained the rudiments of our home burglary alarm—it’s not just an alarm, it’s a system—only I couldn’t figure out what he meant when he said we were in an “alarm condition.” He explained several times using still more jargon, which confused me further. On top of that, he spoke in a loud voice, which I attributed to the fact that he was probably hard of hearing from setting off so many house alarms as part of his presentation. He had done so for my benefit—several times—and the high-pitched screech was unbearable. I had to ask him to stop. Finally, after what had become a “who’s on first” ordeal, things cleared up. An alarm condition means the alarm is set. He then pointed out the buttons on the keypad for trespassing situations, medical emergency situations, fire situations and hostage situations.

Standing in the middle of the road in my newly acquired evacuee status talking to the fireman, I thought, we’re paying $25 a month for a security system with no button for “bomb situations.”

I stifled a snicker. My husband and I headed back to our house—cat carrier with our yowling Siamese in hand— to get into our cars. The moment our backs were turned toward the fireman, we started giggling, the kind of giggling you do when you’re not supposed to. The kind of giggling 6 year olds do until they start coughing and can barely suck in air. “Do you think the person wrote, “gub” like the Woody Allen character did in ‘Take the Money and Run’?” I said to my husband. In the movie, Allen’s character hands a bank teller a note that’s supposed to read, “I have a gun?” The teller rereads the note and passes it around to her fellow tellers, who say to each other, “Gub? What’s a gub?” My husband and I looked at each other and said “gub” and cracked up. Then he mentioned Wile E. Coyote. We were giddy and out of control.

Try as we might, we couldn’t take a bomb scare seriously—or maybe we just weren’t trying. The box was one of those videotape-size red, white and blue priority mail cartons that you get from the post office for free. If it were indeed a bomb, I figured the most damage it might cause was killing a few weeds in our front lawn. Too bad. What we really needed was a great big blast—KABOOM!—one that could wipe out huge swaths of crabgrass, chickweed, dandelions, clover and more. That encyclopedic list of weeds on a weed killer spray bottle? That’s our lawn. The few blades of grass here and there are barely a testament to Darwinian theory.

My husband expressed disbelief that this small package could hold an explosive capable of doing much damage.  But then I reminded him of the airline shoe bomber, whose sneaker contained enough explosives to blow out the side of a plane. I did not want to think about that too much because then I’d have to consider the possibility that someone was really out to harm us.

We went to the Starbucks in town. I bet they’ve never considered their stores as safe houses for potential victims of terror. It’s not as if their marketing VP would say one day, “There’s an untapped demographic out there. Let’s target our next campaign to evacuees.” Some other marketing genius could then dream up with names for a whole new line of drinks: the iced latte detonator, the cappuccino bang and a caffeine-free drink called Bomb Squad. The idea would never make it to a focus group.

The August day had been humid and now the late afternoon clouds, swollen with moisture, couldn’t hold back any longer. A blinding rain poured from the sky. Anyone outside for less than a minute would be drenched. In our rush, we hadn’t taken our anoraks.

“Someone you know could have done such a prank,” I said, between sips of hot chocolate. I was cold from the combination of damp shorts and T-shirt and an air conditioner that was working far too well.

“Why someone I know?” my husband said.

“You know more looney people than I do. Or maybe an ex-girlfriend found out that you got married last week. How about this: For five years, you lied to me and hid the fact that you’re in the eyewitness protection program. Your name is something else, you’ve had plastic surgery, you were in the mob,” I said. “Happens all the time. I’ve seen it on television.”

The image of him in the mob couldn’t be more absurd. My husband still ties his shoelaces making rabbit ears. He can barely wield a knife without injuring himself. He wears tweed, not Italian silk, jackets. We laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks. Whenever we used words such as explosive, bomb or detonator, we’d whisper. Anyone eavesdropping would guess we were nut cases.

We were new to the neighborhood. Just five months before, we had moved into the house—a modest cape on a quiet street where people have lived in their houses for decades. On either side of us live retirees, one of whom spends his afternoons seated in a lawn chair in his front yard, listening to the radio. In short time, without meaning to, we became the kind of neighbors who cause trouble.

Until a few months ago, I had never lived in a house. I grew up on New York’s Lower East Side on the 14th floor of an apartment building adjacent to a highway that bordered the East River. As a grownup, I’ve owned condos—a townhouse and an apartment in a three-family house. Our new house wasn’t a fixer-upper, although we did obsess a tiny bit about whether the inspector missed anything—a crumbling foundation, faulty electrical wiring, a leaky roof. Why worry about little things when you can torture yourself with worst case scenarios. Between the time our bid was accepted and we closed on the house, we rented two screwball comedies: “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” and “The Money Pit,” movies about home ownership disasters. We were indulging ourselves in schadenfreude, albeit directed at characters that don’t exist.

We didn’t meet our neighbors on moving day, but we made our presence known the next morning. Standing on my front lawn, I smelled gas. Workers installing a sump pump in the basement could smell it too. The phone man wrinkled his nose. I called the gas company. A woman with an electronic gas sniffer arrived. She checked the kitchen. The stove was emitting the appropriate level of gas odor. She went to the basement. No, the workers hadn’t hit a gas line with their welding tools or jackhammer. I waited for her outside. I did not want to be in a house that might blow up, landing me on the evening news.

The mechanical bloodhound led her to the front yard next door. After a half hour, she’d pinpointed the source. They had a gas leak coming from an outside line. She made a few phone calls. A backhoe, a gas company truck and a cop—er, police detail—appeared at noon. They set up orange cones, began drilling through the street in front of our house and, when the winter sun disappeared at 5 pm, turned on huge work lights. Like Hollywood spotlights, they pointed the yellow beams towards our house. A foot of snow on the ground intensified the glow, making the night seem brighter. All we needed was a marquee on our roof flashing “Jackhammers keeping you awake? Here’s who to blame.” My fiance arrived home from work and said, “What did you do?”

At midnight, the racket stopped; the street became dark. The utility workers were done.

A week passed. I was shoveling snow—falling heavily, as if we needed more in March on top of the foot or so still on the ground—from our walkway. We had just returned from the hospital, my fiancé in a cast because of wrist surgery that day to wire together errant bones, one of them called a lunate (as in lunacy), that were drifting apart. He was in bed upstairs in a post-surgery painkiller-induced haze. A neighbor, a retiree, crossed the street and introduced himself. He’d already met my fiancé a few days before.

“You know, you shouldn’t have to do that,” he said.

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “We’ve had enough snow this year already. This is redundant.”

Then he mentioned my fiancé. I told my new acquaintance that my fiancé had had wrist surgery, and we’ve just returned from the hospital. The neighbor, a retiree who works as a school crossing guard, said nothing else and crossed the street back to his house. Then, I realized what he had meant. I was doing a man’s job, and my man was, by my neighbor’s standards, failing to be a man. Great, I told my fiancé. “Our neighbors think you’re a girly man who lets me—barely 100 pounds—toil in the snow, while you’re upstairs drooling on painkillers.” Days later, my fiancé, now lucid and wearing a cast, was outside, when that same neighbor came by. The neighbor asked about his wrist and then apologized for his blooper.

Spring arrived in the rest of the United States. We entered the monsoon season. Eleven weeks of rain. Our weed-filled lawn grew a foot. The right house warming present for us would have been a lawn ornament, as in a white Chevy truck blotted with rust spots up on concrete blocks. Until two years ago, I owned such a car, but it was still drivable. Included in many ads for the same model and year cars were the initials “TBR,” for “typical Blazer rot.  Even if the rains stopped, my fiance could not mow the lawn. His forearm and palm were still wrapped in a cast. I have never used a lawnmower and, given my klutziness, thought it better that I didn’t try.
Our yellow dandelions turned into white puffs. We were spreading bad seed to our neighbors’ meticulous deep-green lawns, where every blade measures two inches, and maple trees are encircled perfectly in reddish-brown mulch.

We could almost hear the tut-tut of our neighbors when we walked down our road into town. Each time we made it from our car into the house without encountering anyone, we felt as jubilant as a runner crossing a finish line. But then one day, I got caught as I was leaving the house. A neighbor across the fence said: “If you’d like the name of a lawn care service, I know of one.” Subtle, I thought. I had called several, actually. But they weren’t interested in one-time jobs.

Which reduced my fiancé to running after a landscaping crew truck turning down a nearby street one Saturday morning. “They’re going to do it!” he said when he got back.” He was jubilant.

Like a good therapist, this crew relieved us of our shame, and weeds. We could walk into town, say hi or wave—why, even both—to neighbors we passed along the way. When my fiancé finally could mow the lawn, he fired up the mower and pushed the loud growling machine to the front yard. Over its engine, I swear that I could hear the neighborhood breathe a collective sigh of relief. We were not going to be a habitual eyesore.

About a month or so later—and three weeks before the bomb—having demonstrated that we were indeed responsible homeowners, we got bold. We were getting married in our backyard in 14 days. My fiance tucked notes in the doors of the houses on our block, warning neighbors of the onslaught of about 30 cars, caterers, a big white tent, an evening filled with the voices of 50 guests and maybe a jazz guitarist. Your Saturday might be disturbed, but only somewhat, we assured. No deejay, we promised. No dance floor either. We were planning a quiet, civilized affair. We had signed our names but omitted our house number. Not everyone knew who we were, and we didn’t want to make it easy for someone to complain to us before the wedding.

On the big day, we, the blissful couple talked for hours with friends who had traveled many miles and had no idea whether our wedding disturbed a soul. Since no cop—I mean, police officer—had come to our door citing noise ordinances, we figured we’d done good. First thing Sunday morning, I brought wedding cake next door and scored some good neighbor points.

But now, we had a suspicious package—a Homeland Security, code orange special—on our lawn. Sitting in Starbucks, we watched several big, charcoal-grey SUVs with blackened windows and flashing headlights speed by and turn down our steet.

An hour had passed and we were curious. We drove towards our house and talked about what we’d do if this were more than a prank by teenagers on summer vacation who’d run out of things to do on the fifth rainy day in a row. My husband asked if our taking a look would arouse suspicion, like the arsonist who joins onlookers as the flames he set swallow a building. I imagined our neighbors telling TV reporters: “This was a good neighborhood until they showed up.”

Some 15 vehicles—the SUVs we had seen earlier, a few police cruisers, an engine-ladder truck, other fire trucks and several EMS vans—clogged our block. It was 6 pm and neighbors getting home from work couldn’t. Some of the trucks were used as roadblocks. We returned to the town center and shopped for long sleeve shirts, feeling like two criminals on the run looking for disguises. It was as if every salesclerk could tell that we were a potential threat to national security or that someone out there was after me or my husband or both of us. So we chit-chatted with the clerk about the weather while she was ringing up our purchases. I glanced at my husband, with a look that said “Whatever you do, don’t mention the bomb.” We left wearing our new clothes and dashed through the rain to our car—the cat still yowling about her incarceration. We checked our street once more. Yellow crime scene tape had been put up across the width of the street.

A small person wearing a bulky olive-colored spacesuit-like outfit that covered his entire body, except for the clear shield over the eyes, was prone on our lawn. “This is good,” I said. “We can tell our friends we saw little green men today.” In the damp, warm weather, the suit probably felt like a portable steam room. A lot of uniforms and a lot of onlookers were standing around. We went to dinner.

At 8 pm, a little more than five hours after our evacuation, we went home. This time, the street was empty, cars were in driveways, living rooms flickered in blue light from TV sets. There was no sign that anything had happened, although bits of cardboard were strewn across our lawn. Our bomb scare made the 10 and 11 o’clock news. That’s how we found that there was no bomb. A voice-over gave some details while videotape gave us our first up-close look. The little green alien, lying prostrate on our lawn, soaked the box with a blast of water from their equipment before opening the package. Just in case. We also made both the police and fire logs in our local paper. From its clipped, spare prose, we learned that eight houses had been evacuated and that detectives were investigating “the incident.” The FBI, police, or any other agent-investigator type in dark sunglasses did not contact us.

The next morning, a guy who lives a few houses down the block drove up when I turned into our driveway. “You the one who was getting married last week?” he said in a deep, almost gruff voice, as he leaned out the driver’s side window. I nodded, a bit startled because I thought he was going to ask me about the bomb.

“You didn’t have to leave the note. You coulda had an entire brass band and we wouldn’t have minded. It was your day. Congratulations.” He grinned.

Before I could ask him his name, he pulled away in his pickup.

Wines for Book Lovers

Whether you’re having a book party, book club meeting or writers group over to talk lit, here are some wines to serve:

Irony Cabernet SauvignonIrony Wines, from Napa Valley, makes a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot and a Chardonnay, might get everyone ranting about one of the most misused words in the English language. (For more on irony, read this Los Angeles Times op-ed piece by Jon Winokur: “You call that irony?“)

bottle_well_read_08_lgFrom Orleans Hill Winery, this organic blend of Grenache, Syrah and Sangiovese is only available at Trader Joe’s. You can’t see it on this photo, but a tiny letter “a” is squeezed in between the “e” and the “d.”

NovellaNovella Synergy, blend of Petite Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot and Sangiovese, is from the Eos Estate Winery (which is converting its entire facility to solar power) in Paso Robles, California. Want to know the difference between a novella and a novel and the titles of some classic novellas for your book group? Check out this site.

Do you have a favorite wine you like to sip while reading? What are you reading now?

View of Fenway Park from The Bleacher Bar (copyright Delia Cabe June 2009)

View of Fenway Park from The Bleacher Bar (copyright Delia Cabe June 2009)

These wines would be gimmicky if it weren’t for the fact that a portion of the sales goes to a Red Sox player’s favorite charity: Pitching in for Kids, Curt’s Pitch for ALS, David Ortiz Children’s Fund and Youk’s Kids. The names are a bit of a stretch, but the wine tastes fine–though more of double than a home run.

Charity Wines raised more than $350,000 for three Red Sox charities in the first three months after the wine debuted in 2007. Last year, two more wines were introduced. The company offered five wines in all, but no longer produces them. But you can still find them at some New England retailers. (Check Charity Wines for a retailer.)

Here’s the lineup:

VARITEK FRONT smallORTIZ FRONT smalltSchilling SchardonnayWakefield Front LabelthumbYOUK FRONT small

Charity Wines also sells wines that feature MLB players from Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and, er, New York, as well as ones with football and hockey players.

pMLB2-5901295dtOf course, no post about the Red Sox would be complete without a trip down memory lane for the Fenway Faithful:

Smiley Face Wine

Project Happiness Syrah

Project Happiness Syrah

This wine label leaped out at me because of the kitsch value. How retro, eh? I’d tell you more about the winemakers but whoever designed the web site chose a difficult-to-read font against a black background. Bad design! I didn’t get past the line that said one of the winemakers graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1996. He earned a communications degree, but it seems he could use a little more know-how on the visual communications front.

Project Happiness Syrah is vinted and bottled by Oreana Winery, in Creston, Calif. From the label:

Finally, somebody put it in a bottle. Happiness. Sure took awhile, though. Seeking happiness? What makes happiness? We winemakers pondered this one afternoon in the Cellar. Marriage? Kids? Satellite TV? . . . Remember the 1950s, try to forget the 1980s. Wear searsucker at least once. Adopt a dog? Maybe a cat.

As bold supporters of the mischief that ensues upon opening a bottle, we pose the question to you. . .What makes you happy?

At that, you’re invited to tell them at the the “What Makes You Happy?” blog. To call it a blog is a stretch. Started in 2007, the blog features no posts and 42 comments, nearly all left by anonymous. Everything about this wine says, “no effort.”

What else can I add? The smiley face itself has its own history. The Happy Face was created in 1966 by David Stern, who owned a small ad agency. The idea came to him after seeing “Bye, Bye Birdie.” He thought a smiley face would be just the thing for a bank’s ad campaign. The headline: “Open a Savings Account at University Federal Savings and Put on a Happy Face.” Because he didn’t trademark it, Stern did not make anything from a symbol that became ubiquitous through the Seventies and resurfaces occasionally, including on this wine. You can read Stern’s account here.

Here’s the song, “Put on a Happy Face,” that served as the spark for Stern’s smiley face. This clip is from the 1995 TV version with Jason Alexander, whom most people know from “Seinfeld.” I’ve not seen this version, but hear that it paled in comparison to the original and the Broadway musical, which debuted in 1960.  The original movie came out in 1963 and starred Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margret, Janet Leigh and Maureen Stapleton. The movie tells the story of a rock-and-roll star (think “Elvis”) who is drafted into the military. The winner of a contest gets to kiss him goodbye on the Ed Sullivan Show.

You can hear a short clip from the 1963 movie at Amazon.

As for this syrah, it too was not memorable.


In the span of a few shelves at the wine store, I found inspiration for a Vine Designs post: Three wines bearing labels that spoke to my punk and rock heart. Punkers used their bodies as a way to express their distaste for all things establishment, be it through fashion, hair, accessories or tattoos, and here were labels reminiscent of those days.

To get you in the mood, too, pour yourself a glass and listen to UB40’s cover of “Red, Red Wine” first (thanks to my blogging sistahs Renovation Therapy and Willits Photo Overflow):


RawPower_Final_CS2Beginning in the mid Seventies, the safety pin became one of the essential punk accessories. Torn jeans? Safety pins. Bracelet? Safety pins hooked together. Earring? Patches? You guessed it. The safety pin represented that gritty, underground, rebellious, working class, anarchic ethos. In an article titled “Safety Pin as Signifier,” in of all places, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Scott McLemee writes:

In the summer of 1977, Time and Newsweek informed their readers of a new subculture, called “punk,” that had emerged at a few rock clubs in the United States and Britain. It was a style of exuberant ugliness. Men and women alike wore short hair that had been cut seemingly at random, and dyed unnatural colors. Flesh was pierced in sundry locations, at times with safety pins. Punk bands had names like the Dead Boys or the Clash. The music was very loud, very fast, and seldom involved more than three chords. Dancing was spasmodic. Spitting was common.

I was pleased to read that the creator of this wine was not a punk pretender, but a real punker. Vocalist Rawley Power was the frontman for the Aussie punk band, “Anti-Power,” some 20 years ago. (I looked for any audio/video of the band online, but alas, no luck. Must’ve been a regional phenom) Raw Power shiraz is bottled by Old Plains Wine Co., based in South Australia. The grapes are grown on vines ranging in age from 12 to 45 years in Adelaide Plains.

If you’re looking for a wine to bring to your 25th or 30th reunion and want to show you’ve still got that edge, buy one of these. Your mates won’t be disappointed. Of course, for some funny nostalgia, you could bring some nasty wine coolers, introduced around 1981:

Big Tattoo Red

Big Tattoo Red Cabernet-Syrah 2006

Big Tattoo Red Cabernet-Syrah 2006

This bottle had a little pink ribbon around the neck, a tip off that it was more than just a nod to getting inked. Two brothers, Alex, a wine importer, and Erik, a tattoo artist, teamed up to start a wine in honor of their mom, Liliana S. Bartholomaus, who died in 2000 of cancer. A portion of the sales of Big Tattoo Wines (50 cents per bottle sold) goes to breast cancer research and hospice care in about 35 states and District of Columbia. (Distributors in each area have made matching donations from bottles sold as well.) Since 2002, they’ve donated more than $1.2 million.

Liliana’s favorite symbol was the fleur de lys, hence the label’s graphic designed by Erik, a New Mexico-based tattoo artist.

I enjoyed this syrah (50%) and cabernet sauvignon (50%) blend made from Chilean grapes.

Vintage Ink

Vintage Ink Red Wine

Vintage Ink Red Wine

I had to do quite the Sherlock Holmes shtick on this one. I came up with practically nada online, except for some indications that the wine had some ties to a big company that produces Robert Mondavi, Simi, Estancia and other wines. I contacted the winemaker, aka conglomerate, Icon Estates. The rep told me via e-mail this wine is only available at the H. E. Butt Grocery Store chain in Texas. I tried to get more info about this wine and reason for its really limited distribution, but have not heard back. Meanwhile, I bought a bottle in Massachusetts. I noticed the wine’s year–2005, not 2008–when I got home. (Note to self: adjust eyeglasses)

Icon’s web site is being overhauled and its new site is supposed to debut next month. Good thing because I found the current site frustrating!

My bottle Vintage Ink Red Wine, was a merlot-cabernet blend. It wasn’t memorable, alas. But that’s OK, right? My readers in Texas are the only ones who have access. If you live in Texas and buy a bottle, please let us know what you think.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed article mentions one of my favorite bands, The Clash. I’ll leave you with this classic:

Egri Bikavér purchased at Trader Joe's

Egri Bikavér purchased at Trader Joe's

I had never thought of a wine industry in Hungary until I spotted this label (bottled by Vitavin Co. and imported by International Import Export of Los Angeles) in Trader Joe’s one evening. Who knew? Driven by curiosity and this blog, I added a bottle of Egri Bikavér to my shopping cart. When a wine label has “Bull’s blood of Eger” on the label, I couldn’t possibly resist. My husband shook his head and laughed.

We opened it last night. It’s a light-bodied red, a bit of acid, but smooth, and a crimson color. I prefer my wine to have a little more body, with richer fruit. But I bet this wine–a better quaity one, at that–might complement a meal made with spicy Hungarian paprika. That may give me an excuse next winter. What I wanted more was to learn about this wine’s pedigree. On Google, I found much more than I expected–a veritable treasure trove. Fans of this wine have a Facebook page, with 78 members from all over the world as of today. (I’m not joining.)

The wine is from the Eger wine region, which is on the southern slopes of the Bükk Mountains, whose winemaking dates back to Roman times. Eger is a town surrounded by 17 villages. In July, the region holds the Festival of Egri Bikavér, a three-day event with some 15 restaurants and 26 wineries. Can’t get there then? You can attend other festivities: In September, Harvest Day and a wine show; December, St. John’s Day Blessing of the Wine and a wine salon; and many other events. (If you can read Hungarian, click here for the region’s web site.) Here’s a poem I came across in my search:

“If I smell fine wine, I walk in;
Shouldn’t I enter Eger?
If I bypassed this town,
God would detest me…” Sándor Petőfi
Bottles of Egri Bikavér

Bottles of Egri Bikavér

A doctoral thesis dissertation, titled “The Possibilities for the Quality of Development of Egri Bikavér,” by Gál Lajos, prepared at the Department of Enology, Budapest Cornivus University, notes that the origins of this wine are a bit murky. One source states the word bikavér was first associated with Eger around 1851.

The wine itself is a blend of several varietals including Kadarka, Kekfrankos (Blaufränkisch), Médoc Noir (Merlot), and Cabernet Sauvignon, according to Manage Your Cellar, who adds this bit of history/legend about its name:
At the time, the Eger fortress was under attack by the Turkish troops. To give themselves courage and strength, the defenders drank the local wine in large amount, spilling it all over their body. When the attackers saw the defenders covered with red wine, they thought that the men had been drinking the blood of bulls and they fled in terror.
Yet another source has this to say about the wine’s legendary origins:
Legend has it that during the siege of the Eger fortress in the mid 1500s, Hungarian soldiers fortified themselves with Bikaver found in the catacombs of the castle. Enabled with what appeared to be super-human strength, they were able to hold off the Turkish invaders that greatly outnumbered the Hungarian troops.”
But my search brought up this little gem–a group called the Egri Bikavér Ensemble, eight music students from Gdansk, Poland, who perform on the streets and at few indoor venues, armed with 40 wine bottles filled with varying amounts of water. They prefer certain bottles, according to the group’s web site. “Supposedly the best bottles are after Egri Bikavér, Tokay and the Rhine wines. All tones (bottles) have their special appointed places. So that nobody makes a mistake,” the author of the bio writes. The ensemble plays classical music with some contemporary tunes thrown in. In this video, they perform Bolero:
Rosso Primitivo 2007

Rosso Primitivo 2007

I bought this wine because of the timeliness, name and price. I didn’t expect much. The wine, “Mommy’s Time Out,” seemed like an odd name for a wine that is a product of Italy. But there I was–the week before Mother’s Day–strolling the aisles of a wine store studying labels and the wine was marked $2 off. The phrase “Mommy’s Time Out” sounded so American.

I looked up “time out” and “timeout” in the online Oxford Dictionary. The only definitions referred to sports. I can only surmise that at some point the phrase was absorbed into child rearing and then, eventually, adopted into the vernacular for other uses. And somewhere along the line, this vintner latched onto it as a marketing idea. But I speculate.

I bought the red–rosso primitivo–but the label reveals nothing about the grapes. The wine is bottled by CMSPA in the Montorso Vicentino region of Italy. I wish I could tell you more, but I could find nothing else online. Perhaps that won’t matter.  (The producer also makes a Mommy’s Time Out pinot grigio.) The site reveals little and is unlike the fancy whiz-bang web sites of other winemakers. This site is, frankly, amateurish.

The Wine Cask blog was blunt: “Unfortunately, the label is the best part about this wine.” The wine’s finish had an off taste. I feared something too fruity, too sweet. It was neither.

Maybe you’d give this wine to a new mom in a basket with other goodies–and because she’s breastfeeding, she won’t drink it anyway. For $9 (sale price), it’s worth the laugh because of its name. But be sure to include a better wine for mom’s palate. I bet many moms are more sophisticated than this and would appreciate something finer than this.

I wanted to end with a clip of The Rolling Stones “Mother’s Little Helper,” but the blokes have tight control over their property.

I noticed this trio of wines because of the stringed instruments–two with guitars and one with a lute–featured on their labels. My husband and his son play the guitar, the latter professionally. My husband plays acoustic guitars, his fave being his beloved Martin D-28.

All three of these wines have Spanish pedigrees, just like the guitar. The 4,000-year history of the six-string guitar can be traced back to Spain and beyond. However, as Paul Guy points out, the lute, which appears on one of these wine labels, is not the guitar’s ancestor. The lute’s predecessor was the oud, a Moorish instrument. I found two video clips of Spanish music, but alas, could not find any of baguala.

Martín Códax Ergo Rioja


Martín Códax was a late 13th or early 14th century troubadour from Galicia. You can see his original music manuscripts on parchment here, which were found by chance in the early 20th century. Watch the Martín Códax Ensemble play one of his cantigas:

This rioja–86 percent Tempranillo and 14 percent Mazuelo–was produced by the winery Bodegas Martín Códax, founded in 1986 in Combados, Spain. Elliott Essman writes on his blog that he savored this wine, left untouched by his dinner guests the previous night (“Their loss, my gain”):

Much of the wine is aged eight months in American oak. Sweet oak, toast and vanilla come as primary aromas, with red berries and citrus peel. The Rioja, for all the ripeness of its fruit, is extremely dry, with moderate acidity and compliant tannins. The wine is very well balanced and fully palate friendly, bringing cocoa, tobacco, dried herb, deep ripe cherry and red berry. The finish is medium length and well filled with gentle juicy fruit.

I too loved this one!

Baguala Corte Tinto

baguala Baguala, the national music of Argentinian mountain people, features guitars, drums, other percussion such as blocks, and vocals. According to the Wine of the Month Club newsletter, “the baguala has Indian origins and is a chant composed of a simple melody built on three notes and then improvised and developed throughout the song.”

Made from vineyards of Finca La Buena (6,400 feet above sea level) in the Calchaquí Valley in northwest Argentina, this rich rioja is 36 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 36 percent Syrah, 18 percent Malbec and 10 percent Merlot. It tastes of lush fruits with some spice.

Red Guitar “Old Vine” Tempranillo Garnacha

red-guitarThe illustration on this wine label echoes the work of the Spanish artists Picasso and Miró. When I think of Spanish guitarists, classical guitarist Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) immediately comes to mind. Segovia played 19th and early 20th century music–not flamenco. Here he is playing in his later years:

The grapes for Red Guitar wine grow on vines that are over 100 years old, which, because of their age, yield fewer grapes yet have a more concentrated flavor. These vineyards in the small village of Lerga, Spain, which is in the Navarra region (between Rioja and Bordeaux), were handed down from generation to generation. Winemaking in this village dates back 2,000 years plus, when the Romans saw that its climate and soil were ideal for growing grapes. Red Guitar is overseen by Carlotta Orradre.

Chosen as Wine of the Week, a Washington Post writer notes, “The wine is quite sophisticated and is a great jumping-off point for further exploration of Spanish, French and other European wines.”

Sign Me Up!

Sign Me Up!

World’s Best Job: Tweet, Drink and Get Paid $10K a Month

The job title is “Murphy-Goode Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent.” I’ve always wanted to go to Healdsburg and enjoy other parts of California’s wine country. I’m already on Twitter and Facebook and know my way around social media. Maybe they’ll notice me aka The Twitter Queen, a title bestowed on me by my husband. <wink>

From the Murphey-Goode Web site:

We at the Murphy-Goode Winery got to thinking about the new age of communications and we figured it was a pretty good thing. So to get going, we’re looking for someone (maybe you) who really knows how to use Web 2.0 and Facebook and blogs and social media and YouTube and all sorts of good stuff like that — to tell the world about our wines and the place where we live: the Sonoma County Wine Country.

In exchange, we’re offering you a “Really Goode Job” — a six-month job paying $10,000 a month plus accommodations!

We want to hire a social media whiz (your title will be “Murphy-Goode Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent”) who will report on the cool lifestyle of Sonoma County Wine Country and, of course, tell people what you’re learning about winemaking.

Did we mention that the compensation was $10,000 per month Plus accommodations in a beautiful home in picturesque Healdsburg, a popular vacation destination in our neck of the woods. Working hours are flexible. And all you have to do is experience wine and good living, and then tell people about it. (Do you play Poker, or Liar’s Dice? Don’t worry; we’ll teach you.)

Posted using ShareThis