Websites We Love To Read

Wine, Wit, and Wisdom is the name of the official blog of the Society of Wine Educators. When I log on to the Internet, that’s my home page. It’s #1 on my list of wine must-reads. I read a lot of blogs, newsletters and magazines, and I’ve downloaded some cool apps. I enjoy most of them, but when it comes to my must reads, Wine, Wit, and Wisdom is it. It, that is, until I discovered the Bubbly Professor.

Six months ago, I was sitting in my CSW class at Capital Wine School in DC when someone said, “Bubbly Professor.” As soon as I got in front of my laptop, I looked it up. This, I thought, my wine loving friends, will be the ticket to my success. Bubbly’s tag line is Excellent Adventures in Wine Education. Her real name is “Miss Jane” Nickles, and she’s the director of education for SWE.

If you’re taking the Certified Specialist of Wine exam, this web site is a must read. By now, you have the study guide, and you have the text workbook, but THIS site is loaded with tips on how to pass the exam. Trust me, if you’re looking for a short cut, this isn’t it. This makes you study harder and smarter. It’s more work. If you think you know the material, the Bubbly Professor will show you if that’s true. It includes numerous learning tools, flash cards, quizzes, and much more.

Speaking of the CSW exam, if you are studying for it, there’s an interesting blog on the WWW site (see below). You can also find it on The Wine Stalker site (see below), written by Joey Casco, CSW. He gives some great tips on how to highlight the study guide to your best advantage. Casco talks about his journey to the exam and adds, “The CSW has a 55% pass rate average.” Ouch.

I love that he took a picture of his CSW pin, and I wanted to feel his joy.

I was about to make my way to New York City to take my CSW exam last February when Mother Nature intervened and leveled the East Coast with something called the Polar Vortex. Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Thankfully, gratefully, SWE allowed me to reschedule the test for March.

Taking no chances, I flew to Providence, RI, the night before the exam. Pulled an all-nighter to the muted, looped sounds of CNN, just because I could not sleep. “I know this.” “I know that.” “Next card.” A few hours later I showed up at Johnson & Wales University and took the test at 9 AM. A hundred questions in one hour. I finished in 50 minutes. I didn’t want to check it. I was afraid I’d re-think answers. My brain was saying, “Over.” I was done. Fried. C’est fini.

Before we left the testing center, the proctor told us to expect the results in 4-6 weeks. Went down four flights, out the door, and took a pre-arranged taxi from JWU to the airport. I celebrated my stupefied state by eating oysters. Two orders of oysters and a glass of Pinot Noir.

About seven days later I received the envelope. Oh no! I was a wreck! I’m not ready! What happened to the 4-6 weeks? Instead of opening the envelope, I ran my hand across it. There in the corner was this little bump. I knew it was THE pin.

And I felt my joy.

Whether or not you’re taking the CSW exam, you may find these web sites informative or entertaining:


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Alchemy Modern American Eatery

Alchemy Modern American Eatery - Baltimore, MD

I love this place. This sassy little spot is niched between more than a few trendy restaurants, conveniently located among Hampden’s 36th the Avenue haunts. Why do I love it so much? It’s innovative. Superb food. Great menu options. A sophisticated wine program. That’s what their website says, and that’s what it is. For you beer and spirits types, a witty “Liquid Culture” list is available.

Alchemy, thou callest my name.

Currently, on Tuesdays, Alchemy offers a 3-course dinner menu for $25. It’s a lovely, inspired menu — that better yet — delivers. In the past, I’ve had the House Cured Salmon Plate. I hate to gush, but it was the best.  The fact is, I’m thinking about it now. We paired the salmon with a Pinot Noir that was recommended by Somm and Pastry Chef Debi Bell-Matassa.

Bell-Matassa co-owns Alchemy with Executive Chef Michael Matassa, both of whom hold credentials that are seriously prestigious. In addition to Alchemy, they co-owned the popular Fusion Grille of Harford County, an establishment of which, I’m sorry to say, I was unaware.  The third chef in this trifecta (!) of superb (there’s that word again) cuisine is Trinity Fisher, a classically French-trained executive sous chef.

On this particular Wednesday when my niece Jennifer was in Baltimore, we stopped by Alchemy to participate in a blind wine tasting. These blind tastings are scheduled each Wednesday of the month. Here’s how it works: 3 wines, 3 nice pours for $10. This is a good deal. Or it’s a great deal, because did I say these are nice pours? If you guess the 3 wine varieties, you win a dinner. Additionally, if you guess the regions from which the wines were produced, you win a 2nd dinner for your guest.

Bell-Matassa stopped by our table, and we talked wine. This is a delightful opportunity if you love the grape. She knows what she’s talking about, and she’s open to discussion. This was fun.

Menus are subject to change, and I wish I could replicate the exact menu, but alas, I cannot. As close as I can report the main course, I had beef tenderloin over smashed potato, topped with jumbo lump crab and a chocolately sauce drizzled around the plate. My niece had seared scallops topped with a bacon mixture, and pickled onion served over creamy polenta. For dessert we shared a generous portion of bread pudding with the most incredible creamy bourbon sauce and a glass of tawny port. Of course. Port.

Alchemy Modern American Eatery
1011 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 366-1163
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Wine of the Week: Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine of the Week: Napa Cellars 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. An hour after decanting, we poured this gorgeous, deep dark red cab. It did not disappoint. Sophisticated and smooth, offering full aromatics, it held promises of dark red fruit, baking spice and toast. In the background were hints of tobacco, a bit of oak and smoky cinnamon. Tannins and acidity balanced well. Winemaker Joe Shirley’s back label reveals wonderful information, including a barrel regime of 41% in new French oak. Wouldn’t it be lovely if more winemakers shared their genius with us? At $27, this Napa cab was a Friday night delight. Serve with beef or peppery salmon.

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