The Hip Mom’s Guide to Wine (in Tulsa)
Ah, the pleasures of a glass of good wine at the end of a rough day in the mummy trenches are many: There are few things that can help you reclaim a semblance of adult pleasure than sipping a fine Pinot Noir or velvety Cabernet. While we Tulsans hardly live in Napa Valley, local liquor stores hold educational tastings and also employ knowledgeable staff to help you learn more about the fascinating world of wine. Perhaps you’re throwing a party for your husband’s co-workers, and one of the wives is a passionate oenophile from California – but you’re petrified of serving something putrid. Or maybe you are still drinking the same oaky Chardonnay you did in your 20s, and need to get out of your wine rut. Or – the horror – your go-to beverage after the kiddies are in bed is Diet Mountain Dew mixed with a splash of Franzia. (Not that I would know anything about THAT atrocity!) While I’ll admit sometimes I wish that we could just buy wine at Costco like the rest of the USA, our little liquor stores have a lot to offer. (Although note to that store owner who looked at me like I had three heads when I asked about Beaujolais – the first harvest of fruity red out of France each year – I think you need to do some research, sir!)
Now, of course, if you don’t drink for personal or religious reasons, I’m not advocating you start. Or, perhaps you find yourself looking forward to your end of the day wine as a cure-all panacea. Or, oops – that’s not coffee in your mug, it’s a fruity 10 a.m. Malbec! If you find yourself with a problem, there are many local resources to help those who suspect they have a drinking problem. Alcoholics Anonymous of NE Oklahoma (www.aaneok.org) is a great place to start. Assuming, though, that you are able to enjoy your adult beverages healthfully and responsibly, there is a whole wide wine world that’s just waiting for you to discover right here in Oklahoma. Shocking, yes?
Now, a disclaimer: I hail from the Northwest, home of the famed Oregon Pinot Noirs and Pinot Gris, and luscious Washington Cabernets and Rieslings. How lucky we were — just a 15-minute drive from wineries with rows of heaving grapes and friendly vintners pouring tastes in their tasting rooms! While I really don’t know much about wine, I like to pretend I do, and was decidedly snobby about finding anything potable here in Oklahoma. Well, of course I was pleasantly surprised. Just because it’s all but impossible to grow wine grapes here with the hot, hot summers, that doesn’t mean Okies don’t know their wine!
I start my “research” near my home at Primo’s Wine and Spirits. This is a wonderful little bodega at 91st and Yale; the owner, Cliff, is so warm and kind and will bend over backwards to order you whatever you want. My mother, who has a penchant for esoteric girly drinks, had a desire to make “Pink Squirrels” when she last came to visit; this pink, frothy concoction requires a liqueur called “Crème de Noyaux.” That would be Hazelnut liqueur – who knew such a thing existed! Cliff doesn’t have it in stock, but orders it and calls my mom when he gets it in two days. And then when my globe-trotting sister from DC visits – on the heels of a trip to some copyright conference in Geneva – she wants to recreate a pre-dinner drink involving something called Aperol. Huh? Primo’s has one bottle of this orange Italian aperitif, which is so unusual: crisp, bracing, sweet with a touch of bitterness – delicious!
While perusing some of the wines at Primo’s, I eavesdrop on an employee and learn the fascinating story of the Gruet winery in New Mexico. Gilbert Gruet, whose Champagne house, Gruet et Fils, had produced Champagne in Bethon, France, moved his family to New Mexico, of all places, to begin making wine in America.
At 4300 ft. the Gruet vineyards are some of the highest in the United States, so despite warm days, the temperature at night can drop as much as 30 degrees, cooling the grapes and slowing down the maturation. But the sandy soil and a lack of humidity allow the Gruets to produce award-winning wines without the use of pesticides. I buy a bottle of their 2008 Syrah, which is “loaded with intense aromas and flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, licorice root, and white pepper.” Well, I am not so discerning that I taste anything like white pepper, but it is smooth, complex (it seems to evolve in richness) and pairs excellently with my husband’s burgers!
Another emporium with a panoply of offerings is Parkhill’s South, at 101st and Memorial. Tina Parkhill, whose relations also own the veritable Parkhill’s Warehouse Liquors and Wines at 51st and Lewis (known as “Fikes” to long time patrons), sponsors tastings – well, really, all out parties for those of us who don’t get out much – right above her store in a chic little loft called “Beyond the Label.” (The venue is actually rentable for functions like luncheons, showers and parties!) I go to a tasting of “Skinnygirl” libations – the line of lower calorie drinks dreamed up by the Real Housewife of NYC, Bethenny Frankel – and find myself smack in the middle of a lively, ebullient party. The Skinnygirl label was recently sold to beverage conglomerate Jimmy Beam. To be frank(el) (ha!), I think this is a good thing, because I remember trying Skinnygirl margarita before the sale, and it was so vile I vowed to only drink Chubby Girl varietals for the rest of my life (my husband declared it reminiscent of jet fuel!). But perhaps some tinkering has been done because everything I sample tastes quite good. The Skinnygirl Margarita is almost as good as something you’d quaff in a Mexican restaurant, and the Skinnygirl Sangria is just delicious. Skinnygirl California White? Excellent for an everyday white with dinner – even the frozen pizza you’re throwing on the table tonight. So do try some of these if you come across them (although I subscribe to the philosophy – assuming you’re not going to drink the whole bottle, a few extra calories in a real glass of wine might be worth it!)
Back to Parkhill’s South: all of this gratis tasting, plus hand and neck massages in the little “spa” room across from the tasting room, make for a perfect evening out. Check their website frequently!
Grand Vin Bottle Shop in Utica Square is also a lot of fun to visit. It’s uniquely designed and modeled after a European wine cave, complete with cobblestone columns, arched ceilings and redwood racks. So if you’re like me and don’t foresee a trip to Burgundy in the near future, come here instead and just pretend, without incurring all that pesky airfare.
Their inventory consists of everything from hard-to-find collectibles to “everyday bottles.” Dozens of award-winning bottles – from California, Oregon and Washington State; and from Australia, France, Italy and Germany – are priced at or below most vineyard tasting rooms. They also carry a large selection of imported beers, micro brews and liquors from around the world.
Finally, maybe you would like a little glass of something, but are currently nursing (my doctor OKs a glass of wine with a meal when you’re nursing; check with yours!). If you want to be conservative, there are some delicious lower-alcohol alternatives as well. My girlfriend Shawna introduces me to a sparkly little Sangria which is only 7 percent alcohol. Rosa Regale from Banfi is a sweet Italian sparkling wine; again, at just 7 percent alcohol, you can enjoy your glass and keep your wits about you too.
Finally, my friend Robin C. shares a glass of her homemade sangria with me. I’m afraid I can’t disclose her top secret recipe, but search online for a base – a bottle of red wine, club soda, simple syrup and sliced citrus is a good start — and then the fun part — tinker! My attempt is not as sumptuous as Robin’s – too sweet and too pulpy (put yours into an ice tea decanter to spare you too much pulp). Happily, though, this is a really fun experiment you can perfect over your lifetime, all the while having friends over to help your scientific sampling process!
So head on out and pick up a new bottle of something new. Just surviving a Tuesday sometimes is occasion enough to sit and savor something you haven’t before.