As I mentioned in a previous post, I went to a fundraiser for my wife’s job the other night. The event was across the bridge in New Jersey, or to be more precise, ‘South Jersey’. Philadelphians (myself included) spend a fair amount of time making jokes about our neighbors to the east, particularly criticizing their sense of culture (yes, we are snobs), their fashion choices, and above all their driving (there is a strong correlation between a New Jersey license plate and a car horn being activated). Truth be told, however, I have not spent all that much time over there even though Delaware River (the state line) is only three miles away,
My wife has a rather tough job, so I just about always agree to go to these events to support her (and avoid an additional evening at home with the boys jumping on my head). We were a bit apprehensive this time since it was the night of the massive East Coast snow storm ‘Nemo’ (did I miss the memo about naming winter storms—when did that start?), but the forecasters thought the storm would only side-swipe Philadelphia and South Jersey so we figured it would be OK.
The place was about 20 minutes away according to our GPS, but clearly it does not take into account that almost all the trip is in New Jersey and there happens to be a lot of New Jersey drivers there, so it took us closer to 30. It just had started to snow as we arrived and I almost drove right past the location. This was not due to decreased visibility, but rather since I thought there was no way in hell that it could be this place:
But it was.
Wholly crap, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Even though I had tacitly agreed that I would not blog about the evening, since my wife knew that I would likely be a bit offensive and she was afraid that someone at the event would then read about it on my blog. But after seeing the venue, how on earth was I going to be able to comply with my wife’s wishes? I mean look at the place! It was a sarcastic, snarky, loudmouth’s dream! We drove around the massive parking lot for a good 5-10 minutes looking for a place to park—it was packed. We finally got inside and asked one of the four hostesses where our event was being held. A fifth (?!?) hostess came over and said: “I’ll take you there, follow me.”
We walked about five steps when she stopped. She then pointed as she said “See the bar way over there? Go all the way through and around the back to the double doors, your event is in that room.”
‘I’ll take you there’—South Jersey style.
The place was huge and there were people everywhere. It seemed as though there were about seven different bar areas, each with flat screen T.V. and parquet dance floor. We picked our way through the crowd and after just a couple of seconds, I had a strange sensation—I really thought I had entered a time warp and was back in the mid 1980’s.
Big hair, animal prints, and plunging necklines revealing 50+ year-old cleavage.
Tight jeans, multi-colored leather shirts, and necklaces with what I assumed is the wearer’s name on them. The women had a bunch of jewelry, too.
Coors Lite and charm bracelets. And the make-up.
I quickly realized that there was absolutely no chance that anyone in that room ever read my blog. Or owned a corkscrew. Or rode a bike. My wife had nothing to worry about.
We finally found the event room, and were greeted by the family who organized the event and they could not have been any nicer. In fact, everyone we met that night was just great. We made our way over to our table and I surveyed the wine situation. There was an open bottle of both red and white on every table—that’s the end of the good news. The red was a Cabernet/Merlot blend from Frontera. The white was a Chardonnay, also from Frontera. Frontera is the ‘bargain’ label of Concha Y Toro—Chilean makers of really inexpensive wine (most of it under $10/bottle).
And this was their ‘bargain’ label.
Giddy up. It’s a fund-raiser.
I conducted a quick scan of the room and there were very few of the 100 plus people drinking wine, but I doubt it was due to the brand and/or quality of the wine. There was Coors Lite being served at the cash bar, after all…. Those who were drinking wine were firm believers in the full pour—there was hardly a sliver of air between the top of the glass and the wine. I doubt, however, that it was due to any realization that the wine had no hope of ever improving through aeration—by swirling the wine in the glass, so why not fill ‘er up?
Speaking of the bar, and given the dearth of vinous options on the table, I ventured over to the quite popular bartender and engaged her with the following query:
“Do you have any sparkling wine?”
She appears confused and a bit perturbed.
“You mean, like, Sham-Pain?”
I nod even though I know this is certainly not a good sign.
“No, but we have Coors Lite.”
I shoot her a quick smile to say ’No thanks’ and notice that there were several other bottles behind her that did not appear to be bargain labels from already bargain wine producers. I consider for a moment asking what they might be, but I felt the crowd behind me begin to swell and their collective urge for a silver bullet was palpable. Figuring that at least some in the crowd were packing heat, I skulked back over to our table and grabbed the Frontera.
Three or four glasses in (the rough equivalent of one glass, South Jersey style) my wife, a pediatric oncologist who also heads the end of life team for the hospital, got up and gave her speech. She took it a bit easy on the crowd since only a few started to weep a bit. There is a reason my wife did not go into sales—she is just too darn nice.
We stayed a bit longer and listened to the band, which consisted of three guys who have clearly not missed a meal since the Clinton Administration and a tall skinny guy with the kind of dark sunglasses made to fit over your prescription eyeglasses. Despite their appearance they were actually pretty good—every time I took a sip of wine, I would wince at the taste and close my eyes, hoping to pass out. It was during these brief ‘blackouts’ that I noticed that the band really was excellent. (I am also ready to admit that this was a defensive mechanism. I think it may be similar to the phenomenon of those who have lost one of their senses and the body responds by enhancing others. In this case, my body knew that my taste buds were under attack and it may have dulled my ability to critically assess music so that I would not completely lose my mind).
Soon we left and made our way back through the huge building which was now eerily deserted (after only about an hour and a half). We made our way back across the bridge and back to ‘modern day’.
Here are my tasting notes for the two wines (I had to at least try them—sorry, I did not notice the vintage, if there even was one):