Who You’re Reading

Hi, my name is Melissa and I own The Wine Rack in Greenfield, MA, a full liquor store with an emphasis on fine and fun wine.  I have owned the store for over 5 years, and recently purchased a second store, Jay K’s Liquor and Wine, in Turners Falls, MA.  I am an avid wine drinker, home chef, gardener and snowboarder.  I started my wine journey about 20 years ago as a waitress at Pinocchio’s Restaurant in Amherst, MA.  I was understandably an Italian wine snob for many years.  There were many bottles of Barolo enjoyed by myself and my fellow wait staff during those years.  But I had just scratched the surface, as I later learned.  I went on to wait tables, bartend and cater while still thinking I knew about wine.  It wasn’t until I started working at The Deerfield Spirit Shoppe, in S. Deerfield MA, with a long time friend, that I realized how little I knew about wine.  My education in wine, however, as most in this industry would agree, has been far less tedious than my more traditional education.

My focus these days is food and wine pairing.  I started as an Italian wine snob, then I branched out to other regions, but stayed a red wine snob for many years.  Yes, I learned to appreciate white wine, maybe even order a glass with a meal, but never a bottle.  Then one fine day I went to a wonderful wine lunch at Dave Abbott’s (one of my wine salesmen, and perhaps my most important wine mentor).  We were lunching with Johnnie Masciarelli, the owner and winemaker for Masciarrelli wines.  There were many fantastic things about this lunch, but one of the most memorable for me was a ’97 Marina Cvetic Chardonnay.  It was sublime and paired so well with the asparagus soup course and the sea scallop in a saffron cream sauce.  It is normally a $30-$40 dollar retail wine, but it was on close-out for a ridiculously cheap $80 a case (so a retail price of about $10).  I bought a case for myself.  I wish I had bought more.  From that day on, white wine of all types became a regular addition to my table.  I discovered that the majority of the food I prepare pairs better with white wine – to my credit, I did drink alot of Pinot Noir.

My journey into being a home chef took a while longer.  My mother is a great home chef, and I grew up with a home cooked meals on the table every night.  But like most people, once on my own I mostly subsisted on pasta and sauce.  When you have roommates, it’s better to shop very minimally, as anything good will get eaten immediately.  Once My husband and I cohabited this changed a little, yet we were still pretty cash poor, so ramen noodles and mac and cheese played a prominent role in dinner.  Things got a little better as time went on, but it wasn’t until my husband developed an intolerance for enriched white flour that I really came into my own as a chef.  We had to completely change the way we ate – for the better.  A huge tool in doing this was my iphone.  It is so simple to plug a few ingredients into safari and see what comes up.  I became more comfortable incorporating new ingredients, and my meals got better and better.  I also began to be much more aware of the quality of food I was buying.  My mother was the head of a local food co-op when I was growing up and she almost never served red meat.  We ate mostly vegetarian, with some poultry and shrimp, and fish that my grandfather would catch on the cape.  I live in a rich agricultural area, so it was easy to make farm stands and co-ops the primary source of food instead of large chain grocery stores.  We do eat red meat, but only a few times a month.  It is mostly sustainable fish (thank you seafood watch app) on our table and free range, humanely certified local meats.  I do not eat meat unless I know where it comes from and how it was treated.  I feel that eating animals is defendable, but eating tortured animals is not.

As a wine retailer, I find that many wine drinkers do not pay much attention to food and wine pairings.  They drink what they like, sometimes with a meal, sometimes not.  That is certainly fine.  And there are wines that drink well on their own.  But most wines are made to be a part of a meal, and that is how I enjoy them.  More importantly, there are wines that can be ruined by the wrong food.  Case in point – I opened a bottle of Montepulcianno Reserve (about $20 a bottle) and it was fantastic with a grilled steak.  But I had a little leftover so I finished it the next night with pasta in a white clam sauce.  It was horrible.  So I often wonder when someones says they didn’t like a particular wine, what they were eating with it…

So I like to experiment with food and wine pairings.  I am in a position to be able to open multiple bottles of wine with meals, and I often do.  I hope to be able to share this knowledge with those who are interested.  I will drink other things beside wine too – I do like beer and mixed cocktails, and I have been known to sip expensive tequila on occasion, so I will also be passing along my knowledge on these subjects.  I might even be persuaded to make a few posts on my favorite spots to snowboard, and certainly some of the food and alcohol I enjoy while there.

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