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You Cannot Predict Baseball

Date: Wed, Nov 14, 2012 Wine Tasting

In early spring of 2006, my wife at the time (we are now divorced) got me a lovely gift for our first anniversary, a leather-bound journal. The idea was that we would both write in it, describing the wines we drank together and the circumstances in which we enjoyed them. I hadn't yet begun writing this blog - that happened in October of 2006.

I stumbled upon this leather journal the other day while rummaging around in the closet. There are fewer than 10 entries in it, the book is mostly empty. But the wines are interesting: 2001 Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux, 2002 Breton Bourgueil Perrieres, 2004 Closel Savennieres Clos du Papillon, 2001 Lafarge Volnay, 2004 Baudry Clos Guillot, some Oregon wines. We were drinking good stuff. There is one entry in there about a wine that is different from the others, something older, something we drank on a special occasion.

I remember that I wanted to buy a special wine for our first wedding anniversary dinner. I went into Chambers Street Wines and spoke with David Lillie. After some discussion, I emerged with a bottle of 1986 Chateau Sociando Mallet. I spent something like $80 on the bottle, way more than I had ever before spent on a bottle of wine. David cautioned me to stand the bottle up 3 days or so before opening it, to open it carefully so as not to disturb the sediment, and to decant the bottle if I could. I followed David's advice and we loved the wine with our dinner. I'm not going to reproduce my part of our journal entry on this wine, but here is the first thing I wrote: "This is beautiful wine. I understand now why Bordeaux is so beloved."

Look at that last sentence. I love how exuberant I was, how eager to experience this new pleasure. I can't say that I remember the wine but I'm sure it was very good. Sociando Mallet is a respected estate making high quality wine, but it's not considered to be one of the great wines of Bordeaux. No matter, I didn't understand that then and I was falling in love with wine, details like that would not have reduced my visceral pleasure anyway.

A lot has happened since then. I have two wonderful children, but I am no longer married. I work at a different job and I live in a different place. Many of my friends are different. I have grayer hair, and depending on your eyesight and on the relative humidity of the day, 10 or 15 pounds that I should lose. I have a different set of worries and problems that I deal with on a daily basis, and also a different set of joys. It's a strange road, this life we lead, and as John Sterling, the stalwart radio voice of the New York Yankees likes to say, "You can look at all the statistics you want, and they tell you what this guy did in that situation a thousand times in the past, but they don't tell you what's going to happen right now. You cannot predict baseball."

Holiday season is approaching, the end of the year draws near, and I was thinking the other day about some of the great wines I drank this year. Gentaz Côte-Rôtie, early '80s DRC Grands-Echezeaux, late '80s and early '90s Montrachet, Coliseo, the grand old Amontillado by Valdespino, and more. And that's just the fancy stuff - there were so many more great wines that are easier to locate, and easier on the wallet.

I loved drinking many of these wines and the experiences that came with them, but it was only a few days ago when I drank the wine that made me fall in love with wine again. I was at a good friend's house and he made a lovely dinner that included a beautiful butterflied leg of lamb, pungently seasoned with ground black olives, fennel seeds, dried chili flakes, and all sorts of other goodies. With this dish he generously opened a bottle of 1985 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, a grand wine, from a very good year, and a classic pairing - lamb and Bordeaux. Exciting!

The wine was awesome, really. It took about an hour to flesh out, but it was SO good when it did. The thing that killed me about this wine was how absolutely clearly it spoke of the place it is from, and how it expressed itself with such profound finesse, and also how completely and purely delicious it was. The fruit was lush and ripe, and it was textbook dark cassis. Not sweet fruit, dry. And the minerals - all pencil lead and gravel and dried tobacco. And there was that cedar smell too that people speak of when they talk about Bordeaux. I felt while I was drinking this wine how different it is to drink Cabernet - I almost never drink it. Honestly, it felt like close to a perfect wine, and I fell in love with wine again.

Not that I had stopped loving wine, but it had been a while since something really moved me. I drank things I enjoy, tried some new things, definitely experienced pleasure. But it had been a while since I felt truly moved, and I had kind of drifted into this complacency, this place of moderately lower expectations. What a wonderful way to be shocked, to wake up and remember with full appreciation what it feels like to be moved again.

It reminds me that I value being open to this sort of pleasure, from wherever it may come. Some people can get lost as they try to stay current on the wines that they should be loving. I will never do that, lucky for me. As I get excited about Champagne or Sherry or Austrian Riesling, or whatever it is I learn about and have new experiences with, I will never be closed to something as elemental and viscerally thrilling as a plate of well-prepared lamb and a grand old bottle of claret. Stodgy? Who cares. You never know where you will find the thing that makes you fall in love again. You cannot predict baseball.

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Scenes from Sherryfest

Date: Fri, Nov 2, 2012 Wine Tasting

Two weeks ago, before the hurricane, there was Sherryfest. The main event, if you will, was a Grand Tasting held at Liberty Hall in the Ace Hotel. I think it's fair to say that the only human being in the room that day who was not in the least bit surprised was Peter Liem. He knew it would be a grand event, he knew that there would be way more people who wanted to be at the tasting than the space could accommodate, he knew that all of the producers would be there and pull out the great bottles, he knew that everyone would be blown away by the opportunity to speak with all of the producers and to taste all of the amazing wines.

Everyone else was at least a little bit blown away. You could see it on all of the faces - the childlike glee. It was dark in Liberty Hall and I had trouble getting good photos with my mobile phone. I want to share a few images anyway.

Felipe González -Gordon was there, of González Byass. He poured maybe 10 or 15 wines, including the rare and wonderful Palmas. He is holding a bottle of Cuatro Palmas in this photo. The Palmas had not previously been available in the US, and it is exciting to think about being able to drink those wines here.
Carmen Gutierrez of Gutierrez Colosía was there, along with her two very bright and lovely daughters. The Colosía Sherries are great in general, and I think that their Fino called El Cano (or not, depending on the importer) is a fantastic example of the style, showing a pronounced salinity that speaks of El Puerto de Santa Maria.

All of the Colosía wines showed very well on this day, and a highlight for me was tasting the three wines from the Solera Familiar. These wines are not yet available in the US, and I sincerely hope that there is an importer out there who will change this. These are stunning old wines that will thrill any Sherry lover.
Jan Petterson of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla was there, pouring his four Antique Sherries and also his basic Fino to rapt audiences. I love these wines. They are deep and complex, and they speak so clearly. They happen to be well priced, too. David Bowler recently added these wines to his portfolio, and this I imagine will be great for everyone involved.

Lorenzo Garcia-Iglesias Soto was there representing Bodegas Tradición, the boutique Bodega that releases only four wines, all of them very old. There is a Palo Cortado, and Amontillado, an Oloroso, and a PX - there is no Fino. These are glorious wines and if you are interested in Sherry and haven't yet tried them, you really should. Lorenzo pours his Palo Cortado first, and I loved his explanation for why he does this. "This one has the most delicate aromas," he said. "It is floral and elegant. If I pour this after the more powerful Amontillado, the things that make this Palo Cortado so special will be lost."

Fernando Hidalgo of Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo was there. This is as classy a gentleman from Jerez as I have met. And the wines are superb. From the basic Hidalgo Fino to the older and more special wines, everything shows great character and finesse. The old Villapanés Oloroso is now available in the US, which is exciting. It is an elegant and deep Oloroso, and it adds to the lineup of Hidalgo Especial Sherries with the Fino La Panesa and the Palo Cortado Marques de Rodil. Now, if only we here in the US could buy El Tresillo, the great old Amontillado...

Marcelino Piquero (right) and Borja Leal represented Bodegas Sanchez Romate. I had never before tasted many of these excellent wines, as they simply do not appear on retail shelves. Romate is distributed by Southern, and Southern focuses on selling Romate's Cardenal Mendoza Brandy. I hope some one begins to focus on selling the Romate Sherries because they are quite good.
By the way, the food at the Grand Tasting was well planned and delicious. Croquetas, cheeses, and all sorts of tasty morsels. And the jamon station was much appreciated. I parked myself there for a solid 15 minutes, and no one seemed to mind too much.

Many other producers participated too, from Valdespino to El Maestro Sierra to Lustau to César Floridio. This was truly the greatest Sherry event ever on US soil, and I hope it was the first of many.

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Equipo Navazos Dinner at The Spotted Pig

Date: Thu, Oct 25, 2012 Wine Tasting

Sherryfest, as you know, was the US's largest ever set of tastings and events dedicated to Sherry. It was created, in part, to honor the work of Peter Liem, whose Sherry book was just released. Sherryfest began for me, I am incredibly lucky to say, at The Spotted Pig for a special dinner featuring the wines of Equipo Navazos.

Jesus and Peter outside of The Spotter Pig.

Jesus Barquin, one of the founders of Equipo Navazos, is the co-author of Peter's book. In order to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, Peter alone wrote the portion of the book that discusses specific Sherry bodegas, and Equipo Navazos did not participate in the Sherryfest Grand Tasting. So this dinner was a way of acknowledging Jesus' and Equipo Navazos' huge contribution to Sherry's resurgence in the US market. Also, the wines are pretty good...

This was one of the finest wine dinners that I have ever attended. All of the food was excellent, the wines were great, but what made this so very special (aside from the excited vibe in the room as Sherryfest was about to get underway) was the brilliant harmony achieved in each course.

Wine Director Carla Rzeszewski is an ardent Sherry lover and she, Peter, Jesus, and Rosemary Gray (Peter's partner in Sherryfest) did a wonderful job making this dinner happen.

But listen to this: Chef April Bloomfield, Sous Chef Edie Ugot on the left, and Spotted Pig Head Chef Katharine Marsh did a great thing in preparing for this dinner. They tasted every wine, talked about them with Carla, and created a menu that would brilliantly complement the wines being served.

Seriously. This was a wonderful dinner. A dinner that impressed me in its attention to the smallest of details.

Jamon Ibérico is such a wonderful thing to eat and I've almost always seen it served solo, so that its subtle and complex flavors can be appreciated without anything else getting in the way. Here, a salad featuring this gorgeous jamon. Earthy roasted sunchokes supported the jamon, and did not interfere. A few grassy pea tendrils mixed into the greens had much the same effect. The wines were perfect with this dish. Until Sandro Pilliego of Palo Cortado suggested otherwise, I had kind of assumed that one would drink an Amontillado or a more elegant Palo Cortado with jamon. At this dinner, it was white wine - the 2011 Navazos-Niepoort and La Bota de Fino No 35, both newly released. The tangy energy of these wines worked so well with this salad.

Tuna was poached in olive oil and topped with tomato. The menu said coriander, but I tasted fresh mint in there. This, for me, was a revelation. You know how Fino Sherry can show an oxidative side to its flavors (even though it is not an oxidized wine)? And you know how mint can leave a fresh, airy, and I would now say oxidative sensation in the mouth? Well, the mint in this dish and the gorgeously pungent and focused wines worked together in an eye-opening way for me. The mint highlighted the fresh and airy aspect of the wines in a very lovely way. The dish was paired with La Bota de Manzanilla No 32, the utterly wonderful latest release in a line of bottlings from the old Sánchez Ayala solera. And also with La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada "Bota NO" No 39, a wine that comes from a single barrel of Manzanilla Pasada from Bodegas Misericordia, of La Guita. This barrel is highly appreciated within that small Manzanilla Pasada solera, and therefore marked "NO" by the cellar master, to indicate that it should not be touched for blending or for any purpose, really. But Equipo Navazos was able to bottle a small amount, and this will be released soon.

And here was, I can honestly say, as fine a pairing as I have experienced in 2012. Thick slices of maple syrup roasted pork belly, with crackling and crunchy skin on the end, some wild mushrooms and fennel. If there ever were a light and elegant version of pork belly, this was it. It was paired with two dark Sherries, La Bota de Amontillado No 37 and La Bota de Oloroso "Pata de Gallina" No 34. No 37 is an Amontillado that comes from a small solera in one of the La Guita Bodegas, and it is a thing of beauty. Saline, nutty, perfectly balanced and deeply complex, the way this wine worked with the pork was kind of stupefying. This is not to sell the lovely No 34 short - it also is an excellent wine, coming from an old Juan Garcia Jarana solera that was purchased by Lustau and released under its Almacenista label, and then sold to Fernando de Castilla, where it was bottled for this release. It is a very elegant and delicious Oloroso, and I need to spend more time with it because I will admit that I was so blown away by the particular synergy between pork belly and No 37 that I hardly paid attention to anything else.

Such an wonderful evening! So great to gather with a load of NYC Sherry lovers and wine industry big shots, all in honor of the beautiful Equipo Navazos wines, of Peter Liem and his great new book, and of the festival of Sherry that he helped to create.

We left a lot of empty La Bota bottles sitting there on that counter in The Spotted Pig. We wandered out into the night, our stomachs full, our whistles whetted, smiles on our faces, ready for the Sherryfest to come.

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What I've Been Doing

Date: Tue, Oct 23, 2012 Wine Tasting

Haven't written anything here in a little while. Partly because I've been very busy. I've been working a lot, and some of that involves travel.

I found this place in New Orleans called Bacchanal, where you can buy a bottle of wine from the shelf and then drink it out back amidst the large shade trees, eat something tasty, and listen to shockingly good music.

In that garden, I very much enjoyed the 1996 López de Heredia Tondonia Reserva.

With a simple and lovely seafood salad.

I've visited family and walked in the woods some.

The nights are starting to get chilly and I've cooked some heavier food.

These potatoes with butter and dill were supposed to be like the ones you can eat on the Brighton Beach boardwalk. Not quite, but I almost got there. I continue to be surprised and inspired by how hard it is to prepare seemingly simple dishes.

I've eaten at old and familiar restaurants, like Aliseo.

I've eaten beautifully prepared Aji (horse mackerel), at my favorite Japanese restaurant.

Gorgeous with Champagne, by the way.

I've drunk the new vintage of some familiar wines that I love. Bernard Baudry's 2010 Cuvée Domaine and Grézeaux are both very, very good. Also, some older vintages of familiar wines that I love. 2002 Huet...whoa!

I've had some grand wines that are new to me. I'd tasted Raveneau before, but never sat with a bottle over dinner.

Same with Bartolo Mascarello. This wine was quite moving, I thought. And still very young, I kid you not.

It's been a great fall so far. And now, we in NYC are lucky to be in the midst of Sherryfest, the greatest week of Sherry events that the US has ever seen. More on that soon.

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The Burgundy that I Buy Every Year

Date: Fri, Oct 5, 2012 Wine Tasting

My oldest daughter was born almost six years ago. When my then-wife was approaching the end of the second trimester of her pregnancy, we decided to take a trip to France, to Burgundy. Before leaving I asked David Lillie at Chambers Street if he could recommend any producers we should visit. He generously set us up with Jeanne-Marie de Champs, a Burdgundian who has been in the wine trade for quite some time. She took us to visit several producers, one of whom was Jean Lafouge.

We were completely charmed by the Lafouge visit. Everything was right - Jean and his son Gilles, the relaxed way they welcomed us to their work and their wines, the cellars, the house, the way they kept making sure my pregnant wife had water, did she want a chair, did she need more air, something to eat?

The wines happened to smell and taste very good also. My daughter had been in her mommy's tummy for about 6 months at that point. I like to think that she also tasted those wines, the lovely whites from Auxey-Duresses, the properly oily and nutty Meursaults, the pure and complex reds from Auxey-Duresses and Pommard. She tasted other wines on that trip too, but something about the Lafouges and their wines - for me it just stuck.

I resolved to include Lafouge wine in the little collection of 2007 birth-year wines I would amass for my daughter. True, Auxey-Duresses is not the most illustrious Burgundy terroir, but it is not the only wine I've saved for her. And some wines you save because they are great wines, others you save because they have a special meaning. Lafouge Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru La Chapelle is an excellent Auxey-Duresses that for me has special meaning. I like the other wines by Lafouge too, the reds are all good, and the Meursault is actually among the best values that I know of in white Burgundy. But La Chapelle for whatever reason is the one I put in the cellar. In fact, it's the only Burgundy wine that I buy each and every year. I buy Burgundy differently now, getting far fewer bottles of higher quality. But I always get a few bottles of Lafouge La Chapelle. My younger daughter has a birth-year bottle of La Chapelle waiting for her too.

I just picked up the 2010's, a vintage of low yields and supposedly excellent quality. These, like most La Chapelle I own, are not birth-year bottles, and I have no idea when and how I will enjoy them. I'm excited...

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Sherryfest

Date: Sun, Sep 30, 2012 Wine Tasting

In NYC a lot has changed with Sherry in the past year. Sherry is lovable now, and this is a great thing.

Emilio Hidalgo Fino Especial La Panesa and Jamon Iberico at Palo Cortado in Brooklyn.

Any restaurant with modern or hipster ambitions has Sherry on the wine list. Wines that previously were difficult or impossible to buy here are now readily available. For example, almost the whole line of Valdespino Sherries wines are now imported by Polaner.

In Jerez you can walk into any small grocery store and buy a 750 ml bottle of Inocente for maybe 8 Euros. Inocente has only been available (when it is available, which was rare) in 375 ml bottles. Tio Diego, the delicious young Amontillado and the excellent Palo Cortado called Viejo CP were unavailable here, except when the intrepid Joe Salamone at Crush would find a way to sell a few bottles. Now these and other Valdespino Sherries can easily be purchased at many stores. And let me tell you that there is nothing like a 750 of Inocente - you should try one.

Fernando de Castilla's Sherries are now imported too, by David Bowler. The line of Antique Sherries is excellent - my favorite is the Palo Cortado, but they are all worth trying.

And my friend Peter Liem's new Sherry book will be released in less than a month! He wrote the book with Jesus Barquin of Equipo Navazos, and it promises to become one of the absolutely definitive pieces of writing about the region and the wines.

To top it all off, Peter and Rosemary Gray have created what will be the largest and most important Sherry tasting the Unites States has ever seen. It is called Sherryfest. There will be a grand tasting on Monday October 21st (you have to register and reserve a spot if you want to go, demand is large enough so that they have to be serious about this). There will also be seminars where you can taste with cellar masters, and dinners at great restaurants that feature the Sherries of selected producers.
This is a very big deal for the Sherry industry, for Peter and Rosemary, and for us as consumers. Congratulations to Peter for his groundbreaking new book, and to Peter and Rosemary for creating Sherryfest! I'll see you there...

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Shell Beans

Date: Fri, Sep 21, 2012 Wine Tasting

It took me a while to actually buy the beautiful fresh shell beans that appear in the market throughout the summer. I read about how easy they are to work with and how delicious they are, how it's hard to go back to dried beans afterwards. And I was tempted, but really? Would I do all of that work for beans?

Yes I do and it's not really much work, especially if you do it with your kids or a friend. It feels good to work with food like this, to start with it in its unprocessed state. It gives me the illusion that I live in a better and healthier way than I actually do. And what I read is true - shell beans are remarkably easy to work with and are quite versatile too. You can use them however you would, well, beans.

Not sure what kind these are, although from the outside I thought they were cranberry beans. But mostly they were light green in color, not the white with red veins that I associate with cranberry beans. No matter, these were beautiful too.

I like to braise them in just enough liquid to cover them and then eat them as a side vegetable. Or with bread as a main dish. Perhaps the most classic of seasonings for the braise is rosemary and garlic, and then finished with olive oil. You won't go wrong with that, but that feels wintery to me. On this late summer evening I imagined something different, something more summery. I had a crisp red pepper in the house and a fresh bunch of parsley, and so it was.

Sliced onions sweated in a heavy bottomed pot, a small clove of finely chopped garlic too, and some diced celery. I added two small anchovy fillets because it seemed like a noble thing to do. When everything was aromatic and enticing, I added a small glug of sherry vinegar, a bit of salt, and then enough water to just cover the beans. After they came to a boil, a bay leaf, some coarsely chopped sweet red bell pepper, reduce the heat and cover almost all the way to braise for 20 minutes. I don't know exactly how long until they're done because it depends on the temperature, the kind of pot, and the kind of beans you're using. I start checking at about 20 minutes.

When they are almost as tender as I want them to be I uncover the pot and raise the heat again to reduce the liquid bit. I finished the dish with a small glug of good olive oil, chopped parsley, and lemon zest. The peppers never got as pliable as I had hoped for, which I take as a sign of their absolute freshness, not my incompetence. You may see things differently and that's fine.

My daughters and I ate these beans with rice and they was nary a complaint. In fact, the younger one insisted on putting on her own parsley and lemon zest. What to drink with this dish? This is not a difficult problem, as i think it would be hard to offend this dish with wine.

I went with the 2007 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Granite de Clisson, $22, imported by Louis/Dressner. This is completely wrong of me because you have to drink Muscadet with seafood, preferably oysters. It's not allowed to go with beans or meat or anything like that. Seafood, that's it. One really should follow the rules, but I did not. But I had a half bottle remaining from the previous day and those rules are, of course, ridiculous. The wine is developing beautifully! It exceeded my expectations on both days. At first it was beautiful as a wine, with lemon and leesy richness and crystalline purity, long and fragrant on the finish. Just a detailed, balanced, and delicately articulated very fine wine whose fineness belies its power. And on the second day it becomes more recognizable as a Muscadet with briny notes emerging, and more of a leesy sense on the finish. This is excellent wine and although earlier in the week I said that I have no idea what will happen to the wines in my cellar, I'm betting on this one to be gorgeous at every point over the next 20 years.

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Guesswork in the Cellar

Date: Sun, Sep 16, 2012 Wine Tasting

Recently I had the rather disturbing realization that almost half of the bottles in my cellar are wrong. They are not wines that today I would bet on to give me the pleasure that I look for in mature wine. There's nothing terrible in there, but there are plenty of wines in which today I would not make the investment of money, cellar space, or time. It got me thinking again about this whole question of aging wine. How should I decide on the wines I want to age?

Let me be clear - I am not asking about which mature wines I want to drink. That's easy, I would say. I want to taste any and all mature wines so I can learn more about what to expect from various young wines as they age. I'm asking about about selecting young wines for the cellar.

Keith Levenberg wrote something interesting about this a little while ago, telling a story about buying 6 bottles of 2001 Bernard Levet Côte-Rôtie La Chavaroche, drinking one and not being moved, and then "disposing" of the rest by bringing them to dinners with people who don't care which wine they are drinking. And then he drank a bottle of the same wine but from the 1983 vintage, and was moved. Enough to bring newer vintages of La Chavaroche back into his cellar.

I have never tasted a young version of a classically made and age-worthy wine, and then aged that wine to maturity. I simply have not been collecting wine long enough to do that. I have never tested my own ideas about which wines in time will become what I'm hoping for, and which will not. I don't know if I'm right when I drink a young wine and then think "yes, this wine should age well."

Think about it - you have to have been collecting wine for 25 years if you've tasted a great old bottle of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo, or northern Rhône wine that you bought upon release. It's rare to be in the company of such a person. I only rediscovered wine about 7 years ago. Who knows if I will still care about wine in 25 years? Will I drink my 2007 Bernard Baudry Les Grezeaux with the same delight that I felt in putting it into storage, planning for that day? I'm just guessing every time I put something in my cellar. I'm more educated now with my guesses, but I am still guessing.

I actually feel pretty good about what I put into the cellar these days. Some of this is simply understanding what it is that I like in wine. For example, I cellared almost nothing from the 2009 vintage in Burgundy. 2009 was a ripe vintage that gave big wines and that is not the thing that excites me about Burgundy. I saved a few nice bottles from 2007 and 2008, though. Wines from those vintages tend to have less ripeness and body, but while very young they showed a balance, clarity, and detail that I found compelling. Will that translate to mature wines that are exquisitely balanced, thrillingly detailed, and terroir-expressive? Honestly, I have no idea. I do like the idea, though, of cellaring wines that today show some of the characteristics that I want to be amplified in maturity.

Another thing that I'm enjoying lately is thinking of all of the recent vintages I've had of wines that I actually have built some familiarity with, and trying to decide which recent vintage is the one I would cellar if I had to choose only one vintage. This is not always easy to do.

For example, I've drunk several bottles of Foillard Morgon Côte de Py each vintage since 2006. I was in love with the 2007 and felt that it would age well so I saved a few bottles in the cellar. But then one night a couple years ago I was hanging out with Joe Salamone, one of the wine buyers at Crush, a lovely guy whose thoughts on wine are always smart and well-considered. I asked him what he thought about the 2007 vintage of Foillard Côte de Py, hoping he would confirm my belief. He said that he liked the wine a lot, especially for short term drinking, but that he didn't think the 2007 was a good candidate for long term aging. Hmmm. So maybe my read is wrong on age-worthy Foillard Côte de Py. I've since drunk all of my remaining bottles except for one, and it's true - it is already showing mature notes and it feels completely harmonious. Still, I think I need to see what will happen with another 5 years or so. You know, to confirm or refute my own hypothesis. The 2010 Foillard Morgon Côte de Py, by the way, is the recent vintage that I would now bet on for best future satisfaction.

Another example is Pierre Gonon's great St. Joseph. I've had several bottles of each vintage since 2006. Hard to pick the one for the cellar. Definitely not 2008 or 2009 - too dilute and too ripe respectively. 2007? It certainly had great energy and really strong acidity. 2006? So well balanced. I would pick 2010 if I had to choose only one. I drank a bottle last week and it's just a fantastic wine that shows great clarity and detail, good acidity and structure, and although it's a bit rough and raw right now, it shows lovely balance.


It will be fun to see what happens with these wines down the road, as I have a bottle or two of each vintage in most cases. I hope I still care about this by the time they mature, and who knows, maybe the 2008 Gonon will turn out to be best in 15 years.

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The Weight of Expectations

Date: Thu, Sep 6, 2012 Wine Tasting

The other night a generous friend came over for dinner. He told me earlier in the day that he would bring "an interesting Burgundy to try." That works well because I happen to love Burgundy wine. He arrived and produced a bottle of wine by one of the most famous names in the history of Burgundy, in all of wine, I would say.

I laughed out loud when I saw the wine. I mean really - to have the opportunity to drink a bottle of wine by Henri Jayer is an amazing thing. Jayer started farming vineyards, mostly in Vosne-Romanée, for 50 years or so. He never bottled all that he harvested, as a lot of the land he worked was owned by others, but he of course bottled his own wine too, and it was legendary during his time. Prices went through the roof after Jayer died in 2006. For his top wines - the iconic Crox Parantoux, Richbourg, and Échézeaux - each bottle begins in the thousands. Multiple thousands. This year a case of 1985 Jayer Cros Parantoux sold for, um, $265,200 at auction (more than 22K per bottle for those without a calculator). I was not the person who bought it, in case you were wondering.

Until the other night I had never tasted a wine by Henri Jayer. Most of us haven't, even those of us who were into wine back in the 70's when top Burgundy cost hundreds, not thousands of dollars. There never was very much of the wine. Now that bottles are astronomically priced it's just an unlikely thing, to drink a bottle of Jayer. There are several wines like this that immediately come to mind and sadly, many of them are Burgundy wines.

What would it be like to actually drink one of these wines? Really, try to imagine it for a moment. Someone shocks you with a bottle of Jayer, or something else rare and iconic. Something you otherwise would never have the chance to drink. Something you've heard about, read about, wondered about, and never expected.

There is no question that the experience of drinking such a wine would be glorious. But what about the part where you try to figure out if you like the wine, and how much. What about the part where, regardless of whether or not you like the wine, you try to figure out if it is a good wine.

Wouldn't it be easy for your judgement to be clouded by the fact that you are drinking Henri f*#ing Jayer?!?

I've heard wine pros and other folks too say that their judgement is not clouded in these situations. I believe this but only if that person has the breadth of drinking experience to make this possible. Most of us don't have that kind of experience, and we are only human, are we not? You'd have to be a hater to walk into your first bottle of Jayer and dislike it.

So, my generous friend brought with him a bottle of 1993 Henri Jayer Bourgogne, Jayer's most humble wine. But Jayer, no less. And I will tell you that I loved the wine before it came out of the bottle. Okay, that's not true, but I was definitely all set to love it, so take everything I'm about to say now with a grain of salt.

This was not even close to being one of the top Burgundy wines I've ever had. But it was among the best Bourgogne wines I've had. I think it compared quite favorably to many of the best Villages level wines I've had. It had a delicacy to it that contrasted with the pungent and smoke-inflected flavors. Especially on the second day (my friend left me the bottle!) the wine had this sheer sensation to it, this elegant and lacy texture, and the flavors were more detailed. I wanted to find Vosne spices, but mostly I didn't. Something in the wine, the powerful and almost muscular way the wine delivered its smells and flavors, made me think of Gevrey or Nuits-Saint-Georges. But I have no idea where the grapes for this wine came from. In the end I really liked the wine, I could tell that it was a very high quality wine, and it was thrilling to drink.

And yet, the next day when I bragged to my friend Peter about drinking this wine, I also said this to him in my email:
Jayer Bourgogne was very good. but a lesson in terroir in that it in the end was Bourgogne, perhaps with some villages fruit in there? But it's hard to make a grand cru wine from Bourgogne site, even if you're Jayer I guess.
Peter wrote back, and as he tends to do, he said something concise and smart that made me want to write this post. He said:
That bottle is too weighed down by expectations. When it was made it was supposed to be a good, easy-drinking yet high-quality wine, like Lafarge Passetoutgrains or Dugat Bourgogne. Now, though, it's expected to be Jayer.
Food for thought.

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The BLT and Fried Green Tomatoes - End of Summer Tomato Gluttony

Date: Mon, Sep 3, 2012 Wine Tasting

Amazing that it's happened so quickly, but summer is basically over. The good news is that fall happens fast too, and after Thanksgiving it's just a few winter months, and then it's almost summer again. So yes, it's almost next summer already, and that is exciting.

This time of year I eat tomatoes shamelessly. Tomatoes of all colors, shapes, and sizes, at any time of day, with any combination of foods, and prepared in all sorts of ways. I try to be creative and still, some of my favorite late summer tomato dishes are the classics. Really, I ask you, could you turn down a well-made BLT? Could you refuse a plate of fried green tomatoes? I should think not.

The BLT, just in case you require a little tomato inspiration. I like mine on good white bread.

And high quality thick-cut bacon is a must. I'm using Lou's Natural bacon these days, and it's very delicious and not too fatty.
But in the end, this sandwich is about the tomato. It has to be flavorful enough so that it actually offers contrast to the smokey bacon. I've used heirlooms of various colors on a BLT and while I wouldn't kick any of them off my plate, it is the classic orange variety that gets me on a BLT.

This is a Ramapo tomato grown by star New Jersey farmer Bill Maxwell and it is not to be trifled with. It isn't as firm as some others and therefore gets a little sloppy when in sandwich, but it is well worth it for its wonderful fresh essence-of-tomato flavor. Really though, this is a messy tomato and is better eaten at home where you can get all sloppy with it.

Fried green tomatoes require a little more time but not much more effort. You are slicing green tomatoes to about a half inch thick, coating them in flour, dipping them in a mixture of buttermilk and egg, then dredging in seasoned cornmeal. There are many variations here and all work fine. I like to use breadcrumbs as a solid third of my cornmeal mixture because the crust stays together better after cooking. And I season with salt and pepper, nothing more. I'm sure there are at least 146 correct ways to do this, so do what feels right to you.

After the coating, the dipping, the dredging, and the frying, the hard part of your work is done. Now it's about choosing a vehicle. Fried green tomatoes are delicious as a side dish, but I like them to get top billing. Last week I served them as a first course, interspersed with slices of a beautiful ripe Green Cherokee tomato and topped with green goddess dressing. Green goddess dressing is ridiculously delicious and pretty easy to make, but that's for another time. This was a good dish, by the way. My friend asked for seconds and happily cleaned his plate.

What to drink with this sort of late summer tomato goodness? Anything really, from an acidic white wine to a light red wine.

I've been enjoying rosé with these dishes. A good Bandol rosé, the 2011 Terrebrune Bandol Rosé, $32, for example, imported by Kermit Lynch, has the complexity, depth of flavor, and the body to stand up to this hearty food, and also the acidity and fresh fruit to cleanse the palate. And there is something about the way Mourvedre rosé works with bacon...But I drank the leftover half of the less ambitious 2011 Domaine Les Fouques Côtes de Provence Rosé Cuvée de L'Aubigue, $14, David Lillie/Chambers Street direct import, with a BLT today and it was great. Then again, I don't need much of an excuse to drink good rosé, especially now that it is almost next summer.

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Drinking Sherry Over Several Days - Further Experiments in Brooklyn Prove Useful.

Date: Tue, Aug 28, 2012 Wine Tasting

Sherry improves for a few days after opening. I know, this goes against what we've all heard for decades. But it's true, especially if we are talking about quality brown Sherries that are shipped carefully. After hearing about this for a while I experimented a bit in early 2012 and confirmed this idea. Now I routinely open a brown Sherry (Palo Cortado, Amontillado, and Oloroso) several days in advance of the night on which I plan to drink it.

What about other kinds of Sherry - do they also improve over several days? Recently I decided to experiment with a bottle of Sherry that has no official category, but we might call it a Fino-Amontillado. This is a Fino Sherry whose wines are old enough (perhaps 8-12 years) in which the flor has begun to die, and it thins and becomes patchy, no longer fully protecting the wines from oxygen in barrel. The wine begins to take on a darker color and a certain richness that comes with oxidative aging. But although it has some of the characteristics of Amontillado it is not yet Amontillado, and retains much of the brisk Fino style. This style, Fino-Amontillado, is a favorite of many Sherry aficionados, for whatever that's worth, including singer Paula Abdul, the magician Gallagher, and wine writer Peter Liem.

On a recent Wednesday night we opened a bottle of Equipo Navazos La Bota Nº 24, a Fino-Amontillado from the Pérez Barquero soleras in Montilla. A few unusual things about this wine: it is from Montilla, inland of Jerez and Sanlucar, and in Montilla even the Fino wines are made of Pedro Ximénez, not the Palomino grape. That's right, the same grape that in Jerez is used to make sweet wines in Montilla is used to make Fino style wines. Secondly, this wine was bottled almost two years ago in September of 2010. So we were experimenting with a wine that has already had some bottle age - another thing that we've traditionally heard not to do with Sherry, but that given the right wines, we now know can actually be highly desirable.

Please let me say that La Bota Nº 24 is an utterly amazing wine, one of the most compelling that I've tasted from the La Bota series. Peter said that it may have been lost in the La Bota shuffle, it may have been overlooked. It is a tremendously beautiful wine with such finesse and grace, such intensity, such detail of aroma and flavor. It was beautiful a year ago when I first tasted it and it continues to improve. Fino-Amontillado is a style of Sherry that is really worth seeking out if you haven't tried one. La Bota Nº 24 is basically sold out, but you can probably find a bottle if you look hard. You might also try Emilio Hidalgo Fino La Panesa, a wine made in the same style, or a Manzanilla Pasada such as La Bota Nº 30, which inexplicably continues to grace some retail shelves in NYC.

Okay, so what happened here, drinking this bottle over several days? The experience was a bit different from slowly drinking a brown Sherry. Brown Sherry improves over several days - it is better on day 3 than it is on day 1, for example. La Bota Nº 24 changed over the course of a week, and it never faded in that time. My sense is that it neither improved nor declined, it just changed. In the first few days the flor is more apparent on the nose and the palate, showing a lemony and almost creamy aspect. But after a few days the Amontillado characteristics become more pronounced and the wine shows a nutty richness and pungent salted caramel tones, the finish becomes less creamy and rings out with a complex oxidative tang. The wine always carried itself with finesse and grace, but the particulars changed, like a woman with innate class wearing different outfits.

This proves nothing, I'm aware. This is a wine blog, not The Lancet. Still, the more I drink Sherry the more I find pleasure in aging it in bottle, and then in drinking it slowly over several days.

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Whoa!

Date: Fri, Aug 10, 2012 Wine Tasting

You know how sometimes you eat a wonderful dish or drink a great bottle with friends and although you want to share the joy, you just never seem to work it into a post on your blog? Me too, I know exactly how you feel. Here are some things from the past few months that I haven't managed to write about, but are worth sharing:

Earlier in the summer in a Japanese restaurant I ate this small appetizer plate of young bamboo shoots. They were probably simmered first, or maybe parboiled, and dressed with a Japanese herb the name of which I do not know. And the rest of the dressing - I have no idea. I have felt frustrated that I didn't ask more about the dish, but I didn't - that's that. I still think of it though because whoa, it was so good. Next year early summer I will go back and in general, I will eat more bamboo.

I know I just mentioned Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado last week, but that was a glass pour at a restaurant. Thinking that the wine is not imported to the US (the Oloroso and Amontillado are, but not the Palo Cortado for some reason), I brought a bottle home in my luggage last October. I opened it when some one was over for dinner, and then had a small glass every day for a over a week - you don't need a lot in one sitting. The wine is great, my favorite of the Bodegas Tradición wines, but it takes a few days to unfurl after the bottle is open. There is almost none of this wine in the US, and I'm telling you, if you like Palo Cortado comprised of very old wines, you should try this. It's amazing in it's richness and depth, and whoa - it has so much finesse. A bottle will run you $90 but think for a moment before you say "no way." You're going to have 10 glasses minimum, so it actually becomes cheap considering what it is you are drinking. Crush has 3 bottles as of this writing, for the few and the bold among you.
A generous person brought this bottle of 2000 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses to a dinner, just to get things started properly. This was a Barolo dinner and there were a few blue chip wines on the table, including wines by Giuseppe Mascarello and Francesco Rinaldi. The Clos des Goisses was the wine of the night for me. It clearly showed the ripeness of this very fine vineyard, and also its elegance and detail of flavor. Whoa, a special treat.

Recently I decided to drink red wine while having dinner at home, a rarity these days. I opened my last bottle of 2007 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grand Vignole, and it benefited well from a scant few years in the cellar. I love this wine with a couple years on it, particularly in the vintages that are not 2005 or 2009 hot. Whoa, the 2007 is in a great spot right now, very fresh but there are prominent leathery and earthy notes too, and the minerality is strong on the finish. A lovely under $20 wine and a great candidate for mid-term cellaring.

This is bluefish crudo. Whoa, raw bluefish. I ate this not long ago on Martha's Vineyard at a dinner hosted by Chris Fischer, the former chef and current farmer who I believe sells produce to several hip Brooklyn restaurants, including the Andrew Tarlow joints. Anyway, bluefish is oily and very strongly flavored and isn't something that I think of eating raw. But this fish had been caught earlier in the day and it was beautiful, simply served with lemon, olive oil, salt, and herbs - full of fresh and complex flavors. Memorable.

Peter came for dinner one night and brought these two 375 ml bottles of Manzanilla: Equipo Navazos 'I Think' and Valdespino Deliciosa. Drinking these bottles next to one another, whoa - that is a particularly interesting experience in that it highlights the impact of filtration on Manzanilla Sherry. Deliciosa is bottled from a solera in the great Sanlucar bodega called Miseracordia. 'I Think' is a blend of selected wines from that same solera, including barrels from earlier criaderas. It is bottled unfiltered. I think both are great wines and drinking them together like this was fascinating. Deliciosa has a fineness that 'I Think' does not achieve, and 'I Think has a complexity and depth' that Deliciosa does not achieve. You can perform this little experiment yourself for less than $40 at Tinto Fino, the shop devoted to Spanish wines in the East Village. They are the only retailer to carry 'I Think,' and they also carry Deliciosa.
A friend had a BBQ the other night and one of his pals brought this fine old bottle of 1987 Quintarelli Valpolicella to share. Whoa! I've had Quintarelli maybe three times in my life and this is by far the oldest bottle. It was wonderful wine. So much to say, and although much of it was in a language that is foreign to me, there is no mistaking the quality here. The wine is detailed and expressive and fresh as a daisy at 25 years old. After some time I began to notice what I thought might be dried grape flavors. Should that be - isn't the Valpolicella the dry wine in the stable? I contacted my buddy Jeremy who sent me an informed and amusing set of messages about the wine and the idea that dried grapes could have made their way in there. I could almost hear him laughing as he discussed this, and it seemed to me as though he was saying that there are rules against this, but who knows what really goes on sometimes. "The Valpolicella can be made with up to 70% ripasso wine, wine that has been aged on the lees and solids of Amarone" Jeremy wrote. "So the answer is yes, although not directly." Jeremy also said that wine originally destined to become Amarone was blended into the Valpolicella in some vintages. And as he said, "who's complaining?"

Lastly, I just want to share the wonder of this old bottle of Cream Sherry. Not old as in old wines at bottling. Old as in Whoa, I found it in my parents' liquor cabinet and my mother maintains that she bought it over 10 years ago and periodically uses it for cooking. It has not been refrigerated in that time and it was a little more than half-full. I had to try it. It was actually not so bad, I enjoyed a glass. I swear, I'm not kidding.

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A Delicious Summer Breakfast Featuring Okra.

Date: Mon, Aug 6, 2012 Wine Tasting

So I'm going to reveal to you that back in fall of 2008 I was a Brooklynguy who practiced home-pickling. I found, though, that I was unable to grow a good looking soul patch, or really any facial hair that looks normal. I grew a mustache once as part of a Halloween costume but it freaked people out, they said I looked like a porn star. 86 the mustache, they said, and so I did. So clearly I should not be pickling vegetables at home either. But there was a time when I was doing some pickling. Okra, even.

What's also funny about the post I linked to above is that there is mention of essentially the same okra recipe I'm going to share today. It's the simplest of recipes - the important thing is that you use good ingredients. You are braising okra in a sauce of fresh tomatoes and garlic. And then creating a beautiful weekend breakfast by topping this with a sunny side-up egg. There are variables you can play with here. I like to use a jalapeno pepper in the braising sauce, but you can play with heat, or leave it out. You can use wine in the tomatoes, or not. You can season the braising liquid with anything you like, although I find that with super good ingredients, you don't need much.

Okra is at the markets now, and you should try this - it's delicious and quite healthy:

Wash the okra and trim the stem so that a centimeter or less remains. Put some music on - I think that Coltrane Live in Stockholm works well here, but you can go with Giant Steps too. You can use good canned tomatoes, but 'tis tomato season. I like to use fresh plum tomatoes, but last weekend I used a smaller variety of the same shape called Juliettes. Use good tomatoes - that's what's most important. Chop the tomatoes coarsely. Use a mortar and pestle to make a paste of a very large clove of garlic. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, using olive oil or neutral oil to your taste, cook the tomatoes until they begin to break down a little, stirring a lot, maybe 5 minutes. Add the garlic paste and some salt. Stir some more.

Add the okra and stir to coat them with the tomato sauce. Here I like to add a fresh jalapeno pepper that I've poked with a fork so that its flavors will easily seep out into the sauce. Stir some more, turn down the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer, stirring a few times, until the okra are as tender as you want them to be. You will have something that looks like this (although you can stop the simmer 8 minutes earlier and have firmer okra, also amazing):

You can do anything with this. Eat it as a side dish, put it on rice, put it between your knees (a prize to whoever gets that film reference). For me, it has become breakfast.

Fry an egg and put it right on top. A hunk of baguette too.

I especially like it when the egg is all broken up and merges with the somewhat gooey okra and tomato. You know what - this dish isn't for you. Just forget about the whole thing.

Now, drinking wine on a weekend morning is a bad thing to do, because it's the morning time and we shouldn't drink in the morning. So I really cannot recommend a wine to pair with this because as I've explained already, it's breakfast and we don't drink wine on an August Saturday morning with okra stew and fried egg. But if, however, you were to ask me from a theoretical perspective, what wine it is that I would recommend to the type of scallywag who actually would drink wine in this situation... I would say that a good Fino, perhaps the basic Emilio Hidalgo Fino ($14 for a 750, imported by Winebow) is a great match. This is purely hypothetical, of course.

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Good Things to Eat While Traveling - Vera in Chicago.

Date: Thu, Aug 2, 2012 Wine Tasting

I was in Chicago recently and my pal Peter told me to try a Spanish place called Vera. Wow, glad that I did. There is an exciting Sherry list, the food is very good, and the staff are genuinely friendly and welcoming. The whole vibe is right - this place is a gem, and if you are in Chicago I highly recommend that you try it.

Okay, take a look at this Sherry list. One thing I noticed immediately is that they are pouring Bodegas Tradición by the glass! How could I resist beginning with a glass of the Palo Cortado, a wonderful wine that needs several days open before it really shows what it has to offer. The wine was absolutely singing, and the bartender told me that he opened the bottle several days previously - nice. By the way, Quade the bartender - he was warm, friendly, he had no ironic facial hair, nor did he interrupt a candle-making project in order to talk to me. He was a nice guy, relaxed, eager to make me feel welcome. I was very much aware that I was not in a Brooklyn restaurant...

I ate pinchos (skewers) of beef tongue with the Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado and this was a very delicious thing, one of the better pairings I've had lately. This is chunks of tongue, crisp on the outside and melt-in-you mouth tender on the inside, its richness was tempered by a bright salsa verde. This is a great dish, one that demands to be eaten at every visit.

Pinchos of octopus with olive oil and pimentón were tender, delicately smoky, and delicious. I'd like to eat them again, and this time with a great Manzanilla or Fino, maybe one that is on its way to becoming Amontillado, like Emilio Hidalgo La Panesa, or Equipo Navazos La Bota No 30. If I could suggest one thing for the Vera list, it would be to add more Fino and Manzanilla, but that's picking nits - there is plenty to drink already.

Yellow squash with hazelnuts, mint, and Romesco sauce, along with two Amontillados - Bodegas Tradición and the VORS El Maestro Sierra. Not bad, not bad at all. I also ate a delicious plate of Manilla clams with house-made chorizo along with two young Olorosos - Gutierrez Colosía Sangre y Trabajader and El Maestro Sierra.

Liz Mendez owns Vera with her husband Mark Mendez. They've been in the business for a long time and if my visit is any indication, they know how to take care of you. People of all types are eating at Vera - it's not a geeky Sherry bar, and there are plenty of things to drink if you don't want Sherry. But explain to me please why it is that you wouldn't want Sherry?

Vera - 1023 West Lake Street in the happening West Loop neighborhood.

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