Write about Wine. Read about Life. WineWonks, the Wine Blog Community.
The other evening I was at a friends house as our daughters played together. I accepted a last minute dinner invitation. My friend is from Piedmonte, from a small village called Briona in
Valtelinna the Valesia region of the Colline Novaresi. This is the friend who helped me get started making my own pizza (something I continue to attempt, never terribly well).
She made pasta for dinner, a type I'd never seen before, calamari-shaped. When I asked what it was called I believe she actually said "calamari." She tossed them in Sicilian pistachio pesto and topped them with a generous helping of aged Parigiano. This was a very delicious dish, by the way.
While she was cooking she opened a bottle of red wine. The label said Fara - I had never heard of this. My friend told me the story of the wine. Her mother's cousin inherited some money from a distant relative, enough to leave her job as an accountant and to pursue a new life as a wine maker. She bought some vineyard land in her village. This is her fourth or fifth vintage, and my friend said that the previous wines were not so great, but this one, the 2009 Cantina Castaldi
Fara, is good.
What a nice story! Many of us have imagined a world in which we leave our daily grind and become wine makers. Of course that's a different kind of daily grind, but why ruin the romance of the idea...
Anyway, we poured the wine and it was quite good - brightly fruited, snappy and refreshing with acidity, not terribly complex but aromatic and very lovely, and showing the structure that I suppose comes with the territory in Piedmonte.
"What grape is she using here," I asked.
"Hmmm, I don't know," my friend said. "She grows Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Uva Rara, maybe also Vespolina, but I don't know what is in here. Maybe it's Nebbiolo."
We chatted about our kids, about their schools, about upcoming travel, about new apartments, and NYC in the winter time. I had my nose in the glass and was trying to figure out what the wine was, but I'm painfully ignorant when it comes to Italian wine. "I think it cannot be Nebbiolo - it's too approachable," I said. "Barbera, maybe with some Nebbiolo in there too?"
My friend just smiled, and told me something about Sicilian pistachios, or maybe it was about how hard it is to get a good contractor for renovating an apartment.
The point is, I realized, it didn't matter. Sure, I was curious, and I'd still like to know. But my friend loves wine because she grew up with it (and Barolo was only for the most special of occasions, she says), and because she likes the taste with her meals. Is it Nebbiolo in this bottle, Barbera, Vespolina...it couldn't have mattered any less to her. What's important to her is the story of her grandfather's brother's daughter - her mother's cousin, and how she had this interesting life change. And my friend takes obvious pleasure in drinking this distant relative's wine. And she chose to share it with me, because she knows I love wine.
There are many ways to enjoy this very fine and fascinating thing that we all love. It's good to experience these different types of enjoyment, especially the ones we don't typically engage in. I cannot tell you the last time that I enjoyed a bottle of wine so much, having so little idea of what was inside.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
The other night I was lucky enough to drink a fino Sherry sourced from Bodegas Valdespino, one of the finest Sherry producers. There are two things that make this wine very special. Firstly, it was selected from special barrels within the Inocente solera by Jesús Barquín and Eduardo Ojeda, two-thirds of the team behind Equipo Navazos. And Ojeda is the capataz, or cellar master, at Valdespino (and La Guita), and so you have to figure that the two of them chose interesting and very fine barrels. Secondly, it was bottled in April of 2007.
This wine had an average age of something like 10-12 years when it was bottled, but now it has aged in Peter Liem's cellar since release - it's almost 5 years in bottle. The common wisdom about fino Sherry is that you drink it when it's young, before it looses its freshness. There are some fino Sherries that probably should be consumed pretty quickly after release - those that are bottled unfiltered, and that still have small bits of flor
floating about. The presence of flor
makes it possible for the wine to continue to develop, to change in some way, and producers typically urge us to drink these wines within 6 months. I've heard Antonio Flores of
Gonzales Byass say this about his palmas
, for example. I do not have any personal experience cellaring a wine like this, so I cannot agree or disagree.
Regarding high quality fino Sherry, however, wines that have been lightly filtered - the common wisdom is wrong. You've read this here before, I know. The more personal experience I gain drinking fino with bottle age, the more I am convinced that this is a wine I am just starting to get to know. Like any other fine wine, it has an essential character, but it evolves in the cellar and shows differently as it ages.
Equipo Navazos la Bota de Fino Nº 7 was a wonderful old bottle. It was Peter's very last one, and it was generous of him to share it over dinner at Aburiya Kinnosuke
in midtown. And if you haven't yet had Sherry with Japanese izakaya
-style food, you really should try it. The fino needed a little air but it opened up beautifully, and at this stage in its life showed rich and mouth-watering notes of butter and toffee, although I was able to sense the delicate sea-sat mineral undertone. Peter smiled when I told him this, and explained that La Bota Nº 2 (also a fino sourced from the Inocente Solera) and 7 are very different from the current release, Nº35. They were brawnier and bigger upon release - Jesus was interested in making a bigger wine back then, I guess. With time in the bottle, though, I experienced Nº 7 as a delicate wine. Rich, but delicate.
We drank this next to my last bottle of La Bota de Fino-Amontillado Nº 24, bottled in October of 2010. This is a fantastic wine, Peter calls it "probably the best PX ever made." I've been fortunate enough to drink a lot of this wine, and it has changed since it was first released. On this night it was bright, energetic, and focused, and entirely delicious. What shocked me was how young it seemed, next to Nº 7.
There is a lot of life in these wines, plenty of potential for development in the cellar. It is my goal to be better about actually saving a few bottles. It's hard though because the wines are so delicious from the very start. Note to self: get some fino self control.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
I got into wine too late to be able to drink things like La Tâche, Chambertin, or Musigny. There was a time not too far back when a person could buy a bottle of wine like that and yes, it would cost a lot, but buying a bottle wouldn't necessitate changing the way you live. Now, a bottle of mature Chambertin by a top producer costs at least $1,000. La Tâche...fugedaboudit. But these are among Burgundy's greatest vineyards and they give wines that all of us would love to taste. How, in this day and age, can those of us who do not manage hedge funds experience these wines?
Burgundy Wine Club is the answer, my friends. Seven friends and I kick in a few hundred dollars every year, and by pooling our money we are able to buy expensive wines that none of us alone would purchase. Not only are we pooling our resources, we are also sharing the risk of flawed bottles.
I am graced with the task (joy is more like it) of choosing the wines, and the theme of our annual dinner. Last year we drank a lot of Pommard, which is now a curse word in my house. The year before that we focused mostly on Volnay. This year I was not as concerned with picking one theme, and instead focused on finding bottles that I really wanted to drink - things I'd never had before that would be accessible to me only via Burgundy Wine Club. So, we drank a bottle of Montrachet (!), several bottles by Robert Chevillon from the early '90's, some Lignier Clos de la Roche, and yes, we drank Musigny. Musigny!!!
Obviously there is visceral pleasure in drinking these wines, and in the act of getting together with good friends for this annual Big Night of Burgundy. I learn a tremendous amount too at these dinners, and this night especially so. I learned for myself why it is that Les Saint Georges is considered to be the finest terroir in the southern part of Nuits Saint Georges. I was reminded that Montrachet is great, but appreciated the way that some vintages give more of a thrill than others. I learned what Clos de la Roche tastes like, what it really tastes like. And I learned that Musigny, even from a poor vintage, is one of the true apexes of red wine.
We gathered at the bustling and energetic Manhattan hot spot The Breslin, where my friend Carla is the wine director, and she and her team were amazing. We opened the bottles as we sat down, poured the Montrachet, and mostly let it sit in the glass to open up over the course of the next few hours. We began with wines by the great master of Nuits Saint Georges, Robert Chevillon. Chevillon makes wines from 8 vineyards of 1er Cru standing: 4 in the northern and 4 in the southern part of Nuits Saint Georges. His wines are known for their transparency and terroir expression.
We drank only wines from the southern part of the village (the northern side continues up the hill to Vosne-Romanée), including the great vineyards of Les Saint Georges, Vaucrains, and Les Cailles. With onion soup laced with bone marrow we drank 1994 Les Vaucrains and 1994 Les Saint Georges. 1994 is thought of as a poor vintage, but these wines were terrific. Vaucrains was bright and energetic, and also showed a bit of a rustic side. It was balanced and long, and the fruit was still lively. Les Saint Georges was, even on the nose, immediately recognizable as the finer terroir, with greater depth and complexity, it was a more complete wine. I was thrilled by the way the wine combined density and power of flavor with a silky and graceful frame. One experienced drinker found the alcohol to be a bit intrusive at 13.5%, but still thought it was a great wine. Oddly enough, Vaucrains was the better pairing with the onion soup, meshing perfectly with its salty and savory flavors.
With various savory vegetable plates we then drank 1992 Les Cailles and 1992 Les Saint Georges, and sadly, this wine was corked. I actually did not identify it as such, and neither did most of us. Some found it a bit musty, I found it simply to be not terribly complicated. An experienced drinker suggested it was corked and it made sense. Live and learn. Les Cailles however, was the prettiest of the Chevillon wines, with rose inflected red fruit that glowed with energy. Chevillon! These are wines that can still be purchased without liquidating my retirement account, and they are wonderful wines.
There are several great producers of Clos de La Roche, including Dujac, Rousseau, Ponsot, and Lignier. On this night we drank two bottles of Lignier Clos de la Roche, and both were great wines. I've read that Clos de la Roche gives one of the longest lived red wines in Burgundy, and that as per its name (roche = rock), the wines show pronounced minerality. The 1998 Clos de la Roche was superb, with intensely savory and smoky aromas and flavors that were completely shot through with stone. I loved this wine, and it's funny because it wasn't pretty or even very approachable, but it was detailed and intense, and I was assured by experienced drinkers at the table that this was quintessential Clos de la Roche. The 1995 was delicious, with more pronounced fruit and generally more approachable, but I found less complexity, less intensity of stone - less Clos de la Roche. I would love to drink the 1998 again in 10 years.
With a gorgeous set of homemade terrines and pâtés, we drank Musigny. First I should tell you that the 1988 Drouhin was drastically heat damaged and completely unsmellable, never mind undrinkable. This is a shame of epic proportions, but such is life. Thank goodness we were able to experience the 1986 JF Mugnier Musigny Vieilles Vignes, as wonderful of a red Burgundy wine as I've ever had. Another poor vintgage, and another great wine. If La Tâche is aromatic fireworks, if Clos de la Roche is rock, and if Chambertin is raw power, Musigny is complexity and grace, spherical like Montrachet. I'm not going to be able to describe the smells and flavors here, but I can tell you what it felt like to drink the wine. The nose undulated. I thought of a dimly lit room with a lush red velvet robe tossed haphazardly on a couch. So many aromas moving, and in all directions, always graceful. I must have smelled the wine for almost a half hour before taking a sip, and when I did I was shocked by the energy and power on the palate. The nose was glorious, but docile. The palate, anything but docile. This was a haunting wine, as thrilling to me as any red wine I can remember drinking. And I wasn't the only one - most of us at the table were fascinated with this wine and I saw people swaying as they smelled, as if praying at the Wailing Wall.
And to cap it all off, we drank Montrachet, the 1991 Marquis de Laguiche / Drouhin. Although this wine showed plenty of class and breed, I thought that it was not as great a wine as the only other two bottles of Montrachet I've had, same producer but 1989 and 1988 vintages. The 1991 was excellent but it showed a bit thick, with surprisingly sweet flavors, and without the focus I would have liked. An experienced drinker said that he detected some botrytis and this makes sense. Criticizing Montrachet is sort of like criticizing Mozart - who am I, really to say anything here. Just sharing my thoughts, that's all.
Another great Burgundy Wine Club night, and this time our wines showed very well, in general. I'm already thinking about themes for next year...
Read Full Wine Blog Post
On a recent Friday afternoon I had a little special time with my younger daughter, who had just turned 4 years old. Her older sister was still in school and the younger one and I were about to have lunch. She is more adventurous than her older sister as an eater, and has lately been showing an interest in the process of cooking. She likes to stand on a step stool and watch as I cook, and enjoys doing little jobs like mixing the wet and then the dry ingredients when we make pancakes, or putting butter in a hot pan and swirling it around with a spatula.
On this day I thought why not let her choose what we eat for lunch, and maybe she can play a larger role in cooking. I set out some choices for her - we had eggs, leftover polenta, fresh marjoram and rosemary, dry sausage, broccoli, carrots, and a few other things that I cannot recall. She chose polenta and we agreed that we would fry it to make the sides crispy. She decided that we would put an egg on top (perhaps she is familiar with the "egg-on-top" that currently pervades every menu in Brooklyn).
She put butter in a hot pan, cracked an egg into a bowl, and helped me pour it into the pan. She smiled at the sizzling noise, because this time she made that noise happen, not me. She decided on sunny-side up for the eggs. I would have gone with whatever she decided, but this was a good choice. Scrambled eggs on polenta doesn't sound so appealing. She helped me take the eggs out of the pan and place them on a plate. She used a butter knife to cut polenta patties from the log I shaped out of the leftovers, and then helped me to carefully put two patties in the pan. She helped me turn the patties to brown the other side. We put the browned patties on plates and she helped to put the eggs on top. She decided to put two marjoram leaves on top of the eggs, some salt and pepper, and then she decided that we would have thin slices of Parmigiano cheese on top, not shaved cheese.
She was very proud of her work, and she cleaned her plate, which is not unusual, but I detected an added relish as she ate. I was proud of her, as you can tell, and by the way, our lunch was delicious. This is going to be fun, cooking with my daughters.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
The Vulgar Little Monkey, or VLM as many like to call him, is back writing on the internet. I like his writing because it's completely honest, because he is clear about his particular point of view, and because he makes me laugh. I recently read through his blog posts since he picked it up again in October and it's satisfying stuff. Most of the posts list wines he's had, along with tasting notes. This sort of thing can be uninspiring at best, but the VLM makes it rewarding, in my opinion.
I've stayed away from this sort of writing, the list of wines and tasting notes, for quite some time because I don't feel that it would be of much value. And maybe it won't be when I try it now. But I'm doing it anyway. Here are some wines I drank in the last few months that might be of interest:
2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Franc de Pied, $26. This is Baudry's ungrafted vines cuvée from the sandy base of the Clos Guillot vineyard. I've heard that ungrafted vines make wines that should be consumed young, and I've heard the opposite too. This wine showed very well, but showed young. Not all wound up and tight, but young - all fruit still. The dark fruit
was lovely and the mineral complexity was there, although just barely
articulating itself. This wine is clearly of very high quality and is very well balanced, especially in the context of the warm 2009 vintage. Enjoyable now but I think worth leaving in the cellar too.
2009 Domaine Ganevat Côtes de Jura Cuvée de L'Enfent Terrible, $34.This is Ganevat's Poulsard. Ganevat red wines are almost always reduced and terrifically funky when first opened, and need a good decant to show well. To my taste, this is the finest Poulsard after Houillon/Overnoy. This was a great showing. I decanted it 5 hours before drinking and it needed every moment. When we drank it, it was clear as a
bell, completely pure and harmonious and not at all overripe, although the
ripeness of the vintage shows. Great complexity and balance. But the thing that
makes it special is the purity of the focused red fruit - the
crystalline nature of the wine is like that of a white wine. Very lovely, but now the price is closer to $50. If you love Poulsard, probably this is one to buy.
Cédric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Champagne Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs (2008), $55. No surprise here - this wine is all 2008 fruit, a great vintage in Champagne, and Bouchard makes great wines. This was simply excellent - the purity of fruit rather startling. Saline and chalky, and the texture is all silk. It was still growing and improving when we finished it. Beautiful now, but certainly one to leave in the cellar too.
2007 Muhr-van der Niepoort Blaufränkisch Carnuntum, $18.I loved this wine a year ago and saved one bottle, hoping to leave it alone for a few years. I made it through one year, so I was partially successful. The wine was gorgeous on day one with broad and vibrant aromatics - flowers, various fruit, clean and very lovely. The palate wasn't as expressive, although there was an intriguing mineral floor and this was the main impression on the finish. On day two the wine lost some of its explosiveness on the nose, but was more complete on the palate, with clean, cooling, mineral-infused fruit. Worth the wait, and I should have bought more.
2007 Hirsch Riesling Gaisberg, $34. Hirsch is one of the better regarded producers in Austria's Kamptal region. Heiligenstein is considered to be the vineyard with the best potential, but I like the Gaisberg wines very much also. This wine showed beautifully. I decanted it at 4:00 and we drank it at 7:00, and it needed the time. Some found a bit of petrol on the nose, but I
wasn't one of them. For me it is still about perfectly ripe yellow
fruits and rock. There is lovely balance and harmony at 12% alcohol and it feels savory on the very long finish. Just excellent wine.
2007 Prager Riesling Smaragd Achleiten, $50. Also took many hours to open up, which I guess shouldn't be surprising. I love the 2007 vintage in Austria - it's my favorite of the recent vintages, but the wines are definitely in a closed phase. I decanted this for a few hours before pouring it back in the bottle and taking it to dinner, and it was still shut down for hours. That said, it opened eventually and the wine is excellent. Balanced, richly fruited, mineral, complex, and with a strong presence on the palate. A real beauty.
2006 Domaine de l'Anglore Côtes du Rhône Comeyre (magnum), $64. I loved this wine at a trade tasting maybe 5 years ago and I bought a magnum, thinking I would bring it to Thanksgiving dinner in a few years. It wasn't Thanksgiving, but I brought it to some dinner party, and wow, have my tastes changed. It is high quality wine, aromatic and tasty, but it smells more like !--Natural Wine--!
than it does like old vines Carignan, and there is no sense of place
whatsoever. Not a style of wine that interests or truly
2005 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Choisilles, $28. I bought a few of these several years ago and first drank one only recently. This is one of Chidaine's dry wines and in the warm 2005 vintage it is 14% alcohol but seems
lower because the wine is so well balanced, and the acidity keeps it
bright and refreshing. Nose is just lovely, albeit a bit shy on day 1, and the aromas are
perfectly delicate. Wool, beeswax, winter herbs like rosemary, yellow
fruit, and all wispy and always moving. There is a lush feel to the palate but it is
focused and essentially dry. Such lovely wine.
2005 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Clos des Briords, $13. I drank almost a case of this wine in 07 and 08, but saved a few bottles. Decided to check in on the wine, and time has clarified the aromas and flavors here. Especially on day two, there are lovely seashell aromas and
citrus oils - grapefruit. The palate is balanced and has a bit of
grain in the texture. A bit broad perhaps, not as focused I imagine as
some other recent vintages will be as they age, but this is lovely wine.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
There are many things I learn when drinking wine. Here are some things I've been thinking, things I want to remember entering 2013, along with the bottles that helped to inspire the lessons:
There is no "perfect" moment, so don't waste life by waiting. Share and enjoy today.
But it's also important to be patient.
Accept the kindnesses of strangers.
Be gracious at all times.
Consume only what is necessary, not to excess simply because something is available.
Keep experimenting, never stop learning.
Things are not always as they seem.
Wonderful things of great value can come in modest packages.
There is nothing more valuable than a true friend.
Heres to a great 2013!
Read Full Wine Blog Post
It was a holiday evening and I was at my good friend Peter's house for dinner. You already know that he is one of very finest wine writers and critics, and that he is the author of ChampagneGuide.net, and that he recently published a long-awaited Sherry book. But did you know that he is a wonderful cook?
Peter can cook anything but prefers to cook in the Japanese style. And on this Christmas eve, I hung around his kitchen while he prepared dinner. We talked about how his book is selling, how my work is going, about our plans for travel in the coming year, about how I miss my kids on the Christmas holidays, and all sorts of other things that good friends talk about. We drank Champagne. Good music wafted from the sound dock speakers.
Peter made several dishes but the centerpiece of our meal was rice. He uses a Donabe
, a Japanese clay pot, to cook rice. The particular Donabe Peter uses is made of a special porous clay from the bottom of Biwa Lake in Iga, in Mie Prefecture. It is prized for the way it retains heat.
He used Koshihikari
rice from the Niigata Prefecture in Japan. This is thought by many to be the finest rice of Japan. Peter rinsed the rice many times, massaging it with his hands, until the water ran almost clear. Then he spread it evenly in the bowl and let it dry. Then he combined water with a dash of fish sauce, sesame oil, and sake, and soaked the rice for about a half hour. He placed quartered Shitake mushrooms and large whole scallops on top of the rice and cooked it over high heat for 15 minutes and then let the rice rest for another 20 minutes. The whole process took about two hours from start to finish. As the rice rested, the kitchen and the living room filled with this intensely savory and gloriously appetizing aroma.
Peter opened the Donabe, coarsely chopped the scallops with a wooden spoon, fluffed the rice a little, and served it in bowls topped with scallions and mitsuba, a Japanese herb. This was the very best rice I have ever eaten, without any question. One of the best foods
I have ever eaten. I will not try to describe the flavors because I'm not good enough with language to do so.
Since watching this preparation and eating this rice, I've thought some about how simple things can be so complex. I can enjoy the rice at a Chinese restaurant, or the rice I cook at home, and it tastes good. It is nice to eat with whatever other food I'm eating. I do not need rice to be the finest rice Japan has to offer, prepared in the finest of Donabes by an expert hand in order to appreciate it. But I'm glad that I now know a little tiny bit about this - about what is possible to achieve with rice. It's not that I will now look down upon all other rice, it's about the fact that there exists a complex set of tools and techniques for growing and cooking rice, and being aware of this makes me a more educated person. We mostly think of rice as a simple thing, and that doesn't reduce the pleasure we take in it. There is an elevated form of rice too, and that is also pleasurable, I would say immensely so. These two things are not mutually exclusive.
The same is true with so many things that we eat and drink - think of roasting a chicken! There are a million variations, including the chicken itself, temperature, type of pan, and other issues. People who care about roasting chicken have opinions on all of these things. Roast chicken is a simple thing that is also quite complex, should you choose to approach it that way. And although a decently prepared roast chicken is always enjoyable, some are finer than others. I think that experiencing and trying to understand things in their most elevated forms allows us to better understand the pleasures (and flaws) of their more common versions.
I hope that in the coming year I learn more about the complexities that seemingly simple things have to offer. And I hope to spend more time in the company of great friends, enjoying these things together. I hope the same for you, and happy new year!
Read Full Wine Blog Post
Ready for a little complaining? It's the holidays, I know. But indulge me.
I was in Stockholm recently and ate dinner at two different restaurants. In both cases I found the wine service to be excellent. I remarked to my dining companions, who also are wine lovers, that I appreciated the service, in particular the fact that the servers were in no hurry whatsoever to pour our wine. Instead they would open a bottle, offer a taste, and then pour a small glass to each person. Then, they would walk away.
This might not sound terribly special to you, but I very much appreciated it. I find that in many restaurants, servers are in a rush to pour wine and they pour very large glasses, filling the vessel more than halfway. Filling the glass that high is just annoying - it's hard to handle the glass when it's so top-heavy. And I find it hard to enjoy the aromas when there is so much liquid in the glass sloshing around, and so little room left within the glass for air.
If I order wine at a restaurant I want to let it unfold and
change in the glass, and I want to experience and enjoy those changes. It's hard to do that if
before I've even come close to finishing what's in my glass, the server
pounces and re-fills me.
That said, I can understand why servers do this. It comes down to tips. When people sit down and order a bottle of wine, the server anticipates selling a second bottle, so pouring high and quickly should lead to a higher bill and a bigger tip. Maybe this works some of the time, and some customers don't mind the quick and high pour. But I think it's a misguided strategy, even from the server's point of view. Here is why:
1) Happy customers leave bigger tips.
2) Two people dining together rarely order two bottles of wine. Sometimes they do, but I'm guessing very rarely. So when there are two people at the table, pouring fast and high typically results in the sale of 1 bottle of wine, the same number of bottles that sell when the server pours at a relaxed and leisurely pace. But those two diners will feel happier when they are allowed to enjoy their wine at a leisurely pace, their experience will be better. They are likely to tip more.
3) If a table of four or more people is inclined to order multiple bottles, they will do so because they want to drink wine, not because the server rushes them. Okay, sometimes people will say "what the hell" and order another bottle when the first disappears quickly. But the table that orders another bottle because they are rushed is probably not ordering expensive wine anyway, so the impact on the tip won't be huge. Allowing a table of four to be relaxed about enjoying their good wine encourages them to order more wine.
Here is an example of how a restaurant and a server lose revenue when they pour high and fast: I was with a friend at a popular Manhattan wine bar not long ago. We decided to splurge and ordered a bottle of Champagne. It was a wine I'd never tasted before and I wanted to take my time, to explore the wine. Our server essentially poured the whole bottle into our two glasses within minutes. We couldn't take a sip without having our glasses refilled, and poured way too high. We drank our wine, paid, and left. We might have ordered more wine, but the experience of drinking the Champagne was not so pleasant.
Here is an example of a relaxed pour leading to a good experience: A restaurant in Stockholm called Rolfs Kök ('Rolf's Kitchen' in English, I believe. Get your mind out of the gutter). There were four of us, and as we looked at the dinner menu I selected a bottle of 2002 Hirsch Riesling Heiligenstein from the wine list. The server tasted it and decanted the bottle at a side station, returned to the table, poured me a taste, and then each of us a small glass. He left the decanter at the table and went off to do other work. We talked, chose our dinner, enjoyed our wine. The few Austrian wines I've had from the 2002 vintage have been weird, and this one was too, but it opened nicely and was lovely to follow over an hour. Yes, we drank that wine over the course of about an hour. But by then we had decided upon our dinner, which would include Elk, and we ordered a bottle of 2007 Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin. The server decanted that too, and left the bottle at our table. He returned to pour small glasses as our main courses arrived. We refilled sometimes, he refilled sometimes, and it was relaxed. The wine was very good, strikingly pure and crackling with energy. One friend thought it needed another two or three years in the bottle, I thought it was lovely as is. We enjoyed having the opportunity to see how it changed in the glass. We left a very nice tip.
One of my dining companions in Stockholm commiserated with me on this pet peeve of mine, the high and fast pour. His wife laughed and agreed that the high and fast pour drives him crazy. My friend is an economist, however, and he often finds simple and efficient solutions to life's little problems.
"You know what I do about this now," he said to me. "If I order wine at a restaurant, when the server brings the wine I smile and very politely say to them 'If you don't mind, we will pour our own wine.'"
Wow. Simple and polite, perfectly reasonable. Can it really be that easy? I've thought about this now since my friend suggested it and maybe it is that easy. Sure, there will be times when I'll miss out on good wine service if I preempt the server and say that I'd like to pour my own wine. But more often, I think I will have a better experience (and leave a better tip because of it). I'll try this in early 2013 and let you know how it goes, because I know you are waiting with bated breath.
If this is a pet peeve of yours, how do you deal with it?
Read Full Wine Blog Post
I recently had the occasion to be in Stockholm, Sweden (!), a trip for work. The whole trip was amazing, but I want to tell you about one meal I had there, what easily for me is the dinner of the year in 2012. What made it so good? Well, the company, for starters. I work with really nice people. And the wine. The list was interesting and smart, and there were a few gems that are quite difficult to find back home. And the food was wonderful, showing an honest dedication to local ingredients and typical Swedish cuisine, and also prepared with a modern sensibility.
The restaurant is called Volt, and if you ever have the good fortune to be in Sweden, I strongly urge you to eat here. Not cheap at all, but one of those expensive meals where there is no doubt that you have gotten your money's worth.
While looking through the menus we were served this amuse, a plate of thinly sliced cured, spiced pork belly.
And this plate of lightly pickled pumpkin topped with pumpkin seeds. Both were appetizing and delicious.
The bread service was wonderful - crusty, airy, fresh bread, served with
tangy local cultured butter and chicken liver paté. We had a 6 course
meal coming, and yet we couldn't stop eating this bread.
I saw a few special bottles on the wine list, and we decided not to select from among them, instead ordering them all! And we got the 6-course tasting menu too. We were in Sweden, near the holidays. Why not splash out a little?
First we ordered this beautiful bottle of Cédric Bouchard 2006 Roses de Jeanne Le Creux d’Enfer Rosé.
This wine, Bouchard's single vineyard rosé, has become essentially impossible to find here in the US.And it is very expensive. Oddly, in Sweden, one of the most expensive countries in the world for an American, and at this fancy restaurant, the wine was no more expensive than it would be on the shelf at a NYC retail shop. Except it will never again be on the shelf at a NYC retail shop because almost none is made and it is snapped up by collectors before it hits the shelves. It is a wonderful wine and a few years of age amplified the savory tones. After a few hours the wine showed clear bitter herbal notes that you might find in Campari.
We ate langoustine with seafood broth, thinly sliced turnips, caviar, and langoustine crackers.
At about this time I realized that we needed to submit to how good everything was going to be, and we ordered two bottles of Overnoy wine - the 2010 Chardonnay and the 2011 Poulsard. Our gracious and incredibly competent sommelier decnted the Poulsard for us and we enjoyed the beginning of the Chardonnay with the Langoustines.
And then came scallops, with raw cauliflower crumbles, gooseberries, and several "sea-lettuces." Excellent with the bright and expressive Chardonnay. Overnoy bottles are never uniform, and this bottle of Chardonnay was different from the bottle I drank in July
. Not as perfect, not as focused. But it was lovely nonetheless.
We returned to Bouchard's Champagne for this fantastic dish of beef carpaccio with almond and parsley puree. Two summers ago I was at a ridiculous Bouchard dinner
and we drank the 2007 Rosé and it was suggested that rare beef would be a great pairing. Well, on this night I was able to verify that indeed, this is a wonderful synergy of flavors.
Then we ate Pike Perch from the Baltic Sea, local waters. It was perfectly cooked, meltingly tender, and served with roast cabbage, fresh cockles, and capers fashioned from elderberries. Whoa, this was delicious and expertly prepared. And great with Overnoy's Chardonnay, which was becoming more and more detailed as time went by.
The sommelier appeared with the decanter of 2011 Overnoy Poulsard. "Like raspberry juice," he smiled. And he poured. I've had great bottles of Overnoy Poulsard, and also completely uninspiring bottles. If you drink the wine outside of France, there will be variation. This bottle was amazing, among the best Ive had. Such intense aromas of dried roses, so detailed and complex, such delicate texture and such presence in the mouth. As perfect as Poulsard can be, I would say. A wonderful and moving wine. My companions had never before had an Overnoy Poulsard and they were swooning. It was fun to watch.
We drank it with a dish of "fallow deer," a small variety of local deer. Very lean, it was served with Jerusalem artichokes and topped with fresh juniper berries. Yes, fresh green juniper berries. I've seen only the dried black ones here. These were vibrant and pungent and herbal and very compelling, and they amplified the forest undertones of the Poulsard. What a meal we were having!
After that dish we took our time finishing our wines, reveling in our good fortune. And then we had dessert. The best restaurant dessert I've had in years. An oval of green apple sorbet, tart, not sweet, served on a dollop of white chocolate pudding, white chocolatey but not sweet, topped with shards of frozen green apple and young pine needles. Absurdly delicious. And with this, a glass of sparkling wine from Anjou that smelled like pine needles, something the sommelier selected for us.
An incredible meal that I will remember for a long time. I hope that as 2012 comes to a close, you are enjoying delicious food and wine too, with good friends.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
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.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
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.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
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.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
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.
Read Full Wine Blog Post
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...
Read Full Wine Blog Post