I want to tell you about my favorite place to drink Sherry in NYC, a tapas bar called Palo Cortado. Palo Cortado is actually a restaurant with a full menu, and it serves a wide and interesting selection of wine and beer. You can go there and have a "normal" restaurant experience, with an appetizer, an entree, and dessert. But I'm going to talk about Palo Cortado in the way that I experience it, as a tapas bar.
Let me start by saying this: Palo Cortado has as good of a by-the-glass Sherry list as anyplace I've seen. There are about 20 Sherries on the list at any time, and wines rotate in and out.
This is a place where you can drink interesting wines in each category of Sherry, wines that can be quite difficult (in some cases, impossible) to find on retail shelves. There are lovely Finos and Manzanillas, interesting Amontillados and Palo Cortados, and several examples of Moscatel and Sweet Pedro Ximenez wines too. The most expensive wine I've seen, I believe, is the Bodegas Tradición Amontillado at perhaps $20 a glass. That's right - you can drink things like Bodegas Tradición Amontillado, by the glass, at Palo Cortado. The least expensive is the extremely delicious Emilio Hidalgo Fino at $6. Think about it - you can sample Sherries of all types for very reasonable prices, play around, try new things, expand your understanding of this forgotten (but perhaps now re-discovered) great wine of the world.
The wines are served in Sherry glasses and this is a great decision, particularly with the brown Sherries. I think Amontillado and Palo Cortado wines show best in these copitas, benefiting from the focus the glass confers. I prefer the way Fino style wines smell and taste out of white wine glasses, but copitas are fine too, and it certainly feels more like a tapas bar that way. Alessandro Piliego (pouring, above), who goes by Sandro and is one of the owners of Palo Cortado, is a true believer, and will be happy and excited to pour various wines for you, to talk about them with you, to support you in exploring the bottles he offers. If you go, you should talk with him - you will feel as though you have been well taken care of.
Palo Cortado is a destination place, it's worth traveling to because of the great Sherry selection and the great service. The food can be good too - there are dishes that I love to eat at Palo Cortado and I always enjoy my meals there. But the reason to travel to Palo Cortado is the great Sherry and the great service, and there are also some good things to eat. And I should say that I've never tasted even one of the main dishes. I order tapas, that's it.
To me, the most delicious and very best thing to eat at Palo Cortado is Jamon Iberico. Sandro simply does this right, no question about it. High quality jamon, aged two years, cut by hand into thin (but not too thin) toothsome and highly perfumed slices. A plate of jamon is served with large caper berries, Marcona almonds, fig bread, and pickled Basque peppers. A little bread on the side, a nice glass of Sherry...what could be better? I usually drink Palo Cortado with the jamon, like the wonderful Emilio Hidalgo Marqués de Rodil, but Sandro recommends Fino, and I tried this last time and it was great.
The other tapas that I always enjoy at Palo Cortado include Pulpo a la Gallega (tender octopus and potatoes with vinegar and lots of pimenton), Empanadas, which are completely home made and stuffed with delicious flank steak and melted Tetilla cheese, Patatas Bravas (fried potato chunks in pimenton and aioli, the Tortilla a la Cazadora (mushoom and potato omelet), the Albondigas de Cordero (lamb meatballs) and a frequent special of fluke crudo with grapefruit. And if you think about it, along with the spectacular (I would say, best in NYC) Jamon Iberico, that's plenty of tapas. Order a plate or two with a copita, and when you and your friend finish, order another plate or two and another copita, and continue until exhausted or the bar closes.
Another thing I appreciate about Palo Cortado is that it actually reminds me of being in Jerez. Okay, every tapas bar I can think of in Jerez and surrounding environs shows you many of the tapas you can order - they sit under glass and are served from troughs as you order them. That's not going to happen here, and that's fine. But the decor is right at Palo Cortado. Not too dark, not bright at all, some interesting paintings around, and they perfectly hit that critical mix of giving you enough space and somehow maximizing the hum of conversation from other tables.
And there is tile. Tile at the bar.
Tile on the tables.
You can always walk around and look at the paintings if you like.
Or sit at a table near the sultry painting in the back.
If you are interested in Sherry, and want to go beyond La Bota, go check out Palo Cortado. It might be a bit of a trip for you, yes. But you like Sherry, you're interested and curious. It's more than worth the trip.
Got home late at night from a business trip. Tired, malnourished, mal-slept, dirty from airplanes. Hungry, very hungry, and thirsty too.
In the fridge - leftover spaghetti and meatballs. I made this, but it was four days earlier. Still pretty good. Served with the final third of a 375 ml bottle of 2003 Chateau Rieussec. This was opened three days earlier when a friend brought it over for dinner, and since then it sat in the door of the fridge, uncorked.
That's right...spaghetti with meatballs and Sauternes. Perhaps the worst wine and food pairing in history. If you think you can do better, let's hear it.
Probably the spaghetti would have benefited from being warmed up.
I like to travel within New York City, to explore the far away neighborhoods, and the not so faraway. There are so many ridiculously good things to eat here, we really are very lucky.
Just look at this bowl of Bun Rieu, the Vietnamese crab paste soup with vermicelli noodles that I recently ate in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. At Thanh Da, this soup is served with fried tofu, chunks of pork rib, tomatoes, and lots of mint. Pure savory satisfaction.
Not too long ago a good friend and I went on walkabout to explore the Forest Hills Gardens section of Queens. This is a neighborhood designed by Frederick Law Olmstead's son, and its streets are privately owned. They have their own garbage collection and security services, if I'm not mistaken. Anyway, I couldn't help but point out to my pal that Rego Park was within walking distance, and its incredible Bukharian restaurants.
We ate a memorable and very large meal at Restaurant Salute (108th street and 63rd Road). This is a kosher restaurant owned by Uzbek Jews. We began with a gorgeous plate of expertly made pickles, and two kinds of dumplings.
These are Uzbek dumplings called manti, filled with ground meat (lamb?) and spices. I love them at Salute. If they remind you of certain Chinese dumplings, that's because there was a lot of mixing of food and technique as people traveled along the silk road a long time ago.
On the Salute menu these are called "Juicy Crimean Dumplings," and I think the real name for them is Cheburek. They were delicately spiced with cumin, and were indeed very juicy and delicious.
We ate pilaf, rich with chunks of lamb, carrots, and cooked onions. Not a powerfully flavored dish, but savory and very comforting.
And we ate kabobs, of course, a skewer of lamb ribs and another of ground lamb and beef spiced with cumin. Both were expertly grilled and a with a little bit of the "sauce for meat," made of plums, dill, onions, chilis...wow, that's just good stuff.
I love to have a pot of green tea at Salute. Beautiful colors, delicious tea, and another reminder of how complicated the mingling of food and culture is all over the world.
Get ready for this last bit because if you live in New York, you're going to freak out a little. I was in Chicago recently and a colleague who lives there took me to a place for dinner in his neighborhood, called Humboldt Park. He had no idea that I'm into wine, he just likes this place called Rootstock. Whoa - what a find! This place simply couldn't exist in New York. There would be twice as many tables squeezed into the same space, and everything would need to be at least twice as expensive.
The food was delicious. A salad topped with pickled squash and sunflower seeds ($8) was refreshing and bright. I guess Portland and NYC are not the only places where anything can be pickled.
Chicken liver mousse with pickled cranberries and pink peppercorns ($6.50 !) was truly excellent, although served with rather uninspiring bread. But the mousse was so good that it almost doesn't matter. And that bottle you see there...it is the 2009 Alzinger Riesling Steinertal, and it cost all of $60 on the wine list!! This is a wine that typically costs more than that at a retail shoppe in NYC, if you can find it. The wine list was excellent, really really great. There were so many things that I wanted to drink, and the prices were great, from my NYC viewpoint. This is a place that serves Bernard Baudry Chinon Blanc by the glass. There are loads of interesting beers to try, the shelves were stocked with great spirits, and to top it off this place serves Sherry by the glass too - Gutierrez Colosía's lovely Oloroso called Sangre y Trabajadero, and El Maestro Sierra's Amontillado. I mean really, folks, this place is a gem and I would go back 10 times.
And by the way, the Steelhead Trout with lentils and grilled scallions ($13 !!)...not bad with Steinertal, not bad at all. Yes, it's probably 15 years too soon to get the most out of this wine, but a good decant and two hours in, this was singing a lovely tune.
The other night I had dinner with 7 other people in Manhattan, a dinner featuring 12 vintages of Marcarini Barolo Brunate. Three wines each from the 60's, 70's, 80's, two wines from the 90's, and the 2007. I had never before had such a broad array of Barolo vintages in one night. It was amazing to experience the evolution of such finely pedigreed Nebbiolo, to feel the changes as it gets older.
We drank the oldest wines first, and ended with the 1990, the 1996, and the 2007. We began with the flight from the 60's - the 1964, 1967, and 1969. There was some discussion at the table - is this the right way to do it? Some felt that we should have started with the young wines.
I appreciated drinking the oldest wines first, in that I was as sharp as a taster as I would be that evening, and perhaps best able to appreciate the fine subtlety of the grand old wines. Or maybe I should say, the young wine tannins hadn't yet affected my mouth. That said, when we got to the 80's flight (1982, 1985, and 1989), the wines seemed very young, nowhere near as thrilling as their older cousins. Perhaps a great 1982 served after a great 1964 just cannot shine as brightly as it would on its own.
This is not the first time I've gone oldest to youngest in the past few months. Not long ago at a Noel Verset dinner, we began with the older wines. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet (although clearly I would drink these wines in any order and enjoy them).
And at my Burgundy Wine Club dinner, I decided to put the flight of Comte Armand Clos des Epeneaux (1989, 1991, and 1993) before the de Montille Pommard Rugiens flight (1998, 1999). My thinking was that the younger brawnier more tannic de Montille wines, if served first, would obliterate the Comte Armand wines.
Curious to see if anyone has an opinion they'd be willing to share on this.
You know this to be true. You can get the best ingredients, prepare ahead of time, have great music on and be in the right mood and still, things don't always work out in the kitchen.
Last week I saw Tipo 00 flour sitting on the "fancy food" shelf in the food coop. I had only recently learned of Tipo 00 - a very finely ground flour that apparently makes the best pizza dough and pasta. I don;t bake much (read: never), but it seemed like something worth trying. Why not make pizza dough and have fun with the daughters? We could each make our own pizza. How hard could it really be?
I emailed an Italian friend who is a good cook and has made pizza dough on many occasions. She said to use good yeast, not the kind that comes dry in the packets. She said that in Italy pizza sauce is not cooked, it is simply pureed uncooked tomatoes. She also said that the oven must be as hot as possible so that the dough cooks quickly, and the mozzarella should be warmed and melted, but not browned. She described the process of making dough as a craft, not a science. "Use 300-500 grams of flour and about half that weight in water, mix in the yeast, some salt, a tablespoon and no less of good olive oil, kneed it and add more flour or water as needed." Loose directions, but I like that - get the feel for it by doing.
So I bought fresh yeast. and I dissolved half of it in a bowl of warm water. I added about a half teaspoon of sugar to the bowl.
Bought a box of tomatoes, planning to puree them, but they came out of the box basically pureed already. That was it for the sauce.
I mixed about a cup and a half of flour and the salt, added the yeasty water (after giving it a few minutes to activate), added the olive oil and about 3/4 cup of water, and was thrilled to feel the mixture get doughy in my hands. But it was too sticky, so I added some more flour - maybe another 1/3 cup, and it integrated easily and was no longer very sticky.
Covered the bowl with a wet towel and left in on the counter near the stove. Two hours later it had doubled in size. It worked - yeast works!
The girls came home, we washed hands and got ready to stretch out some pizza dough. We could have used a rolling pin but I like the idea of working with our hands here. I took the dough out of the bowl and learned lesson number 1: dust the bowl with flour before leaving it to rise. Very sticky. And it was immediately clear that I had not used enough flour. The dough was elastic, but entirely too sticky, too moist, and just not of the right consistency. I was tempted to ditch the plan and make something else quickly, but there were two daughters standing on footstools at the counter who were quite intent on working with this dough and putting sauce and cheese on top.
So we worked the dough and lost at least 20% of it because it stuck to our hands. But we shaped those pizzas. I decided to cook the dough for a minute or two in the 550 degree oven, just to firm it a bit before adding sauce. It was too moist otherwise. This helped, and they spooned some sauce on their pizzas, and then added cubes of cheese. Slices of cheese would melt quickly and then burn quickly in a 550 degree oven.
Their pizzas came out okay and they ate them, but the dough was just wrong. It smelled good but it didn't really crisp up, even though I cooked them long enough for the smoke alarm to blare. And the taste was more like a bread roll than pizza dough.
It says a lot that the daughters were more excited about the broccoli and peas with sliced radishes and garlic than they were about the pizza. Pizza is one of those very simple foods in which the quality of each element must be right - there is little room for error. The dough just wasn't right, and even a three year old could tell.
I decided to make a sliced fennel and dry sausage pizza. I rubbed my pre-baked dough with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and topped with slices of fennel and dry fennel sausage. This actually tasted very good, although again, it was like eating a fennel and sausage bread roll.
I feel good about this, in spite of the bad dough. Next time I will use more flour and I think I have a better idea of what the dough should feel like before leaving it to rise. And if not, if I mess it up again, I'm sure the daughters will be cheerful either way.
Not long ago Joe Salamone and Levi Dalton put together a Sherry dinner at the wonderful Prune on the lower east side, and I was lucky enough to attend. Peter Liem was there too, and he indirectly helped to make this happen, as last summer Peter pointed Joe in the right direction when Joe visited Jerez. Joe drank some wines that he loved, some of which were not available in New York. He decided to import them to NYC so the rest of us can buy them. On this night Joe wanted to share some of these finds with a few friends, lucky us. This was a merry situation, we were feeling the love. Good friends, good food, and absolutely world class wines, wines that until recently were unavailable here. Joe and Levi opened the brown wines at least a day in advance and they showed incredibly well, the wines were stunning as a group.
Sherry is far more versatile with food than is commonly thought. I think that we in this country are still familiarizing ourselves with dry Sherry, and we tend to think that Fino style wines are for garlicky shrimp and other tapas. Fino wines go well with all sorts of food, actually. And brown Sherries - Palo Cortado, Amontillado, and Oloroso - I don't think there is a stereotypical pairing idea here because these wines are still so new to most of us. The brown Sherries we drank on this night, these are Sherries that can complement even the richest of meat dishes, as we proved to ourselves at this dinner.
Here were some of the highlights for me:
We drank Valdespino Amontillado Tio Diego, a great wine that is quite unusual as an Amontillado in that it shows a very pronounced Flor character - buttery like a Fino. Tio Diego is what happens when Valdespino Fino Inocente becomes an Amontillado and then ages for a bit longer. This is a young and fresh Amontillado, it is refreshing and delicious, not expensive at all, and in Jerez it's everywhere - on grocery store shelves. Frustrating not to be able to buy it here. But now in NYC, finally, you might be able to buy this wine at Crush, as Joe is bringing it in.
We then drank the Fernando de Castilla Antique Palo Cortado. This is just a beautiful wine. Focus and intensity, grace, detailed aromas and flavors, and a satisfying and complex finish. Pure pleasure, and improves over several days open. This wine goes so well with basically anything on the table. At this dinner, I loved it with shrimp in anchovy butter, and also with thinly sliced roast pork and kale.
We drank Valdespino Palo Cortado VORS Cardenal, a fine old Sherry that represents the end of the line for Inocente - it contains wines that long ago were part of the Inocente solera before the cellar master selected them out to become Palo Cortado.
We also drank Valdespino Amontillado VORS Coliseo, an equally rare and fantastic old Sherry that begins its life as a Manzanilla, actually. Imagine going to a dinner where you drink DRC Richebourg and La Tâche. That's what we drank, but in Sherry they're called Cardenal and Coliseo. These are such grand old wines and trying to describe them by naming aromas or flavors is silly. For me, they are show-stoppers, wines that make the table go quiet for a while as people take in what it is that's in the glass. Wines that achieve the pinnacle of complexity and character and deliciousness, things that you should find a way to taste, the way you should read Shakespeare's sonnets at some point in your life.
They were brilliant with an amazing dish of braised short ribs and Yorkshire pudding, something that used to be on the menu at Prune a while back. Braised short ribs and Yorkshire pudding...that's a rich plate of food, and I found these two grand old Sherries complemented it perfectly. Honestly, even though these are expensive in an absolute sense, maybe $140 for a 375 ml bottle, Cardenal and Coliseo are worth every penny. They are wines that expand and improve for a week after opening and you only need a small bit at a time, so your pleasure is spread over many evenings.
We also drank a vintage Sherry. That's right, a vintage Sherry. The 1975 Bodegas Tradición Oloroso. Imagine that - the solera system is part of what makes these wines so great, and here is a Sherry wine that never sees a solera. It is vinified and put in barrels, and that's it, as a wine would be in most of the world. I had a few sips of this rare wine at the Bodega in October, but it was at here at this dinner with this food when I understood its charms. This wine had such impeccable balance and harmony, and such clarity and focus. And although its been aged in barrels and exposed to oxygen without Flor to protect it for almost 40 years, it had no rough edges, not at all. Pure class, all silk, just amazing.
Valdespino Moscatel Toneles is, with Cardenal and Coliseo, the third wonder of the Valdespino Bodegas. There is one barrel of this wine in the solera row, another in the first criadera, and so on. There is very little of the wine and it is very old. Many serious Sherry devotees can tell you about why it is so special, and although I enjoyed drinking it, I will admit that I do not yet understand the wine and cannot easily differentiate between the old black sweet Sherries. i know there is something to it, I just haven't figured it out yet...
Keep your eyes open for these wines as they should be available here and there, whereas previously you had to go abroad to buy them. This was a truly amazing dinner and reminded me again that at this point in my drinking experience, I think that great Sherry is as great as wine can be.
If I may say, I've become rather adept at the frugal practice of making one whole chicken stretch for many tasty meals. I buy a very high quality chicken - these days I like the White Feather chickens from Bo Bo Farms. My idea is to roast the chicken, but jut the thighs, legs, and breast. The back, neck, feet (yes, you get the feet when you buy a Bo Bo chicken), and other parts go into the stock pot. I could roast the whole bird and then put everything but thighs, legs, and breast into the stock pot, but these days I prefer the taste of stock made from un-roasted bones and meat.
So I emerge with meal number 1 - roast chicken dinner. Last week my daughters and I ate this with fregola pasta with broccoli and turnips. But two small children and I will not finish two legs, two thighs and a whole breast. I tend to serve the dark meat at roast dinner, and save the breast for things when chicken isn't the star of the show, when it's just the protein delivery system.
Meal number 2 - daughter's lunch of shredded chicken breast, Chinese cabbage, and red pepper roll-ups. A drop of sesame oil and soy, and they gobble these up. The chicken is protein, the flavor and aroma comes from whatever else you add to the sandwich.
The point of this post is meal number 3 - soup. I make a simple stock using techniques from various conversations and cook books. I start with the aforementioned uncooked chicken parts, a whole onion in quarters, a carrot or two cut in half length-wise, a celery stick cut in thirds, and then, depending on what's in the kitchen, add things like a sliced knob of ginger, a bay leaf, a bunch of parsley or other herbs, a Parmesan rind, whole black peppercorns, and so on. Bring gently to a boil (Alice Waters, I think, said that stock should be made gently at all stages) and then simmer very gently for at least two hours, skimming the top at least once. I add salt after straining it and tasting, and not too much - anything I cook with the stock will also get salt.
My kids are very good eaters, but I haven't found too many soups that they'll eat with gusto. I want to change that - soup is a meal filled with potential. I can put all sorts of vegetables in soup, things that they might not eat if served as a side dish, soup is relatively easy to digest and is good for kids in that way as the evening meal, and soup tastes good and can be fun to eat. The version I made last week, on paper, seemed destined for failure. But ate it they did, and happily (alphabet pasta is my new secret soup weapon). Here's the recipe:
Chicken Soup with Bok Choy, Lentils, and Alphabet Pasta
Warm your stock in a separate pot while you cook 1 chopped medium onion in a small bit of oil over medium/low heat for a few minutes until the onion softens. Add chopped carrots and celery and cook some more, adding a little salt. Try to cook these aromatic vegetables as long as you can without burning them - they are the base of flavor and aroma for the soup. Add the chopped bok choy stems and greens and stir frequently. Add the washed lentils - I used only about a half cup for the whole pot here, because I wanted a soup that had lentils in it, not lentil soup. Stir some more, coat the lentils in the vegetables and their juices, add a little more salt.
Now add the warm stock and bring to a boil for about 1 minute and then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot almost all of the way and let this simmer for 20 minutes, and then start checking to see if the lentils are done.
Meanwhile, take what remains of the chicken breast and shred it so that it will be nice in the soup, small shreds are easiest to eat. The alphabet pasta are tricky. Cooking them in water separately, for me, always results in soggy pasta (I need a brand for alphabet pasta that's better than Ronzoni, but have not yet found anther brand). I've started adding the dry pasta directly to the simmering soup about 8-10 minutes before I want to serve it.
So this is the finished soup, and let me tell you, it feels good to watch them devour something like this. I'm eating the soup too, mind you, and daddy wants a glass of wine with dinner. So please, you be the sommelier - what would you serve with chicken soup with bok choy, lentils, and alphabet pasta?
And by the way...if I can get away with not using all of the stock for the soup, I have meal 4, which lately has been turnips and their greens braised in stock - delicious! And meal 5 is leftover soup. Dare I strive for a meal number 6? Time will tell.
The other night I did something that I have never done before, and most likely will never do again. I drank a Marius Gentaz Côte-Rôtie. Gentaz is the revered traditionalist farmer and wine maker whose Côte-Rôties are considered by many Rhône cognoscenti as the greatest of all the Northern Rhône wines, the greatest Syrah in existence. Gentaz never made large quantities of wine, and he stopped making wine after the 1993 vintage - he retired and his nephew René Rostaing took over the vines. From what I hear, Rostaing immediately ripped them up and started over, which is a tragedy of epic proportions.
There simply isn't a lot of Gentaz Côte-Rôtie out there, and whoever has the wine is jealously guarding it. I've never seen a bottle on any of the auction sites or on restaurant lists - I've never seen a bottle, period. And for the past few years, I've been keeping my eyes open. Honestly, fugedaboudit, it's not going to happen. The wines have skyrocketed in price and become more rare every year as people drink what they have. I remember a few years ago a friend told me that he was going to have dinner at some place in Manhattan where Gentaz was on the list at the bargain price of $800. Sounds like a lot, right? What would a bottle of 1993 DRC Echezeaux cost at a restaurant? That is a bottle that you will never have a problem finding, if you want it - there is nothing rare about DRC. But Gentaz Côte-Rôtie, an incredibly rare and superlative wine? Maybe $800 is not such a terrible price. Get 8 people together and you each get a glass each for 100, a glass of something that will never again exist on the planet, something truly glorious.
I've wanted to drink Gentaz for years, ever since hearing my friend Peter talk about the wine in hushed and awed terms that he uses only for only a few wines. Well, the other night I was incredibly privileged to drink Gentaz. Ten bottles actually - an embarrassment of riches. This is what happens when a few generous collectors decide to hold a Gentaz tasting and dinner. Why did I get to go to this dinner, you might be wondering. Because I discarded any sense of decorum and I begged, pleaded, and begged some more, that's why.
Wow, what a night. The wines and the food were absolutely amazing, and that's an understatement. We drank 10 vintages of Gentaz, but we were many people and we drank the wines slowly over several courses of food. I took notes but they don't come close to the experience of drinking the wines. I'll try to share some notes and experiences, but maybe before you read on, take a look at this lovely article by Eric Asimov from this week's Dining section - he writes about Gentaz and offers more context for the wines.
The first wine we drank was the last Gentaz vintage, the 1993. May I tell you that I was rather excited as the wine was poured into my glass? My first sniff of a Gentaz wine, and it was thrilling. It reminded me of a wonderful wine I drank a little over a year ago at a ridiculous lunch at Neal Rosenthal's house, the 1985 Ferraton Hermitage. The '93 Gentaz was pale in the glass, but it offered such intense and crystal clear aromas, it was such a vivid and electric wine. My notes say "black peppercorns, very spicy, rose petals, iodine, broth, flowers, so complex and lovely." All of that is true, and more. The wine was the epitome of grace and detail on the palate and its incredible harmoniousness made it seem less potent at times than it actually is. I loved this wine, as much as I loved any of the wines we drank. Some of that has to be because it was my first, but I also think it was legitimately a great wine.
The 1992 was corked, alas. The 1990 was not. It was more dense, with musky notes mingling with the flowers, pungent and gorgeous. The wine was very different from the 1993 in character, but they shared the same incredible grace and harmony, something that apparently is the hallmark of Gentaz. The wines are seamless, so much so that it can be shocking.
The 1977 I thought was absurd in its harmony and grace, its perfect mingling of spices and rocks and flowers, and hints of bloody meat. My notes say "there is no way to improve this wine." The 1987 was delicious and very drinkable, but not as memorable to me as many of the other wines. The 1989 seems like it will be as memorable as many, but it was still hard and tannic on this night, a wine that probably needs another 10 years of relaxation.
And then there was the 1988. Utterly gorgeous. Wide open, seamless, complex, as delicious as anything I can remember drinking. I felt like a 15 year old at the high school dance with this wine in my glass, hard to know what to do with myself, awkward, in love but not understanding the object of my desire, mystified and elated, covered with pimples and just a total mess.
And after that the 1985! Just as good! Spicier, more meaty and of the bacon, and still perfectly harmonious. How did this guy do it? These wines are perfect. Some people loved the 1983, others thought there was something off, not TCA, but some sort of cork taint. I appreciated the wine but definitely sensed the taint. That's okay, because then we drank the 1978, the most exalted of Gentaz vintages, from what I am told. The wine was mature and perfect, gamy and pungent, finely grained, meaty, fresh as a daisy, just ridiculous. Wine for a time capsule.
Then we did an interesting thing. We drank the 1991 Gentaz Côte-Rôtie with two other 1991's, also made by great producers, you know, just to compare. The 1991 Noel Verset Cornas was not showing so well, there was volatile acidity. The 1991 Chave Hermitage, though, was truly excellent, and taught me something very important. The Chave had such an effortless power and it was so very refined on the nose. I cannot say that it was better than the Gentaz wines, but it was most certainly playing at that level. It was different, in the end. More of some things, like power and richness, and firmness of structure. I remember thinking about how the Chave wine seemed to effortlessly do what the Gentaz wines had to struggle to do, if that makes any sense. There is plenty of beauty in the struggle, it's just a different kind of beauty, one that it a bit more raw. Peter said it was the grandiosity of the Hermitage terroir shining through. That, to me, is something to ponder.
This was an incredible experience, once that would be near impossible to repeat. I am so grateful to have had the chance to experience these wines, this bit of history.
Been busy and not able to write as often, but please don't think that means I've been starving and not drinking anything interesting. Oh no, my friends, I've been a very lucky Brooklynguy lately, in large part due to the generosity of friends. Here are some tidbits, things from the past few weeks that are worth mentioning:
Slope Farms sells pork now. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. Ken and Linda Jaffe (former Brooklynites who moved to the Catskills) are dedicated to farming healthy cows, and theirs is my absolute favorite beef. I'm not sure of the details on this new pork venture, but I hear they have an elder and respected neighbor who advised them as they set up their farm. This neighbor raises pigs. The Jaffes now sell their neighbor's pork. Look at the marbling on the meat, and the beautiful color. I've tried the chops and a rib roast so far, and WHOA, this is very very good pork.
And on the other end of the food spectrum, processed food, I've discovered what I now believe to be one of the finest canned food products - Heinz baked beans, the kind they sell in England. These are done in tomato sauce, not in that cloying brown sugary sauce that our baked beans swim in. If you see these, try them. Okay, they're canned, but they're actually not that bad for you. And they taste so very good.
Some wine too...
2001 was not a very good vintage in Champagne. Not many vintage wines from that year - it was rainy, especially in the weeks leading up to harvest, there was a lot of rot, and it was a challenge for the grapes to ripen. I know from reading ChampagneGuide.net that this is considered to be one of the most challenging vintages of the past 20 years. So it was fascinating to have the opportunity to try a vintage wine from 2001, Jean Vesselle's Brut Prestige. This wine is all Bouzy, a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, but it reminded me of a wine I tasted a few years ago by Moutard that is made with the obscure grapes of Champagne, things like Arbanne and Petit Meslier. The wine had overt notes of green herbs and leafy vegetables, and I think it would have benefited from a few grams more of dosage (it was dosed at 3 grams, I believe). But really, it was good wine, well balanced and particularly lovely on the nose. I cannot say that it is what I dream of when I want Champagne, but it was a very good wine, and a reminder that it is possible to enjoy well-made wine from bad vintages.
I had dinner with a few friends and we each brought wine to the restaurant. These were good wines, on paper anyway. We arrived at 7:00, opened everything, and it was clear that nothing was showing very well. After a little while, I don't know how long exactly, but probably an hour or so, all of the sudden everything was fantastic.
I'm talking about a bottle of 2000 Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos that was butterscotch pudding for a while, and then turned into this detailed and focused thing of beauty. Some caramel notes, but also a bunch of freshly picked white honeysuckle. Pungent, long, and intense with a saline edge to the finish, this was a beautiful wine, a very special treat.
And the 1990 Robert Ampeau Volnay Santenots, a wine that began better than the others, but still was a tangled mess. And an hour later it was gorgeous - a complex and beguiling nose that had that vibrant mature-wine-pungency thing. Flowers, musky and gamy, but in the end, very much about stone. And it is the texture that gets you - the wine couldn't be more silky, and this silk surrounds what essentially is a wine about rock. Textbook Volnay, and a truly compelling and lovely wine.
And the 2002 Paul Bara Bouzy Rouge Coteaux Champenois, a wine that was probably the messiest of all when we first opened it, all bramble and pitch black fruit and very disjointed. But later on, I swear this wine was the freshest and most detailed wet stone basket of ripe strawberries, so pure and elegant, light as a feather. And the 1999 Eric Texier Côte-Rôtie, a wine that fooled all of us. It was a red fruit mash at first - I would have guessed a Grenache heavy wine from further south had I tasted it blind. This one took the longest to come around, but when it did it was a classic old school bloody, meaty, black olivey, and very mineral northern Rhône Syrah.
Can I tell you that the next day I learned that our dinner occurred on a flower day...but only after 8:00 PM. Why do these annoying coincidences keep happening with the confounded biodynamic calendar and the way wines taste?
At a restaurant in Boston I drank a bottle of 2007 Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly. The wine was beautiful, a perfect mingling of freshness, tension, elegance, and quiet intensity. It was not in any way showy, and was amazing in its perfect harmony, not for any one particular characteristic of aroma or flavor. Wow, I wish I had more experience with Dagueneau's wines. They are awfully expensive now.
I recently drank an Emidio Pepe wine for the first time, the 2001 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It had been open for hours before we drank it with dinner. I loved it, really loved it. Such interesting and delicious wine. Jet black fruit, very brawny, but detailed and fresh, with cooling herbal aromas, and a streak of something like tar and leather. It was lovely with the aforementioned Slope Farms pork roast, and I must find a way to drink this iconic (and expensive, and apparently very variable) wine again.
Lastly, look at this nice list of white wines by the glass. This is at the restaurant Herbsainte in New Orleans. I was down there recently for work, and stopped in to have a cocktail before retiring to my hotel room. But before I could order, I overheard the bartender telling another man that there was a buttermilk fried Louisiana frog legs special that evening. Hmmm.
Forget the cocktail - I ordered a glass of El Maetsro Sierra Fino (!) and the frog legs. Well that whole situation was so delicious, that I decided to keep going, and drank a glass of the 2010 Domaine du Closel Savennières La Jalousie with a little plate of Gulf shrimp and grits with okra. Even more delicious! You know, I used to love Closel but I kind of gave up on the wines after not liking anything after 2002 (and after the last of my 2002's showed oxidized). I told friends that I was done with the wines. Well, I have no idea what's really going on with Closel, but honestly, this 2010 was just excellent - fresh, pure, balanced, showing typical wooly and waxy notes and lots of minerality. A reminder to me not to make pronouncements about wine. I just don't have the years of drinking experience to make pronouncements.
Much has been written and many debates take place about how to rate wine. It seems now that the 100 point scale is seen as "old guard," that it has not been effective at communicating a wine's quality. There are of course other rating systems, and their effectiveness is also debatable. I don't want to spend time here summarizing the various arguments, and I don't have a definitive opinion on the best rating system for wine. But I do have some thoughts that I want to share.
I think that some wines are better than others. That might sound silly to say, but there are folks who think that endeavors in the world of art and craft cannot and should not be measured in an absolute sense. They point out that one person's Mozart is another's Black Sabbath, and that both are equally excellent to the individual beholder. And it is true that we each have our own preferences regarding things like paintings, film, music, wine, roast chicken, and so on. It's romantic to say that "the perfect wine is the one you drink with your lover at sunset in a cafe overlooking the ocean." But there is a difference between personal preference and objective quality, and this is the whole point of professional criticism. The critic is supposed to be able to put their personal preferences and experiences aside and evaluate based on a set of established criteria, and then tell the rest of us something definitive about objective quality. What I'm saying here is that DRC is better than Yellowtail. It is higher quality wine. There may be people who prefer the smell and taste of Yellowtail, or who cannot distinguish between then two, and those people are welcome to their preferences and should go forth in peace and be happy. But one is a better wine than the other, regardless of personal opinion or the cafe at sunset context.
If you agree that there is objective quality to wine, then you probably agree that there must be some way for a critic to measure a wine's quality and communicate this to the rest of us. This is the hard part.
Some things are easy to rate - things that can be expressed finitely in purely mathematical terms. If I wanted to know which brand is the best AA battery available on the market, I could find out the average number of minutes each one lasts, determine the average price of each brand, and create a statistic that tells me how many minutes-per-dollar-spent I can expect from each battery.
Rarely is it this simple, however, even when things can be expressed purely in mathematical terms. Think about rating cars or schools or baseball hitters. How do we know which hitter is the best? Batting average is a start - some are higher than others, and there is a highest each year. But is the person with the highest batting average the best hitter? Is someone who hits 10 singles in 20 trips to the plate a better hitter than someone who hits 8 doubles in 20 trips to the plate? What about someone who hit only 5 singles in 20 trips to the plate, but those singles came at crucial points in the game and scored runs for the team. It is possible to determine which hitter has the highest batting average or hit for the most total bases in a season, but determining which is the best hitter requires more than statistics.
Painting, film, cooking, making music, wine...those things don't easily lend themselves to measurement in mathematical terms. But we have inherited a system of wine criticism that attempts to impose a mathematical framework on wine evaluation. The 100 point scale requires us to accept the idea that it is possible to measure something about wine, to assign a numeric value to one or more of its traits and arrive at a finite conclusion. That there is an objective qualitative difference between a 93 and a 92 point wine. Perhaps there is, but I'd like to see the rubric used to arrive at such a conclusion - how are those points generated?
To me, it makes sense not to try to impose finite mathematical rating systems when the subject matter does not itself generate outputs that can be measured using numbers. Why not relieve ourselves of the burden of ordering wines in such tiny groups (87 points, 88 points, 89 points, etc.) and instead work within larger groups, accepting that there are no exact measurements for wine quality. I would prefer a system in which the professional wine critic tells me which wines are of the highest quality, which are of high quality, which are above average, and so on, without attempting to distinguish between wines within each group.
Which are the highest quality wines of Meursault? For me, it would be enough to read a critic who tells me (and I'm making this up) that Coche-Dury, Comte Lafon, Pierre Morey, and Roulot make the highest quality wines of Meursault; François Jobard, Pierre Matrot, Pierre Yves Colin-Morey make high quality wines, and so on. I also would like to read about which wines by Comte Lafon, for example, are the best. And I'm frustrated with the fact that Perrières gets 94 points, Charmes and Genevrières get 91-93 points, Gouttes d'Or gets 90-92 points, and Clos de la Barre gets 89-91 points. From that I understand that the critic rates the wines generally in that order (and every year, they all do), but I still don't understand the value of one point. Perrières is 94 points and Charmes is 93 points, so Perrières is one point better. But what generated that extra point? I accept the idea that Perrières might objectively be a better wine, but not the idea that the critic who awards the additional point experienced something in drinking the wine that can be measured and expressed by a 94 as opposed to a 93.
My guess is that Perrières, Charmes, and Genevrières are all highest quality wines. Perhaps we don't need to take it any further than that - they are all highest quality. There may in fact be some objective truth - one of them might be better than the others in a certain vintage, but it seems to me that the sensations the drinker experiences in coming to this conclusion are not quantifiable.
How, then, should the professional critic explain the criteria for "highest quality," "high quality," and so forth? Sorry, but I'm asking questions and don't have answers. Here, though, is one that makes a lot of sense to me (from Peter Liem's ChampagneGuide.net):
* One star denotes a wine of particular quality and distinctiveness of character, one that stands out among its peers in some significant way.
** Two stars means that this wine is outstanding in its class, showing a marked quality, expression and refinement of character.
*** Three stars indicates a champagne of the highest class, demonstrating a completeness and expression of character that places it among the very finest wines within its context. Needless to say, these wines are uncommon.
This sort of system puts wines in large groups and requires me to do some thinking on my own, and I like that. Really he's just telling me the groups of wines that he thinks are best - which are very good, which are good, and which are not as good - the rest is up to me. There are over 1,000 wines reviewed on Peter's site, and 61 of them are awarded three stars. I'm sure Peter could tell me his favorites among those 61, but would laugh at the idea that there is one "best" wine within this three star group, that it is possible to construct a strict ordering of those 61 wines. That said, he could explain what it is about each of those 61 wines that merits it being in the three star group, and why each of the 251 two star wines is not in the three star group.
On new year's eve a good friend took pity on me, alone in the house with my very young and very wonderful daughters, and he decided to come over to hang out and have dinner. We of course opened some special wines on that night, one of which was a bottle I brought back from Jerez in October, Emilio Hidalgo Especial Amontillado Viejo El Tresillo 1874. I was very excited to drink and share this wine. The solera began in 1874 when the Hidalgo family purchased the bodega and the wines in the bottle are an average of about 50 years old. This is special wine - very little is bottled every year and it is not imported to the US. When I visited the bodega in October they were generous enough to open a bottle for us to try, and the wine was amazing. I bought one to carry home in my suitcase.
So, on new year's eve at some point, I went to the back room where my wine fridge sits and retrieved this bottle and proudly strutted into the kitchen where my friend stood and showed it to him. "We're going to drink this now," I said. And I told him about the wine and how good it would be and he was impressed, or at least acted like he was impressed.
Seven friends and I pool our money every year to buy about 8 bottles of Burgundy wine, wine that we wouldn't buy individually because of the high cost and the risk of bad bottles. Every year at around this time we get together over dinner and share the wines. This year the theme of our dinner was the great vineyards and producers of Pommard.
Pommard is not the most glorious of Burgundy appellations, not by a long shot. In my somewhat limited experience, the wines can be rustic and are not as pretty as the wines from neighboring Volnay, for example, or even compared with wines from "lesser" appellations such as Savigny-Lès Beaune. To continue with Pommard generalizations, the wines do not offer much value or particularly high quality at the villages level, unless the wine comes from a specific vineyard. For example, although I would not buy a straight villages Pommard, I might buy a bottle of Pommard La Chanière by Maréchale or Pommard Chanlins by Lafouge (although I don't buy those wine anymore either, but that's more about my own buying strategy than about the quality of those wines).
People sometimes compare Pommard with Volnay, its neighbor to the south, and they say things like "Pommard is muscular and brawny, and Volnay is elegant and pretty." This is probably true as a generalization, although there are of course exceptions. People also say, when they talk about 1er Cru vineyards in Burgundy that should be elevated to Grand Cru status, that both Clos des Epenots and Rugiens in Pommard are deserving. For me, this is part of the point of selecting Pommard as the theme for our dinner. I wanted to drink wines that are considered to be among the very finest of the appellation, to experience Pommard at its best, to build the foundation of my own understanding of the character and potential of Pommard.
Any list of the finest wines of Pommard would include Comte Armand's Clos des Epeneaux. Epeneaux is a monopole of the Domaine, a walled vineyard of over 5 hectares within the larger 1er Cru vineyard called Epenots. There are two climats that make up Epenots - Grands Epenots and Petits Epenots, and Clos des Epeneaux is almost all within Les Grands Epenots. It's interesting to think about the fact that the previous owner of Clos des Epeneaux, the Marey-Monge family, actually owned all 30 plus hectares of Epenots in the early 1700's, and sold all of it off except for the Clos des Epeneaux, around which they built an 8 foot high wall and kept. Obviously they must have thought that it gave the best wines within the larger vineyard. Clos des Epeneaux wines comes mostly from old vines and, according to what I've read, need more time than most 1er Crus to arrive at maturity. We were all excited to have three examples of this wine to drink at our dinner, wines that could not be considered old, but would hopefully be mature.
I also wanted to drink wines from the Rugiens vineyard at this dinner, and there are several producers who make good examples - Domaine de Courcel, Domaine de Montille, Aleth Girardin, Joseph Voillot, François Gaunoux, and Michel Gaunoux all come to mind. I chose two bottles from the late 1990's by de Montille. I've read that Rugiens is the richest, the most muscular of the Pommard wines, and that Clos des Epeneaux would be more mineral driven and elegant (although one experienced drinker at our dinner raised an eyebrow suspiciously when I mentioned this, saying that he would hardly call Clos des Epeneaux a wine of elegance, that is is still brawny Pommard).
We rounded out our lineup by including bottles by two other producers whose wines I wanted to drink, as I read that they are made in a style that I would appreciate - Clos des Epenots by Domaine de Courcel and 1er Cru Pezerolles by Domaine Billard-Gonnet.
First, the good news: we had a great night and I love Burgundy Wine Club. Such a great group of people, a pleasure to be with them and to look forward to this experience each year. We had a wonderful long dinner at the very lovely Rosewater in Brooklyn, where owner John Tucker serves thoughtfully sourced and prepared food, and has a very well selected wine list.
Now, the bad news: the theme of this dinner was Pommard, and everyone agreed that the wine of the night was the 1989 François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru Charmes. The reds were absolutely underwhelming as a group - I was very much uninspired. That said, the one that perhaps on paper should have been the best, was corked. Another that should have been great was probably flawed. Still, this dinner was not a great advertisement for Pommard. Some notes and thoughts (I'll share the prices I paid when I bought the wines last year - none were purchased upon release):
1989 François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru Charmes, $100. We drank this with a salad of grilled calamari with frisée, clementine, and bacon. The wine of the night without any question whatsoever. A fabulous showing for a wine that is drinking perfectly right now. Pungent and fresh at the peak of maturity. The nose at first has a roasted sense to the pear fruit, but the roastiness vanishes after a half hour and the wine becomes linear and focused with a perfect melange of fruit and mineral. Elegant, plush while remaining entirely in control, and great acidity - just a mouthwatering wine that reminded everyone at the table to drink more old white Burgundy.
With sautéed wild mushrooms and a fried quail egg on toast we drank 1996 Domaine de Courcel Pommard Grand Clos des Epenots, $54 and 1999 Domaine Billard-Gonnet Pommard 1er Cru Les Pezerolles, $48. The Courcel was very tight still, constricted, the acidity almost too much, but still pretty, with dark fruit and floral aromas. In the mouth the stony mineral streak prominent. The wine is very good, but probably needs another five years or so to unwind. The Billard-Gonnet wine was just not good. Rich and ripe to the point of being syrupy, maple on the nose. The acidity is raspy, the wine is rustic and just doesn't seem very well made. Not harmonious, not complex, straight forward fruit that is borders on syrup. Not a good advertizement for this producer...
With grilled pork belly, apple, and pickled cabbage we drank a magnum of 1993 Comte Armand Pommard Clos des Epeneaux, $325. Oh, how I wanted this wine to be great. I knew that it would probably need a couple hours to open up, and we opened it at least 90 minutes before we began to drink it. It was dense and impenetrable for most of four hours, and never really opened up. There are hints of something lovely, but the wine is simply not ready, in the magnum format anyway. Some perfume emerges after while, but the wine is tight, inward. Time brings some animale undertones, but this bottle was in a disjointed state, with acid and alcohol not well integrated. There were questions from some drinkers about whether or not the wine was too cloudy. Some one poured a glass through a filter and the wine brightened some, but to me the smell and taste was unchanged. If I had another magnum I would leave it alone, honestly for another 10 years.
With smoked quail, grilled radicchio, pinenuts, and currants we drank 1989 and 1991 Comte Armand Clos des Epeneaux, $200 and $168 respectively. The 1989 was corked, and this was crushing - on paper this wine should have been great. The 1991 could also have been flawed. There were clear signs of rot or mildew on the nose, which was musty and inexpressive. The wine was better with food, but the finish was cropped, stifled. Unsatisfying, not delicious, a big disappointment.
With braised shortribs, parsnips, shitakes, and mustard greens we drank 1998 and 1999 de Montille Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens, $133 and $185 respectively. The 1999 was delicious, but a bit too simple to be intriguing. It showed the ripe character of the vintage (one that I am learning to be skeptical of) with plush sweet fruit, not entirely enough structure, and very little complexity. Not compelling, I'm sorry to say, and a very poor value at that price. The 1998, however, was a very lovely wine. There were complex aromas of dark fruit, brown sugar, musk, and flowers. Lovely on the palate with pretty fruit and complex secondary flavors, and a long finish that pauses and then sneaks back up. In this wine I could feel the muscularity that people speak of regarding Pommard. To me, this wine was exactly what it should be - complex, muscular, mineral driven, and it was delicious.
Okay, not every bottle and not every wine dinner will live up to expectations. Still, it was a great night with friends. And there's always next year. I have some ideas for an interesting lineup of wines...
Here is an article about Pommard from Burgundy Report.
And here is the report from last year's BWC dinner, if you're interested.
I was given an amazing birthday gift in November, an old bottle of wine by Produttori del Barbaresco, the 1959 Riserva. This is very exciting - how often does one get to drink a bottle that old? In my case, not very often. I've had a few old wines, but with the exception of a few cases, I haven't opened them myself. A more experienced friend or a sommelier typically has handled that part.
How do you open an old bottle of wine?
I knew that I wanted to drink the '59 Barbaresco over the holidays with friends. I asked Jamie Wolff, partner at Chambers Street Wines, what to do with the bottle (which was purchased at his shoppe). He told me to stand it up a week in advance, not to move it at all during that time if I could help it, as it would probably have a lot of sediment.
"But my wine fridge won't accommodate a standing bottle," I said. "How do I keep it at the proper temperature?" Jamie suggested finding the coolest spot in the house and standing it there. "And when you serve it," he said, "open it up four or five hours in advance and decant it carefully off the sediment."
As the Barbaresco evening approached, I began to wonder if an old wine like this would die with four or five hours in the decanter, so I asked another friend about how to deal with it, and his answer was entirely different.
That's when I realized that there are a lot of way to do this: to handle, open, and drink an old bottle of wine. And I don't know what I'm doing in this area at all. So I thought I would ask a few friends who are wine professionals what they do with old bottles. I wanted opinions from a variety of viewpoints, so I asked a great sommelier, a great wine buyer, and a great wine thinker and writer with a load of personal experience opening old wine. I'm talking about Levi Dalton the great sommelier, Joe Salamone the great wine buyer at Crush, and Peter Liem of broad and varied greatness. I wrote to them with the following questions:
1. How do you prepare an old bottle for drinking?
2. How far in advance of serving do you open the bottle?
3. Do you decant or not, and why?
4. How do you open an old bottle when the cork might be likely to crumble or break?
5. What should we look for when the bottle is first open - how can we tell if the wine is good or not?
6. Any general thoughts on evaluating an old wine - for those of us who don't often drink old wine, it can be confusing.
7. Do your ideas about pairing wine with food change if the wine is old?
8. Any other advice most appreciated.
And now, patient reader, I will share their thoughts with you (and I hope you're sitting comfortably, because this is a long post):
1. How do you prepare an old bottle for drinking?
Levi - Bottles should be left alone for as long as possible before opening. If you know in advance that you will be opening a bottle of wine a few days from now, I suggest standing it up vertically in the cellar to let the sediment fall to the bottom of the bottle. If you are storing the wine horizontally, I recommend not moving the bottle much while it is in storage. This usually becomes more of a problem with double deep bottle racking, where you have to move one bottle to get to another. Bottles can get moved a lot. I recommend putting the older wines in the back, so that they bottles that are getting jostled in the front are the younger wines.
If you are removing a bottle from horizontal racking, I recommend either using a bottle cradle or I recommend holding the bottle near horizontal, keeping the bottle in the same way as it was in the rack. In other words, don't spin the bottle around as you move it. The aim is to keep the sediment in the same place without moving it around into the liquid. I also recommend taking an elevator, if available, rather then walking with a bottle up stairs.
Joe - Stand it up in the morning if you’re drinking it at night. Let the sediment sink to the bottom.
Peter - It depends on what it is. If it's an old red wine with sediment, you ideally want to stand it up for several days, sometimes even a week, before opening it, to allow the sediment to settle. It's not just an aesthetic issue—the sediment can be bitter, and its presence definitely changes the flavors of the wine. You can decant a wine that's stored on its side if you need to (in a restaurant setting, for example), but you have to be careful. (I'll always remember drinking a 1964 Bartolo Mascarello at Valentino in Santa Monica that was virtually opaque with sediment due to utterly incompetent wine service.) If it's an old white wine or champagne, you need to chill it, of course. I have no scientific basis for it, but for whatever reason, I don't like shocking an old wine in an ice bath or the freezer or whatnot. I prefer to bring it down to temperature slowly in the fridge, which takes time. Maybe it's just a question of respect.
2. How far in advance of serving do you open the bottle?
Levi - Some cowboys, especially in the Nebbiolo set, open bottles way far ahead. I generally don't. I like to see how the wine changes in the glass.
Joe - It really depends on the bottle. A few years ago I had a 71 DRC Grands Echezeaux with questionable storage. It was popped and poured and it was glorious for fifteen minutes. After that, it faded hard. Someone at the table was smart enough to say that we should pop and pour. Otherwise, we would have missed out on it totally.
Peter - This is a tricky question, and one with no right answers. I've seen old wines continue to develop for three days, and others that have crashed within 15 minutes. It's true that old wines need time to emerge (you'd be out of sorts too if you'd been trapped in a bottle for 50 years), but personally, I tend to err on the side of caution, not because I'm afraid that the wine will die, but because I like to experience the evolution of the wine from start to finish. For a grand old bottle, I prefer to open it, take a small glass, and decide from there what to do with it. Having said that, I tend to do this in the afternoon, if I'm serving old red wines at dinner. But then afterwards, I'm always the guy who has like 12 glasses in front of him at the end of a dinner party, because I've been saving all these wines to watch how they grow over the course of several hours.
3. Do you decant or not, and why?
Levi - Old wines are candidates for decanting when they have thrown a good deal of sediment. But if you are dealing with a low tannin grape, I usually don't decant, even if they are throwing sediment. That is to say, I generally don't decant old Red Burgundy, I pour carefully from the bottle instead. Pouring into a decanter should be low, slow, and steady. This is not the "splash decant" that you might use for a younger wine. Do the decanting all in one go, with no fits, starts, or interruptions. Hopefully you won't sneeze during the operation. If you do stop and start the liquid will become muddy with sediment before it leaves the bottle. That being said, it is a great idea to "season" the decanter you intend to use with some of the wine in advance of pouring the rest in. Do this by pouring in a bit of the wine, swirling it around in the decanter, and then discarding. You can taste the discarded wine and test for TCA before pouring out the bottle as well. When you do decant the bottle, keep your light source behind the bottle neck, not behind the decanter lip. You want to stop pouring before the sediment leaves the bottle. Keep in mind that with sediment, there are many variations of the beast. Some are sludge like, some are flaky, some are like fine pebbles at the seashore. Each will move differently as you pour the bottle out.
In practice, I usually do not double decant old bottles of wine. Some people do this however, especially if they are attending a BYOB dinner. They double decant the bottle in their home beforehand and then bring the decanted wine in the original bottle to the dinner. If you do want to double decant a bottle, I recommend using hot water to clean out the sediment in the bottle. This is because hot water, unlike cold water, evaporates. Thus you will have less water to drain out of the bottle later, before you add the original wine back into the bottle. It is worth keeping in mind that hot water will make the bottle's glass warm, and that you should wait until it cools down before adding the wine back in. Also, very old bottles of wine may have thinner glass than is common today. In which case you might be careful about extremely hot water and the possibility of cracking glass as well as fragile bottle lips.
Say you don't decant the bottle of wine, but it has sediment on the bottle, what then? Well I recommend either pouring from a cradle, or holding the bottle by the bottom, with your fingers underneath. When you go around to the different glasses to pour, don't move the bottle up and down a lot. Try to keep the bottle neck at the same level. This is counter to what usually happens when pouring at a table, where the bottle gets raised back vertically a lot, and generally requires going slow and being careful. Sometimes it is easiest to pour all of the glasses away from the seated table, and then to hand the glasses out once poured. This eliminates moving the bottle between people at the table. If you are pouring from a cradle, which can be helpful, just remember that it is easy to bump someone with the cradle when you are pouring. Which defeats the purpose, really. Keep in mind that "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" was a scary movie.
Joe - There are no hard and fast rules, but typically I would only decant to avoid sentiment. Otherwise, I have a sense that decanting is too aggressive for many old wines and would prefer to just pull the cork and let them aerate slowly. If I tasted an old wine that felt particularly tight, I would decant.
Peter - I decant less and less now. I almost think I decant more young wine than old wine nowadays, which is sort of ironic. But it depends. You decant for two reasons, right? It's to give the wine air and to take it off of its sediment. In the first case, as I said before, I prefer to watch the wine evolve slowly, so I don't really care. I'm patient. With regards to the second, it depends on the situation. If we're serving an old bottle in a restaurant to eight people, then yeah, it needs to be decanted. If it's just two of us drinking it at home, maybe, or maybe not. A friend and I have been thinking over the last few years that we like opening old bottles, say a 50-year-old Barolo, hours ahead of time but not decanting, just pouring a small glass at first to taste it, then letting it hang out all day until it's time to drink it. I feel that it preserves a silkier texture and better clarity of flavor than if you subject it to the oxidative shock of decanting. But that could just be my imagination.
Summer is officially over, and although I love autumn, I do feel gloomy about it. I love summer, just love it. I love how long the days are, all of the great things to eat at the market, the feeling of sitting on the deck at 9pm bathed in 72 degree warmth.
The thing is, summer is actually about to begin again. Think of it this way - it's almost Halloween and then before you know it, it's Thanksgiving. And then it's the end of the year holidays. Okay, there's tough stretch in January-March but then it's spring, and we all know how quickly spring flies by. Then it's summer again. So actually, it's almost next fall.
In this time of year, I like to make use of things that we won't be eating for a while. On Saturday I got what might be our last corn of the season, and made a simple corn pudding:
Beat 2 eggs, and whisk them with 2 cups of some combination of milk and or cream. I used a cup of each, and it was almost too rich. Whisk in some salt, a bit of sugar (which you can omit), 3/4 cup of flour, and corn. I used the scraped kernels from 5 cobs. You can use less or more depending on how corny you want your pudding to be. I like a lot of corn in there. Here you can add chopped basil, grated cheddar, whatever else you like. I kept it plain with the little daughters in mind, and added only a half stick of melted butter, spread the mixture in a pan and bake at 350 for an hour and a half or until the top is golden brown.
That's it, that's the dish. There are many things that would be great to drink with this. Please, you be the sommelier. What would you open with this corn pudding?