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It's hard to write a valuable tasting note. By valuable I mean a note that might help a reader actually understand something about the wine. I certainly haven't figured out how to do it. I used to try to include descriptors, and sometimes they still make it into my notes. But now instead I try to describe the style of the wine and offer something of an evaluation of its parts: is it light, medium, or full bodied? Is it balanced or not? Is there depth on the midpalate? But I read back over my notes sometimes and I feel embarrassed. "This isn't going to help anyone," I'll think to myself, "and I sound like an idiot."
So the other day I looked around the interweb to see what other folks are doing with their tasting notes. You know what - everyone has some doozies. Sure, some writers create notes that speak to me more often than others, but everyone has some that make me raise an eyebrow. I don't mean that as a criticism, but as a recognition of how hard it is to write a valuable tasting note.
Here are some tasting notes from my recent browsing. But in what I hope will be a fun twist, I am going to reproduce the note, and you can try to guess the wine and the writer of the note. I included notes written only by writers who have a visible presence on the internet (so none of these are written by my cousin Biff, they are all written by professional writers or mopes like me who crowd the web with our drivel for reasons that have nothing to do with earning money).
So, without further ado...
1) Light medium golden yellow color with 1 millimeter clear meniscus;
intense, citronella, almond, safflower honey, lavender honey, white
truffle nose; tasty, rich, lemon oil, white truffle oil, safflower oil,
lemon oil palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points
2) Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, wet stones and
cold cream. In the mouth, flinty/stony flavors mix with what can only
be described as an electric-kool-aid-lemon explosion, as racy acidity
takes the wine on a jet boat ride through the mouth. Stony undercurrents
can't stop the neon quality of the acidity and the lemon flavor that
lingers for minutes in the mouth. Average vine age is about 60 years.
3) The wine is a strikingly deep amber color. The nose is expressive and
intense, full of ginger and exotic fruit. Broad and rich but finely
focused, and with incredible detail on the palate, this is a complete
wine. And after about 90 minutes it was truly amazing - the things that
stuck out previously, the intensity, the ginger, the richness - those
things had blended so seamlessly with each other by this time that none
of them on its own was evident. The wine had become a real thing of
beauty, the kind of wine that can ruin you. Evocative of old libraries
filled with leather-bound books and half-drunk glasses of sherry, and of
attractive young couples riding motorcycles, rushing past you in a
fleeting glimpse of what you wish you could be.
4) The color ranges from mild cherry at the rim to a slightly darker ruby-cherry in the center; the bouquet is a subtle weaving of dried spice and flowers with red currants and black cherries and a touch of plum and, at the heart, an almost ethereal gamy, slightly earthy aspect. The texture feels like the most delicate and ineffable
of satin draperies, yet you sense, also, the structure of stones and
bones and the clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. There is
fruit, of course, red and black, a little spiced, macerated and stewed,
yet nothing forward or blatant. The wine is elegant and graceful but
very dry and draws out a line of spareness and austerity through the
finish. Now through 2018 to ’20.
5) Boasting an inky/blue/purple color as well as an extraordinary,
precise bouquet of minerals, flowers, blueberry liqueur, and black
currants, this wine possesses fabulous fruit and great intensity, but
what makes it so special is its precision, focus, and almost ethereal
lightness despite substantial flavor intensity and depth. It is a
ballerina with density and power. The abundant noticeable tannin is
sweet and, not surprisingly, very finely grained. It should be cellared
for a decade, and consumed over the following half century. 98 Points.
Okay, see what you think of those, and please feel free to leave any guesses in the comment section. I'll write back soon with the wines and authors.
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A few years ago on my buddy Peter's recommendation I bought one of Bernhard Ott's wines, a Grüner Veltliner called Am Berg. I thought the wine was great, and at under $15, a great value too. But when I went to buy more it was gone. Years went by and I continued not to see this wine in stores until a few months ago when all of the sudden some of the 2010's started showing up on the shelves. Finally - the wines are excellent and well priced. Why are they showing up now? There has been a change of importers - Winebow used to handle Ott's wine, but now it will be Terry Theise/Michael Skurnik. Word is the wines will be easier to find going forward and we should be glad for this.
vineyards are almost all located in the towns of Feuersbrunn and
Engabrunn in the northwest corner of the Wagram, the region to the east
of the more renowned Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal regions. I think of the
Wagram as the Wachau's less talented sibling. There certainly are some
good wines, but the overall potential is less than that of the Wachau
and the Kamptal That said, Bernhard took over farming and wine making
duties in 1995 and now is to be considered one of the finest, if not the
finest producer in the Wagram.
Bernhard Ott changed the methods of farming at the estate, encouraging cover crops, avoiding pesticides, and now is almost fully certified by Respekt
, a new alternative to Demeter in biodynamic certification. He also changed some aspects of wine making, fully embracing the very reductive style that is more and more common among Austria's great dry wines. All closures are Stelvin, the wines are all raised in stainless steel tanks (except for a new amphora wine that I've never tasted), and there is little or no stirring of the lees.
So what do these wines taste like - why do I like them so much? Grüner Veltliner from these vineyards and in Ott's hands tastes fresh and pure, with focused and detailed articulation of aroma and flavor, and with great resonance on the finish. They are balanced and elegant, and yet offer a lot of potency and depth. They are delicious wines and they are flexible with food, and here I'm talking about wines that all cost less than $25 - I had never tasted the top wines when forming this opinion.
As with all Austrian white wines that I can think of, Ott's wines benefit from decanting because they are quite reductive. I decanted the Grüners at 4:30 and we began drinking them at 8:00, and decanted the Rieslings about an hour before drinking them. I made a five-course dinner to pair with the wines, which was a lot of fun in itself. Here is what we ate and drank:
Savory ginger custard with:
Grüner Veltliner Am Berg 2010 and 2011
Yellow squash, cucumber, and mint salad with:
Grüner Veltliner Fass 4 2010 and 2011
Raw Fluke with sour cream, white pepper, and dill oil with:
Grüner Veltliner Stein 2011 and Grüner Veltliner Spiegel 2011
Poached squid, fava beans, garlic, and red chili flake with:
Riesling von Rotem Schotter 2010 and 2011
Vietnamese-style summer rolls with shrimp, pork, and herbs with:
Rhein Riesling 2011
Three of Bernhard Ott's wines were not represented in this dinner. Der Ott is a blend of grapes from young vines in Ott's parcels of Rosenberg, Stein, and Spiegel. And the Grüner Veltliner Rosenberg, probably Ott's flagship wine, was not available, neither was the amphora wine.
The results were quite interesting. The 2010 wines showed beautifully, particularly Am Berg and the Riesling von Rotem Schotter. There was disagreement, however, about the 2011's. No one thought they were as good at this point as the 2010's. Some tasters, myself included, found things to like about the 2011's, while others felt that the qualities of the 2011 vintage were not flattering for this highly reductive style of wine.
I thought Bernhard Ott's wines were delicious and intriguing before this dinner, and I am unchanged in that opinion. I think that Am Berg is among the better white wines at its price point and if you've not had an Ott wine but are curious to try, Am Berg is an excellent wine to begin with. As to Ott's 2011's in general, I withhold judgment. They did not show terribly well on this night, but as one very experienced taster said during the dinner, "Who knows where these will be in a year. Had we been drinking the 2010' a year ago, would we be having the same experience? If Am Berg 2011 is tasting good now, wouldn't you believe that the other 2011's will show better in a year?"
Here are the wines and some notes:
2010 Grüner Veltliner Am Berg
, $16. At 11.5% alcohol this is perfectly balanced and expressive, with lovely herbal, citrus rind, and stone flavors. At times I get hints of something like sour cream in this wine. It is in a wonderful spot for drinking right now, harmonious and feathery in texture and just delicious. Friends, as a public service to you, I will tell you the few places where I know you can still buy this excellent wine, in NYC anyway: Sherry-Lehmann and Appellation Wine & Spirits in Manhattan, and Picada y Vino in Brooklyn. There may be others, who knows, but this wine is worth looking for.
2011 Grüner Veltliner Am Berg
, $18. A bigger riper wine than the 2010, but still balanced and expressive with lemongrass and citrus notes, and a mineral pungency to the finish. This wine is still coming together, and although I prefer the style of the 2010, I think this is an excellent Am Berg with lots of pleasure to offer.
2010 Grüner Veltliner Fass 4
, $22. Fass 4 grapes come from several parcels near the Rosenberg vineyard. It is a richer wine than Am Berg with a rounder feel to it. This one has floral notes to complement the fruit, and is balanced at 12.5% alcohol.
2011 Grüner Veltliner Fass 4
, $26 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines
). Also 12.5% alcohol, but this felt disjointed. One taster asked if the wine had been acidified. I doubt that Bernhard Ott acidifies his wines even in a very warm vintage like 2011, but I don't know.
2011 Grüner Veltliner Stein
, $55 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines
). This is an unusual wine within the Ott lineup. The Stein vineyard is in a part of Engebrunn that technically is in the Kamptal, and the soils are gneiss and chalk in addition to the more typical loess of the Wagram. Ott's vines in Stein are over 50 years old. Several tasters found the same disjointed problems here as they did with the other 2011's, but I really liked this wine and thought it was still improving as we finished it. At 13.5% it felt balanced to me. The nose was rather lean at this stage, but I liked the intensity of the flavors and the wine felt linear to me, not overripe. I would like to taste it again in 5 years to see if it can achieve a better sense of harmony with time.
2011 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel
, $55 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines
). I really liked the pungency of the nose on this wine, with clear and classic flavors of lemongrass and white pepper. Coiled up and young, but seems to have a lot of potential. My sense was that the group preferred this to the Stein, but there were exceptions. And there were tasters who didn't like this wine as much as I did.
2010 Riesling von Rotten Schotter
, $22. Most at the table thought this was the wine of the night, and it was indeed a very lovely wine. Clear as a bell, focused, and also ample in fruit and body, very delicious. I enjoyed the variety of flavors - brown spices, flowers, rock, orchard fruit, and all very fresh. Made from red (slate?) and gravel soils at higher elevation than the Grüner vineyards. As a public service to you, my friends, I will tell you that you can still find this wine at Prospect Wines and Fermented Grapes in Brooklyn.
2011 Riesling von Rotten Schotter
, $29 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines
). Strange, because even though this wine comes from a higher elevation than the single vineyard Grüners and therefore might be less ripe, this one felt warmer and more disjointed initially. It improved with time in the decanter, but I don't feel like I understood the wine and I'm not ready to say anything yet.
2011 Rhein Riesling
, $59 (This wine was donated by Michael Skurnik Wines
). This is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the off-dry wines of Germany, where Bernhard Ott spent some time working at the Leitz estate and fell in love with the off-dry style of Riesling. I liked this wine very much and it was great with our summer rolls, with slightly earthy and airy aromas, and clean and bold flavors. I wanted to go back to this wine when we re-tasted everything, but it was gone, which I take as a good sign.
By the way, just to show that things are not always as they seem with vintage reports (and/or that I don't know what I'm talking about) 2010 was supposed to be a so-so year at best in Austria, while the reports on the 2011 vintage were quite good. Here are three reports on 2011:
From Julia Harding, via the Jancis Robinson website
From Wine Spectator
From James Wright via Wine Monger
, a commercial site.
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There are baby artichokes at the farmer's market right now (at Bill Maxwell's stand, anyway). There are never all that many so you have to get there pretty early if you want them. And you do, you want baby artichokes. They will be here for maybe another few weeks.
I love eating artichokes as much as the next guy but I've given up on cooking with the "adult" versions. Too much work for not enough gratification. I say this fully aware of the fact that I am not doing it right, but that's an issue for another day. The great thing about baby artichokes is that they require so much less prep work, and it feels like there is more to eat.
There is prep work, though. I trip the stems, but not all the way. I peel off the outer leaves that are pointy and tough and then I use kitchen shears to snip off the ends. Drop these in lemon water in order to prevent them from browning. Now there are choices to be made. You can slice them very thinly and eat them raw. You can slice them and cook them with any number of herbs or other vegetables. You can slice them coarsely and use them to top a pizza. For most preparations, I like to drop them in boiling water for a minute before cooking. This softens them a bit without robbing them of their fresh flavor (make sure to drop them in a cold water bath after the boiling water).
They look awfully cute at this point, don't they? You could slice them in half and fry them now, or put them in a jar with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. My favorite simple stand-by recipe involves slicing them somewhat thinly, cooking them with a bit of garlic, finishing with herbs like mint and rosemary, and then tossing this with spaghetti. Some grated Parmesan cheese for a bit of umami, and voila - delicious. And trust me on the rosemary here. It turns out that there is a wonderful synergy between rosemary and fresh artichokes.
What to drink with this dish? Some folks would have you believe that artichokes and good wine are mortal enemies, killing each other with reckless abandon. I've not had this problem, to be honest. Not that I'm opening my good Meursault here, but there are options. Acidic white wines work well. This time I went with rosé.
The 2011 Domaine les Fouques Côtes de Provence La Londe
is a truly excellent rosé, and it costs $18 at Chambers Street Wines
where it is imported directly by David Lillie. It's very tasty immediately, but it's sort of a shame to drink the whole bottle because the wine really comes to life on the second day with complex aromas, real depth of flavor, and a great texture that is both salty/grainy and silky at the same time. David Lillie, by the way, is a real wine pioneer, and he is interviewed by Levi Dalton on I'll Drink to That
. Worth a listen.
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Because much of what actually happens in the world is random and unpredictable, after years of drinking essentially no mature German Riesling, in the past few weeks I've had maybe 20 mature wines. This is due to the generosity of friends - dinners and things like that. What I'm about to tell you might be old news to you, but WHOA, these wines can be great.
1990 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese
When the wines are great, what really gets me is the seamless combination of impossibly wispy delicacy and focused pungency. How can a wine be so incredibly delicate and wispy, and yet so powerful? Well, some wines can do both. The power and lightness idea is not new to me, but it feels like it might reach its apex with some of these old wines. Here are a couple from the past few weeks that really blew me away:
. Hard to describe my experience with this wine without gushing over. The wine was shocking, stunning really. Lacy, airy, like gauze. Like the sheer cotton cloth that might have been draped over Ghandi's shoulder against the hot Delhi sun. Seriously though, this wine was ridiculous. Such a delicate touch on the palate, the texture is simply not one I have experienced before. And the aromas, although articulate and clear, were quite a contrast in their intensity and power. We drank this wine with salmon sashimi, among other things, and for me it was a real eye-opener. Before this bottle I had drunk exactly one bottle of Egon Müller's wine in my life. I had no context for this wine, and when I asked about Müller, the first thing my experienced and knowledgeable dining companions told me about Egon Müller is that the estate is the DRC of German Riesling.
The following week I was lucky enough to attend a dinner featuring a slew of 1997 German Rieslings and I was able to drink two more wines by Egon Müller. I thought they were both truly excellent, again showcasing that startling contrast between lightness and power. The 1997 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett was a wonderful wine, so graceful, such depth.
1997 Egon Müller/Le Gallais Wiltinger Braune Kupp Riesling Auslese Auction
. So I don't really know what's going on here, but I think Wiltinger Braune Kupp is a different site. And I cannot remember what "Auction" refers to, I'm sorry to say. Perhaps someone will explain in the comments. But whoa, this wine was great. I would love to drink the same mature wine at different pradikat levels one day to try to understand how they compare with one another. I'm sure there is a ton of residual sugar in this wine, but it was so perfectly balanced and focused that even in this ripe vintage, the impression of the wine is not one of sweetness.
Willi Schaefer has to be one of the finest producers whose wines I can actually afford. In the past month I experienced some mature examples of his wines and whoa, I am very impressed. Several wines form the 2001 vintage and two from the 1997 vintage. All were compellingly delicious.
1997 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett
. Seriously? The new vintage sells for under $25. This wine had to cost less than that. And now, 15 years later, it's really this good? Clearly on the same level of quality, in my rather thin and uninformed book, as the Egon Müller wines. I loved the grace and delicacy of this wine, and its tingly acidity and overall vividness.
And since I'm kvelling about German wines, I have to tell you about the most exciting red wine I've had in some time.
2009 Enderle & Moll Pinot Noir Muschelkalk
, $55, Imported by Mosel Wine Merchant. Dan Melia gave this to me as a present before he left town. I assumed it was the entry level Pinot. I was wrong - it is made from a .6 hectare plot of 60+ year old vines and it is a rare and special thing. If you can read German, the Enderle & Moll website
might be helpful. I drank the wine over three days and it was delicious immediately, showing vivid wild cherry flavors and excellent balance. But it was days two and three when the wine showed all of itself. The fruit is still vivid but more complex now, and the mineral expression on the finish became an integral aspect of the wine, with iron and dark smokey earthy notes. The wine really is wonderfully balanced and graceful, and it offers all of the pleasures of great Pinot Noir. In fact, in my humble opinion, this wine at $55 offers as much or more than almost anything I can think of at that price point in Burgundy red wine. This is one to buy, if you can find it.
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It's taken me a long time to write this post. On the occasions when I get to do something spectacular in the wine world, I usually write something rather quickly. Not this time, and it's because I don't have the typical unabashed praise for the wines and for the dinner. This was indeed a spectacular event, and still, I have some criticisms. It's been hard to figure out how to write about them without making blanket judgements that I do not actually have the depth of knowledge to support.
So I will say this: I want to tell you about the amazing Jacky Truchot dinner I attended recently - the good parts and the bad parts. And please remember while reading this that my criticisms (and my praises) are just my own opinions, nothing more.
made wine from plots in Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St.-Denis, and Chambolle-Musigny from the late '70s through the 2005 vintage. His wines have always had a very high reputation among Burgundy cognescenti, and you might think of them as "insider's" wines. He retired after the 2005 vintage and sold almost all of his vineyards. Since then Truchot's wines have skyrocketed in price. Good Burgundy is never cheap, but a 2002 Truchot villages wine that would have cost about $45 on release now fetches something like $150 at auction. The top wines...I saw $250 as the starting point in a recent auction.
Why so much money now? As with the wines of Noël Verset of Cornas, for example, every time a bottle is opened, there is one fewer left on the planet, and no more will ever be made. And perhaps Truchot isn't as much of an insider's wine anymore. It's hard to track exactly how word gets out in these cases, but all of the sudden collectors who hadn't been buying Truchot are buying it in force. And the prices have risen as a result.
When I asked friends who are far more knowledgeable about Truchot than I am, two main themes emerged. Purity - I heard that several times, from everyone I asked. The wines are supposed to be brilliantly pure in their expression of terroir. And traditional - farming and wine making are both done in the traditional style. In this case traditional means good farming, old vines, high yields, minimal intervention, no fining or filtering.Yup - high yields. No thin yield, super-powerful wines from Truchot. These are described as feminine wines of grace and finesse.
So I was thrilled and grateful to be part of this dinner, to have the opportunity to drink a selection of Truchot wines from several vintages. This is something that I am unlikely to experience ever again. The lineup was impressive:
2002 Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos Sorbes
2003 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers
2002 Clos de la Roche
2003 Clos de la Roche
2004 Clos de la Roche
Before I share thoughts on the wines, I want to share a few criticisms about the food - the pairings specifically. We ate at Union Square Cafe
, the classic NYC restaurant. The food was delicious and I enjoyed everything I ate. But with flight 1 we were served Vanilla Scented Poached Lobster with Sweet Pea Salad. An excellent dish, beautifully prepared and presented. But with those three wines? I was open-minded, honestly I was. It just didn't work, to my taste, and I wound up drinking Champagne with this dish.
The biggest food problem, however, was the final course served with Flight 4. Mature red Burgundy is a gentle thing and the complexity of its aromas can be overwhelmed by strong tastes or smells. With these grand old wines we were served a plate of delicious and well-selected cheeses. Including the wonderfully grassy, pungent, and stinky Hudson Red
, from upstate NY. I couldn't smell the wine, and I was not able to discern much detail of flavor either. Perhaps I am too sensitive and precious of a Brooklynguy, but all I could smell was cheese. And it hung like a cloud, it never left.
And I might as well complain about the wines a little, while I'm complaining. We drank wines mostly from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 vintages. One could argue that with 2005, these might be the very worst vintages for current drinking in that they are no longer young, but they are not mature either. They are likely to be shut down, or at least tight and constricted. This makes it hard to appreciate whatever glory is within, and when dealing with something as rare and pricey as Truchot, that seems like a shame. Whatever. I certainly didn't protest as I drank these wines. I'm just sayin', that's all.
The real issue I had, the disturbing realization for me, is that the wines are probably not worth the money they now cost or the iconic status they now have. It is possible to expect too much from wine, especially when retirement or some other finality makes the wines scarce. Truchot devotees are now readying themselves to type out indignant ripostes in the comments. Do as you must, devotees. All I mean to say is that the wines are very good, and made in a lovely style. But are they among the greatest red Burgundies? Is Truchot's top wine, Clos de la Roche, the finest example of wine from this vineyard? Is the Charmes-Chambertin the finest of its type? Many people would say no in both cases, and yet the wines are now being traded at prices to rival Bachelet's Charmes-Chambertin and not quite yet Dujac's Clos de la Roche, but getting closer. This probably says more about the way high end Burgundy is bought and sold than it does about the actual opinions of the most knowledgeable Burgundy lovers, but it is still a shame.
Okay, now about these wines. I was impressed with how clearly they reflected vintage character, and by the clarity with which they conveyed aroma and flavor. And yes - by their faithful expression of terroir. And by how good they smelled and tasted.
The 2004's seemed to transcend the problems of the vintage. They were more generous and ready-to-drink on this evening than the others, and I thought they all showed lovely floral perfume (not even a slight trace of 2004 "green-ness"). Not as substantial as the other vintages, but still quite lovely. The 2003's also were better than I expected, except for the Chambolle Sentiers - I found this bottle to be hollow and uninspiring. They were ripe, but not in any way ponderous or overdone. Some complained that they lacked mid-palate depth. Most folks agreed (and they are all more experienced than I) that the 2002's were the best wines and that they would be quite grand at maturity. I must say that I did not understand the 2002's, that I simply am not experienced enough to be able to interpret them in their current state of tightness. For example, I found the 2002 Clos Sorbes to show fruit aromas that were too heavy, verging on overripe.
The 1999 Morey-St-Denis was in a great place for drinking, with complex musky aromas that still echoed ripe red fruit. A great example of why it can be so rewarding to hold onto a simple villages wine for 12 years. After the first flight came a trio of wines from Clos de la Roche. This might seem obvious to you, but it was fascinating to experience this for myself: Clos de la Roche is one of the greatest terroirs of Burgundy. It simply outclassed the other wines, including the Charmes-Chambertins, with layers of complexity and an articulate depth that the other wines did not achieve. My first sip in flight 2 was 2004 Clos de la Roche and it was truly startling. The 2002 was very constricted, but others thought it was stunning. Even where I found the fruit to be a bit heavy, the minerality was immutable.
The fight of Charmes-Chambertin wines suffered a bit after the Clos de la Roche flight, I thought. The 4th flight promised to be exciting, but the 1990 was off, re-fermenting possibly, as the wine was effervescent and tingly on the tongue. And I have nothing detailed to say about the 1989 or the 1999 (the cheese problem), but they both seemed lovely and very well balanced.
It feels kind of funny to be criticizing aspects of an evening such as this one. I did enjoy people's company, I certainly learned a lot, and I do not take for granted the opportunity to drink these wines. I recognize also what goes into an evening like this. Someone had to know enough to buy these wines in the late '80s and in the '90s. They were patient with them and stored them properly. They worked to get a group of pleasant people together who can contribute bottles, and to arrange a fine dinner at a fine restaurant. This evening was successful in most of those things, and I was lucky to be along for the ride.
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Not long ago I was at one of those dinners with maybe 10 people at the table and everyone brings at least two very good bottles of wine, and when it was all said and done I felt like I didn't really get to spend enough time with any of the wines. One of the wines was a real surprise, the 1991 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Seven Springs Vineyard. It's not the quality of the wine that surprised me - I honestly cannot comment on the quality because I spent maybe 5 minutes with it while consuming a soup dumpling and chatting with my neighbor. And then I moved onto my two ounces of whatever the next amazing wine was. Not being critical - this is the way it goes sometimes. These dinners happen and it's great fun to be there. I'm just recognizing the fact that wines can get lost in these settings.
And I was surprised to see St. Innocent, that's all. It was like running into an old friend, some one who I hadn't seen in a long time and had no expectation of ever seeing again.
I used to drink a lot of Oregon Pinot Noir. Not anymore, there are just too many other wines that I prefer. Seeing this wine though, it got me thinking about how I've changed since my days of Oregon Pinot.
Five ways that I'm a different wine guy now
1) I drink way
more white wine than red. My Cellartracker
notes in 2011 show that 62% of the wines I drank from my cellar were white
wines. So far in 2012 it's 70% white wine. The thing is, I want white
wine with everything, even red meat (is brown Sherry really a white wine
though?). Red wine is almost never as light as I want it to be. When I drink red now, I want it to be mature and gentle.
I'm much pickier as a buyer. I have a better sense of what it is I want
to drink, and I drink mostly those things. I almost never spend money trying new Burgundy, or new Loire Chenin Blanc,
or new anything. Too expensive. I have opportunities here and there to
taste things that are new to me, and friends whose recommendations I
3) Restaurants...I'm much more skeptical about
ordering wine at restaurants. Even some great restaurants store their
wine in boxes in the basement. No temperature control. Bad glassware.
Servers who pour glasses almost to the top so they can sell me another
bottle quickly. Some restaurants have good wine programs and good wine
service, and I order wine in those cases. More often though, I drink
beer or cocktails at restaurants.
4) Natural, organic,
and biodynamic...these are not the things that drive my decisions about
what to drink. Not that they ever were, per say, but I used to be a lot
more concerned with those things. I still believe in eating and
drinking in a healthy way, and like to support producers who are respectful of the environment. But some of my favorite wines would not fit in those
categories. So be it.
5) No more industry tastings. They're not really about the wine
anyway - they are professional networking events, and they are probably
quite valuable in that way to wine professionals. I am not a wine
professional, and I can't deal with the atmosphere at those things. I
need a compelling reason at this point if I'm going to go.
At some point during the dinner a friend pulled out a wine that surely could be the focal point of any wine evening, the 1976 J.J. Prüm Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese
. A 35 year old wine from one of the great masters in Germany. It was by far the oldest bottle of Prüm that I've had, and it was in great condition. I really tried - I paid a lot of attention and focused as best I could, and I think I got a sense of the wine. But I'd love to be with it for a few hours. It got me thinking about how after almost 5 years of writing this blog, I'm still the same.
Five ways that I am still the same wine guy:
1) I still have never had many of the great wines of the world. And when I have, very few mature bottles. Great old wine is expensive, and I think that many of us who started getting serious after the '90s will need an awful lot of money if we are going to experience the great ones. I mean seriously, a bottle of Rousseau Chambertin from a decent vintage costs $1,000 now. Hard to imagine being able to afford that. I've never tasted Rousseau Chambertin. It is entirely likely that I never will.
2) But I still don't claim to have had those wines, and I still have no dogma whatsoever about what I like and don't like. I have my opinions, and now a little tiny bit more experience to back them up, that's it.
3) I'm still driven by curiosity and the desire to learn, I still ask a lot of questions, I still try to listen very carefully, and I still understand every day how much there is that I don't know. And I still rely heavily on a couple of world-class wine gurus, who continue to patiently and generously share their knowledge.
4) I still care more about who I am drinking with than I do about how rare or awesome the wine is. Even is a wine is great - if we aren't sharing the experience together in a meaningful way, it's like a tree falling in the woods with no one there to hear it.
5) I still want to be thrilled by wine, to find something that makes me want to delve deeply into the whole region from where it came, to understand all of its iterations and categories. And then sometimes write blog posts about what I learn, for no reason other than that it makes me happy.
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About 50 or 60 wine lovers came together to celebrate Austrian wine the other night at Seasonal Restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Stephen Bitterolf, the Wine Director at Crush, conceived of this event with an eye towards the famous La Paulée Burgundy dinners where everyone competes to bring the finest bottles and people walk from table to table tasting each others' wines. That's right - Austrian wine, La Paulée style.
It takes big bottles to put together the La Paulée of Austrian wine, and Stephen Bitterolf has them.
This was an incredible opportunity to drink so many of Austria's greatest wines. Okay, you don't spend an evening with a wine watching it unfold, and for me that's the road to understanding. But I've had barely more than a handful of mature bottles, and still haven't tasted some of the best sites and producers, and this was a great way to delve in a bit further.
Importer Carlo Huber and Seasonal Executive Chef Wolfgang Ban.
I could be wrong in saying this, but I think that Austrian wine is not something that most people understand, even in the wine-loving community. Stephen Bitterolf is a passionate believer in Austrian wine and has for a long time carried a wide selection at Crush, where Joe Salamone and others who work there also believe in the wines. And yes, there are serious collectors in the NYC area who have old bottles stored in their cellars.
Robert Dentice, a huge collector of Austrian wine, and his partner Renee Patronik.
But I see German wines far more often at restaurants and when friends get together. Maybe this is because most Austrian wine is sold in Austria - the wines sell easily, right there at home. Maybe it's because the modern wines are dry, and a lot of Riesling lovers talk about how they prefer their wines to have a bit of residual sugar. It can't be the prices, because it's possible to buy some of the greatest Austrian wines for the price of a villages Burgundy. Whatever the reason, the wines are not as mainstream as they should be based on quality, price, and deliciousness.
Ray Isle of Food and Wine, and Joe Salamone of Crush, both enjoying Austrian wine.
So it was a great evening for Austrian wine lovers, and also an opportunity for some of the great Austrian wines to get some much-deserved attention in NYC. This is why several producers donated rare large-format bottles for the event, and why the Austrian Wine Marketing Board
was so helpful in getting those wines quickly to NYC for the dinner. This is why Executive Chef Wolfgang Ban closed Seasonal and used the whole space for the event, and charged only $90 all-in for a fine 4-course meal (full disclosure - I was comped a ticket by Crush because they apparently have mistaken me for a wine writer
Allan Roth and Gene Vilensky, a couple of guys who love Austrian Riesling. Don't let the wood-framed glasses fool you - they are not Williamsburg hipsters. Allan is in education and Gene is a mathematician. Regular folks like them love Austrian wine too.
It was an embarrassment of riches - the wines were great. Not every wine, but I was seriously impressed with so much of what I drank. Of the big name Wachau producers, Prager and Knoll seemed to be the most prevalent at this dinner. Most of the other big shots were there too - I saw bottles by Alzinger, FX Pichler, Hirtzberger, and Moric. I saw no Nikolaihof and no Rudi Pichler, which kind of surprised me. From the Kremstal I saw Brundlmayer and Schloss Gobelsburg, but no Hirsch or Nigl. And I don't think I saw anything from the Wagram, which makes sense on a night when people are bringing the fancy bottles. But there is plenty to love in the Wagram (I'm a little bit obsessed with Bernhard Ott right now, but that's another story).
Stephen hosted and spent the whole night pouring. I don't think he stopped to eat.
I didn't really take notes, but here are some of the wines that were memorable for me, in the order in which I tasted them:
1986 Alzinger Gruner Veltliner Mühlpoint Kabinett Trocken
. A designation no longer used. A wonderful old nose.
2002 Bründlmayer Riesling Zobinger Heiligenstein Alte Reben
. I've heard Heiligenstein described as the finest site in the Kremstal. This wine was in magnum format, and was beautiful in its lush fruit and its focused minerality.
1988 Alzinger Riesling Ried Loibenberg Kabinett Trocken
. The wine was in excellent shape, despite the dodgy label. Complex, fresh, vibrant, a real treat and a great advertisement for storing these wines.
2000 Prager Riesling Smaragd Achleiten
. I brought this wine and that's why I thought it was so interesting. But it was impressive in its balance and elegance, considering that it was a very hot vintage that in some cases produced some overly fleshy wines.
1997 Prager Riesling Smaragd Weissenkirchner Ried Achleiten
. I don't know how (or if) Weissenkirchner Ried is different from the regular Prager Achleiten bottling. But this was as fine a wine as any that I tasted on this evening. Rocks, lemongrass, so subtle and wonderful.
2001 Prager Riesling Smaragd Klaus
. Intense and very long, and shows how Klaus is so absolutely different in character from Achleiten. More lush in its fruit, more forward and generous.
1997 FX Pichler Riesling Smaragd Kellerberg
. Whoa, this wine floored me. Just beautiful wine, as fine as any on this evening, for me.
2002 Moric Blaufrankisch Lutzmannsburg Alte Reben
. There were several Moric reds and for whatever reason, they didn't show as well as they might have. But this wine was great, so beautifully perfumed.
2001 Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Singerriedel
. Intense and big, but harmonious. I loved this wine. I think I prefer the more gossamer style of Alzinger and Prager, but I love Hirtzberger's Singerriedel.
This was such a wonderful evening and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.
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You know how when you're drinking a good Sherry, how one of the things that's so good about it is that strong streak of acidity that runs right down the spine of the wine? I've always appreciated that about Sherry, particularly Finos and Manzanillas, the bright acidity that enlivens the oxidized wine.
Everything in the above paragraph is factually incorrect, and I refuse to believe that I am the only one who thought those things about Sherry. Doesn't it seem like an acidic wine? And obviously it's an oxidized wine, right?
No! And no!
I remember the time I was drinking some or other Sherry with Peter Liem (whose much-anticipated book on Sherry will be out soon), and I told him how great I thought the acidity was, and how fresh the wine felt even though it was oxidized. He smiled at me the way one might smile at a 3-year old who is learning to put her pants on by herself, and told me that actually, Sherry is a very low acid wine. And that biologically aged Sherries (Fino style wines) are actually reductive wines that are protected from oxygen by a layer of flor.
Palomino is the dominant grape grown in Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria. It is a low acid grape, and the very hot climate probably doesn't do anything to help preserve whatever natural acidity is in the grape. I recently learned that Sherry wines, by law, must achieve a certain pH level and therefore have to have acidity added in most cases!
So what is it that gives good Fino style Sherry wines that acidic feeling? I asked this question while tasting with Peter and Eduardo Ojeda, cellar master at Valdespino and La Guita.
"Sapidity, it is sapidity," Eduardo said. Peter agreed.
Here is what the interweb
says is the definition of the word sapid:
--Perceptible to the sense of taste; having flavor. b. Having a strong pleasant flavor; savory. 2. Pleasing to the mind; engaging.
Here is another, this time a "medical definition:"
--affecting the organs of taste : possessing flavor and especially a strong agreeable flavor.
Okay, I don't think that Eduardo and Peter meant exactly this. Eduardo put his fingers to the sides of his cheeks, where they meet the back of the jaw bone as he said this. I think he meant the sensation of mouthwatering-ness, the idea that something in Fino style Sherry produces a vibrant sensation in the mouth the way acidity does, something that causes that tingling mouthwatering feeling. What is this thing, that Eduardo and Peter are calling sapidity? I honestly have no idea. One of wine's mysteries, I would guess.
I was reminded of this recently when drinking a glass of 2011 Domaine Les Fouques Côtes de Provence Blanc Cuvée de L'Aubigue
, $14, Imported by Fruit of the Vines. I know I've been harping on these Fouques wines lately, but with good reason. $14 is what you pay if you buy one bottle. If you put together a case you're talking about $12.60, and tell me honestly - how many truly interesting wines are there at that price nowadays (in NYC, anyway)? Mssr. Asimov has been saying for a while now that $20-25 is the value sweet spot, and I agree completely in the sense that there aren't so many great values at lower price points. The Fouques wines are David Lillie direct imports at Chambers Street
, and that's why the prices are low - no "middle man." Take advantage, my friends - the wines are full of character and are completely delicious. I've not had the red wine, but the rosés and the white are really lovely. This white is just so correct and tasty, with slightly smoky lemon and seashell aromas, and a balanced and energetic palate. It would be great with seafood of all sorts, and I imagine it is versatile enough to do well with all sorts of other warm weather fare.
Anyway...At first I was worried about the white wine when I saw 14% alcohol on the label. Would the wine be balanced? Turns out the answer is yes, although the wine doesn't feel particularly acidic to me. It is mainly Rolle, also known as Vermentino, with about 10% each of Ugni Blanc and Clairette. I don't know, but I doubt that these grapes are low acid grapes like Palomino. Could be. The climate in Provence, however, is hot hot hot, and many producers nowadays have trouble keeping potential alcohol at a reasonable level if they allow the grapes to hang long enough to reach phenolic ripeness. Perhaps even a modest hang time in that climate can result in lower acidity.
Yet this wine still has a mouth watering feeling, and I felt it immediately, and particularly on day 2. What is this about? Sapidity? I'm willing to go with that.
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Been so busy lately with work that I just haven't had time to write here. But I want to share some recent "Whoa," wine and food that really knocked me out.
1999 Clos Rougeard Saumur Bréze
, Louis/Dressner Imports, price unknown. Whoa, this is just amazing wine. Clos Rougeard's rare (and pricey) Chenin Blanc is one of the most intriguing white wines of the Loire Valley. I've had three bottles in my life, including this one, and this was the best of them. Such wonderful freshness and purity on the nose, such well articulated aromas and flavors. Beautifully balanced, deep, complex, so very delicious. More, please.
Have you ever been to City Island? I grew up here in New York, my parents both grew up in the Bronx, and I had never been until a few weeks ago. Among other things, we ate this plate of Little Neck clams. Briny. Cold. Refreshing. Whoa.
2009 Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rosé
, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. I bought two bottles last spring and never got around to drinking one of them. Whoa! I need to remember to put some good rosé away and forget about it for a while. Well made Bandol rosé definitely improves with age. This Pradeaux rose is only a year old, but already offers a glimpse of what time in the cellar will do. Mellow, incredibly mineral, very complex, flashes of the savory. Truly lovely.
This is William Mattiello, one of the owners of Via Emilia
, in the Gotham City section of Manhattan, pictured with a bottle of Vittorio Graziano's white Lambrusco. William's wife is the owner of Lambrusco Imports, a small company that brings some very special wines to NYC, among them the very fine wines of Vittorio Graziano
. At Via Emilia you will spend $36 for Graziano's red Lambrusco, the best that I've ever had. Initially the wine smells like a barn but it does beautifully with air (and with age, says the wise Levi Dalton). Try the white wine too, called Ripa del Bucamente, made mostly of Trebbiano. Oxidative, herbal, fresh, delicious. And $34 on the wine list. Whoa!
Crabby Jack's in (just slightly out of, actually) New Orleans. Do you like a po'boy? I do. I had the half and half, with fried shrimp and oysters. Very good. My friend had roast beef. Whoa.
2006 Benoît Lahaye Champagne Millésime
, $68, imported by Jeffery Alpert Selections. I haven't seen Lahaye's vintage wine in the states, ever. I drank the 2002 in Portland on the day that I met my good friend Peter Liem
, back in August of 2008
. Always wanted to be able to buy the wine here, and now Chambers Street
has a few bottles. Whoa, the 2006 is drinking so well right now, such a silky texture, so well balanced, so graceful, and with such wonderful finesse, and such a skilled bit of blending. At this price, it is among the very best Champagnes available in NYC.
I used to make fish soup all the time. It's been two years now, I think, but I made fish stock from a black fish rack the other day, and then fish soup. Whoa, one of the best I've made, if I may say so. Made an aioli to go with it, with green garlic pounded to a paste with a mortar and pestle, and hot paprika. Tried a few different wines with it this week. Best was a Provence rosé, the 2011 Domane les Fouques Côtes de Provence La Londe
, $18, Direct Import of Chambers Street Wines. On day two the wine has distinct licorice notes. Lovely.
I have a good friend who loves Bordeaux wines. He's younger than me, so it's not that he grew up in the glory days of Bordeaux. He just loves the wines, that's it. He likes to open one when I'm over for dinner, and he's gotten quite good at picking one that I might also enjoy. Recently it was the 1995 Calon Segur
, whoa. Tobacco leaves, mellow, honestly a lovely wine. Very, very young, and also very enjoyable on this early spring evening.
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It's finally spring in New York. That two weeks in early April when all of the sudden it was 75 degrees and the cherry trees blossomed early and everyone wore shorts, no, that wasn't spring. That was more about the great floods that will surely come my friends, as the weather all over the world gets weirder and weirder. Anyway, now, it's spring. Temperatures are in the high 50's to early 60's and it always feels like it's about to rain, which hopefully it will. It's supposed to rain in April, for goodness sake.
My favorite farmer Bill Maxwell is back from hibernation and once again selling his beautiful and delicious produce at the market. He said that he's had almost no rain and that his yields aren't what they usually are, so far. This morning I got there early enough to grab a nice handful of asparagus, my first of the season. And a box of Tello's Farms eggs. And then at Almondine Bakery I grabbed what I think is the best baguette in NYC. I sense a really good lunch coming...
Nothing innovative here, this is classic spring pleasure. Broke the stems off a handful of asparagus, and peeled the bottoms a little because I was feeling fancy. Dropped them in boiling water for about 2 minutes, maybe less. Meanwhile, water simmered in a pot to poach the egg. Whisked a little good olive oil into some Fernando de Castilla Sherry vinegar
, you know, to drizzle over the top of the egg after placing atop a mound of blanched asparagus. Good butter warming on the counter since the morning, so it's nice and soft when spreading time comes.
A touch of vinegar in the simmering water right before dropping in the egg, swirl the water a bit to create a vortex in an attempt to keep the poaching egg whites in a manageable oval shape, as opposed to spreading out uncontrollably in the pot. Poach for maybe 2 minutes, just long enough for the whites to set. Salt, pepper, drizzle on a spoonful of Sherry vinaigrette.
So delicious, it's a little ridiculous. I like to poke the yolk and let it run out, to try to get a little bit with each asparagus bite. But don't worry - a baguette is the perfect tool for swabbing any Sherry vinaigrette-infused egg yolk that you might miss.
What to drink with this spring feast? Popular wisdom is to complain about how hard it is to pair wine with asparagus. I think that's malarkey. I can think of several wines right this second that I would have enjoyed very much with this dish - Fino Sherry, any sort of sparkling wine, Chablis, any Jura wine, white or red, and so on.
Today, with my first real spring lunch, I drank a rosé from Provence, the 2011 Domaine Les Fouques Côtes de Provence Rosé Cuvée de L'Aubigue
, $14, Imported by Fruit of the Vines. I bought this wine while speaking on the phone with David Lillie, one of the owners of Chambers Street Wines
. I called about an order I placed, including a few bottles of a popular Provence rosé that I buy every year. David said "You know, that wine is yeasted, it smells and tastes like what they want you to think rosé smells and tastes like. If you like the pale rosés you might enjoy this other wine by Les Fouques. It's quite good."
For David, "quite good" is astoundingly high praise.
"Okay, I'll try it. How much is it?" I asked.
"Fourteen dollars," David said. The wine I was going to buy costs over 20% more than that. Just another thing to love about Chambers Street Wines - they'll steer you to the wine they think you should try, even if it's less expensive.
Can I tell you, the wine is great. It's mostly Cinsault and Grenache, with little bits of things like Syrah and Rolle (aka Vermentino). It has very pretty berry aromas, a metallic kind of mineral tone, and with some time open it has a very lovely earthy smell too - something that I think is part of what is wiped out of too many inexpensive rosés in an attempt to enhance their fruity character. The wine tastes great, it's balanced and pretty and very refreshing. It's got a lot of structure too, for an inexpensive little Provence rosé. David Lillie (who I think direct imports this wine) - you rock.
If you can think of a better early spring lunch, I'm listening.
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Not too long ago I had the pleasure of eating dinner at Fu Leen, the seafood restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown. Peter Liem organized a group of people to drink several special Sherries and to eat things like lightly steamed fresh shrimp, fried dungeness crab, steamed whole fish, and fried rice with salted fish.
The wine main course, if you will, was the Palmas of González Byass - all four of them. Peter graced this blog with a guest post discussing these wines a few months back
- a beautiful piece of wine writing and you should take a look if you haven't already. The Palmas represent an exploration of Fino Sherry as it ages. They are selected by Antonio Flores, the González Byass cellar master, as barrels of special quality and bottled at different points in their evolution toward Amontillado. Una Palma is an average of 6 years old, Dos Palmas 8 years old, Tres Palmas 10 years old when the flor
is patchy and the wine begins to have some contact with oxygen. Cuatro Palmas is much older - an average of 45 years I believe. Honestly - read Peter's post on these wines, as he explains exactly what it is they are about in crystal clear terms.
The idea behind wines like the Palmas is not new. It is common for the cellar master to select what he (and it is almost always a he) feels are his finest barrels, and to allow them live outside of their commercial bottlings. It is a newer thing for these special wines to be bottled and sold. That wines like this are now available, even if they are rare, is part of what makes this such an exciting time to be a Sherry lover.
We drank several appetizers before our Palmas main course, and each of the wines related in some way to this theme of special wines, things that are new and interesting in the world of Sherry. The first was a sparkling wine, a collaboration between Sergi Colet in Penedé
s and the Equipo Navazos
team. The 2006 Colet-Navazos Reserva Extra Brut
is a sparkling Chardonnay and at disgorgement the wine is topped up with Manzanilla - specifically La Bota Nº 22, if I am not mistaken. This wine is mellow with a few years in bottle, bone dry and very mineral, and the Manzanilla is an unmistakable presence. You can sense it the way Vader sensed Obi Wan was sneaking around somewhere on the Death Star.
Most of the Sherry that we can buy here in the States has been heavily filtered, and although some of these wines are delicious, they are very different from what they were before the filtration, stripped of important aroma and flavor components. As more and more wine lovers become interested in Sherry, some Bodegas are offering unfiltered versions of their wines. Bodegas Hidalgo recently bottled an unfiltered version of La Gitana, called La Gitana en Rama
, or from the barrel.
We drank both versions of La Gitana and there is no mistaking the difference in quality. The en Rama wine showed a deeper and more complex set of aromas and flavors, and also much more finesse. You can see the difference in the photo above, the wine on the left is La Gitana en Rama
. Honestly, I found it harder to enjoy La Gitana after drinking the unfiltered version. Maybe on a hot day at the beach with a plate of fish...
We drank La Bota de Manzanilla Nº 32
, a continuation of the Nº 4, 8, 16, and 22 bottlings from the Sánchez Ayala solera.
I love all of these wines (never had Nº 4), but Nº 32 seems very special to me, a particularly great selection from this solera. I loved it from the moment it was opened and it got better and better in the glass. And with fried dungeness crab in this dried shrimpy, scalliony paste...oh my stars.
Then came the Palmas. This is an experience that will be essentially impossible to replicate, as these wines were bottled in small quantities - only 150 bottles of the Cuatro Palmas for example. They were sold only in Spain and in the UK, and Peter had to agree to tattoo onto his back the name of the merchant who held the bottles for him.
Drinking them one after the other was, as advertised, a great lesson in the progression of biologically aged Fino Sherry. Una Palma was bold and powerful (and we were struck by this demonstration of the vast gulf in character between delicate Manzanilla and bold Fino). Drinking this wine and then also drinking Dos and Tres Palmas, I felt the flor
tones change from fresh and buttery to dark and savory, the aromas take on a nuttier note. These wines emphasize for me that the movement of Fino (and Manzanilla) toward Amontillado is not marked with a particular boundary, that there is no clear moment at which Fino becomes Amontillado. Peter has described it as a continuum, and drinking these four Palmas together underlines this notion. These three are essentially the same wine, but at different points along the continuum, captured as the layer of flor
becomes thinner and then patchy. Each of the three is compelling and delicious, but if I had to take one and only one with me while waiting on line for 6 hours at the DMV, it would be Tres Palmas.
Cuatro Palmas is an Amontillado that comes from one barrel selected from the tiny 6-barrel Solera called Museo. The idea was to show a point much further along the continuum, and this particular barrel was selected for its great finesse. The wine is glorious - deeply complex, with an incredible fineness of texture, and with a never-ending finish whose echo includes trace reminders of the fresh buttery flor
character of 40 years ago.
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I love blind tasting. It's fun to drink wine without having any idea what it is, whether or not it's expensive, cult-ish and rare, common, glorified, or unknown. Without knowing whether or not I am intrigued by the producer, whether or not I've had it before, or any of the many other things that influence my expectations about a wine before I actually smell and taste it. I particularly love doing this over a meal with a relaxed group of people who will participate in the conversation and laugh with one another as we swing from kind-of-accurate to wildly wrong in our attempts to identify wine.
I did this last year at about this time, and now again. Eight of us at dinner, everyone brings one wine. I told everyone beforehand what we'd be eating, and randomly assigned two people to each of the courses. It would be fascinating also to see what sort of pairings these wine people would come up with.
We drank some truly interesting things - Zind Humbrecht Pinot Noir with roast chicken, 150 year old vines Hatzidakis Santorini Assyrtiko and 1988 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Langenloiser Berg-Vogelsang (!) with carrot soup (and in the night's only tragic wine event, the Vatan Sancerre meant for that soup was corked), a seriously disappointing bottle of 1987 Joly Coulée de Serrant and a Japanese Madeira-style wine by Chuo Budo-shu (or the Grace Winery) made of Koshu and Muscat Bailey-A, both grapes indigenous to Japan. I learned something with every wine and very thoroughly enjoyed myself.
The first course was a Japanese-style savory egg custard with shrimp, shitake mushrooms, and scallions. We drank two fantastic wines with this course and I thought that both paired beautifully with the custard. The discussion around these wines was illuminating and funny, and I will share as best I can remember.
I sett two glasses in front of everyone, a Zalto Universal glass and a Schott Zwiesel Burgundy bowl. The first wine we drank granted me the opportunity to show just how good of a blind taster I am. My friend elected to pour it in the Burgundy bowls, as the other wine for this course was a sparkling wine, and he thought that the sparkling wine should be served in the Zaltos. We spent some quiet time with the wine, swirling, sniffing. It felt in the mouth like Chardonnay to me, and I got something like iodine on the nose. I began to think Chablis. And then I began to notice oyster shell and other marine scents. "I think this is Chablis," I announced. The fact that all 7 of the other tasters agreed that it was an Austrian wine made me feel just slightly less confident.
I keep hearing about how there are so many people in the wine world who cannot relax in this sort of situation, who are too competitive or aggressive with their opinions, people who will make you feel small for not knowing things, or for being wrong. I am so happy that I don't know or hang out with these people. Folks - I cannot recommend strongly enough that you spend your thoughtful wine drinking time with nice people, people who want to enjoy with you and learn together, not to compete and act like jerks. Sorry if this sounds obvious, but I don't think it's obvious. I know people who will go where there are good bottles, even if their owners are brutish wine-thugs who are not very pleasant to learn with.
Anyway...everyone else thought it was Austrian, and the questions were about Gruner versus Riesling (consensus was Riesling), region (no clear consensus, but leaning towards the Wachau), and the age of the wine (consensus was mid-2000's). And as I continued to smell and taste the wine, I knew it was true - it was an Austrian wine, not Chablis. Would I have come to that conclusion on my own, had others not been suggesting this? I really cannot say. But it was crystal clear to me, once the others said so.
Everyone agreed that it was lovely wine, the 2001 Prager Riesling Achleiten. This is a wine that I would love to drink again, and Prager is a producer who I haven't spent enough time with - the few wines I've had have all been excellent. My friend who brought the wine said that he finds that Austrian Riesling can show like Chardonnay when served in big bowl glasses. Maybe this is true, but I think he was trying to make me not feel like such a dope. But I really didn't feel like a dope. In blind dinners like this, I will get it wrong 8 or 9 times out of 10, and I'm fine with that. It was funny in the end, and the collective appreciation of my mistake reminded me of exactly how it is that I want to drink great wine - with good people.
The Champagne was fascinating too. I felt at first that it might not be Champagne, it had an herbal scent and I just didn't recognize the profile. It was heavily reduced upon opening, though, and it took a while to compose itself and be presentable. Even when it did, I wasn't sure. It felt like white grapes to me. If it were Champagne, then maybe something with the oddball grapes like Arbanne or Petit Meslier? But the wine had this mineral tang on the finish that reminded me of Huet, and I thought it was bottled at low pressure (I was wrong). Could we be drinking Huet Pétillant here? Other tasters thought there might be red grapes, some thought it was Champagne, others weren't sure.
First, we tried to resolve the main question - was it Champagne? Peter Liem thought it was and said something like "If this isn't Champagne, then it's really, really good." The texture was getting silkier by the minute, and the finish more and more saline. When the wine was revealed as the 2004 Agrapart L'Avizoise Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, most of us were still a bit mystified. Peter cleared this up (he did not bring this wine), explaining that the wine is a Blanc de Blancs that is meant to showcase the clay soils of Avize (a village famous for Chardonnay grown on chalky soils), and this is what gives the wine its unusual character. By the way, the wine was compelling and delicious.
Listening to these experienced wine people, all of them professionals, some of whom I've seen perform amazing feats of blind tasting, hearing them discuss this wine...realizing that Peter Liem, one of the world's leading and most important Champagne experts, was not certain about this wine...It reminded me that if we are open minded and humble, we will never stop learning. I hope I will be so lucky.
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BBQ at The Joint, in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans.
Whoa! That's some BBQ. The meat is unadorned - no rub, no sauce - you have to put that stuff on yourself, if you feel like you want it. The ribs are truly ridiculous, so is the pulled pork. Brisket is excellent too. Sides taste fresh and delicious - those beans are home-made. And there is Abita Amber on draft and great music on the radio. Hard to argue with that, my friends.
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The other night, at the end of a lovely blind wine dinner (more on that another time) I decided to open one last bottle for my guests, a bottle of Valdespino Inocente. I grabbed a bottle from my wine fridge, and as soon as I began pouring the wine I noticed that it was unusual for Inocente. A little cloudy, almost. Well not exactly cloudy, but different in appearance from all of the other Inocente that I've had.
Inocente is a wonderful wine, one of my absolute favorite Fino Sherries. But this was a particularly wonderful bottle, showing such finesse, such a mellow harmony, such lovely articulation. Was something special about this bottle?
Yes, as it turns out. My friend Peter stores a few bottles of wine in my fridge, and this was his bottle of Inocente - I grabbed the wrong bottle. And Peter's wine was special in that it was bottled in December of 2008 - it has aged for over three years in bottle.
The back of a bottle of Inocente has a code that reveals the bottling date. "L083532" means that the wine was bottled in 2008 on the 353rd day of that year - December 18th (it was a leap year), from bottling line number 2. Had I known how to read this code, I might not have opened my friend's carefully aged bottle of Inocente. This is, after all, something that I would guess almost no one else has - aged Inocente is a rare thing.
Many people think that biologically aged Sherries, Finos and Manzanillas, for example, should not be aged in bottle. This idea probably arose because in this country the Fino style wines that have been most readily available in fact do not stay fresh for very long. But there is a renewed interest in Sherry, and there are more wines available now. Some of them are wines that improve with bottle age, and Valdespino Inocente is one such wine.
It's funny to think of a Sherry like Inocente as a candidate for the cellar. Unlike most white wines that are bottled within a year or two of vinification, Inocente is already aged when we buy it - it's a wine that ages for 8 or so years in the solera before bottling. But like many fine wines, Inocente mellows with bottle age, achieves a greater harmony and depth of aroma and flavor, expresses itself in a more profound way.
I knew about this idea, and I know also that Jesus Barquin and Eduardo Ojeda of Equipo Navazos say that their biologically aged Sherries should be cellared for at least a year or two before drinking. I've tried this with some La Bota bottles, with good results. But until this night when I opened the wrong bottle of Inocente, Peter's aged bottle, I had never had Inocente with any bottle age. It turns out that with good storage, the results are well worth the effort and I will definitely try to recreate this experience by socking away a few bottles of my own.
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