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Amazing that it's happened so quickly, but summer is basically over. The good news is that fall happens fast too, and after Thanksgiving it's just a few winter months, and then it's almost summer again. So yes, it's almost next summer already, and that is exciting.
This time of year I eat tomatoes shamelessly. Tomatoes of all colors, shapes, and sizes, at any time of day, with any combination of foods, and prepared in all sorts of ways. I try to be creative and still, some of my favorite late summer tomato dishes are the classics. Really, I ask you, could you turn down a well-made BLT? Could you refuse a plate of fried green tomatoes? I should think not.
The BLT, just in case you require a little tomato inspiration. I like mine on good white bread.
And high quality thick-cut bacon is a must. I'm using Lou's Natural
bacon these days, and it's very delicious and not too fatty.
But in the end, this sandwich is about the tomato. It has to be flavorful enough so that it actually offers contrast to the smokey bacon. I've used heirlooms of various colors on a BLT and while I wouldn't kick any of them off my plate, it is the classic orange variety that gets me on a BLT.
This is a Ramapo tomato
grown by star New Jersey farmer Bill Maxwell
and it is not to be trifled with. It isn't as firm as some others and therefore gets a little sloppy when in sandwich, but it is well worth it for its wonderful fresh essence-of-tomato flavor. Really though, this is a messy tomato and is better eaten at home where you can get all sloppy with it.
Fried green tomatoes require a little more time but not much more effort. You are slicing green tomatoes to about a half inch thick, coating them in flour, dipping them in a mixture of buttermilk and egg, then dredging in seasoned cornmeal. There are many variations here and all work fine. I like to use breadcrumbs as a solid third of my cornmeal mixture because the crust stays together better after cooking. And I season with salt and pepper, nothing more. I'm sure there are at least 146 correct ways to do this, so do what feels right to you.
After the coating, the dipping, the dredging, and the frying, the hard part of your work is done. Now it's about choosing a vehicle. Fried green tomatoes are delicious as a side dish, but I like them to get top billing. Last week I served them as a first course, interspersed with slices of a beautiful ripe Green Cherokee tomato and topped with green goddess dressing. Green goddess dressing is ridiculously delicious and pretty easy to make, but that's for another time. This was a good dish, by the way. My friend asked for seconds and happily cleaned his plate.
What to drink with this sort of late summer tomato goodness? Anything really, from an acidic white wine to a light red wine.
I've been enjoying rosé with these dishes. A good Bandol rosé, the 2011 Terrebrune Bandol Rosé
, $32, for example, imported by Kermit Lynch, has the complexity, depth of flavor, and the body to stand up to this hearty food, and also the acidity and fresh fruit to cleanse the palate. And there is something about the way Mourvedre rosé works with bacon...But I drank the leftover half of the less ambitious 2011 Domaine Les Fouques Côtes de Provence Rosé Cuvée de L'Aubigue
, $14, David Lillie/Chambers Street direct import, with a BLT today and it was great. Then again, I don't need much of an excuse to drink good rosé, especially now that it is almost next summer.
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Sherry improves for a few days after opening. I know, this goes against what we've all heard for decades. But it's true, especially if we are talking about quality brown Sherries that are shipped carefully. After hearing about this for a while I experimented a bit in early 2012 and confirmed this idea. Now I routinely open a brown Sherry (Palo Cortado, Amontillado, and Oloroso) several days in advance of the night on which I plan to drink it.
What about other kinds of Sherry - do they also improve over several days? Recently I decided to experiment with a bottle of Sherry that has no official category, but we might call it a Fino-Amontillado. This is a Fino Sherry whose wines are old enough (perhaps 8-12 years) in which the flor has begun to die, and it thins and becomes patchy, no longer fully protecting the wines from oxygen in barrel. The wine begins to take on a darker color and a certain richness that comes with oxidative aging. But although it has some of the characteristics of Amontillado it is not yet Amontillado, and retains much of the brisk Fino style. This style, Fino-Amontillado, is a favorite of many Sherry aficionados, for whatever that's worth, including singer Paula Abdul, the magician Gallagher, and wine writer Peter Liem.
On a recent Wednesday night we opened a bottle of Equipo Navazos La Bota Nº 24
, a Fino-Amontillado from the Pérez Barquero soleras in Montilla. A few unusual things about this wine: it is from Montilla, inland of Jerez and Sanlucar, and in Montilla even the Fino wines are made of Pedro Ximénez, not the Palomino grape. That's right, the same grape that in Jerez is used to make sweet wines in Montilla is used to make Fino style wines. Secondly, this wine was bottled almost two years ago in September of 2010. So we were experimenting with a wine that has already had some bottle age - another thing that we've traditionally heard not to do with Sherry, but that given the right wines, we now know can actually be highly desirable.
Please let me say that La Bota Nº 24 is an utterly amazing wine, one of the most compelling that I've tasted from the La Bota series. Peter said that it may have been lost in the La Bota shuffle, it may have been overlooked. It is a tremendously beautiful wine with such finesse and grace, such intensity, such detail of aroma and flavor. It was beautiful a year ago when I first tasted it and it continues to improve. Fino-Amontillado is a style of Sherry that is really worth seeking out if you haven't tried one. La Bota Nº 24 is basically sold out, but you can probably find a bottle if you look hard. You might also try Emilio Hidalgo Fino La Panesa, a wine made in the same style, or a Manzanilla Pasada such as La Bota Nº 30, which inexplicably continues to grace some retail shelves in NYC.
Okay, so what happened here, drinking this bottle over several days? The experience was a bit different from slowly drinking a brown Sherry. Brown Sherry improves over several days - it is better on day 3 than it is on day 1, for example. La Bota Nº 24 changed over the course of a week, and it never faded in that time. My sense is that it neither improved nor declined, it just changed. In the first few days the flor
is more apparent on the nose and the palate, showing a lemony and almost creamy aspect. But after a few days the Amontillado characteristics become more pronounced and the wine shows a nutty richness and pungent salted caramel tones, the finish becomes less creamy and rings out with a complex oxidative tang. The wine always carried itself with finesse and grace, but the particulars changed, like a woman with innate class wearing different outfits.
This proves nothing, I'm aware. This is a wine blog, not The Lancet. Still, the more I drink Sherry the more I find pleasure in aging it in bottle, and then in drinking it slowly over several days.
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You know how sometimes you eat a wonderful dish or drink a great bottle with friends and although you want to share the joy, you just never seem to work it into a post on your blog? Me too, I know exactly how you feel. Here are some things from the past few months that I haven't managed to write about, but are worth sharing:
Earlier in the summer in a Japanese restaurant I ate this small appetizer plate of young bamboo shoots. They were probably simmered first, or maybe parboiled, and dressed with a Japanese herb the name of which I do not know. And the rest of the dressing - I have no idea. I have felt frustrated that I didn't ask more about the dish, but I didn't - that's that. I still think of it though because whoa, it was so good. Next year early summer I will go back and in general, I will eat more bamboo.
I know I just mentioned Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado last week
, but that was a glass pour at a restaurant. Thinking that the wine is not imported to the US (the Oloroso and Amontillado are, but not the Palo Cortado for some reason), I brought a bottle home in my luggage last October
. I opened it when some one was over for dinner, and then had a small glass every day for a over a week - you don't need a lot in one sitting. The wine is great, my favorite of the Bodegas Tradición wines, but it takes a few days to unfurl after the bottle is open. There is almost none of this wine in the US, and I'm telling you, if you like Palo Cortado comprised of very old wines, you should try this. It's amazing in it's richness and depth, and whoa - it has so much finesse. A bottle will run you $90 but think for a moment before you say "no way." You're going to have 10 glasses minimum, so it actually becomes cheap considering what it is you are drinking. Crush has 3 bottles
as of this writing, for the few and the bold among you.
A generous person brought this bottle of 2000 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses
to a dinner, just to get things started properly. This was a Barolo dinner and there were a few blue chip wines on the table, including wines by Giuseppe Mascarello and Francesco Rinaldi. The Clos des Goisses was the wine of the night for me. It clearly showed the ripeness of this very fine vineyard, and also its elegance and detail of flavor. Whoa, a special treat.
Recently I decided to drink red wine while having dinner at home, a rarity these days. I opened my last bottle of 2007 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grand Vignole
, and it benefited well from a scant few years in the cellar
. I love this wine with a couple years on it, particularly in the vintages that are not 2005 or 2009 hot. Whoa, the 2007 is in a great spot right now, very fresh but there are prominent leathery and
earthy notes too, and the minerality is strong on the finish. A lovely under $20 wine and a great candidate for mid-term cellaring.
This is bluefish crudo. Whoa, raw bluefish. I ate this not long ago on Martha's Vineyard at a dinner hosted by Chris Fischer
, the former chef and current farmer who I believe sells produce to several hip Brooklyn restaurants, including the Andrew Tarlow
joints. Anyway, bluefish is oily and very strongly flavored and isn't something that I think of eating raw. But this fish had been caught earlier in the day and it was beautiful, simply served with lemon, olive oil, salt, and herbs - full of fresh and complex flavors. Memorable.
came for dinner one night and brought these two 375 ml bottles of Manzanilla: Equipo Navazos 'I Think'
and Valdespino Deliciosa
. Drinking these bottles next to one another, whoa - that is a particularly interesting experience in that it highlights the impact of filtration on Manzanilla Sherry. Deliciosa is bottled from a solera in the great Sanlucar bodega called Miseracordia. 'I Think' is a blend of selected wines from that same solera, including barrels from earlier criaderas. It is bottled unfiltered. I think both are great wines and drinking them together like this was fascinating. Deliciosa has a fineness that 'I Think' does not achieve, and 'I Think has a complexity and depth' that Deliciosa does not achieve. You can perform this little experiment yourself for less than $40 at Tinto Fino
, the shop devoted to Spanish wines in the East Village. They are the only retailer to carry 'I Think,' and they also carry Deliciosa.
A friend had a BBQ the other night and one of his pals brought this fine old bottle of 1987 Quintarelli Valpolicella
to share. Whoa! I've had Quintarelli maybe three times in my life and this is by far the oldest bottle. It was wonderful wine. So much to say, and although much of it was in a language that is foreign to me, there is no mistaking the quality here. The wine is detailed and expressive and fresh as a daisy at 25 years old. After some time I began to notice what I thought might be dried grape flavors. Should that be - isn't the Valpolicella the dry wine in the stable? I contacted my buddy Jeremy
who sent me an informed and amusing set of messages about the wine and the idea that dried grapes could have made their way in there. I could almost hear him laughing as he discussed this, and it seemed to me as though he was saying that there are rules against this, but who knows what really goes on sometimes. "The Valpolicella can be made with up to 70% ripasso
wine, wine that has been aged on the lees and solids of Amarone" Jeremy wrote. "So the answer is yes, although not directly." Jeremy also said that wine originally destined to become Amarone was blended into the Valpolicella in some vintages. And as he said, "who's complaining?"
Lastly, I just want to share the wonder of this old bottle of Cream Sherry. Not old as in old wines at bottling. Old as in Whoa, I found it in my parents' liquor cabinet and my mother maintains that she bought it over 10 years ago and periodically uses it for cooking. It has not been refrigerated in that time and it was a little more than half-full. I had to try it. It was actually not so bad, I enjoyed a glass. I swear, I'm not kidding.
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So I'm going to reveal to you that back in fall of 2008 I was a Brooklynguy who practiced home-pickling. I found, though, that I was unable to grow a good looking soul patch, or really any facial hair that looks normal. I grew a mustache once as part of a Halloween costume but it freaked people out, they said I looked like a porn star. 86 the mustache, they said, and so I did. So clearly I should not be pickling vegetables at home either. But there was a time when I was doing some pickling. Okra, even.
What's also funny about the post I linked to above is that there is mention of essentially the same okra recipe I'm going to share today. It's the simplest of recipes - the important thing is that you use good ingredients. You are braising okra in a sauce of fresh tomatoes and garlic. And then creating a beautiful weekend breakfast by topping this with a sunny side-up egg. There are variables you can play with here. I like to use a jalapeno pepper in the braising sauce, but you can play with heat, or leave it out. You can use wine in the tomatoes, or not. You can season the braising liquid with anything you like, although I find that with super good ingredients, you don't need much.
Okra is at the markets now, and you should try this - it's delicious and quite healthy:
Wash the okra and trim the stem so that a centimeter or less remains. Put some music on - I think that Coltrane Live in Stockholm works well here, but you can go with Giant Steps too. You can use good canned tomatoes, but 'tis tomato season. I like to use fresh plum tomatoes, but last weekend I used a smaller variety of the same shape called Juliettes. Use good tomatoes - that's what's most important. Chop the tomatoes coarsely. Use a mortar and pestle to make a paste of a very large clove of garlic. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, using olive oil or neutral oil to your taste, cook the tomatoes until they begin to break down a little, stirring a lot, maybe 5 minutes. Add the garlic paste and some salt. Stir some more.
Add the okra and stir to coat them with the tomato sauce. Here I like to add a fresh jalapeno pepper that I've poked with a fork so that its flavors will easily seep out into the sauce. Stir some more, turn down the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer, stirring a few times, until the okra are as tender as you want them to be. You will have something that looks like this (although you can stop the simmer 8 minutes earlier and have firmer okra, also amazing):
You can do anything with this. Eat it as a side dish, put it on rice, put it between your knees (a prize to whoever gets that film reference). For me, it has become breakfast.
Fry an egg and put it right on top. A hunk of baguette too.
I especially like it when the egg is all broken up and merges with the somewhat gooey okra and tomato. You know what - this dish isn't for you. Just forget about the whole thing.
Now, drinking wine on a weekend morning is a bad thing to do, because it's the morning time and we shouldn't drink in the morning. So I really cannot recommend a wine to pair with this because as I've explained already, it's breakfast and we don't drink wine on an August Saturday morning with okra stew and fried egg. But if, however, you were to ask me from a theoretical perspective, what wine it is that I would recommend to the type of scallywag who actually would drink wine in this situation... I would say that a good Fino, perhaps the basic Emilio Hidalgo Fino
($14 for a 750, imported by Winebow) is a great match. This is purely hypothetical, of course.
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I was in Chicago recently and my pal Peter told me to try a Spanish place called Vera.
Wow, glad that I did. There is an exciting Sherry list, the food is
very good, and the staff are genuinely friendly and welcoming. The whole
vibe is right - this place is a gem, and if you are in Chicago I highly
recommend that you try it.
take a look at this Sherry list. One thing I noticed immediately is
that they are pouring Bodegas Tradición by the glass! How could I
resist beginning with a glass of the Palo Cortado, a wonderful wine that
needs several days open before it really shows what it has to offer.
The wine was absolutely singing, and the bartender told me that he
opened the bottle several days previously - nice. By the way, Quade the
bartender - he was warm, friendly, he had no ironic facial hair, nor did
he interrupt a candle-making project in order to talk to me. He was a
nice guy, relaxed, eager to make me feel welcome. I was very much aware
that I was not in a Brooklyn restaurant...
I ate pinchos
(skewers) of beef tongue with the Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado and
this was a very delicious thing, one of the better pairings I've had
lately. This is chunks of tongue, crisp on the outside and melt-in-you mouth tender
on the inside, its richness was tempered by a bright salsa verde.
This is a great dish, one that demands to be eaten at every visit.
of octopus with olive oil and pimentón were tender, delicately smoky, and delicious.
I'd like to eat them again, and this time with a great Manzanilla or Fino, maybe one that is on its way to becoming Amontillado, like Emilio Hidalgo La Panesa, or Equipo Navazos La Bota No 30. If I could suggest one thing for the Vera list, it would be to add more Fino and Manzanilla, but that's picking nits - there is plenty to drink already.
Yellow squash with hazelnuts, mint, and Romesco
sauce, along with two Amontillados - Bodegas Tradición and the VORS El Maestro Sierra. Not bad, not bad at all. I also ate a delicious plate of Manilla clams with house-made chorizo along
with two young Olorosos - Gutierrez Colosía Sangre y Trabajader and El
Liz Mendez owns Vera with her husband Mark Mendez. They've been in the business for a long time and if my visit is any indication, they know how to take care of you. People of all types are eating at Vera - it's not a geeky Sherry bar, and there are plenty of things to drink if you don't want Sherry. But explain to me please why it is that you wouldn't want Sherry?
Vera - 1023 West Lake Street in the happening West Loop neighborhood.
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There was a dinner I enjoyed not long ago with a few of the guys from my Burgundy Wine Club. One of our group, a brain surgeon who lives in Rhode Island, came to NYC specifically to enjoy this dinner with us and he brought a slew of absolute gems from his cellar to share. I'm talking about well preserved white Burgundy from the late 1980's. And not just any old Burgundy, great terroirs were represented. Drinking them together was really a breathtaking experience and offered several profound lessons.
We were lucky to be able to bring these wines to one of the hidden gems of Brooklyn dining, my friend Albano's restaurant called Aliseo
in Prospect Heights. I've known Albano for 10 years now, I see him at the market early on Saturday mornings, I've eaten his food many times. There is no need to order anything in this situation, and that's my favorite way to do things. I said "Albano, there will be 4 of us and we will be drinking some very special old wines. We are in your hands." He said "Okay."
Let me start the rest of the story by talking about terroir. We began with two bottles of Meursault by François Jobard, the 1986 and 1988 Meursault 1er Cru Genevrières. I don't know a whole lot here, but I know that François Jobard made great wines back then. I've very much enjoyed the few bottles I've had from this period. There is a certain style to the wines, austere, old school, perhaps a little rustic. And Genevrières is a great vineyard, with Charmes it's considered to be right below Perrières in potential. The 1986 showed some botrytis and it took an hour or more for it to harmonize. The 1988, however, that wine was gorgeous from the moment we opened it until it was gone perhaps two hours later. So very mineral. Yes, there were hazelnuts and other things too, but they blended seamlessly and were secondary to the floor they danced upon - the stone. A balanced and complex wine that made all of us very happy - "this is all you can hope you when you drink old Meursault," some one said. It was without question one of the best Meursaults I have ever had.
That wine could be the centerpiece of an evening for me and I would be thrilled. The thing is, after the Meursaults we drank 1989 Dauvissat Les Clos. It was utterly glorious wine. Strikingly fresh, vivid and harmoniously expressive, such focused aromas and flavors, such complexity and detail, and it grew and improved in the glass over a few hours. Without question the best Chablis I've ever had. And it made the Meursault seem a lot less grand. I commented on this and someone said something like "It's true, and that's the difference in terroir - Les Clos is a true Grand Cru."
Had the evening ended there it would have been memorable. But it didn't. We then drank a wine that I am convinced is the best wine I've ever had.
Perhaps I've experienced equal pleasure while drinking other wines. But I've never had a wine as good as this one. 1989 Marquis de Laguiche Drouhin Montrachet. I've never had a Montrachet before. Okay, I had a taste from a barrel in 2008 while visiting the cellars of Lucien Le Moine. but that just doesn't count. It's a big thing to say - "the best wine I've ever had." But it's true, and I knew it almost immediately. I've never smelled or tasted a wine that is so pungent and also so perfectly detailed, controlled, and complete. It glowed with energy and permeated every crevice in my nose, mouth, and throat. Some one used the word "spherical" and that's absolutely true. The wine was a perfect circle, a perfect thing, and it actually moved me to shed a tear or two, but don't worry, none of the guys at the table saw this.
So, among the best Meursaults that I've had, the best Chablis that I've had, and then the best wine that I've ever had. Nice. And the thing is, the Montrachet made the Les Clos seem less grand. And 1989 Dauvissat Les Clos is a very grand wine. But this is Montrachet we're talking about. One of the very finest vineyards on the planet. I've read that a lot of the Montrachet out there does not justify the very high prices, that a great bottle of Batard, Chevaliers, or Merusault Perrières can be more thrilling than a sub-par Montrachet. I've also heard that a great Montrachet is among the ultimate experiences in wine. This bottle was great, and I've never had a better wine.
Another thing: Albano served crudo of scallops when we drank the Dauvissat Les Clos. In Albano's dish the scallops were coarsely sliced, drizzled with a fruity olive oil, topped with cracked pink peppercorns, and served with braised leeks. Olive oil, pink peppercorns and Les Clos? On paper this might not be the ideal pairing, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. It was honestly the best pairing I've had all year. One of the rare cases in which the wine and food elevated each other in true synergy, and it was astoundingly delicious.
Last thing: I remember maybe 5 years ago reading something on a blog in which the writer asked "Can a person be a credible wine critic if they have never tasted the world's best wines? Can a person critique Burgundy if one has never tasted La Tâche?" I used to think that the answer to that question is "yes." I can drink a Simon Bize Savigny-Les-Beaune Aux Vergelesses, for example, and I might be able to compare it to other wines from Savigny. Or to other red Burgundy wines that I have drunk. I might be able to tell you whether or not I liked it, and why. Maybe there is some value in that. But if I haven't experienced the heights that Burgundy can achieve, I cannot truly place the Bize wine in the proper context. I'm not saying that I don't trust myself or know what I like, and so on. But I drank a great Montrachet - I have some understanding of what white Burgundy can be now. It expands context in a vast way for me and changes my understanding of other wines.
I'm telling you...this one was a night to remember.
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When I think of terroir, I invariably think within the Burgundian model where each vineyard produces wines that are different from those of its neighboring vineyards. I'm willing to bet that most of us think of terroir in approximately those terms. There are several places in the wine world that do not adhere to this model, though, and the Sherry Triangle is one of them.
When I think of terroir in Sherry I think of the white chalky soils called albariza, I think of the peculiar and wonderful smell and taste of flor, I think of the salty air in Sanlucar's Manzanillas and of the yeasty tang of Jerez's Finos. I think of intense heat and winds. Especially now that I have visited the region, I think of the beautiful old buildings, or bodegas, where barrels of wine age in elaborate soleras. Each bodega is unique in terms of airflow, temperature, humidity, and many other variables, and I've heard people say that the Bodega itself is a unique terroir. I do not for a moment doubt the truth in this idea.
Where is the vineyard in all of this? There is little or no emphasis placed on the vineyard in Sherry. This was not always the case, and Peter Liem, America's foremost Sherry expert, has often spoken about how the best vineyards in the area have long been recognized as such, and how they once played a prominent role in the understanding of Sherry wines. As I am sure he will discuss in his forthcoming book called Sherry, Manzanilla and Montilla, a collective decision was made a long time ago in the region to focus on producing high quantities of decent wine for the mass market, as opposed to making wines of the highest quality. Even today, although we are in the middle of a huge resurgence of interest in Sherry wines, much of what is available is mass market wine that is decent but not special. The market still has a long and winding road to recovery.
Is there a terroir stamp of the vineyard in the Sherry region? As Peter would say, there is little empirical evidence for this. Almost no one in the region is making single vineyard wines, and comparing vineyards is therefore almost impossible. "Since no one has cared for 60 years, Miraflores for example has not been vinified and aged in solera in the same place as Macharnudo Alto," Peter said. "It would take quite a while to do this, even if the investment were made."
Although there is no way to compare vineyard terroirs right now, it is possible to very deeply explore at least one vineyard, the site called Macharnudo Alto. Macharnudo Alto is a parcel within Marcharnudo, one of the four great pagos of the region. A pago is something like a vineyard district - an area containing several named parcels. I recently had the great pleasure to attend a dinner featuring a slew of wines made from Macharnudo Alto. Peter Liem conceived of this dinner and put it on with the support of Rosemary Gray of RS Productions NYC.
Peter explained the idea behind the dinner:
I have been wanting to do a specific sherry tasting for over a year now, involving an in-depth examination of the vineyard of Macharnudo Alto. Macharnudo is one of the four great pagos, or vineyard districts, that lie to the north and west of Jerez, and while it is composed of many individual vineyard sites, the most celebrated is that of Macharnudo Alto, which is the highest in altitude and the one considered to have the purest albariza soils.
We are fortunate in that not only is Macharnudo Alto one of the great historical sites of the sherry region, it also belongs, in part, to one of the greatest sherry bodegas currently in existence, Valdespino, who has been making single-vineyard sherries from Macharnudo Alto since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The result is an array of wines that offer a multi-faceted expression of a legendary terroir...
The Macharnudo pago is perhaps 800 hectares, the Marcharnudo Alto parcel much smaller than that, and of that Valdespino owns 56 hectares. From these vines come excellent wines that you really should get to know if you are interested in Sherry (if you haven't tried them already). I'm talking about Inocente, the very fine Fino, Tio Diego, the unique and wonderful Amontillado, Viejo CP, the great Palo Cortado, and finally Cardenal, the rare and regal very old Palo Cortado that is surely one of the finest wines in all of the region. On a recent hot and muggy night a group of Sherry lovers congregated at Terroir TriBeCa
to drink these and other wines from Macharnudo Alto, and although I cannot say that I came from this with a clear understanding of the terroir of Macharnudo Alto as it relates to other parcels in Jerez, I can tell you that the wines are reliably excellent. Here are some notes and thoughts:
Valdespino Fino Inocente
. We drank two versions of this great wine; one recent bottling from October of 2011, and one that was bottled in January of 2006 and aged in a cellar since then. That's right, aged Inocente. Well made biologically-aged wines are capable of improving in the cellar and drinking these two wines next to one another was a startling experience. I very much like the young wine and would happily drink it at any hour of the day, but the version that spent 6.5 years in bottle...that wine was amazing. This is not the first time I've had this experience
, and it reminds me to put bottles of this great wine in the cellar. What's odd about the wine with some bottle age is that it seems to follow an aging curve that is the inverse of what we see in most wines. The older wine shows a more prominent fruit character! Who can explain these things. Anyway, Inocente is a fabulous wine and I am excited to hear that Valdespino's new importer Polaner will offer 750 ml bottles in addition to the 375's that we've seen here. Inocente out of a 750 is a very delicious thing.
Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino Macharnudo Alto Nº 15, Nº 18, and Nº 27
. These wines are created by selecting from barrels in the Inocente solera at Valdespino. Although the idea is to make a different wine each time, these wines are similar in that they tend to be richer and fuller in body than Inocente.
I like each of them, but on this night Nº 18 was the one I preferred. It had an energy and a linear focus that I enjoyed. You can almost see this when comparing the appearance of the three wines in the above photo. I must say that of all of the Equipo Navazos wines that I have tasted, this series is the one that I am least enamored of and I think it's because I cannot help myself but to compare them with Inocente as I drink them.
Amontillado Tio Diego
. Tio Diego is unique as an Amontillado because it is so recently removed from flor
. It is essentially a biologically aged wine that has spent only 5 or 6 years aging oxidatively. I always thought that Tio Diego is a continuation of the Inocente solera, that Tio Diego is what happens to the wines in the solera level of Inocente if they continue to age for a few years. But on this night I learned something new about this lovely wine. Tio Diego is its own solera, and Inocente does not feed it. The young wines that replenish the youngest barrels in the Inocente solera - they are the same young wines that replenish the youngest barrels in the Tio Diego solera. But after that they follow their on course. In any case, Tio Diego is a delicious Amontillado, one in which the lactic and tangy echo of flor
is still quite evident. It is a wine that like all of the brown Sherries I know, shows best a few days after opening.
Palo Cortado Viejo C.P.
This Palo Cortado solera is fed with barrels from the Inocente and Tio Diego soleras, barrels that the cellar master deems unusual in some way, not well-suited for making Fino or Amontillado. I tasted a version of this wine at the bodega from a barrel but had never had this wine from a bottle with a meal. It showed beautifully, I think more perfectly than any other on this evening. I loved the orange oil I was getting on the nose and the compelling depth and complexity of the palate. It was incredibly delicious with a well-prepared plate of thinly sliced roast pork and rosemary. C.P. stands for Calle Ponce
, by the way, the name of a street where the Valdespino bodega that houses this solera was once located.
Palo Cortado Cardenal VORS
. The wines here average 60-70 years of age at bottling and the Viejo C.P. solera feeds this solera. I find it hard to describe the aromas and flavors of Cardenal. It is so intense and complex and it develops over many days after the bottle is open. It is a combination of great richness and complexity from the concentrated old wines, and also of great finesse and detail, characteristics that just might be the best way to think of the terroir stamp of Macharnudo Alto.
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Dinner at Boulud Sud with the Arbois wines of Emmanuel Houillon / Pierre Overnoy.
2010 and 2009 Poulsard.
The two vintages are quite different in character and this shows clearly in color. The 2010 was like drinking liquid roses.
Both Chardonnays were excellent. The 2010 is as mineral of a wine as I can remember drinking.
Proud roast chickens and their mushroom and herb friends.
Chicken, morels, spinach, sauce au vin jaune with tarragon. An embarrassment of riches.
Savagnin Vieux, an ouillé
, or topped-up Savagnin.
Overnoy Vin Jaune. Are you kidding me?
And that wasn't the end.
A wonderful evening in every way, and an amazing act of generosity. Thank you!
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Whoa! Levi Dalton's podcast series continues and today's installment features our conversation. We talk about blogging and what motivates me, and all sorts of things. If nothing else, this offers proof that I am in fact a person who is capable of speaking.
Thank you Levi for including me in this ambitious and interesting project.
Here's how you can listen to the interview:
The I'll Drink to That website (for a few days).
The ITunes site, along with Levi's whole podcast series.
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Here are the sources of the tasting notes I reproduced on Friday:
1) Richard Jennings describing 1996 Chapoutier St Joseph Blanc Les Granits. All of Jennings' notes are in a style that is not my personal favorite, but this one with its meniscus measurement strikes me as particularly strange. By the way, I say "personal favorite" for a reason. Richard Jennings is by far the favorite author of the CellarTracker community, where as of today 1,407 members have tagged him as a favorite author. Second favorite is Eric LeVine, the founder of the site, with 1,142. Third is Keith Levenberg with 603. CellarTracker is the most widely used cellar management and tasting note board on the internet (all statistics made up, yet true). Clearly Jennings' notes speak to many people.
2) Alder Yarrow of Vinography describing 2010 Fred Loimer "Seeberg Erste Lage Reserve" Riesling, Langenlois, Kamptal. The "electric cool aid explosion" and the "jet boat ride" got me. Nothing wrong with that though, as it comes across as genuine to me, and you could argue, quite descriptive.
3) This is me getting all exuberant and emotive after drinking Selosse Substance for the first time. An over-the-top tasting note for an over-the-top wine. I liked the note at the time but I think it's clear now that it has not aged well. Reading it out of context it can come off as downright strange.
4) Frederic Koeppel of Bigger Than Your Head describing 2009 Michel Lafarge Volnay Vendanges Sélectionées. I quite like this note, as for me it captures the feeling of drinking good red Burgundy. What I found odd is how the soulful character of the note juxtaposes with the scientific-sounding (and in my opinion, more misleading than helpful) recommendation on a drinking window: "now through 2018 to '20."
5) Robert Parker describing 2006 Ausone ($1,495!), via Sherry-Lehmann's website. I am not a subscriber to the Wine Advocate so I had to get this note from a retailer's reprint. Okay, this is a Parker note and it's bombastic, as I'm sure the wine is. But I was struck by this part: "...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." Sounds like something that Asimov or any of the "Post-Parker generation" of influential wine writers would say about a red wine they appreciate. Is this Parker imitating that new type of compliment for red wine, or has he always said such things about the big reds that he loves?
Anyway, thanks for indulging me in this exercise. As is evidenced in the comments to the previous post, tasting notes for some reason provoke a lot of outrage in people. I think that there's no point in hating the note, it's a part of selling wine and that's that. Everyone who writes about wine is responsible for some strange notes. But tasting notes should be useful other than as shelf talkers with point scores attached. I think the trick is to not expect too much. After all, how can a few sentences describe a full sensory experience? Keep it simple - find a voice(s) that you relate to most of the time, and trust yourself as much as you trust that voice.
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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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