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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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I admit it, I was not looking forward to Taconic on Bedford. I mean really, in our precious world of hipster Brooklyn dining, this place is the very hippest, the most precious of all. But you know what - Taconic on Bedford pulls it off, and I highly recommend that you try it.
Taconic, as the locals call it, is named after New York State Route 987G, the Taconic State Parkway. Owners Abraham and Fenton Percival moved from 1870's Wyoming to Williamsburg in early 2010. Fenton worked for a while as Bee-Keeper at Egg Restaurant, and Abraham was Director of Body Art at Cafe Grumpy. One spring weekend in 2011, the brothers attended the chemical-free soap and candle making conference and expo in the town of Ghent, NY. They fell in love with the Hudson Valley and decided to bring the rustic vibe and food back to Williamsburg. And so, we have Taconic on Bedford.
The Percivals found a wonderful spot for their restaurant. Set just off the street on a lovely corner of Bedford Avenue, the place feels like it is of the woods.
And the view from the main dining room is utterly gorgeous, emphasizing the bucolic beauty that can still be found in the part of Williamsburg near Newtown Creek.
There are a few problems with Taconic on Bedford, and I'm going to get those out of the way first. Taconic does not take reservations. If you or someone in your party can present a valid hunting or fishing license you will get priority for a table. Otherwise, go for a stroll in Williamsburg and Fenton will send a telegram when your table is ready. Secondly, it can take a long time to be noticed by the staff at Taconic, even after being seated. I felt so grateful to be there, though, that I didn't mind the fact that 45 minutes went by before someone came to take a drink order. That said, the servers, most of whom are former rodeo clowns, are not entirely adverse to being interrupted as they socialize, and will take your order if you are a little pushy about it.
These are minor problems, though, and there is a lot to love at Taconic on Bedford. All of the wood that went into building Taconic was reclaimed from Home Depot, and the place looks great.
Taconic offers a convenient and enviro-friendly valet service, and your car will be parked in a bed of local dried leaves while you dine.
And the wait for food is made more palatable as you sip mixologist Lleyton Pembrickson III 's signature hand-made cocktails. Lleyton came to Taconic from Dow Chemicals and she has since created many delicious libations for the Taconic crowd. My current favorite is the Irish Spring, a captivating blend of Tullamore Dew, rendered duck fat, house-made quinoa syrup, and hand-shaved green soap.
Wine is served in deerskin pouches, and there is an innovative hydration program, offering diners a variety of hand-poured waters. I usually go with the over-sized watering can, and the water is fresh and cold, very impressive indeed. You can enjoy it plain or with house-pickled ice cubes - I find both to be very satisfying.
And how about the food at Taconic? I cannot profess to have tried everything, but what I've had is excellent. Most of the vegetables and grains served at Taconic are locally foraged, and in a truly innovative touch, foraging is outsourced to a small team of Siberian Husky pups. The above photo shows Amaranth, the current leader of the pack.
Taconic adheres to strict nose-to-tail vegetable practices, and every part of the plant is used. Pictured above is the Cabbage, Celery, and Carrot ($17), a delicious melange of the whole vegetables, sliced and served with a light and tangy "mayo-vinegar jus."
Moss salad ($23) is served on the rock it grew on, and is woodsy and redolent of chlorophyll. It is pleasantly textured, but I felt that a dressing of some sort might have improved the dish.
There are a variety of meat dishes made from locally sourced animals, but if you order these dishes you must be willing to actually butcher the meat before the kitchen staff will prepare it. I was initially put off by this, as I don't know how to butcher, but in the end its a nice opportunity to learn. The butchering station is next to the bar and the first-aid area so diners can watch and learn from each others' mistakes.
After one lunchtime visit Abraham Percival took me into his office so we could chat. He is a lovely guy, his brother too. I asked about future plans and he said that the Percivals just opened a general store next to Taconic.
He gave me a quick tour and so far it seems to hold a wide array of soda. Abraham said that there will soon be a variety of very expensive pickles and candles, and also Hellman's mayonnaise.
Taconic on Bedford
5 and 1/2 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn
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I could probably grow old drinking exactly what's in my cellar now and be perfectly happy. I mean really - Burgundy, the Loire, Sherry, Champagne...what's not to love? It's important also to drink things from time to time that are outside of the comfort zone. I do not do this very often, and I need to do it more. There is no deep thinking behind this - it's just good to experience new things, to explore a bit, to practice being open-minded.
So, I am making a conscious effort to drink wines I don't know. Nothing major, just making an educated guess on wines here and there, nothing expensive. It's funny - I used to do this all the time maybe 5 years ago. Now I've gotten to a point where I feel like I understand what, for me, is the optimal way to spend every wine dollar, and maybe too much so. I never find myself saying anymore "Hmmm, that looks interesting, I'm going to give that a shot." So I'm trying to do this again.
This past month I bought two wines that are new to me and both, I must say, were excellent wines, things I would definitely buy again. I drank an Oregon Pinot Gris and I really liked it. Now, if you've been following this blog for a while, you know that I used to drink a lot of Oregon Pinot. My tastes changed, I stopped buying and drinking the wines. But one day in February I was browsing in a large Manhattan store in which I don't normally shop, and I saw bottles of 2010 Montinore Pinot Gris on sale for just under $11.
I haven't liked a lot of Oregon Pinot Gris, but I remember hearing that Montinore is a good producer, and the back label says the wine is 12.6% alcohol and the wine is made using Demeter certified biodynamic farming methods. I bought one bottle. Honestly, the wine was really good. It was clean and bright tasting, relying on a lean intensity. There is ripe fruit - spiced pear and apple, there is a definite mineral sensation, and the finish is long and pleasingly bitter. This is delicious wine, and not because it resembles an Alsace Pinot Gris - it doesn't. It's an Oregon wine, no mistaking that. And it's a really good one. It didn't hold up well overnight - probably not meant for the cellar, but it is a quality wine, and it would be nice if there were more Oregon wines like this, where the producer doesn't try to do too much in the vineyard or the cellar.
Another new one for me, this time a red wine. It was during the Super Bowl, I think, when my pal poured me a glass of something that looked like rosé. It wasn't rosé though, it was Grignolino d'Asti. Wow, so good - fresh and vibrant and eminently drinkable, red fruit and flowers, and complex too. I'm talking about the 2010 Montalbera Grignolino d'Asti Grignè. When I looked for it at the store I saw that Charlie Woods of Bonhomie Imports brings in this wine, and I wasn't surprised at all. In keeping with his other wines that I know, this is very reasonably priced ($15-18), and it feels old school, and very pure.
I've had a few bottles now and I really like the wine. I like to drink it cool - cellar temperature, as you would a Beaujolais. The floral and spicy characteristics come out best that way. It's great with charcuterie or lentil soup, or most anything really, and it does drink well on its own. I had a bottle with a spread of Middle Eastern food and it was an excellent partner for the chickpeas and spinach, and also the Merguez sausage. This is a very light colored wine, like a Poulsard, and as with good Poulsard, the wine has great structure and sneaky intensity. Supposedly this is what you drink while you wait for your Barolo and Barbaresco to mature. I can see that when I drink this wine, and although I've not had even one other example of Grignolino, I'm not sure that I need to because this one is so very good.
Forcing myself out of the comfort zone...so far so good.
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The New York Botanical Garden in The Bronx is a real gem, as honestly are each of NYC's botanical gardens. I'm obviously partial to the Brooklyn garden, but Staten Island's is not to be missed, with its one-of-a-kind-on-the-east-coast Chinese Scholar's Garden. The garden in The Bronx also has its charms. It has what I understand to be the very last bit of old growth forest in New York City, for example.
Spring is a great reason to visit any of these gardens, but on top of that there is an absurd orchid show at the garden in The Bronx, through April 22.
I'm telling you, this is worth the trip.
Some of the orchids will make you blush.
These cannot be possible. But they are.
And it's not all orchids. There are orange-haired flowers.
I'm not fully convinced that these are real flowers.
There are space alien flowers, too.
And because we are people whose real reason for doing anything is actually the eating and drinking part, after the garden you can walk (maybe 20 minutes) to Arthur Avenue, the main drag in Belmont, the Little Italy of The Bronx. This place blows away the Little Italy in Manhattan, which at this point is not much more than a tourist trap. The bakeries, the delis, the cheese and antipasti shops, the restaurants...oiy vey!
A buddy and I took our daughters on a recent Saturday to see the orchids and then to Arthur Avenue. We ate lunch at Dominick's.
Calamari were among the very best I've had. Fried perfectly, so tender, served with the best "red sauce" I've encountered. The calamari were seasoned beautifully, just the right amount of salt - they didn't need the tomato sauce. But the tomato sauce was so very very good, it was hard to know what to do.
Linguine with shrimp and marinara sauce was also excellent.
Two of the three meatballs vanished in the 4 seconds that it required to take this photo.
If you go, make sure to visit Mount Carmel Wine & Spirits on 187th Street. Chambers Street Wines, this isn't. All I'm saying is that you'll be surprised and excited by what you find in the Piedmont section.
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This video, about 3 and a half minutes long, shows Sandro Piliego of Palo Cortado slicing Jamon Iberico, and discussing Jamon and Sherry. I shot the video on my phone and of course forgot to turn it sideways, so sorry about the rather narrow picture.
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