Thursday, March 29, 2007

Odds and Ends

I want to follow up on the Real Wine Attack tasting with a few thoughts and a couple more tasting notes, but this time from home, wine with dinner.

Domaine du Closel makes some of my favorite wines, not just white wines, or Loire Valley wines, but some of my favorites, period. Their top cuvee is Clos du Papillon, a rich and complex wine that is usually delicious young but can age for decades, revealing interesting secondary aroma and flavor characteristics. Les Cailladieres is their second wine and it is often a bit sweeter, not demi-sec sweet, but sweeter. Les Caillardieres tends to improve with age for about 5 years or so. I usually buy a few of both wines in each vintage. La Jalousie is their young drinking wine and each year I taste it, but I have yet to be super impressed. And at $15-20 depending on the vintage, I don't think it's a great value.

At Chambers Street last Saturday I tasted the 2005 La Jalousie and I liked it a lot, enough to bring a bottle home and give it the old dinner test. Brooklynlady and I enjoyed it on Sunday night with roast cod (the fish people are back at the farmer's market in Brooklyn - yeah!) and turnip puree. I diced and fried some hot sopressata sausage, rendering the fat for searing the cod, and mixing the sausage bits into the turnip puree. Even Brooklynlady, not a huge turnip fan, made hers disappear quickly.

This is the best Jalousie I have tasted. It needed about a half hour to open up, and then it was brilliant - well delineated aromas of flowers, stone fruit and citrus, some wax and some honey. A rainwater-pure palate echoed those aromas, and offered an lovely mineral finish. The wine was beautifully balanced with good acidity. It complimented the cod dish very well to, and continued to improve in the glass, and in the fridge overnight too. All of the sudden, for $20 this wine seems like a bargain...

I have very little experience with Rhone wine, a bunch of scattered tastes here and there really. I discovered Eric Texier's wines on Saturday at the tasting. Apparently it is quite difficult to find his wine, as many of his bottles achieved cult status a few years back. So maybe I'm not telling you anything new. But the wines were new and exciting to me. I also really enjoyed meeting Msr. Texier and appreciated his attitude toward making wine.

We were tasting through his wines, and I noticed that the Cote Rotie was noticeably lighter in color than the Cote du Rhone Brezeme. I have tasted only one Cote Rotie prior to this, and it was an inky dark wine. I said something to my pal about the color and Msr. Texier said:

"The dark inky wines you see coming out of Cote Rotie, the wine makers are doing something to those wines. Cote Rotie is very mineral soil, and the soil gives grapes with perfume, with mineral character. To extract that dark color is to make a wine that the soil is not giving. My wine, this Cote Rotie - this is what the soil gives."
I don't know how exactly to evaluate this comment, and I am not trying to start some debate about natural wine making or something. I just liked the feeling of what he said. It made me feel that Texier is concerned in a pure way with growing grapes and then fermenting their juice into wine, and that resonated with me. His Cote Rotie was absolutely delicious, the finest northern Rhone wine I have ever tasted - amazing balance of flavors and dynamism. And it smelled intensely of dark plums and dusty earth, very herbal too, and irony minerals. In its lightness of color and texture it reminded me of a great Burgundy - the lightness of color and texture belie the intensity of the wine.
And lastly for this week, I had the opportunity to drink a mature Burgundy the other night, something I haven't done since Christmas Eve. Deetrane and I had a bet about the gender of my daughter before she was born. I said "girl," he took "boy," and we bet a bottle of good wine, the loser's choice. Strange terms for a bet, yup. Anyway, I won the bet and Deetrane paid up in the form of a 1997 Domaine Rene Engel Vosne-Romanee. Here is Burgundy report's profile of the producer, and here are his tasting notes regarding Engel's wines.

I don't often drink 10 year old wine, although I aim to change that gradually by cellaring wines myself. Enjoying this wine with a simple dinner of flank steak with braised swiss chard reminded me of why I am devoting precious square footage in a Brooklyn apartment to wine storage. The secondary aroma and flavor characteristics that emerge with age are just fascinating, and mature Burgundy when well crafted is thrilling. Even a humble village wine, not some 1er or Grand Cru - wine I can afford when released.

This 1997 Vosne-Romanee was bright raspberry red with some signs of orange rust at the rims. Sort of like the patches of gray hair on the sides of my head. The nose was rich and deep, completely intoxicating, and it got better and better over a few hours. The nose was so expressive and so layered, it reminded me of the inside structure of a major league hardball: tightly coiled ball of cooked red fruit, with layers of savory herbs (rosemary?) and animal fur wrapped around it, and then mineral earth. Palate of soft cooked sour cherries with prominent herbs and dried leaves, and a mineral finish with vibrant acidity.

So well balanced! So intense and interesting! So many things happening at once, and all so convincing - the red fruit, the animal, the herbal, the leafy earthiness, the mineral...and all so well integrated, performing in harmony. I could drink this wine every few days for the next year and be so excited to do so. So I have to choose my Burgundy bottles wisely now, and be patient in aging them. This was just too good.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Notes From the Dressner Real Wine Attack Tasting

Warning: this is a really long post you might need to read it over several days, or during one day in which you are really bored at work.

I hauled my butt into Manhattan (!) on Saturday, thinking I would be the first guy at Chambers Street Wines for the tasting. Nope. Packed already, and only 1:10 PM. And as a reader named Andrew pointed out in his comments on Spring Tastings in NYC, many of the people in the store seemed to have no idea what was going on, they were there simply because they walked by and smelled the wine in the air. Which is fine by me - the more the merrier, except that Chambers Street is narrow and there honestly just wasn't enough space this year. This is suggestion number one for the friendly and amazing people at Chambers: hold this incredible tasting somewhere else next year. You need more room to do this, and so do your customers

They had already broken the tasting into two shifts, early and late, and only some of the wine makers would be present at each shift. Suggestion number two: hold this incredible tasting somewhere else next year. You have some people come because they walk by, but lots of people who know and love your wines come specially for this tasting, and want to be able to taste them and meet the vignerons. Impossible in this venue.

Many wines listed in the flier were simply not being poured when I was there. As a regular customer who made sure to inquire beforehand so as to better plan my day, this was very annoying, I must say. No reason not to open the wines you say you're going to open, right?
So I helped them out by bringing this to their attention, and then by actually opening some wines for them and creating a little "self-pour" tasting table featuring the wines of Chidaine, Baudry, and Marechal...and this turned out to be a lot of fun.

My only other gripe is this: some of the people pouring the wine seemed confused. They were mystified when told that they were pouring only one Baudry wine, and the flier indicated that four would be available for tasting. They poured wines in a strange order sometimes, and explained things about the wine that I know are not true because Jedi-master David Lillie who partially owns the place had already told me differently. Suggestion number three: make sure that your staff are assigned to pour wines that they know about and can discuss.

Okay, griping is over. The tasting was amazing - the wines were for the most part just delicious and full of character. If you like Loire wines, you're not going to do better than this. Also, the vignerons poured not only their entry level wines, but their top wines, and this provided the opportunity to taste a $62 Cote Rotie without actually buying it, which is much appreciated if you are in my tax bracket and you want to sample the wares before investing.

I decided that for this tasting I would score wines from 1-5 with 5 being my favorites, 1 indicating a wine that I just did not like. Wines are presented so that my favorite in any group appears first, etc. I tried to write further notes after the tasting, but I want to say right now that these scores and notes in no way should be construed as a description of the wine during a meal, thoughtfully considered over a couple of hours with friends. In fact, I tasted one of the wines with BrooklynLady over dinner since then, and it was wonderful, yet I didn't love it at the tasting. Just goes to show you, there is probably a "right" way to taste wine...

My 5's

2004 Eric Texier Cote-Rotie, $62 - This Northern Rhone Syrah was lighter than his other reds, incredibly intense nose of roasted meat and herbs, olives and soil. Complex palate of dark fruit, with great minerality and a lingering finish, still lip smacking in its youth.

2005 Eric Texier Vins de Pays O Pale, $16 - This is a sweet wine made entirely from Viognier grapes. Since all of the grapes are grown in Condrieu, why wouldn't Msr. Texier charge $95 for this bottle and label it Condrieu? Because wines called Condrieu must be dry wines, and this wine is fermented to only about 8% alcohol, leaving lots of residual sugars. But let us rejoice, because for $16, we can enjoy this glorious juice, smelling of peaches, orange blossoms and honey; with a soft and well balanced palate echoing the floral and orange blossom flavors, and also a confectioners sugar-yellow cake kind of thing. Just delicious, and a steal at this price.

My 4's

2002 Domaine du Closel Savennieres les Coteaux Moelleux, $28 - this is a rare sweet wine from Savennieres, crafted only in certain vintages. So much better than it was when I stupidly opened my bottle two years ago. Deep yellow, almost gold. luscious nose of white flowers, honey, and minerals. Mouth filling but light at the same time, delicious!

2005 Marechal Pommard La Chaniere, $50 - who would have thunk it? The '05s from Marechal are now available, and the Pommard, the Cote de Beaune village with the biggest muscles, the one that might require the longest time to reveal its charms, it was this young wine that impressed me as the most complex and immediately drinkable. Dark purple colored and a little murky, this wine smelled like a flower shop, with smoky spices too. Fruit is faint right now on the nose. Beautiful, although obviously tight palate, with hints of earth, flowers, dark fruit, and spices. This seems to be something special.

2004 Bernard Baudry Chinon La Croix Boissee
, $29 - Baudry's top cuvee, from old vines in clay and gravel, aged in wood barrels. This was tough right now, tightly coiled like the red string inside of a baseball. But the purity and elegance of the plum fruit and dark flowers was evident, and the tannins, although not yet integrated, are sweet and fine. You watch, talk to me in 8 years about this wine...

2005 Chidaine Montlouis sur Loire Clos Habert, $26 - Yum! I posted about this wine here.

2004 Domaine du Closel Savennieres Clos du Papillon, $26 - Closel's top cuvee, from the butterfly-shaped vineyard. This is still kind of closed, but the intense floral and mineral character shines through. White stone fruits too, and some quinine. I cannot wait to try this again (in at least 6 or 7 years).

2004 Cazin Cour Cheverny Cuvee Renaissance, $18 - Romorantin from the master, allowed to ripen longer on the vine, creating a sweeter wine than the normal Cour Cheverny. This might honestly be the best under $20 value that I know of in white wine...period. I posted about this wine here.

2004 Eric Texier (yeah, I didn't know about him either, but this guy might be a genius) Brezeme Domaine de Pergault Vieilles Vignes, $29 - I don't know what the name means, but this is Cotes du Rhone at its finest. 100% Syrah from the resurrected Brezeme vineyard, this is light in color, but intense with plums, herbs, and tar, and really well balanced with nice acidity and low alcohol. Has a long life ahead of it too.

2005 Desvignes Morgon Javernieres, $21 - Cru Beaujolais from Desvignes, always good. This one was really good though, from clay soils, with a lovely translucent purple color, a nose of violets, ripe red fruits, dark plums, and a little barnyard funk. Very smooth and elegant.

2005 Jean Manciat Macon Vieille Vignes, price unknown (about $30) - old vine Chardonnay from the Maconnais, a Burgundian region known for value whites. This wine was bright and fresh, with nice white fruit and citrus, and great minerals and acidity. I had zero expectations for this one, but I couldn't drag myself away...

2005 Chidaine Montlouis sur Loire Les Bournais, $32 - sweeter than the Clos Habert, very sweet in fact. It seems to have enough acidity to balance itself out though. After another few sips, and this wine was warm, by the way - it was opened at my urging (read: nagging) it came into focus. Clean and pure aromas of white flowers and honey, sweet palate of peaches, some pineapple, and some honeyed minerals. This wine has some serious stuffing, and I will have to revisit in a few years.

NV Renerdat-Fache Bugey Cerdon Demi-sec Petillant, $16 - this is a low alcohol (~7.5%) effervescent rose colored wine from Bugey in eastern France. Made from Poulsard and Gamay, it is sweet, fruity, and funky all at the same time, and pleasantly bubbly. So low in alcohol, you could pour your grandma a few glasses and she'll have a ball without falling asleep. I posted about this wine here.

2004 Michel Tete Julienas Cuvee Prestige, $23 - not cheap for cru Beaujolais, but it's worth the money. Smels of flowers and plums, with a mouth filling velvety texture and sweet black cherry flavors. This almost doesn't seem like Beaujolais, except for the fact that it has almost no tannic presence. Just yummy.

My 3's

2005 Domaine du Closel Savennieres la Jalousie, $20 - Closel's entry level wine meant for drinking young, although don't be fooled - this is serious wine.

2004 Cazin Cour Cheverny, $13.50 - surprised me by NOT being as bracing and acidic as the last vintage I tasted. Quite lovely actually, with melon and floral aromas, good acidity, but well balanced with a hint of sweetness. Definitely a $15 beauty.

2005 Eric Texier Cotes du Rhone, $12 - fresh ripe raspberries on the nose, so nice! Fruity and clean on the palate, a bit hollow in the midpalate, but c'mon, it's $12. This wine is made mostly from Grenache, but includes 20% white grapes in the mix. Another $15 beauty.

2005 Eric Texier Cotes du Rhone Brezeme,
$16 - 100% Syrah from the Brezeme vineyard, this wine is tasty with dark smoky plums and herbs. A great value.

2005 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Clos des Briords Vieille Vignes, $14 - old vine wine from the musc-master Marc Ollivier. All of his Muscadets were just lovely, but this is my favorite. I posted about this wine here. This and the next two wines are unquestionably $15 beauties.

2005 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Cuvee Eden, $13 - a little more fruit than the Briords, less mineral character.

2005 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, $10 - briny and bracing, good citrus and melon flavors, nice texture. Incredible that this wine is $10.

2005 Jean Manciat Macon Charnay Franclieu
, $17 - Manicat's Chardonnay for younger drinking, fresh, vibrant, and delicious.

2005 Desvignes Morgon Cote de Py, price unknown - this one from schist soils, more tannic and mineral than the Javernieres. I am not familiar with Beaujolais as it matures - I tend to drink them young. Maybe this will improve, but currently eclipsed by its sister, the Javernieres.

2005 Chidaine Montlouis sur Loire Les Tuffeaux, $25 - sweet white fruit and honey, very pure, a little toasty, a bit disjointed right now but has promise to be sure. This wine is made from grapes from several plots.

2005 Chidaine Vouvray Clos Baudoin, $26 - my first taste of Chidaine Vouvray (and their first vintage of this wine?). Interesting smells of citrus and kerosine hints, flavors of red grapefuit and stones. More interesting than pleasurable to me, but maybe with some time...

2004 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grezeaux, $25 - Baudry's other old vine wine, also made from grapes in clay and gravel soils, but without the new barrel aging. Tight still, but clean and interesting with smells of barnyard funk and dark plums and herbs. Will need a few years to shine, I would say.

2004 Mas de Chimeres Coteaux du Languedoc, $17 - mostly Syrah (I think), this wine has a rustic feel to it, in a good way. Herbal and smoky, some road tar, and nice dark fruit. Light feeling too, not too much alcohol.

2005 Marechal Bourgogne Rouge
, $25 - disappointing, not bad, but disappointing. A great and undervalued producer, a great vintage, shouldn't this have been special wine? It certainly was floral and had sweet fruit a-plenty, but there was little complexity, not much to hold your interest. For 25 smacks, you can do better elsewhere.

My 2's

2005 Michel Tete Julienas, $18 - barnyard city. I didn't like this the other time I tasted it, and that was at home with dinner. Maybe I'm missing something...

2005 Eric Texier Cotes du Rhone Brezeme Roussanne, $20 - 100% Roussanne from Brezeme. The nose was wonderful, full of orange oil and flowers. The palate did nothing for me though. This may be because I just don't often drink white wines that are low in acidity, and I don't know how to taste them. This wine felt flabby to me, no vibrancy.

2005 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Cabernet Franc, $13. I very much like their Sauvignon Blanc, so I was surprised at how uninspired I was by this wine.

2004 Bernard Baudry Chinon Domaine, $15 - Hmmm, so much barnyard funk that its kind of hard to focus on anything else. Could it because I just opened it moments before tasting, and it hadn't yet blown off? I sure hope so. I loved the 2002 and 2003 vintages of this wine.

2005 Breton Bourguiel Franc de Pied, $20 - I know that Breton is kind of hip, and I usually like their wines. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the two wines I tasted here.

2005 Breton Bourguiel Trinch!, $16 - trinch, the sound of two glasses clinking, is a wine to drink young. Not this one though, not for me.

2000 Chateau Moulin Pey Labrie Canon Fronsac, $29 - You were right Joe, this is just nothing special. Deep cassis aromas, nice perfume - seems so promising, but a monochromatic palate of dark jammy plums. Not interesting enough to justify the price tag.

My 1's

2005 Clos Roche Blanche Cuvee Cot, $19 - nope, not happenin'. I know that some people love this wine, some people whose palate's I trust and respect. But I'm going my own way here - I just cannot drink this wine. All Malbec, and all funky soil, all out of balance. I would rather drink seltzer, and I say that in the friendliest way. I welcome someone's teachings on this wine...

NV Pinon Vouvray Petillant Brut, price unknown (about $17) - maybe a flawed bottle. Tasted like cardboard and excrement. And after I primed Adam for how tasty it would be, too...If not flawed, than simply yukky.

Wines that I could not score because I could not figure out what the heck was going on:

2005 Marechal Savigny les Beaune Vieille Vignes, $39 tight, bland, tannic.
2005 Marechal Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru Les Lavieres, $50 red fruit hints, too tight to tell what's happening.

Wines that I did not get the chance to taste:

All of the Beaujolais wines of Jean-Paul Brun, Domaine des Terreed Dorees.
All of the wines of Franc Peillot of the Jura.
Eric Bordelet's Normandy Ciders.

Wines that were not poured when I was present, that I wish I could have tasted:

Domaine Belliviere's 2005 Coteaux du Loir and Jasnieres wines - such a shame!!
Breton's "better" wines, Les Galichets, Nuits d'Ivresse, and Les Picasses.
Pinon's 2005 Vouvray Tradition or Moelleux sweet wine.

Okay, that's a wrap folks. If you can still focus your eyes, and still have control of your mouse-finger, you may now click away from this page.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Adventures in Wine Buying...The Final Chapter

And we return to Deetrane's dark tale of intrigue, wading through the swamp of the secondary market. Prepare yourself, dear reader, for this..the final chapter (cue: scary music, rain thrashing down outside your window, lightning, etc.).

At the end of the last installment Deetrane, instead of getting to work on time, was sitting in a police lockup wondering if Konstantin would learn of his complicity in the sting, but far more concerned about the fate of several of his cheaply (and illegally) obtained Barbaresco.

Will Deetrane get to keep the wine? Will Konstantin disembowel Deetrane, and feast upon his wine-ravaged liver? Read on, friend, as Deetrane, guest poster and pal extraordinare concludes this grisly tale of Adventures in Wine Buying.

So now that the guts of the story have been told, I can be a bit more introspective and get some things off of my chest. First of all, have this nagging guilt for turning Konstantin in. I know what he did was wrong, but I was profiting from it, too. The restaurant’s take was that if I hadn’t happened to pop in, the theft could have continued indefinitely. So they were grateful. But that thing he said to me in the car, with such a look of complete despair, ruin even, still sort of haunts me. So I don’t want anyone to think I am gloating. This story is really kind of sad.

Anyway, on to the conclusion. Apparently they made Konstantin stew inside an interrogation room for hours. He was sending text messages to Simon at Esca – desperate, pathetic messages, like “I’m so sorry. Please help me. I have no one.”

Meanwhile, the seven bottles I purchased for $150 in the sting were not enough to warrant grand larceny charges, unless they tied in testimony from me about the other 30+ bottles I had already purchased. But with all of the other criminal activity that takes place in the city, I guess the cops just didn’t have enough to book him then and there. So after a good couple days in the lockup, they gave him what is known as a “desk appearance ticket”, or a DAT. This means that they let you go, without arresting you, and tell you that you’ll need to come back later to be formally arrested. Meanwhile, the 1996 Roagna Barbaresco Paje did in fact simmer in the non-air conditioned 10th precinct until it was probably added to someone’s labor day sangria.

Konstantin was never heard from again. The scuttlebutt was that he jumped the first Aeroflot flight back to Russia. I, however, collected the following bottles, most of which I have not yet touched, and for which I am supplying whatever tasting notes I can find, if any (e.g. Wine Spadvocator).

Tenuta Rocca Barolo 2000 x 3

WS: Silky and tight wine with pretty fresh rose and strawberry aromas and flavors. Medium- to full-bodied, with fine tannins and a refreshing, citric aftertaste. Clean and fresh style. Best after 2006. 300 cases made. –JS Score: 90, July 04 - Release Price: $50

Luigi Pira Barolo Marenca 2001 x 3

WS: Intense aromas of blackberries, lightly toasted oak and plums. Very intense. Full-bodied, with big velvety tannins and a long, caressing finish. Serious wine. Best after 2008. 1,000 cases made. –JS Score: 92, Oct 05

Varaldo Barbaresco Sori Loreto 1999 x 3

Paolo Conerno Barolo Ginestra 1999 x 3

Marziano & Enrico Abbona Barolo Pressenda 2000 x6

WS: Fantastic aromas of crushed flowers, licorice, raspberries and strawberries. Full-bodied, with a solid core of ripe fruit and supersilky tannins. Long. Fantastic for this producer. Best I have ever had from here. Best after 2009. 1,220 cases made. –JS Score: 94, July, 2004 – Release Price: $52

Paitin Barbaresco Sorì Paitin Vecchie Vigne 2001 x 3

WS: Rich and decadent, with mushroom, berry and cherry aromas and flavors. Full-bodied, with chewy tannins and a long, ripe fruit aftertaste. Big wine. This is always impressive. Much better than the 2000. Best after 2008. 400 cases made. –JS Score: 93, Dec 2004 – Release Price: $75

Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco 2001 x 3

WS: A soft and ripe red with plum and berry character and just a hint of meat. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a long finish. Best after 2008. 1,020 cases made. –JS Score: 93, Oct 2005, Release Price: $78

Piero Busso Barbaresco Borgese 1999 x 3

WS: Refined red. Aromas of berries and fresh herbs follow through to a medium-bodied palate, with refined tannins and a pretty, fruity finish. Best after 2006. 500 cases made. –JS, Score: 90, Nov 2002, Release Price: $52

Guido Porro Barolo Vigna S. Caterina 2001 x 3

WS: Extremely attractive aromas of roses, spices and light wood follow through to a medium-to-full body, with fine tannins and a pretty finish. Balanced and refined. Best after 2007. 280 cases made. –JS, Score: 90, Release Price $40

Tua Rita Toscana Giusto di Notri 2002 x 2

WS: This shows beautiful vanilla, violet and berry character on the nose. Medium- to full-bodied, with well-integrated tannins and a subtly complex finish. Fine wine. Very well done for the vintage. More balanced and refined than the 2001. Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Best after 2005. 2,450 cases made. –JS, Score: 90, Oct 2004, Release Price: $85

Cascina Ebreo Segreto 1999 x

WS: A traditionally-made (no filtration, wines aged at least two years in oak and another in bottle before release) blend of Barbera (85-90%) and Nebbiolo, made by two Swiss winemakers who bought the derelict estate in 1991. Apparently a well-kept Piedmontese secret.

Braida Barbera D’Asti Ai Suma 2001 x 3

Jammy, new world-style wine – tasted to me like an Amarone. Not quite to my style

Braida Barbera D’Asti Bricco del Uccellone 2001 x 3

Big, leathery, huge monster wine. More to my palate, but could definitely mellow for a few more years.

So we are not quite yet at the end of the saga. I still ahve to drink all of the stuff. And I still wonder if I will find an angry Konstantin lurking one day outside my house. Thanks for reading, you all, but I have to go now, because there's a guy from Craig's List waiting outside with a few cases of Riedel glasses in his trunk...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Spring Tastings in NYC

If you live in or near New York City, and you like wine, here are some tastings that should not be missed:

Dressner Selections Real Wine Attack 2007, March 22-24, FREE.

This is a tasting of an amazing portfolio of producers primarily from the Loire Valley, but also including one or two from Burgundy, Beaujolais, Languedoc-Roussillon, Bugey, Bordeaux, and Piedmont. These are producers who make "real" wine, not using wood chips, for example (a la the manipulation being heatedly discussed on Eric Asimov's blog right now).

No excuse to miss this one, as you can participate starting tonight, Friday night, and/or Saturday afternoon, depending on which wine shop you want to go to:

Thursday March 22 from 6:00 - 8:00 PM at Crush Wine and Spirits.
Friday March 23 from 6:00 - 8:00 PM at Prospect Wine Shop and Greene Grape Wines (both will offer smaller versions of the tasting).
Saturday March 24 from 1:00 - 7:00 PM at Chambers Street Wines.

Pinot Days, April 28-29, $50, more for special tastings.

Aimez-vous Pinot Noir? Alors, you should participate in this incredible tasting. There is a "regional" tasting on Sunday April 29 from 1:00 - 5:00 PM offering Pinot from all over the world. Yes, this should be a blast. There are also special American Pinot tastings, such as "Oregon 2005 Vintage Horizontal." These cost about $100 clams, but they offer an amazing opportunity to sample "at least 16 wines" from a specific locale.

What kind of person is it, I ask, who would not go to this Oregon 2005 Horzontal? They'll serve you 16 wines blind - that's right, from paper bags, and after you taste them, talk about them, maybe even guess who produced them, they will reveal the wines. You'll learn about producers, the wines that you really like, and are not as crazy about, and discover whether or not the 2005 vintage is any good.

Brooklyn Uncorked, May 16, $30.

Are you kidding me?!? You live in or near NYC and you haven't really tasted Long Island wines? No, just 'cause you tasted that one wine at that restaurant once, that does not count. There is amazing stuff happening out there - beautiful (and old world-ish) expressions of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Bordeaux blends...lovely Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays, excellent dessert wines, and plenty of other interesting stuff. All of the top producers will be there, including Shinn Estate Vineyards, The Lenz, Paumanok, and others.

Plus, this tasting is happening in Brooklyn.

Honestly, just come and taste the wines, - I guarantee that you will be impressed with their quality. Some nice folks, including Lenn, will be there too. And if great local wine and Lenn are not enough for you, this event is being held from 6:00 - 9:00 PM at the really cool Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) cafe, a lovely setting, and right near Fort Greene, Cobble Hill, and Park Slope - some very cool Brooklyn nabes. Plenty of good places to eat dinner afterwards.

Sotheby's Pre-Sale Tasting, May 17, $75.

Can't afford Petrus, Rousseau, or Stag's Leap? Well, you should try Pitrus, Rasseau, and Stog's Leap (sorry, old joke). Want to taste them, and other such fine wines? Well, make a reservation (you have to wait until next week to do this), say goodbye to $75 and go to this hectic but amazing tasting. For exactly one hour you will elbow your way through to taste the 1993 Rousseau Clos de la Roche, but how the heck else are we going to taste these wines? I go to these every few months, so click on the "tasting events" label if you want to read about past Sotheby's Pre-Sale tastings.

See you at these tastings - I will be the guy in the Brooklynguy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gruner Veltliner Blind Tasting

Gruner Veltliner – the hip wine? Pinot Noir is hip, that’s for sure, every since the Miles character in the film Sideways showered it with his quirky and neurotic love. But Gruner Veltliner, hip? An Austrian grape producing mineral, stony, white peppery wine…hip? Amy Louise Pommier, manager of the wonderful Prospect Wine Shop in Brooklyn, says emphatically “yes!”

Actually, she says that Gruner Veltliner was THE hip white wine a year ago, and that every with-it New York sommelier listed a few bottles and wines by the glass. Now, Txakoli, the summery, briny Basque juice is the new hip white wine, Amy says. Who knew that wines, sommeliers, and wine drinkers, are so fickle? Why should they be any different from anyone else, I guess.

Maybe it means that although we so much crave to be cutting edge, we are behind the times and decidedly un-hip, but we chose Gruner Veltliner as the theme for our recent tasting crew evening. Our regular crew, minus a flu-bitten Deetrane, was joined by a new and hopefully regular tasting pal, Tyrie, of Florida fame. We also enjoyed the company of two special guests, Amy Louise Pommier, and her friend, wine educator Mimi Thompson. Amy and Mimi have VAST wine experience and knowledge, and they both have special interest in Gruner Veltliner. Amy visited and tasted at many of the wineries last year, and Mimi has an Austrian parent, and has spent time there as well. They chose and brought many of the wines, and they prepped our Gruner-ignorant crew about the general characteristics of the grape before we got started.

More than a third of Austria’s grapevines are Gruner Veltliner. Much of Austria’s prime wine real estate is steep rocky-granite soil. Gruner Veltliner and Riesling, Austria’s other white grape, do very well in Austria’s mineral rich soils, producing powerful and rich wines that are not heavy, and often of great purity. Typical flavors include citrus and white stone fruits, and ground white pepper. The wines are almost always intensely mineral. They can age for decades, and supposedly (I have never tasted an aged GV) develop complex floral and fruit flavors to go along with the mineral notes. An interesting side note here - many Gruners are screw cap sealed.

Gruner is not “trophy” wine – this is wine for drinking and enjoying. Generally low in alcohol with zippy acidity, Gruner Veltliner makes great food wine. Pair with seafood of course, but also with chicken, with all sorts of vegetable dishes, and with speck or other cured meats. I think that Gruner’s crystalline incisiveness make it a good match for heavy Austrian style foods such as sausages and sauerkraut, or mushroom dumplings. But I like piercing white wines with heavy food…maybe it’s just me.

And maybe best of all, you can spend $15 and enjoy a great (or really good, at least) bottle of Gruner. If you spend $35 it means A) you frequent one heck of a wine shop that carries top of the line GV, or; B) you have already tasted through the $15 bottles, you like ‘em, and now it’s time for the big stuff, or; C) how do I know why you do the things you do? I don’t understand myself, why would I have you figured out?

If you’re curious to try but don’t know where to start (like me), and if the notes below somehow are not enough for you (whatever pal – we’re trying our best over here) you can look for Terry Theise’s name on the back of the bottle. As with small grower Champagne, Theise has selected a great portfolio of Gruner Veltliners to import to the US.

To remind you of our little blind tasting system, first place votes are worth 5 points, second place votes are worth 3 points, and third place votes are worth 1 point. So, what happens when you put seven people in a Brooklyn apartment full of 2005 Gruner Veltliner? To me it’s telling that every wine received at least 2 votes – the overall quality was quite good. That said, only Amy and Mimi really understood these wines before tasting, and the rest of us (or me, at least) had a tough time “loving” them. They are not obvious wines, full of fruit. I would put it this way: I recognize the quality of the wines, and there were two that I really liked, but I am not yet haunted by the glory of Gruner Veltliner, I don’t yet crave the wine. Give me time though…

2005 Hiedler Gruner Veltliner Maximum, $40 (prices at Prospect Wine Shop. You might find them a little lower elsewhere, but these are fair prices). 19 points (3 first place votes, 1 second place, 1 third place). This wine sort of ran away with the tasting. I had it in first place, so did Amy, and so did Pristine. Kind of a shame though, because it is not typical of Gruner Veltliner – it is "Maximum" reality TV style Gruner. My notes: Oak? Honey? White pepper and minerals, effervescent, some citrus and honey on the palate. Nice acidity. I think I liked it so much because it reminded me of other wines that I love from the Loire Valley. Amy also said that she “felt like a slut” for picking this first. She would have preferred to pick a more typical wine, and she would not pick this wine to cellar, just to drink now. Hard to argue though, it’s tasty wine. Tanzer gave this wine a 90, for whatever that’s worth.

2005 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner Lamm, $33. 10 Points (3 second place votes (including mine), 1 third place). Tasting it later in the evening with some brown bread and speck, I would have voted for this as my favorite wine if I could do it over. And I might grab a few of these for the old cellar. My notes: Complex, slightly honeyed nose of spicy white grapes and rocks. Green apple, citrus, mineral palate, great acidity, lingering finish. Tanzer gave this wine a 93, if that sort of thing excites you.

2005 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit, $17. 10 points (2 first place votes – Mimi and Tyrie really fell for this wine). This is Nigl’s entry level Gruner. It’s a great wine and a tremendous value, definitely a $15 beauty (note: I have seen this wine selling for $15). I have tasted this wine in each of the last three vintages, and it’s always good. My notes: Smells of wet stones and empty fish tank. Palate of citrus, sweet white stone fruit, and loads of minerals. Very tasty.

2005 Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner Renner, $28. 8 points (1 first place vote, 1 second). Amy would have put this first if she could do it all over, she said. My notes: Mineral nose, some herbal notes, a touch of honey. White fruit, citrus and rocks on the palate, some pepper.

2005 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Ried Loiser Berg, $22. 6 points (1 second place vote, 3 third places, including mine). My notes: Grassy nose, cat pee. Some citrus and minerals too. Dominant minerals on the palate, with green apple and some pepper on the finish. Good acidity, complex.

2005 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Alte Reben, $30. 6 points (1 first place vote, 1 third place). Alte reben means old vines, and this wine was, to me, not as approachable now as the other Nigl wine. And by the way, the top Nigl GV is called Privat, and it’s beautiful stuff, although it costs about $38 a bottle. Adam really liked this wine, noting that it was completely different from the other wines in the tasting. He always seems to like interesting wines, so maybe I have to give this one another shot tonight. Mimi also voted for it, saying that it was not her favorite for current drinking, but that she recognized it as excellent wine. I didn’t like it. My notes: unusual nose of tropical fruit – banana? Nuts? Wood? Fat on the palate, unfocused, some white fruit. Not enough acidity to direct this wine. Amy said that it probably needs time to settle down, that it will show much better with some more time.

2005 Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner Kamptaller Terrasen, $19. 4 points (1 second place vote, 1 third). My notes: Nose of white grapes, honey, cat pee, tarragon? Rocks, melon, and pepper on the palate. Some effervescence to this wine. Very tasty, not as complex as some of the others.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Remembering a Trip to Oregon with a 2003 Pinot

In early January of 2005 BrooklynLady and I visited the Willamette Valley in Oregon. We spent a few days visiting wineries and tasting rooms, trying various restaurants, driving around, generally enjoying ourselves in the Pacific Northwest. We stayed at this bed and breakfast outside of McMinnville called Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn. You have to drive a few miles off the main road to get to the inn and the scenery on the hilltop is gorgeous.

Youngberg estate vineyards surround the inn on all sides, and there is a small barn with a few horses. A wrap-around porch allows you to sit and look down through the valley, really a stunning view. Convenient to everywhere in the valley and not more than 90 minutes from Portland, the inn was very comfortable and cozy. Breakfast was kind of fussy and not so great, but the fireplace in the common room and the bevy of Oregon wine literature, the soft rugs and couches made this place a great winter wine getaway.

Because it is on a small road in the hills, you really feel like you're off in the woods. One day, for example, after lots of tasting at several wineries and then a late lunch at the Dundee Bistro (a great lunch spot frequented by many local wine makers), we were driving back to the inn for a little siesta. We crested a small rise on the dirt and gravel road leading to the inn and suddenly there was a herd of about 30 elk! They grazed on the side of the road, their nostrils steaming in the January air. Ours was the only car around, and we stopped to admire them. A large male was on look-out duty, and he stood perfectly still, erect and tense, looking back at us. BrooklynLady opened the door of our rental car to get a better look and in that instant they moved into the hills, not running, gliding almost, but they were gone very quickly. A magical experience.

One morning, still in bed, I was reading a feature about Daedalus Cellars in an Oregon wine newsletter and I looked out the window and watched a coyote ambling through the vineyards, not 50 feet from the inn. Seemed like a good omen, right? The newsletter had good things to say, so when I put together a case of wine to bring home from that trip, one of the bottles was a 2001 Daedalus Cellars Pinot Noir Labyrinth.

Daedalus Cellars is named after the mythological Greek inventor and architect, designer of the labyrinth that King Minos of Crete requested in order to trap the Minotaur birthed through a union of his own wife and a bull. The connection between Daedalus the myth and this wine...who knows?

Wine maker Aron Hess puts out several wines each year from sourced grapes. He and his wife purchased 17 acres that will soon produce grapes for a Daedalus Estate wine, but until then we have Daedalus Seven Springs Vineyard, a famous Willamette vineyard, also the hallmark of Mark Vlossak at St Innocent. There is also an "entry level" wine, called Willamette Valley, a Syrah (that I have never tasted), and Labyrinth, a blend of fruit from Seven Springs and three other vineyards, Maresh, Momtazi, and Hawks View. Hess is something of a young star in the Willamette Valley, known as a highly skilled wine maker. There are less than 1,000 cases produced of Daedalus wine each year, but you can try it quite easily by ordering from Willamette Valley online stores. I have seen the wines at Burgundy Wine Company in Manhattan too, if you live in my area.

I recently visited Portland again, and I've been thinking about how great it would be to go back to the Willamette Valley. I would be so much more directed in my visits and tastings this time. Tonight, an icy and stormy night, I wanted to open something to remind us of that trip a few years ago. The 2001 Labyrinth is long gone, though. So we went with the 2003 instead, which is interesting because it was such a tough year. Overheated, high alcohol and low acid wines were common. We've been drinking mostly 2004 Oregon wines lately. How would this wine show?

2003 Daedalus Cellars Pinot Noir Labyrinth, $36.
Lovely clear violet color. Incredibly floral nose, lots of freshly turned soil smells too. Considering the 14.1% alcohol level, I sense no heat on the nose whatsoever - impressive. The palate is sweet blue fruit, unmistakably Oregon Pinot, and elegant. Smooth mouthfeel, perfumey in the mouth, the sweet sappiness gives way to intense foral and mineral (iron) flavors. This is delicious and complex wine, a great achievement in a tough year. Makes me wish I had ordered a few of the 2004's - imagine what this wine could be in a good vintage! The estate fruit should be ready soon, too, and that should really be interesting - Daedalus wine from Daedalus fruit. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Did You See That?

There is so much happening on wine and food blogs, a lot of interesting material and some excellent writing and photography too. I want to step back and share some of the posts from the last month or so that made a big impression on me for one reason or another. This list by no means represents "the best" posts, or anything like that. Just some material that affected me in some way, and that I want to share with you just in case you didn't come across it yourself. Here they are, in no particular order:

Most of you read Vinography, Alder Yarrow's widely enjoyed blog. So you probably saw this piece on a Loire Valley family and a particular Sancerre. But just in case you didn't, or even if you did - take another look. Why did it impress me so? I learned something reading this piece, something about Sancerre, a Loire appellation that I pay no attention to but should, something about the Cotat family and about Les Monts Damnes vineyard. And the writing, in my opinion, is superb. There is some history, some details-for-wine-geeks information, and some descriptive tasting notes. Alder's personality and his opinions are threaded throughout the piece but they are not imposed upon the reader. After reading the piece, I understood that I must try this wine. This post is a model for me of what I want my wine profiles/reviews to be like.

I started reading Kitchen Chick when she hosted a Wine Blogging Wednesday back in November. She has quite the Chinese cooking and ingredients series going, really worth following if you enjoy that style of food. This post describes a pickled green beans and ground pork dish that looks delicious, and describes how she came to know this dish and to replicate it at home. What really impresses me, though, is how well the recipe is explained, how easy she makes it to give it a try. Made me think about including recipes when I write about food we cook. Easier said than done if you don't use recipes, and I usually don't.

And speaking of food, Fork and Bottle's review of Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller's new restaurant is a great example of what a restaurant review should be. It describes in detail every aspect of the dining experience - both the good and the bad. There are good photographs (how do they do that anyway - does the staff allow it, or do they shoot on the sly?) of the food so you get a better sense of what the restaurant is about. What really impresses me about this review is Jack and Joanne's committment to reporting their experience, which in this case, was not so good. They are not hesistant to pan the place even though Keller is some kind of restaurant-god. Too many reviewers work too hard to find some reason to recommend a restaurant. And most restaurants just aren't that good! Maybe it's because the job of restaurant reviewer demands generosity in that way, so bloggers are better suited to tell the truth. I don't pay any attention to restaurant critics who don't include negative reviews in their portfolio. With Jack and Joanne you can trust that they will call it as they see it.

And last but certainly not least, Jancis Robinson's site is a little frustrating to me because so many articles require membership ($120 annual) in order to access. I imagine that this is a fair price for the information she delivers (I am not a member and cannot verify this myself). Every now and then something noteworthy pops up in the "Free for All" portion of the site. This piece on recent vintages in Burgundy is simply excellent - great writing, so informative, and just plain thoughtful. This piece stimulates my own thinking, doesn't just tell me how to think. If this is any indication of what you get for your 120 clams, I may just have to join.

That's it for this month's installment of "Did You See That?" Please comment - I need to broaden my wine and food blog reading. Your suggestions are much appreciated.

Monday, March 12, 2007

New Montevertine Releases

First: give credit where credit is due. Eric Asimov wrote about Montevertine in his blog about a year ago, and his profile of the producer really spoke to me, the late Sergio Manetti and his son Martino. Why? They seem to make wine to the beat of their own drum, rejecting the obvious road to higher profits and instead delivering wines according to their own vision, a graceful expression of their grapes and soil. Their wines are elegant and lovely, sometimes intense, but not the powerful meaty heavyweight bombs that garner the higher scores from Wine Spadvocator.

I love people who reject authority, so I am biased in this producer's favor, but if you have tasted any of Montevertine's wines, I suspect that you will see that my bias is meaningless - the wines are just great, impossible not to like.

According to Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book, there hasn't been an excellent vintage in Tuscany since 1999. 2000 and '01 saw some excellent bottles but wines were irregular, '02 was a washout, and '03 was the heatwave year, with late ripening grapes (and I suspect Sangiovese is not late ripening, but I am not sure - anyone?) doing well according to Johnson. 2004 seems to have been a pretty good year.

My first taste of Montevertine wine was the 2002 Pian del Ciampolo and I really liked it, light and graceful but intense, like a good Pinot. I had this wine a few more times and liked it so much that I splurged on a few bottles of the 2001 Montevertine, the second level wine. This was just outstanding, and I have a few bottles sleeping in the cellar. The 2003 Pian del Ciampolo was also quite nice, but it didn't hook me like the 2002.

Chambers Street just put the new Montevertine wines on the shelves, the 2004 Pian del Ciampolo and the 2002 Montevertine. The Le Pergole Torte too, but at almost $90 a bottle, I just can't go there (I think). So I grabbed a few bottles of each, and popped one tonight with the last of our yummy spaghetti and meatballs.

2004 Montevertine Pian del Ciampolo, $21.
Clear ruby, straight to the rim. Focused nose of spices - cinnamon? Baking spices? There are also herbs and treebark on the nose, some dark fruit and roasted meat underneath. What a nose! Really interesting and lovely. The palate goes in a different direction. Juicy plums all the way, some cherry cola, some herbs, and a lingering fruit finish with nice acidity. There are some pleasant tannins that are well integrated already. This wine doesn't have the grace of the 2002, or the leathery earth of the 2003. But it is elegant, particularly on the nose, and it is more exuberantly fruity and fresh tasting than either of its predecessors. At 12.5% alcohol and $21, I would be happy to drink this wine quite often.

I may have to commit the sin of opening the second wine, the 2002 Montevertine, just to taste it, although it should probably age for at least 5 more years in order to truly shine. I'll let you know how that goes...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Load of Oregon Oregon!

That's right amigos, I just had the distinct pleasure of spending a couple of days in Portland, Oregon. It was a business trip, but I was able to cram in a good bit of wine tasting.

There are so many good things to say about Portland - a lovely downtown area, completely manageable in size. My pal NorthCarolinaGuy and and I were able to get our bearings easily and wander around most of the downtown area. Clean streets. There just isn't a lot of trash littered about, noticeably less than in NYC. Hip and interesting art galleries every couple of blocks. International food - in less than 48 hours, only in the downtown area, I saw Persian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian, Italian, French, Chinese, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, and other restaurants.

And the people (I hate saying "the people," makes 'em sound like I visited them in the zoo) are really nice - really. They aren't putting it on, it seems, they are just patient and pleasant people, eager to help you figure out their town without getting in your face.

And wine bars, great wine bars! This is Portland, after all, 45 minutes away from the first wineries in the Willamette Valley. People in the area are proud of the local wine, and there are plenty of places to taste. I was blown away by Oregon Wines on Broadway, off SW Washington, on Broadway. Nice atmosphere, not trying to be the ultimate romantic wine bar. No, this place looks like it was a pharmacy or a soda fountain about 3 hours ago. This place is about the wine. The tables are comfortable, sure, and there is plenty of local wine to look at on the shelves. There are 30 (!) Oregon Pinots on tap at any given moment, and you can buy them by the glass or in tasting sized pours.

We wandered into Vinopolis, an incredible wine store that without a doubt rivals my favorite places in NYC. The selection of Oregon wines was jaw dropping. I felt overwhelmed to see so many wines that I love or that I would love to taste, but cannot find in NYC, all just sitting there on the shelves, so reasonably priced and calm looking. No one was making a fuss, no "Oh my god, Shea Estate '05, just sitting here!" or other such exclamations. I guess they're used to it out there, the easy access to amazing and rare Oregon wine. There was a great Loire white selection too, and plenty of interesting looking 2005 Burgundy, including the tempting 2005 Confuron-Contiedot Bourgogne. And there were half bottles of Mas Blanc Banyuls Rimage la Coume. Had I a duffel bag with me in that place, fughedabadit.

And while I'm plugging Portland amenities, we loved our hotel, the Hotel Deluxe Portland. Big rooms, really good service, a great hotel bar and a pretty darn good restaurant. Comfy beds and linens too, they pay attention to what's important over there, and without crushing your bank account.

Okay, so the wines. Very impressive as a whole, particularly those from the 2004 vintage. I know that I expressed a lot of doubt about the 04 wines back in October, and I am ready to say that I was simply wrong. I found the wines to be fresh tasting, vibrant with acidity and fruit, and expressive of their Oregon locale - chock full of that blue fruit pine and earth sensation that permeates the wines of the Dundee Hills and the Willamette Valley. Here are NorthCarolinaGuy's and my notes (prices are by the bottle at the Oregon Wine Bar on Broadway, unless otherwise indicated):

2004 Sineann Pinot Noir Wyeast Vineyard ($40).
Dark plum color, pretty blue fruit and earth on the nose. Sweet sappy fruit on the palate, bursting with juicy acidity, a joyous wine. Dark fruits and earth coming through and a long and bitter finish. Very little tannic feel to the wine. We agreed that this didn't seem to warrant any cellaring - kind of blunt wine without a lot of acidity, but offering lots pleasure right now. Drink up and enjoy!

2005 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills ($20).
Reserved nose of pine and earth, a little green. Sour cherries on the palate, some bitter pine flavors too. Good acidity, very pleasant, and a great under $25 Pinot. Biodynamically produced.

2004 Belle Pente Pinot Noir Murto Vineyard
, ($35).
My first taste of Belle Pente wine in a couple of years, and what a wine it was, my favorite of the trip. Dark purple with a wonderful floral nose, faint smokiness too. Velvet texture, deep red and black fruit on the palate, great balance and acidity. Forest and dried leaf flavors underneath the sweet fruit. More Burgundian in style, I felt. This was the bottle I wrapped in a pair of sweatpants and checked in my luggage. I have to check out Belle Pente's other wines. I know that my pal Adam recently discovered these wines too, so maybe a joint venture...

2005 Soter Pinot Noir North Valley
, ($30).
My first ever taste of a Soter wine, great reputation. I was not impressed. Kind of murky in the glass, with an odd nose of candied orange peel, and garbage. Much better palate though, candied raspberries, good acidity. Such an off-putting nose, though...not for me.

2005 Shea Pinot Noir Estate, ($40).
Darkest wine, deep purple color. Reserved and unyielding nose, with lots of swirling, some soil, a little plum. Sappy syrupy black cherry, some pine. Simple wine, nothing elegant or delicate here. This to me does not come close to the Shea wines from the 2004 vintage, but that's probably true about 2005 in general. Fine, but not so impressive, and certainly not worth fighting for, as many will do after the high scores for the 04 wine.

2004 Cristom Pinot Noir Eileen Vineyard, ($51).
Intense dark purple, dried fruit and soil on the nose. Round tannins, good texture, black cherries, chocolate, damp cement and a bitter finish. This wine was almost too much, it really needed food. Nice, but not my favorite style of Pinot.

2004 Cristom Pinot Noir Sommers Vineyard, ($6 tasting pour, Southpark Wine Bar).
Blackberry and plum on the nose, some flowers too. Sweet black fruit palate with pine and earth, and good acidity. We preferred this wine over the first Cristom.

2004 Cameron Pinot Noir Gehrts Vineyard, ($6 tasting pour, Southpark Wine Bar).
Dark sweet fruit smells, some pine, some wet animal fur underneath. Black fruit on the palate, good acidity, but there was aspartame on the finish. Kind of a simple wine, I was not overly impressed.

2004 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, ($12 glass at Portland City Grill).
Light cherry red in the glass,sort of alarming, almost candy colored. Light waxy, perfumey raspberry smells, not enough acidity to balance the wine. Shoe polish in the mid palate. Not recommended.

2004 Brick House Pinot Noir Cuvee du Tonnelier, $42 (tasted at home the night before the trip - one must prepare one's self, no?). Still very young, as evidenced by the over two hours it took in the decanter to show itself. Creamy nose, some pine and dried leaves, dark fruits and cherry cola on the nose. Smooth texture. Medium body, palate of underbrush and pine, some dark fruit character. Very well delineated flavors, purity. This wine rewards patience, and will only improve with cellaring. This is a biodynamic wine, as I learned from Jack's list at Fork and Bottle, and I'm not the least bit surprised - such pure and well defined flavors, so much healthy earth aroma and flavor.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Adventures in Wine Buying...Continued

And now we return to our story, featuring Deetrane, guest-poster and pal extraordinaire:

At the end of the first installment I had just told the Esca staff that I had been buying their wine – stolen from their cellar. Now Pasternak, Frank, Simon and a couple other staff could be seen conferring in the courtyard, making frantic calls on cell phones and traipsing back and forth to the kitchen, with Pasternak eying me and Kevin suspiciously each time. All the while, Frank kept the wine flowing while extraordinary morsels kept appearing from the kitchen. When I asked Frank what was going on, all he could say was that Pasternak was “f*&%ing on the warpath”. I could only apologize meekly, but I was assured that it wasn’t my fault and that I should just enjoy my meal.

When the time came to leave, we were told that the check had been taken care of! I offered to help if I could, and Simon and I exchanged numbers. Two days later, on Wednesday afternoon, I spoke to Simon. Simon explained that on Tuesday he responded to one of Konstantin’s Craigslist posts, masquerading as an interested buyer. They set up a meeting for the next day, with NYPD in tow, but Konstantin stood them up. It soon became clear why.

Also on Tuesday, Esca began their first ever physical wine inventory, counting every bottle in the house. If you’ve been to Esca, you know that this is no small feat – the entire restaurant is packed to the rafters with row after row of wine bottles, in every nook and cranny. Apparently, they had never done a physical count before, so this must have tipped Konstantin off. Simon read me a terse text message he had received that morning from Konstantin:

“’My mother is sick. I’m moving back to Moscow. Thanks for everything. Sorry for the short notice.’ So, Dan,” Simon added, “if he tries to contact you, please let me know.”

I was absentmindedly checking my e-mail just as Simon was saying this. Lo and behold, there was a brand new message from Konstantin!!! I opened it and read it to Simon:

“I am moving to California. I have last 7 btl mix Barolo + Brunello . Buy them from me $150. No more wines after this (:”

What complete idiot! He needed ONE more bite at the apple, huh?

“Tell him you’ll take them all!” Simon responded. “Get a time and a location. Dave Pasternak knows the chief inspector of the NYPD. I’m going to contact him now.”

Wow. So now I was going to be the bait in a sting operation? Who would have thought that a little cheap Barolo and an innocent dinner invitation would have led to this? Of all the restaurants in New York, I had to visit the exact one whose stolen wine I was buying!

I firmed things up with Konstantin – we would meet at 9:00 a.m. on the Upper East Side. I received instructions to be at the 10th Precinct in Chelsea at 8:00 a.m. to get geared up for the buy-and-bust. The next morning Simon met me at the precinct where we were briefed by one of the detectives, who explained that I would accompany him and three other detectives in two cars. I would approach the “perp” while they blended into the crowd, and I would make the buy. They would then surround us and cuff both of us (“We don’t want him to think that you had anything to do with him getting’ busted.”) Immediately afterwards we would be put in separate cars, where he would be driven to his destiny, and I would be on my way. I was assured, numerous times, not to worry, that “nobody’s gonna get hurt.”

After the detectives conducted a collection around the station house to cobble together $150 in sting-money (the sting-money drawer only had $25 left) and photocopied the bills, we set out for the upper east side. While we were driving one of them asked me “What is so special about this wine, anyway?”I will admit that I didn’t know how to answer that question, at 8 in the morning, in the back of a squad car, a couple of gum shoes in the front. So I started to say "Well in Piedmont, they use a grape called Nebbiolo to make their finest wines..." and I rambled on in that vein for about 10 minutes, delivering a mini-lecture on Italian wine. It seemed like they weren't all that interested. Then, and this really happened, they engaged in a heated debate about the merits of Budweiser versus Miller High Life. I found myself, eyes glazed over, staring out the window at traffic. How the tides can reverse themselves so quickly!

Arriving on the scene, both cop cars parked smack in the middle of a bus stop (aiy yai yai, cops!), and the four detectives quickly became all business.

“Aight, kid” – kid? I’m 36. “Go. We’ll see you on the other side.”

I walked down Lexington to the appointed corner, hoping that the sweat forming in various spots wouldn’t give me away. I could see Konstantin on the far corner as I waited for the light to change, crowds of rush hour pedestrians swarming around me. I felt a twinge of guilt at the wrath of justice that I was about to bring down on his bald head.

I walked up to Konstantin and my 8th grade acting lessons kicked in. We shook hands, exchanged a few pleasantries, and I handed him the wad of sting money. As I transferred the bottles to my briefcase, including the lovely 1996 Roagna Barbaresco Paje, I mourned their fiery deaths in the bowels of a sweltering evidence room.

So, that was it –the buy, completed. But where was the NYPD? What about the bust? It felt like an eternity. Konstantin asked where I was headed, if I was going downtown. Wanting to avoid seeming awkward, I turned with him towards the subway entrance we were standing next to and BADA BING, there they were, all four of them, badges blazing!

“Turn around please, hands against the wall, you’re under arrest.” Very calm, like they were ordering hot dogs.

The rest was a blur. Cold metal on wrists. A look of pure confusion on Konstantin’s face. Pathetic feigned outrage on my part. Bug-eyed pedestrians staring at us like we had horns sticking out of our foreheads. And then, suddenly, I’m sitting in the back of the car, and Konstantin is RIGHT NEXT TO ME!!! What happened to two separate cars? Not two seconds had passed before Konstantin says to me, under his breath,

“I sure hope you’re not working with them, because boy am I screwed.”

Um, yeah, you are, I thought, but I figured it was best not to answer, and thankfully the cop in the front seat put the kibosh on any more talk by turning around and telling us in no uncertain terms to shut the f*$% up! And after 45 more minutes of oozing traffic, with nothing to think about except how I was going to be disemboweled by the Russian Mafia, I was relieved to have my cuffs removed when Konstantin disappeared into an interrogation room.

Coming up: The final installment, including what happened to Konstantin, and what happened to all the WINE!!!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Red Dessert Wine: Banyuls of Mas Blanc

It was over a year ago when BrooklynLady and I were talking about dessert wines, how much we love 'em, and how we'd like to taste more of 'em. She told me about this red dessert wine called Banyuls. It's not Port, it's French wine. Red dessert wine? Sounds good. So I stuck Banyuls on my mental list of "buy this if you see it" wines.

Problem is, I never see it, except in the oddest places. Chambers Street doesn't carry a Banyuls, neither does Prospect Wines. But the grotty little hole in the wall that just opened on Flatbush Avenue, the one that seems to specialize in half pints of no-name vodka - they have a Banyuls. I couldn't bring myself to buy it though - it had associated with too much bad wine and vodka during its time on the shelves, and maybe it's personality had turned bad.

So I waited. I had some idea of what I was looking for: Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book and Robert Parker's book both mention Domaine du Mas Blanc as an excellent producer of Banyuls sweet wines. Domaine Mas Amiel is also mentioned, but those wines are not Banyuls. They are called Maury. So what's the story with these sweet wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon anyway?

The Languedoc-Roussillon could easily be two different wine regions, as it is somewhat spread out along the Mediterranean coast and inland, from the western edge of Provence all the way to the Spanish border near the city of Perpignan. Almost all of the Rhone grape varietals are used in the Languedoc-Roussillon - there are similarities in climate. Much of Roussillon is hilly,
the foothills of the Pyrenees. The vineyards are drenched in hot sun and there is not a lot of rain, perfect for hardy grapes like Carignan and Grenache.

Vins Doux Naturels, or natural sweet wines, are fortified wines like Port and Sherry. They must contain a minimum of 50% Grenache to be called Banyuls (the fishing port south on the southern coast of Perpignan) or Maury (the hilly northern coast). Alcohol is added to the fermenting wine, stopping fermentation, leaving plenty of natural sugar in the juice. Fortified wines can stay healthy after they are opened - no need to gulp this stuff down, although I bet you'll want to do just that. Careful though - these can be 17-18% alcohol, so after wine with dinner, this can sock you like a lead pipe. Like Port and other fortified wines, Banyuls are capable of extended aging. They are noted for pairing perfectly with chocolate - exciting, if you like chocolate desserts, and I know that you do.

Mas is the word for 'farmhouse' in southern France, hence the reason you see Mas in the names of so many producers. Dr. Andre Parce, until he died some years back, and his son Jean-Michel have been putting out highly regarded wines at Mas Blanc for over 30 years. Dry wines from the Collioure appellation, using Syrah, Mourvedre, and Counoise, a couple of whites here and there, and famous sweet wines from Banyuls.

Mas Blanc makes several sweet wines. Rimage, meant for drinking young, Rimage la Coume, made from the best barrels of Rimage, and only in better vintages, Banyuls
Vieille Vignes, and a special, slightly oxidized cuvee, made with juice from various vintages and named after Jean Michel's father, called Cuvee du Dr. Andre Parce.

I have succeeded in finding absolutely none of these wines on NYC shelves. Winezap says they are available in the US though - those of you in LA, the DC area, and a few other places should be able to find them if you're interested. I had to turn to the secondary market - I bought a few half bottles of the Rimage on auction at Wine Commune. I could have bought Rimage la Coume, but only full 750 ml bottles were on auction and I couldn't imagine knocking back so much red dessert wine...until I tasted the "lesser" Rimage when it arrived. Here is what's available in Banyuls and other Languedoc-Roussillon wines today on Wine Commune.

2004 Domaine du Mas Blanc Banyuls Rimage
, $13 for 375ml (secondary market).
Dark, almost black, with dark cherry rims. Smells like chocolate covered cherries and cocoa powder, and fresh orange peel, a hint of wintergreen? Vivid sense of purity to the aromas. Dark cherries, Dr. Pepper, and plenty of cocoa on the palate. Rich and decadent, but light on its feet, good balancing acidity. Really long sweet cherry finish. I had to force myself to stop drinking it (lies - my wife made me stop).

This wine is great on it's own (second night), but it was a little ridiculous when we had it the first night with a dark chocolate and ginger candy bar. Like rethink-everything-about-dessert-wine ridiculous. How good must that Rimage la Coume be?!? And the Vieille Vignes? I think we have to go to the Languedoc-Roussillon.