Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Favorite Grower Blanc de Blancs

Recently a woman walked into my friend's birthday party and handed him a bottle of Gosset Brut Excellence Champagne. As he was thanking her I said "Wow, what a nice gift," and we got to talking about wine. This is a woman who grew up drinking Champagne and who says that it continues to be her favorite thing to drink today. That said, she trusts several store clerks to recommend wine to her, and she doesn't know a whole lot about what she is drinking. She likes what she likes, and she hasn't spent much time researching what to buy. Cool - Champagne is great and everyone should drink it, and I would guess that this woman's way of buying Champagne is the most common way that people buy wine in the US of A.

When I meet people like this who are interested in wine, it always fills me with pleasure to be able to tell them about grower Champagne. Anyone who eats local and organic food, anyone who cares about the environment, anyone who doesn't want "natural flavorings" in their food, anyone who wants to save the whales, any one who cares about small businesses, anyone who believes in freedom of speech...should be drinking grower Champagne. Okay fine, that's ridiculous, but the organic and local food "natural flavoring" part is true.

And you know what, the big houses are psyched to do anything to increase revenues, regardless of what goes into the bottle. Just read this little piece by the NY Times Paris bureau chief from the weekend paper. They will expand the Champagne territory to be able to guarantee production, and why not? They turn the grapes from individual vineyards into uniform juice anyway using chemicals and other manipulations, so who cares where the grapes come from, really?

She had never heard of grower Champagne and I was happy to tell her about how the big houses make wine, and how differently it can be done when a grower also makes the wine. She was excited to try a grower Champagne and asked for some recommendations. I was about to tell her but then I saw an old friend who I hadn't seen in four years and got distracted, the jerk that I am. So here they are, woman who is interested in grower Champagne, my favorite grower Blanc de Blancs (why B de Bs? I've been into the all Chard Champs lately. There are loads of beautiful blends too - more later). There are many that I have yet to taste, but these are great.

NV Jos
é Dhondt Blanc de Blancs Brut , about $45.
This is the most intense of them, the most focused, and for me, the most haunting. On the nose I found white flowers, ginger-cream, pastry dough, and a bit of lemon oil. The palate is fresh, juicy, and super bright, yet absolutely lean with piercing acidity. It is a study in contrasts, as the freshness and the ripe full flavors are at odds with the finely chiseled mineral and acid spine. I love this wine, I really do. We enjoyed it as an aperitif, although it might be a bit intense for some folks. I think it would be great with any kind of chicken in a creamy sauce, with things like caviar, with seafood in general, but also with (and don't thumb your nose here) BBQ ribs. That's right, BBQ ribs. Why should you cut through the rich fatty meaty grease of BBQ with a laser of a wine like this one?

NV Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs Brut 1er Cru, about $47.
This is less focused and intense than the Dhondt, but the flavors are more broad and complex. It is easier to drink without food too. Not better, entirely different. Here are my tasting notes on this wine.

NV Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blans Brut, about $40.
This is ultra clean and pure, with well delineated flavors of citrus, chalk, a bit of bread, and grated ginger. But what really distinguished it from the others, to me, is the texture. This wine is like a spa treatment, it's so luxurious and smooth. A wonderful aperitif, maybe better that way than with food.

NV Pierre Gimonnet Blanc de Blancs Brut 1er Cru, about $36.
I would happily drink this wine every night, if such a thing were possible. This doesn't have the focus, the breadth, or the creamy texture of the others, but it approaches each of the best qualities of the other wines and unites them in one glass. Clean and bright citrus and chalk flavors, very elegant and light, yet quite potent. A wonderful wine, and versatile too. Enjoy it on its own or with a variety of foods. I enjoyed an earthy white bean and mushroom soup with this wine once, and the pairing was amazing.

Are you this woman? Have you tried grower Champagne? Honestly, if you take any of these wines and taste it blind against Taittinger or some other big house wine, I guarantee you that you're in for an eye opening experience. Really, just try one.

Blog Thief !

This is so pathetic that I almost didn't write about it. But since it is clearly not only me who this is happening to, I decided to share. Some goof ball with a European web address on WordPress is stealing my writing and photos, possibly yours too. There are entire posts from my blog that this person has lifted and copied on their site. No permission, no credit given, nothing. Pretty lame, right?

I hesitate to share the URL because I obviously don't want to generate traffic to the site, but if you have a wine or food blog, check this out - they are simply stealing lots of people's work and passing it off as their own.

Any ideas on what to do here?

Thanks to Jeff at Indiscriminate Ideas for pointing this out to me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

By the Glass - Just After X-Mas Edition

I'm in San Diego now at the in-law's place. My second round trip west coast flight of the week. This time I spiced up the 6 hour flight by bringing my 11 month old. She was wonderful, actually. So here are a few tidbits to share:

As McDuff (no, the blogger, not the crime fighting dog) and a few others suggested, I stopped into Moore Brothers the other day when I was in the area. I told them about trying the NV Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs, and that it tasted like sweat. No, I had no receipt. No, I didn't leave me name with them, as they requested, when I bought the bottle. No, they have absolutely no record of me or my purchase. They immediately suggested that I take another bottle, and asked that I let them know how I like it. How's that for service? I felt really good about it - it made me want to do more shopping at Moore Brothers. And I'm also excited to taste this Champagne again.

Speaking of Champagne, I tasted a few interesting wines this holiday season. I've never tasted Bollinger wines before until recently. This is a very big house, owned by an enormous conglomerate that also owns other huge Champs houses, like Moet, I believe. The entry level wine, called Special Cuvee Brut, runs about $45 or so. La Grande Annee and the other higher end wines, including the precious and incredibly expensive Vieille Vignes Francaises, a Blanc de Noirs (made entirely of red grapes, in this case Pinot Noir), are a bit out of my reach.

I heard that this is a big house wine that I might enjoy. Even so, I was not about to use my 45 Champagne dollars on this wine, as long s I can buy grower wines from Geoffroy and others. So I was delighted to find the Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut being poured by the glass at some holiday party BrooklynLady took me to. It was indeed very nice wine, delicious in fact. But without the definition and focus that I have come to expect from my favorite Champagnes. See, that's the problem with the big houses - you have to pay up and try their expensive botles to (maybe) equal the quality of the entry level Brut from, let's say, Gimonnet or Geoffroy or some other grower. That's my .02 cents.

And I tried the NV Gimonnet 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs again recently and it is sooo good. Incredibly focused. The citrus, brioche, and floral aromas and flavors are so well defined, and the nuttiness that comes after a half hour open is delicious. Now THAT is an entry level Champs, folks, and you'll spend about $42.

I had an amazing wine on X-mas eve by a grower/producer I'd never before tasted. the 1996 Fleury Brut was an amazing wine. Deep and piercing aromas of nuts and quinine-like minerality, along with some bread and some flowers. I love the smell of old wine in Champagne, so complex and enticing. The palate was finely chisled and echoed the nose perfectly, and left a lingering orange oil sweet/bitter feeling on the tongue. I would drink this every week if I could. It cost about $60 here in San Diego, and I suspect it's less on the east coast. And you know what else - Fleury was supposedly the first grower in Champagne to convert the vineyards to biodynamic practices.

Two holiday Burgundies worth mentioning. The 2000 Groffier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Sentiers was a disappointing mess of a wine. If tasted blind I might have thought it to be a lesser California Pinot, as there was alcohol heat and dark roast fruit on the nose, and the palate was pretty one dimensional too - just roasted darkness. Why would this be, oh Robert Groffier, why? You are supposed to be so special. And this probably cost at least $65 too.

The 2002 Colin-Deleger Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Vergers was much better. Its nutty and floral aromas and flavors went very well with the X-Mas day ham we enjoyed. Not sure that it was so much better than, say the 2005 Macon-Charnay Vieille Vignes by Manciat, and that is literally one quarter of the price, but whatever...

Happy holidays to you all-

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sips and Vittles in Portland

It was pouring on Wednesday in Portland. Sometimes it would slow to a drizzle, but mostly it rained hard, from about 2 pm onward. I don't own a car and I don't often drive. Imagine a Brooklynguy hunched up behind the wheel of a rental Ford, straining to see the street signs through the rain, occasionally missing a stop sign, generally posing a bit of a danger to the drivers and pedestrians of lovely Portland. Hoping against hope that the drive would soon be over and I could just unwind from a day of meetings and have some Oregon Pinot.

So you understand that by the time I parked (safe and sound, no one injured) outside of Noble Rot, I was pretty psyched to settle in at the bar. It was early and I was the only one there but the staff interrupted their various set-up duties to make sure I was comfortable and felt welcome. Can I just take this opportunity to say that I find Portlanders to be so genuinely helpful and friendly to strangers - a breath of fresh air, it is. But back to Noble Rot - a stylish but unaffected place, really nice looking. Comfortable space at the bar, plenty of booths, an upstairs party space, rows and rows of wine bottles on shelves lining the walls, framed wine maps too.

There were no fewer than 25 wines by the glass. They emphasize flights of three 2 oz. pours, at reasonable prices. On Wednesday there was a Crozes Hermitage flight, a Portuguese red flight, a New- World Sauvignon Blanc flight, and a flight of local wines from the Willamette Valley. Other by the glass options included mostly younger wines from South Africa to Burgundy, and there was a 1993 Leoville Barton for $16/glass, if you like that kind of thing.

I ordered an onion tart that was truly excellent. Rich and sweet caramelized onions on a short and flaky crust. So far so good. No way I'm drinking anything other than Oregon Pinot when I visit Portland. The first in the flight was a wine I'd never heard of called Matella (I think), and it was borderline undrinkable. High pitched with a turpentine edge to the nose, all out of balance, simple candied cherry fruit flavors. Bad wine, bad bad bad.

Then came the 2006 Chehalem 3 Vineyards Pinot Noir. I've enjoyed Chehalem's Pinot in the past, particularly the Corral Creek single vineyard bottling. There are Corral Creek grapes in this wine, also Ridgecrest and Stoller vineyard grapes. I think this is Chehalem's entry level Pinot, but I'm not positive. This didn't do anything for me. The nose was dark with some earthy blueberry fruit, but it was pretty one dimensional. And the palate was somewhat dilute. It lacked vibrancy and had none of the inspiring floral, earthy, or fruit notes that excite me in Pinot.

I was excited to taste the last Pinot in the flight, the 2006 Ken Wright McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir. I've heard some good things about Ken Wright's wines, abut I've never tasted. Probably because they cost at least $40 a bottle, a lot to spend on a wine I've never tried. It had the best nose of the bunch, with a mellow cinnamon and blue fruit character. But the palate was completely uninspiring. Just no punch to it whatsoever, nothing to get excited about. No acidity that I could discern, the wine seemed flaccid.

It bothered me that these were the wines they're pouring at Noble Rot. I mean, don't they taste the wines they feature on their flights? They can't honestly be recommending these as the stars of the currently available local scene...can they? These bottles were opened and re-corked before I arrived and I noticed that the fill levels were pretty high on each of them. They weren't open too long and dead or anything. They just were very mediocre. Sad, because there are plenty of great current releases they could pour. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but they should know the local wines better than that. How am I supposed to want to go back there if that Oregon flight is the product of their tasting and deciding what to offer their customers?

I was so disheartened that I decided to race back over the river to Oregon Wines on Broadway, a wine bar that offers 15-20 Oregon Pinots by the glass, including the heavy hitters, which I craved by that time. I found this place back in March on another trip to Portland. I breathed a sigh of relief as I dug into a flight that included the 2005 Evesham Wood Cuvée Broadway, the 2005 Cristom Louise Vineyard, and the Ayres Piper Vineyard (which I actually didn't like so much, although it seems to be the new wine on the block).

Okay, sated with local Pinot, time for dinner.

Le Pigeon was fun, but I'm sorry to say that in the end it left me wanting more. Not more butter though, as I had about a half pound clogging my gut when I left. I sat at the cook's counter so I can tell you that the chef and the two cooks have lots of funky tattoos, laboriously mussy hairdos, they keep up a steady stream of hipster banter, and the music is loud (but good). There is a silver sautée pan hanging on the wall with the following engraving: "Best New Chef 2007 , Food and Wine Magazine. There is no mistaking it: you are in a hip place that has received lots of critical acclaim so far. The chef knows it, and you know it.

The menu was the most interesting I've seen in a long time. I enjoyed a flute of NV Ampelidae Armance, a Loire Valley bubbly that Nick G. recommended while perusing. Nothing like a glass of bubbly while looking over a menu. It just makes everything sound better. It wasn't easy, but I chose the bone marrow gnocchi with parsley, garlic, and snails for an appetizer. I could have ordered beef neck terrine, or scallops with sea urchin, or egg noodles with truffles, or bitter greens salad. So many nice sounding things!

Imagine my sadness upon discovering that this dish was completely overrun by one, and only one flavor: burned garlic. No surprise, as there must have been two or three tablespoons of the stuff in the dish. And at least an small ice cream scoop of butter (I saw it happen people, it was a lot of butter). Blindfolded, there would be no way at all to know what you were eating. Bone marrow? Parsley? Forget it. The snails were really good though, so I ate those and tried to make it through some of the gnocchi, because after all, the chef was standing right there.

I chose beef Bourgignone for an entrée because the server said it is the signature dish. It was perfectly fine, but nothing special. Beef cheeks braised to ultimate tenderness, some veg, an intensely rich and buttery stock reduction. A nice touch was the (maybe slightly pickled) red onions, which added a welcome shock of acidity to cut through the heart-stoppage. No way to think about dessert after a meal like this. I still feel kind of full.

The cooks bar was a lot of fun, very social. I spent the evening talking with guy named Benoit, a French guy living in northern California also in Portland alone on business. And this place was packed on a rainy Wednesday. I'm talking an hour wait for a party of two people. So as always, take everything I say with a grain of artisanal sea salt as there clearly are plenty of people who love this place. Unlike with Noble rot, I would happily go back to Le Pigeon and order differently (Benoit said his pork loin was excellent). Only I would sit at the communal tables because I don't want to know how much butter goes into my food, in situations like this.

Anyway...I hope you don't take this to mean that I didn't enjoy myself. I had a great time. And I appreciate very much all of your suggestions about where to go. I'm just an opinionated SOB, that's all, and I find the food at most restaurants with lofty aspirations to be disappointing. I'm looking forward to trying the other places next time - I am undeterred. And I brought back one hell of a case of Oregon wine too - another time though because somehow this post is already 4 miles long.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Swing and a Miss

Don't you hate it when, full of anticipation, you open an expensive bottle of wine, only to find that is just nothing special? Corked, cooked, oxidized, or otherwise damaged - that's another ballgame. Here I'm talking about simply mediocre wine. Normally I wouldn't mind because most wine aspires to mediocrity. But there are some regions where you're just going to have to suck it up and shell out the bucks if you want a bottle, and I get really indignant when this wine is mediocre.

This happens to me most often with Burgundy wines, as I have not yet had enough Champagne to be badly burned. And I'm not a big Bordeaux drinker, although the futures that I paid through the nose for two years ago arrived and I feel like a jerk, but that's another story.

In Burgundy, even in a "classic" (meaning not exceptional, but not bad either) vintage, a solid producer can sell wine, even village level wine, for over $50 a bottle. Some of the real big names can get away with charging that much for a Bourgogne - think Roumier, Leflaive, Meo-Camuzet, and others.

But Burgundy is hit or miss, and everybody knows it. But what does hit or miss really mean? Not the obvious idea that if you select randomly you will probably get burned, because that is true with most wine regions. I take it to mean that you can't ever really be certain of how good a wine is until you open and taste it yourself, and usually over a few hours with a meal. And furthermore, a great producer with decades and decades of excellent wines behind them will usually sell their entire lineup each year, regardless of whether or not hail damaged the grapes, there was too much rot, or whatever. In Burgundy there are a million micro-climates and up or down a hill can mean a world of difference in the final quality of the grapes. You can do your research, think about things carefully, spend wisely, and still get mediocre wine in Burgundy.

So what's a producer to do if the wine is not up to their standards - eat the losses and not sell the wine? Uh uh, not likely. Hopefully they might downgrade, if possible, and lower the price correspondingly. For example, in 2001 hail damaged the 1er Cru Clos du Château des Ducs, a monopole in Volnay held by Domaine Michel Lafarge. I wish they had downgraded the wine to village level Volnay and sold the wine for about $35 instead of the $80 or so it went for, because it was completely uninspiring and plain old mediocre.

I think it's just part of the game, and I'm a happy player. But I still get burned every now and then. For example, I'm sort of scared to open my Roumier just in case it turns out to be mediocre, in which case I will have to smash it over my head.

My most recent case of charring by an established Burgundy producer came at the hands of Francois et Antoine Jobard or Meursault. I opened a bottle of 2002 Meursault en la Barre, a wine that retailed for about $50 back then, and man, did I feel unsyatisfied, as John Malkovich said in Rounders. It was pleasant enough, with a very reticent nose, but a nice oily texture and some roast nuts and cream on the palate. But that's it. Nada mas. No character at all, nothing to sink my teeth into.

So I used the other half of the Jobard to make fish stock and opened a bottle of 2005 Texier Mâcon-Bussières Très Vieilles Vignes. Now that is some delicious and exciting juice, vibrant and alive, many layers and nuances of flavor, from nuts to minerals, to something herbal and bitter, to sweet ripe and noble fruit. And it cost me all of $21. So take that Francois and Antoine.

It's all part of the game, I guess.

A Fish Soup Test, of Sorts

When I started this blog I understood that the only people reading it were my wife, myself, and maybe Deetrane every now and then. Somewhere along the line you started reading, but BrooklynLady stopped reading, I think. I hadn't given it much thought, but then when Marcus met BrooklynLady a little while ago, he asked her if she reads the blog. She politely demurred, reached for her coffee, and let the cacophony that is the Gorilla Coffee Shop crowd out her answer.

Does my wife read my blog? I don't think so, not often anyway. Do I want her to read it? Sure - I am proud of it, and so I want her to see this part of me. But I don't come right out and ask her because I don't want to pressure her into reading. I just want to know if she reads with any regularity, that's all.

Last night something happened that although repulsive, after the fact presented me with a (sick) opportunity to do a test, of sorts, that should reliably determine whether or not BrooklynLady reads my blog. And you, friends, get to watch and laugh, gasp, click your tongue, or experience whatever it is you experience when you read what I did...

I was making my Sardinian style fish soup (home made fish stock, leeks, fennel, tomato paste, chili flakes, clams, white-fleshed fish, fregola pasta, all of that good stuff) but I was using cod instead of the other seafood. I bought it at the farmer's market on Saturday and they recommended it as a fish that will hold up well in the fridge for a few days.

I made the soup, left it simmering, washed and cut the cod into chunks for the soup, and left it on the counter to come to room temperature. A few minutes before serving, I put the fish in the simmering soup so it cooks right before we eat it.

Brooklynlady goes to the gym, I put the baby to bed and come back to the kitchen to make a salad and warm some bread. I look over at my cod and I see thin white worms, maybe 5 or 6 of them, each about 3 inches long, hanging out on the plate, straining and swaying to the sounds of inaudible music. Need I tell you that I felt the blood drain from my face and the contents of my stomach rise?

What the f@#&, I ask, what the f@#&?!? How could the fish people at the market sell me contaminated cod like that? Great, no fish for the soup too, and I was going to leave it for BrooklynLady while I'm gone for a few days in Portland. What kind of worms are these, anyway? What would have happened to us had we eaten this cod?

I go to the computer and search for "worms in cod" on Google and the following results come up. Apparently, it's quite common, as cod are bottom feeders, and sometimes eat seal excrement, that sort of thing. Even if you don't remove the worms, they can't harm you if you cook the cod. Hmmm, common, and can't hurt me, eh?.

Armed with a paper towel, I carefully remove each of the worms from the plate, turning each chunk of cod over in my hands to make sure that nothing is squiggling. The plate is now free of worms, but wait - could there be eggs? Worms don't lay eggs, you idiot. But could there be tiny worms that I can't see? Back to the internet!

BrooklynLady comes home now and she is changing her clothes and washing up. "What are you reading?" she asks.

"Nothing honey, just looking at the newspaper. Ready to eat dinner?"

God help me, I put that cod into my simmering soup, let it cook a little extra long, and we ate it. I wouldn't use cod again for this soup - wrong texture - flounder is better. And I don't think I'm using cod again, period. For one it's over-fished, and secondly, white worms are very common. Let me tell you, pal, that I felt all sorts of pangs and oddities in my ribcage and guts after dinner. Was it the worms? Or was it the physical manifestation of the guilt I felt for serving my wife fish that once had writhing white worms in it, without her knowledge?

It's the next day and I'm still here to write about it, and honey - if you're reading this - I removed them, and they can't hurt you anyway. Honey? Are you out there reading this? Sorry about the worms! In fact, I apologize to all of you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Your Portland Suggestion Box --- HERE

I'm in Portland Oregon this coming Tuesday evening for a few hours before heading to the airport. I've been told that I have to have dinner at Le Pigeon, which from the looks of the menu and wine list, should be a pleasure.

Anyone have any other Portland suggestions for a Brooklynguy with a few evening hours on a late December solo Tuesday evening? I'd be eternally grateful. C'mon, don't be shy - tell me what I can go do with myself.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Favorites of 2007

This is my 200th post here at the ol' Brooklynguy blog. That's a lot of writing about wine and food. Kind of hard to believe. I looked through the blog recently and I think there is some stuff worth reading, whether for entertainment or for information about wine. But there is also some junk in here. Posts that just seem uninspired to me, posts that prevented me from having too much time go by between posts. I want to stop doing that, but I'll save that and other blog improvements for 2008 for another post.

I want to use the occasion of the 200th post to share some of my favorite wine and food related things from 2007. So without further ado, here they are - Brooklynguy's Favorites of 2007 ! (note: exclamation point conveys excitement).

Under $15 red: 2006 Clos du Tue-Bouef Cheverny. Nasty stuff, like a wicked curve ball. So good.

Under $15 white: Impossible to pick only one. Top three include 2006 Domaine de Cassagnoles Vin de Pays des Côte de Gascogne Reserve Cuvée Gros Manseng, 2005 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet Sur Lie Clos des Briords, and 2005 Le Bourcier Mâcon Cuvée Elena.

Tasting with friends: 12 Year Old Long Island wines with Lenn and company.

Industry tasting: Terry Theise Grower Champagnes at the Michael Skurnik tasting. Nothing else remotely came close.

Expensive (over $50) 2005 red Burgundy: Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Forneaux

Inexpensive (under $25) 2005 red Burgundy: Paul Pernot Beaune Clos du Dessus des Marconnets.

Oregon Pinot Noir: 2004 Belle Pente Murto.

Most expensive wine I tasted that is worth every penny, without even the slightest question: NV Henri Billiot Champagne Cuvee Laetitia (about $75 retail).

Mature wine: 1993 Chandon de Briailles Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Forneaux.

Wine descriptive terms that I never use, but would like to: sandalwood, ragged clothes, anxious, shiny metallic purple armor, Nixon-esque, yellowtool.

Wine region that is a new discovery for me this year: Champagne.

Cru Beaujolais: 2006 Descombes Regnie.

Beaujolais: 2006 Vissoux Vieille Vignes Cuvée Traditionelle.

Dry Loire white: Foreau 2005 Vouvray Sec Clos Naudin.

Off-dry Loire white: 2005 Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert.

Loire red: 2005 Château de Coulaine Chinon Bonnaventure.

Obscure appellation putting out excellent wine: Cheverny in the Loire Valley.

Wine-related fantasy (rated PG-13, anyway): Team up with 10 high quality bloggers/writers to create a new website with wine information and notes. This site would include wines at all price ranges, and would be oriented towards wine lovers and geeks who are willing to think and to learn, not towards the people consuming the vast oceans of insipid yet expensive California and Bordeaux wine made by large companies who require a score of 90+ points for revenues. They already have their sites. But no advertisements for sports cars would be allowed.

Blanc de Blancs Champagne that I can afford: Until a few days ago I would have said Larmandier-Bernier. But the other night I had a bottle of NV Jose Dhondt Blanc de Blancs Brut. Holy crap!!!

Blended Champagne that I can afford: René Geoffroy Brut Expression.

Rosé Champagne: Henri Billiot Brut Rosé Grand Cru (and I don't think the Times panel tasted this one because it would have been mentioned somewhere).

Non-Champagne bubbly: 2005 Bisol Prosecco Crede Brut.

Thing I love about wine blogging: The "brick and mortar" people I have met. I now have friends in Montreal, Long Island, Portland Oregon, Manhattan, and Paris - people who I could contact if I were visiting and enjoy hanging out with.

Annoying thing about wine blogging: The ubiquitous exclamation point. I see this in blogs all the time and it always makes the hairs on my neck stand up. Every day examples include "I really enjoyed this wine and I'm looking forward to trying more soon!" Or "I'm going to have to put a few of these in my cellar!" Or "I'm using an exclamation point at the end of this sentence, but I'm not even trying to convey excitement!" Will you people just stop it with the exclamation points!!!

Other annoying thing about wine blogging: It really reminds me of the high school cafeteria. Some folks are not secure enough about themselves and what they have to say, so they form cliques and rely upon them for gratification. I guess you can never truly escape that kind of thing. But me and my blogger friends don't care about that anyway, right guys?

Wine that was completely new to me
: I have essentially no experience with German Riesling. Lyle Fass at Chambers Street Wines recommended this one when I asked him "what is the best one you have for under $20?" 2005 Reinhard & Beate Knebel Von den Terrassen Riesling Trocken. Between Wine Blogging Wednesday and various dinners I've tried a few wines that were brand new to me this year, and this is the one that requires further investigation.

Wine scene in a book: In Saturday, by Ian McEwan, when Perowne, a successful brain surgeon, thinks about what wine to serve to his family with the seafood stew he is making. He decides to go with "something rustic, a country wine." And he picks a Cahors. I must say, the pairing puzzled me, and I still can't decide if it is a brilliant idea by a knowledgeable wine person, or if McEwan really doesn't know
much about wine and picked randomly from some or other list of French Country Red Wines. I mean, would you open a Cahors with your spicy fish stew? Hmmm, could be rather lovely.

Dessert wine: Sandeman's 20 year Tawny Port.

Spirit: Michter's Rye - the regular 4 year old.

Under $10 meal: A large bowl of Phở and a Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk) at Cong Ly restaurant on Hester Street between Bowery and Chrystie in Manhattan.

New trend in my own cooking: Home made stock, basically every week. It just makes everything better.

Ice cream flavor: Creme Cremaillere's Creme Brulee

Restaurant wine list: Rosewater.

Wine bar wine list: Al Di La Wine Bar.

Food that I recently fell in
love with: Goat cheese.

Well, thanks for reading folks, and that's it for the 2007 edition of Brooklynguy's favorites. I really enjoyed this and I'm looking forward to doing it again in the future!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WBW #40 - Petite Sirah

Sonadora is our host this month at WannabeWino, and she has selected Petite Sirah as the theme. This is a grape that I know almost nothing about. I've had wines made from Petite Sirah about four or five times, all quite a few years ago, and in my mind I lump them in with Zinfandel. Big, dark and spicy, structured, high alcohol, intense wines that are more common out on the west coast.

This is what I like about participating in Wine Blogging Wednesday, the online community tasting that Lenn organized over three years ago now. I am compelled to venture outside of my comfort zone, to buy wine I would never otherwise buy, and to taste this wine. I won't lie to you, friends, without WBW #40 as the impetus, it's a pretty safe bet that no Petite Sirah was going to cross my threshold anytime soon. Not cause I have something against it - I do not. I just tend to drink a lighter style of red wine. how does a guy find a good bottle of a wine that he knows nothing about? In this case I asked Amy, the reliable wine buyer and manager at Prospect Wine Shop to select something for me. We've tasted enough together and talked about wine enough so that she has a a good idea about what I like. I did not specify a price or any other constraint. "Can you hook me up with a good Petite Sirah?" I simply said.

Amy picked out the 2006 Fleur North Coast Petite Sirah for $15. Although it is less expensive that some others she carries, including wines by David Bruce, she explained that this one is less oaky and actually tastes more like Petite Sirah. And the label says the alocohol level is 13.8%. I was worried about 15% or higher. Nice!

The wine was deep and dark, alright, and it had simple and clear blackberry and pepper aromas. Very juicy on the palate with lots of dark fruit and a slightly grippy and astringent finish, especially on the tip of the tongue. Leaves a nice dark fruit, maybe slightly tobacco-y flavor in the mouth. Certainly quite pleasant, and it went pretty well with the green split pea soup with smoked ham that we made for dinner.

So would I buy this again? No. There are just too many ways for me to spend $15 and emerge with wine that is more exciting to me. But I recognize that this is good wine, and if I find myself at a restaurant that offers nothing better, I would enjoy a glass with hearty food and be none the worse off for it. Overall, I think Jancis Robinson's description of Petite Sirah in the Oxford Companion Third Edition applies perfectly to this particular wine: "...dark, well balanced, sturdily tannic red wine of agreeable if not highly distinctive flavour." Thanks for the description, and for the "u" Jancis.

So that's it - another edition of WBW come and gone. Thanks Sonadora for hosting, and for picking an interesting theme.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Some $15 Beauties from the Loire Valley

The end of the year holidays are already here, and although it is a joyous time, it can also be a stressful time. And what better to do when feeling a bit stressed out by holiday, family, work, and general end-of-the-year craziness? Why, drink wine, of course. But not every night can be a fancy wine night, so here are a couple of lovely wines that are under $15. And you should be able to find these wines rather easily too, if you're so inclined. You can open them whenever you want without feeling guilty - Monday night, Wednesday morning, whenever the mood or the stress strikes you, and why feel bad? These are truly delicious and interesting, and we're talking about less than 15 bucks here - you can't even take a friend to the movies for that price.

The first is another great winter white, the 2005 Domaine du Vieux Pressoir Saumur Blanc Elegance, ($13 Sip Fine Wines). This is a crisp and delicious wine that works great as an aperitif (read: just drink it, no food necessary) and would work well with a range of fish, chicken, or pork dishes. It is made a sec tendre, or tender dry wine, meaning that it is dry but it has a bit of residual sugar. It has a heady perfume and it feels full and round on the palate, but it is clean and fresh too. I was honestly quite surprised by the quality of this wine at this price, although I shouldn't have been because I very much enjoyed the Saumur Brut Methode Traditionelle I tasted by Vieux Pressoir recently. This is a producer whose wines I might need to explore a bit further.

Alice Feiring gave her wine of the year award to Clos Roche Blanche's L'Arpent Rouge. I like her definition of wine of the year - much more compelling than top 100 lists and things like that. L'Arpent Rouge is made from Pineau D'Aunis, an old and not much used anymore grape that a few Loire Valley producers like Clos Roche Blanche and Belliviere are reviving. Reviving might be the wrong word - they're not touting the grape, per say, or suggesting that others follow suit. They are simply making good wines using a grape that is traditional to the area, wines that will appeal to folks who already are interested in Loire Valley reds, Beaujolais, know, not big and powerfully extracted huge reds.

But L'Arpent Rouge is gone, as far as I can tell. So how to get your Pineau D'Aunis fix during the holiday season? I recommend the very unfortunately names You Are So Beautiful, made by Christian Chaussard and Nathalie Gaubicher of Domaine le Briseau, but via their negociant label called Nana Vins et Cie. The 2006 Nana Vins et Cie Coteaux du Loir You Are So Beautiful (about $15 wherever Dressner wines are sold) is really an excellent wine, no matter how much you might want to reject it based on its annoying name. It is a blend of Pineau D'Aunis and Malbec, but it is the Pineau D'Aunis that shines here. Light, elegant, very peppery and floral, you're gonna love the nose - it's unlike anything you're used to (unless you bought lots of L'Arpent Rouge). This is light colored and light bodied wine. It goes down so easy that it's actually kind of scary. Very good on its own, and completely flexible with food - think duck to omelets to fish to vegetable soup to whatever you want, this is as good as the best Bistro wine you can think of.

If you object to being objectified by Christian Chaussard and Nathalie Gaubicher, and refuse to drink this wine on the principal that they are complimenting your looks in exchange for purchasing and imbibing their juice, you could always go with You Are So Nice instead, a blend of Gamay and Malbec. But I prefer the Pineau D'Aunis. It's the holidays - let them tell you that you're beautiful.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Oldies but Goodies

I want to tell you, particularly you NYC readers about two sick wines that you might have thought were gone forever, but are somehow amazingly back on the shelves of a few local wine stores. Yes, during some recent Brooklyn browses, I serendipitously stumbled upon some incredible wines that came and went a few years back...except for some reason you can buy them again right now.

But listen - I don't want to be responsible for any injuries to anyone or anything. I mean, no stampeding on my account, okay folks? So I'm going to tell you about these wines, and trust that you will behave in a mature fashion. Walk, do not run, and share.

Listen to this - when I was poking around Prospect Wine Shop, my favorite Brooklyn shop the other day with Marcus while he was in town, I saw something that literally caused my jaw to drop - literally - ask Marcus. I saw several bottles of 2002 Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance, at $27 each. This is all Romorantin all the time, that odd and obscure little grape for which the Cour-Cheverny appellation was created. Cuvée Renaissance is the off-dry version made from late harvested grapes. 2002 was a wonderful year in the Loire Valley and I LOVED this wine when I tasted it several times a few years ago. This wine will remind you of a good Riesling as it matures, with its petrol and mineral intensity. A few years ago as a current release (at $18 when the dollar still had some muscle) I didn't buy enough for the cellar, so this time I made sure to grab my fair share. They had a case and a half last time I checked - if you live around here you really should go get yours.

Here is another one, this time a red. The 2001 Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes. This is the mid-level wine made by Thierry Germain at Roches Neuves (La Marginale is the top wine, and this one called "Hot Earth" is the mid wine). His wines have been pretty darn concentrated in the past few vintages, enjoyable, but on the concentrated end of the Loire Valley spectrum. I like this one from back in '01 a whole lot. It's a fruity delight in a translucent lighter bodied way,
with really nice secondary flavor characteristics - earth, a bit of spice, a bit of dried fruit. And Shawn Liquors on 7th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn has it at under $14 a bottle. Is that some sort of joke? The 05 Terres Chaudes was about $24, and it was nice, but for drinking anytime near today, the '01 blows that wine away.

No, don't waste time thanking me. Go get these wines, and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hand vs Machine Harvesting

When grapes are harvested manually they should be undamaged (by human hands, anyway) and unpolluted with leaves and other detritus. They arrive at the winery in a healthier state so they can easily be sorted and the process of making wine can begin. Manual harvest is expensive, as wages for pickers must be paid each year.

Machine harvesting saves money, in that after the initial outlay of capital (which can be financed and depreciates, and is therefore tax deductible) is essentially a one time cost, other than yearly maintenance. This probably explains why most wine is made from grapes that are harvested by machines. But mechanical harvest damages some grapes, breaking them and mixing their juice with the other grapes. And the leaves, vines, and material other than grapes that inevitably comes with machine harvesting can cause aroma and flavor flaws.

This is, of course, a simplification. The impact of machine harvesting on the quality is not something that everyone can agree on. There are many studies investigating the effects of machine harvesting - do a search for "grape machine harvest study" and you'll see loads of them. Like most studies, the results vary.

I wonder, though, if asking about quality is all that important. Quality depends on the preferences of the taster. Imagine that a producer bottled two versions of a wine from the same vineyard: same harvest date, same maceration, fermentation, and other wine making techniques, but 100 cases from hand harvested grapes and another 100 cases from grapes harvested by machine. If that were to happen we could taste the wines and compare their quality. In the end, when tasted blind, would we all prefer the hand harvested wine? It would be an interesting experiment. I think DRC should do it and invite me...

So maybe the more relevant question is really about the character of wine. Does machine harvesting change the character of wine? It is hard to make generalizations because there are so many other factors that some into play. Generally speaking though, shouldn't wine made from hand harvested fruit be more pure, as there is no detritus mixed in with the grapes? Shouldn't these wines also be less tannic (before the wood barrel decision, anyway), as the excessive skin contact due to broken grapes can be avoided?

Do I prefer wine made from hand harvested grapes? I don't know. But I think of this issue the way I think about recycling, natural yeasts, sustainable agriculture, and other things that seem healthy to me. I just assume that hand harvesting is better and that the wines are better. I have no doubt that many people could explain why I am wrong. But I'm going to bet that none of those people would prefer Roumier to use a machine to havest his parcel of Musigny. Or the Grand Cru vineyards in Champagne. And not just the high end stuff - they wouldn't want Closel's portion of the Papillon vineyard to be machine harvested either.

I wanted to approximate the experiment I imagined above by tasting similar wines, one made from hand harvested grapes, the other made from machine harvested grapes. Approximate is the key word here folks, this is only an approximation. So put away your fine-toothed comb.

Recently BrooklynLady and I tasted two Chinons, two bottles of each wine, from the 2005 vintage by Jacques Grosbois. We should have tasted them blind, but didn't. Here, according to the producer, are the technical specifications that they share: sandy soil with some clay, southern exposure, "lutte raisonee," or sustainable agriculture, yields of 40 hl/hectare, sorting table, total de-stemming, 2-3 day pre-fermentation maceration, aging in concrete tanks.

Here are the specifications that differ: the 2005 Grosbois Chinon comes from vines averaging 35 years old. The 2005 Grosbois Chinon Vieille Vignes comes from vines averaging 60 years old. The VV has a 10 day fermentation and a 6 day post-fermentation (?), and the regular Chinon ferments for 12 days and a 3 day post-fermentation. The VV is hand harvested and the other is machine harvested.

We both preferred the VV by a long shot (although honestly, neither was very impressive). In fact, BrooklynLady flat out didn't like the regular Chinon, finding the palate to be dominated by tomato paste. It was inky black wine, it had some potting soil nuances, and it was thick and concentrated. It improved overnight a bit, and showed some graphite, smoke, and some meatiness, but still intense potting soil and ketchup.

The VV was a more "normal" color for Chinon, a deep but transparent ruby. This was a dark fruit driven wine with some tobacco hints, and a graphite finish. It did not change in any significant way overnight. It had the medium bodied texture and slight vegetal-ness that you would expect from Chinon. Although it is not one of my favorites from Chinon, it was a clean and pleasant wine, if not all that complex.

So what did I learn from all of this? There is something to hand harvesting, but I need it explained to me in a deeper way, and I probably need to participate in a better designed tasting experiment. But like with most things, it's probably good to challenge myself about my preconceived notions. I no longer assume that the label "organic" on food indicates much about quality, for example. I found that eating local is actually more important to me. Maybe machine harvesting really doesn't have to change the character (or quality) of wine, and it is just a simple matter of technology aiding in production.

Thoughts? Share 'em if you got 'em.

Friday, November 30, 2007

By The Glass - Champagne Edition

Let me begin by saying this: I've tasted some interested and delicious Champs recently, but my favorites so far have not changed. My favorite entry level Champs is still the NV René Geoffroy Expression. And my favorite Blanc de Blancs is still the NV Larmandier-Bernier Premier Cru.

But this is great - I'm tasting more, learning more about my palate, and really enjoying myself. I think BrooklynLady is pretty psyched too, as she enjoys the bubblies. Anyway, here are a few from recent times.
NV Agrapart & Fils Champagne Les 7 Crus Blancs de Blancs, ($37 at Prospect Wines).
A nose of bread and yeast, and a touch of lemon and stainless steel. And after it was open for a while, something floral. The palate is quite light, with brioche, chalk, and bright white flowers. This is delicious wine, a great aperitif. It does not have the sheer elegance
or the focus of some of the other Blancs de Blancs that I've tasted, but I'm certainly not gonna kick it out of bed either.

NV Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs, ($42 at Moore Brothers).
This is apparently very small production. Moore Borthers says "Almost all of Diebolt's small production is sold to three-star restaurants in France." Well, I'm just going to come right out and admit that I don't get it. I was not a fan, and BrooklynLady thought something might have been off with the wine. And you know, after reading Craig Camp's interesting post on corked wine, I'm starting to think that this bottle may have been corked. Or, it might just not be to my tastes, who knows. I don't think I would necessarily know if a wine is corked. I might just think it to be bad wine.

Anyway, my notes: Mushroomy and sort of funky underarm on the nose, some ginger in there too. Bread and citrus hints. Not a deep nose, lighter. Yeasty palate, almost grassy, bone dry. Lots of chalk. No matter how hard we tried, we could not enjoy this wine.

NV Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Brut, (about $55).
I was really impressed with Paillard's Champs at the Martin Scott Importer tasting back in September. This one was even better at home as an aperitif with the BrooklynLady, and then with dinner. This has a really nice nose that reveals orange blossoms after a little airtime. There is also a bit of chalk and sweet brioche. The palate is nicely balanced and elegant, with lovely
floral, citrus, and bready flavors. Really good, and BrooklynLady's favorite of all of these. Luckily I have one more bottle...

NV Camille Saves Brut Carte Blanche, ($40 at Chambers Street Wines).
No mistaking this for Blanc de Blancs, that's for sure. Deep nose of cherry fruit, some ginger cream, apples dipped in honey, some chalk. The palate is smooth and silky, very focused and dripping with red fruit, some bread, and bright acidity. The finish is a dollop of sour cherry juice, lingering and delicious. This is excellent wine. Although it's funny...after all of the B de Bs I'd been drinking, this one almost seemed fat because of the Pinot Noir.

NV Marc Hébrart Brut Reserve 1er Cru, ($38 at Prospect Wines).
A Terry Thiese selection, and I find that I am always on board with his Champs palate. I tasted this with Marcus, aka Doktor Weingolb the other day, and while I won't speak for him, I really liked this wine. It kept improving over several hours, gaining complexity and balance as it went. This is also a Pinot heavy wine, about 65% in this version. And it's obvious on the palate, dripping with red fruit. The nose is lovely with chalky flowers, a little toast, and red fruit. The palate is a great balance of red fruit, herbal undertones (Amy from Prospect Wines said celery - right on), minerals, all quite ripe and full of pleasure. If I were forced to take only one of these Champagnes with me to a tasting or to a desert island it would be this one. Think of this - my father who has almost no experience tasting real Champagne, enjoyed the last of this wine when there were almost no bubbles left in the bottle. And he said "Wow, I can't believe how refreshing this is."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Deetrane Deep Down in the Cellars of López de Heredia

When my pal Deetrane read the post from the other day about tasting the 1976 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia, he was flooded with good memories. Deetrane and his wife P-trane went to Spain for their honeymoon and visited several wineries. He says that the single best experience they had was their unplanned visit to López de Heredia. So sit back and enjoy as guest-poster Deetrane takes us on a trip down the twisted pathways of his memory lane:

P-trane and I are on the first winery tours of our honeymoon, after several days and nights wending our way from bistro to parador to cava bar across Catalonia and Aragon, before settling into a lovely old convent-cum-hotel in the medieval center of Haro, Rioja’s wine capital.

First up – Bodegas Muga, of course – the only Rioja wine we knew by name up to that point, and one of the largest “premium” Rioja exporters. A quality winery by any standard, and a very detailed, interesting, competent, FREE English-language tour (an intensive primer, in fact, in all things Rioja). But despite it being our first winery visit, we still sensed we were at the Rioja equivalent of the Epcot Center. Authentic no doubt, yet just a little too polished, and few dozen too many Euro-coaches in the parking lot.

Great prices in the shop though. €2.50 for Crianza, €5.50 for Reserva, €8.50 for Prada Eneo (Gran Reserva), €12.00 for Torre Muga! We bought three bottles.

Right next door, the venerable La Rioja Alta. Three Euro-coaches in the parking lot, versus Muga’s fifty. A very good sign. No English signage, much less an English-language tour. An even better sign. As the Spanish-speaking tour guide describes the traditional steps such as fining with egg-whites, we nod sagely (if uncomprehendingly) having just seen all the same stuff at Muga five minutes earlier. But a real, working cooperage, as opposed to Muga’s costumed-mannequin diorama (think Museum of Natural History, or better yet, that crazy robotic contraption in the basement of the Mormon Tabernacle). Even better prices in the shop, with wines from across the parent company’s brands.

A year or so later we opened the 1994 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890 we purchased there for under €10.00. A revelation – the first time I had tasted a perfectly integrated, balanced, aged red wine of any kind. It was the most memorable, sumptuous and absorbing wine I had tasted in my life, notwithstanding what came next.

Three tour buses were still too many for what P-trane and I were I the mood for. We started to stroll through the streets of the old, mostly low-slung, very urban warehouse style winery district of Haro. We became fascinated by the numerous small patches of old, gnarly Tempranillo vines, planted right between the endless brick, stucco and concrete winery buildings.

We’d gone not more than 20 yards from La Rioja Alta when we heard loud banging shop noises coming from behind set of huge oak doors across the street. We ambled towards the noise into a courtyard, saw that the doors were ajar, and walked in on two coopers in overalls. They were busily banging wrought iron rings, American and French oak planks into barrels and toasting them over open flames that were shooting up from perfectly round, manhole-like openings in the floor. The coopers were friendly, and waved us closer.

Within minutes, a door opened and a short, very mod, thirty-something woman with chic rectangular glasses and a spiky short haircut came in with two fair-skinned, forty-something men (there she is in the picture, courtesy of Alice Feiring). Without prompting, she flashed us a sympathetic glance and said, in perfect English, “I’m Maria de López de Heredia. These guys are economists from the University of Barcelona – friends of my father’s. Let me just ask them if they mind you coming with us.”

We held our breath. No, they wouldn’t mind, came back the answer!

Oh boy!

The next minute we were descending through a metal casement door heading directly underneath the sprawling winery complex, down down down over tiny uneven steps, lower and lower in the bowels of López de Heredia. The walls literally turned black and fuzzy with penicillin mold. Maria gesticulated and pointed and jabbered in Spanish, pausing to translate what seemed like every 14th word.

Who needed translation?

It was…. Insane. With no natural light, a faint bulb here and there was all there was to illuminate row upon row of barrels, a seemingly boundless catacomb of vaulted corridors. On the floor were smooth metal rails, just slightly protruding above slippery cobblestones. After a while we could see faint sparkling lights in the distance. We came upon several cellar workers who were bottling a 1995 Gran Reserva. It was now May of 2003, mind you. This wine was being bottled after some two years in large wooden casks and another five years in barrel. The workers wore hardhats with sputtering sodium lamps, like spelunkers, and thick, black rubber gloves and aprons and reminded me of the Mario Brothers and undertakers at the same time.

One of them was arranging empty green bottles on a small wheeled metal tray sitting on the rails built into the floor. The other was filling the bottles one at time with a little swiveling spigot. As each tray of 12 bottles filled up, they would roll it a few feet to the third guy, who would pick the bottle up and position it in a corking device and pull down on a lever. Each time, he would be liberally squirted with wine – hence the heavy rubber gear. Each guy had a glass of wine standing around the work area, the flicker of the headlamps just enough to see that the Gran Reserva was a crystal clear ruby color. It was 10:15 a.m.

A few minutes latter, we saw bright movie-set lighting further down one of the corridors, this one racked with endless rows of bottled wine. A photo shoot was in progress, and the crew was standing amidst hundreds of bottles on the floor in between the racks, like giants in a sea of penguins.

“Oh, that’s So-and-So,” Maria casually tossed out, “He’s, like, the most famous television director in Spain, but we’re old friends so he’s doing my new brochure pictures today.”

We come to a gigantic, rolling oak door, at least 12 feet high. After several tense (for us) minutes futzing with keys and jostling the padlock, Maria hauls aside this hulking door an we are met with an amazing site. In the center of what can only be described as a dungeon room is a massive round table made from the lid of a giant oak fermenting tank. Standing upright in the middle of that, sort of as a centerpiece, is an old, dried out vine trunk. About six feet above that, a dangling brass chandelier. Over decades, a thick, black rope of pure penicillin mold has climbed down from the ceiling, wrapped itself around the chandelier, and continued on its way to envelope the centerpiece. (Photos courtesy of Crush). All around us are huge concrete bins, with the remaining stocks of winery owned vintages, going all the way back to the beginning (1877). The oldest vintages are mostly piles of mold, dust, broken glass and empty bottles, but Maria assures us there’s still probably some good stuff in there – but no one has the guts to go in and find out!

López de Heredia makes wines from several vineyards, although their most heralded wines come from two vineyards - Tondonia and Bosconia. Bosconia makes only red Rioja, and is pure Tempranillo. The Burgundy-shaped bottle hints at the style of the wine. Tondonia makes white and red, and is a blended wine. The Bordeaux-shaped bottle hints at the style.

Maria turns on the lights and we see platters of Serrano ham, and fresh bread, and… wine glasses! Woo hoo! We tasted flight after flight, starting with some very old Tondonia’s This is WHITE wine, mind you. The oldest we tasted may have been a 1955, followed by a 1961, a 1968, and a 1970. Then we tasted a bunch of old Bosconia, the oldest being a 1954 or so. P-trane and I had never tasted wine this mature or this traditionally made. I can’t really describe it, but needless to say it was around this time that I started drinking a lot more wine, generally!

The economists turn to leave, and Maria tells us to stay put while she escorts them out. P and I are now ALONE in the López de Heredia library. Do I go in search of an intact bottle of 1895 gran reserva? Hmmm, the 1914 stack is looking like a better bet. She’s back, with the television director and his crew in tow. Partay! After doing both white and red flights a second time, with the film director and co., Maria announces that its time to head into town for Tapas. “Do you want to come?” Do we want to come? DO WE WANT TO COME???!???!!!??

We leave our car in the Muga parking lot and hop into Maria’s beat up rat-trap Volkswagen and head to one of her regular bistro’s in the center of Haro near the Plaza Mayor.

Maria orders basically the entire menu over the next three hours, as well as three or four bottles of López de Heredia from the surprisingly ample list at this very casual joint. At this point, bottles of 1988 and 1991 are comparatively blasé.

By about three o’clock, everyone is pissed drunk, Maria has now been translating, drinking and gesticulating for five hours, and it is time to, gulp, drive back to the winery and get our car. We all kissed on both cheeks and said our goodbyes, thanking Maria and television director and the Good Lord for this incredible day. Every year, when we get our Christmas card from Maria, we think about the next time we’ll taste a 1955 Vina Bosconia.

I encourage everyone to visit them. When we were there, there was no organized visiting or tasting at the winery. Maria, who is apparently now the CEO (she had been the head of Marketing) commissioned an ultra-modern tasting building by architect Zaha Hadid, described on Wikipedia as a “notable Iraqi-British
deconstructivist architect.” Yowza.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cassagnoles Cuvée Gros Manseng Reserve

Early on this past summer I found a great wine from the Côte de Gascogne in the southwest of France. The fact that is cost $9 a bottle before case discount was gravy, because if you tasted this wine blind along with other summery whites and a plate of seafood, this one would do well in your scoring - no doubt.

This area of the southwest gets more props for Armagnac, the wonderful grape-based liquor (that offers a better value than you'll find in Cognac) than it does for wine. That's fine with me, as it means that the bracing and delicious white wines usually cost very little. The wine I came to love over the summer is made from grape varieties that are also used to make Armagnac - Gros Manseng, Ugni Blanc, and Colombard. They are also the names of famous spies from the resistance. That last statement is not true. But it should be.

Recently I saw another bottle by Cassagnoles, this one a reserve wine called Cuvée Gros Manseng. Hmmm, am I ready to take the single varietal step in the Côte de Gascogne? What happened to Colombard and to Ugni Blanc? Were they detained, captured, or worse?

2006 Domaine de Cassagnoles Vin de Pays des Côte de Gascogne Reserve Cuvée Gros Manseng, (about $12, should be easy to find). I am happy to report that Gros Manseng is carrying on quite well on its own in this case. The wine is entirely different from the other bottle. This is not the same racy citrusy seaside slacker. This is a medium bodied wine that is all flowers on the nose, some lemon oil too. Clean and fresh tasting, it's refreshing and delicious, and it would be great with heartier fish dishes, but also with things like roast chicken, vegetable stews, or even a simply prepared pork chop. This could easily be one of your three or four house whites for the next few months.

Southwest, huh? As the Euro begins to trade at over $1.50 for the next period of time, it's nice to know that there is a region of France making great wines at daily drinking prices.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Here, Taste this 31 Year Old Rioja."

What a gorgeous Sunday here in Brooklyn! Great light, pretty warm, a carpet of yellow ginkgo leaves on the sidewalk. After we take the little daughter over to a friend's house for brunch, I get a surprise hour or two off, as BrooklynLady tells me to take a walk and enjoy myself and then she takes the daughter home for a nap.


So after walking around a while and enjoying the sun and feeding off of the generally happy people with their kids and/or dogs in my neighborhood I decide to drop into Prospect Wine Shop before going home. I wasn't going to buy anything, but I like to drop in sometimes, just to say "hi"to the Champagnes, relax among the bottles for a few minutes. You know what I'm talking about - you're a pro at browsing wine shops just like me.

But this is Prospect Wine Shop, my home spot, and they know me. They know what I like to drink, they know my wife and baby, they know that I refer friends in the area to the store and they're always really friendly and courteous. Today is a great example - I'm not buying anything, just poking around the Burgundies, and one of the managers comes up to me with a glass of something sort of rusty colored and whispers "Here, taste this 31 year old Rioja."

This guy had just given me a glass of 1976 Lopez de Heredia Rioja Gran Reserva Viña Bosconia. It was the final bottle in the store and they decided to open and taste it, as sort of an end of Thanksgiving Sunday afternoon treat.

The wine was rose petal colored with clear signs of rust, but it was a beautiful color. I spent the next 10 minutes, honestly, just smelling the wine as I perused the bottles. This stuff had such an interesting and enticing perfume. Mostly orange peel - a mix of candied rum soaked and fresh peel, some fresh figs, something herbal, and hints of crème brûlée. I am not used to drinking wines this mature, so describing them is not easy - cut me some slack here pal.

When I finally tasted I got stewed cherry pulp, fig compote, baking spices, and a pleasing menthol mouth aromas after swallowing. No tannins left, but there is some structure still, and good balance. So lovely, so compelling, getting on in years but still very beautiful - just beguiling in fact. Think Julie Christie.

And I thought I was talking a walk and stopping in for a quick look at the Champs!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

2006 Beaujolais from Vissoux and Cheveau

I have two favorite 2006 Beaujolais so far, considering only the larger appellations of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages, not the Cru areas. Both of these wines are, to me, exactly what Beaujolais should taste like, and if the dollar weren't such a piece of junk, exactly what Beaujolais should cost here in the US.

They are absolutely fresh and ripe, with snappy acidity, very well balanced, and they're fun and refreshing. They're great on their own but they call out for food, from pan roasted fish, to burgers, t
o roast chicken, to whatever you like - you would have to set your mind to it in order to pair these wines poorly.

2006 Domaine du Vissoux Cuvée Traditionnelle Beaujolais Vieille Vignes, ($15 at Chambers Street - should be widely available). This is an old vines wine, and I prefer it in 2006 to Vissoux's "regular" Beaujolais, which although tasty, I found to be a little dull compared with this wine. This one really sings, with great fruit and floral aromas and a vibrant palate of raspberries, some dried leaves lurking underneath. This wine has such purity and freshness, it just feels good in the mouth. I defy you to find someone who doesn't like this wine. Fine, maybe Dick Cheney wouldn't like it.

2006 Michel Cheveau Beaujolais-Villages Or Rouge, ($15 at Prospect Wine Shop - should be moderately available). This is the same Michel Cheveau whose Mâcon white just killed me recently. I thought this was a Rosenthal Selection, but curiously, Cheveau is not listed on their website now. Anyway, this wine has deeper and sweeter fruit than the Vissoux, but it is without the leafy complexity. It is easy to drink and to enjoy with food, young and vivacious and snappy, and just absolutely delicious. As opposed to the Vissoux, which I though held up very well into the second day, this one lost a lot of fruit on day two. Open this one when you're going to drink the whole bottle. I went through a few bottles recently when we had people over and they were scratching around the cabinets like mice looking for more.

If you think that you don't like Beaujolais (and honestly, I think you do like it, even if you don't know that you do), try one of these and see what you think. If you hate it that much you can send a bill to Brooklynguy Inc. and I will talk to the folks in the back office about reimbursing you. I bet, though, that you wind up with a half case of one of them for daily drinking over the next few months. Who doesn't need a few bottles of delicious food friendly light bodied red wine on hand?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Winter Whites

Fall weather and then winter, with cozy fireplaces, hot stoves, and wool sweaters make me think of braises, stews, and other hearty food. And usually that means red wine. Who could argue with a red Burgundy to pair with your braised beef in red wine and a crusty baguette?

I'm certainly not here to argue, and I love exactly that pairing. So why do I find myself so drawn to white wines these evenings, even as all the leaves have finally turned yellow and red on our block and we need to turn the heat on at night? Now we eat root vegetables and soups with lamb and beans and things like that, but I'm looking through our reds to find the right wine and I come back with a cold, crisp, and complex bottle of white wine. "Don't worry honey, I think it will pair just right."

Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's what I crave lately. And I don't think the explanation is as simple as I'm having trouble letting go of summer. Nope. I just like the way the brightness of the whites is working for me, even with traditionally red wine foods like steak.

Here are a couple of whites I've enjoyed lately with fall food:

2006 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit, (about $18, widely available). We opened this to have with seared scallops, to be honest, but the next night it was wonderful with porkchops and butternut squash. Not a full bodied wine by any means, but a well balanced wine, with floral and wet rocky smells and well defined citrus flavors, really good acidity. We loved this wine at our blind Gruner tasting earlier this year. Sounds crazy, but I would open this right now with a good burger, one made with grass-fed beef, maybe with some pickles and sweet potato fries...

NV Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant de Jura, (about $18, Prospect Wine Shop, moderate availability). Opened as an apéritif but we just couldn't stop, and we enjoyed this with a simple hangar steak dinner, some broccoli rabe with garlic. This was a really interesting sparkling wine, full of character. Recommended to me by the always reliable Amy Louise Pommier at Prospect Wine Shop, it is 100% Chardonnay. A rich nose of yeast and lemon peel, very mineral. This wine was very focused, incisively mineral and citrus, lots of chalk, almost salty. Something deeper in the middle was missing (or else it would be Champagne, I guess), but the finish was quite nice. It turned out to be better with food than on its own. And this is blood-rich hangar steak we're talking about, not a veal cutlet. There's just something so nice about the piercing acidity of a wine like this against the rich meatiness of a steak. Go ahead, try a sparkling wine with your next steak, and then call me crazy if you dare. Just make sure it's not some insipid and sweet mass marketed sparkler.

And speaking of wines that go well with steak, I love Savennier
ès in the cool weather. There is something so wintery to me about a mature Savennierès - the rich roast nuts, the broad and slightly honeyed minerals, the quinine that lingers after I swallow. With a veal stew or pork roast with fennel and acorn squash, or something like that...YUM. Or, you could go with a young wine, which while less complex maybe, can still have the power to stand up to a skirt or hangar steak.

And I haven't even touched on white Burgundy, although I'm POSITIVE that my
2005 Dureuil-Janthial Rully La Martelle would be great with what I'm about to eat tonight - beef braised in vegetable stock with turnips and carrots, and just a few San Marzano tomatoes, a green salad, a baguette. Not to be, though. I still have a cold and I'm not drinking, so BrooklynLady picked the wine for tonight and she went with a 2001 Usseglio Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Hmmm, impossible to find a wine in our cellar that is more of an opposite to what I've just been talking about.

So what do you think - am I nuts? Can you get with this a little bit - this white wine and fall food thing? If so, what whites would you suggest pairing with cool weather food.