Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mid-Summer Laundry List

I've been meaning to write more, I really have. It's not as though there's been a shortage of interesting food and wine to discuss - it's been an embarrassment of riches. But I am trying to write when I have a story to tell, not simply to blabber on when I eat or drink something interesting. That said, the other day I was in Washington DC and had dinner with my pal Keith Levenberg, and he gently chastised me for not writing so much. He said that I shouldn't worry about writing the occasional "here is what I ate or drank" post.

I still disagree - I want to write when I have a story to tell. But sometimes one needs to get the proverbial juices flowing, and a laundry list post is a fun (for the writer, anyway) way to do that. So, patient reader, here is a mid-summer laundry list for you. Here are some things that I've been doing:

It's been over two years now, but I finally got my grill up and running again. Wow, I love to grill. With hardwood charcoal. The slow way, but the dee-licious and lighter-fluid-free way.

My pizza dough is beginning to be more consistent now too. It turns out that the small details are crucial - punching down, but not kneading the dough after it rises, for example.

I spent some time (and way too much money) with my daughters planting on our deck. For a while, things really looked great. Then it rained everyday for over a week. Then the heatwave came. Plants that like super hot weather are doing okay, like the poppies above. Many other things have simply wilted. Next year I will choose plants more wisely - things that like intense sun and heat. Because NYC in the summer is now essentially the same as Dubai. But there is no climate change, people!

There's been a lot of great wine.

Some of it fabulous and now very expensive wine from iconic vineyards, wines that achieved great heights.

Some of it more humble in terroir and aspiration, but capable of giving a different and also very valuable type of pleasure.

I drank a few wines that are beloved by many wine folk, but that are completely new to me. This one was utterly compelling.

I drank wine by producers I know and love, but wine that is new to me. This one is intensely sweet - a style that is hard for me to appreciate. But the quality here is simply impossible to miss and the wine was delicious and entirely expressive of place, even as a dessert wine. This is not an easy trick.

I am lucky to have generous friends who take pleasure in sharing their treasures.

And I try to do the same. This was my last bottle, and let me tell you - with 3 years of bottle age this wine is a finely tuned symphony of Manzanilla greatness.

It's been a great summer and summer is only a month old. The outlook for the net two months is quite positive. More soon.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Heat Damage - a Brief Addendum

A friend who is visiting her family in Italy sent an email to me yesterday:

"Hey, look what I found in my grandpa's closet... kept for 40-50 years there like this. Standing, no temperature control, forget about humidity... What a pity!"

Yup, those wines are from the 1950's and 60's. I wonder if anything in there could be drinkable. The corks have to be dry and shriveled. The wines must be oxidized, right? Who knows though...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Heat Damage

Summer is in full swing here in NYC and we are having a hot one. For the past two weeks it's been in the high 80's to the upper 90's and quite humid. I enjoy this weather, actually. Not for all year round, but for a few high summer weeks I think it's nice. I'm not a fan of air conditioning - much prefer to open windows and use fans to keep air circulating. The kids are used to it, I'm fine with it, everyone is okay.

Except, maybe not everyone.

This is my wine fridge. I have another, larger one too. When I bought the smaller one I did not have enough wine to fill it. But as they say, "if you build it they will come." Now both fridges are jammed to the gills. Funny thing is I feel like my wine collection is woefully imbalanced and that I could double it and only begin to be well represented in the things I care about. It's pretty efficient though - there is very little space devoted to wines that are no longer important to me.

And still, I suffer from an ailment that afflicts many wine lovers. It is commonly known as wine-under-the-bed syndrome. In some areas of the United States it manifests itself as wine-in-the-closet syndrome. The ill effects of this disease are typically felt in the hottest months, and last week I had a major flare-up. 

I should tell you first that I try to contain this problem to the best of my ability. The wines under the bed are almost exclusively meant for near-term drinking. There are, however, some wines that really should be in a temperature controlled environment. I say this because my plan is to age them and drink them years from now, when they mature. Exposure to prolonged heat above 70 degrees is bad for wine. It compromises the sensory experience one can expect from that wine over time. In other words, it is highly likely that a heat-exposed wine will not smell or taste as good as an identical wine that is properly cellared. Here is an interesting piece of writing on this topic, for those of you who want to get academic with it.

The other evening I was rummaging through one of the boxes under the bed and I noticed that a bottle of Riesling I bought with the intention of cellaring had literally blown its top. The top portion of the capsule had been cleanly severed by the cork, which now protrudes from the bottle. It was a separate piece of capsule but the cork pushed it off. This poor wine is the 2011 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese. I bought two bottles in the late spring after my umpteenth experience swooning over a mature Riesling and lamenting that I own almost none. Maybe not the most promising vintage for aging, with its plumpness and relatively low acidity, but I drank the basic 2011 Schloss Lieser and it was great, and I know the producer to be top notch. Why not give this well-priced Spätlese a try?

Why these particular bottles showed the effects of the heat and others did not is a mystery to me. I found that both bottles of Schloss Lieser Spätlese were obviously damaged. The one in the photo is the result of excess pressure generated inside the bottle by the heat, I'm guessing. The other one had sticky seepage coming from under the capsule (but I drank it and the wine was delicious). The same producer's 2011 Kabinett - no signs of damage. The bottles of Weiser-Künstler Spätlese and Kabinett in the very same wine problems that I can detect.

So, I looked through the rest of the under-the-bed boxes and found that there are a few bottles whose corks look to be in the opposite state - they seem as though they've been pushed down into the bottle a little bit. Not all of the wines, only a few. But sadly, they include wines that I care about and had hoped to age.

This one is the 2010 Stony Hill Chardonnay. I bought two bottles at the winery and was very much looking forward to drinking them in 10 years or so. Both have corks that feel pushed down. I imagine it would be safer to drink them soon. The other hurt bottles are the 2010 Pépière Granite de Clisson, and again, it's all of them that have the weirdly depressed corks. There must be something about those particular wines (or those corks?). The only other under-the-bed wine that I meant to cellar is the 2011 Gonon Saint-Joseph and it seems completely fine, with free spinning capsules and a normal feel to the cork and the lip of the bottle. But it also seems rational to assume that those wines have been compromised by the same heat that hurt their under-the-bed neighbors. I'll probably keep them and try one in 10 years. If it's no good, I'll serve the others to Richard Nixon while my other guests drink my properly cellared 2010's.

There is a lesson in here somewhere, but not one that I'm willing to accept. Keep less wine in the house - I'd like to but doesn't seem possible. Or, keep the air conditioner on when the temperature rises above 70 degrees - simply not going to happen. Learn to love my great and age-worthy Syrah and Chardonnay while its really young - seems like a waste. Pay a hefty fee every year for offsite storage, and annoying inventory and delivery fees every time I put in or take out wine - already doing it with a pal, but maybe I should invest more in this, and get rid of one of the fridges too. Win the lottery so I can buy a house with a basement and build a real wine cellar - I will start buying tickets immediately.

This is why so many of us continue to suffer from this painful and destructive condition. There are treatments that can offer some momentary relief, but there is no real cure.