Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Diebolt-Vallois Rosé

It's been the better part of two decades now since the Champagnes of Diebolt-Vallois initially grabbed my attention, and they've not let go since. They were the first wines to really open my eyes to the possibilities of great Champagne from small growers, the first to turn my head away from the usual grand marque suspects. There was a time when a bottle (or a magnum) of Jacques Diebolt's non-vintage Blanc de Blancs graced my table for just about any special occasion, whether a major holiday or Tuesday night sushi takeout. Nearly six years ago now, I had the opportunity to visit the Diebolt family in situ at their estate in Cramant, on an afternoon that remains etched in my mind as one of the most memorable of many, many winery visits.

Yet in all those years, at home and even at the winery, I'd never tasted a rosé Champagne from Diebolt-Vallois. When I learned just a few months back that a small shipment of Diebolt rosé was scheduled for arrival in the States, I wondered how and why I'd never crossed paths with it before. The answer, as it turns out, is quite simple. Jacques Diebolt last made a rosé in 1985. If any of it found its way to the US market, it came and went before my Diebolt awakening. And in the unlikely event that there was any of that 1985 rosé remaining at the winery during our 2004 visit, it wasn't something Jacques chose to include in our tasting lineup. So yes, in spite of consuming far more than my share of Diebolt's wines over the years, never had a drop of his rosé crossed my lips... until now.

Champagne Brut Rosé, Diebolt-Vallois NV
$55. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
As a result of my self-imposed ban on the primary blogging activities of writing and photography over the holiday weekend, you'll have to use your imagination to picture the lovely hue that once filled Diebolt's clear glass bottle. Thinking back to the heart of summer might help. Take a generous slice of drippingly juicy, ripe watermelon, then eat about half-way down toward the rind and you've got it. Like its color, the wine is beckoning and forward, brimming with clear, light raspberry and strawberry fruit. The yeast influence is present but delicate, somewhere near the fresh white bread end of the autolytic spectrum. Finely balanced, gracious and delicately dosed, at least to my palate, the wine may not be the most complex of rosés but it's a real pleasure to drink.

Produced entirely from fruit grown in 2006 though labeled sans année, the wine is a blend of 63% Pinot Noir, 27% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier grown primarily in Jacques Diebolt's holdings in "Les Toulettes" in Epernay; the Chardonnay comes from Cuis. It is a rosé d'assemblage, made pink by the addition of Bouzy Rouge (still, red Pinot Noir) that Diebolt purchased from Bernard Tornay, and is finished with a modest seven grams/liter dosage.

As you'll see in the picture at right, Diebolt has recently begun to include lot numbers on most of his bottlings. When I first glanced at the number stamped into this bottle's label, my aging eyes saw "06," which I took to be a reference to the fact that the wine was made entirely from 2006 fruit. At second glance, though, and with the help of digital magnification, it's clearly "08," which I in turn assume to be a reference to the Champagne's disgorgement date. If that's indeed the case, it's definitely a piece of information I'm happy to see shared; down the road, I'd love to see Jacques add the month as well.

Though I referred to Diebolt as a grower-producer in the opening of this post, the pictures above will reveal to the hawk-eyed among you that Diebolt is in fact a Négociant-Manipulant producer. Jacques first made the switch from RM to NM status in 2004, at least partially in response to the dangerously meager yields of the hot, dry 2003 growing season. Hardly making him a coopted member of the evil corporate empire, Diebolt's négoce license has simply allowed him to purhase fruit from other growers, something he's done primarily with his own father-in-law, Guy Vallois. And something he's done, for the first time in over twenty years and with a little help from Bouzy's Monsieur Tornay in this case, to again make Diebolt-Vallois rosé a possibility.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Peter Lauer's Riesling "Senior" Fass 6

Here's a little something I've been wanting to try ever since first reading about it at the Mosel Wine Merchant blog. MWM principal Lars Carlberg's writeup goes well beyond describing the wine in question; it also details the history of the pertinent vineyard, maps out its various parcels and even gets into the etymology of the names given to each part of the site. If this is salesmanship, it's salesmanship at its best, and a textbook example of what — along with the regularly featured, stunning photography by Lars' friend, Tobias Hannemann — makes the MWM blog one of my required reads. It's the kind of post that really gets my mouth watering.

I had only to wait for the wine to enter the US market, then for a bottle to make its way into my shopping cart and, from there, eventually to find its way onto my own table....

Saar Ayler Kupp Riesling "Senior" Faß 6, Weingut Peter Lauer 2008
$26. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Mosel Wine Merchant, via USA Wine Imports, New York, NY.
Showing gorgeous clarity in the glass, "Senior" delivers a deeply penetrating nose of minerals, green aples and gooseberry. Those aromas actually set up much steelier expectations relative to what first meets the palate, as there's some serious richness to the wine's mouthfeel. Behind that weight, though, is a blade of acidity that drives waves of lemon-lime fruit across the tongue, leading to a long, sweet-and-sour lemon drop finish.

As Lars mentioned in his post, "Senior" is "dry-tasting" for a wine that, with 13 grams of residual sugar, is technically halbtrocken. Yet to my palate, it's not quite "trocken-tasting," either. Though Florian Lauer designates the wine as trocken (I wonder if it's labeled that way on the German market), here in the US there is no dryness designation at all, save what can be guessed at via the wine's stated alcohol level. In the end, classic Saar delicacy and acid/sweetness balance wins out, but there's no mistaking the fact that Lauer's old vines (80-90 years) have delivered intense physiological extract.

A day later, the wine's aromas had shifted more into the dark end of the slate and mineral spectrum, also moving away from citrus and toward pit fruit scents of canned peach and fresh apricot. Showing less zingy, more muscular acidity, the wine was indeed more clearly dry tasting, day one's confectioner's dusting having disappeared/integrated into the wine's core.

I'd love to drink this with pan-seared scallops in a beurre blanc sauce. Or perhaps pair it, as I did with the similarly balanced bottle of Emrich-Schönleber's "Lenz" that I wrote up not long ago, with a simple dinner of pork chops and baked potatoes. On this occasion, I enjoyed it with two entirely different dishes: cheese and onion pierogies with peas and sautéed onions on day one, and green chile and cheese tamales on day two. Just for fun, anyone care to guess which pairing worked better... and hazard an explanation as to why?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Joyeux Noëlla

I owe a big belated thank you to Joe D. for the gracious invitation to attend the annual Louis/Dressner grand trade tasting in NYC back in October. I'd hoped to go up to the city for both days and to linger after, making a long weekend of it, but that just wasn't to be. I did make it up as it turned out (albeit too late to attend either day of the big event), had a great time, and was even able to console myself by attending the much smaller Dressner junket of producers from the Loir et Cher that was held in the the mid-afternoon at The Ten Bells. You'll find a succinct writeup of the event, as well as some of the other craziness of the day, courtesy of Joe M. at Old World Old School.

Noëlla Morantin was all smiles as she poured her Touraine Gamay for one of my fellow tasters. She and the other producers at The Ten Bells event were clearly enjoying their time in New York and the opportunity to pour in a much more relaxed setting relative to the usual chaos of big trade tastings.

Of all the producers in attendance, it was Noëlla Morantin whose wines both really captured my attention and were relatively new to me. Though Ms. Morantin has been making wine for several years now, she's recently taken the leap from making wine for others to doing so for herself. In the fall of 2008, she began leasing vineyards from the Clos Roche Blanche, whose proprietors, Catherine Roussel and Didier Barrouillet, had been looking to downsize. 2009 was therefore her first harvest and will be the first vintage of wine produced completely from her own labors. For the full details and, as always, some great photographs, check out Bert Celce's profile of Noëlla's work at Wine Terroirs.

The wines from the 2008 vintage she was pouring on this day were made from fruit she purchased from other vine growers who farm organically; as always for Noëlla, they were produced using no additives or commercial yeasts. I enjoyed her efforts across the board, from quaffable, refreshing examples of Touraine Sauvignon and Gamay, to the more layered Gamay "Mon Cher" (on which there's a nice write-up at Cherries & Clay). The wine that made it home with me, though, and that is the answer to Saturday's edition of Name That Wine, was her Touraine Côt.

Touraine Côt "Côt à Côt," Noëlla Morantin 2008
$19. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
Radiant, translucent violet in the glass, with a nose to match — full of blueberry, blackberry and grapey fruit and accented by high-notes of vanilla and dill. The characteristic peppercorn-crusted beefiness of Loire Côt was present, but took a back seat to fresh, crunchy fruitiness. There's a long, loping quality to the wine's tannic structure that, along with lively acidity, makes it eminently food friendly, while its low alcohol and fresh-fruited drive make it just as quaffable as Noëlla's simpler entries.

"Côt à Côt" sidled effortlessly into its second day, those tannins loosening their knots and bringing the wine's fruitiness even more to the fore, with big time flavors of blueberry pie filling now joined by juicy, sweet black cherries. It may lack the animal intensity and cellaring potential of some other Touraine Côts such as that from Clos Roche Blanche or "Le Vilain P'tit Rouge" from Vincent Ricard, but that's no worry. This wine seems built more for everyday enjoyment, and I'd be quite happy to partake of it regularly in just that way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Name That Wine

It's snowing.
I'm hibernating.
Anyone care to guess what wine's on deck for tonight?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bornard, Reynard and Discipline

When last I was in the borough of Manhattan, after ramen, after doughnuts, after wines from the Cher, after meeting Kermit, finally there was time to get down to more serious business (aka, more wine and food) at The Ten Bells.

Over the course of the night, there was much talk of the Arbois wines of Annie and Philippe Bornard. I'd first tried one of the Bornards' wines in the same spot, not more than a few months earlier, and I enjoyed it, very much as a part of the moment rather than via any kind of deep, analytical dissection (though that wine seems to perform relatively well in a more clinical scenario, too). In any case, the two guys in the photo at top-right were up in arms as to the relative merits of the Bornard wines. Hell, it was all I could do to tear them apart. Seriously though, after only a couple of encounters, I'm hardly set yet to pronounce upon Bornard — not that I'm taken to that kind of thing in the first place. But so far, so good. The wines may not have the elegance of Puffeney's or the profundity of those from Houillon/Overnoy, but those I've tried thus far are at least savory and enjoyable.

Arbois Pupillin Trousseau "Le Ginglet," Annie et Philippe Bornard 2006
$27. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Savio Soares Selections, Manhasset, New York.

If my linguistics research is correct, "le ginglet" is the nominative singular form of an archaic French word, "ginglar," used to describe a wine that's at least a little sour. It's an apt if somewhat overstated term in this case, as the wine does offer up a core of tart cherry fruit. It pours the pale color of dried rose petals in the glass, a tone echoed by the tea-like feel of the wine on the palate — very light yet firmly tannic, even slightly astringent. On the nose, wild cherries again dominate, backed up by the scent of persimmons and a sense of twigginess. Even though there's not much here in the way of screaming fruit, the wine has a freshness and appeal that balances its slight austerity. In spite of its initially firm spine, this is really defined primarily by its delicacy. It's more serious-seeming than the Ploussard "Point Barre" I drank during my last bout at The Ten Bells, yet it's still well suited to casual enjoyment.

With time in the glass, out came more aromas and nuance: sweet earth, orange oil, even a light dusting of bitter cocoa powder. "Le Ginglet" even held up quite well into its third day, softening up yet simultaneously taking on a darker, spicier and warmer feel, the aromas of orange oil becoming even more apparent than on D1.

* * *

So, on top of all that night's Bornard wine diatribe and duologue (which even trickled over into a very much less animated brunch session at Blaue Gans the following day), there's the question of the Bornards' label design. At first glance or two, I didn't like it; the simple, naive design made me think of a youngster's first awkward attempts at graphic design.

The fact that the fox on the label is almost certainly meant to be Reynard, the omnipresent trickster figure, managed to escape me until much later. Excusable, you say? Not so much in my mind, especially given the amount of time I spent in Chaucer seminars through my undergrad and grad school years. I expect that Philippe Bornard (or perhaps it was Annie?) selected that design with an eye to satire, a constant in the tales in which Reynard the Fox figures as an anthropomorphic player. Wisdom, resourcefulness and playfulness all probably figure in to the design decision, too. Given that Reynard's satiric edge was almost always pointed at the aristocracy and/or the clergy, the foxy critter has even been considered by some interpreters to be a hero of the working class. A final gesture to the winegrowers' intention that their produce be enjoyed by all rather than worshiped by the few, perhaps. And, of course, it can't hurt that Reynard rhymes with Bornard....

Whatever the case, my take on the label has now changed. The more I look at it, the more I like it — both for all that literary innuendo and for its almost garish simplicity.

* * *

As Reynard snuck up on me, so the following song crept into the back of my mind as I wrote the words above. Warning: if you're not a fan of over-the-top drum solos, you may want to fast-forward to about the 3:20 point.

On the other hand, if that was only enough to whet your whistle, check out the following clip from the classic but far too short-lived sketch comedy/variety show, Fridays. The show may have been meant to compete with Saturday Night Live but was really most memorable for the quality of its musical acts. I still remember seeing this when it originally aired in December 1981. Definite shock and awe.

(As always, subscribers may need to click through to the blog in order to view the video clips.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tissot's Crémant du Jura "Indigène"

Following on the heels of yesterday's vin de soif, today's post is about a wine served as a proper aperitif at a recent food, wine and relaxation oriented get together. It proved a very fine accompaniment to a quite tasty if rather peculiar cheese, flavored by smoked chestnuts walnuts, that my friends had brought back from a recent trip to Sonoma; let's just say the cheese was very, well, chestnutty walnutty. I can't seem to recall or find the name and/or provenance of said cheese so, if anyone out there knows it, please do hit the comments with any pertinent info.

Crémant du jura Brut "Indigène," André et Mireille Tissot (Stéphane Tissot) NV
$22. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Thomas Calder Selection, Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
Stéphane Tissot produces two different Crémants du Jura: one made in the conventional méthode traditionelle and a second cuvée called "Indigène." The truly bloggerly approach to this tasting would have been to pour the two cuvées side-by-side in order to compare and contrast the differences. That will have to wait for another day, I suppose, for funds not being limitless on the shopping excursion during which I procured this bottle — not that funds are ever anywhere close to unlimited! — I headed straight for the more geeked-out "Indigène."

What's the difference? As with most sparkling wines made in the Champagne method, Tissot's regular Brut cuvée achieves its effervescence through the addition of measured quantities of selected yeast and sugar to an already finished still wine. Seal the bottle and nature takes its course, sparking a second fermentation. With "Indigène," Tissot utilizes yeast that has been cultivated from the leftovers from the production of his own vin de paille (or "straw wine," made from grapes dried on straw mats). Given that the vin de paille is fermented, like all of Tissot's wines (other than round two for the normal Brut), on its native yeasts, "Indigène" is wholly fermented on yeasts that are indigenous both to Tissot's vines and to his own production methods. Very self-sufficient, no?

The end results yield a very pretty wine, one that could easily slip into the ringer position in a blind Champagne tasting. Leading off with a forward, pillowy nose of pastry, whipped cream and lavender, the wine reveals a very sweet-fruited profile on the palate, full of baked apple and peach skin nuance, fresh hazelnuts and brioche. The wine's richness made me wonder about dosage levels. A little research, however, revealed that the wine is in fact produced with zero dosage (and zero added sulfur dioxide) but is finished with a small amount of unresolved residual sugar. So we're simply talking about good, ripe raw materials.

Cautionary word of mouth suggests that the regular cuvée is not quite so compelling but, as suggested above, we'll have to wait for another occasion to put that theory/opinion to the test.

PS: For readers in the greater Los Angeles area, Lou Amdur was pouring "Indigène" at his eponymous wine bar and restaurant, Lou on Vine, last week. You might want to give Lou a shout before hightailing it over there, just to make sure there's some left.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An End of Model Year Special

Touraine Pineau d'Aunis Rosé, Clos Roche Blanche 2008
$15. 12% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
Popped and poured as something to whet the whistles while friends and I cooked on a recent Friday night, this was actually the first chance I'd had to drink any of CRB's '08 rosé. It's a little late in the season, I know, but I'm all for drinking the pink stuff throughout the year, not just in the sultry months. It's not as if I stop eating vegetables and fish, cooking with fresh herbs or simply wanting to taste something bright and invigorating just because the mercury starts its ineluctable dive toward the freezing mark.

I did somehow manage to forget to snap a picture, though, so I've recycled my own photo of the '07 version, taken in the warmer months of last year. The pic would be even more useful had I a shot of the more recent vintage with which to compare it, as the 2008 is far lighter in color than the '07, its painfully pale pink core going to green and silver highlights nearer the edges of the glass. Correspondingly, this is also far less fruity than last year's model; rather, it's much more about texture than forward fruit, marked by the characteristic rasp on the tongue of Pineau d'Aunis, backed up by whispered suggestions of lime zest, rosemary and haricots vert. It may be tougher to enjoy with casual aplomb, but it's hardly without its usual interest and merit.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Eye for the Holidays

With the onset of December came an idea that I'd get back to writing more regularly here, as I've been kind of missing the satisfaction of posting every day or two rather than just a couple of times a week. I don't know what I was thinking.... The first week of the month went pretty well but it's been all downhill from there.

December is just crazy, by far the busiest month of the year when it comes to the retail wine business. Thanksgiving may by the largest of the one-day holidays when it comes to wine sales and consumption but it's really just a warm up to the Christmas season. Take big meals on both Xmas Eve and Xmas Day and add in personal and corporate gift giving (not to mention self gifting).... It makes for long days with no time to stop and little energy left for writing at either end of the day. So, I'll take quick inspiration as it comes.

When a local Doc who stopped into the shop the other day mentioned that, "The Residents will come by to pick up these boxes," I couldn't help but conjure images of men in white suits with top hats perched atop their large eyeball masks, or perhaps something like you'll see in the following video. Not quite what he intended, I expect, but the associative leap brought a smile to my face.

(Subscribers may have to click through to the blog to view.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Delaware Shore Report: Fins Fish House & Raw Bar

Today's post takes us all the way back to mid-October when my wife and I made our third annual autumn pilgrimage to the Delaware shore. This year's trip falling hot on the heels of our adventures in NorCal, we cut things back from a full week to a long weekend. And this year, for the first time, the weather gods did not smile upon us. In three days, the torrential rain let up only once for all of about ninety minutes, just long enough to get the boys out for a quick jaunt on what was left of the storm-battered beach.

Now that we've had our first snow here in the Mid-Atlantic – just enough to coat the landscape with a thin layer of crunchy white icing – it's about time I get to today's topic before it gets any further out of season. Then again, now that we've entered the heart of oyster season, perhaps this is actually prime time to be trotting out a quick write-up of Fins Fish House & Raw Bar.

We had little in the way of expectations walking into Fins. The name hinted at potential cheesiness. But Fins had been recommended by friends and we were both in the mood for a change from our usual Dogfish Head fallback, so we decided to give it a whirl. Happily, our lunch at Fins was not only surprisingly good but turned out to be the gustatory highlight of our rain-soaked trip.

The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of locals slurping down pints and bivalves at the nautically themed ground floor bar was certainly a good sign, even if it did take a few minutes for a staff member to direct us to the more spacious upper floor bar and dining room.

Upstairs, the decor shifts from the nautical blue of the ground floor bar and dining rooms to an amalgam of British pub and American tschotschke.

Coniston Bluebird Bitter: one of my favorite session beers and one of the best values on Fins' impressive beer list.

A quick scan of Fins' wine list continued to build upon our feeling that we'd come to the right place. Though populated mostly by the typical beach town commercial offerings, it's one of the few lists I've yet to come across at the DE shore that actually included a couple of wines I'd like to drink — Albert Mann Pinot Blanc and Vouvray from Domaine des Aubuisières — as opposed to bottles I could only settle on and suffer through. The real decider, though, was the beer list. Sure, there's the ubiquitous Coors Light and Yuengling happy hour special and the de rigueur offerings of Corona and Amstel Light but, beyond that, someone at Fins clearly knows and loves their brews. Their constantly rotating draft selection is anchored by a well chosen if slightly hop-skewed bottle list, which eschews the local powerhouse (Dogfish Head is practically right across the street, after all) in favor of bottlings from some of America's top craft brewers, all backed up by a pretty solid selection of British and Belgian imports.

What about the food, you ask? As with the beer program, I was pleased to find that it far outperformed my usual expectations of shore town pub grub. My wife's seafood chowder starter was supremely satisfying, just the thing to melt away the rainy day chill in the bones and a dish I'd love to try to replicate by the cauldron-full at home. Opting for oysters, I was initially put off by the minimum order of three of any one type, as a single serving of each of the six varieties on the day's board would have been just right. The two types that I settled on, though, were in prime shape, well shucked and went down easy with a pint of Rogue's Dead Guy Ale.

I continued the oyster theme, selecting a po'boy as my main course. With the oysters fried to a crispy, crunchy exterior yet still perfectly tender and juicy inside, the sandwich paled to its New Orleans cousin only via a near second place in the condiment department. The wife scored again, with a perfectly cooked and seasoned Mahi Mahi fish sandwich. Now, when that fish sandwich hankering calls, I need only drive the two hours south to Rehoboth rather than make the trip all the way to The Fish House in Key Largo.

Rain or shine, between Fins and Dogfish Head, I've definitely found my favorite block of Rehoboth Beach.

FINS Fish House & Raw Bar
243 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
(302) 226-3467
Fins Fish House on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 7, 2009

The New York Finger Lakes Riesling Shootout

So, there's this guy Lenn who, for the last couple of months, has been encouraging my friend Joe Roberts (aka, 1 Wine Dude) and I to get together and taste a bunch of Rieslings from the Finger Lakes. It's all part of a program called Taste NY – Lenn Thompson is its founder, prime champion and chief sample sender – that's designed to get wines from New York state in front of a select group of wine/food bloggers and, thenceforth goes the hope, into the public eye.

The stars and schedules having finally aligned, last night was to be the night. Joe and I, along with our significant others, descended on Teikoku, a member of the Win Signature Restaurants group, where the owners and staff had graciously allowed us to BYO6B (that's "bring your own six bottles," y'all). Rather than just conducting a quick sip, swish and spit routine, we'd decided to taste and imbibe along with a table full of sushi in order to get the complete picture of how the wines work both on their own and with food.

I half expected to walk into the restaurant and find Joe, who was the recipient and caretaker of the bottles in question, with the wines already bagged and lined up for blind tasting. But nope, he'd opted to keep things open and easy, simply taking a best guess at the appropriate tasting order. In keeping with that approach, there was no doling out of points – just tasting, consideration, discussion and a modicum of note taking. Below you'll find my own take on the six Finger Lakes Rieslings we tasted, listed according to my order of preference.

  1. Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling 2007 (12% alcohol, $18):
    With a snoot full of slate and diesel oriented aromas, the Wiemer had the most precise nose of the bunch. Though labeled as dry, the wine felt to me like what the Germans would call halbtrocken or medium dry, not because of a high concentration of sugars but rather due to the gentle attack of its acidity. With our food, I wouldn't have minded just a touch more cut but then I am a bit of an acid freak.... It still worked admirably and, in fact, was both finely balanced and very persistent on the finish, marred only slightly by a just noticeable dash of sulfur. Unquestionably the most Mosel-like of the line-up and, for me, the most complete wine and the best overall value of the night. I'm pretty sure it took top spot among the group consensus as well.

  2. Red Newt Cellars Riesling "Reserve" 2006 (12% alcohol, $24):
    Like the Wiemer, Red Newt's Reserve Riesling was not terribly RS-rich (5 grams/liter, per the back label) but definitely showed a graceful kiss of up-front sweetness before resolving to a fairly dry finish. Delicacy was the word here. Very clean and polished wine, with a pretty nose of yellow grapefruit and elderflower. A slightly bitter finish – think of the pith from that same yellow grapefruit – worked with the wine's medium acidity to make it a solid pairing with our sushi assortment.

  3. Fox Run Vineyards Riesling 2008 (12% alcohol, $14):
    This was the first wine we tasted and I was quite surprised by the ferocity and grippiness of its acids. Though labeled as just left of center on the wine's rear label "sweetometer" (with all due credit to Mrs. Wine Dude for her coinage), this was actually quite dry both up front and on the finish, showing its hint of sweetness only on the mid-palate. (Its slight off-dry character became more obvious when revisiting it later in the evening at a slightly warmer serving temperature.) Green apple and yellow apple skin flavors dominated on the palate, along with hints of baked lemon and mace. A touch of volatile acidity (VA) in the wine's top-notes and a slight vegetal hint kept this from moving higher up the ladder. Nonetheless, a pretty solid wine, especially at its sub-$15 price point.

  4. Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling 2007 (12% alcohol, $17):
    Soft and by a good shot the lowest acid of the evening's lineup, this was also the most disappointing wine of the night for me because I know that Dr. Frank can do better. It places fourth only because I found greater flaws in the following two wines. Very gentle and round, with a faintly floral nose followed up by apricot nectar on the palate, where the wine otherwise lacked focus and washed out, particularly when tasted with food.

  5. Heron Hill Winery Riesling "Old Vines" 2005 (13% alcohol, $24):
    At 13%, this was the biggest wine of the night. That extra dose of power resulted in an aggressive finish, with the wine's flavors not able to stand up to the intensity of its structure. There was some interest here. In fact, the wine reminded me a little of one of the old white Riojas from Lopez de Heredia; however, it didn't have the fruit, the balance or the nuance to carry things off. Very truffly and a touch oxidative, this also showed a touch of VA. My biggest complaint, though, is that I found this to be much more developed than I'd expect at only four years of age; it was nearly bereft of fruit. I can't help but wonder if the wine wouldn't have survived and worked better if finished at a slightly lower alcohol level (higher RS level).

  6. Sheldrake Point Vineyard Riesling "Reserve" 2006 (12.1% alcohol, $26):
    If anything, this was even more intensely vinous and powerful on the palate than the Heron Hill. Though showing the darker fruited flavors of its bit of age, the wine was still quite yeasty on the nose and lacked aromatic vibrancy. Hot on the finish, overtly muscular and unbalanced, this was definitely an example of a wine marked by over-extraction at the expense of fruit. Though arguably less flawed than the wine I slotted into fifth place, it was also less compelling.

If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that the importance of balance in a wine should always come before the achievement of dryness (or any other stylistic expression), no matter what the market and prevailing tastes dictate. I'd absolutely purchase Wiemer's Riesling for my own drinking pleasure and would definitely consider doing the same with the wines from Red Newt and Fox Run. But I can't say the same for wines four through six.

All in all, even though my results were pretty clearly split right down the middle, I found the tasting persuasive enough that a trip up the Finger Lakes might just be in order for sometime in the impending New Year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Six Months Until Philly Beer Week

The countdown is alive and kicking... only six months to the 2010 edition of Philly Beer Week. You can watch the seconds tick by and keep an eye on updates and, eventually, the event calendar at PBW's official website.

I'm particularly jazzed by Philly Beer Week's move on the calendar from its past place during the blustery weeks of early March. This year PBW shifts to early June, which means that it will coincide with what, if all things go well this year, is essentially Philly Bike Week and its hallmark event, the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship. I'm picturing a Beer Week event right on Lemon Hill, where the best local crowds gather to watch the race. Maybe a shootout between Victory Brewing Company (who are long-time sponsors of local racing outfit, Tri-State Velo) and Iron Hill Brewery (who sponsor an annual twilight criterium in downtown West Chester). Can't think of a much better venue, with a built-in audience of thirsty beer and cycling enthusiasts.

For those of you who can't wait, you can always get a head start at the 2nd Annual Half Way to Philly Beer Week celebration (link requires a Facebook account) that starts tonight and continues through December 13 at Bridgid's in Fairmount. And for any that can't wait to slake that joint thirst for cycling and suds, head on over to Kung Fu Necktie on Sunday afternoon for a little indoor roller racing. Something tells me there might just be a category for fastest sprint while holding a pint.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Parc Revisited

Yet another Ars Nova Workshop event, this one held at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, was all the incentive I needed to book an early reservation at Parc on a recent Friday night. The idea of sitting down to a meal and then, belly sated, not having to go more than fifty yards for the move from table to musical venue was just too appealing. Besides, I'd been wanting to revisit Parc, Stephen Starr's bistro parisien, for quite some time. A very promising first visit, spent at the sidewalk cafe, was followed up quickly by a less resounding success in the side room of the main restaurant that was marred by awkward service, poor table location and a rather soupy rendition of cassoulet.

This time around, the stars seemed better aligned. Our window table, overlooking Rittenhouse Square and within full people-watching view of the bar, was ready and waiting at our appointed hour. First courses were prepared classically and to a deft turn. The salade lyonnaise captured the fine balance required of the dish, contrasting the richness of lardons and poached egg with the bitter snap of fresh frisée and delicate acidity of a light vinaigrette. Having already set my sights on red meat for my main course, I opted to exercise at least a little restraint with my starter, a side dish of sauteed spinach that was tender, simple and savory.

Based on the solid success of our plats principaux, the short lived tenure of Parc's opening chef, Dominique Filoni, as well as the recent departure of Chef Arthur Cavaliere, don't seem to have put too hard a stumble in the kitchen's stride. My steak frites was pretty spot-on, seared just long enough to provide a well caramelized exterior crust while keeping the interior juicy and rare. Amply dressed with maître d' butter, it balanced the inherently muscular texture of hangar steak with an unmistakably melt-in-your-mouth appeal. My dining partner's roasted salmon was perhaps less decadent but was no less well prepared – the fish tender and moist, anchored by the earthiness of black trumpet mushrooms and pureed fennel, and brightened by the lively spark of fresh chervil.

One place where Parc has taken a downward slide over the course of the past year is with their wine list. Quite promising, at least by Philadelphia standards, in its earlier renditions, the wine program has since moved away from a balance between safe and adventurous selections and drifted much more toward the mass market, price point driven end of the spectrum. There are still some arguably decent values to be found at the upper end of the list – 1994 Ampeau Meursault "La Pièce Sous le Bois" for $200, anyone? – as well as a few out of the ordinary holdovers from the original list, such as Patrick Bottex's NV Bugey-Cerdon "La Cueille." But I struggled to find much of real interest in the still, red department. In all fairness, though, I was quite happy with the wine on which I eventually settled, a 2006 Côte de Nuits Villages from Domaine Gachot-Monot, a producer with whose wines I was unfamiliar but that I recognized as part of Kermit Lynch's import portfolio (I'm still waiting to find a wine list that includes importer information). Reductive at first pour, the wine quickly opened to reveal copious, juicy red fruits; surprisingly ripe and rich for and '06 and not at all a bad match with both my steak and my companion's salmon.

I've griped in this forum before about Stephen Starr's business model of placing style and theatrics before food and wine. Somehow, though, now at Parc as in the '90s at L'Ange Bleu, when he does it French, he seems to get it right. The spectacle is still there but it's backed up by at least a little substance.

227 S. 18th Street (at Locust)
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 545-2262
Parc on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meeting People Sucks

I just finished watching the 1999 documentary film "Radiohead: Meeting People Is Easy." It was my second effort, the first having failed, a couple of years ago, at around the half-way point. The work has not survived the test of time; all that great opportunity to capture meaningful interviews and concert footage wasted by the filmmakers' desire to disconcert. What we're left with 10-12 years after its recording and release – though it may have been attractively edgy in its moment – is a painfully artsy filmic flagellation. (How's that for painfully artsy?)

If the film does capture something accurately, it's the immaturity and misery of a band that, in spite of those self-insufficiencies, managed to turn out some of the most important music of their generation; happily, whatever the band members' current emotional states may be, Radiohead is still doing the same. In spite of the documentary's shortcomings, one can't help but be amazed that such seemingly morose, disconnected young men were able to put together such persuasively moving music.

Now that I think about, away from the TV and writing, maybe the intentional disconnectedness of the film was appropriate. Here's a clip. Judge for yourself....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Questioning Taste

Seemingly conceived as a rags-to-riches story, "Taste: A Life in Wine" is Anthony Terlato's autobiographical chronicle of his life's work, from his childhood days in Brooklyn to his current position as an American wine industry magnate. Though I expect the publisher has targeted Mr. Terlato's work for the wine and food shelves at your local bookseller, it would actually be more appropriately placed in the motivational business section, under the subheading of: "Here's how I made my millions; maybe you can do it too."

"Taste" follows Terlato from his early work within his family's retail and local distribution businesses through an ever-increasing entrepreneurial arc of growth as he builds hugely successful brands such as Corvo and, later, Santa Margherita. Yep, he's the man responsible for the Pinot Grigio-zation of America.

Occasionally, Mr. Terlato delves into wine itself as a primary context, as in the following passage:

"It was not until a producer with the stature and marketing clout of Antinori defied the DOC Chianti regulations with his 1971 Tignanello (not released until 1978) that the Super-Tuscan wines gained critical mass. By the early 1980s, scores of other notable Chianti producers began releasing élite reds. These wines were so impressive that the humble designation vino da tavola became a badge of honor for Italian wines."

More often, though, wine serves simply as subtext for stories of the author's successes and exploits: dinners with the Mondavi family; meetings with the reclusive Gallos, with Paul Bocuse and Alexis Lichine; using 1947 Cheval Blanc to make a pan sauce... the list goes on.

I was happily surprised to find the author sharing one of my own approaches to the subjective magic of pairing food and wine: "There is a natural harmony between wines from a particular region and dishes made with vegetables and meat that are cultivated nearby." It's his take on the old "what grows together goes together" adage. Sadly, it's undermined by the recipes that serve as chapter breaks in Terlato's work. Included, it would seem, to add a dash of hominess and true, personal nuance to the book, those intentions and Terlato's words are undermined by the wine pairing suggestions, all of which are items found in Terlato's own business portfolio.

All in all, "Taste" is an easy, relatively breezy read. For those with an interest in the formative stages of the modern American wine market, the book may prove to hold some interest. For those with a personal connection to Mr. Terlato himself, the book may prove a real pleasure. For those approaching the book with an expectation that it may actually be about wine, however, the book is more likely to prove a rather self-indulgent recounting of one man's rise to fame and success, with wine simply serving as the widget of choice.

* * *

Disclosure: An advance readers copy of "Taste" was provided at no cost to me by Agate Publishing. Should you wish to purchase your own copy, here's my own little stab at entrepreneurialism to make it easy.

Terlato, Anthony, "Taste: A Life in Wine," Surrey Books, Agate Publishing, 2008.

In related news:
I chose the passage regarding Tignanello over a handful of others that might have been appropriate in homage to yesterday's probing post by Brooklynguy and the "emergency" response from Do Bianchi, both of which address Tignanello and the Super-Tuscan genre. Well timed, gentlemen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Few Good Wines

With a birthday and Thanksgiving separated by only a couple of days in the past week, there were no shortage of reasons to open a few good bottles. Today though, just a few quick impressions, as these were enjoyed for the pure sake of pleasure, at the table and without any note taking or overt analysis.

Vouvray "Clos du Bourg" Sec, Huet 2005
A really glorious bottle. Redolent of wet wool and damp clay when first opened then growing ever rounder and more honey and herb laced as the bottle grew emptier. I need to drink Vouvray more often... and I really need to drink Huet more often.

Nuits-St.-Georges "Les Grandes Vignes," Domaine Daniel Rion 2001
When last I tasted this, it provided a much needed breath of fresh air. The better part of two-and-a-half years later, it's continued to develop and continues to surprise, taking on greater weight with its slumber in the cellar. Rich red fruit laced with dark spice notes and beautifully ripe, round tannins. The wines of Domaine Daniel Rion are made in a very reductive style that can render them ungiving when young but, when all things are right, they can develop very nicely given a few years of patience.

Bacharacher Kloster Fürstental Riesling Brut Sekt, Weingut Ratzenberger 2000
This proves to be maturing more rapidly than the 1998, 1999 or 2001 versions of Ratzenberger's Sekt. Perhaps that's not surprising given the wet conditions in the fall of 2000. In any event, this has gone very much toward the truffle and oily end of the mineral spectrum, leaving behind much of the bright citrus and orchard fruits of this wine's youth. Still damn tasty but it's definitely time to drink up now.

Morgon "Côte du Py," Jean Foillard 2008
I thought it was fun. My wife thought it was serious. You know what? We were both right. Foillard's wines combine airy grace and delicacy with a depth that can be explored or simply accepted as fits the moment. The '08 may still be lacking something at its core but I think it's only a matter of time before everything settles into place. Even now it's delicious, with pure small red berry fruit allied to an earthy savor that made it a great match on the Thanksgiving table, especially with the turkey and the sourdough/shiitake/sage stuffing. (PS: Guilhaume published a neat photo essay at The Wine Digger a couple of weeks back on his visit with Foillard.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

This is a Thanksgiving Post

My boys. Two of the many things for which I'm thankful every day.
Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This is Not a Thanksgiving Post

Thanksgiving has long been one of my favorite holidays. A time to share food, wine and festivities in the company of friends, family and loved ones. Working in the wine trade, though, Thanksgiving is also one of the busiest, most frenetic times of year. Christmas may surpass it as the holiday for which the most wine is sold but no holiday, not even Xmas, drives a single, repetitive mission with such ferocity: "What should I drink with Thanksgiving?" There's not even a need to mention the food, the tradition is such a given.

After days and days of answering the same question over and over again, there are nights when the last thing I want to do is have to think about what I'll drink myself. Or what I'll cook for that matter. I just want comfort. The comfort of familiar surroundings, a simple meal and a wine that I know so well that drinking it is like getting together with an old friend. Funny thing is, what I reached for on just such an evening earlier this week was a wine I'd been recommending all week long for the TG feast. But I wasn't about to cook turkey.

So, without further ado, here's what to drink with Thanksgiving... if you're having pork chops.

Nahe Riesling "Lenz," Emrich-Schönleber 2008
$24. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
"Lenz" is an archaic German word for the season of spring. Though not labeled as such, it is Werner and Frank Schönleber's halbtrocken offering, a bottling that's replaced several different pradikat and vineyard designated halbtrocken bottlings they had produced before simplifying and reconceptualizing their portfolio along VDP lines a few years back. It's what Lars Carlberg of Mosel Wine Merchant might call a "dry tasting Riesling," a wine that contains a measurable element of residual sugar but finishes with a completely dry sensation, driven home by mouthwatering acidity and an intense dose of minerality.

The 2008 is punchier and seems drier than did the 2007. It's nervous as a tightrope walker in training. Schönleber's wines, even the theoretically simple ones like this, can take years to really show their stuff. They're delicious when young, so much so that it can be hard not to drink the whole bottle. I always get the distinct feeling when drinking them this young, though, that I'm only seeing part of the picture; yet that part carries a distinct imprint of the whole. Like seeing a young girl who's cute in a gangly way today but you just know will be dangerous in a few years. Or like admiring an orchid in partial bloom.

I'm not sure I can really improve on the producer's own cleverly concise tasting note: "Vineyard peach, animating acidity, 'Spring fever' in the mouth."

It was great with pork chops. Salt, pepper, a light rub of olive oil and a quick turn on the grill. A buttered baked potato and a simple salad. Couldn't get much simpler, I don't think, or more comforting. But yeah, it'll work just fine with turkey, too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ribeira Sacra "Alodio"

There was a time in my life, in my earlier days of wine exploration, when I drank Spanish wine much more often than I do at present. Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Bierzo, Albarino and wines of any number of other regions, vines or styles were just as likely to grace my table as were the wines of France, Northern Italy and Germany that more typically find their way home with me now. I think that's a fairly typical pattern in the evolution of the exploration of any field, whether it be art, music, science or, in this case, wine. Fields narrow, focus intensifies. The urge to dig deep overcomes the tendency to dabble on a more piecemeal basis. Once those roots have grown, though, the desire to venture outward returns. And the country that most often calls me back, much more so than Australia or the US, is Spain.

But where to start? I've definitely fallen into the same trap as others, where Spanish wine begins and ends with R. Lopez de Heredia, along with the occasional dalliance with Sherry. Aside from that, too much of what I have drunk over the last decade has been either dried out and bereft of expression or pumped up into something jammy and homogeneous. Recently, however, I've made some intriguing initial excursions into Ribeira Sacra, a tiny, hilly, cool climate area of Galicia that's been receiving loads of attention of late from wine writers such as Eric Asimov and Gerry Dawes. I enjoyed an eye-opening bottle of Guimaro's Ribeira Sacra "B1P" at NOPA in San Francisco earlier this fall and more recently checked in with the following, a recommendation from both Old School Joe and the Spanish wine buyer at NYC's Chambers Street Wines.

Ribeira Sacra Summum "Alodio" Mencía, Enológica Témera (Bodegas Costoya) 2008
$15. 13% alcohol. Diam. Importer: A José Pastor Selection, Vinos & Gourmet, Richmond, CA.
Enológica Témera is a small estate, with five hectares of vines and an annual production of about 4,000 cases, located in the Riberas do Sil subregion of Ribeira Sacra. Winemaker Carlos Costoya's entry-level red, this cuvée of "Alodio" is a varietal expression of the local vine Mencía. (There's a white version as well, made from Godello.) Though this is true Mencía, rather than the Galician strain of Cabernet Franc that is also rather confusingly known as Mencía, there's nonetheless a familial resemblance here to cool climate Cab Franc.

Medium purplish-red in the glass, it leads with simple, direct aromas of fresh red fruit – cherries and cassis, mostly – and finishes with a very soft, round texture marked by refreshing acidity. It reminds me, as hinted at above, of a fruity, bistro-style Chinon crossed with the warmer scents of a clean, medium-bodied Côtes du Rhône. After a half-hour in the glass, its aromas reach a higher tone, giving scents of blueberry skin and violets. From there, the wine remains very consistent, practically unchanged in fact, into its second day, moving just ever so slightly into the tarter end of the red fruit spectrum.

If I've a complaint, it's that the wine seems overly polished, its edges removed to the point that its texture is slightly glossy. The lack of any overt winemaking signatures, however, lead me to think that this soft simplicity is most likely the product of young vine fruit, fruit that hasn't yet reached a deeper expression. I'll look forward to seeing where it leads in future vintages. And in the meanwhile – this is a reasonably good value at $15 or less per bottle – I'd hardly say no to "Alodio" as an added option in my ever developing rotation of no-nonsense, every day wines.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ramen Setagaya

When my friends Joe and Nattles suggested lunch at Ramen Setagaya as the initial meeting point during our recent raid on Manhattan, I could hardly decline. There's very little in the way of good ramen in Philadelphia. And besides, it would mark stop number three on my ongoing tour of East Village noodle houses.

Ramen Setagaya, which occupies the front half of a relatively tiny storefront space on the west side of 1st Avenue, is more urbane and less homey than Rai Rai Ken, far less buzzy and NY-cosmo than Momofuku Noodle Bar. Rai Rai Ken strikes me as the kind of place one might find on in a quiet residential neighborhood of Tokyo, which just happens to be exactly its setting in NYC. Momofuku? Well, that's pure NY, and while it fits in perfectly with the youthful nighttime energy of the East Village, I could easily see it being just as successful anywhere from Union Square to SoHo to TriBeCa. Setagaya, on the other hand, is exactly the type of place I'd expect to find in the most bustling, mercantile neighborhoods of Tokyo (a place I've never been but nonetheless have rather vivid ideas about). I suppose that's perfectly apropos, given that Setagaya is indeed a Japan-based chain, named for the most densely populated of Tokyo's 23 special wards. It also makes sense, then, that there's a certain fast food vibe to Setagaya, but in the vein of quick, no-nonsense street food, not of homogenized, preprocessed and branded slop shops.

The core of the shio ramen here is pure and simple – lighter, saltier and more refreshing than the somewhat richer, more darkly flavored broth at RRK and a night and day contrast to the over-the-top porkiness of the Momofuku rendition. The brightness of the shio broth at Setagaya is matched by the springy texture of the ramen itself, delicate and silky, just firm enough to retain their bite throughout the meal. Likewise, the two slices of pork – an extra-pork upgrade is available – are cooked to the point of tenderness but have just a little chew courtesy of a nice vein of fat running through the meat. It's the egg that really ties it all together, poached and halved, its yolk set enough to avoid turning the shio into egg drop soup but soft enough to absorb and meld with all of the other flavors in the bowl.

While I'm sure Setagaya hops at night when the East Village kids come out to play, lunch seems the ideal time to partake of its pleasures. Business was modest just after noon on a Friday, allowing us to relax over our bowls and build the fortitude necessary for a long day ahead. At about $10 each, including the addition of a shared plate of kimchi, the price is right as well.

Once again, I really must give a shout out to Sir Brooklynguy as if not for his thoughtful roundup of NYC ramen bars, Setagaya and Rai Rai Ken most likely would not have made it onto my radar.

Meanwhile, just around the corner....

Ramen Setagaya
141 1st Avenue (at 9th)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 529-2740
Ramen Setagaya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo

It's been a little over a year now since I last had the chance to meet up with Giuseppe Vajra and to taste through a range of his family's wines in formal fashion.  It was great to see him, a pleasure I hope will be repeated before long.  As always, it's pleasure of a different sort to drink – not just taste – the Vajras' wines in a more relaxed setting.  I did just that over the course of two nights last week, savoring a bottle of Vajra's 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo with two very simple and drastically different midweek meals.  Giuseppe's description of the wine, not of how it tastes but rather of how it served him and his college roommates through many a communal meal, stuck with me as I savored every last drop from the bottle.  You'll forgive me, I hope, for quoting from the archives:

This was Giuseppe’s go-to “college wine” during the past year, what he poured for his roommates at University to help compensate for his lack of cooking abilities. A great food wine it is. Although in my experience this wine can age better than most “basic” Langhe Nebbiolo, G. recommends drinking it in its first three-to-four years for maximum enjoyment. This is Nebbiolo fermented and aged only in steel, produced primarily from fruit grown in a southwest-facing parcel called “Gesso” located at the foot of Bricco delle Viole and from the young vines in the Vajra’s recently acquired property in Sinio, just outside of the Barolo zone on the outskirts of Serralunga d’Alba. The wine is in a great spot right now, full of violet, rose petal and red licorice aromas. Finely detailed and long on the palate. No lack of nuance. Every bit a fine example of a “poor man’s Barolo.”
Langhe Nebbiolo, G.D. Vajra 2006
$26. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Over a year later, the 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo is still showing beautifully, even young, much as I'd suggested in my original note. When first opened and poured it was quite tight, showing firm grip and slightly chalky tannins wrapped around a core of bright red fruit with classic overtones of licorice and tar.

In the past, I've found suppler styles of Langhe Nebbiolo – such as those from Vajra, Elio Grasso and Produttori del Barbaresco, to name a few – to pair quite well with dishes that mesh sweet and savory elements.  I'm thinking in particular of pumpkin tortellini or ravioli sauced with sage brown butter.  On this night, I took that idea to another step, drinking the wine alongside a rather spontaneous "use up what's in the kitchen" hash of roasted potatoes, apples and Italian-style sausage.  On this night, the match wasn't perfect, the grippy structure and taut fruit proved a bit too stern for the food.  But that hardly kept me from enjoying the wine.

Twenty-four hours later, the wine had come into a much sweeter spot, opening to reveal more seductive aromas, more generous textures and more relaxed fruit.  Paired with an even simpler dish of penne, cheese and peas, the wine took on a whole other dimension.  It was one of those pairings that actually adds a layer of pleasure to both the wine and the food.  I know one tends to think of meat, or perhaps an end-of-meal cheese course, with Nebbiolo-based wines.  I do love this with pork.  But over the years, I've found it can work quite admirably with salmon (heresy, I know) and that it sometimes takes nothing more than a dish full of toothsome pasta to match the wine's tension – and to remove any sense of tension from those partaking of it.

Sadly, this was my last bottle of the '2006.  When the '07 finally comes ashore, I'll seriously have to consider gobbling up a case.

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In closely related news:

  • I knew in the back of my mind while writing this that Giuseppe had recently traveled through the southern Mid-Atlantic on one of his seasonal US pilgrimages.  You'll find a nice write-up on the full range of Vajra's current releases courtesy of John Witherspoon at Anything Wine.

  • It's nearly impossible for me to write about one of my favorite Nebbiolo producers, Vajra, without thinking of my friend Dr. Parzen's ongoing love affair with the wines of Produttori del Barbaresco.  It's sheer coincidence, however, that not long after I wrote this morning's missive, Jeremy penned one of his usually brilliant pieces, laced with literary and historical detail, on Cavour's impact on the history of Piedmontese wine.  Read there or be square.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Morgon, Morgon, Morgon

When friends called to say I should stop by on Friday night because they'd opened a couple of interesting bottles of Morgon, I figured the least I could do was add a third to the mix. After a wee glass of the Crémant de Loire "Brut Sauvage" NV from Château des Vaults (Domaine du Closel) to whet the whistle, we started off with my contribution to the trio.

Morgon (Lot S), Marcel Lapierre 2007
$22. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA.
Marcel Lapierre makes three lots of his regular Morgon each year, in roughly equal thirds: one that sees no filtration or addition of sulfur, one that is unfiltered but does get a petite dose of sulfur, and a third that is both lightly filtered and sulfured. Lapierre's US importer, Kermit Lynch, will not bring completely unsulfured wines into the States, so "Lot S," if I'm not mistaken, is the unfiltered, lightly sulfured bottling. The lot designation appears on the wine's back label, along with a date (02/05/08 or 2 May 2008, in this case) that I assume signifies the bottling date, a bit of information I'd love to see on all wine labels.

I wasn't in the mood to take photos, so I'm glad Brooklynguy had already taken care of it for this one; I've borrowed his picture of the 2006 version (thanks, Neil). I really like Lapierre's presentation; I'm not sure there's a better example out there of elegant simplicity in labeling.

Firm and tensile but delicate, very pure, direct and focused, this is pretty, pretty wine. Lithe, with an unmistakably natural aromatic and flavor profile. The nose is creamy and fresh, giving up vanilla-laced small red berry fruit. One of my partners in crime had complained of encountering bottles earlier in the year that were showing green and olive-y (and I see that B-guy has found some volatile acidity issues). No such problems here, as this bottle was just lovely. Served with a slight chill, I could drink it all day.

Morgon Côte du Py "Cuvée Spéciale Fût de Chêne," Domaine Savoye (Descombes-Savoye) 2005
$18. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Fruit of the Vines, Long Island City, NY.
The "Cuvée Spéciale Fût de Chêne" is Pierre Savoye's vin de garde, bottled after spending 6-8 months in oak foudres and capable of aging, in the producer's own words, from 8-10 years. Opened the day before, this was a little worse for wear but was nonetheless still showing remnants of its breed. Completely pinotisé, dark-fruited and subtly spicy, even a bit prune-y, with brooding, slightly briary tannins. I think this could indeed develop for a few more years in the bottle. But once opened, drink up.

Morgon "Vieilles Vignes," Daniel Bouland 2008
$22. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.
In spite of having been open for a day, Bouland's Morgon, which hails from 60-90 year-old vines in the climats of Corcelette, Douby and Delys, was showing by far the most primary of our three wines. Still painfully young, which isn't surprising given the wine's youth, though I found it to be showing well relative to many other '08s I've tasted of late that are tight, lean, chalky and/or unexpressive at this point in their evolutions. Very good fruit expression, with lots of ripe red cherry and cola nuance, bolstered by a zippy, juicy mouthfeel.

* * *
And for your listening pleasure today, the Joe Zawinul classic (the correct title is Mercy x 3) as performed by the Buddy Rich Big Band in Berlin, 1970.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another Gravel-Grown Chinon

Cabernet Franc: when it's ripe enough to overcome its weedy tendencies and left well enough alone to be able to express its true self, there are few other vines that speak to me so clearly. It's a vine, like Pinot Noir or Riesling, that when grown in the right place seems to possess an immutable capability to express not just the flavor of the grape but a clear sense of its origins.

Take Chinon as a perfect example of one such Franc-centric place of origin. The wines of Chinon – again, when they're made well enough to retain their transparency – speak differently of their overall place depending on whether they hail from the banks of the Vienne, the flat lands east of the city or the hillsides that climb up from those plains. Perhaps the clearest and easiest to understand of those expressions is the voice of the Vienne, where the sand and gravel dominated soils yield Chinons of cool, supple texture, driven more by fresh acids and delicacy than by the greater richness and sinew of their cousins to the near north. There's a certain fine-grained, dusty character to the wines' tannins and a hallmark cassis-driven fruit signature that just says gravel-grown to me when I taste it. I wrote about a few such examples earlier this year; here's another.

Chinon "Les Gravières d'Amador Abbé de Turpenay," Couly-Dutheil 2006
$17. 12.5% alcohol. Composite cork. Importer: Elite Wines Imports, Lorton, VA.
The first words written in my raw tasting notes over the course of two days spent with the above wine? "I'm betting this is riverside Chinon." Light, fresh, supple and minty, it's driven by red cassis fruit and leafy aromas, with medium-high acidity and a lightly tannic touch. A dash of cocoa and raspberry parfait emerged as the wine opened. Somewhat loose around the edges. That loose-edged sensation was more apparent on day two when the wine lost much of its structure, though it did retain its coolly textured impact in spite of the softer mouthfeel. A bit less characterful than similarly priced wines from the top producers, but nonetheless a solid if simple Chinon.

I'll admit to not knowing much about Couly-Dutheil going into this bottle. So after drinking and mostly enjoying it, a quick bit of research was in order. Couly-Dutheil is a large producer by most standards, and very large indeed by Chinon standards, farming 90 hectares of vines and overseeing an additional 30 hectares, with annual production figures in the 100,000 case ballpark. "Les Gravières" falls into a group of cuvées that Couly-Dutheil classifies as Chinons de plaisir. Sure enough, it's produced from 25-35 year-old vines planted on the gravel and sandy terraces of the Vienne, just to the east of the town of Chinon. I was – again, I'll admit it – rather pleased to find my gut reaction to the wine was correct. And it's additionally edifying to find a larger producer that, regardless of what their reputation may be, can still get it right.

* * *
Some of you may recognize today's photo, by the way, as something of an Edwardian reference. There's no real connection between Nick Cave's latest novel and the Chinon, other than that it's what I've been reading of late. Entertaining enough, I suppose, but not one of the author's better efforts, musical or literary. I'll let you know if the verdict changes once I've tested its finish.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesdays at Rosamunde (and Toronado)

Six days and seven nights a week, Rosamunde Sausage Grill makes it their business to grill up what I'm told are some of the best sausages available on the streets of San Francisco. I wouldn't know, though, as I've only been for lunch on a Tuesday, when the usual offerings of forced ground pork and game make way on the open-top grill at Rosamunde for hand-formed patties of ground beef.

Tuesday at Rosamunde's is "secret burger day," a weekly ritual that begins with a delivery of of fresh, Niman Ranch beef and ends as soon as the last of the day's 200 half-pound hamburgers is ordered by one of the legion of the hungry that began to line up along this otherwise relatively quiet block of the Lower Haight well before 11:00 AM.

A quick lunch break it's not, but you've got to be quick if you want in. The doors at Rosamunde open at 11:30 AM. The first order is taken shortly thereafter but it's another half-hour or so before the first burger is served. It's not too terribly much later that the last order is placed, usually sometime just after 1:00, and I'd guess you'd need to be in line a good hour ahead of that time to ensure you've got a chance. Sounds like an exercise in lunacy, I know, but it's damn well worth the wait. Read on and ye shall see.

We'd agreed to meet a friend at Rosamunde around 11:00 but made better than expected time on the crosstown train from Ferry Plaza, where we'd spent a leisurely morning working up our appetites by ogling the gustatory treasures at spots like Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread Company and Far West Fungi. At 10:45, the line had already snaked its way well down the block, tailed up when we arrived by the hat-headed guy above, who told us he never misses a week.

The sausage list looked tempting indeed, but we were there for one thing. The Tuesday burger. Three with everything, please. We decided there was no need to request a specific temperature, sensing that things would be just fine.

We were right. The guys at Rosamunde turn out what may just be the utmost example of textbook burger perfection. One generous patty, flame-grilled a perfect medium rare and set atop a toasted onion roll slathered with copious amounts of ketchup and mustard, and topped with melted cheddar, sauteed onions, lettuce and a slice of ripe tomato. A fistful of juicy, moan-and-groan-inducing goodness. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

And we were getting thirsty waiting for it. Thankfully, that half-hour plus waiting period from order to delivery can be spent right next door at Toronado, a solid, neighborhood dive bar that happens to have a seriously killer on-tap beer program. When the runner from Rosamunde finally comes over and calls your name, it's no problem to bring your burger right back to Toronado, just in time for round two (or three if you're drinkin' like you don't have to go back to work after lunch).

It's tough enough finding Russian River Brewing Company offerings on tap back east, where the brewery has a cult following and the beers are tightly allocated. And at $4/pint... forget about it. Time for a little RR Blind Pig IPA, a bright, snappy contrast to the wholesome richness of the Rosamunde burger.

The man responsible for leading us into this mid-week, mid-day hedonism: Wine & Spirits Magazine editor, Wolfgang "Spume" Weber. Wolfgang first let me in on the "secret burger" over a bottle of Poulsard in New York a few months back. When I told him I'd be SF bound in the fall, he suggested our mission and I held him to it. Killer tour guide that he is, WW even suggested a post-burger walk that led us to what's got to be one of San Francisco's most photographed sites, just a few blocks uphill from Rosamunde. We needed some way to burn off some of what we'd wolfed down, after all.

Is the Rosamunde and Toronado combo the ultimate burger and a beer experience? I'd be hard put to argue otherwise.

Rosamunde Sausage Grill
545 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 437-6851
Rosamunde Sausage Grill on Urbanspoon

547 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 863-2276
Toronado Pub on Urbanspoon
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