Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Blogging Year In Review: A Look Back at 2010 on MFWT

Taking my own cue from last year, it seems like today, especially given that we're on the eve of New Year's Eve, is an ideal time to take a look back at the year that's about to end.  If I'm feeling really inspired, I may pile on tomorrow with a top ten list of wines enjoyed throughout the year.  For now, here's a bloggy-blog style review of 2010, chez McDuff.
  • I started off the first month of 2010, to paraphrase one of my long time readers and fellow bloggers, by opening a big can of worms on the topic of brettanomyces.  Not to toot my own horn too loudly but I was also on fire in January when it came to cranking out what turned out to be some of my favorite white wine write-ups of the year, such as Movia Lunar, Montbourgeau Savagnin, Chidaine Les Choisilles, and Thierry Puzelat's Romorantin.

  • Movia "Lunar," snow and the full moon....
  • In February, I began to dig more deeply into the exploration of Spanish wines, something I still need to work on in greater earnest, with an in-depth profile of the Ribeira Sacra wines of Guimaro.  Likewise, beer began to occupy a more regular and prominent editorial place here at MFWT; my piece on Jolly Pumpkin's Oro de Calabaza was a personal fave (as is the beer itself).

  • March travels took me to California not once but twice. The first trip was to attend the wedding of my dear friends Steve and Stacy in Monterey (and of course to sneak up to San Fran for a return to Terroir).  The second was my first major trade junket of the year, a trip designed to explore the food and wine culture and agricultural traditions of Paso Robles, a highlight of which was a visit to an abalone farm.

  • There's much more than Syrah, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon being farmed in the Paso Robles countryside.
  • After January's piece on Brett, I returned to the exploration of wine science, or more accurately, pseudo-science, with my April piece on chaptalization.  Toward the end of the month, I had the pleasure of sharing one of the more memorable meals of the year with old friends, great wines, and Alexis Rousset-Rouard of Domaine de la Citadelle.

  • My blind tasting skills, not to mention the recuperative and regenerative powers of my palate, were put to the test my second big press junket of the year, Nebbiolo Prima, in May.  Like it or not, I've made culturally relevant obituaries something of an accidental specialty here at MFWT.  (Of course, just what is "culturally relevant" is entirely up to me.)  One of the more colorful of this year's examples of the RIP post was inspired by the May passing of actor Dennis Hopper.

  • June saw the continuation of my coverage of Nebbiolo Prima, with vintage overviews of 2007 in Barabresco and the Roero as well as 2006 in Barolo, along with a producer profile on Novello's Elvio Cogno.

  • One of my favorite posts of the year (and my contribution to "32 Days of Natural Wine" at Saignée), a profile of Cappellano in Serralunga d'Alba, got the ball rolling in July.  From there, it was all 2010 Tour de France, with daily coverage of the race, its routes and corresponding food and wine coverage provided by me and a multitude of wonderful guest bloggers.  I'm already looking forward to doing it again in the New Year....

  • Benoit Tarlant, pictured above showering the peloton with his "Brut Zéro" as they passed through Reims, was among the many guest bloggers who contributed to my coverage of the 2010 Tour de France.
  • After the hot action in July, August was a pretty mellow month 'round these parts, giving me the chance to check in with an old favorite—the Marcillac Vieilles Vignes from Domaine du Cros—and to head up to New York and stop in at Bar Boulud for a long overdue glass of Jacky Blot's sparkling Montlouis Triple Zéro.

  • Things kicked back in to gear in September, when the trips to New York continued and multiplied for the onset of the autumn trade tasting season.  One of the most purely enjoyable of those events was the Jenny & François portfolio tasting, which you can get a sense of via my two part highlight coverage (part one, part two).  A very nice bit of recognition, not to mention lifting of the spirits, came along that month as well, as MFWT was was listed among the Top 5 Favorite Websites as selected by 25 nationally recognized sommeliers in Food & Wine Magazine.

  • My NYC crusade continued into October, with meals at Ippudo and Otto representing just a couple of the stops among much other researching, feasting and frolicking.

  • At least a little of the action came back Philly way in November, including visits from Maria José Lopez de Heredia and a NY/Philly mashup in celebration of the wines of Friuli.  New York still got its due, though, including a vertical tasting of Peter Weimer's "Torbido!" and a blind tasting of wines made in the Chauvet/Néauport method.

  • That, folks, brings us right up to the end of the year.  My December posts might still be fresh in some of your minds.  Just in case, a few of the "highlights" included part two of my coverage of the carbonic vs. terroir tasting, the long overdue return of the B-side report (not to mention a whole lotta Beaujolais), and a quick post on one of my hands-down favorite wines of the year.
I'd say that's a wrap.  Thank you, one and all, for visiting, reading, commenting and generally following along with the action here on the "Trail."  Here's to a happy, healthy and fruitful New Year.  Cheers!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

I'd hoped to have an Xmas tale of wine and food, friends and fun to share with everyone this evening.  Instead, I've been focusing on the friends, family and fun parts, less on the chronicaling of said activities.  Wine and food are playing a role as always, music too, but sometimes more substantive writing and blogging have to take a back seat. 

I'm sure I'll be back in the saddle within the next few days so, until then, here's a little tuneage for your seasonal listening pleasure.  Happily, this time around it's in the spirit of the holidays rather than in remembrance of friends passed.  Thanks as always for visiting, reading, partaking, even listening.  Here's wishing a happy and peaceful holiday season to you all.  Cheers!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Joe Strummer, Eight Years On

Earlier this evening, a friend reminded me that today marks eight years since the untimely and unexpected passing of Joe Strummer on December 22, 2002. So, tonight I drank a little Régnié with my dinner, poured a glass for Joe, watched the below clip a time or five, and remembered the man. Please feel free to do the same.

Coenobium and Carbonara at Dell'Anima

A little padding in my schedule during a reasonably recent trip to New York afforded me the opportunity to head to the West Village for lunch at dell'anima. I'm not sure I would have ventured there if it weren't for having met the young sommelier and restaurateur phenom behind dell'anima, Joe Campanale, along with his mother Karen, when they trucked it down to Philly to co-host a Friuli wine dinner at Osteria, or if it weren't for having connected with both of them in the staccato realms of social media. As dellanimom, Karen snippets up a storm on Twitter on behalf of her son's establishments; it might sound kind of crazy-corny to some, I suspect, but she does a great job with it. We should all be so lucky as to have our moms out there canvassing for us—far more effective than the usual PR spin.

Anyway, back to dell'anima... I'm glad I made the journey. It's the kind of all too rare spot—I've written about a few others here in the past—that's worthy of destination dining but first and foremost provides a bastion of comfort and quality to its own neighborhood.  I was surprised at how cozy the dining room is: just a small bar, a dozen or so tables and an open kitchen.  Fittingly perhaps, I don't recall being awestruck or otherwise astounded by anything I ate that afternoon, just pleasantly sated by good quality food served in a very welcoming environment by a crew that pretty clearly cares about what they're doing.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Campanale has put together a pretty sharp, all Italian wine list with some strong selections by the glass and welcome depth in the back vintage department for those ready and willing to explore (1971 Movia Ribolla, anyone?).

That by-the-glass program provided me with the welcome opportunity to continue my exploration of the pleasures of pasta carbonara paired with the white Lazio wines of the Monastero Suoro Cisterci, where Paolo Bea's son, Giampiero Bea, has been a consulting winemaker ever since the Sisters' first vintage in 2005.  Last time, it was Coenobium "normale" paired up with the traditional spaghetti alla carbonara at Otto; this time around, it was the more skin contact intensive version of Coenobium, called "Rusticum," poured to accompany dell'anima's tajarin alla carbonara.

The combination of tajarin (an egg-rich pasta style traditional in the Langhe) in place of spaghetti,  speck (native to Alto-Adige and the Südtirol) instead of pancetta or guanciale, and a whole, runny-when-forked egg yolk put a decidedly northern Italian spin on the Roman classic.  The overall conception and impact being similar, though, the carbonara was still Roman at heart, and the local wine (Coenobium is produced about an hour's drive north of Rome) was a crack pairing, the full body, grippy structure and oxidative nuances of "Rusticum" working quite well with the richness and creaminess of the dish.

Now all that's needed is a reason to find myself in the West Village at lunchtime again.  Soon.


38 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10014
(212) 366-6633
Dell'Anima on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blogs of Note: One Oldish, One Newish, Both Vital

Taking a day off from writing yesterday enabled me to catch up on reading 'round the web, in the course of which I was reminded of two things I've been meaning to (re)share: the greatness of Wine Terroirs and the astounding launch of So You Want to be a Sommelier.

Bert Celce has been traveling the world, capturing his experiences with a camera and illuminating those travels and photgraphs with remarkable detail (and remarkably good English for a non-native speaker) at his blog, Wine Terroirs, since January 2004.  That makes him, undeniably, one of the senior statesmen of the wine blogging world, and he still does it with a level of enthusiasm—not to mention great content—that always keeps me coming back for more.  I've already given Bert a "Blogs of Note" shout-out here, way back in May 2008, but yesterday's visit—and his most recent post chronicling the disgorgement of the first sparkling wine produced by Touraine vigneronne Noëlla Morantin—reminded me of why I not only need to read his site more often but also really needed to re-share it with my own readers.  So here you go.... It's worth a look for the quality of the photos alone (that's one of Bert's shots above) but don't skip the every bit as worthy read.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that I also have a serious wine crush on Noëlla....
My own shot of Ms. Morantin in NYC, October 2009.

So You Want to be a Sommelier? is the recently launched brainchild of the ever erudite*, occasionally ascerbic of wit, and always all around good guy Levi Dalton.

The beverage director at Alto in New York City, Levi is indeed a sommelier, one of the city's best in my experience.  He's also a friend (that's my pic of him at right, snapped during a vertical tasting of Torbido! at Alto last month).  But this is no shill; it's an honest, forthright, and, yes, friendly endorsement of what I fully expect to be a damn good blog.

Levi has only been at it since the beginning of December but he's off to a running start.  An active patient participant in the discussion chambers at Wine Disorder (formerly Wine Therapy) for many a year, Levi's first several posts were "reprints" of detailed posts originally shared only at Disorder.  He's since made a quick transition into original posts.  Between the quality of his writing, a welcome thread of humor, and the sheer quantity of sick vino that passes his way (in terms of depth and diversity that is, not volume), it's a new blog that I very much look forward to reading as it grows.

(*Alice's word, not mine, but it was too apropos not to run with it.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Suds: Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza

A relatively impromptu visit to Teresa's Next Door last night led first to a wonderfully thirst quenching glass of De Ranke "Père Noël" (on tap), which led next to a leisurely perusal of the menu and, in turn, to a quite fortunate flip by my dining partner to the rear of Teresa's book of beers.  To the holiday bottle page.  To this little gem.

Noel de Calabaza Special Ale, Jolly Pumpkin (Blend 3, 2009)
9% abv. 750 ml bottles.  Distributor: Shelton Brothers
"Noel de Calabaza" is a Belgian-style strong dark ale, brewed annually and released each winter holiday season by the wild fermenting, oak aging adventurers at Jolly Pumpkin.  While in name it's the Christmas companion to "Oro de Calabaza," the only obvious similarity comes via that characteristic Jolly Pumpkin sour streak—part wild yeast, part lactic acid, entirely delicious.  Otherwise, we're dealing with an entirely darker, maltier, spicier animal, albeit one that is eminently drinkable, just barely if at all hinting at its 9% alcohol level.

A year of bottle aging (notice the batch number, above) has rounded out the beer's mouthfeel and subdued its spiciness since this time last season, bringing the focus around to its dark fruited, wine-y nuance, yet plenty of vitality remains, suggesting that it will continue to develop through at least a couple more Noels.  While, for me, it doesn't quite deliver in that instantly magical, "God damn, this is some serious gourmet shit" way that "Oro" does, it's nonetheless a damn fine holiday beer.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don Van Vliet is Dead, Long Live Captain Beefheart

Don Van Vliet, better known—to those that knew of him at all—as Captain Beefheart, died yesterday of complications related to multiple sclerosis.  The Captain was 69.  There's no way I could improve upon the obituary that's already been written by Ben Ratliff for The New York Times, so read that.  And listen to this: the title track from the 1967 album Safe As Milk, as performed for French television in 1980.

Though I eventually came to be a big fan of Van Vliet's own music, I first came to know him through his work with Frank Zappa, who produced what was arguably Captain Beefheart's most influential album, Trout Mask Replica. Though it might be fair to think of Zappa and Van Vliet as peers or joint mentors, I tend to think of them more as co-conspirators.  So here's a peek into that side of things, too, via "Willie the Pimp" from Zappa's 1969 release, Hot Rats.

Rest in peace, Don (and Frank).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Question of the Day

Scenario: You're going to lunch with a certified Master Sommelier and you can take only one bottle of wine.  What would you choose, and why?  (Okay, so that's two questions.)

? courtesy of Steven Noble.
Hit the comments with your answer, then come back and click the question mark for mine. No cheating!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mindbendingly Delicious Barbera

Lasagna: I didn't realize I was craving it yesterday but, as soon as I heard the suggestion, I knew it was meant to be.  Funny thing is, it took even less time to think of what I wanted to drink with it: Barbera.  I knew just the one....

Barbera d'Alba, Giuseppe Rinaldi 2008
€9 ex-cellar. 13.5% alcohol.  Cork.  Not exported to the US.
One bottle—one criminally small bottle—of Beppe Rinaldi's Barbera d'Alba made it into the mixed case I cobbled together over the course of my adventures in Piedmont this May.

Tasting the 2009 version from botte at the estate with the lovely young Marta Rinaldi and learning that its production is too small to supply the US market (AND blown away by how delicious it already was), I just had to make space for a bottle of its brother from an earlier vintage in that mixed case.  Ten days, somewhere in the vicinity of twenty producer visits, and I was limiting myself to twelve bottles for the long journey home... insanity.  In retrospect, I wish I'd allowed for a second case, just of this.

Beautifully fresh and juicy, brimming with boisterous fruit, lively acidity and just enough tannin to keep you alert.  Blueberries, plums, red cherries....  It was absolutely delicious with our lasagna and altogether, seamlessly complete.  About as close as wine can come to being the most unimaginably delicious example of fruit juice while simultaneously being 100% vinous in character.  The kind of wine one could happily glug without a care or just as easily meditate upon for hours.  Something of a miracle of nature and one of the most memorable wines I've drunk all year.  Enough said.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Suds: Dogfish Head Saison du Buff

Image courtesy of Dogfish Head.
BUFF (Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor) was first conceptualized way back in 2003.  It took only seven years for the triumvirate—Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head, Bill Covaleski of Victory Brewing Company, and Greg Koch at Stone Brewing Company—responsible for BUFF's genesis to put plans into action for their first collaborative brew.

Calagione and Covaleski got together with Greg Koch at Stone's San Diego headquarters early in 2010 to brew together.  What they came up with was "Saison du Buff," a Saison-style ale kicked up the "freedom of flavor" scale via the addition of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme in the brewing process.  The plan, as eventually executed, was for each brewery to make its own version using the same recipe and ingredients but of course utilizing its own equipment and brewers.

Stone was the first to release their version, in March 2010, with both Dogfish Head and Victory following suit late in the summer of 2010.  All were relatively limited-edition releases and, so far as I know, are not intended for repeat brewing and release in the future, although one never can tell.  Such brews sometime take on lives of their own.

Were I a more thorough beer geek (and a much more advance planning shopper), I'd have gone out of my way to procure all three versions in order to do a side-by-side tasting and comparison.  For now, though, I hope you can make do with my thoughts on just one of my local versions.

Image courtesy of yours truly.
"Saison du Buff," Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
6.8% abv.  12 oz. bottles.
The Dogfish Head iteration of Saison du Buff pours to a slightly hazy, burnished lemon yellow color in the glass.  Highly charged, it yields a more than generous, slightly chunky head, kept alive by quite active, steady carbonation.  Its lemony, intensely herbal aromas are dominated by the pininess of rosemary, then backed up by the faintly musky scent of sage. Rosemary and sage's other herbal brewing companions are less apparent on the nose but do come through on the palate, where the faint bitterness of parsley and subtly sweet woodsiness of thyme make themselves known.  Would I be saying all this if I didn't know the four herbs used in the brew?  Perhaps not, but knowing, it certainly makes sense in the tasting.  All of the above is wrapped up with a reasonably fruity mid-palate of grapefruit and pineapple, and a very crisp, refreshing drive.

Not surprisingly, given the fairly full throttle style of the overall beer programs at Victory and, especially, Stone and Dogfish Head, Saison du Buff is considerably hoppier than the a traditional European Saison.  To me, it actually drinks more like a Saison crossed with a fresh style of IPA.  While its alcohol level (6.8% abv) isn't much if at all higher than the classic Saison, it seems to pack more of a wallop than I usually associate with, say, Dupont Saison (at a quite similar 6.5%), pushing it out of session beer territory and toward the table.  Grilled, white fleshed fish or roast chicken would be nice pairings, methinks.

As appealing as all of the above may sound, it doesn't come without a caveat.  So highly perfumed as to border on scented soap territory, Dogfish Head's version of Saison du Buff beckons to my mind more than my gut—more intellectually compelling than downright delicious.  That said, you won't find me trying to pawn off what remains of my half-case.

I wonder if the Victory version is still kicking around somewhere nearby....

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Inscrutably Insolite

insolite adj unusual, strange

One hundred percent inscrutable it's not—even if last Sunday's edition of Name That Wine left everyone thinking so—but neither the charms nor the full (hi)story of Sophie and Thierry Chardon's "L'Insolite" are readily revealed.  More on the charms later; for now, let's step into the gray area between cold fact and cool conjecture and take a peek at the story.

"L'Insolite" was advertised for sale by, and in turn purchased by me from, a fairly well known wine e-tailer.  In one of said merchant's typical e-mail blasts, it was stated to be the produce of Domaine de l'Aumonier.  Sophie and Thierry Chardon, who are credited as the producers and estate-bottlers of "L'Insolite" on its label, are indeed the proprietors of Domaine de l'Aumonier.  Yet there's no mention of the Domaine on the bottle (other than on the cork), and likewise no mention of the wine on the Domaine's website.

Maybe I'm making too much of this—it's hardly without precedent—but, ever curious about labeling quirks and legalities, I couldn't help but wonder what gives.  Is it a semi-private label, produced exclusively for Free Run?  Perhaps it's the first vintage release of the wine and the Chardon's wanted to test the market before putting their full stamp on the label?  I'm sure there are other viable explanations, as well.  I hate to delve into the realm of guess work, but I've reached out to both the producers and their importer with no response from either.

Maybe... again with the maybes.... Maybe it doesn't matter.  If the wine is good, will anyone really care (aside from me, that is)?

Touraine "L'Insolite," Sophie et Thierry Chardon (Domaine de l'Aumonier) 2008
$14.  13% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Free Run, Seattle, WA.
Sophie and Thierry Chardon's Touraine "L'Insolite" is a varietal expression of Côt (aka, Malbec), grown in parcels of clay and silex dominated soil amidst the family's 47-hectare estate.  Currently in process of organic conversion, their property is located in the communes of Couffy and Mareuil sur Cher, roughly 75km ESE of Tours in the sprawling AOC area know as the Touraine.  Taking a leap of faith that it is handled along the same lines as the "official" reds from Domaine de l'Aumonier, the Côt is machine harvested, destemmed, crushed using a horizontal press, fermented in fiberglass tanks with about a ten-day maceration, then aged in underground tanks (presumably of lined cement).

The end result?  A vibrant, translucent violet color in the glass.  Immediate aromas of plum pudding and a horse-y, animale character, followed up by smoky scents of black pepper and clove.  With coaxing, a distinct blood orange aroma emerges, something I've noticed in several other '08 reds, both Côt and Gamay-based wines, produced in the Chardon's general vicinity of the Touraine.  There's a slightly saccharine high-note that I find off-putting but it's subtle enough that it doesn't rob the imbibing experience of pleasure.  In terms of feel, the medium weight of "L'Insolite" is driven largely by cool fruited sensations, quite delicate but gravelly tannins, and firm acidity.  While it held up reasonably well over the course of three days, I enjoyed it most on day one, when its aromatic character was in full bloom; days two and three brought a textural softening and fleshing out, along with somewhat muted, less expressive aromas and flavors.

Though it doesn't deliver on the same level of character, structure and complexity as the Côt-based cuvées from producers such as Clos Roche Blanche, Vincent Ricard or Thierry Puzelat, it's still fairly solid juice, especially given the sub$15 tariff.  I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to have it shipped clear across the country again but I wouldn't turn my back on it if I found it locally and at a comparable price point.

Now if only someone would answer my questions....

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bad Brains "Pay to Cum"

In the wake of the breaking news that an original acetate of the Bad Brains single "Pay to Cum" just sold for $6,000 (almost makes me consider selling my (non-acetate) copy...), here's a little something for your viewing, listening and thrashing pleasure.  Even on the crummiest of days, spinning this track, with all its unadulterated energy, has always managed to help bring things around.

Addendum: Don't know why I didn't think to add this last night....  Given the all but undecipherable nature of much of HR's vocal attack, I'm taking the liberty of reprinting the lyrics for "Pay to Cum," per the insert included with its 1979 7" release.

I make decisions, with percisions [sic]
lost inside this manned collision
Just to see that what to be is perfectly
my fantasy.  I came to know with no dismay
that in this world we all must pay.
pay the right
" to pay
" "
" " cum fight
and all in time, with just our minds
we soon will find, what's left behind.
Not long ago when things were slow
we all got by with what they know
the end is near, hearts filled with fear,
don't want to listen to what they hear
and so its [sic] now we choose to fight to
stick up for our bloody right
the right to sing, the right to dance,
the right is ours, we'll take the chance
A piece together
" piece apart
" piece of wisdom
from our hearts.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Northern Rhône, Next Week

Just a quick post tonight.  A bit of a teaser, really, as the class it relates to has been sold out for weeks.  I'm excited about it, though, and thought I'd share what I'll be pouring for those of you who might be attending (hello, Philly area readers), for those of you who love to shop on last minute notice in order to follow along, or for those who just like to read and ponder the wherefores.

So, a week from today, Wednesday, December 15, I'll be leading a seminar on the wines of the Northern Rhône Valley at Philly's Tria Fermentation School.  Here's what I'll be pouring—one at the door (bubbly) and six on the mat, as the local parlance goes:
  • Saint-Péray, Les Champs Libres (Dard & Souhaut) NV
  • Saint-Joseph "Les Oliviers" Blanc, Domaine Pierre Gonon 2009
  • Condrieu, Domaine Barou 2009
  • Vin de Table "La Souteronne," Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Hervé Souhaut) 2009
  • Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Combier 2008
  • Côte-Rôtie, René Rostaing 2007
  • Cornas "Chaillot," Thierry Allemand 2005
"La Souteronne" is in there as a bit of an intentional oddball (and because I like it), as I hate to support the notion that Syrah is the *only* black grape of the Northern Rhône.  The rest?  Well, only Hermitage is missing, that is unless you count Château Grillet....  I have to say, I'm really looking forward to it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trestle on Tenth

After years of hearing little other than praise for Trestle on Tenth—from the food, to the wine program, to the vibe—I finally made it there on a recent trip to New York.  You know what?  I wasn't disappointed.

Tucked away on an unassuming Chelsea corner, way out west on 10th Avenue, one might be forgiven for thinking of it as a neighborhood-only kind of spot.  Given the quality of its food (based on one meal and lots of said praise), the wine program and the vibe, though, I'd happily put it on the destination list, especially for those who value substance over flash and are satisfied by comfort and solid yet unfussy service as much as if not more so than by the grand dining experience.

Add to its own allure the fact that Trestle on Tenth sits in a quiet yet charming district, close enough to shopping and galleries to be convenient yet far enough away to escape the scrum, and I'd say it's a pretty good recipe for dining and imbibing happiness.  Appellation Wine & Spirits is just a few blocks down 10th Ave., as is a very cool little independent book shop called 192 Books, and a stairway up to the High Line is located withing crawling distance of T on T's front door.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon—and exactly how I started mine.

It was one of those days when I wasn't inclined to check out a little bit of everything on the menu. No, what was needed was one dish, something comforting, something satisfying, something that called to me via the few words used to evoke its merits via Trestle on Tenth's admirably succinct menu descriptions.

That dish was duck confit hash with poached eggs and sauce béarnaise.  It wasn't all that pretty to look at (my flash didn't help), but my stomach didn't care.  It was delicious.  Hearty and heady, with expertly executed poached eggs beneath a generous dollop of bérnaise, all atop an already ample stick-to-your-ribs plateful of shredded duck confit and roasted potatoes.  If you're of the one meal a day ilk, look no further; I of course did eat dinner later that evening but easily could have done without.  A perfect one dish wonder it's not—the hash was a dab on the greasy side and the overall dish could have benefited from a shot of acidity to cut and balance its intense richness—but I wasn't complaining.  It's not exactly what the doctor would order... but it's exactly what I was craving.

Besides, there's always wine to help out in the cut and balance department.  Domaine Arretxea's 2007 Irouléguy "Hegoxuri" Blanc, one of the many fairly priced gems on Trestle's smart list, had the requisite acidity, muscle and savor for the dish.

I hear tell they do fondue, too....

Trestle on Tenth
242 Tenth Avenue
(at 24th Street)
New York, NY 10001
(212) 645-5659
Trestle on Tenth on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Name That Wine

It's that time again.... It's cold out and I'm chilling out.  Recognize that cork?  The photo gives one obvious hint and I'll give another: it's not Beaujolais.  So, can you name what I'm drinking?

Sunday Suds: Sly Fox Oktoberfest Lager

Sometimes I feel as if I get carried away when writing tasting notes.  The most enthralling wines and beers can sometimes lead me to fill two or even three pages in my omnipresent moleskine notebook.  There are plenty of other great wines and beers, though, that don't make me think so much as they simply make me want to drink... and enjoy.

Sly Fox Oktoberfest Lager is a perfect example—just about all I could ask for in an American Oktoberfest.  My most recent case purchase, I may just have to head back for another before it's gone for the season (that is, assuming it's not already).  Honestly, I've been enjoying it with such ease that I'm now practically forcing myself to sit here and write something about it.  Hey, I wanted to share the goodness.

A slightly hazy copper/amber color in the glass, it leads off with an easy, draw-you-in, malt-driven roundness before leading on to a dry but gentle, mildly hopped, finish with nuances of mulling spices, whole wheat bread and orange zest.  That's all the tasting note you're getting.  (Well, okay, I'll add this, from the back of the can: OG 13.8° Plato, 25 IBUs, 5.8% alcohol by volume.)  Now get on out there and try some for yourself.

NB: Sly Fox is one of the leading practitioners of canning in the US craft brewing community.  Their cans may be a bitch to photograph without professional equipment, but they're attractive, lightweight, impermeable to light and air, easily recycled, have a smaller carbon footprint than bottled beer, and, thanks to a water based coating that lines the can's interior, don't impart any metallic flavors to their precious contents.  Do yourself a favor, though: pour the contents into your favorite beer glass for full and proper enjoyment.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Beaucoup du Beaujolais: Return of the B-Side

It's been way too long since I filed my last (and first) B-side report, something I originally intended to be a fairly regular installment here at MFWT.  So, when I recently gave the once over to the collection of dead soldiers that had accumulated on my kitchen table and realized that 80% of them were Beaujolais of one ilk or another, I figured it was due time for a return.

The hits—these could've/should've been A-sides (had I been studying in addition to enjoying):

Morgon, Marcel Lapierre 2008 and 2009
$25 and 22. 12 and 13% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA.
In the wake of Marcel Lapierre's recent death, I'm willing to hazard a guess that more of his wines have been consumed worldwide over the last two months than of any other artisan scale Beaujolais producer.  I'd bet the same applies to purchase rates, especially of the 2009, which piles vintage fervor on top of sentimentality. I'd love to buy some more of the '09 while the getting is still good but it's the 2008 that I'd really like to drink today.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the '09—full of bright, ripe fruit, juicy texture and a touch of earth—but it's still wearing a layer of baby fat, not yet ready to reveal its underlying stuffing.  The '08, on the other hand, is a perfect example of the old maxim that a great farmer and producer can make wonderful wines in so-called bad vintages.  2008 may have been difficult relative to 2009 but Lapierre's Morgon shows it only in its relative lightness and transparency when compared to the '09 (or good bottles of the '07); at heart, it's pure, elegant and lovely to drink.

Fleurie "Clos de la Roilette," Coudert Père et Fils 2009
$20.  13% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
As much as I've been enjoying the Lapierre and any number of other 2009 Beaujolais and Cru Beaujolais, I've yet to find one that represents a better value than Coudert's Fleurie "Clos de la Roilette."  It's already received A-side treatment here, albeit in brief, so please allow me to reiterate, even more briefly, that the '09 Roilette is simply delicious.  The last couple of bottles I've tried suggest that it may be tightening up a bit but it's still delivering great pleasure.  If you haven't tried it, do.

The indie out-takes—throwin' down some funk:

Beaujolais-Villages, Damien Coquelet 2009
$15.  13% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
A recent bottle was my first experience with Damien Coquelet's Beaujolais-Villages.  My immediate impressions put it right smack in the middle of the "does method trump terroir?" discussion that's been going on here recently.  There's an unmistakably natty, funky character to it that comes close to without entirely dominating the wine's sense of Beaujolais-ness.  For now, I can say that it is eminently drinkable, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Moulin-à-Vent, Domaine des Côtes de la Molière 2009 (Isabelle et Bruno Perraud) 2009
$22. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Jeffrey Alpert Selections, New York, NY.
This didn't do nearly as much for me (at least not at first) as did the theoretically simpler "Côtes de Poquelin" from the same estate.  In the first couple of days open, I found it to be much more an expression of natural wine making than of Moulin-à-Vent.  Mind you, I don't mind finding obvious natty signatures in a wine, just so long as they don't obscure the wine's terroir (sound familiar?).  Going back to the wine after at least seven days (my gut tells me it was closer to ten but I didn't keep exact track), though, it was showing a good deal better.  Still not the most profound example of Moulin-à-Vent, but a much clearer expression of cru Beaujolais than in its first days.  The "Poquelin," it should be noted, also performed really well over the course of several days, providing solid evidence, especially when combined with this experience, that sans soufre wines are not always as fragile as they're made out to be.

The misses—if I were still a music director, these might not have made the playlist:

Beaujolais-Villages, Gilles Gelin 2009
$16.  13% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Beaujolais-Villages "Tracot," Domaine DuBost (Jean-Paul Dubost) 2009
$16.  12.5% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Two more new wines from producers who are new to me.  If I'd tasted these blind, I think I'd have pegged them both as being from 2008 rather than 2009 as they showed attributes that suggested the not so great side of the '08 vintage: lean texture, tangy, confected fruit, and slightly green acidity.  The Gelin started out at that candied end of the spectrum but improved somewhat on day two.  DuBost's "Tracot," on the other hand, showed its best right out of the gates, all but falling apart by the next day.  DuBost has been getting decent traction of "natural-leaning" wine lists of late but this effort leaves me wondering why.  I wouldn't rule out revisiting other wines from these two estates but will not be inclined to plunk down $16 again on either of these particular bottlings.

The jury's still out—put them away for a while, bring them back later for another hearing :

Morgon Côte du Py "Vieilles Vignes," Jean-Marc Burgaud 2008 
$16.  13% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Free Run, Seattle, WA.
Here's a wine that shows the '08 vintage character in spades—lean, taut, somewhat unyielding—yet all the components are in place.  Jean-Marc Burgaud's Morgon "Côte du Py" is yet to show the elegance already displayed by Lapierre's Morgon but it's also not showing any of the unattractive characteristics of under-ripeness or chaptalization so common in the 2008 vintage in Beaujolais.  I've somewhat accidentally amassed a three-year vertical ('07-'09), so I'll give this a rest and give them all a revisit at a later date.

Côte de Brouilly "Cuvée Zaccharie," Château Thivin (Claude Geoffray) 2007
$39.  12.5% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA.
Côte de Brouilly "Cuvée les Ambassades," Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes 2009 
$19.  12.5% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Vintage '59, Washington, DC.
I may be comparing apples to oranges in the vintage department with this pairing but we're definitely talking oranges to oranges when it comes to the wines.  Both showed intense concentration and the kind of scale, in terms of body, color and texture, that one does not typically associate with Beaujolais.  Both also show a marked oak influence, especially Thivin's "Cuvée Zaccharie," which sees 10% new barrique and isn't shy about it.  These are unquestionably well made wines but their, I'll say it again, intense concentration is hard for me to get my arms around.  These are both wines that, if I had unlimited space (and budget, in the case of the Thivin), I'd like to put away not just for a little while but for a few years.  But I don't....

PS: In spite of the poor color rendering in my photos of the labels from Château Thivin and Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes, it's hard not to notice that they look practically identical.  The intertwined history of the two estates is a typically French story of marriage, inheritance, birth, death and separation; it's not easy to follow but you'll find a good telling of the story on the Vintage '59 website.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More on the Carbonic vs. Terroir Tasting

Okay, okay. My arm has been duly twisted. By popular demand, in response to yesterday's post on Chauvet, Néauport and the question of terroir, here is a list of the seventeen wines my seven jolly friends and I blind-tasted on Sunday. This is not the order in which they were tasted; rather, I've simply alphabetized them based on region and plunked them in however I saw fit beyond that. I'll be happy to answer questions about any of them to the best of my ability (and memory) but there will be no notes.

Originally, I'd intended, if asked, to post these in the comments to yesterday's post but it took me so damn long to type up the list and to make sure I came as close as possible to accurate appellation information, cuvée names, spelling, etc., that a top-level spot seemed only right.  That said, I can't promise I didn't muff a detail or two; if anyone happens to notice anything awry with the details, please do let me know.

  • Morgon "Les Clos de Lys," Domaine Joseph Chamonard 2007
  • Fleurie, Yvon Métras 2009
  • Fleurie "L'Ultime," Yvon Métras 2009
  • Beaujolais Nouveau, Marcel Lapierre 2010

  • Saint Emilion, Château Meylet 1998

  • Arbois Ploussard "Dorabella," Domaine de l'Octavin 2008

  • Vin de Table Français "Fou du Roi," Le Temps des Cerises (Axel Prüfer) 2008
  • Vin de Table Français "Un Pas de Côte," Le Temps des Cerises (Axel Prüfer) 2008
  • Vin de Table Français "Pitchounet," Mouressipe (Alain Allier) 2009

  • Anjou Rouge "Taberneaux," Benoit Courault 2007
  • Vin de Table Français "Les Pierres Noires," Jean Maupertuis 2009
  • Vin de Table Français "La Guillaume," Jean Maupertuis 2009
  • Vin de Pays d'Urfé "Cuvée 100%," Domaine du Picatier 2008
  • Vin de Table Français "Auver Nat Noir," Domaine du Picatier 2008
  • Côtes d'Auvergne VDQS, Domaine Peyra 2004

  • Côtes du Rhône "Cuvée des Traverses," L'Anglore 2009
  • Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche "Cuvée Briand," Le Mazel 2007

It was quite a wild lineup of wines, surprisingly few of which I'd previously been familiar with to any great extent.  It could also be said that there were some benchmark examples of the method in question missing from the table.

More importantly, I think it bears reiteration — and clarification — that the spirit of our tasting was not so much to delve into the scientific aspects of carbonic and semi-carbonic maceration, or to set up Chauvet and/or Néauport for any kind of a fall.  It was really the big picture method we were looking at, and the way in which it affects terroir expression.  As I alluded yesterday, we also didn't spend much time pondering the fairness of calling the vinification techniques in question the Chauvet method vs. the Néauport method.  It's since been pointed out to me, and quite rightly I believe, that while it may have been Jules Chauvet who laid the seeds for the method and understood its particular viability for Gamay grown in acid-rich, granitic soils, it was largely Jacques Néauport who was responsible for spreading the seeds, along with a dose of dogmatism some might argue, on a wider basis.

Plenty of food for thought....  Now if only my French were better, or if only someone would translate Chauvet's and Néauport's texts from French to English so that I (and others) could more fully digest said food.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chauvet, Néauport and the Question of Terroir

Jules Chauvet
"Does method trump terroir?"

That was our gracious host's question, her introduction to the formal segment of the evening for our gathered gang of eight.  In the moment, no one seemed inclined to answer.

We'd all been invited to taste a group of wines that had been produced according to the methods described by Jules Chauvet, widely considered as the progenitor of the natural wine making movement in France.  Or was it really the Jacques Néauport method?  That question was left hanging, but no matter....  Without any absolute control or doctrine, there was still a reasonably clear focus: we'd be tasting wines fermented using carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration and made without the use of added sulfur dioxide (other than in the vineyard and, in some cases, in small doses at bottling time).

Seventeen wines later, our rather tight-lipped, largely poker-faced gathering didn't seem any more inclined to voicing a conclusion to our convening question, either en masse or individually, than at the outset. But never fear, dear reader, for I am here to give you an unequivocally clear answer.

Yes and no.

Actually, the only unequivocal answer is that there is no clear answer.

Does method trump terroir?  When it comes to the Chauvet/Néauport method in particular, yes, in at least one sense.  Nearly all of the wines we tasted showed the aromatic stamp, to varying degrees, of carbonic maceration.  No, in at least one arguably more important sense.  The best wines, even just the good wines, we tasted showed not only their varying levels of carbonic nature but also a definite sense of both varietal character and place, that is to say a taste of the vine and of the soil.  It would appear that, all else being sound, method and terroir can indeed be happy bunk mates.

All seventeen wines, by the way, were tasted in a single-blind format.  Specifically, we were provided with a list of the wines but all bottles were brown-bagged and poured in randomized order. The wines were revealed only after all had been tasted.  In addition to the big picture assessment made above, here are some other observations I'd like to (or at least am willing to) share:
  • It's a bit of a no-brainer but it still bears saying: while method doesn't necessarily trump terroir, an unacceptable level(s) of faultiness does.  By my reckoning, two of the wines in the lineup (not counting one that was eliminated because of cork taint) were flawed to the point of eradicating any clear sense of variety or terroir.

  • The Chauvet/Néauport approach is generally considered to be best suited to Gamay, particularly to Gamay grown on granitic soils.  It also appears to meld quite nicely with Ploussard in the Jura and, based on our lineup, to hold promise for Grenache based wines from the Mediterranean regions of France.

  • One of my favorite wines of the night turned out to be a varietal expression of Cinsault from the Languedoc, the Vin de Table "Pitchounet" from Domaine Mouressipe.  It leaned toward the method end of the aromatic spectrum but it's a wine I'd happily return to for sheer enjoyment.

  • Our host for the evening associates a certain baking spice with the aromatic signature of Chauvet-esque carbonic maceration.  The aroma that struck me, though, in wine after wine, across regions and varieties/blends, was of pickling spices, dill in particular.  Perhaps a better wine scientist than I could explain that; I can only say that I noticed it — and took note of it — in many of the wines.

  • The wine that showed the least facet of carbonic character was a Bordeaux, a 1998 Saint Emilion from Château Meylet.  I did get some of that dill/pickling spice on the nose, but that's not atypical of Merlot grown in SW France.  This begs a couple of questions.  Most obviously, do the darker, bolder character of Bordeaux varieties assert themselves over the character derived from (semi)carbonic maceration?  Secondly, and more subtly, what happens to carbonic character with age?  Does it perhaps fade?  The next oldest wine in the lineup was eight years younger and it was shot, one of the two overly faulty wines mentioned above.

  • I've written here before about my general dislike of blind tasting.  Tasting wine without a sense of what it is or where it comes from, not to mention without a sense of enjoyment, strips the soul away from what wine truly is about.  That said, as a technical exercise, there's plenty to be learned from blind tasting.  First and foremost: humility.  Out of seventeen wines, I completely nailed the identity of only two — and I'd hazard an educated guess that they're the same two that every person in the room also ID'd: the aforementioned Bordeaux and Marcel Lapierre's 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau.  I hit correctly on the terroir/regional origins in about half of the cases and I was wildly off in more than one instance.  Always a good reality check.

  • Going back to the issue of  "control" (in the statistical sense) that I referred to in opening, it was quite rightly mentioned by many in attendance that, while all of the wines we had tasted were made with some degree or another of carbonic maceration, there were also any number of variables in play.  Variety and region aside, carbonic vs. semi-carbonic maceration, the duration of skin and stem contact, pressing or the lack thereof, barrel aging (or not), yields — and other things I'm probably forgetting — were all discussed as likely variables in the mix.

  • Just as good a question as that we began with is this: Does over-ripeness obscure terroir?  One of the wines I missed on most egregiously was the 2009 Fleurie from Yvon Métras (the regular cuvée, not "L'Ultime").  I pegged its big, ripe, kirsch-like flavors as a Rhône or Languedoc wine.  So much for my Gamay sense....  There was much discussion later in the evening about the freak show of a vintage that was 2009 in the Beaujolais.  While I'm hardly about to jump on the vintage hating bandwagon — I've had plenty of gorgeous 2009 Beaujolais — I will say that the Métras was startlingly rich and bold, at the expense of sense of place.
I think that's enough for one post.  I've intentionally chosen not to bore you with an exacting list of all seventeen wines (though I'd be willing to oblige if anyone feels it necessary).  And I've intentionally opted not to name the other seven members of the gang.  Suffice it to say that it was an honor and pleasure to taste, eat and drink with — and be humbled by — all of them.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Suds: Drie Fonteinen Beersel Lager

Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen is best known, I think it's fair to say, for its lambic and gueuze — by and large spontaneously fermented, sour, and often fruit-infused styles of Belgian beer.  It's certainly fair to say that's what I know them for best.  Their Oude Kriek, in particular, is a benchmark for me.  As much as I like Cantillon's Kriek, the version from Drie Fonteinen is less savagely tart but every bit as complex... and more downright drinkable.

It's that drinkability that draws me to their slightly more mainstream line of beers, as well.  Called "Beersel," after the town of Beersel where the brewery is located, the lineup includes a Belgian blond ale, an organic ("Biologisch") version of the same beer, and a lager.  I've seen the Beersel Lager, the topic of today's post, alternately referred to as Czech pilsner in style.  From my palate's perspective, though, I'd put it firmly in the classic lager camp — light amber in color, round and crisp yet fairly soft in mouthfeel; less bright and herbaceous, more malt-rich than what I think of as a classic pilsner.  While its carbonation level is higher than in the gueuze from 3Fonteinen, it would be considered low-carbonation by American standards, an attribute that adds to the beers easy drinking character.

Reasonably low-alcohol at 5.2%, straightforward up front, very gentle and open on the mid-palate, and just a wee funky on the finish, it goes down easy.  That bit'o'funk, meanwhile, makes me know I'm drinking not just any lager but a lager from Drie Fonteinen.  Not surprising, I suppose, given that it's brewed with the same basic ingredients used in the brewery's lambic production; selected bottom-fermenting yeast strains and a higher original gravity are the key differences.  If only it weren't so pricey (a single bottle averages around $6 US), I'd be happy to make a place for it in my regular, go-to rotation.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Red Bourbon and Breton: Brief Scenes from a Thanksgiving Table

No notes to speak of today. Just some pictures from yesterday's holiday feast, this short intro and a few quick captions. It was Thanksgiving, after all. And yes, there was food. Trust me... there was food.

Had to borrow an old shot (different vintage) as I didn't take one of the 2000 Ratzenberger Sekt that served as our aperitif. I didn't even realize it until now but we started with the same wine at Thanksgiving last year; this year's showed even better.

That's a "full bottle" (1.5L) just in case it's not clear, complete with etched glass in lieu of Gasnier's regular label.  Showing great.  Makes me wish I had more space for magnum storage... and that I had another.

The '96 was full of dark earth and animal character.  The '85 was all elegance, completely resolved.

One tough customer.

One lovely vino de la meditación.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, RIP

As long as we're all giving thanks tonight, it's important to remember to give thought.

Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson died yesterday. I never met Peter, never even "saw" him. But I sure did listen to his work. Played the hell out of it on the radio in the mid-80s, too. From his formative roles in Throbbing Gristle, to Psychic TV, to Coil, Christopherson was instrumental in producing some of the most influential pieces of industrial, electronic and trance music of the late 1970s through the mid '80s. Looking back, it might be all too facile to write off the canon of those bands as oh so much pretentious oozing. To each one's own, though, as I'd counter that all three of those bands were at the forefront of their respective moments, releasing music that got under one's fingernails and invaded the listener's thoughts then, and that continues to stand as meaningful, individualistic and anachronistic thirty years later.

Coil's 1984 12-inch single "Panic," along with its B-side cover of "Tainted Love," was among the first ever (if not the first ever) records released specifically to benefit HIV/AIDS programs. All profits from the sale of the single were donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust. The video for "Tainted Love," directed by Peter Christopherson, now resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Watch it. Like it or not, give a thought tonight to the memory of the man who made it. And going forward from Thanksgiving toward the year-end holidays, give thought to making a difference, or simply making a contribution, to a local charity, be it for HIV/AIDS or whatever cause is most meaningful to you.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

May Your Thanksgiving be Drip Free

Artwork courtesy of my friend (and brother in law's brother—not entirely clear on the official term for that), Patrick "Mole" Garner.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ma Fête, À la Maison

It's my party and I want to drink bubbly...*
Something of an occasion today, smack up against the Thanksgiving holiday, prompted a relatively impromptu and, as it turned out, quite civilized lunch.  The festivity, the time of day and, most importantly, my craving all called for something sparkling.  It turned out to be a great choice.

Crémant du Jura, Domaine Jean Bourdy N.V.
$21.  12% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
This was my first time drinking Jean Bourdy's Crémant du Jura. It won't be the last.  Produced in the méthode traditionelle, it's a non-vintage cuvée based purely on Chardonnay.  A lovely nose of lightly toasted hazelnuts, brioche, pear and marzipan led do a palate much racier and brighter than aromatically suggested, all of which was finished off with a vaguely Chenin-like note of honey and beeswax.  Coursing through it all was a core of almost sweet minerality, with a tang to it that made me think there might be a little Savagnin at play.  The wine blossomed with food, yielding some of the generosity to which its aromas had alluded.  What became crystal clear as we drank the bottle with lunch is that we were enjoying an excellent Jura wine, one that spoke clearly of its place, that just happened to be sparkling — not a sparkling wine for sparkling wine's sake.

The soupe a l'oignon served at À la Maison, the bistro we'd chosen for our mid-day repast, proved a natural match with Bourdy's Crémant du Jura.  Though Gruyère, the cheese traditionally used for French onion soup, may technically be of Swiss origin, it is of very much the same style and proximal place as Comté, arguably "the" classic match with the white wines of the Jura region.  You won't find me arguing.... The sweet nuttiness of the cheese, the deeply caramelized onions and rich broth all brought out the earthy, round aspects of the Crémant.  Truly a lovely match.

The poulet vol au vent at À la Maison, even though the dish was arguably a bit under-seasoned, also worked wonders with the wine.  Between the light cream sauce, buttery accents courtesy of puff pastry, earthy mushrooms, the delicate protein of white meat chicken, and fresh herbaceousness via tomatoes and asparagus, we were again in a sweet spot when it came to the meshing of wine and food.  I'd like to try the dish again, at a time when tomatoes and asparagus are actually in season (and when the person in the kitchen has a freer hand with the salt and pepper ), but even now it was a lovely foil to the wine, not to mention quite a comforting meal on a chilly November afternoon.

À la Maison
53 West Lancaster Avenue
Ardmore, PA 19003
A la Maison bistro on Urbanspoon

* * *
* To be sung to the tune of:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Vertical Tasting of "Torbido!" with Peter Weimer and Romy Gygax of Cascina Ebreo

As if last Friday's dinner at Alto wasn't serendipitous enough for the gathering it afforded of the "Mt. Rushmore of wine bloggers," it also gave me the chance to catch up with a couple of folks I'd last seen when in Piedmont earlier this year.  Did I mention they just happened to be the evening's guests of honor?

What we'd all convened for was the opportunity to taste a vertical of every vintage yet bottled of "Torbido!," the signature wine produced at Azienda Agricola Weimer-Gygax Cascina Ebreo, and to do so in the company of Cascina Ebreo proprietors, Peter Weimer and Romy Gygax.  This was my first time joining company with Romy but I'd had the unexpected pleasure of meeting and tasting along with Peter Weimer when he was invited by his friend, Federico Scarzello, to present Torbido! to a small group of journalists, myself included, who had signed on for a vertical tasting of Scarzello Barolo that had been officially organized as part of the Spring 2010 edition of Nebbiolo Prima.

Peter Weimer, in the Scarzello tasting room in May 2010, and his wife, Romy Gygax.  I somehow neglected to snap a photo of Romy on Friday, so I've borrowed her pic from elsewhere; hope you don't mind, Romy.

Peter and Romy purchased the property known as Cascina Ebreo ("Jew Farm," as DoBi so succinctly translates it), situated next door to Elvio Cogno in Novello, in 1991.  Two years later, they left their home and former careers in Swizerland — Peter, who is German, was an engineer, and Romy, of Swiss descent, a banker — to take up permanent residence at their estate on the Ravera hill above Barolo.  What vines already existed on their property were in such neglect that they saw no choice but to grub them up and plant anew.  Peter, I think, looked at this as a positive, as he would be able to work with his own vines, his own babies, to learn how they grow and behave from youth onward to maturity.  What the couple chose to plant, on their 2.1 hectares of vineyards, were Nebbiolo (1.1 ha), Barbera (0.6 ha), and, nontraditionally for the area, a little bit (0.4 ha) of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

1999 and 2001 Torbido!, tasted in Barolo in May.
In 2006, their first vintage, only a Barbera was produced.  With the 2007 vintage, "Torbido!" was born.  Produced entirely from Nebbiolo grown on the Weimer Gygax estate, the wine sees a vinification and aging regime that, in combination with its origins, should by all rights lay due claim to the title of Barolo.  When Peter submitted a bottle of his 1997 Nebbiolo to the tasting panel for DOCG approval, the panel deemed his wine of very fine quality but too cloudy/muddy (torbido) to meet with the "typicity" for Barolo.  (Peter, who bottles his wines without filtration, thinks the panel members must have shaken the bottle prior to pouring.)  Though given the opportunity to submit another sample, Weimer rebelled, instead personally choosing to declassify the wine to Vina da Tavola status and to name it "Torbido!" — a snub of the nose to the tasting consortium and a statement of pride regarding his own farming and production techniques.  Peter and Romy have stuck with the decision ever since.

Though Peter does not consider himself part of the "natural wine movement," or of any movement for that matter, he does consider his wines to be very natural.  Farming on the estate is entirely organic, with application of some biodynamic practices as seen fit.  Aside from two pumps that are used to move the wines from place to place, no technology is utilized in the winery.  All of Peter and Romy's wines are fermented on their native yeasts and bottled without fining or filtration; the only thing ever added throughout vinification,  elevation and bottling is a small quantity of sulfur dioxide.

Torbido! is produced only in what Weimer and Gygax consider to be excellent years.  The wine — again, it's always and only Nebbiolo — is fermented without temperature control and typically undergoes a maceration of 14-18 days (up to 25 in some years) in tank, with a floating cap and occasional pump-overs.  The wine is then aged for three years in 600 liter tonneaux of French oak, in which malolactic fermentation naturally occurs during the summer following harvest.  After three years, the contents of the tonneaux are blended in inox tanks, where the wine is allowed to harmonize for six months prior to bottling.  Finally, the wine ages in bottle for another two years before being released to market

Weimer and Gygax release "Torbido!" only in what they consider to be high quality vintages.  The wine dinner at Alto presented us with the opportunity to taste every single vintage of Torbido! thus far released: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2004.  I had tasted the 1999 and 2001 vintages during that surprise meeting with Peter earlier in the year and had enjoyed them both for their combination of power and clarity of expression, so was looking forward to revisiting them in the mix with their older and younger siblings.

All of the evening's wines (including a spectacular bottle of 2002 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva "Monfortino") were provided from the personal cellar of Dino Tantawi (at left above, with Peter Weimer), owner of Vignaioli Selection, Cascina Ebreo's US importer.  Dino offered the Monfortino as counterpoint to Peter's "Limpido!" — his doubly-declassified Nebbiolo from the difficult 2002 vintage.  Though the Monfortino was fabulous (no problems for Roberto Conterno in '02), Dino's demonstration wasn't without merit: the 2002 "Limpido!" was showing very well, and a case of it can be had for about the same price as, maybe even less than, a single bottle of Conterno's Monfortino.

The wine of the moment, and my favorite Torbido! of the night, was the 1998, open-knit and giving, all elegance and prettiness, an excellent expression of the sometimes delicate, feminine side of Barolo from the Novello district.  If I were to look at a vintage to lay down for the long haul, it would be the 2004; all primary fruit and coiled up muscle now, the wine shows excellent balance and a fine integration of fruit and wood components, tannin and acidity.  Both the 2001 and 1999 were showing well, very much as I remembered from this spring — the '99 riper and more opulent (and apparently Peter's favorite), the 2001 more tannic and classic in style.  The 2000 Torbido!, though not among my favorites of the evening, was a pleasant surprise; not at all overripe or nearly so developed as many other wines from this dry, hot (and initially severely overrated) vintage, it showed surprisingly bright acidity and chewy tannins.  The only weak point in the lineup, though I didn't find it anywhere near as objectionable as did Brooklynguy, was the 1997.  A tough year for a first release, '97 was another hot, ripe vintage and this, unlike the 2000, has developed notes of advanced maturity and fading fruit along with a corpulence of texture not quite supported by its lower-acid structure; that said, it was the favorite of at least two other guests.

Federico Scarzello, at left, with Alto owner/operating partner Chris Cannon.

In a reversal of good fortune, Federico Scarzello was also in attendance at the Torbido! dinner.  It was no fluke, though, nor entirely a surprise; Scarzello's wines are also imported by Vignaioli, and Federico had led a group through a retrospective tasting of his family's Barolo over lunch at Alto earlier that day.

Federico Scarzello and Peter Weimer in the Scarzello cellar, May 2010.

Though it didn't come up over dinner, Peter told me earlier in the year that, beginning in 2011, he will be handing over farming and winegrowing responsibilities at his estate to Federico Scarzello.  Peter no longer feels up to the rigors of working the fields and cellar on his own.  He now prefers to hand over the reins to a friend — he's known the young Scarzello since 1986, when Federico was still a teenager — rather than to sell to an unknown quantity.  It seems likely that Peter's label and the Cascina Ebreo name will be maintained, with an indication that the wine is produced and bottled by Scarzello; however, the finer details have not yet been determined.

What's most important to Peter is that respect for his land and vines be maintained,  That's something, in turn, I think we can all respect.

Az. Agr. Weimer Gygax, Cascina Ebreo
Località Ravera, 3
I-12060 Novello (CN)
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