Thursday, September 30, 2010

Barolo and Barbaresco Reference Tools

Not to beat a cavallo morto but I'm guessing at least a few folks out there are as enamored with — and interested in learning as much as possible about — the wines of Piedmont, and in particular the Langhe, as am I. Following in the wake of my last two posts, which each touched on the wines and nomenclature of a particular vineyard in the township of Serralunga d'Alba, I thought I'd share with you a couple of the resources I find most valuable when researching the wines, wineries and vineyards of the Langhe.

Those who have been reading here for quite a while (and who are in possession of elephantine memories) may recall a short review that I published back in early 2009, when I was hosting "A Passion for Piedmont," a monthly installment of the now apparently defunct meme called Wine Blogging Wednesday. Here's what I penned at the time:
"When it comes to learning about Piedmont wines, Slow Food Editore’s A Wine Atlas of the Langhe: The Great Barolo and Barbaresco Vineyards is a fantastic resource. It’s not exhaustive, by any means, as it jumps straight to the top of the heap, focusing entirely on the Nebbiolo-based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. More importantly, it focuses on the great vineyards of the two zones and includes in-depth information about the best and most storied producers in each locale, along with excellent photography and useful maps and statistical data."
With one minor exception (which I'll address later), I stand by those words. A Wine Atlas of the Langhe remains one of my go-to reference tools for the Barolo and Barbaresco zones. The book opens with chapters that cover the history of the Nebbiolo vine as well as of the viticultural practices traditional to and required in both Barolo and Barbaresco. From there, the atlas is divided into geographical sections, one for each of the townships or municipalities that make up the overall B&B zones.

Within each section, you'll find an overview of the history of the commune, viticultural statistics, a map of the primary vineyards and, most importantly, a reasonably detailed description, including recommended producers, of each of the named vineyards within the village. At the end of each chapter are short biographical entries regarding "The Greats of Barolo/Barbaresco," iconic producers such as Giulio Mascarello (Bartolo's father), Renato Ratti, Giacomo Conterno... the list goes on. High quality photographs, topical sidebars and points of interest for visitors to the region are peppered throughout.

Originally published in Italian in 2000 as Atlante delle vigne di Langa, then translated and issued English in 2002, there have of course been some minor changes to the statistical information such as acreage devoted to particular vines, but that's a minor quibble. The book remains relevant and a very well written guide. The only revision I'd make to my original assessment is relative to the maps, which, though still useful, are in retrospect somewhat crude and difficult to read. Which leads me to my other recommendation....

* * *
For great maps, one need look no further than the incredible works of Alessandro Masnaghetti. Alessandro's I Cru di Enogea maps are relatively new to me. I first encountered them within a day or two of first meeting the man responsible for them, during my spring trip to Alba for Nebbiolo Prima. He's been working on them, though, since 2006 and they are clearly a labor of love. Not books but rather fold-out maps, each measures roughly 23" x 33" at full spread and folds to the size of a standard European sheet of paper.

On the A-side of each is a highly detailed, easy to read map, color-coded to identify each major vineyard and with a numeric key that indicates the location of the wineries within the covered commune. I've borrowed an image of one of the maps (below) to give you an idea of what to expect, but as with all good maps the true pleasure is in holding them in your hands, turning them to get your bearings.... All you map lovers out there will know what I'm talking about.

Image courtesy of Enogea.

On the B-side of each map is an equally intricate text-based description of the overall commune in question, followed by in-depth details of each vineyard site, including information such as altitude, exposure, primary varieties cultivated and key bottlings produced, as well as small, black and white maps that delineate the ownership of plots within each cru. There are even Google Earth coordinates included for each vineyard, should you wish to get a satellite's eye view of any particular site.

At present, Signor Masnaghetti has eight maps in production for the Langa: five for Barolo (Serralunga d'Alba, Monforte d'Alba, Castiglione Falletto, Barolo/Novello, and the newest, La Morra/Roddi/Cherasco) and three for Barbaresco (Barbaresco, Neive, and Treiso/Alba). He's also produced maps of the same ilk covering Chianti Classico, Bolgheri and the Alto Adige. Something tells me there will be more to come. Though originally published in Italian, all are available in English, translated by Daniel Thomases.

Masnaghetti's maps are not currently available through Amazon, so I can't provide you with a nifty little link for your insta-shopping pleasure; however, many of them are available here in the US via The Rare Wine Company or from K&L Wine Merchants (search: Masnaghetti). Given the quality of the work that went into them, they're a steal at about $9/per. For any fan or budding scholar of the wines of the Langa, consider them required reference material.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On the Meaning of Pra di Pò and Prapò

While writing yesterday's piece about Sergio Germano's final vintage of his Dolcetto d'Alba "Pra di ," I had a question in the back of my mind, one I'd hoped to address but eventually decided to save for another day. (Today, in other words.) That question — What does "Pra di " mean? — is one I'd pondered for many a year yet never truly been able to answer.

Even one of my go-to references for the region, "A Wine Atlas of the Langhe: The Great Barolo and Barbaresco Vineyards," published by Slow Food Editore, sheds no light beyond, "The derivation of this odd name is unknown...". So, what gives? Let's step back and take a look.

Pra di is one of two accepted names, the other being Prapò, for a vineyard located toward the northern end of the eastern slope of the grand hill that forms the commune of Serralunga d'Alba, one of the primary villages of the Barolo region. Already losing you? Yep, I know it's tough to picture the lay of the land without actually standing there. Even Google Maps and Google Earth don't quite do the job, so you'll have to bear with me when it comes to directions and orientation. Or go to Serralunga and see for yourself.

Maybe the above picture will help. It's actually taken not from Pra di but rather from Cerretta, its somewhat more famous neighbor located north and, as the car drives, slightly uphill from Pra di . That's the town center of Serralunga d'Alba, crowned by its beautiful old tower, that you can see at center toward the horizon. Looking straight down at the slice of Cerretta that dominates the photo, were you to walk just past the ridge line that bisects the photo you'd find yourself in turn looking down at Pra di .

Though the aforementioned "Wine Atlas" seems to suggest that "Pra di " is the preeminent name for the site, looking at it from the wine perspective might lead one to think otherwise. To my knowledge, only the Ettore Germano estate, currently via its head man Sergio Germano, uses the "Pra di " nomenclature, and then only for the Dolcetto that, after the 2008 vintage, will no longer be produced. Germano's cru Barolo from the same vineyard site is named "Prapò," as are all other wines I know of that bear the same cru designation, regardless of producer. (If I'm wrong about this, anyone, please let me know.)

For some time now, I've conjectured that the "Pra" part of "Pra di " was a truncated version of the Italian word for meadow: "prato." It wouldn't be the first Italian wine I've encountered that follows that sort of naming convention, "Pradi___," or "meadow of (fill in the blank)." The question remaining — What does mean? — continues to elude me, though. The river Po comes to mind but, though it does flow through Piemonte, it is not visible from Serralunga; an unlikely answer, it would seem.

In hopes of clarification, I turned to my man of the etymon, linguist extraordinaire Dr. Jeremy Parzen at Do Bianchi. Jar had this to say:
"A quick look at all my toponomastic references for Langa revealed only that "the origins of the strange name of this vineyard are unknown." [Sounds like we may be using the same reference manual.]

The philologist in me wants to think that praepositus (Latin, literally, positioned before or first) could be a possible etymon. And likewise, the linguist in me feels obliged to point out that pra di could be false etymology.

More often than not, the origins of these names are found blowing in the wind. Because the toponyms usual predate the abolishment of sharecropping in Italy, the ampelonyms commonly evolved through an oral tradition that defies and denies our desire to know the fons origo or original source of the words."
That positioned before or first interpretation made sense to me, as it would seem to be a logical description of the position of Pra di relative to its uphill neighbor, Cerretta, in relationship to the village of Serralunga itself. (Remember the photo above?) The problem is that such an interpretation assumes that Cerretta would have been held historically in some precedence above Prapò, something that I can not attest to prior to the modern era and that could even now be argued.

I've posed the same question(s) directly to Sergio Germano. If he's able to shed any clearer light on the matter, I'll be sure to report back. If not, and until then, I suppose the meaning of "Pra di " will continue to be a mystery of linguistic history.

In spite of all that lack of clarity, there's one thing of which I'm certain. Dolcetti such as those produced by Sergio Germano are a natural match for one of the traditional culinary products of Piemonte: just barely cured salumi. The salume pictured above was made by Sergio's father-in-law and is sliced and served with great generosity, and as a fantastic foil to the wines, in the tasting room at the Germano estate.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sergio Germano and the Last "Pra di Pò"

Not long after I opened a bottle of Sergio Germano's 2008 Dolcetto d'Alba "Pra di Pò" to serve with dinner on Friday night, poured a glass and took a first sip, I realized something. It might be the last time I'd ever open a bottle of Pra di Pò. I don't just mean of the 2008 vintage. I mean period. No more Pra di Pò.

Dolcetto d'Alba "Pra di Pò," Ettore Germano (Sergio Germano) 2008
$19. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
2008 was, in some cases, a tough vintage for Dolcetto. In this case, it's turned out to be a lovely one, albeit different than in typical years. Usually fairly intensely structured, even quite tannic, at least by Dolcetto standards, Germano's 2008 "Pra di Pò" is very supple, medium-bodied and a good deal softer than I would normally have expected. That easy feel carries with it classic aromas and flavors of dark red, bordering on black, cherry fruit and a suggestion of ripe plums. Not to harp on the vintage thing but this is ready to roll — and a very friendly foil to all kinds of everyday fare — while most past vintages would have been substantially tighter and more tannic at a similar point on the time line. If you're sitting on a trunk full, drink up and enjoy. Just don't look back for more....

For as long as I've known his wines (and longer), Sergio Germano has been producing two different examples of Dolcetto d'Alba. Both Dolcetti are vineyard designated: "Lorenzino," hailing from a west-facing parcel on the opposite side of the hill from most of Germano's "home" holdings; and "Pra di Pò," from an east facing site on the hillside directly below the terrace, and beyond to the right as one looks down from the hilltop, at the rear of Sergio's home and winery.

When I visited Sergio in May, he told me (among many other things) that 2008 was the last vintage for his Dolcetto d'Alba "Pra di Pò." At what point exactly he decided it would be the last I'm not sure, but at some point after harvesting the fruit for the '08, Sergio grubbed up the Dolcetto vines that his father had planted in 1975. Not long after, he replanted the site to Nebbiolo, in keeping with the remainder of his portions of the Pra di Pò (aka, Prapò) vineyard, one of the prime crus within the municipality of Serralunga d'Alba.

If you look keenly, you can see some of the new plantings of Nebbiolo in the picture above, in the lowest half-dozen or so rows at the base of the hillside. When the vines reach production age, the fruit they bear will most likely be destined for Sergio's Langhe Nebbiolo. When they reach greater maturity, the hope is that their fruit will be of high enough quality to merit inclusion in Germano's Barolo "Prapò."

The decision seems simple enough on the surface. Nebbiolo is economically more rewarding then Dolcetto, after all. Just think of the pricing of that Barolo you've been coveting in your favorite shop, then consider that even entry-level Langhe Nebbiolo tends to fetch a slightly higher price than all but the best, most elaborate examples of Dolcetto d'Alba. All of that said, I don't think Sergio would have made the decision — he is a fan and champion of Dolcetto — if not for the fact that he had recently acquired a "new" plot of 25 year-old Dolcetto vines in the Lazzarito vineyard, closer to the village of Serralunga itself relative to the position of the Germano's cantina on the Cerretta and Prapò hill.

I tasted the first vintage of the Dolcetto from that new site, the 2009, from tank. When ready, it will be christened "Pradone." Though a little early to tell, it struck me as similar to Pra di Pò, perhaps with a touch more brightness in the fruit department. Sergio agreed, also calling it "more typical." As much as I'll miss the occasional bottle of "Pra di Pò" — there are no more in my cellar — there will always be new wines, always new friends. I look forward to getting to know "Pradone."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Night Merzbow

With all the semantic querulousness going on around town these days, I thought I'd post something of a different nature for everyone to ponder.

When's the last time you went to see a concert where the promoter handed out ear plugs at the door?

Love it. Hate it. Play it loud.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Parker Rants at Bibou's Expense

Consider a recent statement from a regarded critic:

"...the food was as great a bistro fare as one can imagine...the snail ragout, boudin noir, terrine en crout, out-of-this-world beef marrow bones as well as superb stuffed pig's feet with foie gras over a bed of black lentils had me in Rabelaisien Nirvana."

Then consider this:

"...better yet [there was] no precious sommelier trying to sell us some teeth enamel removing wine with acid levels close to toxic, made by some sheep farmer on the north side of his 4,000-foot foot elevation vineyard picked two months before ripeness, and made from a grape better fed to wild boar than the human species....we all know the type-saving the world from drinking good wine in the name of vinofreakism."

Seems kind of hard to believe they were uttered by the same person yet they were, by none other than the wine advocate himself, Robert Parker. Apparently, Parker dined a few nights ago at one of my favorite restaurants in Philadelphia, Bibou. That's him in the photo (above right), arms draped over the couple behind Bibou, Charlotte and Pierre Calmels. You can view the photo and quotes above, along with a laundry list of what Parker drank, in their original context at Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Michael Klein's blog, The Insider.

What really strikes me about the above diatribe is not so much the obvious case of diarrhea of the mouth but rather the fact that Robert Parker found it necessary to turn a simple moment — a photo op and a chance to send some much deserved praise the way of an excellent neighborhood bistro — into a self-serving opportunity to protect his own crumbling hegemony. What he's trying to protect against, lest I've left you scratching your head, is from what he obviously views as the culprit of his seemingly waning influence: the conversely increasing influence, erosive as Parker apparently views it, of independently voiced — and often freely disseminated — current trends in wine thought. Clearly, the emperor is piling on the moth balls in his own defense.

I could easily see someone thinking, "Okay, McDuff, you're just taking this as your own Parker-like opportunity to put a spin on things, to self-promote." But I have no such illusions of grandeur. If Parker was thinking of any one person, it may have been Alice Feiring, true-wine advocate extraordinaire and author of "The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization." However, I think what Parker was actually having a meltdown over is, again, the ever increasing influence of an ever increasing number of voices being publicly expressed in the wine world. Bloggers, writers, sommeliers, retailers, bulletin board subscribers, distributors and importers, heck, maybe even collectors....

It's not really about what Parker called "vinofreakism." Rather, there is an undeniable backlash, though it's hardly universal, against what another wine critic, Eric Asimov, has coined "the tyranny of the tasting note." In this context, perhaps it's even more appropriate to think of as the tyranny of the wine rating system. Parker, like many of his peers at other major wine publications, has built his empire upon it and he is now clearly feeling the pinch.

* * *
On a more grassroots, more down-to-earth level, what I'm just as galled by is the possibility that Parker's diatribe might actually turn-off some true wine and food lovers to the idea of dining at Bibou. What a nasty case of guilt-by-association that would be.

Parker was right about at least a few of the things he was quoted as saying in Klein's article. The food at Bibou is indeed top-notch, an example of French country/bistro cuisine at its finest. And, as I pointed out in my original review of Bibou, everything about the BYOB, from the ease of its food to the quality of stemware and service, makes it a great place to take a broad variety of wines, be they classic or adventurous, heavy-hitters or simple pleasures.

The very same dish of foie-gras stuffed pig's trotters over a bed of lentils, mentioned by Parker, was a highlight of my last visit. Rich it was but over-the-top, as it might sound, it was not. All its elements were in harmony.

On that same August trip, the 2007 Chablis of Gilbert Picq showed much better than Nicolas Joly's Savennières "Les Clos Sacrés" 2005.

Likewise, Coudert's 2007 Fleurie "Clos de la Roilette Cuvée Tardive" was in a prettier spot than the 2006 Arbois Poulsard "Vieilles Vignes" from Tissot.

The real star of the lineup, though, was a bottle of 1997 Château Musar, eloquently expressive and a delight with the pig's foot and lentils.

So, I hope my point in this second half of my own little diatribe is even more obvious than that expressed in part one. Go to Bibou. Take good wine. Enjoy the company of good friends. Eat well. And leave the agenda where it belongs.

1009 South 8th Street
(between Carpenter and Washington)
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Bibou on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 24, 2010

al di là

When in Park Slope, do as the Park Slopians do. Eat at al di là.

It's what my friend Ben suggested earlier this week, as an end cap to a long day of palate punishment on the wine trade tasting circuit. Following a quick beer at nearby Bierkraft, much needed to recharge the taste buds and attitude, it was just what the doctor ordered. Heed Ben's advice. I don't think you'll regret it

A view of the al di là dining room, snapped from right about where we were seated. There's not much more to it than that — three or four more tables perhaps, a small service area and a partial view into the kitchen. Relaxed, charmingly patinaed and casually intimate.
(Photo courtesy of Lauren Weinstein / joonbug.)

There's nothing terribly remarkable about the room, save perhaps the frightening aspect of the wild boar's head mounted above the kitchen entrance. Nothing terribly remarkable about the service, either; it's casual and efficient, befitting the space. What is remarkable is the quality of the food, and the satisfaction it brings.

From my primo of richly green, pillow-textured malfatti (swiss chard gnocchi) in a delicately browned sage-butter sauce; to a secondo of perfectly moist and tender braised rabbit (some of the best I've eaten), served over polenta with black olives; and even to our shared contorno of char-grilled escarole.... Everything I ate displayed a fine balance between rusticity and elegance, a great way to sum up the style at al di là (it means "beyond"), where a northern Italian focus is highlighted with dashes of southern flavor and technique.

I'm told that al di là has a very fair, gripe-free corkage program ($15 per/bottle) and there was a row of dead soldiers displayed on a shelf lining the main wall in testament to it — an empty bottle of Selosse's Substance among them. There's really no need to bring anything so exalted, though, at least not from the perspective of pairing and simple pleasure. The list at al di là may not be a geek's haven nor a trophy hunter's dream but it's peppered with plenty of solid choices, all of them priced quite fairly (especially from the perspective of this Philadelphian, who is all too used to 3x or higher markups). I'm not sure we could have come up with a better match to our meal than the 2009 Verduno Pelaverga from Commandatore G.B. Burlotto I selected from the list ($38), bright, fresh, floral and subtly peppery.

Every neighborhood should have such a place — a classic interpretation of the trattoria that makes one want to return again and again — but far too few do.

al di là trattoria
248 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Al di Là Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fleurie "Clos de la Roilette," Coudert 2009

As if I don't have enough of a backlog already, ranging from producer visits in Piedmont all the way back in May through to yet to be covered trade tastings in New York last week, I'm headed back into the fray today. Back to New York, for the last handful of the September onslaught of portfolio presentations. (If it's quiet here for a couple of days, you'll know why.) Something tells me the following wine is likely to make an appearance; if not, it'll be missed.

Fleurie “Clos de la Roilette,” Coudert Père et Fils 2009
$20. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
Enjoyed with grilled sausages and salad on Sunday, again with pizza — the "omnivore" from my local parlor — last night. Coudert's 2009 "Clos de la Roilette" is drinking beautifully on point. Fresh, bright and finely detailed red fruits — like wild strawberries, firm little raspberries and ever so slightly tart red cherries — combine with lively acidity and gentle but balancing tannins to deliver a truly fine expression of Fleurie from this estate and this vintage. Quite the trifecta. This should develop gracefully over the next several years but it's drinking so well right now that I may not manage to save any.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Highlights from the Jenny and François Portfolio Tasting, Fall 2010: Take Two

My previous post, which covered roughly half of the wines that left me most impressed at the fall Jenny & François Selections portfolio tasting, wound down with my promise to keep the Loire reportage to a minimum. I should have known — hell, even you should have known — I wouldn't be able to keep it to just one producer. There's only a little more Loire, though, before we move further afield. So, let's launch back into action, right about where I left things in part one....

Strangest Taste Sensation:
Under usual circumstances, tops in this category may have gone to the 2009 Touraine Amboise "Ad Libitum" from Domaine la Grange Tiphaine, in which the primary flavor signature was a dead ringer for cherry Sucrets®. (Had to check to see if they even make those any more. They do.) But then I tasted the 2006 Coteaux du Loir "Gravot" from La Grapperie, a blend of Pineau d'Aunis, Côt and Gamay. Sticking my nose in the glass immediately evoked one of those scent memories that was totally singular yet that I couldn't quite nail down.... Was it the aroma of freshly broken open milkweed? Maybe poke? (Both things I remember, albeit cloudily, from my childhood.) Mentioned it to the young lady from Uva Wines who was working the Grapperie table and she said it reminded her of horseradish. Damned if that wasn't it! Horseradish, on the nose and on the palate. Only the watering eyes and head rush were missing. Crazy or not, "Gravot" is now on my shopping list.

A Few Gems from the Rhône:
I managed to sidle up to the main Rhône table just in time to score one of the last pours from a magnum of Eric Pfifferling's 2006 Domaine de L'Anglore Vin de Table "Comeyre," a Carignan dominated red with a dash each of Grenache (presumably Noir) and Clairette. A really lovely example of Carignan-driven wine — barky, dark berry fruit with chocolate and spice accents. Rustic but simultaneously classy.

My real faves from the Rhône, though, were the reds from Hervé Souhaut at Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet. Actually, Souhaut's 2008 Vin de Pays Syrah did nothing for me, but the rest of his line-up more than made up for that. His 2009 "La Souteronne," a varietal expression of Gamay stemming from 60-80 year-old vines, was dense, taut and darkly mineral; couldn't help but get a kick out of it being labeled as 12.34% alcohol, either. Souhaut's 2009 Saint-Joseph was a little on the lean and mean side but nonetheless a really fine example of St. Joe, firmly tannic and bristling with black olive and violet aromatics. The '09 Saint-Joseph "Saint Epine," from 100 year-old Syrah vines, was the real star, bringing the extra meat that its little brother was lacking, not just in terms of body but also in the aromatic sense. This had that dark, brooding, meaty aromatic character I love in the Northern Rhône, almost like bresaola in this case, along with an assertive streak of cracked pepper and spice. Really solid wine that I'd love to have around for the cooler weather and a nice roast leg of lamb.

Ass Has Never Tasted So Good:
If there's an area where the Jenny & François portfolio reaches greater breadth than in the Loire, it's unquestionably the big melting pot of the south of France. There are a surprising number of artisan Bordeaux estates and a handful of little gems in the greater Southwest — such as Clos Siguier, whose 2007 Cahors was showing quite nicely — but the real strength, at least numerically, is in the Languedoc-Roussillon. As with Sablonnettes in the Loire, though, there was one estate whose wines really stood out for me: Domaine des 2 Ânes.

You'll forgive me the almost unforgivably bad inter-language pun of this section's heading (I hope). Hey, I expect it got your attention. If it made you cringe, too, so be it. An Âne, you see, is a donkey (aka, an ass), two of which (more now, as you'll see below) are used as beasts of burden at the wine farm of Magali and Dominique Terrier. I'm sure there's a wink and a nod in there somewhere, some awareness of double-entendre, but there's certainly no relationship to a rather unfortunate American expression sometimes used to describe things that, well, don't taste good.

And then there were three.
As you may already have figured out from the borrowed photos in Friday's post, I couldn't bring myself to break out my camera at the tasting.... But I also can't bring myself to post this reasonably lengthy second chapter without throwing in at least an image or two. So, here's a shot of Magali Terrier of
Domaine des 2 Ânes with the farm's, ahem, 3 ânes.
(Photo courtesy of Jenny & François.)

Magali and Dominique's entry level 2008 Corbières "Premiers Pas" ("first steps") was delicious — juicy, fresh, dark-fruited but light on its feet, and very pleasantly spicy. Their 2008 Corbières "Fontanilles," the next step up, was earthier and more tannic, coupled with much more profound aromatics and greater structure, yet still utterly enjoyable. I'd love to pair it, right now in fact, with grilled lamb chops. As so often seems the case with line-ups from this part of the world, I liked their top wine, the 2007 Corbières "L'Enclos," less; it was just as well made as the others but beginning to step a little too far into the realm of the big, boisterous and intentionally impressive to suit my current preferences. All three wines represent seriously good value.

It Wasn't an All French Affair:
It should be glaringly obvious by now that the J&F portfolio focuses overwhelmingly on the wines of France. In the last couple of years, though, they've begun to branch out more and more into other European countries. They've even made a small inroad into distribution of American wine. The single American producer with whom they're currently working, California's Tony Coturri, just happened to be the only producer on hand at the tasting, where he quite convivially poured his big, bold, honest wines — a style that matches the man — for the relatively euro-centric crowd. I won't go into any greater detail than that for now, but you'll find a nice write-up on a few of the entries from Tony's line-up over at Karen Ulrich's blog, Imbibe New York.

I've been hearing/reading a good bit about the wines from the Tuscany estate Colombaia but had not gotten around to trying them until this tasting. I particularly enjoyed Colombaia's 2008 Toscano IGT Bianco, a 50/50 blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia, for its charming aromas of sweet cereal grains, and flavors of blanched hazelnuts and delicate minerality (11.5% alcohol didn't hurt, either). From a simple quaffability perspective, I liked their Sangiovese-dominated 2007 Toscano IGT Rosso as well, though I found that its very forward expression of natural wine making practices somewhat obscured the wine's sense of place.

It was one of the last wines I tasted on the day that really stopped me in my tracks — a Spanish red called Els Jelipins. It was the 2005 vintage and the only wine, so far as I know, produced each year by Glòria Garriga and Oriol Illa, with a little help from their daughter Berta, at their winery that is also known as Els Jelipins, located about 75k to the west of Barcelona. Another first experience for me, so, rather than me trying to tell you about its background, I'd suggest you check out the piece that Linda Milagros Violago wrote for 31 Days of Natural Wine back in '09. Let's just say the wine was warm, plush and sexy (not a word I use often or lightly), beautifully balanced and startlingly, delicately nuanced for a wine of such hot climate richness. Drinking it made me feel good. A bottle will set you back a pretty penny but, if you can lay hands on one from their tiny annual production, methinks you'll find it worth the splurge.

I couldn't help but like the artwork on the rather minimalistic Els Jelipins website — bike, hearts and all.

And Finally, The Wine I'd Most Like to Have Cases of for Daily Enjoyment:
Certainly I'm not the only person who gets asked on a regular basis, "So, what's your favorite wine?" For me, it's an unanswerable question. There are just too many great wines and too many variables that go into the experience of each and every one. On this occasion there were some show stoppers, like the Saint-Joseph "Saint Epines" from Hervé Souhaut, like Jacques Lassaigne's rosé Champagne, and like the '05 from Els Jelipins that I've just finished waxing rapturous over. Of all the wines in the room though, the one I'd most like to have a stack of in the cellar is one of a much easier nature: the 2009 Arbois "L'Uva Arbosiana," produced by Evelyne and Pascal Clairet at Domaine de la Tournelle.

Actually, I really liked Tournelle's lineup across the board. The 2007 Arbois Trousseau des Corvées was in a tough spot — two of the three bottles I tasted from were quite reductive — but I expect it will come around with time; the other bottle was quite fine. The 2006 Arbois Ploussard de Monteiller hasn't yet found the elegance and grace of the 2004 but it's already very pretty, both delicate and racy. Their 2002 Vin Jaune and 2004 Vin de Paille were both crazy delicious; that Vin de Paille had one of the most incredibly savory noses of the day, erupting with scents of chicken broth, golden raisins, yellow curry, pears and hazelnut cream.

Yet it was what could safely be described as Domaine de la Tournelle's simplest wine, "L'Uva Arbosiana," Ploussard fermented via carbonic maceration then aged for just a few months in old casks prior to bottling, that I could most easily envision myself drinking — and immensely enjoying — day in and day out. Fun and freakin' delicious. C'est tout!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Highlights from the Jenny and François Portfolio Tasting, Fall 2010: Take One

It's the heart of the fall trade tasting season right now. Problem is, I live in Philly and 98% of the portfolio tastings are staged in New York. To make them all, I'd need to rent a place in the city for at least a couple of weeks if not an entire month. Add that to the fact that I'd also have to arrange for mid-term palate replacement surgery and it becomes a complicated prospect. I at least try to make it up for a few, though, particularly those held by importers whose portfolios I really dig, and/or for those where the importer may have gone out of his or her way to extend a personal invitation. Can't do 'em all but I do what I can.

First among those that I was able to attend during this week's voyage north was the Jenny & François Selections fall portfolio tasting, held downstairs at The Smith in the East Village. J&F co-proprietor Jenny Lefcourt, like me, leads classes occasionally at Philly's Tria Fermentation School. Nonetheless, it remains tough at best to find wines from her portfolio on the PA market, making the trip to NYC a necessity in order to experience the full breadth of wines that she and her business partner François Ecot are bringing into the US.

In relatively random order and without further ado, here are some of the highlights from Monday's tasting.

Most compelling bubbly:
The Champagnes of Jacques Lassaigne were delicious across the board but it was his Rosé de Montgueux, a rosé d'assemblage of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, that really stood out. Not for any greater complexity than the two Blanc de Blancs — quite the opposite if anything — but for the fact that it was just in a great place, bursting with bright red forest fruits and drinking really nicely.

Burgundy, red and white all over:
The first white Burgs I tasted, two Chablis from Jean-Claude and Christiane Oudin, weren't to be surpassed. Their 2006 Chablis "Les Serres" was intensely smoky and iodine, full of the pungent minerality that makes Chablis so, well, Chablis. Oudin's 2007 Chablis 1er Cru Vaugiraut, produced from 70-year-old vines, took a significant step up from there, just as lovely to drink but displaying much greater breed and focus.

Oudin bottle shot courtesy of Brooklynguy.

On the red side, there was one clear standout among a healthy handful of interesting wines: the 2007 Mercurey "La Plante Chassey" of Catherine and Dominique Derain. When last I tasted this (at Terroir SF) it was enjoyable enough, even showed some promise, but six months later it's simply singing. Fantastic acid/fruit balance, with sappy, smoky red fruits leading to a ripe red cherry mid-palate and a finish full of minerals and sous-bois character. Very good wine indeed.

La La La Loire:
Okay, you all know by now how much I love Loire wine. Keeping this concise is tough, as Jenny & François are lucky to work with a very fine range of Loire producers. One stood out for me, though: Domaine des Sablonnettes. I liked their wines across the board, from the 2008 Anjou "P'tit Blanc," which showed structured, intense fruit with waves of minerality, to their 2009 Vin de Table "Les Copines Aussi," a juicy, fresh and easy drinking example of Loire Gamay. The 2008 Vin de Table "Les Copains d'Abord," made purely from the indigenous variety Grolleau, was tougher to love — herbal and intensely wound-up — but in a way that made me want to try. "Buy this for further investigation," read my notes.

Image courtesy of Putnam Weekley, via Saignée.

There's plenty more on deck but this is getting long and I'm getting tired. Stay tuned for J&F Part Deux, coming soon to a blog near you.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

MFWT Voted Favorite Site in Food & Wine Magazine

Over the years that I've been writing here at MFWT, I've always taken great pleasure in spreading the word about other blogs and sites that I truly enjoy. One need only check out my Blogs of Note category to get a sense of what I'm talking about. It's rare that I feel quite so comfortable about dabbling in self-promotion. Once in a while, though, it's necessary for everyone to reach around and give him or herself a good old pat on the back. This, if you haven't sussed it out already, would be one of those occasions.

In the October 2010 issue of Food & Wine, their annual wine issue, McDuff's Food & Wine Trail was listed among the Top 5 Favorite Websites by 25 nationally recognized sommeliers participating in the magazine's "What Sommeliers Know Best" section. It's a quick mention, but more than enough to make me feel just a little proud. Hey, it's not every day that I get such a nice shout-out from some of the country's hardest working somms in a nationally distributed and internationally recognized magazine.

As happy as I was when I learned of the news, I was equally happy to find myself in such good company, right alongside the other four faves:
  • Burg-guru Allen Meadows of the subscription-only site Burghound

  • Iberian wine enthusiasts and social media entrepreneurs Ryan Anerson Opaz and Gabriella Reynes Opaz of Catavino

  • Winechap, a site dedicated to reviewing restaurant wine lists in New York City, Hong Kong and the UK

  • And Wine Opinions, a portal devoted exclusively to consumer and trade related research in the field of wine.
My appreciation goes out to those 25 participating sommelier(e)s, just as it does to each and every person reading this. Thanks as always for your support!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cookin' with Brooklynguy (and Equipo Navazos)

Contrary to what the title of today's post might lead one to construe, I was not recently cooking with, nor have I ever actually cooked with, my pal Brooklynguy. Rather, today's missive is named for an occasional series, thus named, that the BG runs on his own site. There's a fairly ambitious edition running there as we speak — something to do with swirling and tongues.

I did at least have the pleasure of seeing the Guy from Brooklyn not long ago though, when he, I and a half-dozen or so other amicable souls got together to drink an absurd number of bottles of flor-affected Sherry at a fantastic little spot called Prune in New York's lower East Village.

Our dinner came along fairly hot on the heels of an earlier post from Brooklynguy, one from another of his ongoing series that he calls "You be the Sommelier." The challenge: heirloom tomatoes. The recipe was challenging, at that. Slicing, plating and sprinkling of salt were all involved. I'm no stranger to techniques such as these — my local farmers market is a veritable heirloom mother lode during the growing season — though my rendition often features the added twist of pepper, maybe even a drizzle of olive oil if I'm feeling crazy.

I've found over the years that there are a lot of wines that can pair quite nicely with such a dish. Loire Sauvignon works surprisingly well, as do many crisp, mineral and moderately fruit driven whites. My first thought, though, almost always goes to rosés from Provence. Bandol rosé from producers such as Tempier or Terrebrune work splendidly, as do less highfalutin Provençal pinkies like the Coteaux d'Aix en Provence rosé from Château Calissanne, a wine with which I go way back. That was more or less my answer when he threw down the pairing gauntlet last month; however, I was pretty damn sure what he was actually thinking, and it proved correct. Sherry. So, when I was lucky enough to walk out of Prune that night with the generous remains of a rather well respected bottle of Sherry tucked away safely in my bag, I figured I'd put his spin on the challenge to the test.

The results, I must say, were transcendent. The wine I "rescued," La Bota de Fino No. 15 "Macharnudo Alto" from Equipo Navazos, was not my favorite of the night at the Prune marathon. A few days later, though, after it had time to rest, resolve and take in a little air, the Fino was simply singing. Uncommonly rich and lengthy, beautifully aromatic, all at once tangy, briny and delicately, freshly nutty. Paired with those tomatoes you can see in the picture above (no, the green one is not a kiwi) — with their natural acidity, firm, cool flesh, sweet fruitiness, a generous sprinkling of decent salt and just a touch of black pepper, no olive oil on this night — the wine took on another dimension. The tomatoes, too. Sparks flew. I could have been happy with that and nothing else for dinner that night. And come to think of it, that may be exactly what I did.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sancerre "Caillottes," François Cotat 2007

Today's object of vinspection is a wine I’d never before encountered until getting together with friends for dinner and a little tasting this weekend. As much as I like to share wisdom here regarding wines I’ve tasted year in and year out, sometimes it’s just as edifying and even more educational (for me at least) to record first impressions, maybe even open the door to dialogue with other readers and wine lovers.

Sancerre "Caillottes," François Cotat 2007
$36. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Dionysos Imports, Manassas, VA.
François Cotat has been producing this cuvée since the 2005 vintage. Its fruit hails from Cotat's young vines grown in the flattish lands between Sancerre and Chavignol, where the soil is dominated by "caillottes," a rocky, chalk and limestone rich terroir with little in the way of what one would usually think of as topsoil.

2007 was a ripe vintage in the Sancerrois district and Cotat’s “Caillottes” shows it in its round, opulent mouthfeel and somewhat aggressive alcohol attack. While that roundness coats the entire palate, leaving a big impression, it also leaves a void right in the center, as if the wine grew up so fast that it never quite developed the strong core needed for good balance. Still, there’s a lot to like here: an intense impression of limestone-rich minerality, bolstered by flavors and aromas of key lime zest and a firm, mouthwatering clamp of acidity on the finish.

While this is not among the most finessed of Cotat’s wines, it’s still well-knit enough to present attractive possibilities on the table. I’d love to pair it with a well-aged puck of Crottin de Chavignol, or with a richly flavored fish with a beurre blanc sauce. Though I don’t think this vintage will ever find a perfect balance, were I holding any bottles I’d sit on them for another two or three years in hopes that it may develop greater harmony and integration.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Suds: Sly Fox Route 113 India Pale Ale

With the occasional exception made for limited edition pours or situational necessity, most of my beer exploration and consumption this summer has centered on the broad category know as session beer. Beer writer Lew Bryson and the rest of the crew over at The Session Beer Project™ loosely define the genre to include any beer, in any style, clocking at 4.5% alcohol or lower. I tend to be even more generous, sliding my own scale up to 5%, not because I feel it gets me better beer, just because it offers more in the way of off-premise options while still keeping things on the drinkable — by which I mean more than one can/bottle/pint — end of the spectrum.

That means that all summer long I've been enjoying kolsch, pilsner, sour ale and pale ale, categories that by and large still often make the session beer cut. With the weather turning abruptly autumnal in the last week, though, my hankerings have wandered to the more assertive realm of India Pale Ale, or IPA for short, a stronger, hoppier breed of pale ale originally developed as a means to help beer survive the arduous sea voyage from England to India, where ale was considered a necessity of life by the British colonialists of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

In more modern times, and particularly in the last decade or so, it's IPA that has most widely captured the imagination and experimental spirit of craft brewers in the US, leading to a veritable explosion of heavily hopped ales. It's a style that's particularly popular on the left and right coasts, and one that's been very successful for many of the Philadelphia area's local breweries. Here's one of my current favorites:

Sly Fox Brewing Company "Route 113" India Pale Ale
16.4 OG, 113 IBUs, 7% ABV.
Orange-hued amber, bordering on opaque, with a rich, creamy though modestly proportioned head. For those that care about such things, it laces up the glass quite nicely, too.

Pretty classic IPA aromas, albeit bordering toward the rich end of the spectrum: peach preserves, goldenrod, moist ganja bud, and spiced orange peel. The beer's creamy appearance is echoed in its texture — clean, dense and bready.

Though it's hardly shy, it pulls off its 7% ABV in fine style, with balance, drinkability and depth of flavor. It gets there without relying on the overt sweetness that's often used to counter the natural bitterness coming from high hop levels and without falling into the soapy/weedy trap that the IPA category can present. The fact that head brewer Brian O'Reilly and the rest of the team at Sly Fox are now offering "113" in 12 oz. cans rather than just in 22 oz. bottles is an added bonus. Session beer it's not, but at least one can manage two without being pushed over the top.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ride Fresh Ride Local

Just a quick post today to give my fellow Philly-area pedalers the heads-up on a couple of upcoming farm, food, and cycling related events. Beer figures into both, too, so despair not my thirsty brethren.

Next Sunday, September 19, 2010, the folks from Fair Food Philadelphia and Weaver's Way Co-Op will be leading their annual Urban Farm Bike Tour. (Thanks to PhillyFoodie for reminding me of this one.) The ride starts in the Kensington section of town and stops at, you guessed it, urban farms throughout Philadelphia before eventually winding its way to the finish at Weaver's Way Farm in East Mount Airy (Philadelphia), where there will be a grillin' and chillin' party for the hungry and thirsty participants. This year's event sees the addition of a longer 28-mile option, on top of the usual 14-mile loop. For more information and to register for one of the rides, head on over to the Weaver's Way pages.

The following Sunday, September 26, 2010, the Southeastern branch of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) will be hosting the 3rd annual edition of Bike Fresh Bike Local. The event's name plays on PASA's ongoing Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign. Less a stop-and-go farm tour than it is a more traditional fund raising-style ride, Bike Fresh Bike Local nonetheless heads through the heart of SE PA farm country. All routes — there are 25, 50 and 75 mile options — will run through the 300-acre Springton Manor Farm, where farm tours will be available. All routes start and finish at the headquarters of event sponsor Victory Brewing Company, in Downingtown, PA. Register early and you'll score a Buy Fresh Buy Local t-shirt; all entrants will be fed a local lunch and a free post-ride brewski at Victory.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cracked Actor

It's been three-and-a-half years and I can't believe it myself: nary a peep here from David Bowie, one of my all time favorite rock and roll chameleons. From the beginning all the way through to the early 80s hits from "Modern Dance," I've always loved his stuff. Tonight, in fits and starts, I've been watching the film of Bowie's 1973 "retirement" gig, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, shot at the Hammersmith Odeon. Not the greatest film quality but a great period in Bowie's career and a fantastic show from the looks of it. I'd totally forgotten that Bowie dabbled with the harmonica, but I've never forgotten what a seminal role his guitarist/producer, Mick Ronson, played in the Spiders. Here's "Cracked Actor" for your listening and viewing pleasure. There will be more here from Bowie at some point; of that I'm sure.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rocking 2009s from C. von Schubert

While in New York for a couple of days last week, I lucked upon the chance to taste a whole slew of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Rieslings, mostly from 2009 but with a few back vintage wines thrown into the mix as well. The real standouts, though, were saved for last — a stunning lineup of 2009s from the C. von Schubert estate, aka Maximin Grünhaus. From their basic QbA right up through the Eisweine, they offer tremendous focus, clarity and consistency.

Were I a bigger fan of photo editing, I would have picked this apart into individual shots for your perusing pleasure. Instead, here's a much larger than usual image (click on photo to enlarge). The wines run from right to left in terms of the tasting order described below.

Here are a few choice words about each. Call 'em tasting notes if you must but, really, they're just my immediate, gut reactions.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg QbA "Superior," C. von Schubert 2009
    Simple, but in a good way. Very stony and quite pleasing, redolent of grapefruit oil. Not sure of the going price, but if it's still under $20 it's a solid value.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Kabinett, C. von Schubert 2009
    The same dark minerality as displayted in the QbA — blue slate came to mind, although Herrenberg's terroir is based more on red slate — but with greater filigree and defined grace.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Kabinett, C. von Schubert 2009
    Lighter yet simultaneously funkier and deeper than the Herrenberg Kabinett.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Spätlese, C. von Schubert 2009
    Highly focused and excruciatingly young. In other words, very promising.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Spätlese, C. von Schubert 2009
    Open and more outwardly delicious than the MGHS. Very good already.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Auslese, C. von Schubert 2009
    It was becoming clear at this point that the steps between Pradikat levels at this estate are really well defined. Not at all drastic but well expressed and measurable, one could even say classic in '09. Darkly mineral again, with a mouthful of apricot flesh and great acid structure.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Auslese, C. von Schubert 2009
    Rounder and softer than its counterpart from Herrenberg. Very pretty.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Auslese "149," C. von Schubert 2009
    Beautifully high-toned aromatics at play here; richer in RS than the "normal" Abtsberg Auslese but totally balanced. Big, pure acid profile.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Brudergerg "Jungfernwein" Auslese, C. von Schubert 2009
    This started off with a super dense, mineral-laden nose, leading to a broadly muscular palate. Excellent length. If this is what's coming from the first vintage produced from new vines in Brudergerb ("Jungfernwein" translates literally to "virgin wine," or the first vintage produced from newly planted vines) then watch out in the years to come.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Eiswein, C. von Schubert 2009
    Oh my.... Spice attack. Orange confit. Mint. Racy. Stellar eiswein, really finely balanced at 7%. A wine for the ages.

  • Maximin Grünhauser Herrenberg Eiswein "82," C. von Schubert 2009
    For those who like it opulent. Much more intense, even syrupy, relative to the previous Eiswein. Darker color and lower alcohol (6%) to match. Marmalade, menthol, honey-lemon drops.

For serious fans of German Riesling — and you really all should be — these are very much worth seeking out and socking away.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

In Memory of The Professor

Like most kids in the mid-70s suburban community I called home, I grew up with a bike between my legs. Back and forth to school, after school, especially in the summers off... we built makeshift ramps, rode through the yet to be developed corn/soy/tobacco fields, raced up and down the street and, piloting bikes not designed for any of it, crashed and burned with screaming, scabby regularity.

Like most kids of my generation, high school got in the way. Music, hanging out with a wider circle of friends and all entailed by that, drinking beer, and girls (or at least the idea of girls) all got in the way. The childhood bike, more than put through its paces, went out to pasture, rusting idly in the garage.

When I went off to college in '83, I came back to the bike. Living off-campus — even though I had a car through most of my undergrad years — the ten-speed clunker I picked up gave me a way to get back and forth to class without dealing with parking hassles or forking out for gas (a particular issue during my years in possession of a '70 Plymouth Fury). I'd like to think the idea of exercise figured in there but, honestly, I'm not sure it did. It was a utilitarian pursuit at heart. But once in a while I'd go hands-free, or dig in a little on an ascent, and I'd feel a flicker of the old joy.

It wasn't until the start of my senior year that cycling came back, and came on, with a vengeance. I'd spent the majority of the preceding summer EuroRailing it with a good friend who just happened to have dabbled for a year or two as a bike messenger. I needed a way to earn some dough rather than continuing to sponge off my folks and my pal convinced me that courier work was the way. By that time, largely through the local music community (read harDCore) , I'd become friends with a few other messengers who all seconded the motion.

I didn't take much convincing. I spent the rest of the summer getting my bearings as a rookie bicycle messenger in DC, picked it up pretty quickly as I remember it, and then worked one or two days a week, class schedule permitting, through my senior year. That old clunker didn't last long, rattled and rolled to death on the pothole ridden streets of our nation's capital. An upgrade was due and my first serious bike was forthcoming — a mid-80s Cannondale touring bike. It still sits in my garage, long since converted to a fixed gear commuter. Back then, though, it was a serious workhorse. Continuing on to grad school, I also continued on with the courier gig. Bear in mind, this was prior to the public advent of the Internet. Fax machines were still a novelty. The work was hard but the pay, for what it was, was pretty solid — enough, in fact, to pay my way through graduate school without taking out so much as a dollar in student loans.

Graduate course work completed in '89, I left DC for North Jersey. Why is not part of today's story. Suffice it to say that I left behind the messenger grind, and the daily commute in and out of the city or back and forth to campus. And I missed it. I missed the bike. So much so that I quickly got to know the guys at my new local bike shop, invited myself along on their group rides. I was loving it. One of the guys was a local Cat 2 racer. Another had just started as a Cat 4. It didn't take them long to convince me to give it a try. And the rest is history, albeit a story for another day.

* * *

Laurent Fignon won his first Tour de France in 1983. It was his second year as a pro, his first riding Le Tour, and he won it. He went on to repeat as victor in 1984. Those, it would turn out, would be his only Tour victories, eclipsed by the mighty Badger, Bernard Hinault, the most dominant Tour rider of the decade, and a fellow Frenchman to Fignon.

I graduated high school in 1983, not long before the start of that year's Tour. In turn, I finished my Freshmen year in college not long before the '84 Tour. I hadn't a clue what was going on in the Tour in either of those years. If you'd asked me at the time, I might have known what the Tour was in a vague sense but I had no idea what was happening, who the players were, what it all meant. That wouldn't come until a few years later... '87, '88 and especially '89.

1989. In spite of Fignon's two Tour de France victories, it will always be his glorious defeat in the 1989 Tour for which he'll be most remembered. It's also the first year in which I can remember actually watching any meaningful amount of the Tour rather than just catching the daily placings in the stats section of the paper. While I can hardly say I don't remember watching that ignominious finish of Fignon's on the Champs-Élysées, losing the stage by 58 seconds and the entire Tour by eight to overall victor Greg LeMond, the entire race leading up to that point was just as exciting. I can still remember Fignon fighting it out with LeMond, day in and day out, in the mountains, with one gaining the upper hand on one stage, the other taking it right back on the next.

That's how I expect Fignon would like that year's race to be remembered, not via the unfortunate image of him squirming on his back in the streets of Paris after realizing his defeat. It was one of the most exciting Tours I can ever remember watching, and it was Laurent Fignon, The Professor, wispy ponytail, wire-rimmed glasses and all, who helped make it so memorable. The video clip above should give you a sense of that, even though it focuses only slightly on Fignon. It's long but worth the watch for fans of the era.

Laurent Fignon died last week, on August 31, 2010, to be exact, losing his year-long battle with cancer. I never had the chance to see any of the coverage he did of the Tour as a commentator for French television. Something tells me, though, that it would have been much like his riding style — far more opinionated and punchy than the "old" American coverage you can watch above, though no doubt with his own signature twist of melodrama.

This post goes out to the memory of Monsieur Fignon, and as way of thanks for helping to make my first real taste of Le Tour such a meaningful experience.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bon Weekend

Here's hoping you all had as relaxing and enjoyable a start to the holiday weekend as did I, and that the rest of your Labor Day weekend is spent among friends, family and in good cheer. Enjoy!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Two in a Row at Tria: Roaming the Rhône

Back in action I'll be tonight, once again, at Philadelphia's Tria Fermentation School. In three years of teaching classes there, I do believe this is the first time I'll have led sessions on back-to-back days — definitely a good way to stay in the groove.

Tonight's class will provide a broad overview of the wines and viticultural practices of France's Rhône Valley. As with yesterday's class, seats for today's gig have long been sold out, so the following list of what I'll be pouring is presented here for those that take a distant interest or academic curiosity in such things. If you'd like to drink along with one or two (or all seven) of the wines, all the better; if so, please come back and share your thoughts.

Even though class will be presented in such a way as to provide a general informational understanding of both the Northern and Southern Rhône, a quick perusal of the list will clue many of you in to the fact that only one of the seven wines I'll be pouring actually hails from the Northern Rhône. This is hardly a suggestion of preference on my part — I'm a big fan of Northern Rhône wines and would much rather show a 2:5 or even 3:4 ratio. Rather, it's a simple reflection of what's available and, just as importantly, good on the Philadelphia-area market right now.

The links in the list below point to pieces I've written in the past on previous and/or current vintages of some of the wines. So, here's what I'll be pouring, in order of presentation and without further ado:

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