Saturday, September 17, 2011

To Joe...

It was around 11:30am on a Tuesday, I think. The restaurant's dining room had been converted wine tasting style: tables organized around the exterior, with dark table cloths covering them, bottles lined up on the surface, ice buckets on the ready to chill the whites and sparkling wines. A few folks were still working on opening the last few bottles. Though it was not yet crowded, people started to slowly shuffle in. I was glad to have arrived a bit early, since this was not just another swirl, taste and spit affair.

This was a Dressner tasting. The average quality of the wine would be much higher. Nearly every wine - regardless of one's taste - would at the least be a wine with some character. And, the people here would be serious. Some socializing, schmoozing, shop talk and shit talking, to be sure, but also lots of impressions waiting to be formed on some wineries whose products have no shortage of followers.

Also, fresh off the plane from New York, cancer in remission (or, at least under much better control after weeks of treatment) was Joe Dressner, public face of the importing company of all these delicious French and Italian wines. I wanted to quickly introduce myself prior to slurping and spitting. As we talked, I noticed someone in close proximity to us pouring themselves a taste of one of Dressner's Beaujolais producers.

"Hey, what do you think you're doing? That's not a tasting pour."

A younger guy looked over at this somewhat large guy with a big bald head filling out a kangol hat.

"Yeah, that's right, that's more than 2 ounces. You're tasting the wine, not drinking it. Who wants to show this guy how to do this?"

Thoroughly embarrassed, the younger guy did not stick around much longer, not while he was jokingly, but firmly, being skewered by Joe.

Meanwhile, I took my leave and moved through the room, as there were simply too many people who wanted to catch up with the wine importer, all of whom Joe greeted quite warmly and with the kind of personal questions you might expect out of someone who is both socially adept as well as in good health, not from someone who perhaps was known to be a bit prickly and whose bout with brain cancer was ongoing.

A few takeaways from that first and only encounter with Joe Dressner:

Joe was opinionated.
He was feared.
He was loved.
He was occasionally a bit of a jerk.
Joe was a warm soul.

It was his show, and it still kinda' is.

I extend all my best wishes to Joe's family and friends, as well as to his many admirers and folks who, like me, know the man more through anecdotes and second hand tales than anything else. You don't have to be known to be sorely missed, and I think it's safe to say that many folks in the world will miss Joe.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mount Veeder and the Mighty Mayacamas Vineyards

The more I casually taste current release California wine, the less I find worth drinking. The more I explore - in a targeted, more carefully researched way - California wine, the more I find that is not only worth drinking, but interesting, and occasionally compelling. Such was yet again proven to be the case after a recent visit to Mayacamas Vineyards.

Mayacamas Vineyards has a continuous history of producing grapes dating back to the late 1800s, a history which you can check out on their website. While I cannot comment as to how these wines tasted back in the 40's, or even in the 70's and 80's, I can say with confidence that almost any current release wine of theirs which I have drunk of late has been terrific: firm, balanced, with more than adequate acid, pretty aromas, and a very strong future to be sure. While there are other renowned cab producers in California (Ridge, Dunn, Heitz, Laurel Glen, Corison, et al) as well as producers of ageworthy Chardonnay (Mount Eden, Stony Hill, Montelena) I cannot think of one winery who makes both whites and reds as classic, appealling and age-worthy as Mayacamas. I'm not sure why this is, and why I'm so much in love with these wines right now, though I do think that the factors below have something to do with it:

- old vines planted in poor, rocky soil in a volcanic bowl
- picking most grape varieties at 23 brix
- indigenous yeast, naturally temperature controlled fermentations
- ageing in OLD oak (90 year old foudres are still in use here; also the reds do not go into any barrel younger than 10 years old)
- Late releases (typically 3 years in wood, followed by another 2 in bottle, for reds)

Some notes from wines tasted up here in the mountains:

2008 Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay Mt Veeder

Lemon curd aromas, coupled with some traces of coconut, remind of Lopez de Heredia. The flavors are mouth filling yellow fruits, with fresh, balanced acidity.

2003 Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay Mt Veeder

A pretty, deep golden color, this somewhat aged chard showed ripe yellow fruit aromas, with a very mellow, rich and rounded palate. Acidity softening a bit. This is a wine in a good spot right now - drink it up.

2007 Mayacamas Vineyards Pinot Noir Mt Veeder

I don't think they generally pour this during visits, so to satisfy my curiosity, I purchased a few bottles. And was I ever glad that I did! I have yet to have a California pinot noir as simultaneously DARK fruited and bright, mineral and tense, as this one. Like a young villages NSG from a top ranking grower, only more fruit, slightly more generous. WOW.

2006 Mayacamas Vineyards Merlot Mt Veeder

Next to the pinot noir, this is my favorite. Deep cherry/burnt earth scents. Black cherry with terrific intensity and acid for the grape variety (17% cab is blended in as well). A touch floral - violets. For a young wine, especially one you may want to drink over some years, "firm" is a desirable trait in my book. This merlot is firm, delicious and balanced.

2005 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder

Smells like black currant, black cherry, and a hint of smoke. Intense and long on the palate. Once again, the acidity is more than sufficient for the grape variety, and just like the merlot this wine is firm, with great structure and minerality.

1997 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder

Intense cherry, cedar, and subtle eucalyptus notes on the nose, leading to a palate of tasty cherry fruit that is just starting to soften. Though this was my least favorite, it is no slouch. Just a bit more cabby in the warm, Napa sense. Still, though, this wine has developed well and shows solid old school California cab character.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Der Wine Geek, pt. LXXXIX

Drank these recently at some local dive bar:

2007 Laurent Tribut Chablis 1er Cru Cote de Lechet

Great creamy minerality and citric fruit. Neither youth nor sulphur could detract from this wine's deliciousness.

2009 Houillon Poulsard Arbois

A darker fruited, nearly Dard & Ribot-esque pungency/spiciness presented itself on this typically lighter, occasionally funky, yet still ethereal, house specialty. I was very pleased to drink it and honored that the bar sold us a bottle. Texturally, the elegance was there. Flavors were just not as enjoyable at this point, to me, as they were in 08 or 07 when drunk shortly after release. If you're lucky enough to buy a bottle or more retail, I'd lay off for a few years.

Jacques Lassaigne Rosé de Montgueux

Tasty. At the point in the evening when it was ordered, however, I was too distracted/ far into the game to post commentary here. In baseball terms, I had thrown 120 pitches in 7 innings. Relief was needed.

A few others tasted were the Seleccion Guillermo roussette (ripe, juicy, generous w/o botrytis I think, tasty Savoie wine, far and away the best roussette I've had for what that's worth) as well as the 2008 Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin (tight tight tight).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Amontillado and lamp shadow sweet potato chips

Indulge me, if you will, in detailing a pairing involving a few of my current passions: amontillado and sichuan recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. To that end, several weeks ago, I discovered a rare food and wine marriage that exceeds the sum of its outstanding parts: Hidalgo "Napoleon" Amontillado and lamp shadow sweet potato chips.

The Hidalgo "Napoleon" is an elegant, lighter styled amontillado - salty and fresh but still somewhat glycerine rich with candy orange and toffee filled flavors. Lamp shadow sweet potato chips are thinly sliced sweet potatoes deep fried in oil and mixed with a sesame and chili oil dressing. Together, these two were incredible, offering a synergy which makes me want to break out the mandolin and wok again very soon.

For the record, I'm a fan of pairing fino or manzanilla and a wide variety of foods (including Chinese), but have rarely enjoyed amontillado, palo cortado or oloroso with food (I know, food friendliness is supposed to be a virtue of sherry, but I find the higher alcohol and intensity of flavor of many sherries to overpower nearly everything). Generally, I drink brown sherry on its own - there is more than enough complexity and enjoyment in the sherry itself to put off mucking around with food pairings. I found this tasty, snacky pairing to be a happy exception, however.

Here's how you do the lamp shadow potato chips:

Peel at least a pound of sweet potatoes and slice on a mandolin as thinly as possible. Heat peanut or vegetable oil for frying (an inch high should work) in a wok and fry in batches, making sure to mix so that chips don't stick together. For the sauce, combine 3 tbs chili oil with 1 tbsp sesame oil, 3/4 tsp salt and 2 tsp sugar. Blot chips dry when finished and combine with the sauce. Serve with amontillado.

* Recipe adapted from Fuchshia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. If you like to cook and enjoy real Chinese cuisine, this book is a must have.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Convenience Store/Bar alive and well in Seattle

One of the most exciting stores I had the opportunity to check out recently in Seattle was not a record shop, not a new wine shop specializing in natural wine, not a store coolly displaying vintage and/or ironic used t-shirts. Nope, the coolest store and my happiest moment of retail shopping ocurred at a convenience store tucked away in a residential area of Seattle not too far from Ballard. In addition to the snack chips, commodity wine, oberto dried beef, and other sundry convenience items happened to be a very good selection of craft beers, both local, as well as from California and other places further afield. Even better, there was a tiny bar towards the back of the store where you could be served a quick pint or have the owner fill/re-fill your growler. At one point during the visit, Chuck (the owner) and I were trying to outdo each other's praises for sour beer in general and Cascade's spectacular Northwest style sour in particular.

I strongly encourage anyone who either lives in or travels to Seattle to pay a visit to Chuck's. The guy is clearly very passionate about beer. And if you do not think that a visit to a store that sells Doritos and serves great local beers on tap is worth a detour, then you probably don't deserve to experience the magic that is Chuck's.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Three Frappatos

Frappato is of course the light and bright, generous but not overly fruity red wine made from grapes of the same name in southwestern Sicily. Care needs to be taken when picking these wines as the not so good ones can taste formulaic, at times candied. Recently I caught up with some current releases of a few usually very good examples and one new one I was excited to try. These are terrific summer/fall reds and especially tasty with pizza. Here are some brief notes.

2009 Ochippinti Frappato

Arianna Occhipinti's wines are well known in critical drinking circles in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, etc. Her wines can occasionally be a bit jumpy out the gate, but are very fresh, with lively acidity and wonderful expression. This one was good from the start. Perhaps a bit riper and richer than what I'm used to here, or maybe this is my imagination and the passage of time since the 08 I enjoyed some months ago.

2009 COS Frappato

Not to be confused with the venerable, dreadful, Cos d'Estournel (which is also referred to as 'Cos' for short), COS has been at it for nearly 25 years now, producing this wine as well as nero d'avola and Cerasuolo di Vittoria (a blend of nero d'avola and frappato). They have an amphora bottling of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria as well. While this initially came across a bit lactic and chunky, unfocused, it opened up to become more fresh, precise, and refreshing. Good.

2009 Tami Frappato

Arianna Occhipinti supervises this project, which is a collaboration between her, some friends, and her boyfriend (sorry fellas, and ladies). I enjoyed this wine quite a bit, and at less than $17 it's a good deal. Do not expect to find as much of a highly contrasted balance between acid and fruit as you would on her Occhipinti Frappato. If you keep that in mind, or if you simply are approaching this bottle not having tried Arianna's other stuff, then you'll likely enjoy the wine.

To my readers: it's summertime and it shows with the lack of entries. Thanks for continuing to check in. I'll do my best to increase the posting frequency in the days and weeks ahead.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A real time report of my tasting group's Riesling tasting

[A few days ago, my tasting group met up to taste some German Riesling. Each of the wines were covered with a brown bag. The line-up was, as you will see, quite focused. Thank you to my fellow tasters for putting up with my laptop and keyboard strokes during the proceedings. And a special thank you to Nadia for putting together a very solid line-up]

So here we go, flight one of our group's Riesling tasting. Group is discussing the vagaries of auto correct on smart phones. Wines A, B, C and D are now in the glass. Lots of swirling, sniffing, slurping, spitting. Time to catch up myself.

A - Cool toned, slight medicinal edged aromas, combined with SO2. Initially, not a lot of depth aromatically. Improves with air. Yellow fruits. Lemon-lime Elegant and understated, slightly herbal/bitter edge. Ruwer kabinett?

B - spicy, slightly sweet smelling apples. Red slate, here? Most expressive nose. Very good intensity and presence, and juicy acidity.

C - Talcum powder and appley nose. Creamy, slightly leesy wine here. Mellow acids. Young Kabinett?

D - Whoa. Clearly a more mature wine here. A sweeter pradikat, hitting some petrol notes now on the nose. More lemon-lime soda. An easy drinker for those who like RS, but it's simple.

We are deciding whether or not to rank the wines. Always a subject of debate with this group. Someone jokingly references the oft stated "it [blind tasting] is a parlor game." Arjun wants everyone to know that 'B' is his least favorite. We are unanimously united against 'D.' Lots of 'C' fans. 'A' and 'B' bring the sulphur.

OK, 'new shit is coming to light' as the Dude once said. 'A' and 'B,' and 'C' and 'D' are from the same vineyard.

Next flight:

'E' - Noticeably darker color than other two. A light gold color. Deep, orchard fresh fruit smells. Honeyed, a bit of botrytis? A bold, rich style. Nice length. Rheingau Spatlese (?)

'F' - Sulphur. Medicinal cherry aromas. Peach pit. Purity is increasing on nose, a bit. Same producer as 'A.' Back to the Ruwer.

'G' - Sulphurous, but less. Ripe pink grapefruits aromas - nice. Juicy citrus, especially pink grapefruit, and good acidity. Wehlener Sonnenuhr? Restrained kabinett.

Someone offers, "I think 'F' is the stinkiest of the two, by far." I agree. More minerality in this flight, Mark offers.

'H' - Too bad this is corked. There is good material here. Great balance, power and acidity. And length.

'I' - Deepest color yet, almost 18K gold. Creamy. Smells mature. Rich, mature spat (auslese?)

Back to that German butter. It came from the Pasta Shop's dairy section at Market Hall in Rockridge.

The wines are revealed:

A - 2009 Prum Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett

B - 2008 Prum Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett

C - 2008 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett

D - 2003 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese

E - 2009 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett

F - 2009 Prum Wehelener Sonnenuhr Kabinett

G - 2008 Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett

H - 2002 Hauth Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett

I - 2001 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese