Sunday, December 30, 2007

My favorite wines of 2007, or the year I started to truly enjoy wine.

(these wines are not on my list, but I think it's a funny little photo)

As a relative newcomer to wine, I will always remember 2007 as the year that I gained a bit more first-hand knowledge, through tasting, of wines in their various states of maturity. As a former buyer of one of my retail accounts in Baltimore once told me, back when I worked for a distributor, "If you want to learn about wine, if you want to taste a lot of wine, get on the retail side of the business." Well, that is what I did in 2007. My palate, wine knowledge and overall enthusiasm for wine are much stronger now than ever before. Thank you, Peter.

This is a tough list to synthesize, but I'm going to scratch some wines out on paper, rank them, and then put 'em up here with varyingly brief, telling, or perhaps not at all descriptive, TN's, often supplemented by the circumstances in which I was enjoying a bottle. I ought to note that this is a contextualized list. Context is very difficult to separate from the wine itself, so I choose not to do so. Y ahorita, los vinos:

10. 1995 Lopez de Heredia Rosado

This was one of the highlights of a rose tasting this past summer. Someone once described this wine to me, before I had ever tried it, as port like. I think of it more as the perfect embodiment of traditional Rioja flavors, in the prettiest, most ethereal way imaginable.

9. 1978 Poujeaux Moulis-en-Medoc

Delicious, bright, lively claret. It tastes much younger than its 30 years.

8. 1989 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva - Read about it here.

7. 1995 Luneau Papin Muscadet L d'or

I tasted this alongside the 1989. It was my first exposure to first rate Muscadet with bottle age (I was a little behind, I know, chalk it up to youthful ignorance, and to living in the DC area for 9 years).

6. 1985 JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese

Sorry, no AP number...anyway, you know it was a good drinking year if this amazing wine did not quite crack the top five (and if you read this blog you know I love Riesling).

5. 1989 Chasse-Spleen

What can I say, I love Moulis. It showed a pretty, wonderfully perfumed nose with black cherry and licorice notes. Amazingly fresh and young on the palate. Tannins were still not fully resolved, but there is abundant, and abundantly pure, fruit there as well.

4. 1971 Jean Grivot Vosne-Romanee

My first '70's Burgundy experience, and a good one. '71 was when my parents married, August 25, 1971 to be exact. So my parents, brother and I enjoyed this bottle in August, in a Calistoga cabin, alongside roasted fingerling potatoes and grilled lamb chops. After some initial stage fright, this 36 year old opened up and showed admirably, with tangy sour cherry fruit. I do enjoy drinking wine that is older than I am, especially when the year is significant to others who are near and dear to me.

3. 1988 Krug

One of my good friends in the business, and straight up one of the best human beings I know in Washington, DC, Burnie Williams, gifted me this bottle. I decided that we would drink it over lunch at CP Steak. The wine was textbook Krug: rich, full flavored, and a finish that would not quit. To borrow Matt Kramer's description of Meursault, this was truly like drinking 'liquid gold.'

2. 1981 Cronin Pinot Noir 'Ventana Vineyard'

'WTF???' you may be asking yourself. 26 year old CA pinot from a now defunct winery that many people outside of Woodside, California do not know, this bottle was pure magic, and I wish I had bought more. Read more about Cronin.

And the #1 wine is...

1976 Domaine des Varoilles Charmes Chambertin

One of those vintages that at first concerned Burg drinkers due to the heat, many '76s, I am told, have aged incredibly well. This was my Burgundy Epiphany Bottle - I began to understand why people obsess and bankrupt their shit over this shit.

So that's it, those are just some of the wines I loved in 2007. You know, I was thinking of doing a similar list for current releases, but there are just too many enjoyable wines I have drunk this year to whittle it down into list form. To be honest it's too much work and I'm not up for that sort of work at this point in the year, you know? Maybe next year....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Palo Cortado, otra vez.

Hidalgo is perhaps best known for their Manzanilla 'La Gitana,' as well as their single vineyard Pastrana Manzanilla pasada. Well, they also make Palo Cortado, and I finally got around to trying some tonight. Compared to the earlier reviewed Barbadillo Palo Cortado 'Obispo Gascon,' the Hidalgo PC is a totally different animal. In short, if Barbadillo's style is Palo Cortado bordering on oloroso, then Hidalgo's is more towards the Amontillado side of Palo Cortado. In the glass, the sherry is a duller shade of amber, with less of the brilliant orange glints. Dried black currants and fruit cake aromas on the nose are somehow a bit less intense and spirit like than the Barbadillo PC. No surprise here, as the Hidalgo weighs in at 17.5% abv whereas the Barbadillo is closer to 21.5%. Similarly, the palate is less viscous and powerful, both in terms of alchohol and intensity of flavors, but there is plenty of dried fruit character, acidity, salty tang and nuttiness to make this yet another excellent value fine wine from sherry country. Hidalgo's PC also gets huge bonus points for transmitting that tough to pinpoint sherry glow and energy (no, I did not finish the bottle, not even close) that I have not experienced since visiting Jerez in 1999 while living in Sevilla.

Next up in my Palo Cortado exploration: the Hidalgo Palo Cortado Viejo, which, if I understand correctly, comes from a solera dating back to colonial times!

Grignolino - Mmm, mmm mmm.

The 2005 La Casaccia Grignolino del Monferrato is such a mouth-wateringly tasty imbibement, I thought that it merits its own, brief, post. Produced from 100% Grignolino, the Piedmontese specialty, this wine is pure wild strawberries, with fine sandpaper tannins, the kind that leave your tongue feeling like a cat's tongue when it licks you. There is the barest hint of marzipan on the finish. Oliver McCrum continues to amaze me with his terrific portfolio of Italian wines; this particular example is available in the Bay Area for less than $15. Drink it up.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Champagnes for the poorly served or last minute shopper

You might be visiting a friend who lives far away from a decent wine shop, or live in an area without shops which stock smaller, higher quality houses and grower champagnes. If that is the case, try one of these 3 champanskoyas:

Bollinger Brut Reserve NV - Depending on where you live and how liberally the local bottle shop marks up champagne, this will probably run $38 - $52. As always, it is big, rather austere and with a good base of tangy red berry fruits from the Pinot Noir. I am always happy to drink Bolli.

Pol Roger NV - $30-$45. This is not particularly exciting in my book, but always tastes clean and has the perfect amount of toastiness to add a bit of richness and texture, which balances the bright appley and lemony tones.

Laurent Perrier NV - This is a very distant 3rd pick, just because it will be available, probably cheap ($28-$40) and won't offend anyone.

Once again, this list is based on a shitty neighborhood shop selection (though I really do enjoy the Bolli). If possible, you should find Champagne elsewhere and get the really good stuff.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Best of 2007 - German Riesling edition

Greetings from Tacoma, Washington! On the list below, you may notice a dominance of Kabinetts, and lots of 10 or so year old wines. These are generally my preference. Also am noticing a predominance of Mosel wines on this list - no surprises there as these are the most commonly available Rieslings. Next year I hope to taste a lot more German Riesling and thereby diversify the list a bit more! So, without further adieu...Here are my Top 10 German Rieslings of the year:

10. Verinigte Hospitien Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2004 - Delicious Kabinett that I bought at a ridiculously low price, this beauty had a satin like mouthfeel, with gentle white nectarine fruit and more than a hint of red currants. Hospitien may not be the fanciest or most acclaimed of Saar producers, but they are reliable rieslings for the money. I'm trying to lay off my 6 remaining bottles for another few years.

9. Jakoby Mathy Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2006 - Beautiful, juicy, mouthwatering Mosel Riesling. It has that orchard fresh fruit thing going on. Just tasty, uncomplicated, Mosel Riesling.

8. Schmitt Wagner Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Spatlese 2005 - More texture and richness on this guy; the 80+ year old ungrafted vines deliver some real density in texture. Somehow these wines always come across as drier than the norm for the pradikat level and the vintage. Which in addition to the aforementioned texture and creaminess makes them true originals. Tasty fruit as well, but to me this wine is more about texture.

7. Hauth Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 1996 - A stunner! Mature Kabinett with intense lime and slate flavors. With the '96 acidity this might be the driest tasting pradikat wine I have had. Terrific, powerful, gutsy Kabinett.

6. Hauth Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 1994 - Even better than the above. The nose had a bit more sweetness, almost a sweet quinine aspect to it. Very similar to the '96 Kabinett on the palate, with more length and a minerality not as thoroughly integrated as on the Kabinett. Delicious now and probably a lot more so in 5 years

5. Carl Scmitt Wagner Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett 1992 - So young, this wine tastes so young! Even the color, which has deepened to a slightly darker and more intense light yellow, still suggests a younger wine. All the texture and cream of his '05 Spatlese from the same vineyard, with the added dimension of greater fruit intensity and balance from the bottle age. I'd be curious to see this wine in another decade, and would not be surprised if it still tasted young.

4. Diehl Dorsheimer Burgberg Riesling Kabinett 1997 - A textbook lesson in balance between fruit, residual sugar and acidity in mature Kabinett. Lovely Nahe riesling from one of its masters.

3. Max Ferdinand Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinettt 1997 - Another impeccably balanced Kabinett. I love this site, which always seems to produce vivid citrus flavors, often times taking on a similarity to perfectliy ripe, juicy, Florida pink grapefruit. As Dirk Richter once told me, "In Germany we have a saying: 'the girl should be young, and the Riesling should be old!' "

2. JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 1996 - Such a firecracker of a Riesling, what with all of that beautifully clean acidity. This wine was my second pick in a Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr auslese vertical in which I participated a few months ago, only because the next wine was so spectacular.

1. JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 1985 - Beautiful, 18K golden color. This mature Auslese showed a strong vanilla extract and cookie dough note. After a bit of time ripe pear and honey showed as well - definitely a botrytis wine. Acidity is present on the palate, but very mellow, and the fruit is similarly subtle and tough to pinpoint - the fruit is there and it is delicious.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Best of 2007 - Holiday wine shopping edition

Here's the first of what will probably be a few list of superlatives posts. Enjoy!

Most misguided proposed food pairing proposed by a customer-
2005 Quinta do Crasto Douro Reserva and Veal scallopini

Most inspired proposed customer kitchen sabotage -
a lady who wanted to cook rib roast, but instead was told she needs to cook a turkey, plans on making sides that will not go well with the turkey, but that would have complemented the beef perfectly.

Best breakroom snack (nutritious) -
the never ending supply of dried apricots, peaches, currants and plums

Best breakroom snack (not nutritious) -
the tray of chocolate truffles

Most timely breakroom food run - Burritos mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve. You're the man, Jorge!

Best customer t-shirt - Putting the 'g' in 'gangsta,' pink typeface on a bright green tee.

Most encouraging feedback from a customer - "Thanks for your persistence" (after spending nearly 10 minutes tracking down the riedel single malt glasses). Temporary location? Underneath the wine accessories behind the counter.

Best POS made by a home winemaker -
Olema Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005 - "Totally vinified to drink right now!" That's why they call you 'the master,' Jim Barr!

Best bottle of Champagne enjoyed toward the end of the day -
Tarlant Cuvee Louis magnum.

Go-to gift bottle of Italian red -
La Fortuna Brunello Riserva 2001

Go-to gift bottle of Bordeaux -
Pontet Canet 1996

Category with the best, deepest selection for the holidays -
German wines (congrats, Jefe.)

Friday, December 21, 2007


That's how I feel right now - outstanding. Glands, swollen. Nose, stuffy. But I'm looking forward to the last push of holiday insanity.

This jam is for everyone working hard in the service and retail business this holiday season. Crank it up and get down!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

sick tastebuds

During this most recent bout with the cold, I've noticed that sweet still tastes sweet, sour tastes sour, salty tastes weird and bitter tastes SUPER BITTER. Umami tastes good in tomato soup but not in soy sauce (must be the saltiness). I tried a little bit of Rittenhouse rye tonight, which I typically enjoy once in a while but it was not too tasty at all tonight. Then I tried a sip of Francis Tannahill 'Jack' that has been opened for at least 5 days. It tasted even worse than the whiskey. I could only taste alcohol and bitterness.

Right now, the few things that are tasting good to me are campbell's tomato soup, jell-o, and tea. My favorite at home sick meal growing up was Kraft macaroni and cheese, tomato soup and jello. I abstain from the mac n' cheese now, as dairy is no good for the cold. But I miss it. That, a TV tray, and some Pinwheel. Yeah.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The last wine glass of wine before the Cold hit.

It's amazing how suddenly a cold will set in, and, in the case of a few nights ago, I felt it suddenly manifest in my body as a scratchy throat. After a glass of Do Ferreiro Albarino 2006, I noticed that I definitely would be contending with a cold, so instead of wine for the next few days it would be water, rose hip tea with ginger and honey, and more water.

A very good glass of wine, though! A benchmark albarino producer, Do Ferreiro makes gutsy wine with more smokey granite minerality than any other albarino I have tasted. Its minerality truly does bring to mind the riesling to which it is supposedly related. There is also lots of cool, crisp fruit with a tinge of lemongrass and just the slightest hint of lychee. This is serious albarino. I look forward to trying more '06 albarinos, especially Lusco - which has always been a favorite in years past. If the quality of the Do Ferreiro is any indication, though, it could be facing some stiff competition.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Things I learned recently about Brettanomyces and Kraftwerk

The bacteria Brettanomyces, aka bret, is used in the process of making geuze - a sour belgian beer which forms the basis for lambics (beer made with fruit). My first exposure to a true geuze was a few months ago and I loved it; there was a super tangy aspect, as well as a satisfying, meaty savor. It brought to mind some flavors that Burgundy sometimes shows. Brett, by the way, can be thought of as the fish sauce of winemaking. Nasty to think of it on its own, but in the right amount (it is a naturally occurring bacteria in many wineries) it adds a certain degree of umami to wine. Though I am not sure that brett is something which can be easily adjusted. I don't encounter brett too often in New World wines, though, on occasion I certainly have. Maybe as the 'American palate' evolves more people will demand different flavors, more akin to European wines, and it will be common practice to allow bret to flourish in vats and barrels? Not that this would necessarily be a good thing....

And about Kraftwerk, I learned that a few of their songs were featured in Master of the Flying Guillotine. The film also has a song from Neu! and Tangerine Dream. That right there is pretty cool.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Robert Kelly at the Oakland Coliseum

Now usually I don't do this but...let's hit you off with a little concert review.

I'll keep this one short as I don't wish to devote too much web ink to someone as fucked up as Mr. Kelly. I will say, though, that seeing an R. Kelly concert at the Oakland Coliseum is truly a great opportunity to observe one of the more overrated pop performers of our times amongst his legions of fans. Can anyone out there defend this man's recent musical efforts? Yes, 'That's that,' 'Ignition,' 'Fiesta,' and others are catchy singles, and the man has a knack for producing hit songs. However you can't help but sense that R. Kelly is a singer and musician of some ability, who has chosen the surefire route to success, via nasty lyrics, simple melodies, and frivolous hooks. As for R. Kelly's live performance, there was way too much reliance on shout-outs from colleagues, a montage of the singer's old music videos, and multiple set changes.

I feel bad for anyone who payed face value for these tickets. Which reminds me, thanks to Mateo and Scott for hooking up this ticket for free. I had fun checking out part of opener Keisha Cole's terrific set (great backing band, too) and, at times anyway, enjoyed the on-stage antics of Robert Sylvester Kelly.

Two from the 70's: 1970 Beychevelle and 1976 Friedrich Baumann Niersteiner Pettenthal Riesling-Silvaner Auslese

Tasting these wines were my tasting highlights at work last week. Then again, as we are in the season these were basically the only wines we tasted at work. The
'70 beych - good acidity and fairly lively red fruit, with a decidedly foresty note. Not compelling, but honest Bdx in a pretty good spot for drinking. If you got it, drink it up, I say. The 1976 Friedrich Baumann Niersteiner Pettenthal Riesling-Silvaner Auslese was an odd bird. Old Rheinhessen, burnt sugar and banana flavors, with an almost peaty smokiness to it. Somewhere between peat smoke and pinotage band-aid flavors. Sounds good, huh? Returning to this wine after a few days, the smoke had dissipated and the fruit was a bit fresher, more enticing, more intense and lively. Not bad.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

One of my favorite scenes ever.

I've posted a 'Rockers' scene before, but this is really the scene that does it for me. It's a great inside look at Harry J's studio, with Jack Ruby producing a Kiddus I session. Players like Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Ranchie McLean (guitar) and others are shown doing their thing. Then it cuts to protagonist Leroy 'horsemouth' Wallace convincing Jack Ruby to let him sell his records in area shops. After that you see a factory pressing and stamping 45's. Classic, classic, scene. I can't thank my friend Jon (and by extension the assorted UMASS hippies who were into this movie) enough for introducing me to Rockers.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Terroir - natural wine bar

Last night a co-worker and friend who is also in the retail wine business went with me to a terrific new wine bar named Terroir. The place looks great - worn poured concrete floors, single bottle facings displayed on wooden shelves, several well-spaced wooden tables, and a small temperature controlled cellar adjacent to the bar where the vast majority of bottles are stored. There are a dozen wines served by the glass or 1/2 carafe, and about 150 bottles in the store that you can purchase and open with a $12 corkage fee.

The selection is small in terms of number of bottles, but offers many interesting choices, all of which are either organically or biodynamically cultivated. Not surprisingly, the selection currently focuses on French regions such as the Loire, Rhone, Languedoc-Roussillon and Burgundy. Guillaume, who buys the wine for Terroir, was saying that he will be bringing in lots of Beaujolais soon as well. Italy is a distant second in terms of representation, with producers like Roagna, Gulfi, Radikon (for which they are currently featuring several wines from different vintages) and Paolo Bea on the shelves. Not much in the way of Spanish, German, Austrian and domestic wines for now. But given the breadth of terrific selections from France, there is no lack of choices. We ended up starting with one of the few German or Austrian wines on the shelf, an '05 George Breuer Riesling Charme. It was tasty as always, with delicious, ripe '05 fruit and the typical Breuer creaminess on the mid palate. Good, basic riesling trocken from this producer, though it will be much better in 3-5 years. Our next wine was the 2006 Tue-Bouef Cheverny Rouge, which I was told consists of Gamay, Grolleau and Pineau d'aunis (though I am not convinced, I am now reading elsewhere that the wine is Pinot Noir and Gamay?) This wine was a blast. Some gamay earth on the nose, and bright, red berry fruit on the palate. Anyone who wants to taste what all the excitement is about with regards to French country wines should just try the Tue-Bouef Cheverny Rouge. If you don't get it after that, then I don't know what to tell you.

I really want Terroir to succeed. Their selection shows a commitment to quality wine, and to educating customers on the merits of naturally made wines. If you live in the SF area, or plan on visiting, check out Terroir. It's on Folsom between 8th and 9th streets.

wild style.

DJing, breaking, graffiti.

Whoever can name at least 3 of the folks in this scene, as well as who sampled the lead-in and lead-out songs, gets much props.

Holiday season is upon us

Man it has been busy, busy, busy. I'm just coming off of 7 consecutive days of holiday retail work, so I apologize in advance if this post comes across as disjointed, boring, poorly articulated or any combination thereof. I'm mentally tired, physically a bit less so.

Unfortunately, this week I missed out on my newly minted cool shop wednesday edition. Which, by the way, is gaining the attention of at least one of the profiled stores. Thanks again for posting, Rick. I was all ready to give a big blog-hug to the ladies of Avedano's. They have supplied this household with a Thanksgiving bird, delicious nocciola gelato, green onion gnocchi, chipotle, cinnamon, roasted pumpkin seed and grey salt chocolate, Sicilian honey, and other delicious foodstuffs. Read about Avedano's.

I have managed to get through this 7 days stretch with the help and support of (in no particular order) my co-workers, roommates, Barbadillo Don Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado, Naked juices and aged riesling. Thank you all.

Tonight I went to a terrific, newly opened natural wine bar and shop called Terroir. Look for the write-up tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Got $30-$40 to waste? Buy some Oregon Pinot.

OK, sometimes subtlelty is not my greatest strength. Allow me to enlarge on the headline above.

My tasting group met last week to taste six brown bagged wines. Only one of us, Jeffrey Porter of Drink Eat Love fame, knew what the wines were as he organized the tasting. Though I knew these were all wines made from Pinot Noir, I did not posit a successful guess as to what region they were from. With two exceptions, they tasted very alcoholic, overoaked, and sweet. So I came to the conclusion that we were tasting CA Pinot Noir. To be more precise I posited that they were all from Santa Barbara county. The tasting was very educational, or rather, an affirmation of what I suspected of most Oregon PN: they are over-priced, increasingly unbalanced, undrinkable wines. Nonetheless, there were a few winners, and I am glad that Jeff picked Oregon PN as a theme since I have not been as up on current releases as I should be.


Brandborg Pinot Noir Umpqua Valley 2005

Maybe this was an '06? I don't remember. Mixed small berry red fruits and dark fruits on the nose lead to a fresh, fruity palate that is plenty forward and refreshing. As this was the first wine we tasted, and did not know the theme, I was thinking '05 Bourgogne Rouge or Marsannay. It was a clear favorite for me, and a re-affirmation because my favorite Oregon PN I drank last year was a bottle of Shady Grove Pinot Noir (vintage '02?), also from Umpqua Valley. At roughly $20 a pop for both of these wines, I'll have to seek out more wines from Umpqua. They're doing it right.

Stoller Pinot Noir 'Dundee Hills' 2004

While obviously heavier and a bit clumsier than the wine above, there was still some semblance of balance. Plum, spice and very new world PN on the nose, leading to a slightly woody, spicy dark fruited palate. This was the wine that made me think of guessing Santa Barbara PN. Not bad.

Chehalem Pinot Noir 'Ridgecrest' 2005
Charred embers and muddled dark fruit on the nose. Equally unfocused initially on the palate, the wine opened up a bit and became more drinkable, if in an 'I'll finish my glass if this is what I'm being served' kind of way.


The other four wines were just not doing it for me. Too oaky, alcoholic, jammy, sweet, etc, etc. I wouldn't pay $10 for them, let alone $30-$40. Here are the other wines Sineann Pinot Noir 'Shindler Vineyard 2006', Methuen Pinot Noir 2005, Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Williamette Valley 2006.

Thankfully the evening was bookended by some refreshing Greek whites, the best of which was an '06 Santorini that I had never seen before which was terrific. I did not jot down the name and, even for a Greek wine, its amount of letters and syllables posed a formidable challenge to the memory. There was a crisp, earthy cava from i Raventos and a delicious Cremant de Jura from Berthet-Bondet.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Scmitt-Wagner Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett 1992er

Yes, this a wine of many 'ers.

I'm excited that Terry Theise seems to be selling more library releases these days. Schmitt-Wagner's wines are distinctive. They of the creamy flavors, satin texture and otherwise ungrafted vine goodness. This wine is aging extremely well. Petrolly on the nose at first, with some orange blossom and chamomile notes showing after some air, this '92 Kabinett seems to be aging very, very slowly. How so much flavor, intensity and length is packed into a Kabinett with a mere 7,5% alcohol is beyond me. It's magic - German riesling magic. This is simply terrific, far from mature, super tasty 15 year old Mosel Kabinett.

A Tribe Called Quest - Verses From The Abstract

See below for the OWOS re–mix of the chorus. ATCQ was one of the most natural, infectious and perfect pop musical collaborations of all times.

Verses from the Wine Blogger

[Set to the 'Verses from the Abstract' beat (see above)]

If you're looking for real wine in Californa, then ummmm...

Steve Edmunds is in the house
Patrick Campbell is in the house
My man Jeff Emery, he's in the house
Lazy Creek they in the house
Clos Saron is in the house
Joseph Swann is in the house
Wells Guthrie is in the house
And can't forget that Palmina is in the house

Might hit you with another chorus at some point. These are all folks who make good, honest wine.

The new hardcore

On my post about mags of French country wine at a recent holiday party I attended, I had thought that the white in question was a Chenin from Anjou, when it was in fact a sauvignon gris from Touraine, produced by Xavier Frissant. Thanks for the correction, ombudsman.

In other news, I have have missed the past couple days in blogolandia due to the onset of holiday parties and, last night, checking out some amazing live music courtesy of Melt-Banana. They played one of the most awesome series of 6 uninterrupted songs I have ever heard. Each song averaged about 6.2 seconds. Opening act XBXRX was a tight, highly rockin' outfit as well, even without their bass player. Stage presence a bit spastic, but the high polish of their music and moves made up for it. If you check out either of these links, keep in mind that for both bands it's all about the live performance. Maybe some people can listen to stuff like this, Lightning Bolt etc on their ipods, home hi-fi or whatever, but I'm not one of those people.

More on wine tomorrow.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Our pizza's sort of the boss.

I'm withholding all modesty here and would like to declare the pizza that my roommate Nattles and I made as top-notch. With a few more efforts I think it will be safe to say that our pizza will be tops in the Bay Area - imnsho it's already top 3.

Whereas our first efforts last week were respectable, the crust was not as consistent, lacking a bit in flavor, and the appearance of the pizza was not the greatest. This week the difference was initially proofing the dough for 6+ hours in the fridge, as opposed to an hour at room temp. Both weeks we punched down the dough and then proofed again for another 30 minutes. Here are last night's pies:

Fresh mozz, chopped garlic, watercress
Olive oil, parmeggiano reggiano, cremini mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and fennel, crispy potato, dried chopped thai pepper, capers, parsley
parmiggiano reggiano, feta, creminis, chopped thai peppers, parsley (super thin crust)
Mozz, mushroom, sun-dried tomatoes
parmeggiano reggiano, sun-dried tomato, a few leftover scraps of creminis

The wine accompaniment was a delicious bottle of 1998 Cronin Zin/Mourvedre. Bright spicy, tangy central coastal California wine which will probably go strong for at least another 3 years. It is easily the most enjoyable $10 red I have ever drunk.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

That's a cool shop Wednesdsay pt.II - Lucca Ravioli Company

Real authentic Italian food in San Francisco, be it a deli, pizzeria, or restaurant, is sometimes tough to find. Fortunately, Lucca is around to transport even the most critical Italian food loving New Yorker back to the City. The selection of imported canned and jarred goods is quite good, as is the selection of basic Italian cheeses — sweet and spicy gorgonzola, fresh mozzarella, parmeggiano-reggiano, ricotta, and others. The real star here, though, is the selection of cured meats such as coppa, salumetti and prosciutto di san daniele. Though I hear the fresh made pastas and sauces are supposed to be very tasty as well.

What I love about Lucca Ravioli Company almost as much as the quality of their basic Italian staples is the old school feel of the place. You go in, take a number from the ticket dispenser, and wait for a gentleman donning a white paper hat to help you out. When you are ready to settle up, you hand over your credit card or cash and someone will go to the behoemoth sized, gilded, early 1920's (?) era cash register to complete the sale. The whole experience is old school to the bone marrow. Lucca is conveniently located at the corner of 22nd and Valencia in la Mission. It has played a pivotal role in providing ingredients for another newly minted Wednesday tradition: Pizza wednesdays. Yep - we are cooking up some pretty killer Neapolitan style pies here at home. More on that tomorrow.

Buona notte.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

muscadet and mac n cheese

Ate some pretty decent takeout from my neighborhood falafel, rotisserie chicken, kebab and zatar pita joint - Gook Frikin' Chicken. Its logo has a cartoon rooster on it, sort of like a mug shot of Bugs Bunny rooster Foghorn Leghorn. Anywyay the food is decent, and I was looking forward to pairing it with a magnum of 1996 Jo Landron Domaine de la Louvetrie 'Fief du Breil' Muscadet that the household is currently working through, as well as a magnum of 1985 Couly Dutheil Clos l'echo Chinon and a puny little 750ml of 2004 Tour Grise Saumur '253' Rouge. While the food and wines were delicious on their own, the only really tasty pairing was the not so cheesy, plain mac n cheese and the Muscadet. On its own, this '96 Fief du Breil has become quincy like Jones, just very quince with lots of intensity of fruit. The acidity is more mellow and integrated than I would expect at this point in the wine's development. Together with the mac n cheese the flavors became more complete, slightly creamy, leesy and nutty. I had some chicken kebabs which were tasty, and worked ok with the wines, though they seemed to take away from the fading, muddled fruit of the '85 Clos l'echo. Oh, by the way, thanks to whichever customer it was who returned this bottle on Monday! The wine was certainly mature, with a very leafy, forest floor quality and strong notes of beef tenderloin. But certainly, to my judgement, not corked or flawed in any way. Though the wine was fading (and I don't know when the customer had opened it) there was at first a real vibrancy and freshness to the fruit and acidity. The texture, of course, was silky and gorgeous. What a contrast to the young '04 Tour Grise Saumur Rouge, produced from old Cab Franc vines in an area of Saumur for which producers Philipe and Francois Gourdon are proposing a new appellation. This is an incredibly fruity Cab Franc, but with excellent purity and liveliness as well. Fruit, fruit and more fruit here, mostly red. It has cab franc's delicious mouth-watering fruit without the more earthy and herbal tones. Maybe even a lover of Napa cab might enjoy this?

Monday, December 3, 2007

two good wines from the 'bad' 1997 vintage

Yet again, more proof that talented, consistent producers, who make consistently good, balanced wines, will do the same in more challenging vintages. Here we look at a Bdx and a Mosel Riesling from the oft maligned 1997 vintage. In the case of Bdx, it really was a tough year, with rains during harvest and many diluted, overly vegetal wines. Many '97s are not fun to drink. For the Mosel, I think that '97 was more overshadowed by the amazing '96 vintage, and was not by any means a dud.

Langoa Barton St. Julien 1997
- If St. Julien represents Bordeaux at its most elegant, with a most consistent spread of typicity, elegance and value (which, based on my experience up to this point, it does), then Langoa Barton is a perfect representative for the commune. Just like the '04 which I had a few months ago, this '97 is a balance of meaty savor, pure understated fruit, and soft texture. Of course this is a good bit more advanced, especially considering the fact that the vintage is not one for long cellaring. But really delicious, a much more complete and balanced wine than any other '97 Bdx I have yet tasted. '97 Malescot is pretty good now that I think about it, and may last a bit longer, but Langoa is the more interesting wine right now.

Max Ferdinand Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 1997
- I had to return a badly corked bottle to get to the good stuff. Which reminds me: at between 20-25% corked bottles (and I have cracked open many of Dirk's rieslings as I used to sell them for a distributor), this winery has BY FAR the worst corked wine to good wine ratio I have ever encountered. Dirk - you make very good Riesling but either find a better supply of cork or switch to stelvin!!! Anyway, VE is a monopoly vineyard for Richter, who is based in Mulheim in the middle Mosel. The flavors are very bright, pure, focused and citric, almost like Wehlener Sonnenuhr but lighter, more simple and with a more delicate minerality. Soil here is gray slate and quartz, not the famed blue Devonian slate as in Wehlener Sonnenuhr. With a light straw color, a bit of petrol and citrus on the nose, and a very juicy, snappy palate tasting of clementines, this wine can probably still evolve for another several years. The wine is starting to get the nice, silky, mature Riesling texture, but isn't all the way there yet. And it seems as though there is some sweetness that could further resolve itself in another few years. Richter's Veldenzer Elisenberg. wines, though, and this is no exception, are a real delight to drink young, middle aged, and I imagine old, though I have yet to experience a 20 yr old Richter wine from VE.

Tomorrow, probably back to the Loire valley (again....)

Good night.

Evolution of a reggae band - pt I

Aswad, from WAY back in the day.

Evolution of a reggae Band - pt II

Check out how much more polished Aswad is here. Not sure when this is from, but judging by how the band looks and the way they sound, I'd say somewhere between '89-'92.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

French country wines outta Mags

Thanks to Nadia for hosting a fun holiday get-together in her beautiful Specific Whites (oops, I meant to say 'Pacific Heights') apt. Here were my chosen imbibements:

Domaine Rimbert 'Le mas au Schistes' St Chinian 2004 (1.5l) - Good, fresh dark berry fruits which were powerful and a bit chewy for my taste, without any hearty meat dish to accompany the wine.

Domaine Rimbert 'Le mas au Schistes St Chinian 2003 (1.5l) - Rather mature and baked fruit, lacking freshness and the nice minerality of the '04

There was a nice little Chenin from Anjou, also outta mag, that was crisp, braeburn apple deliciousness. I don't recall the producer.

It was good fun kicking off the upcoming Christmas/Hanukah party season. Next weekend will be a latke throwdown, which of course as a fried potato loving Jew I am anxiously anticipating. Mmm...latkes.

Friday, November 30, 2007

On ageability....

Though it is a hotbed of drama (and some would say fascism), the ebob board is nonetheless capable of some really fascinating posts, such as this one here. Loire/Alsace/Champagne/Burgundy/German/Austrian critic David Schildnecht has a way with the written word, especially as it pertains to the grape and all things wine (no surprise that someone who covers the coolest - climatically and stylistically - regions so well would have something interesting to say about how wine ages. I'll let you read it and check it out for yourselves.

As for what I think will age, I'm still working on it, and as DS says, so much of this sort of forecasting depends on experience, not only with multiple vintages of general regions but of specific producers. I'm only 28, dude. And I did not grow up with a serious wine cellar in the household. So there's lots of learning ahead. Fortunately this year has been a real education for me personally with regards to tasting fully mature, and maturing, wines of high quality. I've been lucky enough this year to have tasted mature wines such as'89 Luneau Papin Muscadet L d'Or, '76 Varoilles Charmes-Chambertin, '79 Karthauserhof Eitelsbacher Auslese, '81 Cronin PN (central coast CA PN that still tasted fresh, spicy and unbelievably good), '70 Latour, '89 Chasse-Spleen, '27 Domaine Bory Muscat de Rivesaltes and others. And I have also tasted excellent young wines that I think will age gracefully for years: '96 Salon, '96 Fleury, '99 Lopez Bosconia Reserva, '04 Langoa Barton, '02 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards PN, '04 de Montille Volnay 'Taillepieds,' '96 Pontet Canet, '04 Conn Valley Cab, '05 Schmitt-Wagner Longuicher Herrenberg Spatlese, and many, many others. So what do I look for? In vague, highly subjective, layman's terms, I look for wines that are already very interesting, highly drinkable and balanced, but seem like they have more to show. So I look for what I view as balance, and then combine it slightly with theory and book smarts, and then go from there. And, I'm guessing, prepare myself to be humbled when I re-visit a wine in 5 years, one that I knew would be a 15yr+ wine, and find it to be over the hill. Most of the fun is in the drinking and experimentation, not in the satisfaction of being right. Though it's always gratifying to be right....

Wouldn't it be interesting to cellar a few 95 pt Spanish, Aussie and Napa wines which are predicted by some to age well for 10+ years and track their progress? If many wine consumers actually were to do this, I would suspect that lots of subscriptions to certain wine publications would be canceled....

De La Soul - Breakadawn

This is just nice and mellow. Though it's not my favorite De la jam, I really dig the Smokey Robinson 'Quiet Storm' sample and overall vibe. Makes me relax after an occasionally frustrating Friday. Happy weekend.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

PALO CORTADO - Good stuff if you can get it.

The past few evenings I have been enjoying a nip of Barbadillo 'Obispo Gascon' Palo Cortado. For those of you who may not know, Palo Cortado is somewhere between an Amontillado and Oloroso; i.e., it retains the livelier acidity, saltiness and citric tones of Amontillado while simultaneously suggesting the deeper, darker flavors of Oloroso. And of course there is a walnut nuttiness that lasts for days and extra days as my Guyanese drummer friend might say.

Palo Cortado is basically a sherry aged under flor (white growth caused by yeast indigenous to Andalucia). As you may know a natural, thick tuft of flor growth in a barrel of sherry is destined to remain fino sherry, whereas amontillado sherries are finos with lesser flor growth and additional fortification. An amontillado which loses its flor becomes a Palo Cortado and is fortified even more, as an oloroso would be (to 21-22%). Olorosos are sherries which have never developed a protective layering of flor.

As only 1-2% of all sherries produced are palo cortado, they're fairly rare and not inexpensive. The Barbadillo retails for $35 where I work. For the quality of the wine, palo cortados, like all high quality sherries, are some of the best deals in all of the classic wine regions. Relative to the exorbitant prices of Bdx, burgundy, top-notch Baroli and other Italians, and very likely Champagne in the near future, sherry, along with German riesling, Rioja (traditional), and the Loire valley, are where many of the deals are right now for wines to buy and age for a while.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Country for Psychos with Creepy Haircuts


That's a cool shop Wednesday (vol.I-Cole Hardware)

This may or may not become part I in a series of Wednesday posts leading up to Christmas, posts which will highlight stores I love to visit, or maybe memorialize shops which were loved in their time and have since closed. I'd also like it to be a forum for my 2 or so readers to chime in about places they love to shop. There is something about the neighborhood shopping experience that, whether it's a wine shop, a corner market, a clothing or record boutique, provides a local and satisfying way to support our consumerist urges in a way that also supports others. So let's embrace the creative entrepreneurial spirit, celebrate responsible capitalism and get things started.

When I was a little half-pint, I always enjoyed trips to the Pikesville hardware store. I had no idea what most of the items were that they were selling, nor was I especially curious about what they were. I just loved that there was a store with so many bizarre gadgets and random stuff, all crammed together in a tight space, with a shifting array of rust, metal and topsoil aromas permanently circulating the air. It was the polar opposite of growing up in my parents' home, where everything was incredibly tidy and generally lacking any strong smells. Ours was a home where projects usually involved cleaning or cooking, rather than any sort of home repair projects or fabrications. So the disorderly collection of foreign stuff with which to do foreign home projects always held some sort of distant appeal for me.

My neighborhood hardware store is now a local bay area chain named Cole Hardware. It has all the goodies that I remember from Pikesville Hardware, though in a more organized and logical layout. I went in for a 10mm socket attachment with which I replaced my 43 year old brake pads on my bike. Since this is a San Francisco hardware store - and a savvy one at that - they have a decent selection of kitchen gadgets, environmentally friendly cleaners, and a whole lot of food as you're waiting in line to check out. Not just your usual selection of candy, there is also green & black's chocolate, cliff bars, vege. beef jerky, ice cream, whatever you need. More shops should take a cue from Cole's: stock cool, unexpected stuff in addition to your usual mix of products. People appreciate that shit. At least I do....

Monday, November 26, 2007

My lone Loire Valley Disappointment in the past several months

The 2005 La Grange Tiphaine l'equilibriste Montlouis had all the makings of a great wine: it is produced from old vine Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, by a talented winemaker (Didier Delecheneau), in a very solid vintage in Montlouis. Unfortunately I found this dessert wine to be out of balance. Way sweet, not enough acidity to balance it out, and even hot. At 12% alcohol for a Chenin Blanc dessert wine, the heat - now that I take the alc into account - does not surprise me. The flavors were of cooked apples in a lot of allspice, cinnamon and sugar. There was a spiciness that immediately made me think of botrytis, as well as a pungent brand of Montlouis, funky horseradish type of minerality which I find in Chidaine's Montlouis wines. It is one of the rare types of minerality that sometimes KO's me and is just too much. Riesling from Rangen in Alsace has had a similar effect, as has a red wine from the Mt Etna region in Sicily. Maybe it's the volcanic soil in those two wines? Anyway, I had l'equilibriste with apple pie at dessert, hoping that the sweetness of the pie would balance out the wine as is often the case with dessert and dessert wine pairings, but not even a delicious home baked apple pie could save this poor Chenin Blanc. Oh well. I still quite enjoy La Grange Tiphaine's Bel Air Sec, Les Cassieres, Rose and Cot. And I still need to try his Becarre Cab Franc.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tryptophan makes you sleepy ( a brief photo essay)

These three pics may be all I can dig up, but we'll see...Enjoy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A solid newbie and an oldie but goodie: Dinners at Maverick and Zuni

There are few things I enjoy more in life than going out to dinner, and fewer things still that I enjoy more than going out to dinner with my family. This week I really lucked out and enjoyed two nights out at two restaurants, one at a cool new spot in the Mission named Maverick, and the other at a well-established San Francisco restaurant - Zuni.


Maverick's concept is not unique - present modern American food prepared from fresh, seasonal ingredients in a modern, cleanly and sparsely decorated setting - but the execution in the front of the house and, for the most part, the back of the house, is what separates this restaurant from many lesser establishments. As I was heading from work, dealing with traffic and even a speeding ticket, I arrived late. I needed a drink. My father had ordered a bottle of 2006 Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc, which was so-so, but probably will show better after another 6 months or so in the bottle.

We shared a few salads which were all tasty and fresh, in particular the fried squash blossoms with toasted cumin and coriander yogurt sauce and arugula. The wine list was compact and novelly arranged according to Old World (under the header 'The Roots') and domestic ('The Vines'). Clever. There were more choices on the domestic side of things, and fortunately some good ones. I went with a 2005 Palmina Mattia, a Refosco/Cab Franc/Merlot blend from the a couple different Santa Barbara AVA sources. This wine was probably my best restaurant wine selection this year, just in terms of my (and everyone else's) pleasure drinking it and the overall value. No tutti-fruity Cal-Ital here, this is serious wine that had a fresh, pure black currant, blackberry fruit quality to it not unlike a nice young Chinon. It was similarly silky as well, lacking only some of Chinon's herbal and earthy savor. As for the rest of the food, sides were well prepared, especially the mac and cheese (nothing fancy, no goat cheese used, just good 'ol tasty mac and cheese). Sauteed cauliflower was fine and the rapini tasty, though super lemony. My braised veal shoulder, accompanied by a flavorful reduction including chanterelles, parsley root, pearl onions, kale and fingerling potatoes, was the driest piece of meat I have eaten all year. It's too bad, the flavors were quite good and the dish would have been a winner had it not been so dried out. Oh well. Maybe it was a sign that I should stay away from veal dishes for moral reasons, as I used to? Deserts here are quite good - we had a chocolate cake and an apple tart with cinnamon caramel ice cream and creme anglaise. Our service was very professional, if a little quirky. Our server insisted on 'priming' each wine glass with the wine about to be served. Maybe this is a new trend in restaurant wine service? Anyway, good food, solid wine list and reasonable prices all add up to a solid neighborhood restaurant.


I did not realize how large Zuni is. The street entrance leads towards a long copper bar, staffed by people who really know what they're doing and how to welcome you to their spot. Once again, I was running a bit late meeting my parents for dinner. I met them and ordered a glass of Henriot Brut Souverain, which they comped. Maybe it was Thanksgiving generosity, or more likely my dad was working the schmooze earlier. Either way it was a nice gesture, and the Henriot was a tasty drink - crisp and a bit austere as always, lemony with a touch of red currant fruit. Not exciting champagne, but reliable and a great apertif. Zuni looks sort of like an upscale version of a large brewpub, with high expansive ceilings, lots of open space and distressed wood floors. Upstairs, the space is very cleverly broken up into several different smaller dining areas, which helps to keep the noise down and adds a sense of privacy. Our table was directly above the oyster bar. To start we had a bottle of Roland Schmitt Sylvaner, which was round, slightly creamy and tasted like baked apples and a hint of peach. Tasty and cheap. I had an order of roasted sardines, which were fine but not a standout. Salads were fresh and lightly dressed the way I like 'em. For the main course I had ordered a bottle of 2005 Lapierre Morgon - which was a good bit richer and more generous than I had anticipated it. Also considerably lower in acidity, which is too bad. One of my favorite cru Beaujies I have ever had was a Desvignes Morgon 'Javennieres' from the same 2005 vintage; it was much tighter but also a much more interesting wine.

For my main I ordered the much heralded roasted chicken to split with my mom - it was just ok. Back when I lived in DC, I would often judge a restaurant based on how flavorfully and originally they could prepare a plain old chicken dish. It was fun, and actually a good indicator of the overall quality of the cooking. Well, once again the chicken test worked, as I found Zuni to be pretty good, but not all that great. Definitely a good lunch spot, though. For dinner it's ok as well- if the location is convenient - and if someone else is handling the tab.

KRS-One, Marley Marl, Red Alert + Fat Joe Live

The holiday season is time for reflection, sharing our histories and, most importantly, dialogue. I stumbled upon this KRS-One/Marley Marl video and could not have found a better selection for the times. Unfortunately it's not posting to the blog for some reason, but here is a live clip which hopefully will post ok. The video, which should come up as one of the video links above, features the teacher KRS-1 doing what he does best, set to a visual backdrop of hip-hop history. It is a very solid song and video; even further, in the face of current (corporate) hip-hop's overriding sense of degradation, individualism and pessimism, this video is an empowering, communal, and optimistic statement.


Last night was truly a memorable Thanksgiving with family and friends. There is nothing like good food, wine and taking time to reflect on how lucky most of us are to be living freely in the US. Yes, we've got our issues: our current administration will go down as one of the worst run governments in modern times, there is an increasing disparity between rich and poor, much of the world hates us and our unwillingness to take action for our fuck-ups, whether they are environmentally, diplomatically or militarily oriented. Nonetheless, ours is still an accepting country, one of opportunity for many. Nowhere on earth is there such a wide array of people from different backgrounds, living together in the same towns and cities. These were all things we discussed briefly last night before dining, and it was cool to have different perspectives from young and old, 1st generation and 3rd generation Americans, left and further left (we did not purposefully exclude the right, it's just that, you know, it's California).

I would add a brief photo diary of yesterday, but as I couldn't find my camera all photo's were taken on my phone, which does not sync with my Mac. At least not without buying software and doing lots of fancy footwork that I don't have time to do right now. So look for the photo's a little later. Also, as is customary, some good hip-hop (or maybe reggae today) will soon be up for your listening and viewing pleasure. Maybe a couple of informal restaurant reviews? Lots to catch up on here...Happy Friday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kermit who? Eric Asimov profiles the famous wine importer

Kermit Lynch was an innovator, ahead of his time. Kermit Lynch had, and still has, a very good palate. Kermit Lynch, for a wine importer and retailer, is an amazingly engaging writer, able to relate the smells, flavor and experience of travelling in European wine regions like few others can. Kermit Lynch is also, quite possibly, the most savvy promoter and salesman to have ever imported wine into the United States.

Eric Asimov's article dives into one primary aspect of Kermit's career: his ability to seek out the best producers in various French wine regions, and urge them to produce authentic wine, unfiltered and representative of how wines from specific terroirs should express themselves.

While Asimov's piece is well–written and informative, an enjoyable read for both the wine knowledgeable and others, it is also about someone who many folks reading Asimov already know. Why not write an article on the importance of a good importer, citing Kermit Lynch as a major influence, while briefly profiling other successful importers such as Joe Dressner, Terry Theise, and lesser known names as well. Though Asimov states that many wine drinkers check the back label to view the importer, I would argue that this is still a vast minority of shoppers. I wish that Asimov would have written an article focusing on the importance of the wine importer, instead of yet another piece on the ever popular, ever savvy Berkeley/Provence based importer, in a NEW YORK based newspaper no less? I know the Times is serving a national readership at this point, but still - why not shine the spotlight on other people?

HAPPY THANKSGIVING to Eric Asimov, Kermit Lynch, all quality oriented wine importers the world over, to all Old World Old School readers, friends and family.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I've got my Thanksgiving white; a baby Gravner in Oregon

I hope that you enjoy the WSJ style headline; complete sentence followed by a clarifying simple phrase. Anyway, I am very excited about the 2004 Francis Tannahill 'Jack' white wine. With a 37 case production I do not think it is an easy get, but definitely buy it if you see it. Provided that you are into interesting white wines, of course.

Jack is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay grown just 16 miles north of California. The 6 month long skin contact and maceration is exactly how long Josko does his, I believe. Except there are no use of amphorae for Tannahill's white. After the extended maceration the wine is put into old oak barrels for 16 months. The resulting wine is a beautiful color, somewhere between gold and pink gold. Strong apricot, floral and orange peel notes lead to complex flavors: apricot jam, flowers, roasted nuts. Not as complex, tannic or compelling as the '01 Gravner Ribolla I tasted about a year ago, but for $20 Jack is an exceedingly interesting, well-made, food friendly white wine. Wines like this are reason for measured optimism on the state of domestic winemaking.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Funky Cali

I recently tried two interesting wines from the golden state: one was a new release from the always solid Edmunds St. John and the other was the most expensive CA sparkler I have yet tried, produced by Equinox in the Santa Cruz mountains.

The Edmunds St. John Bone Jolly Gamay Noir 2006 is a fantastic wine and a cool domestic stand-in for Beaujolais. It's produced from fruit grown on Whitters vineyard in El Dorado county.
As many folks know, Steve Edmunds makes REAL wine, the natural way, fermented DRY. As such his wines don't get nearly as much press. But they are without a doubt worth seeking out and supporting. This gamay is a beautiful light violet color and tastes of pure tangy red fruits. No Beaujolais schist minerality as the grapes, I imagine, do not grow in schist. Terrific fruit purity though, and very food friendly. It will be my red for Thanksgiving dinner.

1997 Equinox Blanc de Blancs was an interesting animal. I'm reviewing this as if I were to sip this sparkler not knowing the price ($60!) There was a distinctive, evolved, hazlenut nose, with some earthy apple fruit. On the palate the wine lacked fruit purity and intensity, though the dryness and yeastiness of true Champagne were present (which I usually find to be lacking in most methode champenoise sparklers from outside of Champagne). There was something not quite right with this wine - brett perhaps? Is brett possible in sparkling wines? Anyway, the promising aromas led to a real dud on the palate.

To end on a positive note, I truly enjoyed the Edmunds St. John Gamay. Alongside the Bone Jolly this Thanksgiving I will probably serve a 2006 Rancho Sisquoc Sylvaner from Santa Barbara. I tasted this wine blind a few months ago and it seemed like a well-made, inexpensive Williamette Valley riesling, in the off-dry stylee. Thanksgiving is almost here! Which for me, my family, Nattles and her family and a few others, means lots of food lovingly prepared by Chez Joe and pastry chef Natalie. More than anything I'm looking forward to the truffled mashed potatoes. Mmmm, truffled mashed potatoes....

Friday, November 16, 2007

QB Salute -pt. I

It's too bad that there is no video for this amazing track off of Mobb Deep's first album. The balance between the super laid-back sample, rough and rugged drum machine, and the tense Queensbridge story telling is yet another example of classic '90's hip-hop.

Friday night QB salute - pt.II

The raw lyrics and video vixen imagery are a lot more than I usually will put up here, but the song is just good enough to merit an exception. The sparse, piano driven Alchemist beat is the perfect background for Prodigy to drop some wicket wordplay. He saves the best couplets for last:

You rap n*@@'s make me laugh, ya'll crazy ass/and I don't give a fuck what you sold - that shit is trash/ Bang this 'cause I guarantee that you bought it/heavy airplay all day with no chorus, I keep it thorough....

Animal Collective - Fireworks

This is one of the most original bands to have become popular that I can remember in quite some time. Maybe too original for some, they're an acquired taste, especially some of Dave Portner's off the wall lyrics delivered in an equally weird style. 'Fireworks' is one of my favorites from the new record, Strawberrry Jam. Very cool video, with excellent contrast between dark and light. I really like how the song is in 3/4 time, goes through a minute or so transition around the 3 minute mark, and then switches to 4/4, with the melodic motif extended an extra beat per measure towards the end. The effect is that the melody seems to be slower, more deliberate. Animal Collective has really improved as songwriters, having made the progression from weird, occasionally one-dimensional material to more nuanced, dynamic, beautiful songs.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cerasuolo di Vittoria - Sicily's only D.O.C.G. wine

Here is a wine that, despite its location in warm, at times scorching hot Sicily, never fails to make me wonder how red wine can be made in as brisk and fresh a style in such warm, sunny climes. What distinguishes Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Nero D'Avola, the Sicilian red most often sold in wine shops, is the addition of Frappato (up to 50%), which seems to brighten and lively up these wines.

Recently I had a bottle of 2005 Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria. For less than $15 it really delivers a ton of flavor, purity, and versatility with food. Brisk mixed berry flavors were at first not quite as high-toned as I remember them, though they are still fresh and sappy if not exactly racy. On day 2, however, this wine shows a bit more minerality and the acidity becomes more pronounced, in a good way. Straight Nero d'Avola is fine, in particular if there is a good variety of aged Italian hard cheeses and hearty food around, but I'd really rather be drinking Cerasuolo. Some other good ones I've had in the past year are Planeta's '05, which I recall being more purely red fruited and a bit more edgy than the Gulfi, and an '05 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria, which is somewhere in between with more spice and savory notes sneaking in there. Any of these three wines are just the ticket if you're looking for a fun, different type of Italian wine experience.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Two 2002 Loire Chenins

What a great Loire Valley vintage - 2002. They have been some of my favorite Loire wines - ripe fruit, not '05 ripe but ripe enough for me, with edgy acidity and the distinctive minerality of the various Loire appellations. Last night I re-visited a couple of dry Chenin Blanc wines, one from Saumur and the other a Vouvray. Both had spent several days opened up and hanging out in the fridge.

Chateau Tour Grise Saumur Blanc 2002 -

Beautiful nose, that really improved dramatically from when it was first opened. Persimmons, orange marmelade, and red apples. Full-bodied and very dry flavors, with decent fruit intensity and a hint of white flowers. Once again, very dry, heavy-weight Chenin. A bit atypical on the palate, the nose says Loire Chenin but the palate might suggest something else. Interesting wine.

Domaine de la Fontainerie Vouvray Sec Cuvee 'C' 2002 -

Fresh orange blossom honey and a bit of chai spice on the nose. This one smells, and tastes, a bit sweeter, though it is still a sec style (and labeled as such). Perhaps 'sec tendre' would be a more appropriate description. Unfortunately this wine was slightly corked, though it did not show so much on the palate. Underneath the cork taint is a wonderful wine, with a deft balance of sweetness, acidity and chewy Vouvray minerality.

As good as Loire Chenin is, it happens to be very prone to cork taint. Oh well - I am more than happy to live with occasionally corked bottles, given the amazingly high quality and consistent value these wines offer.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Teutonic Takeover - Austrian & German wine tasted today

Today in the shop we had a killer line-up of Austrian and German wines:

Schloss Gobelsburg Brut Reserve NV - This is a combo of Gruner Veltliner, riesling and pinot noir from the '01 and '02 harvests. As always, this is amazing bubbly; it seems to be getting better each year I taste it. And, as always, this is my favorite bubbly that is not Champagne, better than many an NV champagne that I taste. All this for under $30. On the nose the GruV comes through with its spice and clean citrus tones. Pure, pristine and invigorating on the palate, with excellent length. I'd love to stash a few of these away for 2-3 years. In fact, I'ma gonna do it.

August Kesseler Spatburgunder Assmanshausen Hollenberg 2004

Dark cherry, pommard like nose leads to a juicy, focused palate of PN fruit, with some good minerality. Serious wine, this. It is just as I remember it: very good spatburgunder, if a bit pricey for what it is.

Renner Zweigelt Burgenland 2005 -

Plums on the nose. On the palate, this wine is a solid, persistent mid-weight, with the density and dryness that I prefer my Zweigelts to have. Some versions run a bit too sweet, this one is just about right. Persistent as well.

Gritsch Singerriedel Federspiel Gruner Veltliner 2006 -

Sort of like a vinous, Playskool 'My First Gruner Veltliner.' Similarly, one might consider this as a gateway GruV. In other words, this is pleasant wine, with stone fruits on the nose and palate and an easy-going, round, mouthfeel. It does not have the snappiness and acidity of a light-weight gruner veltliner, nor does it have the spice, weight, minerality or flavor authority of more ambitious gruner veltliner. As such it's not the wine for me, but maybe for someone who wants to say they're drinking GruV but would really rather be drinking something else?

Nikolaihof Riesling Wachau 2005

I really like this wine. A lot. It must have taken me 5+ minutes to get over this wine and move on to the next one. Maybe 10. The nose was full of that lees goodness, like some oatmeal with milk and dried apricots mixed in. More of the same on the palate, with a beautifully soft, rich character, and completely seamless. A lesson in texture. As I type this note, I'm listening to the best reggae version of an R&B or funk song I've ever heard - it's distractingly good. It's some Jamaican studio band I don't recognize covering 'Shaft,' on a Bigga Bush compilation. WOW!!!

Freie Weingartner Domaine Wachau Achleiten Riesling 1993 -

14k gold color. Intense, baked stone fruits on the nose. Lots of other things going on as well, really intense and complex aromas. As exciting as the wine was on the nose, it was equally boring on the palate. Very soft, subtle and understated, so much so that I wondered what happened to the beautiful wine that I smelled. Either I need a lesson in appreciating subtlety, or this wine is just in a weird point of its evolution. Too bad there was not enough left in the bottle to put in the fridge for a few days and track its development. I had a bottle of 1982 Cuvee Fallstaff from this winery that was a lot more impressive.

Heidi Schrock Weisburgunder 2006

Clean pear and white nectarine on the nose lead to a delicious, delightful palate of Pinot Blanc from one of its most skillful growers in Austria. Fun wine, great producer.

Jakoby-Mathy Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2006

Aromas of lime, spiced pear and slate jump from the glass and lead to one pretty, tasty, Riesling. Very drinkable, and it tastes the way a Mosel Kabinett should.

Heribert Kerpen Bernkasteler Bratenhofchen Riesling Spatlese 2006

Way ripe, one-dimensional and simple Spatlese. I have liked H. Kerpen's Wehlener Sonnenuhr offerings before and was looking forward to tasting this. Unfortunately, there is just not a lot there.

Hauth-Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 1996

More '96 - YES! I was not familiar with this producer, but the wine definitely left a huge impression on me. I'm wondering how this estate has fallen under the radar. A tropical guayabana-like nose leads to a palate of delicious, silky, maturing Kabinett. Loads of kaffir lime flavors and mouth-watering acidity. Delicious wine that should still have a few years of improvement ahead of it.

Hauth-Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 1994

Even better than the above. The nose had a bit more sweetness, almost a sweet quinine aspect to it. Very similar to the '96 Kabinett on the palate, with more length and a minerality not as thoroughly integrated as on the Kabinett. Delicious now and probably a lot more so in 5 years.

MYSTERY WINE (I think it was Kurt Darting Durkheimer Spielberg Riesling Spatlese 1977)

This was very mature Riesling, with creme brulee and a strongly caramelized nose - which would make sense given the caramelized notes Pfalz rieslings tend to show. The fruit is barely hanging in; it tastes like bitter oranges and limes that have been hanging out in the fridge for too long but you have to use them because it's all you have. Also there is a lack of purity on the nose and palate that I can't ignore. An interesting wine to taste, but I'll pass this dutchie to the left hand side - and probably not come back to it.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Gangstarr - You Know My Steez

A little bit later vintage (1998) than I usually post here, but a great track from the classic Moment of Truth LP. Video is a creative one, too. Hype Williams directed, maybe?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Vertical

With the soothing post-rock tones of Godspeed You! Black Emperor emanating from the Acoustic Energy sub + satellite speaker hi-fi system, I am hoping to deliver a thorough, yet entertaining report of an incredibly fun and educational vertical tasting of JJ Prum Auslesen from one of my favorite vineyards in the world, Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

First, a little background on Manfred Prum and his wines. They are truly some of the best expressions of Rieslings in the world, and as such are priced accordingly, i.e. they will probably cost more than most of the other Mosel producers in your local wine shop. They are definitely worth it. They need time though, as they are in want of bottle age to begin with, in addition to being liberally sulphured (even by German standards). My understanding is that Manfred wants his wines to last a while, and in order to assure that there are no secondary fermentations or bacterial issues in the bottle, he adds a lot of sulphur.

Thank you to Jeff Vierra for contributing many of these wines. Thanks also to the Westby's for hosting, providing some of these wines, and having sausages and potato salad on the ready to sate our appetites. We tasted 11 vintages in all, dating from 1983 to 2002. I will list each vintage with sparse tasting notes, proceeded by my ranking and the group ranking.

2002 - The nose was strongly slatey and showed intense apricot preserves. Sulphur is definitely still present. On the palate this wine was pure, pure, pure, with the intense pink grapefruit note that I love to get in Wehlener Sonnenuhr wines. Joe - #4 Group - #3

2001 - At first this wine did not reveal too much on the nose, other than sulphur. Some apricot and chamomile aromas eventually revealed themselves. I love the '01 for its very powerful, pure, extracted flavors. The wine was like ripe, pink Florida grapefruit eaten in January, with a touch of sugar added (for the record I'm not a sugar on grapefruit type of guy, but that is what the flavors brought to mind). Joe - #3 Group - #5

2000 - This was a wet vintage. The nose was a bit spicier, still slatey, and showing some persimmons. Didn't really enjoy the lack of fruit purity here, though there was some decent persistence and length. Joe - #9 Group - #10

1999 - Pretty, golden delicious, autumnal nose, with a touch of a caramelized aspect. Direct, juicy, simple apple cider type flavors. Joe - #8 Group - #8

1998 - The nose seemed slightly unclean (grey rot?) and showed some ripe banana smells as well. Similarly unfocused, unclean flavors on the palate. Joe - #10, Group - #9

1996 - This was a stunner. Candied fruits, including some red, as well as ginger and mandarin on the nose. On the palate, the amazingly clean, piercing acidity was the definining characteristic (what is it with 1996 Champagne, Mosel rieslings, and many other classic European whites, and this phenomenal acidity?!) Joe - #2 Group - #2

1995 - Others weren't as into this wine, but I loved it for its integrated acidity, intensity, and mouth-filling richness of flavors. I don't know why but it reminded me of Krug MV. Great stuff. Joe - #5 Group - #7

1994 - While the nose was a bit funky and muted, the palate showed pure fruit, with some red currant. Great acidity and silky texture. If we were going by NFL rules I'd overrule the call and rank this higher. Joe - #7 Group - #6

1993 - Unforunately, there was clearly something off with this bottle. It smelled very woodsy and eucalpytic. Kind of Bengay like. This wine finished last.

1990 - A pretty and cidery nose led to a wonderfully balanced Auslese. Sort of a blend of '95 richness and a bit of the '96 acidity. Finessed, well-defined and pretty. Joe - #6 Group - #4

1983 - Beautiful, 18K golden color. This mature Auslese showed a strong vanilla extract and cookie dough note. Someone else mentioned yellow cake batter. After a bit of time ripe pear and honey showed as well - definitely a botrytis wine. Acidity is present on the palate, but very mellow, and the fruit is similarly subtle and tough to pinpoint - the fruit is there and it is delicious. Joe - #1 Group - #1

After the tasting we had some cheese (Mahon, Roaring 40's blue and Bravo Farms sage cheddar), and Gary broke open a bottle of 1999 Joachim Hager Spatburgunder from the Baden. It was aiight. I don't have much experience with Spatburgunder; the best I've had have been August Kesseler's fancier offerings, but it has been a while since I've had them and they were quite pricey. Auslese (or even Spatlese or ripe Kabinett) and blue cheese, as some of you may already know, is a killer combo.

Mmm, mmm mmm!

It has been quite the week of fine food and drink. I hope that I don't catch a case of the gout....

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Chez Panise and '76 Domaine de Varoilles Charmes-Chambertin


1976 Domaine des Varoilles Charmes-Chambertin is an amazing mature burgundy. Chez Panise is still one of the finest restaurants around. Go there!


Last night I was lucky enough to share an amazing celebratory birthday evening with the lovely Brynna McGee and a few others at Chez Panise. It was something of a first on two accounts: the first time I have been to a restaurant as influential and important as Chez Panise and the first time I have had a perfectly mature, unbelievable red Burgundy. The food, company and wine were all top-notch, and though at the time I was just enjoying the conversation and a great meal, I did not realize the impact and lasting impression the evening will probably have on me.

From the outside, Chez Panise is very much a product of its 1970's Berkeley beginnings. The dark wood building looks like a ski lodge in the Alps. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture also come to mind. Once you enter the restaurant, the more informal cafe is upstairs, and to the right lies the small dining area. I have never been in a restaurant with as relaxed, easy-going and comforting a feel as Chez Panise. Dark wood and a golden amber glow emanating from the distinctive lighting fixtures (there are several different shaped variations, each one framed by a 3 foot square). A beautiful, sprawling floral arrangement and several assorted loaves of bread laid out on a small buffet table greet you as you walk into the dining room area. I wish I could better describe the serenity and beauty of this room, but my limited architectural and design vocabulary are, um...limiting. On to the meal.

We started with a wedge of porcini and roasted onion tart served with rocket salad, paired with a bottle of Francois Chidaine 'Almendra' Montlouis Sur-Loire Brut 1996. The dish was a terrific blend of rich, savory, meaty porcinis and the caramelized flavors of the onion, all on a perfectly crisp pastry (which as Bryna, a baker, pointed out, remained crisp up until the very tip of the slice). The fresh green flavors of the rocket, lightly dressed in olive oil and lemon, was a great foil to the rich savor of the tart. Unfortunately, the Almendra was not the perfect match for this dish. The sparkler, which has been on its lees for 10 years and recently disgorged, proved to be good and dry, a bit too dry to pair well with the tart, which turned out to be sweeter than I had thought it would be. Almendra was still very intriguing and distinctive, in a category all its own. Not my favorite sparkler, but I certainly respect it. Loads of quince and a subtle tropicality on the nose lead to, as I mentioned, a surprisingly dry palate, with some notes of orange zest and a ton of Chenin tuffeau minerality. It tastes like Chenin Blanc, and it tastes like Montlouis Chenin from Chidaine, with bubbles. The perfect pairing for this dish, I think, would have been Chidaine's Montlouis 'Clos Habert' or the Vouvray 'Le Bouchet.' Probably the latter. I really craved a demi-sec to moelleux with this dish.

Next up was tiny, sweet bay scallops in a vegetable broth enhanced by what tasted like fines herbes. A very subtle dish, with the perfectly prepared scallops playing nicely with the very light, herb flavored broth. This dish went slightly better with the Chidaine sparkler, which we were still drinking. The wine seemed to enhance the herbal character of the broth, intensify it slightly. Natalie substituted ricotta gnocchi for the scallops, and they were light, airy and delicious - a bit of an odd combo as they were served in the same broth, but tasty nonetheless. It also proved to be the most compatible dish with our Loire sparkler.

Here is where the meal really got interesting. Our bottle of 1976 Domaine des Varoilles Charmes-Chambertin was opened and poured. What a wine! Its color was a beatiful, well, burgundy. The nose at first was a bit animal, with jamon serrano notes struggling for primacy with tangy mixed berries. Some cocoa powder, roasted coffee, and baking spices emerged as well. Like any great wine, this grand cru burg showed a lot of different flavors on the palate, at times very opposite from each other and unusual to be found together in the same wine. Probably the most vivid thing I remember tasting were notes of cocoa liqueur and dark chocolate. Though the fruit was primarily dark, at one point the wine seemed more high-toned and red fruited. Now that I think about, what was equally memorable about this wine was how mineral it was at times. There is clearly still a fairly long future ahead in this wine - I would say 5 years easy - and it would not surprise me if it were showing well a decade from now.

The Domaine des Varoilles went terrifically with our main course: a grilled rack and loin of Cattail Creek Ranch lamb with braised fennel and potato-tomato gratin. As an aside, my other old burgundy experience of the year, a '71 Jean Grivot village Vosne Romanee, was also served with lamb; mature Cotes de Nuit seems to be tailor-made for lamb. But this lamb was on a whole other level from the simple lamb chops I had grilled. The loin was sliced ultra thin, so it was all the more succulent and delicious, while the chop was a bit gamier and contrasted beautifully with the more refined loin. As for the wine, the Charmes-Chambertin was an entirely different, more complex and profound animal than the village Vosne Romanee from Grivot. No surprises there. What a perfect match - Chez Panise lamb and Charmes Chambertin. I may be eating even more quinoa than usual this month to subsidize, but I would say it's worth it.

After dinner we were served perfectly ripe mission figs, fuyu persimmons and dates grown in Thermal,(sp?) just southeast of LA. Everything was delicious but the standout were the figs - rich, chewy, sweet and truly nature's own caramel. For dessert it was a warm, spiced comice pear served alongside burnt honey ice cream. The pear was perfect: soft and juicy, while retaining its smooth texture and a bit of firmness. The ice cream was also delicious - creamy, dense and just a touch of bitterness from the burnt honey - and went very well with the pear.

I love Chez Panise. Maybe one day I'll move to Berkeley and become a regular. Maybe I could barter wine for a meal. If you have not yet been to the venerable CP, I think you better check it out. I don't gush like this often when it comes to restaurants - you can ask around, I'm a tough critic when it comes to fine dining.

Go to Chez Panise.