Friday, November 30, 2007
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....
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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
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
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
Friday, November 23, 2007
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.
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.
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 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
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
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
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.
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....
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
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
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
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
Thursday, November 8, 2007
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
WARNING! THIS POST IS LONG. THOSE WHO ARE NOT FOOD AND WINE GEEKS MAY GET LOST, BORED, CONFUSED, OR ALL OF THE ABOVE. FOODIES WHO ARE NOT WINOS MAY ALSO GET LOST, BORED, CONFUSED OR A COMINATION OF THE THREE. FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT TO AVOID SUCH RISKS, OR WANT TO MINIMIZE YOUR WASTED TIME READING BLOGS, THE FOLLOWING IS AN ULTRA-CONDENSED VERSION OF TODAY'S POST:
1976 Domaine des Varoilles Charmes-Chambertin is an amazing mature burgundy. Chez Panise is still one of the finest restaurants around. Go there!
HERE IS THE ACTUAL POST
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.
Monday, November 5, 2007
I did this after work today, and it's a good way to change up the routine. Probably want to have some experience lifting though, as otherwise it might be difficult. No need to be a protein drink guzzling 150lb dumbell lifting type, just a few years of weightlifting will do. Here is the workout:
Go to the gym. Approach the pull-up bar. Do 100 pull-ups.
Simple enough, right? What I did was do 12, break for 30-40 sec., then 8, then 7, then another 7. Break for a few minutes, then repeat. By the end you'll only be able to do 1 or 2 at a time, and even those will seem impossibly difficult.
Like many others, I go to the gym for health reasons but mainly to raise my energy level at the end of the day before heading home. I don't like to spend more than 45 minutes there, one hour is my absolute limit. This workout took me 45 minutes. I plan on being very sore for a few days. Thanks to W.B. Schwartz for schooling me on the 100 pull-up workout.
No wine stuff today, but I'm looking forward to a dinner at Chez Panise tonight with an OLD burgundy as well as a Prum Wehlener Sonenuhr Auslese vertical Wednesday night. So there will be lots to talk about in the next few days.
Nothing like a little Fania to get the day going. The pre-show prep is so fun to watch, and then it leads to one of the more amazing moments in 70's music performances: Fania All-Stars in Africa. Form fitting body suits, big hair, amazing interlocking salsa ritmos, some of the most amazing musicians ever performing together on stage...this video has it all! Big shout out to Chet who introduced me to this incredible DVD. We miss you, Celia!
Sunday, November 4, 2007
[Full disclosure: The company for whom I work, K&L Wine Merchants, hosted a large champagne tasting yesterday under a tent outside their Hollywood store. While I will be reviewing some champagnes (I did not get to all of them), I have decided to hold off on reviewing K&L's direct imports (DI's), with the exception of two spectacular standouts. While I love the DI champagnes, which are mainly very small growers of terrific quality wines, I thought it best to avoid the conflict of interest inherent in reviewing a large amount of stuff that my store sells exclusively on the west coast. Sorry for the long, sober disclosure, just trying to sneak in a touch of professionalism on these pages. Now back to the usual irreverent content.]
Oh boy, oh boy, so much champagne and so little time. After becoming acquainted with our sister store in Hollywood, admiring the layout, saying hi to the few LA staff I know, greeting the bigwigs and their children (all roughly in that order), Marla (aka Marley Marl) and I got down to the seriously fun business at hand: attempting to taste nearly 50 champagnes.
As usual, I am not going to list a whole bunch of tasting notes here. Too tedious. Let's just condense into a few categories.
Laurent Perrier 'Grand Siecle Cuvee Alexandra' Brut Rose 1997 - I am not a big LP fan. Further, I will say flat out that I found very little to no pleasure in some of the other offerings from this large house. This rose, though, offered up a delicate copper color, with salmon tints, and a surprisingly true to Pinot Noir flavor. It was simultaneously silky and refined, red fruited and savory. The bead was as lazy and laid-back as a Grateful Dead cover band. Very enjoyable rose, for a price....
Deutz Classic Brut was bright, appley, clean, and the most enjoyable bottle I have had of this competent but unremarkable, red-headed stepchild to Louis Roederer.
1998 Gosset 'Celebris'- Very rich and tropical, with mango notes on the nose. Creamy and soft on the palate, with a fine bead, good intensity of flavors and length on the palate.
2000 Roederer 'Cristal' Brut - OK, I know this is not close to as good as it once was and I'm sacrificing geek cred here (not to mention potentially irking Mr. S. Carter) by reviewing Cristal, but oh well. My tasting note indicated a shy nose, not revealing too much, with an anonymous palate, though not as anonymous as expected. Judging by such brilliantly revealing notes, this must have been towards the end of the event. Nonethelesss, I do remember the wine having good acidity and tasting better than expected. Obviously way over-priced for the quality, but there are many, many wines that are equally (or more) overpriced that I would have a tough time drinking if they were offered to me (pick a cult Napa Cab, certain Bdx, 100 pts shiraz, etc.) I will happily drink Cristal if someone offers it to me.
Tarlant 'Cuvee Louis' - I have had this wine on several occasions in the past few months, and each time it duly impresses. 50-50 chard and PN from Oueilly, aged 13 months in oak and then 7 years on the lees. This is is a blend of '96 and '97, which is probably why I like it so much! A rich, powerful nose of citrus and hazlenuts leads to an equally rich, layered palate, with a hint of red currants sneaking through, excellent acidity, and a perfect balance of brawn and beauty. Mmm, mmm, mmm...for $45 this is one of the best wine values I have ever had. It blows away lots of more expensive champagne, and hangs in with all but the best of tete de cuvees.
1996 Fleury Brut Vintage - From Champagne's first biodynamic producer, the 6% acidity in this wine is something fierce! As it opens up though, the wine begins to tone itself down and show so much complexity. Interestingly, this RD release is 80% PN and 20% Chard, though it's the chard that seems to dominate currently. Meyer lemon and bread dough on the nose lead to a wine of great balance. It's another citrus and hazlenut number, with SERIOUS LENGTH. Five years from now this will be one hell of a drink. In 10+ years it will be phenomenal. My hunch is that this wine is not too far behind '96 Krug and Salon in terms of complexity and ageability. For drinking now, I'd actually prefer this to the Salon as I think that the latter, as brilliant as it is, is tight, tight tight. I need to buy some '96 Fleury and take a cue from Ron Popeil - set it and forget it.
'96 KRUG AND '96 SALON
1996 is the best vintage ever in Champagne. I have had quite a bit of experience with the 1928's over the years, and I can confidently say that 1996 is without a doubt the superior vintage. OK, I joke, I joke.
1996 Krug Vintage Brut - While at first the nose is reticent, it opens up to reveal an ever changing array of aromas. Vinography's aroma wheel couldn't even cover all of these aromas engulfing my olfactories. My first observation upon taking a sip of this amazing nectar was the soft, caressing texture. Rich lemon curd flavors were upfront, leading to bread dough and a touch of Carr's wheat biscuit on the finish, which was predictably long. I was very impressed by how well integrated this Champagne already is in its youth. Surely it's one to age for 1-2 decades plus. But so delicious right now. A special treat, and absolutely worth the cost. As an aside (albeit an important aside), this is the last Krug Champagne prior to LVMH control of the house.
1996 Salon Blanc de Blancs - What a different animal from the powerhouse Krug! 100% Chardonnay from the grand cru village of Mesnil. Impeccably pure, with boundless energy and intense minerality, '96 Salon is the most elegant and exciting expression of Chardonnay I have ever, and possibly will ever taste. One of my colleagues in blog land said he would happily drink this now. I would too, if it weren't on my dime...if it were, I'd be sure to put it away for a decade. It's a real tough one to pick a wine of the vintage between this and the Krug. But if I were forced to answer that question under duress, I'd probably have to go with the Salon just for its dazzling purity and electrifying character.
Thanks to all the staff at K&L in Hollywood for working so hard to make this event a sucess. Special thanks to Kerri and Gary for the red carpet reception! A hearty thanks as well to the hard-working staff for allowing me to slack off and drink champagne, and not giving me a hard time for doing so.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Last night I ate what at times was some of the tastiest, freshest sushi I have ever had in the States. Nevertheless, it was a bit uneven. My friend Barry and I went to one of LA's best sushi spots, run by the former number 2 for what many consider LA's best sushi - Nozawa. Though the fish was incredibly fresh, I must say that other elements of the restaurant detracted seriously from the experience: the first floor cafeteria in an office high rise space, the awkward, rushed service, and most notably the appallingly bad beverage program. I'm not asking for a wine geek list a la Blue Ribbon inSoHo, but at least some variety of quality wines and sakes to complement the quality of the fish would be a start. This list seriously was on the level of a B grade neighborhood sushi joint in Washington, DC, if that gives you any idea of how bad it was. I ordered a Hitachino Nest white ale - which was delicious - but still I'd have ordered bottle of wine or champagne if there were anything good to order.
Given Barry's enthusiasm for the freshness of the fish, we decided to only eat sushi. We started with some yellowtail and compache, the former was incredibly fresh and meaty, the latter thinner, a bit more toothsome and an acquired taste. Afterwards we had the famous red snapper, which was butter soft, tender, and tossed lightly with scallio, chiles, and ponzu, nestled against lightly vinegared, warm rice. Every bit as good as Barry said it would be. Though in my mind two other pieces of sushi gave the red snapper a run for its money. Bonito, aka skipjack, was so fresh and butter-soft, I wondered how long ago it had been caught. Black cod, however, was a bit disappointing. Usually it is another standout, but last night it had been seared with what tasted like a bit of hoisin sauce. Not only was it served piping hot, scalding the roof of my mouth, but much of the subtlety and delicacy of this fish was lost in its preparation. Toro was just ok, and the chilled toro (consisting of cold, minced toro with some scallion) was also so-so. The tamago (egg sushi) was the best I've ever had - slightly sweet as usual, but with an unusual, mushroom like woodsiness and complexity that I have never found in this type of sushi. Another stunner was the sweet shrimp, which was as tender, sweet, and pleasantly sticky as other examples I have had, but also much larger. We finished off with some halibut which, while not a highlight, was very good. The tab was very reasonable considering the quality and freshness of our sushi.
To recap: If you're in LA, you should check out Sasabune, but if you want to drink wine I would bring your own. Definitely order the red snapper, bonito, sweet shrimp and tamago; it is probably worth the risk to order the black cod as well, though it might be worth asking how it is prepared on that evening. Overall, the fish here is second only to what I had at Bar Masa a few years ago. Warning: They close early! Last seating might be by 9pm or so (?) Make a reservation before dining here.
It was only a matter of time before I put some EPMD on Old World Old School. Before Eric Sermon was making hits for everyone and jumping out windows, he was one half of EMPD, one of the greatest hip-hop duos of all time.
From the US to the white cliffs of dover/ strictly underground funk keep the crossover.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
This morning I woke up feeling good - the air was fresh, gray and heavy with moisture, a classic San Francisco morning. Of course I was also on day 2 of my extended four day weekend, packing for a short trip down to LA. As a newcomer to San Francisco and a relatively impartial observer, I can definitely see advantages to both sides of the age old southern California (read: LA) vs northern California (San Francisco) debate. Perhaps to be further explored in another post. For now I would just like to share a few things which made me happy today:
LA ALTENA SERVES FRESH JUICE
I went to my new favorite burrito joint for a breakfast burrito, and discovered that they make fresh squeezed jugo de naranja and jugo de zanahoria. That's house-made carrot juice and OJ! As a fan of the 50-50 orange and anything else, I went for the same here - a perfect blend of sweet orange juice and pulp with the thinner, pulp-free but slightly foaming carrot juice. So yeah, La Alteña makes their own juice. Si no sabias, ya lo sabes....
A TERRIFIC TWO SONG BLOCK ON KISS 98.1FM
In fact, one of the strongest 2 songs played back-to-back I've heard on the radio in a while - which reminds me - look out for a new feature highlighting Bay Area radio in the coming weeks on this site. First tune, the classic 'I'm still waiting,' with its simple, understated, but beautiful leading piano melody and heartfelt harmonies. And then, Hall and Oates followed with a slightly more superficial, but positively funky (well, in a Hall and Oates kinda way) variation on the relationship song - "I can't go for that.' No can do....
WINDMILLS ON I-580
I love windmills. They provide clean energy and are aesthetically pleasing, especially when placed in long rows with other windmills. Riding the bus in Spain, particularly from Sevilla to Madrid, you will see many, many windmills, which must be the reason I enjoy seeing them in the States.
UNIBROUE FIN DE MONDE TRIPLE FERMENTED BEER
It was very hard for me to believe that this is 9% abv. It is full-bodied and rich, but without much of the bitterness, either due to excessive malt or hops, that plagues so many beers these days. Mmm... - real canadian beer.