Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tasty oatmeal recipe

I have always enjoyed a well prepared bowl of oatmeal, especially in the peak of oatmeal eating season (December-March) and recently have concocted a delicious new way of preparing this nutritious breakfast. This will serve 2, or one very hungry person.

Begin by chopping a small handful of almonds, removing the pits from a dozen dried dates, and retrieving your honey of choice. Add 1 c. of your favorite brand of rolled, steel cut, or other type of processed oats (I use what ever they've got in the bulk bin at Rainbow) to a medium saucepan. Add 1 3/4 c water and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, actively stirring so that the oatmeal does not stick. This should take 4-5 minutes. Pour into two separate bowls. In each, add half of your chopped almonds and dates, as well as a drizzle of honey to taste. Pour your choice of whole, 2%, skim or soy milk on top, and stir to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. Finish with a sprinkling of fleur de sel. If you're not into the fancy salts, any other type of edible salt you have on hand should do.

I do love my oatmeal in the morning. As Wilfred used to say, eating oatmeal is 'the right thing to do, and the tasty way to do it.'

Monday, December 29, 2008

These fine folks want you to come out to Joe's Birthday Espectacular at Terroir: Saturday January 10th

Here's the promised birthday bash announcement. Anyone who reads this, who plans on being in or around San Francisco the evening of January 10th and would like to check it out, feel free to do so. We'll get going around 8pm and likely hang out at Guillhaume, Luc and Dagan's bar/shop until they close it up.

Should be one for the ages.

Here is the Terroir website for the uninitiated.

See you there!


Before I get into this list business, I'd like to present something of a preview announcement. I will be celebrating my upcoming 30th birthday at Terroir, and would like to invite any Bay Area readers, or those who find themselves in the Bay Area, to attend. Need to consider a date. Though since my actual birth date is fast approaching, it will probably be within 10 or so days. At least one of the wines on the list below will probably be in attendance as well. It should be fun.

Without further ado, here is a significantly shorter annotated list than last year's of my favorite mature wines of 2008. No ranking order this year. Compared to 2007, I do appear to be drinking less luxuriously, or at least fewer wines of repute and prestige. Maybe it's the times - it does seem as though I am finally learning how to better live within my means. I also seem to be a little better focused on building a cellar, buying younger, less pricey wines from more value oriented regions, as opposed to shelling out more for the occasional splurge of mature bottles from Burgundy, Bordeaux or Germany. There are some similarities to last year's list, though. Lopez de Heredia makes another appearance (as I suspect it will continue to for as long as I do these lists). California, or rather, OLD SCHOOL California, is well represented. Finally, with one exception, each of these wines was enjoyed, contemplated (over an extended period of time, at least two hours, but often times longer) and eventually posted on this website. If you click on any of these wines, it will link to the original post.

1979 Santa Cruz Mountain vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (1.5l)

1981 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva

1984 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet (1.5l)

1985 Philipe Rossignol Haute Cotes de Nuit Villages

1985 Champagne Renee Collard Reserve Millesime

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Carry on, My Wayward Son

I don't know why, but this Kansas song was in my head all afternoon yesterday. It is from the rockin' 1976 vintage, year of my brother's birth as well as that of another tried and true arena rocking band.

Anyone care to guess which band?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Art of unselling KRUG.

I am proud to make a consistent effort dissuading people from buying Krug this year. Why am I doing this? Because like many other champagne fans, I have noticed that the past few times I have tasted it, it in no way resembles the rich, golden, mouth filling elixir I remember from as recently as a few years ago. And at over $130, the wine ought to be mind blowing and memorable, right?

So here's how it works. There are so many superior champagnes we sell for even a third of the cost of Krug. I spot someone with Krug in hand or basket, ask them if they need any help finding anything, and then whether the answer is yes or no, gently suggest if they mind receiving an alternate champagne recommendation, one that I believe to be a superior wine and better value than Krug. Then I find another champagne. Recently it's been Tarlant Cuvee Louis, but most anything we sell is more interesting, tastier bubbly than Krug these days.

Two bottles of Krug un-sold month to date, and counting.

Friday, December 19, 2008

'The Poacher' Series

A few nights ago at Terroir, it was a typically wine trade oriented crowd: a distributor rep, an importer rep, a shop employee (me), a former importer rep. So the conversation was appropriately wine trade oriented. We geeked out, debated the quality of a certain national importer/ personality's champagne book, and then exchanged stories of one Captain Tumor Man.

There was the recent San Francisco trade tasting where, towards the end of the event, a late arriving merchant requested that a new bottle be opened, acted like a jerk, and in a moment surely to be treasured by long suffering salespeople the world over, was summarily told by our hero Captain Tumor Man to go fuck himself.

Then there was the time that Captain Tumor Man attended a competitor's trade tasting, declared most of the wines to be garbage, found the one producer he liked, and promised that he'd poach that producer in short order. Well, that is exactly what happened. You are so nice, Captain Tumor Man.

So I'm enjoying my day off today, sleeping in, eating baked goods, drinking chai and what not, and thinking that I applaud this brand of confidence bordering on cockiness occasionally shown by east coast wine importers. In fact, I'd like to commemorate their efforts by producing a few 'battle tracks.' You know, some seriously gangsta' wine lyrics (rapped by the importers themselves),or at least choice vocal samples, strategic scratching, hard drums. I will call it 'The Poacher' series. After all, if one can insult another's rapping ability, question his masculinity, or claim to have engaged in sexual intercourse with his girl, why not adjust the insults to the wine world: your palate sucks, you pal around with losers, I'll steal your producer. That's what I'm talking about.
'The Poacher,' vol. 1, coming your way some time in the '09.

UPDATE: While it's always fun to hear dramatic tales of the exciting and competitive wine trade, one needs to remember that often times they are not true. Such is the case in the suggested poaching incident above (see the thread of comments below). I would like to apologize to our hero for any misrepresentation of his hard work gaining the trust of many excellent winemakers and succesfully marketing their wines in the States.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Welcome to The Holidays

You may have noticed that the weekly posting rate has declined of late, as has the average posting length and overall quality here. Sorry. It's the busy season, which means that I am eating too much junk food, not enough vegetables and drinking a bit more than usual. At work, we are fortunate to be very busy, people are in a hurry, orders are mispicked, everyone's patience is running a bit thin. All of which feeds the unhealthy eating habits above; it's a vicious cycle. So excuse me if things are slipping a little here. After Christmas things should be back to normal.

To relax from the overall craziness that is retail during the holidays, I went to Terroir last night. Rolled in dolo (I think that's mid 90's QB slang for solo). I very much enjoyed an '07 Pinon Vouvray, the 'silex noir' bottling. So juicy and balanced. Terrific stuff. Then moved on to a '98 Wittman riesling spatlese from the Rheinhessen. Definitely into tertiary land now, some citrus and that brown sugared note I get in Rheinhessen and Pfalz rieslings. After that, a '94 Hauth Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese I brought in from work, which showed bigger, broader flavors with a deeper swath of acidity. Developed, but still developing. Finally a bottle of '95 Reinhold Hart Piesporter Goldtrofchen Riesling Spatlese, generously brought in by another guest. It was more primary than I expected. Golden colored and flavored. Appley, deep and just very vibrant and delicious. Apparently low sulphur too. Good bring, Michael.

OK, off to the bike to the Caltrain to the Camino to the shop, and then back again this evening. Have a good day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Return of The Doobies, this time with the crew from...WHAT'S HAPPENING!

I apologize to those of you to whom the thought of listening to any Michael McDonald is somewhat repulsive - but this one was too good to pass up. Doobies, Re-run, Rog, Dee, Shirley. Are you kidding me? If you follow the clip after the Doobies' performance, you will see that the plot thickens.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Tale of two LVMH champagnes

Recently tasted some champagnes, mainly grower ones, though there were a few products sold by big bad Luis Vuitton Moet Henessy. I thought it might be fun to write brief notes on two of these, as each portrays a telling snap shot of a company's reputation (LVMH in the first instance, Veuve Clicquot in the second) at a particular point in time.

Ruinart is marketed, from my understanding as a step up in quality from your basic NV champagne. At least the $59.99 price tag on the Ruinart Blanc des Blancs I tasted would suggest this. What an awful wine. There is no shortage of much less expensive sparkling wines, both bottle and tank fermented, that I would rather drink than this. Don't believe anyone who says that even lesser champagne is, after all, still champagne, and therefore worth the price. This was very reductive, with the tell-tale sulphurous nose lacking any aroma of fruits or anything other than sulphur. Sweet on the palate. And thin. Coarse. Billed as 12g/l dosage but it has to be more. No purity, nor grace, nor any flavors that I would ever want to re-visit. Shite.

On to another LVMH brand - the incredibly successful Veuve Clicquot. Now I am simultaneously as impressed and confounded by the orange driven power of the aggressively marketed and branded Veuve Cliquot as any other wine professional. Nonetheless, it is worth pointing out that Veuve Clicquot wines, the vintages and La Grande Dame in particular, used to be quite good! At least that is what I have heard - I have not been a drinker long enough to have experienced this first hand. So I truly was looking forward to tasting the 1988 Veuve Clicquot Rare Vintage (recently disgorged) champagne. It lived up to the promise of Clicquot's former reputation, and the reliability of the 1988 vintage in champagne (thought by some to be superior to the other great vintage of the '80s, 1985). Very complex on the nose, a bit sherried as one would expect, but in a good way. Deep, broad flavors on the palate, with recently browned apples and nuts. Amazingly silken texture, a gentle, lazy bead and simply terrific length and acidity. First class all the way, and for less than the price of a bottle of the recently mediocre Krug Grand Cuvee bottling, this one is absolutely worth it.

Funny how things change. And how a little (ok, a little more than a little) ambition to grow your business can detract from what made your business great in the first place.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The State of the economy/'05 California Cab Buying Guide

I recently celebrated a terrific November, highlighted by the loss of over 500,000 US jobs and the begging of our ever insightful, cutting edge US auto companies for more money to waste on developing and marketing shitty products, by tasting some top dollar, top ranking California cabernet! Mmm, delicious. Why figure out what you like on your own, when Tanzer, Parker, The Wine Spectator and Old World Old School can do all the work for you?

2005 Beaulieu Vineyards Georges de Latour Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - $89.95
At first tasting this was actually not too bad, but then coming back to it the wine showed a bit band-aidy. 81 OWOS

2005 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa - $89.99
96 WA and 94 IWC! Sweet! I meant that literally, this stuff is sweet. 74 OWOS

2005 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa - $109
95 WS and #9 in the 2006 Top 100!! My third favorite wine in this formidable line-up, it was perfectly well made and exemplary in its anonymous cabby character. 84 OWOS

2005 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon Napa - $129
96 WA, 93 IWC, 91 OWOS. That dark cab fruit did not prevent fragrant, inner mouth floral notes to emerge on the mid palate. The only elegant wine in this line-up, which is why I sort of agree with my esteemed colleagues here.

2005 Opus One Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - $159.99
Only 92 IWC and 90 WS. Save your $50 and get the 95pt WS Mondavi Napa reserve!

2005 Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - $179
93-96 WA, 93 IWC, 92 WS, 74-77 OWOS. C'mon now Joe, that all you got?

2005 Ridge Montebello Santa Cruz Mountains - $139.99
95 IWC. 93 OWOS. Love that higher acidity, blue/dark fruit, 13.5% alcohol. And that American oak! Ridge, as usual, keeps it real.

2005 Groth Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - $145
94 WS. 70 OWOS. Soft, juicy, sweet, oaky. What grape is this again?

2005 Caymus Special Select Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - $149
94 WS, 92-94 WA, 60-62 OWOS. Takes the cake for the most juggy tasting of this lineup.

2005 Dominus Napa Red - $119
96 WA, 94 IWC, 78 OWOS. Unfortunately, this was the last wine I tasted and my taste buds had already suffered considerably. Not so much so for me to realize that this juice ain't that good, though.

Hope that this is helpful to everyone out there. Support our auto companies, support our local wine industry. They really are trying awfully hard.

Friday, December 5, 2008

REAL HIP-HOP RADIO: Commercial Free 98.7 Kiss FM

Big shout out to anyone who grew up listening to 98.7 Kiss FM with the likes of DJ Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, and Latin Rascals. I'm not one of those people, so I'm just catching up on some required listening.

Set it off I suggest, ya'll.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Laurel Glen Vertical

Today I was fortunate to have the opportunity to taste a large vertical of cabernets from Laurel Glen. Sixteen different vintages from 1982-2003. Proprietor and winemaker Patrick Campbell is undoubtedly one of the early pioneers of mountain viticulture in California, and at Laurel Glen he has consistently crafted some of the finest, most long lived bottlings of California cabernet sauvignon.

According to the Laurel Glen website:

"Vineyards are sustainably farmed and winemaking is traditional and non-interventionist. All Laurel Glen wines reflect their vineyard origins, and are consciously made to favor depth and complexity over fruit-forward expression."

Before moving on to the tasting notes, I thought I'd pick a few of my favorites, and reach a couple of conclusions about the wines, for those of you who, like me, would prefer not to read successive TN's without much else.

Favorites (in this order): 1984 (mag); 1988; 1987; 1995

1.) The wines up until the 1995 vintage were all 12.5% alcohol. Lots of fruit intensity, in some case tannins, and still - just 12.5% abv
2.) The '99 and '00 were 13.5% alcohol. While they are well made, they are not necessarily more intense or concentrated than the wines above. More extracted, yes.
3.) The '01, '02 and '03 were all 14.5% alcohol. Yes, bigger wines and a bit high in alcohol for some people. But with the exception of the '02, these are wines that have the proper balance of acidity, fruit and tannin to age gracefully for 15+ years.

And why not throw in a question while I'm at it:
How has Patrick Campbell's harvesting decisions and winemaking style changed over the past three decades? I've got my own guesses, but it would be great to hear it from the man himself. Stay tuned.

And for the complete blog reader, some tasting notes.

1982 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Lots of meat on the nose, with some barnyard funk as well. Mature cherry fruit and grilled bread on the palate, which was showed reasonably classy if fully mature. An auspicious beginning…

1983 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet (1.5l)
Corked. Tough to give notes based on a compromised bottle, but still it did seem considerably more dilute and lacking in character when compared with the ’82.

1984 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet (1.5l)

A complete wine and my favorite of the line-up. The full package, replete with concentrated dark fruit, meaty savor, and iron minerality.

1986 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Interesting red fruit confit nose, with a touch of ripe tomato well. Possibly the highest acidity of the bunch, but also a bit tannic on the finish. Not as expressive or expansive on the palate as I would have liked.

1987 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Big, bold black fruited nose, with the barest hint of green vegetal notes. A big wine on the palate, lots of savor and even some chewy tannins after 20 years. Good wine.

1988 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
This led off with a distinctive, more exotic nose. Spice rack aromas set the ’88 apart from the more typical, straight ahead dark fruited nose of the other wines. Very tasty, savory dark cherry fruit with good acidity. Gutsy and stylish, one of the better wines here to be sure.

1989 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Whoa – brettanomyces. Not sure if it’s a bottle by bottle issue here or if Patrick Campbell had some real brett issues in ’89. Still drinkable, but lacking the fruit and nuances of the best of the others.

1991 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
This one seemed a bit corky on the nose, later confirmed by a few other co-workers. Not a consensus corked bottle, but a few people seemed fairly certain that this was corked. Nonetheless, the palate was rich and complete, with a sweet mouth filling dark fruit.

1992 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Intense dark fruit and black pepper aromas preceded a very rich palate - more juicy dark fruit, balanced acidity and savory flavors. Also some assertive tannins, showing a bit tough on the finish. Very tasty though.

1994 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Big dark fruit and more noticeable oak on the nose. This is by far the biggest wine up until this point, and perhaps a year representing something of a stylistic change?

1995 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
A more perfumed and better balanced version of the '94 above. Loads of blackberry and cola on the nose, with, once again, that hint of greenness sneaking in there. Beautiful balance of dark fruit and savory flavors on this one.

1999 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
A real softie, this one. Soft, juicy texture. Low acidity. Tasty enough for some palates but really lacking in complexity when compared with most of the lineup.

2000 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Dark currants on the nose, with a grippy, brambly blackberry quality to the palate. Still a bit tannic on the finish.

2001 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Built for the long haul. I tasted this wine twice - once in the beginning and a second time after I had gone through much of the lineup. Earlier on this showed terrific sweet dark fruits balanced with a real savory quality. After tasting a bunch of more mature mountain cab, though, the savor took a back seat to young, primary fruit and serious tannin structure. Maybe it was the tannin buildup on my palate? Either way, I enjoyed this wine each time and it has a long life ahead of it.

2002 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
Similar to the '99. Less aromatically complex, rounder and sweeter on the palate, with lower acid. Comparatively simple when judged against these other beauties.

2003 Laurel Glen Estate Cabernet
A return to the more familiar, higher tannin and acidity, gutsy style. Deep currant, blackberry and cola aromas. Good acidity balanced with dark fruit and a touch of graphite. Classic mountain cab.

It was a real pleasure (and quite the education) to taste through such an extensive vertical from one of California's longest running and highest quality wineries. Thanks to Arya Campbell for her time and expertise, as well as to her father Patrick Campbell, for, well, for making the wines and offering to taste out such a broad collection of vintages.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Seeing MILK at the Castro

Sunday afternoon my family and I went to see Gus van Sant's biopic on Harvey Milk the only way it should be seen if you are a San Francisco resident: at The Castro theater. It's a 1500 person theater and, from what I hear, each of the three screenings (1, 4 and 7pm) were sold out. It was yet another terrific example of how San Francisco supports the movies like few other cities, as well as a fitting tribute to Harvey Milk's work and legacy, though with the recent PROP 8 result there is still lots of work to be done here in the supposedly liberal bastion of California.

Tasteful, understated, well acted, and deeply moving. That's how I'd describe the film. There were very few dry eyes in that crowd. I did not grow up in San Francisco during the tumultuous 1970s, nor am I gay, but seeing the movie in a roomful of folks, many of whom could lay claim to one of those two facts, made an immediate and lasting emotional impact on me. That, I suppose, is the power of a good story, the power of cinema, and the power of the larger than life persona of Harvey Milk.

Go see MILK.

Oh, and for all the California residents out there...NO ON H8! Let's all do everything we can to make it a short lived piece of ultra right propaganda/propositioning.

Back to the regular program next time....

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving recap

We pulled it off. 14 people, a first time heritage turkey cooking experience, Spanish vs French wines. Somehow it all worked. We started with 2004 Francois Pinon Vouvray Brut (1.5l), progressed to some whites, worked our way through cru beaujolais and Rioja, and finished with a 1990 Gordon & McPhail Glen Grant bottling. Some things I learned:

- Truffled may not be the only way to do Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, but it's surely the only way I plan on doing it in the future. Here's a recipe for 15 (with some leftover): peel, cut and boil 8 lb of russets for 20 minutes, drain, mash with a pint of half-and-half, a stick of butter, 2 tbsp white truffle oil, salt, pepper. Transfer into a baking dish, grate some parmeggiano on top, throw under the broiler to make a crust, take out of oven and douse with more truffle oil. A crowd pleaser, and incredibly easy.

- Thanksgiving is a white wine affair. The right cru beaujolais may do the trick, but not as well as the right whites.

- Spanish wines can work great. True, I'm a fan and write them up fairly often here, but the right Spanish wines work every bit as well as anything else for Thanksgiving. In fact, the '07 Carballal Sete Cepas Rias Baixas, with its terrific phenolic ripeness, moderate alcohol and bright acidity, was the best wine with dinner. Rich enough for the meatier than usual heritage bird, very receptive to the earthy savor of mushroom stuffing, and somehow equipped to even handle the sweet-tangy cranberry sauce. As far as reds, I wish I had had another bottle of 1999 Campillo Rioja Reserva. Why drink CA pinot (or moderately priced Burgundy, for that matter) when you could have this? It's a perfect compromise between softer, plumper new world fruit, and more old world acidity, terroir and savor. Perfectly balanced, traditionally styled Rioja with a bit of bottle age.

- Just about everyone loves the Beach Boys. As is usually the case, Dad was happy to be the itunes DJ, striking a chord with our Swiss guests when he played California Girls ("Udo, that's what was playing when we first met in Paris in 1968!") A few of us then reminisced about the video for the version of this tune which my generation perhaps knows a bit better:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving with friends, frenchies and family.

What foods should you prepare, and which wines should you serve when hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for fourteen people? I'd normally say that, as host, you serve whatever you damn well please, so long as you enjoy what's being served. However, when there are serious Thanksgiving traditionalists (one of whom is your mom), a vegetarian, and a French family experiencing their first Thanksgiving who will all be attending, the meal planning and wine selection perhaps require a bit more thought. I am proud to be serving the following menu along with some French and Spanish wines which should (hopefully) accompany the food well.

Crudite and assorted other hors devours (2004 Francois Pinon Vouvray Brut 1.5l, 2006 Rhedon Marin Domaine des Niales Macon Villages)


Frisee salad with roasted fennel, clementines and shaved parmeggiano reggiano
Roasted Heritage Turkey
Cranberry sauce
Mushroom stuffing
Truffled mashed potatoes
Sauteed green beans
Roasted Sweet potatoes


2007 Grange Tiphaine 'Bel Air Sec' Touraine Amboise
2007 Carballal 'Sete Cepas' Albariño
2005 August Kesseler Riesling Kabinett

2007 Señorio de Peciña Rioja Joven
1999 Bodegas Campillo Rioja Reserva
2006 Georges Descombes Brouilly
2006 Jean Tardy Bourgogne Passetoutgrain


Pumpkin pie
Pecan pie
Ice cream

If people want dessert wine, I have some leftover Grange Tiphaine l'equilibriste from last year.

Well, it's off to Wednesday before Thanksgiving wine shop insanity followed by prepping and last minute house cleaning.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Leave the '81 Cote aux Enfants, take the fried chicken and vitovska

Last night my girlfriend and I, along with SF by way of Nîmes natty wine supporter/ California wine troublestarter Guilhaume Gerard and his lovely wife Claire, were treated to a delicious dinner hosted by our friends Josh and Catherine. A diverse group representing Baltimore, Philly, San Francisco, Sacramento, Southeast and Northeast France, we ate and drank quite nicely for a bunch of twenty somethings making a living selling wine, art and fancy desserts in a seriously downward trending economy. Food highlights included an amazing cream of celery root and parsnips soup, topped with a fried sliced fingerling potato and a drizzle of truffle oil - so simple and delicious. The 'fried chicken salad,' as coined by Josh, was a terrific mix of baby spinach, perfectly fried strips of chicken, crumbled blue cheese, lardons, sliced apple and persimmons.

As for wine, my favorite was an '03 Vodopivec Vitovska. Truly interesting, long maceration on skins Friuli-Slovenian type wine. It was so complex and continued to evolve until the last sip. Fresh stone fruit aromas, pronounced truffle, then some marzipan, a suggestion of acacia honey. Flavors on the palate were orchard fresh and unbelievably fleshy. Nectarines. You can really sink your teeth into this wine, it's so fleshy, but combine this with terrific acidity and vivid fruit, and you get a completely satisfying drinking experience, natural wine style. It was also cool in that this is, from the flavors anyway, much less oxidative style winemaking than Radikon or Gravner. I would guess a shorter maceration on the skins as well. This wine and the aforementioned soup - phenomenal.

On the other end of the spectrum, a bottle of 1981 Bollinger Cote aux Enfants, which I had happened across at work and purchased, with discount, for a modest $40, did not show too well. Very simple mature pinot noir flavors, a lack of acidity, and aromas which Guilhaume compared to wood floor cleaner just didn't make the cut. Guess that this rare bottling of pinot noir from Ay should be enjoyed in its first 10-15 years of life. In fact, a bottle of 1981 central coast pinot noir I drank last year absolutely would have killed this much fancier much higher pedigreed, northerly champagne in a head-to-head tasting.

In between the Bolli at the qualitative low end and Vitovska at the high end, there was some '06 Verget Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons (reductive and then gradually better, if a bit lacking in excitement), '98 Fonsalette CDR reserve (primary, chewy grenache, ok, but fruity and not a whole lot else, what do you expect - it's grenache) and an '07 Domaine de Reuilly rose of pinot gris (which was its usual, understated, subtle, elegant self).

Considerably less eclectic and fancy wines will feature for turkey day, which I'll hopefully get around to posting tomorrow prior to the flurry of prep which feeding 14 people in a small, minimally equipped kitchen entails.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Joe likes Bordeaux...Joe hates bordeaux!

I taste a whole lot of Bordeaux every month. Yesterday we tasted through a line-up of mainly Haut Medoc, with some St Emilion/Pomerol satellites and a few commune wines thrown in. The results were, umm...predictable. Some perfectly sound, technically well made wines, many boring wines, a few plain bad wines. There were some fruit forward $20 Bdx values, if that's your thing, an '05 Reserve de la Comtesse, which was textbook Pauillac with the black currant, lead pencil and in full effect (though is $50ish dollars for a well-made but otherwise fairly ho-hum 2nd label worth it?). Then there were the three wines from the Barton family: 2000 Langoa Barton, 1997 Langoa Barton, and 1994 Leoville Barton. As I anticipated, the Langoa Bartons showed much more nuanced, more interesting flavors, for a whole lot less money. The '97 in particular was great - all of that famed Bordeaux elegance which you read about in wine textbooks was on full display: cherries, roasted meaty savor, terrific velvety texture. While the '00 was good, it come with a 2000 bdx price tag, and is still showing a good bit more primary. The '97 is definitely the way to go for drinking now. And the '94 Leoville Barton? At first sniff, it was the most ripe, manipulated, simple, new worldy classified growth I have ever had the displeasure of tasting. As it opened up things got slightly more interesting, but there was still something really unagreeable and metallic on the finish. Just weird, heavily manipulated wine.

Further proof that the more ambitious the wine in Bordeaux (1st growths excepted?), the higher the pricing, the more often a chateaux increases its pricing, the worse wine you'll get. Hmmm, sound familiar? Do you see any correlation to other cab growing areas in the world?

Is it just me, or does it seem like Napa initially took the best of Bordeaux to inspire their winemaking, and Bordeaux has since taken the worst of Napa to inspire theirs?

Sort of reminds me of the relationship between hip-hop and reggae. I mean, would you rather listen to the Treacherous Three, or to Sean Paul?

Here's my vote.

UPDATE 11/23 - Speaking of poor quality, overrated red bordeaux wine, a bottle of 1990 Cos d'Estournel was opened in the store yesterday. Decanted for what I believe was an hour. Verdict? The wine was dead. Lifeless. Not closed, nor dumb, just not good. I'm not just being hard on Cos because I have disliked anything I've tried from them in the past. In fact, I really wanted to like this bottle, but did not enjoy it one bit. 1990 was a terrific year in Bordeaux, and at this point many of these wines should be showing pretty well. What's the problem here?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Finally, sangiovese that I like. A first time experience with Montevertine

I have heard tell that as it relates to really good, genuine, true school, real producers based in Chianti, there is now only one name: Montevertine. Granted, now that I think about it these words might have first registered while reading Reflections of a Wine Merchant by Neal Rosenthal, the gentleman who imports Montevertine. So yes, he may be necessarily biased, but the fact remains that I have not been as excited about any other wine from Chianti in a long, long time.

What I first noticed about the 2006 Montevertine IGT Toscano Pian del Ciampolo was the beautiful, translucent ruby color. It reminded me of a Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a young poulsard, or any other similarly bright colored, lighter vibrant style of wine. After nosing the wine, my hopes were confirmed: this would be young sangiovese the way I like it. Floral (really floral), red fruited, refreshing, slightly earthy, crunchy. None of the astringent, puckery tannins or lack of freshness that most of the sangiovese based wines I taste often show. Interestingly enough, I preferred drinking this wine on its own, as opposed to with my pasta dinner (wine without food, a decidedly un-Italian notion, I know). It probably had something to do with the tomato sauce, which always makes for tricky wine and food compatibility. That wine though! What a terrific bottle. I think I paid about $25 for it. Some specs on the wine: 90% sangioveto, 5% canaiolo, 5% colorino. Alcoholic and malolactic fermentations are in cement vats, followed by 18 months in used slavonian oak barrels. Hand harvested, gravity flow winery, non filtered, etc, etc. Git some!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Old Rioja, Old School

A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers paged me overhead. I picked up the phone, returned the call, and was told, “Joe, we’ve got some wines to taste. Trust me, it’ll be worth your time.” Having tasted plenty of super slick, same old, cookie cutter, oaky -fruity wines with this particular co-worker, I am confident that he has a pretty good sense of my palate and what I like. So on this particular day, we were to taste older vintages of Rioja and even a few middle age Ribera del Dueros. Nothing too fancy, no big names, but that in and of itself was exciting. After all, as many Spanish wines are now exported to the US, most of these are made with the US consumer in mind, and in fact many of the most popular are essentially wines sold exclusively outside of Spain. So whenever I have the opportunity to taste something of the old guard, or a winery’s library wines which were made in the older style (lighter in mouth, higher in acidity, subtler and more layered in its flavors), I jump.

It’s also always exciting to discover traditional Rioja which is not made by La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia, or one of the much larger, more venerable bodegas.

Don’t know too much about these bodegas, but here are some tasting notes.

1982 Suso Rioja Gran Reserva

Tobacco and sweet red cherries on the nose. A touch of marzipan as well. Nice, ripe, red fruit, with a bloody iron element as well. Fully mature. Not bad.

1985 Izadi Gran Reserva

OK, so all of these are not no names. Izadi is a well regarded bodega in Rioja, nowadays leaning new school, but still making wines that sometimes show decent balance and deep, intense, pure fruit. This particular bottle, from the excellent ’85 vintage, shows truffle, sweet cocoa powder and braised brisket on the nose. Lots of bass tones on the palate, darker fruits that really build up and expand on the palate. More cocoa. Very tasty mature Rioja here.

1991 Señorio de Ulia Rioja Gran Rerserva

My co-worker thought this a bit tired, but I heartily disagree. Very savory, spicy and meaty aromas led to a similarly savory, spicy and meaty palate. Good acidity and terrific balance.

1995 Señorio de Ulia Reserva

Another winner from this bodega. Similar sense of balance, spicy savor, and strong acid backbone. Persistent as well.

1999 Abadia de San Quince Ribera del Duero Crianza
Shy dark fruit on the nose, but a lot more interesting on the palate. Black currants, minerals, very tasty. I’m a firm believer that1999 is an underrated vintage in Rioja, could it be the same in Ribera as well?

1999 Penalosa Ribera del Duero Crianza

Not as tasty as the wine above. More baked, not so fresh, even a touch lactic, aromas. Clearly dying on the palate.

It's always an education tasting more mature vintages. Old wines, bring 'em on, that's what I say....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cheap Charles Ellner and a little Thelonious

As I sit at my desk and recover from a dude's night out to the Leatherneck steakhouse and karaoke, a night which began with Old Overholt rye whisky, ended with corona, and had some awful private label cabernet, decent new york strip steak, creamed spinach, iceberg salad with bleu cheese crumble and irish coffee in between, I am thinking that a blog update is in order. Don't worry, I'm fine. Not 100%, but well enough to write about champagne.

Recently David D commented inquiring on a bottle of closeout champagne we had lying around from a recent cellar acquisition. It was champagne for $5.99 so I bought it. Ellner is a larger vineyard owner and negociant-manipulant (NM), owning 54 hectares of vineyards from the Aube in the south to the Montagne de Reims in the north, which supply 70% of the juice for their champagnes. This bottling, the Carte d'or, consists of 75% chard and 25% pinot noir. The PN dominated the aromas and flavors of the champagne, with lots of red fruit and buttermilk biscuity notes. After some time opening up, marzipan notes emerged on the nose as well. I'd be curious as to what vintages were included on this bottle and when it was disgorged, but since it was not Tarlant I could not find this information on the back label. I would guess '01 and '02 formed the basis of the blend, given the texture, decent acidity and depth of flavor. As for the disgorgement, maybe sometime in '05? All that is secondary to most folks out there, what really matters is that the champagne, while somewhat simple and direct, is certainly better than most grand marques' basic NV efforts. Not quite as interesting as many grower champagnes, but still a decent deal if it were to cost around $35 (no idea on pricing, I've yet to see this brand in the market).

Here's some Sunday Thelonious from 'Straight no Chaser.' Just like my Old Overholt, straight no chaser. This one's much more complex though, and probably more enjoyable for many of you out there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Champagnes tasted and enjoyed recently

Most of these (with the exception of the Drappier, tasted at Terroir) are champagnes I sell at work. So I'm selling my own hooch here, but it's been a while since I've pitched the K&L wares. Sorry if you're not on the west coast and can't find many of these. If you're on the east coast, it probably only makes sense to ship if you mix a case, in which case it would be roughly $4 per bottle to ship via Fedex 3day.

Drappier Zero Dosage NV -

A really impressive blanc de noir here. Classy, pure cherry fruit with a fine structure, indeed. Intense, elegant, crystalline structured, and long finishing, this is one of the most enjoyable non-vintage champagnes I have drunk in the past few years.

De Meric Grand Reserve Sous Bois NV - $34.99

80% pinot noir from Ay, Mareuil-Sur-Ay and Mutigny, 15% chardonnay from Cramant, Avize and Oger and 5% meunier from Cumieres. It is vinified half in old oak barrels and half in stainless steel tanks. Clean berry fruits and a bit of challah bread dough on the nose lead to a very fruit driven palate. Very Pinot Noir. Length, purity and acidity are all nicely balanced.

Marguet Rose NV - $34.99

Light coppery pink color. Composed of 70% chardonnay and 30% pinot noir. Marguet is a small negoc house based in Ambonnay. The quality of Benoit Marguet's pinot noir really show here; there is a real Burgundian pinot noir savor to this champagne. It's red berry fruited, but also brawny and masculine - not a simply fruity, cheerful rose champagne. I quite like it and plan on buying some soon.

Louise Brison 'Cuvee Tendresse' Blanc des Blancs' 2001 - $59.99 on pre-arrival

A rather obscure producer working in the Aube (where Fleury is also based) who farms organically , this is one of several delicous champagnes I have tasted from Mr. Broulez. 100% chardonnay, matured in oak for a short time (5 months), without malolactic fermentation. Substantial, with nicely advanced, savory notes balanced by excellent acidity. Distinctive. Drinking great right now.

Louise Brison Cuvee Germain 2001 (1.5l)- $79.99 on pre-arrival

50% chard, 50% pinot noir. Creamy on the palate, with orange blossom notes and an unusual density. Also, a very nice decomposed marine organism (ok, I guess you could say 'chalk') minerality is underlying beneath all of the fruit. It tastes sort of pinot blanc-like, with bubbles.

Louise Brison Brut 2002 - $39.99

There is a similar richness, roundness and persistence here, though with more pronounced acidity. Tasted a second time, the acidity really jumped out even more so, in a good way. I like this quite a bit, it will probably be my house champagne for when the occasion calls for a good quality bubbly.

Leclerc Briant 'La Ravinne' NV - $41.99

Pascal Leclerc only makes single vineyard champagnes: the chalky 'les crayeres,' juicy, mineral and easy to drink 'Les chevres preuses,' the blanc des blancs 'la croisette,' an amazingly (and almost illegally) dark rose champagne named 'cuvee rubis' and this, his single vineyard pinot meunier. It might be my favorite of his wines which I have tasted. La Ravinne has a spicy nose, with a palate of pithy red grapefruit, showing great intensity and a refreshing bitter snap to the finish. Modern meunier here, but of a flavor profile I have not yet encountered with the grape.

Leclerc Briant Cuvee Divine 2001 - $39.99

This is composed of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, blended from estate vineyards in the valley of the Marne villages Dizy, Cumieres, Damery and Hautvillers. I have tasted one older vintage of this wine ('89, I believe) and, while it aged well, I prefer this young wine from a much less heralded vintage. Very chablis like chalky minerality.

More champagne and other sparkling wine notes to come....

Monday, November 10, 2008

Natural wines, steel frame bikes, vinyl LP's


A coupla' bistro French reds and Peruvian chicken

You know, I noticed that hardly anyone is blogging about cool, vin naturel on their wine blogs (I mean seriously, get off the Napa cabs and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, wine bloggers). So, given the dearth of information on these hopelessly unfashionable, humble vin naturel, I thought I'd write up a few which a young upstart in the busniness named Joe Dressner imports. These are wines which I really enjoyed before and during dinner last night.

2007 Les vin contes Olivier Lemasson 'P'tit Rouquin' Gamay Touraine

French for 'carrot topped kid,' the p'tit rouqin is sourced from hand harvested gamay grown in clay and flint soils by several growers who farm organically within a 40 km radius in Touraine. Classical gamay vin naturel treatment here: no pigeage, carbonic maceration, only 2g/hectoliter sulphur added at bottling. And how does it taste? Delicious. Red cherries and goji berries on the noise, with a touch of earth, lead to a snappy red fruited and hibiscus inflected palate. There is a delicious minerality as well, one that at times stands out more than the understated fruit. This is definitely a mid to back palate and sides of the tongue wine. A chiseled, finishing wine. Streamlined, no baby fat, just perfect. Especially with roasted chicken and yuca (if you're in SF and have not yet done so, try Limon's on Van Ness btw 21st and 22nd). The Ptit Rouquin even held up to the spicy flavors of the various dipping sauces and a tangy cole slaw I made.

2006 Domaine de la Pepiere 'La Pepie' Cabernet Franc (1.5l)

This (and now that I mention it the wine above as well) were both opened the day before for a Loire tasting at the store. It's tasting much better than we first received the wine in a little over a year ago. Dark cherry fruit, showing a much more expansive and fleshed out mid-palate than when I had last tasted the wine. Some pretty cab franc floral notes towards the finish made it even tastier. Good, but not quite gamay good, with the chicken and yuca.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Reggae community rallies 'round Barack Obama

Fun little video from Cocoa Tea here. A no frills, two chord bubblin', fairly low budget production, but enjoyable all the same. Shout out to Cam who first emailed me this link.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Illadelph Blogger meet-up with the great David McDuff

Wine blogging. It may seem easy. You know, drink, form an impression, get up on your soap box and post something. Repeat. Well, blogging regularly - say 3 times a week as a minimum - actually is a real commitment. I read various wine blogs, but few of them ever keep me coming back as regularly as Mcduff's Food and Wine Trail. The combination of McDuff's crisp, professional writing, his thorough profiles of producers, region's and wines, and display of authority without coming across as arrogant or snobbish makes for what might be my favorite wine blog out there, or at least top 3. As David mentioned in his re-cap of our lunch together last week, we also have a good bit in common: we have spent significant time living in the Washington, DC area, we are both University of Maryland alums, we enjoy listening to an eclectic mix of music, particularly anything in a post-punk vein.

On my way home from New York City last week, I stopped in Philly and was picked up by Mr. McDuff at the train station. We then headed to one of the city's many BYO's for some lunch and wine which David brought with him. As some of you may know, the distribution and sale of wine in Pennsylvania is controlled by the state, which leads to a generally poor selection of wines which often times cost a lot more than they should. So a few upshots are that BYO restaurants are popular, and serious wine drinkers in Pennsylvania shop in New Jersey or Delaware - David, though he lives in the Philly metro area, actually works at a store in Wilmington, Delaware named Moore Brothers.

OK, on to the lunch and wine. We went to a Thai restaurant named Nan, which had a typical menu including pad thai, salmon with red curry (which I had and quite enjoyed), smoked duck (which David ordered, also very tasty) and one seriously out of place lunch entree of spaghetti with ricotta and broccoli. Hmmm...we started with a 2002 Ratzenberger Riesling Steeger St Jost Spatlese Trocken from the Mittelrhein. At first it showed the intense apricot kernel flavor and broad fruit which I generally associate with the Rheingau, but then the smoky blue slate minerality kicked in and grew increasingly present in the wine. Apparently the steeply sloping vineyard has provides some of the fruit for a Grosses Gewaches wine which Ratzinger also makes. It was a bit on the dry and strict side for a great pairing with most Thai dishes (especiall the curries), though it did go really well with some grilled squid salad. The second bottle David opened was a delicious 2004 Aldo Vajra 'Costa e Fossati' Dolcetto d'alba. It showed the cut and fine balance of '04 in Piedmont, with a real traditional structure. Very dry blackberry fruits, with some earthiness, cut white flowers and a real elegant, lighter weight (for Dolcetto) palate. The finishing tannins were really fine, like a cat's tongue - that sort of sensation on the palate. None of those coarse, puckery, wood tannins which marr many other Piedmontese wines these days - no surprise as this is a traditional winery (longer fermentation in large slavonian oak) and I do tend to prefer traditional wines. It was the best Dolcetto I have ever tasted, and just out of curiosity a few days later I saw an '05 Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto d'Alba in a new Baltimore shop named Swirl, cracked it open, and found that it was not nearly as refined and elegant. Granted, it's not as good a vintage and the Vajra has a year of bottle age on it, but I still don't think the Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto will be as good.

Sorry for the dolcetto tangent there. Anyway, back to the story at hand. McDuff knows his stuff, is a terrific guy, and it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person. Thanks for lunch, David, next time is on me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This wine drinker is celebrating...Barack Obama is our next president!

I need just a brief moment for gravitas, here. Growing up, I remember discussing the prospect of a female or black president in the US - when would it happen? Would it be in our lifetime? Honestly, I did not believe it would, almost right up until Barack Obama announced his candidacy a few years ago. When that happened, and as he gained momentum, I came to believe that not only would we have an African American president in our lifetime, but it would be Barack Obama taking oath as the first black president in 2009. And sure enough, the polls have closed and that is what the news networks are telling us: Barack Obama is our next president. Obama won Ohio, he won Pennsylvania, he won Florida, he won Virginia (as some of you know it has been 45 years since a democratic candidate won VA). Well, the man is speaking right now, so I will keep it short and simply state that I am inspired as I hope that anyone reading this is equally inspired.

So, what to drink to savor and celebrate the moment? How about, while the champagne chills down, a glass of La Gitana manzanilla, bright, salty, and full of fruit, with uncommon depth and complexity. Then, when the champagne is nice and cold, crack it open. Perhaps it will be a bottle of Tarlant Brut Zero, a blend of 2005 and reserve wines, and of all three major champagne varieties. It is bone dry, poised, classy champagne, showing a serious character and lots of promise for the future, ready to usher in a new era in American history.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back on the Bmore Dining scene: Two meals at Petit Louis and Woodberry Kitchen

Woodberry Kitchen owner Spike Gjerde

Tony Foreman, co-owner of Petit Louis and several other top restaurants in Baltimore

Baltimore's restaurant scene has certainly evolved considerably in the past decade. Growing up, a nice meal out usually meant either a trip to one of the formulaic, play it safe establishments in Little Italy, or perhaps another similarly Americanized 'ethnic' restaurant, or a splurge at one of the venerable steak houses. Then things became more high concept. Some Italian restaurants aspired towards greater authenticity, serving the likes of whole roasted branzini; one Greek restaurant in particular focused on similarly unadorned, fresh fish preparations, and then, of course, the tapas and small plates craze hit. More recently, it looks as though the local food phenomenon, spurred on by 'locivore' diners, restaurateurs, and the assorted farmers who provide these establishments with their produce, poultry, meat and dairy, has begun to take hold in the community. Two long-time Baltimore restaurateurs, Tony Foreman and Spike Gjerde, have worked through Baltimore's transformation into a more interesting dining town, and by chance I visited one of each of their restaurants this past week.

Let's begin with the larger ego first. Tony Foreman is Baltimore's undisputed Big Shot when it comes to restaurant empires. Along with his wife, chef Cindy Wolf, he owns Cinghiale, an Italian style osteria and wine bar, Pazo, a mediterranean themed small plates oriented restaurant an lounge, Charleston, the French influenced, southern tinged grand dame of the group, and Petit Louis, the classic French bistro in the heart of the tony enclave of Roland Park (if you only associate Baltimore with 'The Wire,' then Roland Park is the polar opposite of your image of the city). Anyway, I'm going to get right down to it and say that my lunch was a complete and utter disappointment. Frites were a little browner than usual (as per my mom's request, for them to be 'extra crispy') but still not hot and crisp. No sort of interesting aioli or other house made condiment served on the side, just a basic dijon mustard. I had ordered a classic frisse salad, with poached egg and lardons. The frissee was not fresh and swimming in an overly acidic, vinegary dressing which left a pool of liquid on the plate. Such a poor execution of a dish so simple does not make me optimistic as to the execution of other dishes on that particular afternoon. Bistro kitchens can and will have off days,though execution this lousy is truly tough to explain. The wine list provided the sole bright spot of the day. I had a glass of the characteristically tasty 2006 Francois Pinon Vouvray, and had I been in the mood for red I could have ordered the 2006 Chateau d'Oupia Minervois rouge. The bottle list is also excellent and far better than many a list in similar bistros in more cosmopolitan cities.

My experience at Spike Gjerde's Woodberry Kitchen was a more positive one. The space, with its high ceilings, worn brick walls, stencils on blackboard menu and stylish casual ambience, suggested a buzzing, successful, quietly confident young restaurant. Local farms which provide Woodberry Kitchen their products are mentioned on the menu, an endearing, easy to read menu at that, with clever, witty flourishes throughout. One example is the 'filtered Baltimore wooder,' a play on how we Baltimoreans pronounce water (and Philadelphians as well, I think, want to weigh in DMcD?) As my parents don't eat oysters but my grandma and I do, we split half a dozen which were a perfect start made even more perfect with a bottle of 2007 Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet. I'm not sure if it's a separate bottling from their Hermine d'or - it certainly seemed a little less weighty and mineral than how I remembered it. Maybe Jo Landron bottles a separate Muscadet for certain importers. Next I had a salad of various local radishes and savory bread pudding. On paper, it seemed like the contrasting flavors and textures would make for an interesting dish, but instead what I got were two things that should probably not be eaten together. For a main course I ordered a roasted chicken with a cider pan glaze, kale and a really tasty side of spaghetti squashed with melted cheese - a terrific combo of subtly sweet squash and rich melted cheese. We drank a bottle of '05 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Blanc Barriques, which was richly textured, not really overoaked but definitely lacking a bit of chi. It went ok with the food, complementing the richness of the squash and not enhancing or detracting from the flavor of the chicken. Portions here are more than ample - I arrived fairly hungry and left very full. Judging by the strong Thursday night crowd and the overall strength of the restaurant, it looks like Spike has got a winner on his hands here.

Despite my not so great meal at Petit Louis, I can certainly vouch for Tony Foreman's other restaurants, which are all based on creative concepts, well executed by talented kitchens and enhanced by what is consistently some of the sharpest service around. He along with Spike Gjerde and others have undoubtedly raised the bar considerably for Baltimore restaurants.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Further explorations in New York City; dinner at Tia Pol

New York City is one of those rare places on this earth that I will never tire of visiting. While I have never lived there, outside of a few months one summer while in college, I have come to take a certain ownership and pride in this most American of cities. My visits there have taken me from the brunch spots on the good old upper west side (them's my people, after all), to the foodie and hipster strongholds of the east village and Williamsburg, back up to mid-town during the uber consumerist holiday shopping season, further uptown to the contrasting botanical gardens and cement in the Bronx. Down to neighborhoods in various states of gentrification in Brooklyn. From Fort Greene to Greenpoint, Queensbridge to Jamaica, Queens, all the way east to Sir Coxsone Dodd's record shop in East New York, Brooklyn. I've seen a lot, and still feel like I haven't even scratched the surface of the diversity the city has to offer.

This time around, the trip was short, sweet, and centered on the island of Manhattan. A few hours viewing early near eastern and Chinese art at the Met, followed by a stroll down 5th Ave to my mid-town hotel, and another walk over to Chelsea to meet my friend Cam for drinks and tapas at Tia Pol. Co-Owners Heather Belz and Mani Dawes (daughter of noted Spanish wine and food expert Gerry Dawes, as well as owner of the all Spanish wine boutique Tinto Fino) have put together quite an authentic and convincing list of tapas, complemented by a solid all Spanish wine list, with highlights including older 80's vintages of La Rioja Alta's reservas and gran reservas. As it was not to be a splurge type of night, I chose to start off with another highlight of Tia Pol: their sherry list. If you like sherry, or are just curious about tasting a variety of some of the best examples, then you need to head to Tia Pol. Three finos, two manzanilla pasadas (longer aged, richer manzanilla), two manzanillas, amontillados, three (yes, 3!) types of palo cortado. I started with the Maestro Sierra fino, which I have heard a lot about and had not yet tasted. I immediately noticed the extra richness and texture from the older solera the bodega boasts. Probably amongst the best fino sherries I have tasted, full of extra broad mid-palate fruit, complexity and savor, though a bit lacking in the salty tang you might expect. With the tapas, we ordered a bottle of '97 LdH Vina Tondonia Rosado. It's in a great place right now, very bright and red fruited, showing the subtle american oak spice tones which define the best Rioja. While I have gotten used to the taste of wines with an extended aging in older oak, Cam commented on the 'sherry like' flavors she tasted. She loved the wine, but noted the oxidation more than I did. The wine paired well enough with everything, though it seems to have more of an affinity for foods of land rather than those of the sea, at least of the types we were eating. Some of the standout tapas included txipirones en su tinta (meaty, savory squid cooked in their own ink) montaditos de crema de habitas con beyos(little open-faced sandwiches with a spread of fava bean puree and beyos cheese) and navajas y almejas(cockles and razor clams, simmered in a white wine, fish stock and garlic flavored broth).

It was a short, but fun and rewarding trip. I encourage anyone spending time in New York to visit Tia Pol (again, they're in Chelsea, on 205 10th ave betw 22nd + 23rd), as well as to explore part of the city you have not yet visited. In The City, that's the only way to roll.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Postcard from DC: Composing and recording roots reggae music, drinking much Yuengling

Greetings, everyone.

I'm very pleased to say that the weekend recording session went very well. We recorded drafts of three songs, which may not seem like much, but considering that it was our first go at recording a full band on our own, and that we had to give structure to and discuss the tunes, we are very pleased. Personally I am really happy with how my portable Hammond B3, consisting of Voce V5, Hughes & Kettner rotosphere and Yamaha DX7 IIFD as a midi controller, sounded. I look forward to recording some more and hopefully releasing a great record within a year.

Recording with a band, for those who have not yet experienced it, can navigate a tenous path, at times exhilarating or exasperating, dramatic or boring. If you've seen either the Metallica or Wilco documentary, then you know what I'm talking about. Fortunately, though, this weekend remained relatively free of drama, and still had the exciting feel of creating a new body of work. We are in no rush this time, which is a good thing, especially considering that our main songwriter, guitarist, webmaster, and booker of gigs has an 11 month old daughter (Phoenix, pictured below)

Yesterday I had a wonderful time in chilly, rainy, DC - accordingly much of it was indoors. Breakfast with a former co-worker, pizza at Matchbox with Phoenix, the aforementioned 11 month year old, and her parents, followed by a few pints of Yuengling at the good old DC standby, Clyde's. Now I'm in Bmore and looking forward to heading up to New York City tomorrow. That should be fun since, if all goes according to plan, I will be linking up with Mr. Schist himself, and possibly he of the rockss and the fruits as well.

Surely this will make for some very entertaining, fresh blog material - sorely needed on this oft-unfocused, purportedly wine geek oriented blog. Check back early and check back often, I'm back on the saddle and ready to go. Giddyup.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Off to the great east coast

Vacation time is here! This time I'm off to see a tiny portion of the exotic eastern seaboard of the United States of America.

The rough itinerary:

Arrive at BWI in the evening

FRIDAY-SUNDAY 10/24 - 10/26
Record music with JohnStone

MONDAY 10/27
Hang out in DC, try to catch up with a few folks
Head up to Baltimore during evening


Head up to New York City

Back to Baltimore around mid-day

Hang with family and friends in Baltimore

Fly back to SF

I'll try to blog somewhat regularly, though it might be slow, especially for the next few days as I'll be holed up recording.

Drink well and be well until then.


And the band played new material from chemical chords: Stereolab live at The Fillmore

I have a real soft spot for Stereolab a band who, at the height of their powers, could hypnotize with their steady, mid-tempo drone (or later, their funky 60's pop inspired tunes) and catchy, tasteful French and English harmonies sung by lead singer/ co-band leader Laetita Sadier alongside keyboardist/vocalist Mary Hansen. Tragically, Hansen was killed by a truck while riding her bike six years ago, and the band has since undergone various personnel changes over the years. It would be interesting to see how the band's performance would rate since the first time I saw them ten years ago.

Armed with the usual combination of guitar, bass, drums, vibes, fender rhodes, moogs, vox organ and hohner clavinet, Stereolab hit the ground running with 'Percolator,' a tune from 1996's Emperor Tomato Ketchup LP. Really fast, rushed actually, and not a great way to begin the show. Afterwards, following a bit of confusion in between songs, Laetitia jokingly commented, 'after 18 years, we're still pros.' Smoothed over for the time-being, but pauses in between songs would be an on-going issue which negatively impacted the show. Some more new material followed, which at its best sounded like re-hashed material from the Neu! inspired Transient Random Noise Bursts era 'lab, and at its not so best sounded very repetitive in a way that, even for Stereolab, just didn't work. Mid-way through the set, the band launched into 'Ping-pong,' a familiar single which appeared to show the crowd (and band) at their most energetic and emotive. There were a few other highlights, but they tended to involve older material, such as 'French Disko' and 'Cybile's Reverie.' One notable exception would be their last encore, which captured the steady kraut rock feel of their earlier work, threw in some more loud soft dynamics, and seemed to work surprisingly well as an extended, experimental, improvisational piece. Maybe Stereolab does have some new sounds to explore after all.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lovely French dinner, with French wine and new French friends

Last night, my special lady and I were invited over to our friend Josh's place for dinner with him and his French girlfriend, who is still settling into San Francisco. We all had a great time, and, true to form for Josh and I, it was only our yawning with increasing frequency around 1am which finally broke up the party.

We started with a delicious glass of 2007 Chaussard 'You are So Nice' Cot-Gamay. So much nicer than the last time I drank this! Apparently a customer of Josh's returned the wine earlier in the day and said it was not good. Well, the customer was right, as the wine was not merely good, but really fucking good! Lively dark berry and that delicious iron like minerality that cot seems to deliver in the Loire. The wine was delicious, impeccably balanced, and really persistent. I only wish Josh had received two returned bottles instead of just one.

I brought a bottle of 2005 Jo Landron 'Fiefs du Brueils' muscadet which was so ungiving on the nose, so compact and tight on the palate, that I suggested Josh keep it in his fridge and check in on it throughout the week. It would not have been too pleasurable a drink with dinner. Instead, Josh pulled out a wonderful bottle of 2006 Gramenon Cotes du Rhone 'La Sagesse.' Another natural wine, made with minimal sulphur added prior to bottling, it was richer and warmer than the Chaussard, with a touch of a baked character, but still showing pure grenache dark cherry fruit, balanced acidity and an accesible character. It should improve for up to 7-8 years (I think, there is the whole fragile low sulphur wine thing to worry about if you're not storing these carefully, though). We ate pork chops, sauteed with mustard, creme fraiche, rosemary and mushrooms, with sides of mini buttered elbow pasta and pan fried kale (cooked with a controversial, but unexpectedly tasty, dash of lemon zest thrown in). I love kale, and this version was good for a change of pace.

Pungent Valdeon (spanish blue cheese), really good, earthy/funky Brie and Pierce Point (from Cowgirl Creamery) followed dinner, which was then proceeded by a tasty Pippin apple crumble and then a wee dram of Caol Ila 10 year for me, some bourbon for Natalie and Josh and sparkling wine for Catherine. A really fun evening - thanks to our gracious hosts Josh and Catherine for cooking great food and entertaining us in their new apartment.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

There is now one less car in San Francisco

After several months of on again off again effort, I finally found a buyer for my car and sold it tonight. For the first time in ten years, I am without a car. It may not seem like much for people who live in cities like New York where the car truly is a luxury, as opposed to a comforting mode of convenient, and often necessary, transportation. Nonetheless, I am stoked (if I were still living back east I would be 'psyched.') Zero money spent on insurance, gas and maintenance from now on. Not to mention the money gained from the sale. And then there is the drastically reduced carbon footprint, which is awesome and a point of pride.

Sure, I will miss my car. I bought my silver Mazda 3 hatchback in March of 2005, just when the popularity of the zoom zoom was beginning to take off. I worked out of my car as a wine distributor rep in Washington, DC for three and a half years. I parked legally and illegally, enjoyed banging my live Aswad CD in the summer, listened to WPFW, the local Pacifica affiliate, during the day, and on weekends loaded the back with band gear for scores of gigs. When I decided the time was ripe for a re-location, I drove cross country, stopping in Chicago, Marfa, Texas, and Santa Monica along the way. More recently, I enjoyed driving south to the Santa Cruz mountains to visit Ridge and Mt Eden Vineyards, or heading up north to tour Storybook Mountain Vineyards in Napa and Unti Vineyards in Sonoma.

To part company is bittersweet, but I must admit that I am well pleased to be car free. Some of the money from the sale will go towards a new bike. Ideally one made of steel, with the ability to place a rack on the front and back. Something strong enough for light touring, but able to ride somewhat fast if I choose. Any ideas?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another busy Tuesdsay tasting

As is so often the case with Tuesdays, today was quite a full line-up of wine tasting. About 50 wines tasted by day's end, almost entirely Spanish and Italian. Rather than cull the tasting notes for wines which were particularly good or bad, I thought it might be interesting to state a few disparate thoughts on wine which were solidified throughout the course of the day. To complement these observations, I will include a tasting note on a particular wine for each one.


So much wasted potential in this DO. Old vines, premium grape variety (tempranillo), great terroir. And for what? Largely for super jammy cooked black cherry/blackberry, vanillin dominated, technology and media influenced wines that truly taste very similar. Why? Because they are all aged for similar amounts of time in largely new French allier barrels, with similar toasting levels, from the same coopers. That's why. Method is defining the quality and taste of the wine more than any other factor which, unless we are speaking of Sherry, Madeira, Vin Jaune and Vin Santo (notice the absence of red table wines on that list) cannot be a good thing. That having been said, my favorite wine of the day was a 1996 Arzuaga Gran Reserva. It was delicious, complex and positively claret-like. Sort of a cross between the terrific power, intensity and acidity driven structure of '96 Bdx and the herbal, spicy savor of many wines from the early maturing '97 Bdx vintage. This illustrates how good Ribera can be (oh, and byu the way it doesn't have to be a pricey Gran Reserva to be distinctive and good - check out Valduero and Pesquera, for instance).


Today I tasted a 2007 Arzuaga 'La Planta' Ribera del Duero. It is their 'joven' or 'cosecha' wine. Not enough oak or bottle aging to be called a Crianza, in other words. It struck me as a bit oakier, coarser and more lacking in nuance when compared to the last vintage I drank of this wine, the 2005. The smoke tinged cherry fruit was still there, but a bit more obscured by smoke than I recall. In other words, a bit of a let down. After tasting through three Chilean wines (Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet) from Armador, I poured myself a bit more of the Arzuaga 'La Planta' about an hour after initially tasting it. Relative to the Chilean wines it tasted like friggin' Burgundy.

In a similar vein, what I thought to be a very pure, honest, multi-layered elegant expression of sangiovese in the 2005 Vecchie Terre Chianti Classico, somehow seemed more of a mid-palate dominated, monochromatic wine compared with the 2007 CRB Pineau d'Aunis I drank tonight alongside it. The CRB really is a finishing wine, a bit strict on the front and mid-palate (especially when first opened), but very pretty and well-structured when you start drinking more than just a taste.


Poggiarellino, a Brunello producer, sure makes some rustic, funky, brettanomyces dominated wines. There are really coarse, unruly tannins that expand all over your mouth - I've seldom had tannins cover so much surface area. Also, the wines show that weird, nutty savor of a minimally or unsulphured wine that has been open for a bit as well. At least two of my co-workers really enjoyed these wines, though, one of whom bought a case of their '06 Rosso. Upon quizzing Jim (who also happens to be a longtime winemaker and former vineyard owner) why he liked the Poggiarellino so much, what with all of the Brett and, to my palate, bacterial issues, he replied that it seemed interesting and balanced to him. 'But Jim,' I said, 'You love fruit, enjoy California wine, and preach about the importance of clean, modern practices in the cellar.' [ok, I did not say this word for word but that was the gist] 'Why do you like this Bretty, funky wine.' He basically replied that he hates brett in California wine, because there is not enough acidity and other characteristics to offset, or add interest to, the funk. In other words, California wine should be full of bright, juicy fruit, and it is ok for European wines to be teeming with brettanomyces and other bacteria, provided the acidity is high enough and the terroir is decent. Hmmm....

That's enough for tonight, hopefully some food for thought for all of you out there.

Alton Ellis RIP

Alton Ellis, the ‘godfather of rocksteady,’ passed away last Friday October 10th. He was 70 years old. There had been a premature rumor circulating regarding his death on Thursday, which my good friend and former bandmate Chet forwarded to me. So apparently he was not well, in the final stages of lymphatic cancer. Here is an obituary in today’s Guardian by reggae authority (and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry biographer) David Katz. And below, I thought I’d post a tribute featuring what is arguably Alton Ellis’ most famous song, recorded by Sir Coxsone Dodd at the legendary Studio One.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another wine and food pairing, featuring a bit of bacon

The keenly observant amongst you may notice that my Yom Kippur post is sandwiched between two food and wine posts involving 'traif' (yiddish for unkosher foods such as pork or shellfish). This was not intentional, I just happen to be on something of a bacon kick of late. With all of that flavor, it takes the most adamant of vegetarians and strictest follower of kashrut laws to resist bacon's charms.

Though bacon played more of a supporting role in this dish, it still added tremendously to the end result. Basically I cut two inch long, 1/4 inch wide strips of sweet potato, parsnips and red bell pepper, tossed with olive oil, a sliced, medium shallot, salt and pepper, and baked in a 400 degree oven, finishing with a few minutes under the broiler. Meanwhile I cooked brown rice, tossed with good quality olive oil, white truffle oil, salt and pecorino romano peppato (the one with peppercorns in the cheese). Serve the roasted veges atop the truffled rice, top with coarse chopped fried bacon and minced italian parsley, and you've got a winning dish. May not sound like much, but it sure was tasty.

I drank an '06 Castro de Lobarzan Monterei with the dish. Mainly godello with some treixadura, it had a very appealing yellow fruit skin quality to it. Starfruit and yellow plums in particular. Fairly fleshy, but with a touch of minerality and enough acidity. Not all the way to the sides of your tongue, high acid French white type acidity, mind you, but it was crisp and tasty all the same. A surprisingly good foil for the dish as well: dry, crisp and fruity white with savory, charred and earthy vegetables. After a busy working Saturday, which followed an overindulgent Friday night at San Francisco Whiskey Fest, this lighter dinner was really just the ticket for me.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Of White tunics, sneakers, forgiveness, challah and cookies

For all of my non-Jewish readers, there is only one holiday that I could be referring to in the above title: Yom Kippur. The day of judgement. Of atonement. The Holiest of Holy Days. And so on and so forth.

To quickly decode, the white tunics are what rabbis and cantors wear (instead of the customary black ones), sneakers are favored by some because of the custom not to wear leather, forgiveness is what we ask from other humans and one divine being, and challah and cookies (as well as bagels, lox, quiche or other egg based foods) are often what await after abstaining from any food or drink for 24 hours. Actually, it often ends up being more like 27 hours.

I am currently not a religious man. But I am a creature of habit and an occasional follower of cultural customs. Both habits and cultural customs die hard. So while I did not attend synagogue on Yom Kippur for the first time since living in Sevilla nine years ago, I did fast for the day while working in the wine shop. Unfortunately that meant that I could not sample some new Spanish releases from De Maison, or taste a line-up of whiskies from Dewar Rattray. Somehow, though, I do feel like I made the right call. Jewish guilt? Maybe. All I know is that I kept the 16 year streak alive. Hate all you want, you hating non-practicing Jews. I forgive you.

Happy New Year.

Monday, October 6, 2008

BLT and PdA

Without a doubt, the best matched food and wine pairing of the past few weeks was a delicious BLT from Bar Jules paired with the 2007 Clos Roche Blanche L'arpent Pineau d'Aunis. In typical pinot d'aunis fashion, this wine showed gorgeous wild strawberries with a hint of sichuan peppercorns, terrific acidity and very fine finishing tannins. Combined with the crisp, smoky, meaty BLT sandwich it simply could not be beat. It was a terrific Friday lunch. Thanks for bringing the bottle, Mr. Gerard.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Stranglers: PEACHES (as performed by The Muppets)

Why has this song not yet been sampled?? Or has it been? Such a hard hitting, funky groove. If I were producing a sample based track right now, this would be the sample.

Oh, and the Muppets just tore it up here. Lots of respect to whomever put this one together!

My man Jo Landron is in effect mode. Domaine Bart too!

Obligatory ATCQ reference there, sorry I couldn't resist. Anyway, it is a very happy week when a new container of French wines, including such reliable, consistently good values as the Muscadets of Jo Landron and the Marsannays of Martin Bart, arrives at our warehouse. I haven't had the '06 Bart wines yet as I would like to wait several weeks for them to settle in and recover from their journey. However, I did recently drink a large portion of a bottle of Jo Landron's '07 Amphibolite, which is simply delicious. It is his one wine that is not aged sur lies for an extended period, and as such is not quite as mineral, compact, and intensely flavored as wines such as his Fief du Breils, Marc Ollivier's Clos de Briords, Guy Bossard's 'orthogneiss', and other more serious bottlings of Muscadet. It is, however, soft, pure, and incredibly tasty. Loads of gentle peach and melon rind flavor, with good length and an enormously high thirst quenching factor. Not one to forget about for a while, though. My last few bottles of '06, while enjoyable, are noticeably darker in color and, while gaining in weight, losing the pure, delicate fruit flavors that make this wine so attractive.

In these trying, uncertain financial times, I plan on drinking lots of Muscadet, even more than usual. It's good for you, invigorating and refreshing stuff. Having all but sworn off my credit cards after clearing my debt earlier in the year, I will pay for all of this Muscadet with cash or a debit card.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

One re-evaluation and a Blog functionality update


I recently re-tasted the Dressner Maupertuis gamay 'La Guillaume,' which I had tasted a few weeks ago and did not like. Tasting at a properly cool temperature and right after opening (as minimally sulphured and sans soufre wines really ought to be tasted) provided a much better wine, bright and tangy, earthy but not overly so. And definitely not poopy like my first experience with the wine. If you don't require your gamay to pack much mid-palate intensity or persistence, then give this wine a try. Hopefully, its subtle charm is lurking in a fine wine retailer near you.


You can now read up-to-date posts on google reader. Just go to the google page, click on the 'more' link, scroll down to click on 'reader' and add this blog. For all of you bloggers out there, the 'following' tool should also now be up-to-date. Thank you to everyone who pointed out this problem. It should now be fixed; please let me know if this is not the case.

In the process of trouble shooting I think that I may have deleted my current RSS feed list, so if you had been receiving these via email until recently, please go to the upper-right hand side of this page, enter your email and re-subscribe. Thanks.

And I'm out.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A taste of MOB from '83

Here is the second on what will be three Mission of Burma posts (the third will be the concert review of their September 27th show at The Independent in San Francisco). The video below is from the companion DVD to the re-issued Vs. album. For those of you not familiar with their history, Boston's Mission of Burma recorded two records, the Signals, Calls and Marches EP (1981) and Vs. (1982), and then called it quits primarily due to guitarist and vocalist Roger Miller's tinnitus. They have clearly influenced dozens of bands, from contemporaries like Sonic Youth and Husker Du, to Fugazi, REM and Pearl Jam, who released their own record titled Vs as a tribute to Mission of Burma. Mission of Burma re-united in 2002 and have gone on to produce two solid, well received albums of new material. The clip below is the post-punk band showing their mid-tempo, melodic side.