Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Some wines I tasted today

Pt. 1 - The Spanish

Talai Berri Txacolina 2007

Good, fresh, vaguely citrussy, with a light sparkle. Still bottle shocked though. And these txacoli prices today, geez louise. The wines are fun quaffers, but $20? I know the 3 txacoli production D.O.'s are tiny and most of the stuff is drunk in San Sebastian, but for $20+ a pop, I think I'm inclined to do my txacoli drinking exclusively in Pais Vasco. Unless we're talking about the rare red or rose txacoli, which are worth the price of admission on rarity and weirdness alone.

Hijos de Cresencia Marino Catajarros Rosado Cigales 2007

The first '07 spanish rose I have tried turned out a winner. On the nose it appears that it might be a very fruity, bordering on cloying, rosado. On the palate though, the wine has plenty of red fruit with a nice austere, dry finish. Just the ticket for rose season. 100% tempranillo.

Bodegas Eguren Reinares Tempranillo Tierra de Castilla 2007

Produced by the folks at Bodegas Eguren, this declassified Rioja, from a 15 year old tempranillo vineyard, shows foresty, dark fruit on the nose, and is simple, dark fruited tempranillo. Not bad, but not a whole lot of fun either.

Bodegas Ugarte 'Martin Cendoya' Rioja Reserva 2001

Produced primarily from a 75 year old tempranillo vineyard in the Rioja Alavesa sub-zone, with some mazuelo (carinena) and graciano, this is a modern, black cherry scented Rioja with a so-so palate. It is juicy and competently made, but comes across as a bit monolithic and boring. Especially given the mid $30's price point.

Condado de Sequeiras Ribeira Sacra 2006

The second red from Riberia Sacra to impress me in the past week. I'm convinced - this is THE spot for exciting, medium-bodied, balanced reds in Spain right now. Licorice and a combination of dark and blue fruit on the nose lead to a soft, supple palate, with great texture, lively acidity, and abundant class. Un triunfo!

Bodega Luzdivino Vinademoya Leiros Bierzo 200?

I goofed and did not note the vintage here. Either '03 or '04. It is 100% mencia aged in French oak for 14 months. Deep, dark, grapey, spicy and somehow all very Spanish smelling and tasting. A broad generalization, I know, but there is that combination of ripe fruit, oak spice, and just enough acidity to tie it together that to me is the mark of many of Spain's better wines, whether or not they are made in a style that I like or not. I'd like to try this wine in 5 years to see how it comes together. To their credit, the producer apparently feels as though they need to tone down the new oak on this wine, which I think is a good direction on their part.

Cellars Sangenis i Vaque Porrera Priorat 2005

I have tasted a lot of '05 Montsant and Priorat in the past two weeks, and for some reason this wine just isn't doing it for me. Not to be yet another Priorat basher, that's just too easy. There are an ocean of over-priced, overly alcholic and oaky wines in Priorat, and there are a few good wines out there; these are not meant to be drunk upon release. Not even close. I've said it before and I'll say it again, these are the Chateauneuf du Papes of Spain.

Valduero Ribera del Duero Reserva 2000

I hate to be in agreement with Dr. Jay Miller - who enjoyed this and rated it highly - though I'm sure it will continue to be a rare occurence. Anyway, this wine is killer like Jacob (not Jay!) Miller. Cooked black cherry and blackberry on the nose, with great spice, weight, sweet/savory fruit and acidity to tie it all together. This is what good Ribera del Duero is all about: power and dark fruit, with a ton of flavor intensity and enough lift from the acidity to not dull or tire the palate.

Vinedos de Ithaca Penelope Garnatxa Blanca 2006

This has a nice honeyed, yellow fruit, chewy thing going on. Very interesting dessert wine. Light on its feet but substantial and toothsome at the same time.

Vinedos de Ithaca Penelope Garnacha Peluda 2006

Now this is some terrific wine! Sweet scents of strawberry, watermelon and spice lead to some more of the same on the palate, with a funky wet slate stone minerality as well. The wine is produced from late harvest outer rows of garnacha, which tend to get riper than the interior rows of the vineyard. This is truly unique, tasty dessert stuff.

Monday, April 28, 2008

More Oil: Two site specific Tuscans

The Rare Wine Company knows their madeira and their Tuscan olive oils. I tried two of these oils recently; both are from the same producer and reflect two different olive grove sites.

Grati 'Monte' Orcio 4 Single Cru Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2007
Very crisp, green aromas of freshly cut grass, which follows through to a grassy, peppery palate.

Grati 'Vetrice' Orcio 4 Single Cru Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2007

Darker shade of green, with a very grassy nose and strong, full-bodied, slightly bitter olive oil taste. It's more viscous, more deeply flavored, and the more intense of these two oils.

I enjoy comparing different extra virgin olive oils at various price points: the supermarket stuff, to the slightly better brand, to what might be your favorite go to (for me it's Frantoia from Sicily), to a very limited production, artisanal oil. The progression of intensity, viscosity, and spice is pretty interesting to taste side by side.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

On food, wine and mashups.

I've been meaning to write up a few random food products and wines recently, so I figured I'd do so while listening to some terrific mashups by Bigga Bush. For the musically challenged, a mashup is basically taking a popular song, keeping one aspect (say, the lyrics, for example) and adding an entirely different musical track from another song. Sort of a supercharged remix, or a double sample. As an example, take the 'Crazy Right Now' smash hit from Beyonce, keep the vocal track, ditch the mediocre music behind it, and then add a classic mid-70's reggae instrumental track: a dramatic and newlyenergized, soulful tune is born.

2007 Domaine de Fenouillet Cotes du Ventoux Rose
Everything that I don't like about many roses is present in this wine: very candied red fruit, to the point of artificial flavors. This is generic southern French rose wine at its worst. Surprisingly it's imported by Neil Rosenthal, who is usually a solid name to see on the back of a wine bottle. Not so for this wine. Not reccommended.

2006 Acustic Cellars Acustic Montsant
50% Samso (carinena) and 50% garnacha. There is a vibrancy, freshness and acid balance in this wine that is lacking in all too many wines from Montsant - most of them in fact. This wine shows that Montsant has the potential to be to Priorat what good Cotes du Rhone is to Chateauneuf du Pape: a region producing value wines that are great to drink young or even with moderate age, and that often come across as more enjoyable than their bigger, more expensive siblings in the fancier appellation. $18

2006 Doña Paula Malbec Lujan de Cuyo

Malbec? You might be asking yourself, isn't that usually overripe, oaky, nasty wine that usually has the consulting stamp of Paul Hobbs? Well, not always. This is suprisingly delicious Malbec with a sense of real balance. Still dark fruited, still full-bodied and still a real mouthful of wine, but with a nice mineral inflected, dense, tactile sensation on the palate. $12.

Alois Golles Pumpkin Seed Oil and Apple Balsamic Vinegar

If you're reluctant to discover the joys of good pumpkin seed oil in the well stocked kitchen, you need to get over that stuff and take a trip to flavor country. Serious, gourmet condiment flavor country, courtesy of Styria in southern Åustria. This stuff is black and viscous. When poured over bread or mixed with extra virgin olive oil for salad dressing (the only way you should do a dressing with this oil, by the way - otherwise it's too strong) the oil imparts a beautiful intense peridot green hue. Rich, complex, dark and nutty tasting, with a finish that is long and tastes like the essence of pumpkin. And the apple balsamic vinegar is sweet, mellow and a natural companion to the oil. I use a splash of this vinegar, combined with shallots, salt, pepper, and a 2-1 ratio of extra virgin olive oil to pumpkin seed oil, for an addictive salad dressing. Add some chopped walnuts and your favorite salad cheese for your new favorite salad. $42 for a companion set of pumpkin seed oil and apple balsamic vinegar. Each is packed in a 250ml bottle.

Friday, April 25, 2008

OutKast - Ain't No Thang

Well, the record company didn't want me to post the last video, so it's back to 'ain't no thang.' A better song imo, anyway. Apologies for the lackluster photo montage.


Get a little fried chicken and grits in me and I get Georgia on my mind. I was looking for 'Aint no thang but a chicken wang' but there was no video for it. This will do, though. Happy Friday, ya'll .

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fried chicken and grits at Front Porch

My girlfriend and I were both famished, and thought that we would check out Beretta, a promising new spot in the the mission. As is the case with most new hot spots around town, there was not a seat in the house - not a deuce, not a few seats at the bar, not a spot to be had at the communal table. Rather than wait 30 minutes, we decided to head to Emmy's, a neighborhood comfort Italian food spot known for its massive portions of tasty spaghetti and meatballs. Unfortunately we were looking at another 30 minute wait here, so our last resort before a burrito was The Front Porch. Things definitely worked out for the better; we immediately were seated and ordered what would be an incredibly satisfying, southern inspired meal at Front Porch.

The Front Porch is a welcoming establishment. As I was about to set foot into the restaurant, I realized that there was a rocking chair amidst the several tables and chairs set up outside, in a patio area that more closely resembled, well, a front porch. Continuing the welcoming vibe, some good classic JB was playing, adding to the low-key, relaxed, funky environs. If you ask me, sometimes there is nothing like eating a good stick to your ribs meal while listening to the godfather of soul ask the JB's if they can hit it and quit it.

Well, somehow I just lost a paragraph describing this meal, and I don't have the time to reconstruct it now. Oh well. Let me just say that the white wine ('06 Morgadio Albariño) was good, and in case you were wondering, mmm... it does go well with the chicken.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Matzoh shortage coverage: The Media takes note, a food and wine blogger reaches his limits.

The NY Times ran a story on matzoh shortages nationally, with a focus on the particularly accute shortage in the bay area.

The San Francisco Chronicle also covered the story.

In the meantime, I had a big plate of pasta today. I just couldn't go any longer, and since there is no matzoh anywhere....

I will continue to refrain from eating bread through the end of the holiday.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blind flight of red, Blind flight of white.

Last week was another exciting meeting of the motley crew of wine retailers, importers, home contractors and others which currently comprise my monthly tasting group. Benjamin selected the wines and did an absolutely killer job bringing some cool stuff. Especially considering the fact that he has kids and is in the middle of escrow, which I imagine keeps him more than a little busy. I thought that I would do things a bit differently with this recap. Wines for each flight will be listed with my personal tasting notes, in reverse order of our group's ranking (worst to first). Then I will reveal the wines with some further commentary.


This wine was awful. Cooked, green nose. Not good green. A combo of green and weird tropical notes on the palate. It's gotta be NZ sauv blanc, I was thinking. A consensus last pick.

Very mineral on the nose, with a fairly decent wollop of new oak as well. This reminded me of WINE A1, with more fruit, of a sweeter quality, and a richer mid-palate.

Apple and melon rind on the nose. A whiff of salt peanuts. On the palate the wine is fresh, clean and shows a lot of fruit and balancing acid, with nuanced, balanced oak. Folks were thinking Graves on this, while I was thinking higher quality California SB. Mow that I think of it, Gary called northeastern Italian Sauvignon Blanc.

In addition to being the group pick, this wine was my clear favorite. Clearly it had a bit of bottle age, with a slightly leesy quality adding dimension to the the intense green apple skin aromas. The wine showed citrus zest galore on the incredibly lively palate. Very intense, electric. Acidity, very high. My style of wine. To me, this was clearly good quality Pouilly Fume, from a cooler vintage. I was guessing '04.

Well, you will notice that the probable theme here is Sauvignon Blanc. And the wines were:
A1 - San Michele Appiano Sanct Valentin Sauvignon Blanc Alto Adige 2003
A2 - Didier Dagueneau Pouilly Fume 'Pur Sang' 2003
A3 - Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2004
A4 - Didier Dagueneau Pouilly Fume 'Blanc Fume' 2004

2/4, so not a bad personal showing there. But what a call on the Italian SB for Gary - I'd have never guessed that! The '03s were tough to call: so ripe that they appear to be from the new world. That having been said, they are still very fresh and vibrant, though the '03 Pur Sang just is not my type of wine, nor do I think it ever will be.


B1 - After the SB theme, I stuck my nose into this glass and thought that maybe we'd be doing obscure Loire reds. Was this cot? Clearly this was merely a case of thematic suggestion, as the wine was a whole other story on the palate. It tasted of dark cherries - rich, young, spicy fruit. Probably southern French.
B2 - The nose on this seemed brighter and more red fruited than the wine below. Same on the palate, though its clipped finish showed some astringency. A bit hot. OK, now I suspect we're dealing with southern Rhone wines. Cotes du Rhone or chateauneuf du pape.
B4 - This one appeared to be at least 4 years older than the others. More faded, opaque, brick color. Indian spices and cooked cherries on the nose. It was muddled and not fresh on the nose, a little bit more fresh on the palate. At this point it was pretty clear that we were dealing with Chateauneuf du Pape. I nailed the vintage on this guy, but thought that the others were a lot younger - '05s to be exact.
B3 - Here's the super modern cuvee. Flashy, new oak. Jammy black cherries. Extracted. This could basically be from any number of places: Ribera del Duero, Portugal, Bordeaux. Something about the wine in the context of this flight, however that people really enjoyed. I voted it second favorite, in a grouping of wines I did not much like.

B1 - Vieux Telegraphe Chateaneuf du Pape 'La Crau' 2000
B2 - Grand Veneur Chateauneuf du Pape 2000
B3 - Domaine de la Mordoree Chateauneuf du Pape 'Cuvee de la Reine Des Bois'2000
B4 - Domaine Font de Michelle Chateauneuf du Pape 2000

Once the wines were revealed, we discussed how we all thought they were a bit alcoholic, not the kinds of wines we would typically crack open and enjoy. Nonetheless, they showed much better with Benjamin's hearty lamb stew, prepared lovingly with a bottle of chateauneuf du pape.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Can a Bay Area Brother Get some Matzoh???

Most area stores in the Bay Area, from the local neighborhood markets to the likes of Whole Foods, are completely sold out of matzoh. This apparently happened as of Saturday (the day prior to night one of the Passover holiday). What the fuck??!

I'm not the most observant Jew. I am not a regular synagogue goer. Read this blog and the occasional pork reference will surface. Nonetheless, there are certain traditions I uphold, and one of them involves keeping Passover, more or less. No bread, no pasta, no pie, no cake. I don't take it to what I believe are ridiculous extremes due to custom and rabbinical interpretations over the years (i.e., no beer because it has barley, nothing sweetened with fructose, no rice unless you are a sephardic Jew). I generally have matzoh everyday during Passover: with butter; peanut butter; olive oil and zatar; hummus; scrambled eggs; and definitely with tomato paste, melted cheese and a secret blend of seasonings as matzoh pizza.

Who is to blame for the shortage? There are a few theories. I'm not buying into these. Manischevitz ain't the only game in town. Buyers need to plan ahead, do their homework and adjust as necessary. So I will now have to add matzoh to the growing list of foods which the Bay Area is apparently incapable of providing: bagels; deli; pizza; fine dining (and casual) authentic italian. Let me know if I left out anything.

Suffice it to say, I am unlikely to buy Manischevitz products anytime soon, or any Passover products from Whole Foods in the future. From now on, it's Streitz, straight up.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

2002 Sky Zinfandel Mt. Veeder

This is the kind of cool California wine that rarely makes an appearance back east, but is fairly readily available here on the west coast. I suppose that I have been on something of a zin posting bender of late, but in both cases I think they both more than merit the individual posts. Sky makes zin the old fashioned way: full of spice, acidity, and yes, even some grippy tannins. In other words there is more to them than a lot of fruit, high alcohol, and simple front-mid palate flavors. This wine smells a touch lactic, but not to the point where it is bothersome. Cherries on the nose, leaning a bit towards the Robitussin side of things, kick things off in an unexpected, italianate, dare I say Piemontese way. The color as well is lighter and reminds me of Nebbiolo. On the palate there is terrific acidity, as I mentioned earlier, and a real sense of tension. Tension in Zinfandel? In this one, yep. It's right up there with Joseph Swan's fanstastic 2002 Sonoma Zin in terms of elegance, brightness, and touching multiple points of the palate.

Sky Vineyards is located 2100 feet up eastern facing vineyards on Mount Veeder. They farm sustainably and by all indications, from folks who I know have visited and from the way the wine tastes, make wine in a decidedly natural, non-interventionist fashion. Owner/winemaker/artist Lore Olds also designs the labels each year. More info here.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Two things I learned about this:

1.) It was released by Def Jam
2.) Produced by Rick Rubin.

For more JYB flavor, visit this earlier post:


Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Mag of the 'Doon Cardinal Zin!

We are selling mags of the 2002 Bonny Doon Cardinal Zin for a very reasonable price. I thought I'd buy one and give it a test run; if it were to show well I'd buy some more to have around for unexpected guests, or for times when the 'drink now' pile is lean and I don't want to dip into the cellar.

The wine is sound. A reasonable 13.5% alcohol was promising to see on the label. At first the wine was ok, with some tiny red berry fruits and decent acidity, but a very clipped finish, and not too much expansion on the palate. After an hour or so, though, the wine really improved - more expansive on the mid-palate in particular.

Randall Graham is one of America's more intelligent voices when it comes to the elaboration and enjoyment of wine. While I think that the overall quality of his wines is just ok these days (maybe that's not fair - the last time I tasted through most of his offerings was 2 years ago), he is an important person in the US wine world and has done a lot of good for the business. He has promoted competently made American expressions of classic Rhone style wines and riesling, and packaged them in cool Ralph Steadman designed labels which attract people to them and encourage a consumer to go for one instead of an Echelon Pinot Noir or some such other basura.

Anyhoo, at $8 per mag I think I better buy some more.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why, at this early stage, I prefer '06 to '05 in the Rhone

Recently I tasted some Languedoc and Rhone valley wines primarily from the '05 and '06 vintages. Based on the few young '06s that I had, I think that I will relate to 2006 and enjoy it more than the 2005 in this neck of the woods. A chart of some key differences (in general, bearing in mind that there are always exceptions):

2005 IN THE RHONE | 2006 IN THE Rhone |
Monolithic, brawny| nuanced, lighter
Dense, chewy | Layered, feathery
Sweet, plodding | Tangy, brisk

So here's a 2006 wine, not from the Rhone, but nearby Languedoc (Pic Saint Loup to be exact) which shows the virtues of the vintage. Beau Thorey Bogus Vin de Table 2006 is biodynamic, delicious, Carignane based wine, with a dash of Black Muscat thrown in for perfume. Its lifted, floral bouquet leads to a fresh, transparent palate with loads of black raspberry flavors, as well as a freshness, vivacity, and elegant palate persistence which I am increasingly associating with wines fermented using the yeasts which grow naturally on the grape skins.

And now for the exception to prove the rule...I just loved the 2005 Lucien Barrod Chateauneuf du Pape. Traditional vinification (namely no de-stemming, elevage in large foudres of used oak) and terrific fruit lead to a bright, lively red fruit/hibiscus oriented wine with an enjoyable, breathable, airy texture. It should age well.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What's for din-ruh? Something to go with rosé.

I have affectionately referred to my favored meal of the day, dinner as 'din-ruh' for many years now. How, or why, this came to pass I cannot quite recall. Nevertheless, 'what's for din-ruh?' is a question that some in my life have come to expect. So when I posed myself this question tonight, I remembered that I have two bottles of 2006 Sancerre rose, both opened last night. My usual short list for foods to go with rosé would go something like this: fresh gazpacho, capellini with fresh (uncooked) tomato sauce, bread, cheeses and cured ham, or if I'm motivated, some fresh, garlicky seafood preparation of some sort. Given that it's way too early for tomato season, there was no good cheese or prosciutto in the fridge, and I was not sufficiently motivated to be creative with seafood, I improvised a poor man's pasta dish, with the scant ingredients available in our refrigerator and larder: De Cecco capellini, Alemany farmer's market mustard greens, lots of garlic, ginger, Frantoia olive oil (a favorite ingredient in the household, worthy of its own nickname - 'Frantoya Jackson'), soy sauce, salt and pepper. Simple fare for the time crunched day laborer. Similarly simple wines to complement the quasi italo-chinese fare:

2006 Gerard Boulay Sancerre Rose
Viewing the front label, I recently discovered that Boulay are 'vignerons de peres en fils depuis 1380.' Translation: Father and son winery since 1380. That's even longer than Chave, I believe. A very delicate light pink color, almost Provencal rose style pink appearance. Very likeable, with excellent purity and length on the palate. Tart red plum flavors, but very broad, elegant and natural tasting, with a bit of a nutty/savory character. Very good.

2006 Franck Millet Sancerre Rose
While it's a darker pink in the glass, the flavors are less intense than the Boulay, and are even fading in the way that a one-year old rosé can fade. Just to confirm the lack of flavor, I swirled around a mouthful that was twice as large as the Boulay I had just had: lack of flavor confirmed. There's still some red curranty fruit there, it's just not that tasty, clearly defined or vibrant. Serve well chilled, throw in some perrier and toss it down.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Scientist - Masterpiece

And now...for some heavy dub courtesy of the Scientist, recorded at Channel 1 Studios in Kingston, JA. Here's the deal with Scientist - the only way to buy his music is on vinyl, so that you can appreciate the fantastic cover art in all its glory.

Bullwackies-Dancing in the street

Some classic lover's rock from Bronx based, Jamaican expat 'Bullwacky.' Dig the red, white and blue Wackie's T, and the striped tube socks. Such style in the early 80's! If you like dub, pretty much any release that the Wackie's label put out is going to get some serious play on your itunes, CD or record player.

Dinner with a Rioja classic and Priorat up-and-comer: Lopez de Heredia, Buil & Gine at Orson

Boy was I looking forward to this. On Wednesday night, K&L, along with a few people from one of our distributors, Winewise, their Spanish importer and the good folks at Orson, hosted a dinner with what are undoubtedly some of the world's most distinctive, elegant and age-worthy wines. Of course I am talking about the wines of Haro's own Lopez de Heredia. Standing in marked contrast were the evening's other featured wines from Buil & Gine in Priorat/Montsant - big, bold and fruity, yet still not at all overly ripe. A similarly remarkable contrast was Maria Jose's beautifully told anecdotes about the 100+ year old history of Lopez de Heredia, her succinct summary of what the wines are about, and the reactions they elicit in tasters, compared to Xavi Buil's friendly, low-key explanation of his relatively new wine ventures in Priorat, Montsant and Toro. There was even some friendly joking between Maria Jose and Xavi, about the differences between their wines and respective regions. Later I would learn that the two of them have travelled together before, are good friends, and enjoy presenting their wines together to provide a unique side-by-side comparison to anyone interested in learning about Spanish wine. The menu:

Chicory salad, apple hazelnut, lengua
1.) 1981 Lopez de Heredia 'Vina Tondonia' Blanco Gran Reserva Rioja
2.) 1997 Lopez de Heredia 'Vina Tondonia' Rosado Crianza
3.) 2006 Buil & Gine Rosat Priorat

Yeah, so basically we decided to flash the wine of the night during the first course! Of course that would be the '81 LdH Blanco Gran Reserva. As any of you who have had this wine know, words truly fall short. It is a beautiful, deep golden color, with deeply pitched stone fruit and orange aromas that become increasingly complex with air. On the palate, there is so much nuance and texture. A wine that doesn't blow you away at first sip, it just demands your attention throughout the experience. Silent, insistent, and ready to school you on what wine is all about. The delicate flavors and silky texture combined well with the velvety, fatty lengua, as well as with the hazlenut in the salad - a tiny but inspired detail as LdH whites often times have a nuttiness to the finish that goes well with - you guessed it - nuts. The julienned apples and chicories were light, bright and crunchy, a perfect contrast to the more decadent texture and flavors of nuts, lengua and Tondonia. You better believe that I made sure to save a bit of '81 Tondonia to re-visit later in the evening, and of course it only got better - at its most vibrant and youthful at the end of the evening. Unfortunately, as distinctive a wine as the '97 Rosado is, it was inevitably overshadowed by the white. It continues to improve each time I have it though, with more open-knit red and Sicilian orange fruit to match the beautiful, coconut inflected nose. the '06 Buil & Gine Rosado was a deep pink; there is gamay somewhere in the world with a lighter color than this wine. Fresh, fruity and simple, it is a bit of a fruitier rose than I usually prefer, but still would hold much appeal for many folks.

steak frites bordelaise with greens
4.) 1985 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva
5.) 2004 Buil & Gine 'Baboix' Montsant
6.) 2001 Buil & Gine 'Baboix' Montsant

Let's start with the food. I love steak, I love potatoes fried in the french style, and I devour all types of greens. So for me, this dish was a winner! It demonstrates what Orson does best: simple, fresh food, prepared from terrific ingredients that are not overly complicated by fancy sauces, cute presentations, or methods which effect chemical changes. As for the wines, on this particular evening I think that the Montsant wines, especially the '01, took the prize over Xavi's Priorat. The '04 Baboix has lots of dark fruit and tannic grip on the finish. It's bold and a bit monolithic now, but should mellow and drink nicely after another 3 years, at least if the '01 Baboix is any indication. I love the flavors that maturing, carignan based wines take on with some age, berryful while preserving a sort of spicy freshness. This wine matched well with the beef, but would have been even more ideal with something a bit more assertive like lamb with lots of herbs and garlic. In introducing her '85 Tondonia Gran Reserva, Maria Jose reminded attendees that Tempranillo is, in her words, 'the flavor of Spain.' I would agree. She also mentioned that the tempranillo grape is thought to be Pinot Noir that was first introduced by monks along the route of the St James pilgrammage across the northern portions of Spain. It was fun to hear about how the French taught her great-grandfather how to make great wine, a tale of cooperation between the French and Spanish that is oft-repeated in other Rioja bodegas histories, as the Bordelais vignerons sought to continue their work in the late 19th century, even as phylloxera was destroying their vines. Back to the '85 Tondonia...the wine is very similar to a mature red burgundy, just as Maria Jose mentioned. I remember really liking it, though that's about the amount of detail I can go into - there was little time to focus on this wine since I had pouring responsibilities, as well as the requisite 'shop talk' with a customer at my table. I really lucked out with my table by the way - Maria Jose, as well as two couples who were both really nice and excited to learn about the wonderful wines in front of us.

Cheese plate: Fiore Sardo and Pepato
7.) 1976 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva
8.) 1981 Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva
9.) 2001 Buil & Gine 'Joan Gine Gine' Priorat

As I mentioned before, I preferred the Montsant wines to this Priorat, which seemed to be showing a bit of an acetate character on the nose. It was unfortunately not the best bottle, as I have enjoyed this wine on a separate occasion a few months ago. The '76 Tondonia was very sturdy, meaty, dark fruited and more Bordelaise in character than any other LdH wine I have had to date. Probably a reflection of the hot vintage. Still a terrific wine, just a little bit lower in acid than usual, and probably my least favorite of Maria Jose's wine this evening. Of course that is a relative statement, it would most likely be my WOTN compared with virtually any other wines on any other evening. '81 Bosconia has a higher percentage of Tempranillo than the Tondonia, and it is still a bright, slightly taut, lively, spicy wine that I'd love to try in another decade. Apologies again for the short tasting notes, I was working and did not have the time to formulate, either in my head or on paper, more specific thoughts. Not to mention the fact that Lopez de Heredia wines typically defy description.

Some thank you's are definitely in order:

To Chef de Cuisine Ryan Farr, Executive Chef Elizabeth Falkner and the staff at Orson for doing one of the best jobs, soup to nuts, I have ever seen at an event such as this.

To Hiram Simon for partnering with us and giving us the opportunity to promote these wines to our customers

To Bryan Brick, for having the cojones to put together a dinner that doesn't involve Bordeaux and doing a great job seeing it through

To Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia and Xavi Buil for travelling such a long way to promote their wines and meet with people day in, day out during their US tour (trust me, it's not easy)

Finally, to all the customers who spent an evening with us and continue to support us, as well as what Maria Jose, Xavi and many others like them do for a living.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

French Reductive Redux: A re-tasting of two 2006 vintage French wines

Both of these were originally tasted last October. One grown in granitic soil, the other in flinty soil. Both from very good producers. One wine is gamay from Touraine, while the other is syrah from the northern Rhone. While both wines I liked upon first tasting them, they had two common problems: sulphur, and a recent voyage across the Atlantic. On the palate they tasted fresh, subtle, and held great promise (if more than a bit disjointed), though the nose on each was a little, well, poopy. Have they come around?

2006 Domaine la Grange Tiphaine 'Les Cassieres'

An overwhelming manuric sensibility is still dominating the pretty raspberry fruit on the nose. Thankfully, there is a bit more to like on the palate. It's all red berry fruit, though tight still, and needing some more time to unfurl its gamay glory.

2006 Vincent Paris Cornas 'Granit 30'

This right here is proof of the powers, the beautiful, floral, transparent, delicate, airy, intoxicating powers, of northern rhone syrah done right. Pure blueberry and wild mixed berry fruit, with excellent minerality, concentration, length and balanced acidity. There seems to be more fruit and less of the white pepper/indian spice combo I recall from last tasting this wine. Nonetheless, the wine is delicious. Anyone who enjoys French wine should love this.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Some notes on several Spanish wines...and prep for a trip to SPAIN!

Those of you who have suffered through OWOS for a while know that Spanish wines are some of my favorites. Having lived in Sevilla, and having travelled through parts of Spain for the better part of a year, Spain will always hold a special place in my heart. Spain is more than partially responsible for my love of beaches, jamon/chorizo/salchichon, late dinners, adventures on trains and buses, and to sum up, instilling in me a real sense of joie de vivre. So to return to a country and people who provided me with so much, to once again spend time somewhere that dramatically added dimension to and shaped my early adult years, obviously means a lot. Since I hardly experienced any wine stuff the first time around (the one exception being a tour of a sherry bodega in Jerez), I type in anticipation of an educational, thorough, and fun independent tour throughout Ribera del Duero, Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Rioja and Penedes. There is a lot of planning to do; there will be no cattle call Spanish wine bus tour for me (at least not this time around). Ooh, the anticipation....

So expect lots of Spanish content in the upcoming weeks. Tonight, I've got a few tasting notes for recently tasted Spanish wines. Later in the week, I'll report back on a wine dinner we are doing with Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia from the incomparable Rioja estate, Lopez de Heredia, and Xavi Buil from Buil & Gine in Priorat.

Vizcarra Ribera del Duero Roble 2006
Dark cherry and plum aromas, skins and all. With a hint of licorice and more dark fruits on the palate, still tasting fresh and not overly oaked or otherwise processed, this is tasty joven Ribera and all you can ask for in a young, fruity Tempranillo.

Marques de Murrieta Rioja Reserva 2004
Strong coconut and black cherry on the nose lead to a fairly high toned, juicy black cherry palate, with hints of nutmeg as well. Traditional style, slightly updated for modern times.

Can Rafols del Caus Gran Reserva 2002

Interesting stuff, this. 50% cab franc, 20% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon. It smells like a mature claret, with green pepercorn, cherry, and some terrific interplay between sweetness and savor, earth and brightness, fruit and herbs. This winery is clearly making some distinctive, elegant wines that will please folks with old world sensibilities when it comes to their wine. They do a few other reds (including a Pinot Noir), and several whites: a Chenin, an oddball from the hybrid incrozio manzoni grape, and a fresh Penedes style white blend. Most of the wines are aged for at least 42 months in bottle prior to release.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Montlouis is the spot. Some DRY chenin from Le Rocher des Violettes

I tasted some terrific wines from Le Rocher des Violettes, a domaine run by a young French dude name Xavier Weisskopf, who obviously is making some terrific Chenin based wines. Three years ago he bought 22 acres in Montlouis and a 15th century stone cellar in Amboise.

Le Rocher des Violettes Petillant 2006
Very mineral nose, with a bit of spicy Montlouis Maror (that's horseradish for the gentiles) on the nose, along with persimmon, leading to a dry, poised, crisp palate, with bitter orange and kumquat flavors.

Le Rocher des Violette Touche Mitaine Sec 2006
This wine is from Xavier's youngest parcel of Chenin. Flavors reflect pure, powerful citrus fruits - very clean. Lime zest. This is some dry, citric Chenin. What it lacks in typical Montlouis Chenin density and weight it more than makes up for in its unique, crispy, pristine flavors.

Le Rocher des Violettes Cuvee La Negrette Sec 2006
Another crisp, eye popping, brisk Chenin. Just barely under-ripe pear flavors on the palate, with less intensity and even a lighter frame than the Touche Mitaine. Fresh and fun. I don't see it aging very long, but over the next few years it should be tasty.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Anthony B - Raid the Barn

I'm off to plant the corn. Well, actually till the soil with compost. Planting within a few weeks. Enjoy the live Anthony B from Reggae on the River.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sella Costa delle Sesia Orbello 2004

I was really excited to try this blend of Barbera, Nebbiolo, Cab Franc and Vespolina. But I'll be damned if this wasn't just like a simple garnacha from Campo de Borja. Minus a few degrees of alcohol and plus a little acidity. It had that similarly bright, almost candied red fruit aspect and a whole lot of nuthin' much else. Sella is of course best known for their Lessona DOCG wines (Lessona, located in northern Piemonte, known for the most Burgundian expressions of Nebbiolo). I still look forward to trying the '01 Sella Lessona, but the 'baby'lessona (granted it's not all nebbiolo and maybe 'baby' is not the right terminology, plus it's a stupid term when comparing wines, it's already out of my usage, beginning now) did not impress. I feel like I could get any number of $15 reds from Spain, Italy, or France that have more going on than the Sella - and it cost $17.99. I have a feeling that mine is the minority opinion here, though, as a lot of people like this wine. Chime in with your thoughts if you've had this wine recently.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

El-P, Cat Power, and Domenico Almondo

They're all in the house right about now. I am listening to 'Poisonville Kids No Wines' (featuring Cat Power) from El Producto's latest opus, I'll sleep when you're dead. The track reminds me of something off Co Flow's Funcrusher: the horn bursts, the trailing off and then sudden crescendo of the beat, and the immediate impact of the composition. Yes, THIS ONE IS A BANGER. One noteable difference would be that El P's production is certainly more layered, nuanced, and avante garde now than it was in 1996. On I'll sleep when you're dead, songs aren't as challenging, not as much about sheer noise as in other El P work in the past five or so years. They have better dynamics, more varied structures, and a real sense of direction. Though I bought the album on i-tunes, there is a digital booklet with photo's, song lyrics and thank you's. Why haven't I seen more of these on itunes? El-P is an innovative and talented artist, as well as a successful businessman, talent scout, nurturer of talent, and overall type A dude doing lots of good for many people. Thanks, and keep up the good work, El-P.

As for the vinous imbibement to match such powerful music, I'm sipping some 2006 Giovanni Almondo Bricco delle Ciliegie Roero Arneis. It's the richer, more intense, bigger brother to Almondo's other arneis that was my favorite in an arneis showdown several months ago. Pure granny smith apples, a talcum powder like minerality, purity and intensity make this one tasty white. It cuts through El-P's dense production real nicely.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A few of California's finest whites: Varner Chardonnay

Jim Varner came in today to pour his 2006 vintage Chardonnays. Located in California's premier area for fine wine production, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, Varner chardonnays are amongst the brightest, cleanest, most transparent and complex white wines produced in the US. 2006 was apparently a very successful vintage (as they mostly are here in sunny California). The growing season for chardonnay lasted two weeks longer than in 2005, though the acidity measured to be roughly the same. And these wines do not lack for acidity- good, natural, balanced acidity. I'm listing these in ascending order of richness and fleshy texture.

2006 Varner Amphitheater Block Chardonnay

This is always Varner's most mineral expression of Chardonnay. Which makes sense given that this particular site has the least amount of top soil above the layers of sedimentrary rock. Though the wine goes through full malolactic and spends some time in new oak, the wine retains its steely, tangy apricot fruit edge, which is unusual for a new world Chard. Jim mentioned that he allows the indigenous yeasts to do their work for fermentation on all of his wines, joking that his brother (and Varner winemaker) Bob likes saving a hundred or so bucks on the bags of yeast he chooses not to buy!

2006 Varner Bee Block Chardonnay

Smells and tastes a bit fleshier, but still a great overall sense of balance and liveliness on the palate.

2006 Varner Home Block Chardonnay

While this is the biggest and richest of the three, with the most mellow and subdued acidity, I still think that this is a terrifically balanced chardonnay. Some riper, melon flavors appear here, but once again with the acidity, balance and natural flavors which all of these wines are known for having, year in and year out.