Wednesday, July 30, 2008

SPAIN PT. V - Of Euskadi and Txakoli

Upon entering the countryside of what most Spaniards know as pais vasco, or basque country, and what Basques refer to as Euskadi, you cannot help but feel as though time and the rugged, mountainous geography have left this region completely isolated. Yes, mostly everything that you hear about this most peculiar of Spanish regions is true. The language is bizarre, not at all related to Spanish, any other Romance language or representative of any other family of languages for that matter. The lush, green hilly terrain suggests Ireland more than Iberia. Many signs, storefronts, even trucking companies are named with the same unusual, curved, basque font, which would seem to be heavily influenced by summer of love era, psychedelia inspired graphic design. Yes, the Basques apparently even have their own font.

As far as wine is concerned, in a country best known for its robust red wines from grapes such as Tempranillo and Garnacha, a low alcohol, slightly fizzy, crisp thirst quenching white is both the main wine produced and most popular wine to drink with the abundance of terrific, fresh local seafood. Using beautiful old town San Sebastian as a base, Natalie and I recently ventured into the region of Txacoli Getariako, centered in the hills above the port town of Zarautz. In the camping area around Mt. Talai Mendi lies Talai-Berri, run by Bixente Eizaguirre , whose 12 hectares of vineyards lie on low to medium grade hills, verdantly green from the cover crops and a healthy, not overly pruned canopy. For the soil nerds, the vines grow in arenisca, a soft, crumbly yellowish sandstone. Most of the vines are Hondarribi Zuri, and a tiny amount of land is dedicated to the far more rare Hondarribi Beltza. With a flavor profile similar to Loire valley cabernet franc, hondarribi beltza is used to make red txacoli in vintages that are warm enough to properly ripen these grapes.

Heading into the winemaking facility from the vineyards, I noticed the immaculate conditions of the winery, the stainless steal gleaming while Bixente explained the elaboration of his wines. One of the keys to txakoli production is the retention of CO2 in the finished wine, achieved by simply sealing off the fermentation vats in the final stages of fermentation (normally they would be left open for white wine production). This traps a bit of CO2 and provides the sparkle. Following a cold stabilization, the txakoli is kept in vats at a near freezing temperature and bottled as needed. After the quick walk through of his winemaking facility, I tasted the 2007 Talai Berri Txakoli. Produced from 90% Hondarribi Zuri and 10% Hondarribi Beltza, its flavor profile is classic txacoli: crisp, fresh, lively acidity, and a light sparkle. Perhaps it was a touch more full-bodied and rounded, with a pretty white peach note prominent in the mid-palate. Definitely worth noting is that Talai Berri's modest 8,000 case production makes them one of the larger producers of txacoli in the region, indicative of the fact that the production zone for txakoli is Spain's smallest D.O.

After the Talai Berri visit, Natalie and I descended the hill in our car to the village of Getaria, where we had a delicious lunch of fresh fish (turbo for her and hake for me). Hake, or merluza a la vasca (grilled with the perfect proportion of olive oil, garlic and parsley) is one of my favorite Spanish seafood dishes. Paired with a bottle of 2007 Ameztoi Txakoli, while sitting within view of the Bay of Zarautz, it was the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Basque country, surrounded by water, green hillsides and tourists, from as far away as Australia and as nearby as Madrid. And surrounded, of course, by bottles of txakoli at every table.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Flaws in natural wine (red)

Quick post today, for the wine geeks and folks who are familiar with winemaking. I’d like to pose a question. Certain wines, often those produced with minimal use of sulphur, seem to have a malty, nutty quality to them. Occasionally they will have a bit of spritz which blows off with air; this I understand since liberal use of sulphur will discourage the formation of CO2 in the bottle. But the nutty maltiness, is that a sign of instability if it is too pronounced? Perhaps bacterial issues with the wine, or an in-bottle malolactic fermentation?

As an example, today I tasted two organic, seemingly naturally produced wines from Argentina, of all places, from a bodega named Montlaiz in Mendoza. The wines were all relatively low in alcohol (13.2% - 13.6%), not overly extracted and surprisingly dry and natural tasting in the mouth. Very cool considering that they are from one of the hotbeds of overmanipulated, oaked, lifeless, cookie cutter wines: Mendoza, Argentina. But, in varying degrees, they were also fucked up. Weird, malty, nutty, bacterial flavors dominated. Now I've come across these flavors in wines from the likes of Olivier Cousin and Jean Courtois in the Loire, as well as from producers in southern France and Portugal, but the degree to which they dominated was much lower. Plus the wines were more interesting.

Anyone care to shed some light or share their own experiences here?

Monday, July 28, 2008

What I’ve been drankin’

Well I just returned from an overnight stay in Point Arena, Mendocino County, and unfortunately did not visit any wineries. Instead most of the time my girlfriend and I were at a wedding party, eating terrific, spicy homemade lamb sausage (aka merguez), venison prepared from a deer recently shot by the groom (yep, it was my first Northern California hippie style wedding), and a wonderful variety of fresh salads and vegetables: tomato and mozzarella, caponata, Israeli cous-cous and corn kernels, shredded beets and cabbage strands in a sweet and tangy dressing. There was cheap, highly chaptalized Cortese and Barbera, so I opted for some Scrimshaw Pilsner instead. Much better.

A few nights ago I tasted a few things at Terroir:

2007 Dashe McFadden Family Farms Potter Valley Zinfandel ‘L’enfant Terrible’– Approachable, juicy, well-behaved zin. Apparently this comes from a single 900 gallon barrel of zin, with very little added sulphur in its production. A bit ripe for my tastes (strange as it’s from fruit grown in the ‘cool’ climate Potter Valley – ok, it actually is really cool there from what I hear, certainly cooler than Napa or much of the Sonoma coast). Dashe zins have recently struck me as being good and ripe though.

2000 Ferret Pouilly Fuisse ‘Les Menetrieres’
Fully mature, plus a little more maturity. Then again, I tasted from a bottle opened a few days earlier. If you’ve got it in your cellar, drink up this PF from the iconic, now defunct Cote Chalonnaise winery, lovingly depicted in Neil Rosenthal’s recent memoir.

2004 Raveneau Chablis ‘Les Forets’ 1er Cru
Clearly this is very good wine. Very clean, very focused. Very tight and very difficult to describe. Maybe this recently arrived to the shop? My first Raveneau experience. BRIGHT citrus and mineral. But it really seems tight and not too generous right now. I’d like to try it again, maybe even in another 6 months to see what happens.

Luc Massy Chasselas Dezaley Chemin de Fer Grand Cru 2001
My favorite wine of the evening – thanks again for the tastes, Guillhaume. 100% Chasselas from Switzerland (imagine that) labeled as Grand Cru. I would tell you more about the wine but it’s imported by Robert Chadderdon, who of course as everyone knows does not need to have a website or any information about his producers because – as everyone knows – they’re the best. Why offer more info, just buy the wine, and know that you’re getting the best. Anyway, the wine was fleshy, viscous, with some red apple and yellow stone fruit flavors, a touch of red banana, moderate acidity, and super intense minerality. A hint of white pepper as well. Gruner veltliner-like, just alpine style.

2000 Roagna Barbaresco ‘Paje’
Thank you to SFJoe, who was in the house and was generous to give me a taste of this soft, juicy, precocious Barbaresco. Dark fruit, cocoa powder, just a suggestion of secondary flavors; fun and genuinely approachable.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Recommended Reading

Fellow wine blogger David McDuff occasionally does a feature where he highlights several wine blogs that he feels are distinctive and worth reading. In fact this blog was featured in his west coast edition (thanks again, David). It is in that spirit that I wanted to share a few of my friends' blogs that I hope you will enjoy. Though they are mostly not wine related, they deal with topics that I know many of you enjoy - bicycles and liberal politics foremost amongst them.

Unearthed (appears on the Huffington Post)
Once a week my good friend and former bandmate Brendan DeMelle, along with Robert Kennedy Jr, report on news not covered, or merely given short shrift, in the mainstream media. One of this week's stories describes how Karl Rove failed to appear under subpoena to testify before the Judicial Committee regarding the firing of 6 US attorneys in 2006. According to Rove, "People talk about me a lot, and they don't see me very often." If you're critical of the press and can deal with reading sobering reports about the crazy shenanigans of certain politicians, lobbyists and corporations, then you ought to read this one weekly.

Stewart Bike Trip: Odessa or Bust!

Matt (aka Mateo) Stewart is one crazy guy. One crazy, smart, adventurous guy. One crazy, smart, adventurous guy going on an eastern european bike trip with his old man. The motives as I understand them are (in no particular order): exploring family roots, spending some quality time with his father and hopefully getting a book deal.

K&L Blog
OK, so I am sneaking in one wine blog and it happens to be on my employer's website. What can I say, I know where my bread is buttered, na mean? All kidding aside, we have recently started to post new content and I think it only fair to promote it here, as I re-post a few of my more accessible Old World Old School posts and mention this blog on the K&L site. Recently, my co-worker and friend David Driscoll wrote a fun profile of a terrific Bay Area Italian wine importer named Oliver McCrum, someone whose wines I have written about multiple times on these pages.

The Magnes Zionist

According to this blog's author, alias Jerry Haber, The Magnes Zionist represents 'self criticism from an Israeli, American and Orthodox Jewish perspective.' In other words, don't expect simplification of facts and the type of blind defense for Israel's actions that one often comes across, even in so-called liberal circles. Do expect an informed and interesting perspective from a brilliant philosopher and moralist, who, along with his family, has divided his time between the US and Israel for over thirty years now.

I do hope that you check the posts on some or all of these blogs. Hopefully they will add some variety to your weekly web reading and maybe you will have even found a new favorite.

Stay tuned for the Friday youtube....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jura and Savoie Tasting

Monday night I went to a highly educational brown bag tasting of a few of the wines of the Savoie and Jura. As usual there were two flights - four whites and then four reds - and since we did not know what the theme would be (or if there was a specific theme) for the first flight, it was fun to guess what common thread might be looping its way through the wines.

First, a primer on the wines of the Jura and Savoie, since I realize that sometimes I skimp on background regional information. As an aside, as time allows and my mood dictates, I'd like to begin providing better context for the wines I describe here -- I mean, you can't taste wine in a vacuum, man. [For the bona fide wine cognoscenti and assorted other impatient readers who wants to get to the tasting notes, scroll down a bit and you will find them.]

Located due west of the Swiss border, the vineyards of the Jura extend north to south just a hair longer than the Cote d'Or, which would be about 30 miles. Not a large region, especially considering how much of it is covered by wooded areas, not vineyards. Not too far to the west lies the Saone River and then, Burgundy. The southernmost reaches of the most southerly part of Alsace, the Haut-Rhin, is about 100 miles to the northeast of the Jura. There are four appellations: L'Etoile, Chateau Chalone, Cotes du Jura and Arbois. Given the proximity to Burgundy, it is not surprising that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown. Savagnin is a regional specialty used for making the sherry-like vin jaune and sweet vin de paille, as well as occasionally being blended with Chardonnay to make a wine sous voile ('under a veil,' or 'flor,' tufts of yeast which protect the wine from fully oxidizing since the barrels are not topped off, in order to produce a delicious, slightly oxidative style). These sous voile wines are like blue cheese, you may not get them at first and then you'll either fall in love or still not get it. For reds, Poulsard is very light in color and sometimes deliciously earthy. Trousseau is blockier and a bit richer. The Cotes du Jura does champagne method sparklers, mainly from Chardonnay, and they do them very well.

Savoie lies in more mountainous terrain, to the southeast of the Jura and closer to the Swiss border. There is one basic overlying appellation: Vin de Savoie. Grapes most often used for white wine include Roussette, also known as Altesse, Jacquere, and Chasselas. Mondeuse (peppery, assertive) and gamay are common for reds. Bugey Cerdon is the delicious, slightly sweet, sparkling rose which many people have been enjoying of late.

Here were the wines of the evening, starting with whites:

2006 Frederic Giachino Vin de Savoie Abymes
Crisp flavors of apple and pear skins, with a creamy, slightly oxidative aspect. Not sous voile, just leesy and rounded. My initial guesses ranged from jurancon, to grenache blanc, though the subtle, crisp alpine aspect of this wine gives it away as neither. No one could call this one.

2006 JF Quenard Chignin Roussanne Vieilles Vignes
Deep golden color, with a roasted nut, honeyed aroma and full, dry flavors. I was convinced that we were dealing with Roussanne here. Not my favorite grape variety and I was accordingly quick to call out that I didn't like the wine. How did Roussanne make its way up from the northern Rhone, I wonder?

2003 Jacques Puffeney Melon Que Rouge Arbois
Spicy meyer lemon flavors with some mature notes. I was guessing cote chalonaise with bottle age, maybe '02 because the combination of acidity and richness was so appealing. This was my number '1,' even though I mistakenly suspected it to be Chardonnay and prepared myself for the embarrassment of picking a Chardonnay based wine that wasn't Chablis or Champagne to be my favorite of the flight.
2004 Domaine de Montbourgeau L'Etoile
Super mineral and earthy. Some white flowers. It was like a richer, Chard mid-palate influenced fino or manzanilla sherry. Good nutty finish. Whilte it's probably not going to end up as powerful and convincingly tasty as the 2002, I like this wine quite a bit.


2004 Jacques Puffeney Pinot Noir
Sour cherry and spice on the nose and palate. Great acidity, interesting iron ore minerality, and terrific elegance. I thought Poulsard, it turned out to be PN. You were right, Mark, well done. Mmm...this was my red of the night.

2005 Jacques Puffeney Trousseau Cuvee 'Le Berange'
A darker color, richer and more intense on the nose. A bit blocky and four-square on the palate with mixed berry fruit. Persistent though. Young wine. Kudos this time to Nadia, for calling trousseau - I know Martine would be proud!
2004 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard
A bit of a cooked quality to the cherry fruit aromas. Foresty on the palate. Lots of finesse and elegance on the finish. For some reason I was thinking Mondeuse, recalling a great bottle of Jura wine that at the time I remembered as Mondeuse but really was Poulsard. I posted on it nearly a year ago here.

2003 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Vieilles Vignes
Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau. Terrific building floral flavors on the palate, with a touch more elegance than the Poulsard. Some licorice on the finish. Again, I wanted to say it was Mondeuse.

So the reds turned out to be a Puffeney extravaganza - not a bad flight! We enjoyed the remaining wine with some amazing pan seared and oven finished chicken and potatoes (I learned that Gary used to be in the catering business and let me tell you, dude can cook). When will you be hosting your next PMW tasting, Gary?

As always, thanks to the gracious host and the entire group for staying on the ball, coordinating busy work and personal schedules and tasting wine together on a Monday night.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jura State of Mind

Gary Roshke of the Bay Area based Jolivin Imports hosted a terrific Savoie and Jura tasting last night, the details of which will be published here a little later this week.

In the shop today we tasted a most interesting Canadian pinot noir, a 2007 bottle of Henry of Pellham from the Short Hills Bench region in Ontario. Who knows maybe it’s just because I had the wine last night, but it reminded me a lot of the 2004 Puffeney Pinot Noir. Very pretty wines, both.

Blogger is messing up (again) and I lost a bit more of this post, but it was kind of boring anyway so no big loss. More blogging later. I'm tired and frustrated with blogger, annoyed with my imac, pissed off at Comcast. They all suck. The only thing good coming out of this computer right now would be the 'Television' channel on Pandora. Can't recommend it highly enough.

Good night.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


It is something of an insider’s (read: wine industry) secret that a certain long standing San Francisco restaurant, owned by a prominent out-of-town restaurateur with a list formulated by one of North America's 96 master sommeliers, has a burgundy list to die for, with stocks on wines that are virtually impossible to find elsewhere, at prices which reflect what they might have cost over a decade ago. So I ventured to this restaurant with my girlfriend after checking out the SFMOMA Frida Kahlo exhibit as well as some truly bizarre contemporary Chinese art. It was a perfect evening of geeking out: the lady on contemporary art and myself on Burgundy.

Since the idea was to get a bottle of something really unique, which would probably not be inexpensive, we decided to sit at the bar, forego ordering food, and make some dinner late night at home. The choice was difficult. ’95 de Montille Volnay ‘Champans,’ some older Raveneau, various 1er crus from all over. And I could go on – the point is that I have never seen as many varied vintages of burgundy on one list at such reasonable prices. Cost of entry will start at around $90, and goes as high as you want to take it. I went with a botte of '85 Philipe Rossignol Haut Cotes de Nuits and it was a gamble that worked itself out. Counting on the reputation of the producer (whom I mistakenly confused with Nicolas Rossignol, a great producer of Savigny-les-Beaunes), combined with the strength of the 1985 vintage in Burgundy, I figured that my chances were at least 50-50 that the wine would still have life and provide an interesting drinking experience. A beautiful, soft, medium ruby color, I held the glass up to my nose, breathed in the perfume, and knew that all would be well. Very delicate, cherry, floral, dark truffle and cocoa powder notes abounded on the nose. Flavors on the palate were at first mainly of sour cherry with a ton of mineral. While the flavor deepened to include umeboshi paste (made from super tart, salted Japanese plums), I couldn't help but notice the intense minerality and saltiness of this wine. Furthermore, the tannins were fine, but increasingly firm. It appeared as though the fruit were drying out, leaving acidity, tannins and saltiness in their wake. While the wine is clearly on its downward descent, it was amazing just to be able to taste a humble village burgundy with so much bottle age.

Drinking mature wines could become an expensive habit, I'll need to closely monitor my consumption.

Thanks to Luc for the tip about this mystery restaurant's bar and ridiculous burgundy list.

Friday, July 18, 2008

BOSTON - Long time (REPRISAL!)

In case you missed my earlier post, or were too lazy to click on the link, here is Boston in all of their long time, bearded, big haired, open satin jacket glory.

ROCK! YEAH!!!!!!!!!

Does a leaky capsule always indicate bad wine? A surprise from the SCM in '79

One of my favorite things about working where I do is that we buy lots of wine from private collections. The way it works is that we (rather, my co-worker Joe) will inspect a cellar's condition, check out the wares, and if there are wines of some perceived value in the marketplace that have been well stored, Joe will make an offer. As he will offer to buy entire collections, not just cherry pick the highly sought after stuff, there may be some '78 Amador zin mixed up with all of those nice '78 burgundies and napa cabs. We take it all in. Which means that every so often we come across some really interesting stuff on the shelves of the old and rare section in the shop. Sometimes, a few bottles are leakers, have low fills, and never make it to the shelf. I spied one such bottle whilst bullshitting with the great Joe Z yesterday, and asked his permission to open it. He obliged, I opened, and here's where it gets interesting....

The wine? A magnum of 1979 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Cabernet. Nearly 30 year-old wine produced from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Bates Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. To be honest I don't recall the fill exactly, though it was at least upper shoulder (i.e. almost filling out the rounded part of the bottle, but not making its way into the narrow neck part). A decent fill for a bottle stored almost 30 years in a private cellar. However, the foil capsule and area below it was sticky with what was clearly wine which had leaked out of the bottle. Upon cutting the foil and catching a whiff of the cork, my hopes dwindled. It smelled very oxidized, port-like but sour. When I pulled the cork, or most of the cork (I needed to push down a crumbly portion into the bottle) I promptly poured a small amount into a glass. The color was still deep and did not suggest a wine well past its prime. On the nose there were notes of intense dark fruit, some spice, cedar; the wine was more than alive, it was alive, kicking, screaming, and begging for attention. When I tasted the wine, it had all the vibrancy, flavor intensity and freshness of a wine half its age. Loads of sweet dark fruits, hints of prune, and a strong cola aspect came across on the palate, which also still had some tannin structure. While the wine was not the most nuanced or complex, it certainly reminded me of a few things:

1.) Wine is sometimes as resilient as it is fragile
2.) CA Cabernet can pack a whole lot of richness and flavor, and still be under 13% alc
3.) Santa Cruz Mountain wines, when they're good, age every bit as well, and often better than, wines from Napa.

What a cool experience. I ended up pouring myself a glass to go with my lunch of leftover Bastille Day lentils and bread. After lunch I returned to the sales floor, one happy wine dude.

UPDATE: This very day, almost to the minute (ok, it was several hours earlier - David is apparently more of a morning person than I am, and he's on the east coast) David McDuff over at McDuff's Food and Wine Trail happened to post a TN on a bottle of '87 SCMV Cabernet. This just might be the most unusal wine blogging coincidence of the year.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

24 - some favorites of the past day

Dinner of savory lentils, green salad, bread and cheeses, served with good, honest red wine

This was how we celebrated Bastille Day at the homefront. Puy lentils, sauteed with garlic and chorizo, accompanied by a large salad, a trio of cheeses (which were, come to think of it, mainly Spanish) and bread. Our wine accompaniment, though, was absolutely French, and a wine I have written up a few months ago: Beau Thorey Vin de Table 'Bogus,' a delicious, biodynamically made, low sulphur wine from Pic-St-Loup, consisting of grenache, syrah, carignane, oeillade, alicante, carignane blanc, and perhaps others? According to the bottle it is produced 'a echelle humaine' which you can probably deduce means 'a human scale.' 40-80 year old vines yield great fruit concentration and aromas which are intensely redolent of lavender, other flowers, and mixed berry fruits - especially olallie berries which are sort of like mulberries. A light, nuanced pretty wine on the palate, with gentle acidity and excellent overall balance. 12% alcohol. Perhaps it was not assertive enough for the lentils, which were very full flavored and seasoned with pimenton. Not the best match, but it worked ok.

1997 Kalin Cellars Pinot Noir Cuvee DD Sonoma County

'97 is the current release for proprietor Terry Leighton's sonoma pinot noir. So they are even slower than LdH in releasing their wines. Not that super late releases make the wine good, but you've got to support people who are holding back their wines a decade because that's when they think they'll begin to taste the way they should. Besides the fact that this is delicious, and released ridiculously late, I don't know much about the fruit source, vinification, or other pertinent details of this iconoclastic wine [after a bit of research I can say that the fruit comes from David Demostene's ranch in the Alexander Valley. Wine is fermented in wooden cuvees and aged in 50% new French oak]. Bright, but developed, nose, with red fruit jam and burnt brown sugar nuances on the palate. Racy, mouthwatering Pinot Noir, with the acidity and structure to possibly age another decade. Who knows, maybe longer. I recently drank a bottle of the '79 Kalin Cellars Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and that tasted great. You should try this wine, Robert Parker gave it 91 pts and said that he should review Kalin Cellars' wines more often....

'Foreplay/Long Time'

A classic rock radio staple, Boston truly brings the rock here, with some prog flourishes as well. Specifically I'm a big fan of the breakdown section with hand claps (love those hand claps), and the bass playing, especially the repetitive quarter notes - further proof that sometimes just playing the same note over and over again sounds really good. If songs this good were played on the radio in succession, I might develop tendinitis from banging my steering wheel too often.


I had been more aloof, as opposed to resistant to, the whole facebook thing until recently. It's amazing how so many people come out of the woodwork. People I barely knew in high school, cousins galore, fellow wine bloggers...who could be next?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bastille Day Special! A 3rd growth Splurge at the new French local

Saturday night I headed to L’Ardoise, with a recently purchased bottle of ’99 Chateau Lagrange St Julien in hand (well, in backpack to be more precise). Conveniently located on Noe St, between the Castro and Hayes Valley, L’Ardoise is a small, cozy, classic neighborhood bistro. Since there are only about 40 seats and the warm, congenial atmosphere occasional encourages lingering over a leisurely meal, you may need to wait 10-15 minutes for an open table, even with a reservation. Another couple who was waiting ahead of us left. Unfortunate, as they probably would have eaten very well if our meal was any indication.

While we waited for a table, we were given a glass of sparkling wine and some complimentary frites at the bar. Everyone was friendly and apologized for the wait: our hostess, the owner, our server to-be. We enjoyed the fries with a very mild aioli (which seemed all the more tame compared with the head of garlic version I made earlier in the week). The sparkling wine, however, was cheap cava from Segura Viudas, which we probably would have been better without - we both suffered minor headaches later in the night, which I am tracing back to the cheap bubbly. Which brings up my major gripe with the otherwise spot on L’Ardoise: the wine list. There is very little of interest, especially by the glass. We followed our comped glass of headache bubbly with a so-so ’06 Chablis and a strangely medicinal Bordeaux Blanc (sorry – mediocre wine and no note taking means that I forget the produers for both). Wines by the bottle mainly consist of mediocre French, and industrial, boring California wines. Exceptions would be ’05 Tempier Bandol, ’04 Jasmin Cote-Rotie and ’04 d’Epire Savennieres, which are all fine but not exactly things I’d want to drink now, even with food; they’re too young. Oh, ’01 Chateau Meyney St-Estephe is good, but not exactly a value at $78. Hopefully, a wine rep in the SF area is reading this and will help L’Ardoise to re-tool their list with Muscadet, chenin, cru Beaujolais, etc.

Dinner was delicious. A succulent petite filet mignon, cooked rare, accompanied by an intense red wine reduction, and served with crisp, thinly sliced, fried potato rounds drizzled with white truffle oil. The intermingling of truffled potato and juicy, cooked to perfection beef is just a ridiculousy delicious, elegant flavor combo. I know, it all sounds a bit decadent but at $27 it’s a steal to me. Some people like BMWs, Diesel jeans…I like eating and drinking well, you know? We also had some haricots verts and sautéed baby spinach, both tasty and adding some necessary nutrients to this beef and potatoes dinner.

As for the wine…it showed young but very well. St. Julien, along with St Estephe and Moulis-en-Medoc, is generally amongst my favorite communes. 3rd, 4th and 5th growths are usually more to my liking than 2nd’s (as of yet I do not know from the first growths, I hear they’re a bit expensive these days). So the 1999 Lagrange, a 3rd growth St. Julien, was quite enjoyable. 1999 left bank bordeaux are generally very juicy, fruity wines, and the Lagrange did not prove to be an exception. It showed lots of savory dark cherry fruit on the nose and palate, with a bit of noticeable development – a touch of wet tobacco on the nose, some roasted and raw meat on the palate. Tannins are smoothing out and fairly well balanced with the fruit, but could use another several years to soften and integrate just a bit more. Overall, though, this is a tasty drink. Not a mind blowing bottle of claret, but solid. At $40 plus $15 corkage, it was a good deal.

And I feel the same way about L’Ardoise. What it lacks in exciting wines it more than delivers in the quality of food, service and typical neighborhood French bistro ambiance. Stop by and celebrate Bastille Day, the continuation of the Tour, or finishing another day at the office. You’ll be in good hands.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Diamond D - Sally Got A One Track Mind (1993)

I likes this track. Gotta love Diamond D. All you fellas makin' dough, watch for Sally, aiight?

Listening to this makes me miss New York. So the dedication is to everyone in New York city in the summer, no Hampton's or Martha's vineyard or whatever, I'm talking about everyone who stays in the stanky city during the dog days. This one's for you. Peace.

Wine for young lawyers

This blog, just like ODB reminded us about Wu Tang during the grammy's several years back, is for the children. In that spirit, I conducted an informal tasting for an IP law firm last night, sort of a 'lets show the summer associates a good time' type of event. Hopefully there was some value added as well, so that they learned a few things about wine, can at least fake intelligence on the subject during a date or dinner function, and, if I really did my job well, can develop better taste than a few of the partners of their firm (if you guys are reading this, I am only joking. Sort of. Well, not really, but who am I to tell you what to like and not like). Anyway, the structure of the tasting was to taste a classic French wine, give some background info on the region, and then taste a California example of the same grape variety. The only notable exception was a bottle of 2005 Mollydooker Enchanted Path Cabernet-Shiraz McLaren Vale, thrown into the mix by special request of one of the partners (which explains my previous gentle jab about taste).

A list of the wines:

FLIGHT 1 - Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Kathryn Kennedy Sauvignon Blanc
2007 Domaine Cherrier & Fils Sancerre

FLIGHT 2 - Chardonnay
2005 Chandon de Briailles Pernand Vergelesses Iles de Vergelesses 1er Cru
2005 Au Bon Climat Nuit Blanches Au Bouges XXV Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley

FLIGHT 3- Pinot Noir
2005 Domaine Gerard Seguin Gevrey-Chambertin Vielles Vignes
2006 Paul Hobbs 'Ulysses Valdes Vineyard' Pinot Noir Russian River Valley [another one that was not my pick, I wanted to do Calera, but this was another partner special request]

FLIGHT 4 - Bordeaux/bordeaux blend [at least it was going to be before the 'dooker request]
2004 Langoa Barton St Julien
2005 Mollydooker 'Enchanted Path' Cabernet Shiraz McLaren Vale

There was some engaging, interesting conversation with the summer associates. They show a lot of promise. They noticed how different the French wines tasted from their CA counterparts and asked why (I gave them the short answer: more sun, warmer weather, riper grapes, predilection towards toasty new oak in CA; less sun, cooler weather, higher acidity in grapes, hundreds of years experience in France). We discussed the role of the AOC system in France and compared it to patent law. We talked about sourcing grapes from different vineyards, why this tactic is employed, and why sauvignon blanc from Potter Valley will be different from the same grape variety grown in Napa.

Thank you to Sonnenschein Nath and Rosenthal for allowing this wine geek and aspiring arbiter of good taste to teach the children. To the summer associates, I encourage you to finish up law school without any scandal, drink good wine, and hurry up and make partner, young men.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pairings of the weird

I was in a sherry type of mood tonight, so I tasted a few manzanillas and one fino that I recently bought. From that bunch I selected the La Gitana Manzanilla Pasada to drink with dinner, which so far does not indicate any lack of natural order, normalcy, or rational thought. However, the pairing is where things got a bit wacky. Dinner was spicy sauteed purple cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, garlic, onions , sauteed with coriander, sichuan pepper and the searingly hot african bird pepper. There was also broiled okra with red bhutanese rice. Now I love my vegetables and spice, especially when I have a cold as I do now. But this ad hoc stir-fry dinner has all the stylings of a hippie vegetarian dinner: nutritious but lacking in harmony of flavors.

Dinner tonight was spicy, and while it did not totally cancel out the delicious manzanilla pasada, it came really close. My fault for insisting on a sherry liquid diet tonight, all the way through dinner. Young German kabinett or spatlese, or a beer, would have been the proper choice for dinner. Oh well - sometimes when you have your mind set on drinking something, you just want to drink it. In that respect, you could say that tonight was my wine geek equivalent of drinking oaky Napa chard with fish, or Turley zin with any sort of food.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Spain - Photo's of Day 1-4

A few photo's from the first leg of my trip to Spain. Top to bottom, left to right: Jeff Koons' puppy sculpture, created from flowers and ferns, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; closeup of Juan Muñoz bronze sculpture, Guggenheim; Richard Serra steel installation, Guggenheim; tomb in the Catedral de Leon; detail of facade, Catedral de Leon; a navigator's vans, napsack and newspaper, Galicia; Angel Rodriguez of Bodega Martinsancho, with their first new style verdejo vintage bottling - 1981; Pile of trash at closing time on the floor of Vino Tinto, Valladolid. Photo's courtesy of Natalie.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Spain Pt. IV - Leon and Pilgrimmagers, Mencia and Ribeira Sacra; Lost in Galicia

Pilgrimmagers. Say it, it's fun. It is one of the few instances where I prefer an english word to its Spanish counterpart, peregrinos. Leon is a major hub along the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago, or the pilgrimmage which tens of thousands make (mainly by foot) every year from the French side of the Pyrenees through Spain's northern interior and all the way to Santiago de Compostela. A lot of walking, to be sure. Most of the people I saw trudging along above the national road leading out of Leon, young and old, often times of Germanic descent, usually with a large pack and a walking stick, seemed to hold a steady, deliberate pace. They were getting there, but their gait and expressions spoke of significantly more work ahead.

I hope that these pilgrimmagers spent at least a day, and ideally a couple of days, to rest up, refuel and take in the beautiful city of Leon. There is the famous cathedral, whose walls are adorned by so many beautiful windows of stained glass that it's easy to forget the other beautiful facets of this gothic cathedral. I'm not an architecture buff, and extensive gothic cathedral visits in Spain have left me slightly jaded, but this one is a stunner. There is the Casa Botines, an early Gaudi apartment building. The old city, its plazas, narrow stone roads (far more enjoyably explored by foot, not by car) and bars are where the action lies. There were delicious potatoes. One night cubed, fried, and served with a creamy, garlicky aioli (free when ordering a drink!). The next morning, sliced thinly (slightly thicker than thick cut potato chips) and fried to perfection, served with a caña of beer (or even more typical, with a 'corta,' a short 6oz pour - don't knock it America, sometimes you're better off with a smaller amount of beer). The pimientos de padron here, my first experience with the famous eponymously named Galician peppers from the village of Padron, were the best I would have the entire trip. They lived up to the great Calvin Trillin's billing of providing serious heat, but only 1-2% of the time. My hot one, though, was plenty hot. It gave me hiccoughs; to combat them I drank some beer and nibbled on more tortilla as well as some jamon iberico. The photo of me wagging a finger is immediately after consuming a blazing hot pimiento.

I give the pilgrimmagers lots of respect, because getting an 8am start on Saturday morning was not easy, and I had the benefit of a car, fresh, dry clothes, clean shoes, a smart, pretty lady friend navigator, and a destination just a few hours away: the beautiful Ribera Sacra.

We passed through the incredibly green, slatey, steep countryside of Bierzo, through Valdeorras (land of Godello) to the even more incredibly green, steeper countryside of Ribeira Sacra. Here we stopped at Adegas Algueira for a quick tasting. They were nice to squeeze in this meeting, as they were preparing for an on-site wedding that night (they also run a restaurant next to the winery). All the wines, white and red, oaked and unoaked, are fermented with indigenous yeasts and made from fruit on their own 8 hectares of vineyards. The '06 Algueira Blanco is a crisp, delicious blend of Godello, albariño and treixadura. Nothing to cerebral, just a dry white wine with good fruit intensity nice mineral accents and a clean finish. Their '06 Blanco Roble, produced from the same blend of grapes, is fermented and aged in new french oak. While proprietor Fernando Gonzalez Riveiro says it needs a few years in bottle, I say once it's this oaky it will never be al estilo mio. Now to the main event here, the reds from Mencia. The '07 Ribeira Sacra was vibrant bitter cherry Mencia fruit, tasty. The '06 Algueira Roble is a gorgeous wine. Aged for 12 months in new French oak, but with a suppleness of body, liveliness of acidity and fruit intensity that were all in terrific balance. Spanish red wines grown in slate and aged in new oak don't always have to be 14.5%, oaky, new wave gold plated trophy wines. This was 12.5% and a real steal, part of the building body of evidence that Ribeira Sacra has a lot ahead for lovers of lively mid weight reds; even the staunchest of francophile wine geeks who try these wines would have to agree.

We thanked Ana and Fernando and headed west towards Rias Baixas. Unfortunately, an afternoon visit with Do Ferreiro was not meant to be. We ended up in Vigo, a beautiful city with San Francisco style hills, a gorgeous harbor, and what appeared to be lots of cool stuff going on, but alas it was very far away from where we needed to be. Do Ferreiro's hometown of Meaño was nowhere to be seen on the map, and attempts to get more specific directions over the phone yielded no results. I felt terrible to have missed the appointment, which coupled with the poor cell phone reception made me reluctant to call and explain that we were unable to make it. Oh well, when on the wine route these things sometimes happen; hopefully I will one day get to Do Ferreiro and when I do it will be with a good bottle of California wine in hand as a make good for my prior no-show.

As we headed back east towards Leon, I noticed that the sunset was coming to a lazy close at 10:15pm. It was a long day, with the usual frustrations of road trips in a foreign country. But we had also seen and accomplished much: we saw one of Spain's most beautiful vine growing areas, tasted terrific Ribeira Sacra, ate caldo gallego and tasty round Galican bread, observed the typical gardens with their large, collard like greens, potatoes and vines trellised high above the ground. We even witnessed a huge bike rally in Moaña. All on a surprisingly sunny, warm Galician day, the only full day of sunshine for the twelve days we would be in Spain.

The 4th of July weekend that passed and the week ahead

Well, my belly is full of quinoa, olive oil and garlic - and as is my wont after a Sunday night dinner I am reflecting on the past few days and looking to the week ahead. The holiday weekend was terrific; a bit lazy, but well paced, with a working day at the wine shop on Saturday sandwiched between days off on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. During the days off there was time spent picking mustard and salad greens in the garden, finishing up Alice Feiring's excellent new book, grilling steak, working on the bicycle, and watching the Giants play their old rival the Dodgers. Nothing too exciting as far as wine over the past few days, though my bottle of '06 Bobinet 'Amateus' Saumur-Champigny has not been quite as enjoyable as I imagined it would be - simpler, more monolithic and with chunkier tannins and wood influence than I would prefer.

This week look for at least a few long overdue entries on my recent trip to Spain, as well as a possible book review on the newly released Alice Feiring and Neil Rosenthal books, both coming from a similar place aesthetically, as it relates to wine, but from two very different personalities with unique voices and perspectives.

A good week ahead to everyone out there.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Man vs Machine, or is it the Man Machine

Well, they are at it again. I needed to delete three identical hacker posts this morning. I am waiting to see if someone on the blogger help team can un-hack this site for me. If anyone reading has any experience, personal or anecdotal, about hacked blogs I'd love to hear from you.

In other news, I picked up a bottle of 2006 Bobinet Saumur Champigny 'Amateus' from Terroir yesterday, which I think I'll open up now to let it breath all afternoon in preparation for a 4th of July New York strip. Ok, done. While I was there, Dagan poured me a taste of some sparkling melon de bourgogne that was delicious - ripe citrus and a touch of brett savor - it reminded me of a cremant de jura from Berthet Bondet; alternatively it also reminded me of Cantillon geuze, if it were to have a touch of residual sugar.

In yet other news, musically oriented, I saw a really entertaining show put on by the boys and girls of Still Flyin' last night at the Cafe du Nord. Fresh off a six show tour of Calgary (that's right, 6 Canadian shows, all in Calgary) the band was tight and in good form. Ska and reggae influenced party music for indie kids.

I'm listening to what is by far my favorite Billy Joel record, Streetlife Serenader. This is the Billy Joel that I love: Los Angelenos, The Great Suburban Showdown, Root Beer Rag, and for a classic radio single, The Entertainer. Terrific sound featuring inspired playing by all the sessions players (and there are lots of 'em). Not surprisingly, Streetlife Serenader has aged much better than the 1980s Billy Joel output.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wednesday night LOIRE Degustement

Some colleagues and I, along with a few other imbibers, met up at 18 Reasons gallery tonight to taste a wide variety of Loire wines: natural wines and high chemical wines, cult wines and modest bistro wines, current releases and 15 year olds, everything from the Atlantic coast all the way to Sancerre. Overall a terrific variety. Thanks to Josh for organizing and Morgan for providing tasty snacks to munch on.

2006 Henri Bourgeois 'Petit Bourgeois' VdP du Jardin de France

A simple SB affair, with the usual citrus flavors, but lacking in purity and intensity. Many better Loire VdP SB and Touraine sauvignon exist at this price point. Most recently I'm really enjoying the '07 JF Merieau Touraine imported by JD Headrick.

2006 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre 'Mont Damnes'

Of course this is a step up: stronger citrus, rounded stone fruit flavors and a touch of mineral. Even so, it lacks the tension and intense minerality of a good Mont Damnes. Not knowing the price (probably $20-25) I would take a pass on this one.

2005 Didier Dagueneau 'Pur Sang' Pouilly Fume

I was excited to try another vintage of this wine, one that I would more than likely enjoy a lot more than the super ripe '03 tasted a few months ago. Currently not offering much on the nose, and nearly as shut down on the palate, the wine is still clearly a powerful example of Pouilly Fume that should show more of its personality in a few years. Intense, broad, mouth filling citrus flavors, with some lemongrass as well as creamy lees flavors. Though it's shut down, you can still taste the intensity of flavors and note the amazing persistence of the finish.

2004 Courtois 'Originel'

Truly an original, this Jenny & Francois import is aptly named. 100% Meunier from near Cheverny. I have had this wine before, and it was consistent in its funky character. A faded golden color, with amber tints and a bit of an oxidative character to the aroma, this wine seems as unstable as I remember it. In fact last time I decided to let it sit in the fridge over night and it turned golden brown. Aromas are at first funky and green, but with pretty cherries and biscuit dough beyond the initial stank. On the palate the wine is very dry, with a pronounced hazlenut character, freshly baked biscuits and a hint of coriander on the finish. Some people mentioned a cidery quality, which I did not catch this time around but certainly did the last time I tried the wine, after it had been open for a day. Interesting wine, not one for the masses though.

2006 Janvier Jasnieres Cuvee de Silex

Very pleasant dry chenin, with creamy nectarine flavors, a bit of Chenin tuffeau chew, and nice grip.

2001 Prince Poniatowski 'Clos Baudoin' Vouvray

Of course this princely estate is now defunct, its vineyards bought by Francois Chidaine. This wine turned out being classified as 'sec' in '01, while in other years ('90 for example) it was moelleux. The style of wine depended on vintage conditions, it was not consistent year to year. Though I thought that the initial mustiness was mere Poniatowski diry cellar stink, others pronounced the wine corked. Either way, it was clearly not the best bottle from this now defunct winery known for its pretty good Vouvray and dirty cellar.

1993 Jo Landron Domaine de la Louvetrie 'Fief du Breil' Muscadet

Just beginning to show signs of maderizing on the nose, this wine is still tasty, with broad lemon flavors, minerals galore and a boiled oat quality as well. This was a near consensus pick for one of the wines of the night. It's further proof that top-notch muscadet ages remarkably well.

2001 La Poussie Sancerre Rouge

My experience with non-current release Sancerre rouge is minimal, so this was a fun bottle to taste. Super light red color with subtle orange tints at the edge, the wine had a real wet rock character, with some gentle, aged French pinot style savory cherry flavor. A touch of violet as well. Subtle, earthy and light. Tasty but frail, and probably a tough one to pair with food.

2006 Bobinet 'Amateus' Saumur Champigny

Another Jenny & Francois import, this cab franc is delicious. Deep black cab franc fruits on the nose, leading to more of the same on the palate, with a floral quality, lavender like. Great intensity and fruit purity here. Another consensus pick for top three of the night.

2006 Phillipe Alliet Chinon

This is the entry level Chinon, and while it is good wine that just needs some time to shed some undesirable aromas, it was really outclassed by the Bobinet, which I unfortunately tasted immediately prior. Funky, reductive, and bretty on the nose (can't say you didn't warn me, Jeff). Dark fruit. Chewy dark cherry and currants on the palate. If you're drinking this now, maybe open it a day before to disperse some of the sulphurous, bretty funk on the nose.