Friday, August 29, 2008

Hip-hop Friday, featuring Ice Cube

What can I say, it's a video Friday kind of day. Sometimes you just want to post music videos, you know? The hot summer weather really gets me in the mood for laid back west coast jams like this one. And yes, today was a good day....

The Pixies - Levitate Me

Critical, popular and fellow artists' (most famously Kurt Cobain's) favorites, I present to you...The Pixies!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A trio of '99 Bdx

As you may recall from a few past posts (here's one), I am a fan of '99 bordeaux. They are soft, full of pure, juicy fruit, higher than usual acidity, and at this point in their development, a complete lack of the blocky, chewy, built for Napa cab and near exclusive red wine drinkers type of structure. These are wines for French comfort food, clarets for drinkers of cooler climate reds, elegant wines to linger over and enjoy with good company in a softly lit den or dining room. That having been said, I tasted these three within 5 minutes of each other, in the comparably sterile surroundings of the K&L tasting room in Redwood City, California, on a near 100 degree day. If I loved 'em this much given these conditions, I can't wait to drink them in Fall in the comfort of my apartment or a local restaurant.

1999 Haut Bailly Pessac-Leognan

Last time I tried this wine, I was really shocked by how dry and chewy the tannins were on the finish: not at all typical for this property or the vintage. Clearly I had tasted an unhappy bottle, as this time the wine was much, much better. Elegant, red fruited wine, with well integrated minerality and acidity. Smooth texture, great balance and just really elegant.

1999 Lynch Bages Pauillac

Young Lynch Bages is typically muscular black currants, with very savory green peppercorn and eucalypt notes playing supporting roles. I haven't had many mature Lynch Bages, though what I have had tastes like softened versions of the above descriptions. Distinctive but not to my taste. I'd have loved to try this wine when it was released, however, as I suspect it would have been quite different, even out of barrel. Terrific perfume, a medley of red and black fruits, coffee liqueur and a touch of damp earth. Very soft, layered and delicate on the palate - is this really Lynch Bages? Quite good.

1999 Pavie-Macquin St. Emilion
Plenty of black truffle, dark cherry, nutmeg and other assorted spice aromas you get with well made, not overdone right bank Bordeaux. Very fresh and bright, focused fruit on the palate, with terrific elegance and length. This was my favorite wine of 25 tasted today, and in the running for my favorite out of maybe 75 or so tasted this week.

On a somewhat related note, I also tasted two high profile 2001 vintage Bordeaux: Leoville-Barton and Cos d'Estournel. The former was agreeable, not world changing but I think fairly well made and surprising in that I actually liked it. The Cos, however was awful. Truly terrible, undrinkable, like nearly any other of their recent wines I have had the misfortune of trying. Jean Guillaume Prats, I believe, is robbing the masses, charging what he does for these unacceptable wines. With the recent change in ownership, I guess that we can look forward to Montelena churning out equally awful wines within the next several years.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shopping at Corti Brothers: One of the best Italian specialty foods markets is in…Sacramento?

More than a few folks have had to hear me gripe about the lack of high quality Italian food in the Bay Area. Good Neapolitan style pizza? You can probably count your choices on one hand, with a couple fingers to spare. Good Italian restaurants? While I admit I have some more dining exploration to do, based on my few experiences thus far, as well as what I’ve heard from a few people in the know, I’m not too optimistic. Italian specialty deli and specialty shops? Lucca’s can’t be beat for reasonably priced prosciutto and the like, but is not known for a great variety of wines, cheeses or other specialty products.

So when I first heard about the Corti Brothers store from my girlfriend’s parents, who live in Sacramento, I must admit that I harbored a bit of skepticism – all of which quickly disappeared upon first checking out the store’s website (I might add that had I done my homework, Iwould have expected nothing less than the best; I'd have known that Darryl Corti is revered throughout the country for his exhaustive knowledge of all things food and wine). While the array of traditional foodstuffs was impressive, what really caught my attention was Mr. Corti’s write-ups. Explanations were succinct but detailed, the sentences short and simple but presenting the reader with everything you could ever want to know about these traditional, centuries old, treasured products. As an example, check out the description for Consorcio’s canned fishes. I cannot stand tuna fish; it’s a deeply ingrained dislike of mine and I’ll spare you the details. Anyway, even when in Spain where the tuna is much better, I cannot bring myself to order even a tapa of the stuff. However, having read Darryl Corti’s Consorcio tuna write-up, I could not resist purchasing a small tin of the ventrasca tuna this past Sunday, fully expecting it to be every bit as exquisite as he describes. I exercised restraint, limiting my purchases to just several items: straw colored, delicate acacia honey, rich amber hued, slightly bitter chestnut honey, hearty fussili pasta from Puglia, and delicious, flat, rusty brown Sicilian almonds – man were these good. They are so different from any other almonds I’ve ever eaten; they literally tasted of marzipan in whole nut form, with the essence of a maraschino cherry thrown in as well.

Since we had a state fair to head to, I did not have the opportunity to fully explore the shop, just a quick glance through the wines and some of the above mentioned comestibles. I look forward to a return trip when I have more time to think about what I really want to buy. For anyone living in or visiting the Bay area, Corti Brothers is a store you ought to visit, absolutely worth the trek to Sacramento. Just be prepared to keep a running tally of the cost of your purchases, they do quickly add up….

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tondonia Reserva '99 and Bosconia Reserva '00

Both of these wines are light, dilute feeble wines from the most noble of Spanish wine regions, Rioja. Drinkable, but not exciting. And what awful, limpid color! 81 pts for the Tondonia, 83 pts for the Bosconia.

I joke, I I tasted both of these side by side today and would like to share the experience. Later in the week I will post what will probably be a rather long entry on Lopez de Heredia and a recent visit there, but for now I thought I'd provide a couple of brief tasting notes and something of a teaser for the future LdH post.

Lopez de Heredia makes three reserva level wines: one white, Viña Tondonia Blanco (composed of Viura and Malvasia from the Tondonia vineyard, current release: 1989), Viña Tondonia and Viña Bosconia. Other than vineyard site, the main difference between these two wines is that the former typically has 75% tempranillo, the latter 80%. Aesthetically speaking, the Tondonia is bottled in a bordeaux bottle while Bosconia is in a Burgundy shaped one. Which, judging by my growing yet still relatively limited drinking experience with LdH, is a suggestion that carries over to the actual taste of these wines.

The 2000 Viña Bosconia Reserva has 80% tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 3% Graciano and 2% Mazuelo (carignane). It shows intense, spicy cherry and strawberry aromas. Amazingly bright and high-toned red fruits on the palate, with a combination of tense, yet rich fruit flavors framed by a suggestion of lightly toasted bread. While 'the 99 Bosconia Reserva was delicious, there seems to be a bit more intensity and flavor lingering underneath the surface of this 2000. Probably won't be at its best for another few years, and should improve for at least 4-5 years beyond that.

As for the 1999 Viña Tondonia Reserva (75% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo), it seems to be an especially subtle, but classy, bottle. While the requisite darker fruit is present on the nose, the palate is quite a bit less rich than usual. Tangy cherries, cinnamon stick, plum skins and blood oranges represent some of the flavor elements here, with some cocoa powder as well. If Bosconia is typically 'Burgundian,' than I would compare Tondonia to lighter, higher acid clarets or even aged Chinon (of course these wines are original statements all their own and defy comparison; I mention it here just as a frame of reference). One fellow taster noted mushroom aromas, another a sort of old school, mature Napa cab aspect to the palate. While it's tasty now, I probably wouldn't forget about this bottle in a cellar for over 5 years, though who knows? When wine has been slowly aged in older oak and thus exposed to air for as long as this one has, sometimes it can surprise with its ability to hang on to its freshness in the bottle.

While these wines are not inexpensive, nor are they always easily appreciated by the uninitiated (though I've certainly observed some wine newbies enthusiastically enjoy them), I still wholeheartedly maintain that they are amongst the most interesting, food-friendly, and highest quality $35-$45 wines available.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Blog Post #300

Well, it was inevitable, I suppose. I've finally reached 300 posts on this gigantic free time vaccuum known to friends, colleagues, old and new acquaintances alike as 'my blog.' Rather than post something really impressive, detailed, personal and thoroughly entertaining such as this fellow blogger's recent 300th milestone, or this typically high quality entry from the creative mind of one very solid wine writer residing in B-r-o-o-k-lyn the planet, I thought that I would take the easy way out and do one of those 'by the numbers' deals (numbers may or may not be accurate).

- At least 60 youtube posts (that’s 20%, or 1 out of every 5 posts!) Some might call it laziness, I would prefer to highlight the fact that Old World Old School is truly your source for terrific, varied youtube programming on wine blogs.
- 9000 minutes (150 hours, or 6 ¼ days) of time spent considering, typing, re-considering, the content of all the posts on this site. That’s based on an average of 30 minutes per post. 150 hours would represent 2.5% of my waking hours since I started this blog last September
- More than 60% blogs are still not tagged, since I only figured out that I should tag posts a few months ago.
- 1 live Doobie Brothers post
- 2 DC go-go and 2 Bmore club posts
- 1 Bmore club re-mix of Dave Chapelle’s Samuel Jackson beer skit
- At least a few posts that actually discuss wine…
- 5 posts on my recent ‘camino de vino’ in Spain (with at least several more to come)
- 1,000 wine blogs which have started since mine
- According to feedburner, an average of .547 site views a day (in case you missed the decimal point, that would be a little more than half a site view per day).

Maybe post #500 will be a bit more milestone-like. Until then, hope you enjoy the stuff that follows.

Thank you to all my friends, family, co-workers and kindred spirits in wine/food/music geekdom for all of your support, comments, and attention. I tend to think that we bloggers blog primarily for ourselves, but having an audience sure makes it more enjoyable, educational and worthwhile. So, thanks. I sure do appreciate it.

Sunday at the state fair in Sac-to

That would be Sacramento for my readers outside of California. It's state fair season, which was the primary motivation for the trip. We started out with a primer on the diversity of the golden states' many counties, displayed in county exhibit booths which entertained and occasionally educated. Who knew that Butte County was home to Knudsen's juice company and Lundbergh Farms, the large producer of organic rices? Or that almond production contributes to as much as $85,000,000 of a few counties' GDP? Kudos to Solano County for their inspired, crazily outfitted barn booth and Lake County for having the friendliest exhibit staff of anyone. One piece of constructive criticism for Mendocino County, though: why not mention anything about your top cash crop (it's not grapes, that would be #2). Come on Mendo, that's not keeping it real....

From the county booths we toured the entomological, followed by the agricultural portions of the fair. Highlights included a lush, densely growing group of kiwi trees and an impressive variety of eggplants. Then it was on to the livestock: expecting cows, huge sows with their nursing piglets, sheep, and my favorite, the goats. I would advise against petting or sticking your hands in proximity of their mouths; those chompers look well-developed and goats do love to chew. Just admire them from a distance and move on.

After a quick walk-through of the fine arts pavillion (actually much better than I had expected) we finally made it to the rides and then the food (definitely recommended in that order, rides and then food). Try the fried artichoke hearts, terrific with just a sprinkle of salt and nothing else. Funnel cake (fried dough to some) was crisp, chewy and delicious. Lemon italian ice from a local purveyor (was it called Merino's, perhaps?) was fresh with loads of natural lemon flavor. Very refreshing on a 90+ degree, sunny day.

I definitely would recommend checking out a state fair if you haven't done so in a while. Brave the large crowds for as long as you can and you'll probably walk away having learned a few things. Just don't forget the livestock.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Spoonie Gee/Treacherous Three - Love Rap

This beat is contagious. Simple, infectious, conga driven perfection.

And Spoonie Gee just going off, non-stop. In the words of Prodigy, "Heavy air-play all day with no chorus."

A Query about 2005 Edmond Vatan 'Clos la Neore' Sancerre Chavignol

I picked up two of these for the cellar and need some advice. When should I open them? My usual cellaring routine involves buying a reasonably priced bottle, drinking it, purchasing more, asessing a rough time frame of checking in on the bottles (say, for example, opening a bottle three years after purchase, then another one after five years) and then putting away and forgetting about said bottles. As Vatan is allocated and not inexpensive, I will need to consult the public as well as my knowledgeable readership for advice with regards to cellaring time.

Well, readership, what do you think?

Galician (and one oaky Bierzo) Tasting with The Group

Last night it was my turn to host our PM Dub tasting group and it will probably not come as a surprise that I chose to feature Spanish wines. As with many other tasting groups, we usually taste double blind, i.e. brown bagging each bottle, so that we do not know the region(s) or producers.

I chose to feature wines from Albariño and Mencia grapes, mainly because I do not believe that the group has had such a tasting, at least not during my tenure. The idea was to remind the group, with its typically Francophilian and occasionally italophilian wine geek tendencies, that Spanish wines are not all about fruity values to entice new world palates, or overoaked, over-priced wines from Ribera del Duero, Rioja and Priorat. And that there is more Spanish wine of interest to the well–informed, long tested wine palate than Lopez de Heredia, sherry and the occasional txakoli. That being said, there are more obscure wines from folks like Can Rafols (Penedes) I could have included, but the great northwest seemed to be calling, so Rias Baixas and Ribera Sacra it would be.

The Whites (in reverse order of group preference):

2006 Quinta do Couselo Turonia Albariño

Unusual for the O Rosal subzone, this is a 100% Albariño (usually Treixadura and Loureiro are in the mix). The wine was corked.

2005 Bodegas Pablo Padin Granbazar 'Ambar' Albariño

This relatively large producer (40,000 cases) located in the largest production zone of of Rias Baixas, Val do Salnes, generally makes good stuff. Their 'ambar' bottling is the nicest one they produce. People at first were put off by the funky aromas, but then warmed up a little to this wine. It echoes my experience with this wine a few months ago - at first I found it to be an over the hill, partially maderized bottle of albariño, going a little bit sweet and without any vibrancy. Over a period of several days in the fridge the wine opened up to show bright yellow stone fruit flavors with a streak of mineral. Same thing last night as the wine improved markedly in the glass.

2005 Lusco do Miño Pazo Pineiro Albariño
At first I really enjoyed this wine. The intensity and dripping ripe character were speaking to me. Almost like apricot preserves and tinned mandarins, but fully dry and with good balancing acidity. You can tell that this is from well situated, very old vines. While tasty, it was definitely a show wine, more front to mid-palate flavors, not much mineral, and a bit over the top for casual drinking. And at over $40, there is a whole lot in Rias Baixas that I think would show more typicity and work much better with a meal.

2006 Do Ferreiro Albariño
From the same subzone (Condado do Tea) as Lusco, this was the group favorite and mine as well. I'm not surprised. Small production, organic farming, indigenous yeasts. Not that they are the only ones in Rias Baixas doing this, but somehow they consistently produce some of the best albariño out there, year after year. It is always the albariño that, with its floral/herbal aromatic streak, smoky minerality and overall sense of poise, most brings to mind certain characteristics of German Riesling.

Overall, people thought these wines ok but were not particularly enthused. One taster commented on a green vegetal component he caught in three of the four wines. A few others thought that we were tasting a flight of sauvignon blanc. Clearly, however, only one wine seemed to truly pass muster with this discriminating group of palates.

Better luck, perhaps, with the reds (least favored to most favored):

2004 Dominio de Tares 'Exaltos' Bierzo
Oak juice, courtesy of aging in Missouri, Allier and Nevers oak. I went back to this wine the day after the tasting, and it still showed meaty, but muddled. There was a not entirely unappealing bloody, iron, meat like quality here that definitely brought to mind the arid Castilla y Leon countryside (as well as the region's meat and potatoes inspired cookery).

2006 D. Ventura 'Pena do Lobo' Ribeira Sacra
Red fruited and fairly one-dimensional. This could have just as easily been a Cotes du Rhone Village. Similarly put together, with a disappointing lack of acidity.

2006 D. Ventura 'Viña Caneiro' Ribeira Sacra
More dark fruit and spice on this offering, from higher elevated vineyards composed largely of 'pizzarra' or slate. While it shows more complexity, there is still a liveliness that is just lacking in this as well as the other Ventura wine.

2005 Algueira Ribeira Sacra
Ahh, now this is what I'm talking about. This must be why so many experts are hyping Ribeira Sacra as the next big thing in spanish wine producing regions. Very pretty blue fruits on the nose, with a tense interplay between fruit and acidity, subtle oak spice and slate minerality, on the palate. More finessed, higher toned, and classier wine. A unanimous (I think) wine of the flight.

Mostly everyone enjoyed the red flight more than the whites. Someone mentioned an appealing bloody quality (yes, 'bloody,' can be appealing in the realm of wine descriptors) that showed in all of them. Another taster mentioned a granite inflected mineral stamp - keen tasting on her part as all of these wines came from either granite or slate.

So did these wines truly impress? Will Albariño and Mencia make occasional appearances alongside cru beaujolais, Bourgueil, Menetou Salon Rouge and Langhe Nebbiolo on the tables of my fellow group members? Perhaps. The fact remains, however, that even I have far fewer Spanish wines in my cellar relative to Muscadet, Chinon, German Riesling, and others. My most recent splurge was for two bottles of '05 Edmund Vatan Sancerre, not '05 Pazo Pineiro albariño. So I need to be convinced as well. Four years ago, Spanish wines used to be the bee's knees for my younger palate. Now, not so much. The good news, however, is that Spain is diverse, dynamic and still learning. Given some time, I'm confident that there will still be plenty of wine for the masses, as well as more intriguing stuff for the geeks who demand a bit more authenticity and challenging, regionally specific flavors.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Building Connections

I stumbled across this live Built to Spill clip a few moments ago. In it Doug Martsch and band cover an old Gladiators classic, "Re-arrange." It grabbed me because it represents two distinctive stages in my musical appreciation: the indie rock of my pre-teen and teen years, and then the reggae that comprised much of my listening throughout most of my 20's. There are few things better than a well performed cover, especially one that extends beyond a band's usual genre or comfort zone. Who doesn't enjoy learning what influences and inspires an artist's creativity?

Now the original version of 'Re-arrange.' Clinton Fearon, original bassist and vocalist for The Gladiators, still records and performs to this day.

Reminder for the day: Good music is good music. Period.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nebbiolo and Pizza - Bliss or Bust?

Last night my roommates and I inaugurated what will hopefully become a new household tradition: Sunday night pizza. We made the dough the night prior, divided it into four sections, proofed it overnight and created four different pizzas. Remembering a post from Do Bianchi's Dr. Jeremy Parzen in which he speaks of his number one guilty pleasure: pizza and nebbiolo, I was very excited to drink some Nebbiolo with the pies. Unfortunately, and as I had expected prior to momentarily getting caught up in Jeremy's enthusiasm, the two Produttori de Barbaresco ('06 Langhe Nebbiolo and '04 Barbaresco Torre) wines were not so great with the pizzas. Then again, maybe the guilty pleasure of nebbiolo and pizza requires more mature nebbiolo based based wines, or perhaps some stuff from different producers.

Anyway, here's what we ate:

The Margherita - classic fresh mozzarella with tomato sauce and basil. We threw some fresh baby romaine from our garden on top after baking.
The Farmer - ricotta, string beans, chopped potatoes from our garden, sliced garlic, white truffle oil
The Funghi - tomato sauce, sliced mushrooms, sliced garlic, grated parmeggiano reggiano
The Friulano - Not sure why I dubbed this one the way I did. The only vaguely friulian component might have been the seasoning. Thinly sliced piave, olive oil, toasted ground cumin seeds and coriander, grated cinnamon.

Here's what we drank:

2006 Produttori de Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo

While this was truly interesting Nebbiolo, amongst the sturdier, richer, and more age-worthy basic nebbiolos I've had, it just didn't work with all but the last pizza. The nose was foresty and had some black cherry and deeply pitched blackberry aromas. More of the same on the palate, very dark with iron minerality and licorice rope on the finish. While this is not one for most pizzas, the interplay between spices (especially cumin), sharp piave, and nebbiolo, even of such a muscular and stern style, was enlightening.

2004 Produttori de Barbaresco Barbaresco Torre

Not the best bottle, I didn't even give this a shot with most of the pizzas. Given the hollow mid-palate, general sense of disjointedness, lack of aromas, absence of fruit hitting the tongue, and strongly bitter finish, I thought this bottle to be corked. Re-tasting it today, there was no TCA jumping out, but the wine remained a disjointed mess, with the same lack of a mid-palate and jarring, weird acidity. I tasted this wine six months ago with different, though similarly disappointed, notes.

Here's to progressively better pizzas, and more successful matches with wines. And yes, we will always have beer on the ready for the pizza and beer purists.

Friday, August 15, 2008

DC Go-Go mini mix

First, a classic from RE (that's Rare Essence for those of you who don't know). That intro is one hell of a break, don't you think?

And now a performance from the incomparable Junk Yard Band at what we used to refer to as the Cap Center. I don't even know what it's called now. Alright, enjoy the music and the weekend.

Ubuntu: Biodynamic vegetable cuisine...worth the hype?

Where else but in California might one find a vegetarian restaurant featuring biodynamic fruits and vegetables (many grown in their own garden), a chef who formerly cooked at a Michelin two starred restaurant, and a yoga studio? Ubuntu is the restaurant, Jeremy Fox the chef, and the town of Napa, gateway to the Napa Valley, the setting for such an ambitious - and uniquely Californian - endeavor. Having already earned best of accolades in the San Francisco Chronicle, a #2 spot on NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni's top 10 list of 'restaurants that count,' and countless other fawning press, I was preparing myself for a truly transforming dining experience when I went with my family and girlfriend for dinner last week.

Upon entering Ubuntu, Natalie and I were greeted by a friendly manager, who noted our arrival and led us towards the bar as we waited for my parents to arrive. We ordered a bottle of 2007 Palmina Arneis, a snappy Piemonte by way of Santa Barbara white wine which had most of the requisite crisp green fruit flavors and bite to the finish which my favorite Italian Arneis wines show. While enjoying our wine, we took in the relaxed interior design, featuring a two-story high ceiling, exposed stones, handsome wooden flooring of alternating planks of multi-hued wood and a large, sturdy, attractive wooden communal dining table. Shortly thereafter, the parents arrived, we embraced and caught up, they sipped some Arneis, and we were shown to our table.

To start off we ordered all of the 'bites': salted marcona almonds coated in lavender sugar (savory, floral and sweet - delicious but perhaps best after dinner); castelvetrano olives covered in a 'carrot top pesto' (slightly carroty olives, which were fine); dickson ranch “regina” taggiasca olive oil and chickpea fries with herbs and romesco sauce (very tasty, a good way to sneak in something slightly more nutritious than the potato and still maintain the proper texture).

Following some deliberation and consultation with our waiter, we made our selections from the 'cool plates' and 'hot plates' portions of the menu, each featuring large appetizer portions of food, so it's probably best to order a couple of plates if you are hungry. We split four plates and two pizzas, which was plenty of food for the four of us. Greens, flowers, herbs, and roots was a delightfully fresh combination of Ubuntu garden grown lettuces, carrots, radishes and even tangy leaves of an edible succulent plant, dressed lightly in olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Just the type of salad I like, ingredients that cannot possibly be fresher, tossed with a judicious amount of olive oil and citrus. The light, crispy carta de musica blended fresh-picked greens (from Ubuntu's garden), lemon, rosemary, and trumpet chips with a tasty truffled pecorino (not a whole lot of truffle flavor, however). Lemon cucumbers with miso “bagna cauda” was a creative play on the Piedmontese specialty, while fregola (Sardinian pasta, similar to couscous) finished with corn pudding melon rind & friarelli pepper relish, with fried padron peppers fused Italian, Californian and Spanish flavors together admirably. Our two pizzas were decidedly Californian in style, featuring non-traditional toppings on a thin, flat crust lacking the savor and chew of a good Neapolitan crust. While the mushroom pizza bianco with bellwether ricotta was a favorite of everyone else at the table, I preferred the slightly unorthodox strawberry & basil pizza margherita with a 3-day strawberry soffrito, fresh mozzarella, and saba. My parents are generally very open-minded folks, but occasionally when it comes to food they need to be convinced. In other words I ordered this pizza against my dad's wishes, and he ended up thinking it was ok. The tang of the strawberries brought to mind a sun-dried tomato spiked pizza, though the delicate fruity sweetness reminded me that this was still a strawberry (not a tomato) sauce.

For dessert, since we were stuffed, we ordered a single vanilla bean cheesecake in a jar - rich vanilla flavor blended well with the creamy, airy textured cheesecake and sour cherries. It made me want to further explore more desserts the next time I go.

There is no doubt that Ubuntu is the Bay Area's, and perhaps the nation's, best vegetarian restaurant right now. Somehow, though, it did not have quite the impact or leave the imprint on my imagination that I expected. Maybe it was the wine list, through which I had to really dig to find something I would enjoy drinking. The old world selections here are obviously an afterthought, and do not represent top-notch, or even particularly good, producers. Where are the Loire wines? And German rieslings? Wines that should be a slam dunk with the cuisine are clearly absent. As far as the food is concerned, maybe I should have avoided the a la carte ordering approach, opting instead for the tasting menu? Would that have been the way to go? Regardless of the nit picking, I look forward to returning to Ubuntu, which has left such a strong impression on some of the nation's most respected food authorities, if just a slightly less strong impression on this reviewer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Spain Part VI: Rioja Day 1 (part 1 of 2) – Contino

In theory, driving from San Sebastian to Rioja Alavesa should have been a breeze. Maybe an hour and a half drive on the AP-1, a bit longer with traffic. Well, theory did not prevail on Tuesday June 3, as Natalie and I spent the better part of three hours stuck in traffic on a regional road, due to one of two possible factors: 1.) A partial closure of the highway without any way to get back on or 2.) A partial closure of the highway with posted signage that I completely ignored or failed to understand. The latter is most probable. Anyway, we arrived considerably late for our appointment at Contino with winemaker Jesus Madrazo and export director Jose Luis Ripa. They were nice, but I was really upset with myself – I mean who likes being late, let alone a few hours late? Anyway, after introductions were made and a brief history of the estate were recited, all frustrations slowly dissipated as we descended down into the Contino cellars.

Here’s a brief history of Contino. Founded in 1973, the result of a partnership between the owner of a terrific vineyard site and the ownership of Cune, Contino is the oldest single estate bottled Rioja of the Rioja Alavesa. Their 68 hectares are very well situated close to the Rio Ebro, just outside of a small village named Laserna and proximate to the beautiful medieval, hilltop town of Laguardia.

As it relates to modern-day Rioja, Contino is quite significant for two reasons: 1.) Jesus Madrazo’s firm belief in the importance of the Graciano grape, which has a significant 10-15% role in their wines, as well as comprising the outstanding Graciano varietal bottlings 2.) The winery’s undeniable ability to make a fruit forward, modern style of Rioja that has enough balance and acidity to appeal to most classicists (including such experienced Spanish wine authorities as Gerry Dawes and Manuel Camblor, amongst others).

Jesus Madrazo is an eloquent defender of Graciano. As the joke goes, many in Rioja refer to this varietal as ‘gracias, no,’ or ‘no thanks,’ due to the fact that it’s temperamental and tricky to grow. When not properly ripened (which historically can occur quite often) the flavors are no good. But it’s arguably an essential element to Rioja blends, as shown by Lopez de Heredia and Muga, amongst others who always make sure to include Graciano in their reservas. It also makes for a tasty, interesting mono-varietal wine (see Viña Ijalba). My experience with good bottlings of varietal Graciano is that they hide their 14% alcohol quite well, since they show great natural acidity and remarkably pure, focused blue fruits. Perhaps this is why a Contino Reserva, even at 14.5% alcohol, can still retain a sense of elegance and freshness on the palate.

For some more detailed information on Contino’s history as well as winemaking, see this terrific article from Gerry Dawes (you’ll have to scroll down from the Roda portion of the article). Below are a few tasting notes from my visit at Contino:

2004 Contino Rioja Reserva
14.5% alcohol barely registers. Aged in 3, 4 and 8 year-old oak (French, American, and a small portion of Hungarian). My notes read, “fresh, primary red fruits,” though the 'red' also looks as though I were saying 'real.' I'm pretty sure I meant 'red,' but 'real' would be apt as well. This wine is a real joy to drink, and for near-term consumption is my favorite of this line-up.

2005 Contino Viña del Olivo
While the reserva has 10% Graciano, this wine, produced largely from a tempranillo vineyard surrounding a 1,000 year-old olive tree, ratchets up the proportion to 15%. There is more mixed berry fruit on the nose and more obvious oak influence (which would make sense – if memory serves this wine is typically fermented and aged in a combination of French and American oak, most of it new, for 12-14 months). Blackberry and vanilla flavors predominate on the palate, with some oak derived spice on the finish. Somehow, with all the power and intensity, this wine still maintains a relative sense of lightness in the mouth. No overly extracted fruit or harsh wood tannins here.

2005 Contino Graciano
At first very muted on the nose, it becomes quite floral, as is Graciano's (at least the ones I've drunk) tendency. Very pure blue and dark fruits on the palate. This wine needs at least five years to develop. As a matter of fact, Jesus told me that he recently conducted a vertical tasting of this wine for a group of sommeliers in San Sebastian. And the 2001 Graciano I tasted six or so months ago was quite tasty indeed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Art of Hip-Hop Sampling Vol. IV, part 7

While Kanye West popularized sped-up rock samples, in particular the Alvin and the Chipmunks style, high-speed dub sounding vocal snippets, other producers were developing the style before him. Check out the Foreigner song and classic rock staple ‘Cold as Ice.’

Now listen to MOP sampling ‘Cold as Ice,’ in their hard, typically rugged ‘Cold as Ice.’ Well, maybe this would be less of a sample and more of a re-working of the song. Not quite a cover. Incidentally, MOP really used to get me energized and ready to do stuff. Nothing too aggressive or destructive, mind you, just chores, working out, mundane daily activities. It all somehow seemed much more enjoyable while listening to Brownsville’s finest.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Geeking out (again) at Terroir SF

It was a celebratory evening last Wednesday night, as my friend Paul was in town and decided to have an assortment of friends - mainly wine business types - meet at Terroir. This makes sense as Paul has been a vocal advocate of naturally made wines for at least the past several years (longer, perhaps?) Though a bit under the weather, Paul clearly was in his element, staring slack jawed at the selection of wines from the Jura, remarking excitedly about what a ridiculous list the three man crew at Terroir have assembled, and clearly happy to catch up with old friends and share some great bottles. Which, of course is what it's all about. And, as anyone who reads wine blogs should well know, it's also all about trying to remember these various bottles and inform the masses on what one thinks is good (and not). So, in rough order of consumption, here are some quick (and I do mean quick) TN's.

Gros Jean Cremant de Jura 2001 - super earthy and funky, not very fresh nor charming.

Luc Massy Dezaley Chemin de Fer Chasselas Grand Cru 2001- a repeat from a few weeks ago. Found it more delicate, pretty and floral this time around

2000 Movia Puro - Disgorged by yours truly. Tart bitter cherry, maybe a bit lambic like? 50% Pinot Nero, 50% Ribolla. Cool wine, my first puro experience.

2006 Chidaine Rose sparkler - Sweet, one-dimensional and not as good as my favorite bugey cerdons. My disdain for sparkling Chidaines continues....

Bruno Michel Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru - Fun, bright, somewhat simple BdB.

2004 Thierry Puzelat 'in KO we trust' Cot - pure cot deliciousness. Floral, dark fruited, intense, fresh.

2005 Courtois 'Racine'- Fairly bright, high toned berries with some SSF (that's 'sans soufre funk,' see here for a related post)

2005 Freres Grosjean Fumin (Valle d'aosta) - Dark, penetrating, not fresh and alpine until the finish. Slowly grew on me.

2000 Montborgeau Cuvee Speciale L'etoile - nutty, bright, great intensity, nuance and depth. WOTN!

2006 Dard et Ribot Crozes-Hermitage - sweet, smoky, savory.

Back from Calistoga and Sonoma

Sorry I took an unannounced vacation for a few days, there. Had some tasty food at Ubuntu, amazing cocktails at Cyrus, a dead bottle of '71 BV George de Latour and occasionally good food at Barn Diva. As far as winery visits, my family and I stuck with a few Napa classics - Storybook Mountain Vineyards and Schramsberg - and tasted through some solid wines at Unti in the Dry Creek Valley. Back this week with a rundown of some geek wines from another night at Terroir, perhaps a more detailed post on one or two elements from last weekend, and definitely another chapter from Spain: Rioja.

Have a terrific week...and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention...

Tasted the 1999 Philiponnat Clos de Goisses. Very little to enjoy about this wine right now. Unless you like highly sulphurous, closed, single vineyard champagne. Clos de Goisses is supposed to be amongst the most long lived of champagnes, requiring every bit of 25 years before it starts to reveal its true character and pedigree. I don't have any other experience with the wine and this was only 1 oz. of a single bottle - but man, was it ever underwhelming.

It’s a champagne type of week

Funny thing, I basically drink no champagne for a few weeks, maybe a sparkling wine or two but that’s it. And then a week like this one, where we tasted a bunch of direct import champagnes at work, I enjoyed a bottle of Elisabeth Goutourbe with some sushi, and have plans to drink a few more bottles with my parents up in Calistoga this weekend. No, I’m not complaining, just observing my tendency to neglect champagne and then go on something of a binge.

Though we tasted quite a bit, the champagnes that stood out to me most were Bruno Michel’s. Juicy, succulent and seemingly impossible not to enjoy. In a self-imposed effort to limit the pimping of my wares, I’ll just put down a few TNs for Bruno Michel’s tasty champagnes. .

Bruno Michel Blanche Brut NV
Enamel and old oak fermented 50-50 blend of Chard and Meunier. Bright, clean white grapefruit with a drier finish than last year’s batch (which had some ’03 in the blend).

2000 Bruno Michel Clos Cuvee Clement Blanc de Noir
100% Meunier (70 year-old massale selection vines) from the 9 Arpents plot of their vineyard in Moussy. Fermented in oak. Nice Meuni damp forest floor aromas. Intense black cherry and that amazing ability of Meunier to stick to your palate and not go anywhere, while still showing loads of freshness. My wine of the day.

Bruno Michel Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs NV
Clean, bright citrus and sparkling Clementine tangerine, the type of intensity of flavors as well as delicacy that few (if any) wines deliver like good Blanc de Blancs champagne

UPDATE: Just wanted to dispense a bit more info about Mr. Michel (or Mr. Mayor - he is the mayor of Moussy). He is Jose Michel's son, so he learned from one of the best, and certainly one of the most successful champions of the Pinot Meunier grape. He farms organically. The blanc de blancs is actually from a single vineyard in the 1er cru village of Pierry, Les Brousses, from massale selections planted in 1964.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Television - Foxhole (live 1978)

While I'm not watching much Television, I certainly have been listening to a whole lot of Television in the past few weeks. On pandora, on itunes and even at Terroir, where Marquee Moon played start to finish, from 'See No Evil' to 'Torn Curtain.'

Here we have a really clean, tight performance, very different from the occasionally sloppy, meandering tracks on the live recording 'The Blowup.' I really like both; sometimes near perfection is great, and other times flaws are really enjoyable.

Pairing of the week - Artic Char and Bolognani Moscato Giallo

On Friday night I made some very simply prepared, delicious Arctic char, if I do say so myself. Characteristically I did not follow a recipe and will not go into much detail regarding its preparation; not much detail is needed.

To accompany the fish I drank a delicious, dry muscat - a 2006 Diego Bolognani Moscato Giallo (Trentino). The low alcohol, crisp flavors and exotic, floral-herbal aromatics of a good dry Muscat really set off the delicate herbal component of the char. Additionally, the wine's pure, focused, crisp yellow fruit also acts as a terrific foil to the meaty, rich, slightly strong flavor of the char. As a red wine possibility, and because I had a two day old bottle of Chinon to finish, I also tried a 2005 Bernard Baudry Chinon. A bit too rich for the dish, though it was great with the fried potatoes. Very nuanced, balanced, slightly rich Chinon with just enough freshness and finesse to keep it highly drinkable. Next time I'll have the same crispy potatoes and a skirt steak instead of fish.

Here's a recipe for the fish.


1 lb arctic char or salmon
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
A few tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
One small branch of rosemary (enough to yield 2 tsp chopped rosemary)

Simply start with one pound of as fresh a piece of arctic char or salmon as you can find (I used a great piece from Avedano's). Cut it into three even pieces, add salt, pepper, the juice of one half a lemon, a small pour of olive oil (nothing too fancy needed since it's going on a hot grill or pan) and a couple teaspoons of rosemary. Thyme would be great too - I used rosemary so as to not over-harvest from my young thyme plant. Let the fish marinate for twenty or so minutes at room temperature and either grill outside or pan fry it inside on a lightly oiled pan. Cook until desired doneness - my preference is for the fish to retain its deep salmon color on the inside, which would be on the medium-rare side. Serve alongside some thin rounds of fried or baked russet potatoes and a green salad or vegetable.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Scene from 'Babylon'

Yes, now we're back in the saddle! I seriously need to track down a copy of this movie, Babylon. The above clip features members of Aswad and the great Mr. Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ for short). This strikes me as sort of a UK response to Rockers which I have featured in a few previous entries. Fiyah, bredren, pure fiyah dat!

PRT - Shaykilah

OK, ok, now I get it. I cannot post videos to the blizznog directly, but if I copy and past the emnbedded code then I'm good.

And now for a few words about this clip. PRT was so fresh and original, with solid production and Wise Intelligent's reggae sing-jay inspired vocals. Great stuff.

Yesterday was a good day

At the shop we received some of the newly released 2000 LdH Bosconia Reserva as well as more 1997 Rosado (which will soon be justly labelled 'gran reserva' instead of 'crianza'), 375's and full bottles of 1999 Tondonia Reserva. These are my favorite wines to stock - so much fun to get these out on the shelves! Look for a post on visiting LdH in the not too distant future, as well as a write-up of the new Bosconia and Tondonia.

Happy Friday.

Oh, youtube for some reason is not working, otherwise I'd have posted two great videos last Friday. Trying to figure out what could be wrong, anyone else in Bloglandia having problems posting youtube videos?