Friday, October 31, 2008

Further explorations in New York City; dinner at Tia Pol

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

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

Greetings, everyone.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Off to the great east coast

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

The rough itinerary:

Arrive at BWI in the evening

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

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


Head up to New York City

Back to Baltimore around mid-day

Hang with family and friends in Baltimore

Fly back to SF

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

Drink well and be well until then.


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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lovely French dinner, with French wine and new French friends

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

There is now one less car in San Francisco

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another busy Tuesdsay tasting

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


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


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

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


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

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

Alton Ellis RIP

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

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another wine and food pairing, featuring a bit of bacon

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

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

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

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Of White tunics, sneakers, forgiveness, challah and cookies

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

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

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

Happy New Year.

Monday, October 6, 2008

BLT and PdA

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

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Stranglers: PEACHES (as performed by The Muppets)

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 2, 2008

One re-evaluation and a Blog functionality update


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


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

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

And I'm out.