Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toasting the life of Dan Ginsburg, 1956-2009

I did not know Dan Ginsburg, one of the two directors at Champagne De Meric, who passed away this August. As a wine drinker, Champagne enthusiast, and employee of a retailer which imports De Meric directly, however, I am familiar with his accomplishments in the world of Champagne. An American partner in the Aÿ based champagne house De Meric, Ginsburg was one of the very few foreigners on the production/supply side of the Champagne business. De Meric's neighbors include the illustrious and storied houses of Aÿ: Bollinger, Deutz, Gosset.

The region of Champagne is not typically a place for outsiders. Land is scarce and expensive, and often handed down generation to generation, vineyard holdings very slowly increased by the hectare or less. De Meric does not grow most of their own grapes; rather, they buy fruit from quality growers in Aÿ, Mareuil sur-Aÿ, Mutigny, Cramant, Avize and Oger. They ferment partially in older wood, including some very large, 4,000 liter oval oak foudres.

Away from their grape sourcing and partial implementation of traditional vinification, or perhaps better put as a result of it, the wines are delicious. Broad, soft and textural, but with plenty of vivacity, the Grand Reserve Sous Bois, currently based on the 2004 vintage complemented by reserve wines, is a delicious drink and a good example of the style, perhaps with a bit more brightness than usual given the 2004 vintage base material. For an example of De Meric champagnes at the high end, see the 2002 Cuvee Renée, produced from 100% biodynamically grown Pinot Meunier farmed by famed grower/producer Francois Bedel.

Dan Ginsburg was clearly a man of varied passions. A simple web search leads to his involvement in the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), which he joined as a founding member at the age of 15. He also was a published author, having written The Fix is In on the history of gambling in baseball and The Art and Business of Champagne. Mr. Ginsburg held a residence in Washington, DC. I would not rule out the possibility that on at least one occasion he may have dined in the same restaurant as me as I was checking in on accounts during my three years working for a wine wholesaler.

On Christmas, I enjoyed a magnum of the De Meric Grande Reserve Sous Bois with my girlfriend and her family. New Year's Eve, I plan on doing the same with Natalie and some of our friends. I would be hard pressed to think of a more fitting, or more enjoyable, way to pay tribute to such a passionate advocate of small production Champagne.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from OWOS and The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir

From spirituals to gospel, soul to neo-soul, carols to reggae to prog rock (yes, one of the songs had a prog rock bent to these ears), the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir rocked it tonight at Slim's. Full choir, bass, drums, Hammond organ and keyboard combined for one inspirational Christmas eve performance. I do believe I'll be returning next year.

Merry Christmas and I'll see you all next week.

Monday, December 21, 2009

'88 White Burg; '78 Rioja

I love surprises. And I love exploring older wines. The best way to approach these bottles, I find, is with a sense of exploration, even a sense of awe that an agricultural product produced from a single year's harvest, which may pre-date your year of birth, can still taste ok, occasionally great. Set your expectations somewhat low, do not pay more than you're comfortable with paying for something that you will not gain any further use out of after consumption, and you will be disappointed far less often.

Recently I had the good luck to enjoy a couple of stellar bottles which were drinking. And when I say drinking, I mean in their prime, strutting their stuff, no sign of slowing down anytime soon type vinous form.

The first bottle, chronologically speaking, was a 1978 Bodegas Riojanas Viña Albina Gran Reserva Rioja. Produced from 80% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo (Carignane) and 5% Graciano, this was everything you could want in a mature gran reserva: exotic indian spices intermingled with red berry fruit on the nose, aromas following through to the silky palate, tannins fully integrated, a hint of subtly sweet earthy savor, but not a savor which overwhelms the delicate, expressive fruit. I've only had a few other riojas from this year, '78 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Reserva and '78 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia. 1978 Viña Albina Gran Reserva, at least this particular bottle compared to the two other LdH bottles, clearly takes the cake in this trio of '78s.

Bottle #2 was found in our closeout bin for the whoppingly low price of $6, a 1988 Pierre Morey Meursault "Les Tessons." I was taken aback by the fresh citric notes on the nose, and even more so by the stunning brilliance of the flavors on the palate. Clean, chiseled lemon, tangerine oil, just a hint of a peppery Meursault terroir kick. This is simply incredible wine that should drink well for a long time to come. Oxidation? Nope, not so much at all. Pierre Morey makes killer wine now, and apparently, he made some great wines twenty years ago as well. I give this wine my highest possible recommendation for a wine made of Chardonnay grapes that is not from Vertus, Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, or the Jura.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two from 2002, left in the fridge

You can't keep a good man down. And with wine, sometimes you can't keep a good bottle down. Especially if you give the bottle some extra time to develop.

Such was the case with a bottle of 2002 Domaine de la Bongran Cuvee Tradition Viré Clessé produced by Jean Thevenet. The style is rich. Late harvested Chardonnay grapes (a small percentage botrytised?) grown in the northern Maconnais are pressed and then fermented for a much longer period of time than the norm. Then, aging in older oak barrels. Please excuse the vagueness, here. See Organic Wine Journal for an interesting Jean Thevenet post, and if anyone cares to fill in any gaps please go ahead and comment.

Initially, this wine bordered on blowsy to me: dense and rich, yes, but with some botrytis honey notes and not enough acid to balance. Minerality, hidden. As I suspected, a week of deep sleep in the fridge was needed to wake this wine up. It's still a bit outside of my usual taste preferences, but the difference in the freshness of the aromas, precision of structure, and emerging minerality is dramatic. I have one more bottle (I had originally purchased three, the first one was corked) which I will not be opening for another 5 years or more.

Another '02 French white wine which I enjoyed recently performed out the gate, a wonderful bottle of 2002 Domaine Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvee Renaissance. 100% Romorantin, also produced from late harvest grapes. There is an intensity to the interplay between this wine's crackling acidity, honeyed botrytised qualities and residual sugar that is quite thrilling. It's everything I always hope for, but seldom experience, in demi-sec Loire Chenin. I've two more bottles which will invariably improve for a while, but as delicious as they are now I might greedily guzzle them while listening to a Kraftwerk record, or watching a Criterion collection French film, or something geeky like that.

Please, don't beat me up. Otherwise, Ray Lewis will be waiting to tackle you at your work.

Monday, December 14, 2009

well worth checking out from The [Un]observed

I seldom promote the artistic and professional work of my friends here. However, perhaps I should do it more often as I know some incredibly talented people. Recently I have quite enjoyed the new online radio journal created and edited by my friend Tania Ketenjian. She has assembled a group of journalists to contribute content to this online cultural review, with an assemblage of streaming audio pieces related to music, film, photography, theater, dance, design and books. Of Tania's personal contributions alone, there are interviews with Steve Buscemi, John Waters and bassist Christian McBride; the content here is eclectic, well programmed and well worth a listen.

Check it out here and if you are enjoying the site please subscribe.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Cantillon Releases

About a month ago, I was very excited to learn of our comparably generous allocation of Cantillon "Lou Pepe" Kriek and "Fou-Foune" apricot lambic. Apparently, it was so generous to have seriously irked a few accounts in the Bay Area who did not get any of these, but that's another story....

I bought two bottles of each, one to drink now and another to stash away for a few years. Yes, fellow oenophiles, beer too can be cellared, increasing in complexity, changing in texture, and generally evolving in ways similar to how well-made wine will after some bottle age. I don't know this from personal experience so much as I do from anecdotal accounts from beer drinkers and brewers.

A quick primer on Cantillon. They are the kings of lambic style beers, the traditional, spontaneously fermented, oak aged Belgian sour beer, as well as the benchmark producers of geuze, a blend of lambics of varying ages, usually 1, 2 and 3 years old. According to their brewer, Jean-Pierre Van Roy, the geuze beers improve in bottle for up to two decades - amazing! I'd love to try an older example. Though drinking the unusual combination of acidity, fizz, and brettanomyces influenced savor in a current bottling of Cantillon Geuze is arguably (depends on who you ask, sour beer is divisive) a wonderful tasting experience.

In addition to their famed geuze beers, Cantillon produces fruit lambics from fresh fruit that is thrown into the fermenting sour beer. They do so with raspberries (Rosé de Gambrinus); Merlot grapes from St. Emilion (St. Lamvinus), and as it relates to this post, cherries for the "Lou Pepe" Kriek and apricots for the "Fou-foune." Lou Pepe pours a beautiful, cranberry color, and shows intense, youthful cherry fruit to balance out the tart lambic notes. In fact, there is a really fresh cherry character here that almost brings to mind a lighter Alpine red wine. Other Krieks I have had show cherry fruit that is tasty but nearly overshadowed by the sour lambic. Upon further review, the "Lou Pepe" fruit lambics are brewed with 50% more fruit than Cantillon's (and other breweries) typical lambics. They are also aged in old Bordeaux barrels which are being used for beer for the first time, likely another cause of the vinous quality of these brews. Fou-Foune was bright, crisp, tangy and ethereal. Just the right level of tartness, complemented by subtle fresh apricot flavors. A real treat.

If you're not familiar with Cantillon, then I suggest you try one of their beers. Check out some more terrific info on this Belgian treasure on the importer's website. Other names to look out for in the world of geuze and lambic beers would include Girardin, Hansen's, De Ranke (who makes a killer Kriek) and Drie Fonteinen. Prepare yourself for a delicious, sour experience.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009 and Thanksgiving Wines Re-visited

I had a realization last Thursday, the last Thursday of November and the day commonly referred to in the United States of America as "Thanksgiving." As much as I enjoy exploring the synergy, indifference, or, every so often, the discordance between food and wine, I would prefer not to during Thanksgiving. I simply don't have the patience or mental acuity necessary to engage in such an activity. Especially as the host, responsible for cooking much of the food, negotiating space in the oven, and making sure that dinner is served at a reasonable hour. By mealtime I just want to eat and drink a single red and/or white wine to complement the meal. No careful consideration of multiple wines and how they complement the turkey, the truffled mashed potatoes, stuffing and multitude of other sides.

Nope, next year I'll bypass that level of intense analysis and observation. It's Thanksgiving, which means getting mildly to heavily soused, over-eating, and passing out on the couch when it's all said and done. I accomplished two of the three last week, thanks in part to the food we made and were brought by friends and family as well as a few more than a few drinks. Here's an annotated list:

2008 Isastegi Sagardo; 2008 Sarasola Sagardoa

Both tasty (they're sour cider, how could they not be). Though I preferred the more expressive and appley Isastegi. Sarasola is comparably very acetic and slightly too tart. Like the Hansen's Geuze of Basque cider. After about finishing 3/4 of each bottle (with just a little help from Natalie, most people don't dig the sour) I was ready to progress to wine.


1999 Lopez de Heredia Viña Gravonia

Delicious wine. Somehow it's rich, soft, nuanced, expansive and possessing of that rare, elusive cutting white wine acidity combined with depth of flavor that I only seem to find in the likes of Huet, good savagnin, Equipo Navazos Manzanilla Pasada, Gerard Boulay Sancerre, vintage Champagne and some others I'm leaving out. Be careful with Gravonia and turkey, though! While this was awesome wine on its own and ok with epoisses, what a train wreck with our heritage turkey. It brought out the gamey flavors in a big way, and created a chlorinated public swimming pool like flavor in the mouth - not so pleasant.

2007 Domaine de Nembrets (Denis Barraud) "Les Chataignieres" Pouilly Fuisse

Not bad. It's become rounder, plumper, a bit more expressive, and also slightly oakier since last tasting it several months ago. For Pouilly Fuisse you could certainly do a lot worse.

2008 Pascal Janvier Jasnieres

Does Chenin Blanc sec to demi-sec always have an intensely mineral pungency along with its sweet fruit flavors? I liked it, and it was the white which best complemented the meal. A stick to your palate Loire white, very distinctive.

2008 Evesham Wood Puits Sec

85% Pinot Gris, 15% Gewurztaminer. Delicious wine, though unfortunately the best of Williamette white alongside the best of Jasnieres white will inevitably be overshadowed. I enjoyed this wine's fruit expression and long dry finish. It just seemed a little one note compared to Janvier's Jasnieres.


2008 Benaza Mencía Monterrei

A fairly simple and basic lighter style Cote du Rhone like showing. Cherry fruited, peppery, lacking in the acid I need for a meal like this, and come to think of it, the acid I generally prefer in wine, food or no food.

2005 Algueira Ribera Sacra

10 months in French oak, a significant portion of it new, has not robbed this wine of its intense plum and blue fruit quality. Subtly smoky, with delicious fruit. Sort of somewhere between a Pommard and Crozes Hermitage. Nearly 7 days after first opening, this still bears more than a passing resemblance to its orginal self. OK with turkey, but what it really wants is lamb. Next Thanksgiving, young turkey and lamb! While this is a very interesting drink right now, I'd love to check back in five years. Famed mencía master Raúl Perez acts as consulting winemaker here.

2007 Marcel Lapierre Morgon

Tasty, and not surprisingly the best wine for dinner. It had enough depth to handle heritage game, plenty of acidity to refresh the palate, and such a high level of quaffability that Natalie and I nearly took it out ourselves (after some heavy drinking beforehand).

2007 Domaine Cheveau Saint-Amour "En Ronty"

Spotting this bottle in our tiny Beaujolais section at work, I wondered why I have heard so little about this particular producer. Well, I quickly figured out after sampling, giving the bottle more careful consideration, and even re-visiting on day two, that there is a reason I have heard so little about this wine: it is not good. Muddled, unfocused, uninspired.

2008 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir Williamette Valley

This winery makes very good wine. One of the few Williamette wineries (at least who sell out-of-state) whose new releases always get my attention. Two reasons for this: price ($18 for the basic PN and $14 for the white) and consistent transparency. Even in warmer vintages, the wines are nuanced, lighter in color, and taste the way Oregon pinot should but increasingly does not. This is the bottle of which our assorted lightweight guests drank the most.

Next year will be the year of turkey and red meat. Also, just two different wines at the table. Early front runners are good Rioja crianza and albariño just to keep it Spanish and to bore the French natural wine heads out there.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The 500th Post (in which I ramble and include a Kraftwerk inspired video)

Well, according to the blogger tally, I am posting for the 500th time. Rather than expound upon this relatively insignificant piece of trivia for too long, I will simply thank everyone who occasionally indulges my online hobby by reading and/or commenting on this site. I hope to present at least another 500 posts, while in the process sustaining the occasional jibes from my girlfriend (who at this moment is checking out the Muppets Bohemian rhapsody video for the fifth time in as many days), rushing out the door in the morning to work after finishing up a post, and dealing with the occasional quandary of what I ought to post this week.

I know many of you enjoy Kraftwerk. So does Guilhaume, who apparently has a music video blog featuring three versions of a single song per post. Inspired by his Krafterk entry, here is another gem from Señor Coconut. Enjoy, and thanks again for reading.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Old Riesling and Chinese at Jai Yun

For a while, now, a few members of my tasting group have each been meaning to dine at what many consider San Francisco's most serious Chinese restaurant, Jai Yun, a non-descript address in the Financial district with a simple prix fixe menu; the amount one agrees to pay correlates to the quantity and variety of dishes. The menu starts at $55 for dinner, and goes up to $65 (our selected option); $85 (I think) and on up if you really want to sample some extravagant Chinese banquet type dishes. That having been said, for $65 five of us tasted what amounted to at least 30 different dishes. The dishes represented quite the array of colors, textures and flavors, and varied from impeccably prepared familiar favorites to more unusual dishes, many of which showed such a high level of attention to detail and harmony in flavors that I felt as though I had never before really experienced Chinese food as it's meant to be eaten.

Almost immediately after everyone and was seated, our server brought us fourteen cold dishes, each a tiny pyramid shaped mound of food. Bright, tangy cucumber salad; tender, garlicky enoki mushrooms; a few pieces of simply roasted duck; radish salad; smoked fish; marinated tofu skins; barbecued pork; braised meat; sauteed chinese broccoli...plus five more I cannot recall.

At this point, let's discuss the first wine of the evening, a bottle of 1983 Weingut Graf Wiltinger Scharzhoffberger Riesling Kabinett. Delicate, wispy and in this case just a bit past its prime Saar Riesling. After 10 minutes in the glass Mark observed the structure firming up and gaining more intensity, only to peter out again shortly thereafter.

Next up a 1983 Reichsgraf von Kesselstat Josefshofer Riesling Spatlese. The Josefshofer vineyard lies outside of the village of Graach, in between the top sites Graacher Himmelreich and Graacher Domprobst in the middle Mosel. It was as beautiful and profound an older riesling as I've had since tasting a bunch of Prum two years ago. A deeper golder color than the Kabinett, there were intense aromas of apricots and mandarins, and a definite mark of botrytis on the palate. A golden elixir, this, whose sugar was completely resolved, leaving a delicious ripe mature Riesling, with a lot of detail and length. It's worth noting that Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt is serious about only using indigenous yeasts for fermentations, employing extended lees contact, and in their own words from the website, "we categorically reject the so-called new oenological procedures."

Another Spatlese would follow, this time from the terrific 1985 vintage, a Weingut Benedict Loosen Urben Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese ***. If you thought that I would not be tasting at least one German wine with stars involved, do not not worry, this is the starred wine. More youthful in appearance and flavor than the von Kesselstat, this wine was lighter in weight but more agile, arguably less profound now but still pretty darn good. It was very heavily sulphured, from what I understand, to help encourage long-term aging.

OK, back to the food. There were five spiced morsels of rib accompanied by deep fried taro paste balls; orange beef totally unlike any other I've had, with very gamey and wild tasting (aged?) beef fried to a crisp and redolent of orange peel; spicy kung pao chicken; a wonderfully earthy dish of snails (chewy, but still tasty) with fermented black bean; abalone and egg whites. Butter soft, rich braised pork; fried whole grouper; Sauteed soy beans; and several other vegetable dishes to balance out the fact that we were being served such a wide variety of animal protein, probably more at a single sitting than I had ever eaten. Unlike with other shared dining experiences, each diner always had at least a couple bites of whichever dish was being served. It was quite the culinary display from Chef Chia Ji Nei, living up to all the high praise I had heard prior to dining at Jai Yun.

Rounding out the wines, we had a dull, disappointingly simple bottle of 1997 Schlossgut Diel Burgberger Riesling Kabinett, and a 2004 Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru which was so out of context that it showed like Rombauer Chardonnay. Well, that is a stretch; there was great depth of flavor, minerals, and rich, succulent pinot gris fruit, just that next to the more delicate, significantly lower in alcohol Riesling we had a tough time drinking it.

Jai Yun is a treasure. Go there with a group of folks and you'll go away not only sated, but with a sense of having been schooled as well.

The Thanksgiving Ingredients List

One 14lb BN Ranch heritage turkey
Red onion, red wine and thyme jam (thanks, Bittman)
8 lb potatoes
Half and half
Oregon white truffle oil
Parmeggiano Reggiano
Kabocha squash
pumpkin seed oil
sherry vinegar
pink lady apples
Cabot clothbound cheddar
1 pumpkin
Stuff that other people bring

2006 Raventos i Blanc "L'hereu" Reserva Brut Cava
2007 Domaine des Nembrets (Denis Barraud) "Les Chataigniers" Pouilly-Fuissé
1999 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Gravonia" Rioja
2008 Pascal Janvier Jasnières
2008 Evesham Wood "Blanc du Puits Sec" Willamette Valley
2007 Marcel Lapierre Morgon
2007 Domaine Cheveau "En Rontey" Saint Amour
2008 Benaza Mencía Monterrei
2005 Adega Algueira "Algueira" Ribera Sacra

LIQUEUR - Clear Creek Cranberry Liqueur (may mix with cava for cran-kir royale)

Friday, November 20, 2009


Now the subject of a Broadway musical backed by Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Fela Kuti was one of the most important and influential musical talents in the latter portion of the 20th century, and a true original. Hope you enjoy this long clip of Fela performing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The best wines that money can buy? EQUIPO NAVAZOS La Bota de....

If sherry is one of the wine world's few remaining under-appreciated values, then Equipo Navazos is its elusive crown jewel; a bit tougher to find, but worth the slightly higher cost and intensive search. Think of Equipo Navazos as the sherry equivalent of the criterion collection; just as CC carefully curates their classic films, Equipo Navazos is as choosy about the soleras with which they choose to work Fancy yourself a pop and world music re-release buff? Then EN is the Soul Jazz Records of sherry. They source the best quality product, put it in a classy package, charge a small premium but ultimately provide a most rewarding experience.

Equipo (translated as "team") Navazos is something of a sherry negociant. Their love of sherry motivated them to seek out the best, oldest soleras from their favorite bodegas and to bottle it for their own enjoyment. They expanded to the point where they had a small surplus to sell outside of Spain, and fortunately so for many non-Spaniards as we otherwise would have been deprived of such amazingly pure, rich, characterful interpretations of Sherry.

What makes these sherries so delicious and unique? Three key factors:

1. Relatively smaller, older soleras from smaller sherry houses
2. these smaller soleras are customarily used as reserve stock for the families who produce them (or alternatively, to improve the quality of the stuff in their larger soleras)
3. NO FILTRATION. Most sherries these days are filtered.

Here are the Equipo Navazos (La Bota de....) sherries I have enjoyed up until now:

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla No. 16

This comes from a solera of Sánchez Ayala in the Pago Bilbaína. Color is a shade more intense and darker than most young Manzanillas, owing to the older average age of the wine. Delicious, brisk sea salt, marcona almonds and bright fruit aromas on the nose lead to a palate that is considerably more loaded than your basic, young, freshly bottled Manzanilla ( it's worth nothing that the most recent batch was bottled in January 2009, which is noted on the bottle). On the palate, the wine shows Manzanilla's classic salty quality, with a touch of smoke as well and initially, an unusual inner mouth chlorine aroma. I found that this dissipated after a day open in the fridge. In fact, whereas many Manzanillas fade after several days being open, this one seems only to gain more harmony and balance. It is a likely sign for future positive evolution in the bottle for at least a few years - unusual for a Manzanilla which usually is best drunk a year or so after bottling. Incidentally, I read on their website that this bottling is very lightly filtered.

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino "Macharnudo Alto" No. 15

This comes from a special twenty butt solera (compare with 143 for Lustau's current Almacenista Puerto Fino) from the venerable Valdespino, one of the best in Jerez. Macharnudo Alto is the most privileged section of the famed Pago Marcharnudo vineyard where the palomino grapes come from; it is one of the best crus in sherry country. This fino is the complete package: bright yet mouthfilling, bracing but substantial, a real beauty of a sherry that commands your respect. One of the best sherries and undoubtedly the finest fino I have yet to drink. The Navazos folks predict that this could improve in the cellar for a while.

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada No. 10

This slightly rare style, the Manzanilla Pasada (aged Manzanilla) comes from a stellar solera at Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín, producers of "La Guita" manzanilla, in the northwestern tip of the sherry triangle, Sanlúcar de Barrameda. By definition, any fino made in Sanlúcar is referred to as a Manzanilla. Beautiful, 18K golden hue, with rich nutty aromas, and a palate that is deeply satisfying in a way that very few wines, white or red, ever will be. The flavors linger on the palate a long while. This is a candidate for my favorite wine of the year.

Waiting in the wings is the La Bota de Palo Cortado "La Bota Punta" No. 17, a half bottle from a single butt which I look forward to enjoying at the appropriate time with the right company. More on that bottle later.

Thanks to Msr. Brooklynguy for his always insightful perspective on Equipo Navazos, as well as to Peter Liem, the noted champagne authority, riesling lover, and Chinese tea drinker, whose blog - over the course of several entries - first introduced me to a wide range of the inimitable Equipo Navazos sherries.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My 1/4 of a day spent at the Ten Bells in New York City

Shit is getting a bit boring over here. Yes, I'm calling myself out on the lack of excitement of late. There is no academic rigor a la Jules Chauvet discussion. No antagonistic comments back and forth between high profile NYC sommeliers and high profile blogger and wine forum participants regarding the merits of orange wine. Just a feeble bunch of weekly to twice weekly posts over the last few weeks about what I don't quite remember because me, I'm as bored as you probably are.

So, what better than a good old rambling post about that institution of natural wine bars in New York, The Ten Bells, enjoyed in the company of cool knowledgeable wine people, opinionated folks who love to drink. Incidentally, that's what it's all about - drinking. Food is good, potentially delicious. Ditto wine. Together they can either fight, exist in relative harmony, or fit hand in glove in a special, delicious, symbiotic existence. Most often the middle descriptor is apt. So, I say, let the wine speak on its own merits, and do not hesitate to drink wine without food!

Prior to the big Kermit Lynch tasting at Chambers Street, McDuff, Natalie and I attended a casual tasting of wines from the Loire et Cher imported by Louis/Dressner at the Ten Bells. Several producers were present to pour their wines. The event was probably the most low key, relaxed trade tasting environment in which I have ever been. Whether due to our arrival earlier on in the tasting, the relaxed demeanor (persistent jet lag?) of the producers, or the City's conservation of energy leading up to Halloween festivities, things were mellow. Which was fine- mellow works well for wine tasting. We started out tasting Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay and Cot from the Clos Roche Blanche, except they weren't made by Catherine Roussel. Rather, it was made by Noella Morantin, who rents some of CRB's vineyards. They were all tasty, though the 2008 Morantin Gamay Mon Cher was a particular favorite - I've a soft spot for tangy red fruit. Next it was off to Olivier Lemasson's table to taste Les Vins Contés wines. I do enjoy both of these, both the focused P'tit Rouquin Gamay and the deep, mineral Cot. Next, a new producer (I think) for Dressner in Cour Cheverny, Domaine du Moulin. OK, not great. Romorantin better than the Cheverny Rouge. From there we tasted a few Puzelat wines: the '08 "Rouge Est Mis" Pinot Meunier which was a juicy, fun drink to be sure. It was a wine I had a tough time spitting. Finally, we tasted the 2008 Clos Roche Blanche 'Pif,' the blend of Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc) with Cot. It's a bit tough and tannic now, and needs at least 6 months to a year to show better.

Fast forward about two hours, after we had been to the Kermit Lynch tasting, when we returned to The Ten Bells to drink (not taste) some wine. With a few tasty bites on the table (salmon tartare, beef tartare, squid and seaweed salad, and others) we drank the following (all magnums, no "half bottles"):

2007 Puzelat "La Tesniere" Touraine (Menu Pineau/Chenin) - As fresh, cutting and palate awakening as ever. Perhaps a bit more generous than what I expected, compared to the piercingly acidic Brin de Chevre.

2006 Domaine Henri Milan Le Grand Blanc

A blend of Grenache Blanc, Rolle (Vermentino), Chardonnay, Roussane and Muscat, this is actually similar to the blend in the wine which I thought this was, the Chateau de la Tuilerie (thanks again for the correction, McDuff). There is a minerality and freshness to the wine (in addition to the nutty/sweet oak and fatty texture) that suggests some pretty excellent terroir here near Avignon, France. Marl and limestone in your soil doesn't hurt your chances of producing interesting wine.

2007 Dard et Ribot 'K' Crozes Hermitage Blanc
Fun and pure fruited, but I didn't give it a whole lot of attention. I suspect that it will never taste as good as it did with pig ears salad at La Verre Voleé.

2008 Puzelat Pinot Noir Touraine
I thought I had ordered "La Tesniere," but it in fact was this Pinot Noir. Competent and quaffable if a little bit lacking in excitement compared to the vinous company surrounding it.

2008 Houillon/Overnoy Ploussard (aka 'plou-plou'; 750ml)
Tense, tight berry fruit which I liked but clearly needs some more months and ideally years to show better. As this was only a "half bottle" it was not plentiful so it came and went fairly quickly amongst us eight.

1989 Olga Raffault Chinon "Les Picasses" (750ml)
Not the wine I wanted it to be. Don't you hate when that happens? Very softly textured, with fully resolved tannins and full on tertiary wet tobacco development. Somewhere there was some fruit but not with enough vibrancy to keep me interested.

Late night we headed to Casa Mono, Mario Batali's ode to the Spanish tapa, where it was packed and we were directed next door to Bar Jamón, something of a 'B' team designation amongst these two establishments. Especially given the quality of the tapas, which were mediocre at best. My memory of Casa Mono three years ago is that of a much stronger restaurant putting out much fresher and more lively food than what we ate at Jamón. Other than jamón, I don't remember what I ate at Bar Jamón, partially my jet lag, but more owing to the lackluster cocina. C'mon, Mario, the people deserve better.

Overall it was a fun night in the big city, though I don't recommend putting in a 20 hour day following the California to New York red eye.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NYC Day 1 Part II - "Fancy Meeting you here in New York City"

Before handing over the twenty or so dollars for Kermit Lynch's classic homage to French wines and the people who grow them, I quickly glanced to see how Kermit signed my fresh copy of Adventures on the Wine Route.

"Fancy meeting you here in New York City," it read, a satisfying note and fine way to end what was an enjoyable, if crowded, tasting at Chambers Street Wines. Meeting Mr. Lynch was long overdue. I did not engage in small talk, industry chat, or even much in the way of wine speak. The man comes across like his wines: straight ahead and confident; relaxed, knowledgeable, and easily capable of relating a story. Whether he was discussing visiting his college aged kids in New York, his latest discovery in Burgundy (Domaine Cherisey in Meursault, whom he thinks is making some of the best Chardonnay based wine around) or his tastes in Burgundy ("Coche Dury ain't bad...Raveneau's pretty good...."), Kermit was adept at conversing with a wide range of his customers, and I was content to listen while I tasted.

The usual suspects were showing terrifically. 2008 Domaine Ostertag Les Vielles Vignes de Sylvaner was all pure, rounded citrus fruit. Softly textured, juicy and supported by vibrant acidity. 2008 Foillard Morgon Cotes de Py...well, enough said right there. Effortless focus, delectable tiny red berry fruit, well structured but not unyielding. If this wine were a lady I'd marry her after just a month of dating. 2007 Domaine Tempier Bandol is a very young pup, but already showing its neat trick of balancing such ripe, spicy and intense sun baked flavor with real structure not merely from fruit and tannin but acidity as well. Mourvedre is a low acid grape that somehow picks up a bit more acidic drive in the right terroir with the right stewardship, as is the case with Tempier or Pradeaux for that matter.

A few relative newcomers excited me less. White Graves from Chateau Graville-Lacoste? I'll pass. Ditto the 2007 Domaine de la Cadette Bourgogne Vezelay "La Chatelaine" from close to Chablis. 2006 Cedric Vincent Beaujolais for $20? Shave $5, take a look at the back label to remind myself of the importer and, well, it still seems to under-deliver.

There were a couple pleasant surprises as well, though. The 2000 Chateau Aney Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois was every bit of what a maturing claret should be - muscular but beginning to show good secondary flavor development and savor while still retaining some cherry fruit. And that 2005 Domaine Cherisey Meursault Blagny 1er Cru "Genelotte" ? It was very good - even a non white Burg lover such as myself could appreciate the breed and terroir in that wine. As well one should for north of $80.

It goes without saying that Kermit Lynch is a big reason why we have so many wonderful, characterful, imported wines available in the US these days. I suppose one could say he is also a reason why there are so many shitty imported wines as well. For every Joe Dressner there are a few __'s (insert any importer du jour of small estate bottled, unfiltered wines, though of simple and dubious character). Enough of that line of reasoning, though. Clearly Kermit Lynch is owed a great deal of gratitude for all of his efforts, even from an occasionally hypercritical, armchair importer, young whippersnapper soon to be grouchy old retail guy such as myself. It was a pleasure to meet the man who founded a company which imports into the Unites States wines made by so many terrific, benchmark and iconic French estates.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Governor Brown Redux?

With our mayor's dropout from the CA gubernatorial race, it's looking like a potential return to another era. While I never really got into the Dead Kennedys, I guess I'll have to wait and see about Mr. J. Moonbeam Brown. I've heard some stories, but did not really follow California politics in the 80's.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NYC Day One, part I: JFK to LES

[This post was originally drafted the good old-fashioned way, putting pen to paper - no typing, no blogger, certainly no thumbing it in on the mobile. Just a college ruled yellow pad, medium point blue pen, and hand movement. Writing is liberating, I highly recommend you re-visit it if it's been a while.]

After a long, unrestful red eye flight from San Francisco, my wonderful lady/ travel companion Natalie and I were happy to dump our bags and meet up with David McDuff, who was in town to attend a few of the Dressner and Kermit events taking place in New York last weekend, as well as to hang out with some like minded bon vivants such as the Brooklyn Guy, Cory, Guilhaume and me (more on that later). As McDuff pointed out, the east village is home to the city's greatest concentration of ramen spots. We agreed to meet at Setagaya. Small and casual, Setagaya consists of a small counter, some small tables and a communal table for eight (think high school cafeteria style communal table - not the large, handsome, solid piece of wood table you might find at your nearest locavore modern American eatery). We each ordered a bowl of the Shio ramen. Warming, translucent broth, simple but with terrific clarity of flavor, with perfectly toothsome noodles, a soft boiled egg adding richness and textural contrast, and the star of the dish, a few delicious, slightly fatty and smoky pieces of pork. Such a perfectly harmonious, satisfying bowl of nourishment has convinced me to partake in ramen more often. We also shared a small plate of kim chee, soft layers of thin cabbage (napa?) which represented a slightly vinegary, but spicy and tasty, vegetable addition to our meal.

After ramen, we headed to 9th Street Espresso for some excellent espresso drinks. I must have been due for my annual killer cup of espresso (I do drink espresso more often, just that it's seldom good). Jet lag temporarily stayed, we strolled over to the Essex Street market, where David introduced us to Benoit, who was manning the counter of Saxelby Cheesemongers. We tasted two cheeses from Vermont, our favorite of which was the Menuet from Laughing Cow Farms. In cheese speak, it's earthiness brought to mind a tomme de savoie, while the slight caramelized and nuttier notes reminded me of aged gouda. A delicious cheese, and particularly useful for late night soaking up of the wine we would drink later at The Ten Bells.

For a taste of something sweet, we consulted Natalie's list of food spots to visit, and headed to the famed Doughnut Plant. If you're a Bay Area doughnut fan, think Dynamo Doughnuts. The quality of the ingredients, which are organic whenever possible, as well as the terrific textures and intense flavors, make these some of the world's tastiest doughnuts, and elevates them to the realm of first class pastry. While the strawberry jelly doughnut with peanut butter glaze and the seasonal pumpkin cake doughnut were tasty, the tres leches and blackout were the true standouts. Each had a custard center (tres leches for the tres leches, liquid chocolate for the blackout), which I found to be cool innovations in the world of the cake doughnut. As the gentleman behind the counter proclaimed several times, in a classically proud New Yorker inflection, these donuts were truly "first rate." He also gently chided McDuff for his Phillies loyalties.

Up next: tasting Kermit Lynch wines with... Kermit Lynch; bookending a long and raucous evening at The Ten Bells.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Hip-Hop Friday takes its occasional reggae diversion today, with a classic jam from the keyboard king of Studio One, Jackie Mittoo. So much soul. In my mind Mittoo is right up there with Jimmy Smith, as far as the unforgettable melodies and tones he'd coax out of that Hammond B3. Not nearly as mind blowingly technically proficient, but still a nasty player, stylist and master arranger/ session organizer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New York Here I come, and an apology

New York City

Off on the red eye to New York tomorrow night. Art, food, wine and wedding. Anyone who wants to link up, we (i.e. a list that is probably getting way too numerous to spell out here) will be at Ten Bells on Friday night.


My last entry, I provided a tasting note for a 2007 Eric Texier Brezeme. Clearly I was not too enthused about the wine. However, on day 3 it has really woken up. Bright, yet boisterous, dark plum and blueberry aromas, a bit towards the confiture side, are leading to fresh fruit flavors with a really pleasing roundness in texture yet bracingly fresh acidic drive. The wine has not previously tasted nearly as good and complete as it does tonight, on its third day open. Looks like this bottle needs at least a few years to come around, as any experienced imbiber more hip than I probably knew already. Apologies to Mr. Eric Texier and anyone who was mislead by my rash judgement.

Alright, hope to see a few of you in New York.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Three Red Wines from the Big Three (France, Spain, Italy)

Southern Rhone Valley, France

2007 Eric Texier Brezeme

100% Syrah from the one of the northernmost points of the Cotes du Rhone. This was tense, bordering on strict, out the gates. I decanted and followed intently for a couple of hours. Yes, there were the woodsy, peppery northern Rhone (though this is still in the south) Syrah aromas, and darkish blue fruit, with a touch of savory frying bacon, on the palate. The fruit on the mid palate fleshed and rounded out with some air, but I wouldn't say the wine gained too much in complexity, freshness, or deliciousness. The slowly expansive core of fruit did lend some balance to the wine, but not enough to change my opinion: this wine does not taste ripe enough. If I'm saying 'not ripe enough' as opposed to the opposite description for a red wine, then perhaps this really is not quite ripe enough? Maybe I'm being too picky or judgemental, but that's my impression. I re-tasted the wine today (should probably note that the wine did spend 4 hours in a decanter before I re-bottled it) and it is a mere shell of it's former decent if not exciting self. Fainter fruit, oxidative tartness beginning to surface.

Ribera del Duero, Spain

2002 Dominio de Basconillos Viña Magna Crianza

Several months ago, I read a reliably thorough and thoroughly reliable entry from Manuel Camblor, containing a tasting note from one of New York based importer Alex Ellman's (Marble Hill Cellars) Spanish selections. A few weeks of email correspondence and some samples later, I purchased some wine from Ms. Ellman for the shop, and this is probably my favorite of the wines I bought. Without a doubt the best, most complete and satisfying Ribera del Duero I've had in a year, probably since the 1998 Valduero Reserva I drank a year ago. Not like there is much competition out there, though. Ribera del Duero generally is annoyingly grapey, overly oaked, flabby, over-extracted juice and one of the regions that I would suggest you avoid like the plague if you do not already do so. That having been said, I would seek this wine out for an example of Ribera del Duero that has aged into a delicious wine: rich and dark fruited yet balanced with enough acidity, some oak clearly contributing to the structure but not causing it to topple over, and enough development to contribute a subtle, savory braised meat character that does not rob the immediacy of the ripe fruit. In fact there is still plenty to like in the bottle I'm drinking now which I opened four days ago! It's worth noting that 2002 was generally derided and panned as a weak, damp vintage in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. I'd counter that it helped provide this wine with the balance and acidity to be drinking perfectly now and for another five years at least. I'd more than willingly put this wine up against any new wave hot shot from the hyped 2005 vintage (Pingus included) in five years and be confident that it would take the crown.

Toscana, Italy

2007 Poggiarellino Rosso di Montalcino

I have tasted this wine a few times over the past two months, and shared a bottle with none other than McDuff the wine dog when he came over for dinner last month. Poggiarellino makes honest, imperfect, Sangiovese based wine that shows off its Montalcino terroir and wears on its sleave its rustic qualities (some may say 'flaws'). What does that mean? Big barnyard like nose, with noticeable brett, and rich cherry aromas that draw you closer to take a sip. All of the previous descriptors apply to the palate, writ large. Big cherry fruit, tell-tale brett, tannins that are assertive (don't think they care too much about 'tannin management' here) and acidity that vears towards slightly volatile. Sound exciting? It is, and more importantly, it's honest and engaging. I've no idea how the wine might age, but it sure is an exciting drink right now. Especially with a New York strip steak as I last enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Hey man, those Five dollar bills are like, cruising through the ether and shit

How do you feel about retailer (and e-tailer, for that matter) wine emails? Do you find them to be of any interest to you? Do you learn something? Are they annoying? Too bombastic? Over-selling? Too frequent? Lacking creativity? Perhaps a little too precious and self-indulgent?

If you're not already familiar with a producer's wine, what is it about an email that appeals to you, that makes you either think about pulling the trigger and purchasing wine or actually buying wine? Or would you never think of buying wine merely off of a well-written sales pitch?

This is not market research, nor a gathering of opinions to help me with crafting my own sales emails (I think I'm pretty good, but fact is much of the stuff I'm selling in email blasts you all would not for a moment consider buying - high acid, natural and Spain/Portugal/Chile/Argentina do not go together so much). I just would love to hear some personal opinions from anyone, in the trade or not.

Today, for instance, I received the same email from two SoCal based retailers selling '93 Oenotheque for $199.99 - the currently ubiquitous "was $__, now $__" closeout email. In another offer, I was told of a glorious Cahors, whose final quantites were heroically whisked away from the Asian market and brought back to deserving, discriminating American palates. There was a classy grenache offer from New York City. Fortified wines from another successful New York store. Twenty percent off all wine from a medium sized neighborhood shop in Washington, DC. You get the point, many different variations on the single theme of "Buy my shit."

Please comment early and comment often, I want to hear your thoughts on this. Oh, and I'm sorry to get a little bit too industry or Warksian on you. I promise to do either a tasting note(s) or some irreverent some such next post.

Friday, October 16, 2009

ULTRA MAGNETIC MC'S: Give the Drummer Some

Before Dr. Octagon, Dr. Doom, Black Elvis et al, Kool Keith was of course the frontman of Ultramagnetic MC's.

As for one of the most well respected, behind-the-scene figures in hip-hop...RIP Paul C. Those who were there know of this dude's incredible production and engineering skills. I had read this 360 Hip-Hop article about him by Dave Tompkins some years back and contemplated his lasting influence ever since. Consider this a long overdue Friday hip-hop tribute.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

18 year old California Merlot

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Proprietor/Winemaker Jeff Emery fills a barrel

Several days ago, I polished off the remains of a 1991 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Merlot. Lots of acid, lots of presence, lots of sediment. Not a lot of wood, not a lot of alcohol (12.5%), not a whole lot of depth. Overall, though, the winning traits of the wine carried the bottle to the "like it" side of my memory. Intense red and dark plum, cherry, and just the barest hint of a sweet herbal, almost eucalypt like element were harmonizing nicely together. This particular bottling actually contained 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc from Bates Ranch, which is more familiar to me than the source of the Merlot here, Jankris Vineyard. According to the notes on their website, this is likely the best Merlot the winery ever made.

As I've stated many times before, the better wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains age as well as (if not better than) wines from from anywhere else in California. Of course Montebello is one of the wine world's greats, but you don't need to pay Montebello prices for Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard wines. I'd love to experiment with some other older Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard bottlings. Anyone in the Bay Area game for a tasting?

My Mind has been blown on a Wednesday Night!

This song is KILLER. It's Death, in fact. There is plenty of legend and lore out there about this mid 70's Detroit power trio. In fact, Mos Def is planning to produce a documentary about them. Anyway, though this song runs a bit long on the outro, it is sick. Period. The terrific intro, the bass, reminiscent of Afrobeat, the furious and steady drums, the guitar stabs, perfect, the hardcore breakdown, followed by the the early Funkadelic meets Black Sabbath rocking out...what an amazing tune! I'm trying to imagine going to a local party in a black neighborhood in mid 70's Detroit, everyone expecting to hear some Earth Wind & Fire or Philly Sound type stuff, and instead getting a dose of Death.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Typicité in Cour-Cheverny; another Tessier CC experience

How would you describe Romorantin? The ancient grape variety which composes the Cour-Cheverny appellation, Romorantin is definitely a varietal near and dear to the heart of the Loire valley wine lover.

Somehow I've yet to experience a bottle made by the master of Romorantin, Francois Cazin, though I do have a few bottles of '02 Cuvee Renaissance (a demi-sec which includes some botrytised grapes) currently en route from New York City. The only romo I know-know would be that of Philippe Tessier. I am drinking another bottle of his 2004, and I would describe it as intensely pithy and citric. Bitter oranges and lots of pith. But also distinctly mineral and showing this weird root vegetable aspect towards the finish that his Cheverny Rouge also shows.

I know it sounds like I'm luke-warm towards the wine, but I do rather enjoy it. It makes me think about what I'm drinking, and I've probably drunk this wine half a dozen times in the past year.


My girlfriend just asked me if any of my co-workers would ever describe a wine as 'fun.' I said that yes, I occasionally have used such a vague, promissory, lame descriptor as 'fun.' Seeking something more inventive and descriptive to redeem myself, I offered that the wine I was currently drinking (i.e. the 04 Tessier Cour-Cheverny) was a real mind fuck of a wine. To which she replied, "No, it's a skull fucking wine!"

That'll work for me. You should try it sometime - the Cour-Cheverny, that is.

Monday, October 12, 2009

And the 90's Indie Revival Continues: Polvo jams at Slim's on Friday 10/9

Polvo was one of those bands I really enjoyed listening to some years ago while I was exploring indie rock for the first time in my mid-late teens. But I never had an opportunity to see them live. A product of the thriving early-mid 90's Chapel Hill, NC scene, Polvo always had a unique sound: sprawling, psychedelic and laid-back, but with more than a hint of indie slacker aesthetic, experimental guitar interplay and pop sensibility thrown in for good measure.

At long last I righted the wrong of not having seen this very solid quartet. After a nearly ten year absence, Polvo first reunited to perform in 2008 at All Tomorrow's Parties, and like so many other bands have leveraged the reunion to begin recording and touring together anew. Given the competence of their performance, both of new material and re-worked older songs, I definitely would encourage both those who are familiar with the band and the uninitiated to check them out when they head your way next.

Friday night at Slim's, for a focused hour and a half or so, Polvo primarily combined older songs from their Merge Records output with material from their Touch and Go years, with which I'm honestly not as familiar, in their inimitable style. Yes, it is a bit "Sonic Youth-y" as I overheard one concert goer explain to his friend, but there is also a real 70's classic rock element at work here as well, not to mention an Eastern influence which flavors the guitar based compositions and improvisation. While I enjoyed both guitarists' contributions, leader Ash Bowie's songs and riffage really stood out. As did drummer Brian Quast's efforts, especially on some particularly complex and jazz inspired fill-ins. Sparse vocals, usually buried fairly low in the mix, along with some seriously extended jamming, highlight the fact that Polvo is at their most comfortable when they are rocking out, exploring the balance of consonance, dissonance, distortion, bent notes and vibrato at their own leisurely, mid-tempo pace.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Row, Fisherman row

How I haven't posted this in two years of blogging and youtube re-posting, I am not sure. At any rate, this is obviously the beautiful vocal stylings of the Congos, the production genius of Lee "Scratch" Perry, and, in short, this is reggae.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Testing out the restorative powers of sherry, Equipos Navazos Manzanilla Pasada in particular

What a busy week! Hopefully the overall level of activity and sales at work is a good sign of economic recovery, because if that is indeed the case then it might be a strong holiday retail season after all, and maybe 2010 will see lower unemployment and even some modest economic growth. Then again, we count amongst our customer base some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, so I will take with a grain of salt the fairly strong September and early sprint out the gates of October.

Today, in particular, we were so busy that I needed a good 10 minutes of lie on the couch time just now as I returned home from work. In my glass, to hopefully revive the senses and ready the appetite, is some Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada #10. Manzanilla, because it is fino style sherry from the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, in this case from a top quality solera at La Guita. Pasada, because this is no typical, young Manzanilla solera; rather it is from wine averaging 12-14 years in age, whose barrels were topped off sporadically to prevent the manzanilla from becoming an amontillado.

I've been working through the bottle over the past several days, and it is quite the killer wine. For $30 retail, I think it is the best buy in dry sherry out there, and arguably one of the best wine buys, assuming you dig sherry, of course. Not a simple, salty, straw colored Manzanilla, the #10 shows a color more akin to 18K gold. Aromatically intense, you can catch marcona almonds, sea salt, lemons, butterscotch, and even some yellow triaminic cold syrup (that is not necessarily a good thing in my book, as pungent as that stuff was as a kid), but focusing on the former aromas I forget about barely palatable childhood cold remedies. On the palate, there is a similar depth, complexity and shifting quality to the flavors that this wine shares with some of the wine world's greatest. It brings to mind really good sous voile Jura wine, without quite the crackle of acidity or liveliness. There is a salty, broth-like savory element as well, not unlike that of a good dry amontillado or palo cortado. Very nutty and savory on the finish.

As you can see, I struggled with that note, but at any rate I do feel revived and ready to go on with my evening. If ever you're feeling tired, lacking in appetite, or otherwise feeling not up to doing much, I would suggest drinking a small amount of good sherry. And if it's one of the best, such as the Manzanilla pasada from Equipo Navazos, so much the better.

For very good quality, production oriented information on this particular sherry, see Peter Liem's excellent post on the topic. You can also explore his blog for posts about other Equipo Navazos bottlings.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Syrah BRIX at harvest, or Jim Barr, why must you pick your grapes so late?

Photo courtesy of Tablas Creek's blog

Not to out him, or shame him, but Jim Barr, my (mostly) respectable colleague insists that his Sonoma (forget exactly where in Sonoma) Syrah grapes must be picked at 24 brix or above. That way, the seed is likely to be nice and brown, or "physiologically ripe." They have already achieved "sugar ripenes." That happens first in warmer, sunnier wine growing regions. California, even in the so-called cool, Type I climate growing zones, is a warmer, sunnier growing region. The harvest was 3-4 weeks later than usual, and the pH of the grapes around 3.40. All exciting things, says Barr.

Barr knows grapes, he knows winemaking and, occasionally, he even knows wine (joking, Jim). He has been making wine for around thirty years. He is also a creature of habit - to put it mildly - and I imagine that he looks for these indicators in his grapes year in, year out. However, I know for a fact that Barr really enjoys more moderate alcohol wines, Loire reds, for example. Nonetheless, he insists that if his grapes aren't "physiologically ripe," i.e. brown pips, his wines will not only be hard, but bitter as well.

I'm no winemaker. Never tried it. In fact, I might as well come clean and admit that I've never even helped to harvest. Hell, you know what, I just taste, spit and judge wine for a living professionally. I much prefer maker's and coke... All joking aside, I come across more and more California wines from growers who purposefully pick earlier than their neighbors (see Hirsch Pinot Noir in the Sonoma Coast). Another example would be the terrifically balanced, fresh tasting 2007 Bartolo Minerva, a southern France by-way-of Santa Clara County inspired blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache, all heat loving grapes that typically do need to be ripe enough so that they ferment to at least 14%...except this particular wine comes in at an amazingly low 12.5%! Both of these are examples of wines that I would say do show ripe phenolics (in other words, they come from physiologically ripe grapes) and do not show green, astringent tannins.

I know this topic is oft discussed, maybe people are sick of it, possibly rightfully so. But I'd like to ask a few winemakers some questions:

What's the lowest brix you think California Syrah can be picked at to taste good? How much earlier would you estimate the harvest date would be than that of Syrah picked at 24.5?

The lowest brix that southern Rhone or Languedoc-Roussillon syrah can be harvested to still be good? Northern Rhone? How ripe are Allemand's syrah grapes? What about Chave's? Guigal's La La syrah grapes?

For a great post on ripeness, with a similarly educational thread to match, might I suggest you check out this June 2009 post from the Brooklyn Guy.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Souls of Mischief - Medication

Hip-Hop friday returns with a special late night edition from the mighty Souls of Mischief. This is one of those put you into a trance type classic beats. Hypnotic and highly addictive. Mmm hmm...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Wine Bloggentsia Meet-up at Terroir

Well, it's 12:25am. Not too long ago, I saw David McDuff and his wife Lorie out the door after a lovely dinner at our apartment. He got the full, dinner at Natalie and Joe's experience: late start, late finish, paper towel napkins, and some simple, humbly thrown together food in between.

As I'm awake and trying to re-instill a sense of diligence and discipline on the blog, I thought I might write up a list of some wines we (McDuff, Slaton, Wolfgang, Emily and, to a lesser extent since they were on the clock, Cory and Dagan) drank on Monday night at Terroir, with brief personal tasting notes occasionally spiced by others' perspectives.

2007 Tavijn Grignolino - There is more soul and Piedmont-ness in this delicious bottle than many Baroli and Barbaresco out there. Serious, broad, earthy cherry aromas lead to a tense, tangy dark cherry, brooding, and, especially for the grape variety, serious mouthful of wine. I love good Grignolino, and this is probably better than my previous favorite by at least 30% or so. I drank the Tavijn with a margherita pizza made outside a local bar in an oven attached to a trailer. Not great, but certainly decent enough for street pizza. Poletana pizza was the name.

2008 Domaine de la Tournelles Poulsard - Reductive and a bit mean on the nose. Flavors were all tart red fruit which went straight to the sides of the mouth and back of the palate, not much of anything on the mid-palate. I'd usually enjoy this, but for some reason various elements were not in particularly good balance. It was a bit funky and sharp, not too pleasant. Slaton and I were chatting Poulsard. How Puffeny makes some great Poulsard from which he somehow coaxes great depth of flavor and texture. Tissot is too pristine and not close to that level for either of us. Tournelles, he was saying, is tempramental and occasionally funky, which I experienced in full force. The wine did settle down and improve somewhat, however. When it comes to world class Poulsard, there is Puffeney and there is Houillon, which Cory was saying could be sold for upwards of $60 to the fervently supportive natural wine drinkers in Japan. Maybe just the Dressner company line, but fuck it - I know how good the wine is and how Japan fetishizes certain things as only Japan can. So tightly allocated Poulsard, here we go. One of my co-workers would really get a kick out of that, allocated natural Poulsard - Champagne Gary, I fucking kid you not, it exists....

2002 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny (opened two days prior)

Thanks to Slaton for bringing the remains of this bottle. He was mentioning a wine with almost Morey St Denis type flavors upon opening. After a few days, the tell-tale cab franc veg notes were there, but so was tasty, savory, dark fruit and a really elegant, silken texture. Would have loved to follow this wine from opening to where it was last night.

2004 Rollin Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru Sous Fetille

To my minimally trained (and minimally appreciative) white burgundy palate, I much preferred this producer's villages, which actually has some Pinot Blanc in the blend, to this 1er cru which I'm assuming has a lot less or none at all. Much more overt oakiness, alcohol, and lack of togetherness in this wine, even as it fleshed out and integrated over the course of a little longer than an hour. It still wasn't doing it for me then, though I stood squarely in the minority on this one. Chalk it up to chardonnay and French oak hating, but I was really disappointed here. On a brighter note, the last sip was nearly enjoyable.

2004 Rollin Pernand-Vergeless

OK, I actually drank this wine at Terroir a week ago, but it made quite the positive impression. Plus, as much as I liked it I did not want to leave on a negative note for Rollin given my experience with his wine above. This wine had everything I was wishing it's slightly fancier sibling had: rich texture, impeccable balance, mouth expansive, delicious stone fruit flavors offset by lightly roasted nuts. The elegance and flavor development in this wine made it one of my favorite chardonnay based wines of the past couple years for me. I'm not much of a chardonnay guy, though, so take that for what it's worth.

2008 Dashe L'Enfant Terrible Zinfandel McFadden Farm Potter Valley

A bit oakier than I remember it, a suspicion that was confirmed when I learned that there were not enough grapes to fill up Dashe's beloved larger foudre. I prefer last year's, though I must say that the last sip o this 2 oz taste, consumed 40 or so minutes after it was poured, was showing very well, drier and more structured than it had showed upon first pouring.

2007 Foillard Morgon "Cuvee Courcelette"

Another wine geek wine. This was peppery and quite reductive initially, showing tense and structured gamay fruit which eventually opened up and softened a bit. It's very mineral and a bit backward out the gate, but really opens up with air. Tasty stuff, and worthy of the bonafide wine geek coveted beaujolais status.

2001 Bunan Bandol "Moulindes" (375ml)

I was joking with DMcD tonight that perhaps this was an ill advised move, to just get one more bottle, or half bottle as it were, after all the drinking which previously took place. A huge departure from the types of wines we had been drinking the rest of the night, this guy showed meaty, dark fruits, black olive, and loads of structure. One for food, not for closing out the wine geek night. Still, decent wine - we could have done worse.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dinner at The Pigeon

In addition to downing large quantities of Deschutes beer, perking up with Stumptown coffee and exploring the famed synergy of maple and bacon at Voodoo Doughnuts, one of my anticipated Portland food highlights was a dinner at Le Pigeon in the city's trendy section of East Burnside.

Chef Gabriel Rucker has received lots of praise in the past few years, with nods from both local food critics and those based across the country stating that his restaurant is a must visit for anyone in Portland. Incidentally, one of my co-workers was the one who first recommended that I get to Le Pigeon ("if you can get in," he said). Well, maybe it was luck, but we managed to sneak in without a reservation on a Sunday night. Mononatalie and I waited 30 minutes and headed over to B Side for a pint of beer, where we loved the undeniably awesome behind the bar decorations like the Ted Nugent clock and a framed, crocheted piece which read "cunt." Clever. It's a cool spot provided you're not with people who have touchy sensibilities.

We returned and were seated at the bar, which is the best way to go so that you can check out the action in the small, simply laid out open kitchen. The dining room is intimate, an elegant but casual vibe with a touch of whimsy added from the beautiful portrait of three staff members woven with yarn. To start we ordered a half bottle of 2004 Von Kesselstat Piesporter Goldtrofchen Riesling Spatlese - love those 04 Rieslings for their acidity and cooler, less ripe fruit profiles. The wine was good with my hamachi nicoise - a few slices of barely seared yellowtail, surrounded by a few small morsels of black olive tapenade, sauteed tomato, and hard boiled egg slices. However, it really was killer with Natalie's pork belly, green tomato and pickles.

For entrees, Natalie had the poussin - an adolescent chicken with shell beans, corn and chanterelles. It's earthy and satisfying, perhaps a bit monochromatic for some palates but tasty nonetheless, and an awful lot of food. I preferred my main, the beef cheeks bourguignon, which I later learned is something of a signature dish at Le Pigeon. Very slowly braised, they were intensely flavored, meaty, and incredibly tender. Great dish, and again, a very sizeable portion.
I had ordered an underwhelming bottle of 2002 Jacky Blot Bourgeuil, not realizing that this is a modernist Loire Cabernet Franc that tastes middle aged, overoaked, and heavy.

We had stuffed ourselves so much that dessert was out of the question, though the all northern Italian cheese plate piqued my curiosity. Piedmont's famous La Tur, a Lombardian cheese similar to tomme de savoie, and one other cheese made for an exciting regional focus on what is typically an assortment of cheeses from all over.

Overall, we had a wonderful experience at this well respected Portland institution. Go there if you're in Portland; just come hungry as you will be very well fed.

Le Pigeon
738 E. Burnside St
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 546-8796

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Annual OWOS hack attack

Greetings from north Portland! From sitting shiva to participating in a classic, DIY Portland style wedding (i.e. no professional caterer, wedding planners, etc), it has sure been one full last week of vacation.

Well, I think that the rampant spree of pharmaceutical offerings has come to an end, but in the meantime know that I'm monitoring the situation and am prepared to completely change my account info if necessary. Sorry to those of you who subscribe to one of my feeds and are receiving this spam.

More typical blog offerings to come next week.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bernard Manekin, October 4, 1914 - September 5, 2009

This past Saturday night, after a week of visits from his closest friends, family members, nurses and others, my grandfather exhaled his last breath in the physical world before passing on to a better place. His influence and steady presence in my life, the lives of my Dad and two uncles, his three step-daughters, as well as the lives of his 19 other grandchildren and 20 great-grandhildren, cannot be overstated. Nor do I believe I am up to the task of expressing the impact he has had on all of our lives along with his beloved community of Baltimore, or as I fondly remember him pronouncing in his authentically local accent, "Bawl-dee-more." With a little bit of biographical help from written remembrances courtesy of my Dad and Uncle Bob, however, I hope to convey how important this man was to everyone in my family and to so many others.

Pop-pop was a self made man. Though he was not the type to repeat stories of perseverance and dealing with adversity through tough Depression era times, that is exactly what he did. As I read in my Uncle Bob's insightful and personal remarks about his father, Pop-pop worked 50 hours a week at the Marlborough Shirt Factory, attended law school nights and weekends, and passed the Bar examination his first try.

After serving in the Army, having enlisted as a private and left as a captain, my grandfather started a real estate company with his brother, the late Harold Manekin, named Manekin & Co. Closely working with his brother Harold, Manekin & Co. would be involved in landmark Baltimore buildings such as the iconic, elegant Mies Van der Rhoe designed One Charles Center, the Rotunda shopping center, the Suntrust Bank building and many other projects. Later on, with the help of my Dad, uncle Bob and cousin Donald, there would be projects in Columbia and Frederick MD, as well as in northern Virginia.

Pop-pop was very active in the Baltimore community, serving in a variety of leadership roles for his favorite causes: Jewish charities; local economic development boards; the visual arts; and his cherished position as lifetime trustee at The Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies.

There was a certain dignity, even gravitas, in the way that my grandfather carried himself. Not to say that he wasn't warm and loving, far from it. In particular, I seem to recall a crying baby in synagogue direct his glance toward a smiling Pop-Pop, and instantly cries became cooing noises, much to the relief of the baby's parents and everyone in the rows at Chizuk Amuno.

Every bit the product of his era, Pop-Pop loved songs by Frank Sinatra, and surely could pull off convincingly suave, tuneful, renditions of the hits, if hearing him sing during Jewish holidays was any indication: "Berney has such a beautiful voice," I would hear friends and relatives say after singing the blessings and lighting sabbath candles.

Nothing was as important to Pop-Pop as family. I remember how his face would light up after telling him that I had visited Aunt Abby in San Diego, or spent a week with Uncle Chip's family celebrating my cousin Elisheva's marriage in Jerusalem.

My last in-depth conversation with my grandfather was a year ago. My grandmother was also alive then. Into their 90's, they were a good bit more frail, but clearly engaged and aware of not only what was going on in my life, but that of the rest of our family as well - and, as the 20 grandchildren along with 20 great-grandchildren will attest, it's a large family. Just as he had for the past 29 years of my life, Pop-pop offered encouragement in my endeavors, and re-stated what he has been telling me with increasing conviction and affection ever since I went off to college. To paraphrase, it was, "I know you're going to be just fine, I believe in you and expect nothing but the best." And expect the best Pop-Pop did. From me, his beloved family of which he was so proud, and anyone who was fortunate enough to have known him.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sourcing wine in Baltimore (pun intended)

Whenever I'm in town to visit family and friends in Baltimore, I'm sure to check out the Wine Source. Particularly if my dad requests that I mix up a case, which often times he does since he and my mom do enjoy a few glasses of wine with dinner most evenings.

After a number of years (not sure quite how many) in operation, the Wine Source continues to offer a strong selection of wines and beers, with really good pricing. That's without qualification, notice I did not say a strong selection for Baltimore, or anything like that. I'd be very happy to have this as a local go to wine shop even if I lived in New York. They carry a good, smaller selection of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie, olive oils and a few other food items as well.

Here's what I bought for the parents today. You can see the case discount working its magic.

Check it out:

2008 Trebiac Graves Blanc - $8.80

208 A to Z Pinot Gris - $12

2008 Ostatu Rioja Blanco - $9.60

2007 JP Brun Beaujolais Village "L'Ancienne" - $11.99 (pretty good closeout, no?)

2006 Joguet Chinon "Petite Roches" - $10.98 (another solid deal)

Vajra Langhe Rosso - $11.20 (don't recall the vintage, excited to try this though)

2007 Domaine Charvin A Coté Rouge - $10.99

2008 Pampano Rueda - $8.79

2008 Ameztoi Rubentis - $14.99!!

2007 Alary Grange Blanc - $11.99 (discounted Roussanne for the Dads, who requested medium-full bodied white wine)

2007 Quinta do Feital "Auratus" Vinho Verde - $14.99

As a treat for myself, I even found a bottle of the rare Cantillon St Lavinus, 2 year old lambic brewed with Merlot grapes! (from St Emilion, I belive they were sourcing from Chateau Bel Air at one point).

Happy Labor Day weekend everyone. Relax and drink the good stuff.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tom Collinses, Mad Men and the Most Influential Man in My Life

Did anyone happen to catch the wonderful Oil Painting Studio post on this blog? Unfortunately I cannot take credit for this deliciously non wine, food or music related promotion, as it seems that after a long hiatus someone has managed to sneak a spam post onto this blog. And sadly, if you missed it by now then you'll never have the chance to read about it because the post was deleted.

On to other, slightly more pressing matters, I'm ashamed to admit that I just concocted a Tom Collins cocktail and poured it into one of my Isastegi Sagardotegia glasses, seeing as there was a lack of other suitable glassware for such a drink. Please don't tell anyone in the Pais Vasco, especially if they are in the business of producing cider. Truth be told, I'd much rather be drinking Isastegi sagarda right now, but for some reason the gin was calling me, especially since I plan on re-watching the last half of Mad Men Season 2, episode 5, during which I dozed off last night.

And finally, on to other much more pressing matters, my grandfather, Bernard Manekin, aka Pop-pop, is living out his last days in the physical world in Baltimore. I feel lucky to have had a grandfather as loving, supportive, and influential on my life as Pop-Pop. I hope that his last days pass with comfort and full of memories of a life well lived.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Week in Review

A few highlights from the week, in phrase form since sentences are just not gonna form right now:

- 2007 Pena das Donas Ribera Sacra (white - Almalarga and red - Verdes Martas) tasting very good, especially the white. All godello.
- Shameless plug: we (K&L) will bring in a quantity of the aforementioned Ribera Sacra wines in the next week or so. $17/btl
- Tasted yet again the ageing capabilities of 'light,' 'dilute,' and/or high acid vintages, in this case for '02 Rioja crianza.
- As told to me by a proprietor of a natural wine bar: "These wines (Lopez de Heredia reds) have too much oak. They are not wines of terroir."
- 2007 Joseph Swan Cotes du Rosa Carignane Russian River Valley - pure fruit, vibrant, great with pizza.
- 2008 Ameztoi Rubentis and 2008 Gurrutxaga Txakoli Rosé...perfect for the season. Gurrutxaga in particular showing increasingly better each time I drink.
- Overheard after a customer finished up his beer tasting at work today and reported back to his friends: "That was the worst line-up of beers I ever tasted. They were like, flavored and stuff."
I do hate it when my beer has flavor.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Non-Phixion - Rock Stars

Fun video. Dope group. Ill Bill. Many hip-hop cameos. Enjoy this one.

'88's and no heartbreaks; far from slumming it in Oakland

This past Sunday in the burgeoning Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, a few of us kicked it Oakland style: basking in the east bay sun, drinkin' outdoors and, of course, barbecuing. Thanks to chemist/ Burgundy lover Arjun Mendiratta, data cluster protector/ bon vivant Slaton Lipscomb and software dude/winemaker Eric Lundblad for hanging out and sharing some terrific bottles of wine.

In order of consumption we drank:

1988 Veuve Cliquot RD

Delicious. Nutty , succulent, and really deep, bright, palate filling flavors with gutsy, real deal acidity. Loved it.

1988 Michel Esmonin Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques
Woodsy, deep sous bois nose lead to a very savory, dark cherry and hoisin inflected palate, with some meaty and decaying notes. Though I enjoyed this for its maturity, I must admit that initially I preferred the Chevillon NSG below, only to reconsider my position after taking the last sip of this very good wine.

1988 Robert Chevillon Nuit St George Les Perrieres
Good wine. Very fresh, primary, red cherry aromas. Deep, intense, fresh and vibrant red fruit flavors with a hint of orange peel. Is this 20+ year old burgundy I'm tasting?? Very impressive for its vivacity and youthfulness. Q-tip might refer to it as a viverant, vivrant.

In addition to the '88s we drank a very decent bottle of '00 Fevre Chablis Bougros that was in a good, chalky mineral yet open-knit spot. There was an 01 Eric Texier Cote Rotie (didn't even know he dabbled in Cote Rotie) which was pretty, relatively lighter weight and actually reminded me of a richer Pineau d'Aunis a la Domaine de la Belleviere. '99 Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches was toasty, fat, a bit sweet and not really enjoyable without food - don't know if even the right food would have redeemed it's ripe, oaky qualities. '96 Fleury was fine, softer, not as wound up and less intellectual than my last few experiences with the wine.

Good drinking and hangout session, gentlemen. Special thanks to Arjun for hosting, providing the red burg and cooking delicious salmon.