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.