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.