Tuesday, December 28, 2010

OWOS Top 10 Wines of 2010

At long last, here is the final word on the very best wines available in California in 2010. Why are they the best? Well, let's just say that as an arbiter of taste, no one comes even close to me around these parts. Others try, but due to the unique concentration of super taster quantities of taste buds, as well as my $1M insured nose, I know which wines are the best.

OK, all kidding aside, a few things which you will likely intimate from this list, but it doesn't hurt to spell them out:

The list is highly subjective. Wine is subjective, so why water down this fact?

As someone responsible for buying Spanish wines where I work, there is a strong Spanish representation.

As a lover of sherry, two of these underappreciated wines are represented.

As someone whose allocation of Equipo Navazos/La Bota sherries is inexplicably delayed, none of these critic's/wine geeks' darlings are on the list (ok, that is not why they are not on here; see the listed sherries below for more).

How is such a list compiled? In this case, and contrary to many other year end lists, it's about as unscientific as you can get. However, there is still a loosely knit, though carefully considered, thought process involved. There is the pleasure principle, of course, i.e. how much of this wine could I gulp down in one sitting, or have I gulped down year to date? Often times, such a wine is a great value as well. Perhaps a wine really caught me off guard, surprised me in an unexpected, delightful way. On occasion, a wine is more important than what is inside the bottle. It transcends, challenges, or perhaps points the way ahead for others to follow? Any and all of these considerations come in to play for the Top 11 list below. Enjoy.

And since this is likely the last substantive post for the year (maybe a quick 1-2 paragraph post or youtube ahead, but not likely anything beyond that), I'd like to thank everyone for continuing to read, comment, question, correct, and show some involvement on this blog. All of you keep it interesting and keep me engaged.

Thank you.

2009 Domaine de la Pepiere "Clos de Briords" Vieilles Vignes Muscadet Severe et Maine Sur Lie

So pure, refreshing, balanced, and delicious, it is hard to stash any of this away without drinking all of it. Somehow the precociousness of Marc Olivier's Briords has made me completely forget about buying any of the basic classique bottling. A wrong to be righted when I buy a case of it this January.

2009 Natural Process Alliance Sauvignon Blanc O'Neel Family

A most unique and unusual white wine. If you are drinking this with unexperienced and/or unexpecting wine drinkers, it is likely to offend, or at the least perplex, someone in your drinking party. Intense SB herbaceousness coupled with an equally intense extended skin maceration pungency, make this a controversial but in my judgement unusually delicious wine. Over 8g/l tartaric acid, just 6ppm total sulhpur, so yeah: this is not for everyone. If you are one of the few people to not hear about NPA, the wine is only sold to restaurants within a 150 mile radius of the production facility, packed in klean kanteens which are poured, swapped out for newly filled ones, cleaned and filled again at the winery. Innovative, environmentally responsible, and most importantly, delicious wine.

2005 Els Jelipins

This blend of garnacha and sumoll from the Penedes is precious, both in terms of limited production as well as price (you will likely pay upwards of $80 for it, if you can find any). The narrative here is compelling: husband/wife team Glòria Garriga and Oriol Illa make some of the most highly sought after wines for the top name in Priorat, do not enjoy drinking their extracted, "enriched" vinous product, and decide to strike out on their own to make more honest wines that are more to their liking. I'm glad they did; this might be the most promising, delicious and polished of Spain's burgeoning natural wines.

Valdespino "Inocente" Fino Jerez

While the oldest continously running bodega in Jerez may be more famous in some circles for supplying Equipo Navazos with some excellent botas of fino, I would argue that theirs is the superior bottling: every bit as rich and mineral, but with more vivid fruit and purity. Also, it is packaged in 375 ml's for those who enjoy taking a half bottle of delicious fino straight to the cabeza.

Argueso Amontillado Sanlucar de Barrameda

If you are looking for a classic, bone dry, tangy amontillado, with all of the dried citrus, slightly candied and nutty aromas but absolutely zero perceptible sweetness on the palate, might I suggest this manzanilla amontillado?

2005 GD Vajra Barolo Albe

Earlier this year, I bought some bottles of this delicious young Barolo, and though I really enjoyed it (especially for the modest $30 tariff) I wanted to be sure that the spot was well deserved. After drinking half a bottle (and exercising some restraint to stop at 2.5 glasses) earlier tonight, I can absolutely say that this wine has earned its place here. Open and fruity for a young Barolo, but with crisp, pure red fruits, classic nebbiolo tannin (not as noticeable as usual to the generosity of fruit), and a lightness in touch that tells all of the extracted, oaky Piemontese big guns to go back to the drawing board (or, more appropriately, the dining room table) to figure out what people want to drink.

2000 Houillon/Overnoy Savagnin Arbois Pupillin (sous voile)

Just a mind boggling, bright as the day is long, classic expression of savagnin grapes undereath a thin veil of flor. Thanks to Guilhaume Gerard, one of the more passionate advocates of Jura wines, for sharing this bottle.

Jose Michel Brut Reserve

While his son Bruno Michel makes mouthwateringly juicy and delicious pinot meunier based champagnes at his own domaine (the eponymous Bruno Michel), this pinot meunier based champagne was more dark fruited and seriously structured. Drier as well. At $58 on the list it was also easily the best deal on a wine list I came across this year.

08 Mendall Finca L’abeurador Macabeu

Owner/vigneron/PVN organizer Laureano Serres' enthusiasm is contagious. His un-sulphured wines are works in progress, with what many would view as flaws presenting themselves in most of the range. Some slightly longer than usual skin maceration qualities reveal themselves, but are not defining features of the wine. I look forward to seeing how Laureano's wines evolve from year to year.

2001 Bodegas Casa Juan Señor de Lesmos Reserva Rioja

From the intrepid members of my more French wine inclined tasting group, to one of my favorite Spanish wine importers, to customers where I work, many have been taken with the unique expressions of Rioja from this Laguardia based family bodega. Heck, even the renowned Fat Boy has purchased quantites of this spicy, purely fruited not uber traditional yet uber expressive take on Rioja. It will likely be at its best five years from now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum

Recently I tasted through a trio of VORS sherries:

Gonzales Byass "del Duque" Amontillado VORS

While delicious, I seem to have had two very different experiences with this amontillado. At Terroir in New York, I recall it being spicier, just a tad bit sweet, and more unctuous than my more recent experience. Probably a matter of wines preceeding this terrific older sherry: in New York it was fino and here in SF, in the comfort of my own apartment, I have tasted the wine prior to other older sherries. So let's go with the more recent impression. Initially dried fruit aromas give way to spicier, old barrel room smells. The palate is intense, slightly spicy, very nutty, decidedly salty and tangy, as great amontillado ought to be. Though this is not the way to enjoy your everyday amontillados, try a taste of this and then a bit of something less old, maybe Lustau Obregon Amontillado, for example. What is normally a terrific amontillado will seem rather insipid and watery by comparison.

Gonzales Byass "Apostoles" Palo Cortado VORS

This is one sweet apostle. Caramel and dried date aromas lead to intense dried fruit flavors with a healthy dollop of sweetness, though still balanced it is definitely a style of palo cortado that is not bone dry. Not Equipo Navazos La Bota Punta sweet and intense, but approaching that level. For a decidedly different, dry expression of VORS palo cortado, Hidalgo's Wellington is a great one to try.

El Maestro Sierra Oloroso 1/14 Oloroso VORS

Awesome old wine. Its aromas are deep, with dark cocoa, a rancio quality and a degree of intrigue that is enough to make me reach for the bottle and pour just a little bit more right now, 20 minutes or so after having concluded this tasting. Ah, there it is. Still a salty quality, and one of very dark caramel. Flavors are rich and generous, while maintaining a real dry quality. A true rancio, walnut like finish on this, right up to the shell and skin between the meat and the outer layer. This is a classic, and though I'm not yet thoroughly versed on the subject, it is what I imagine an old school, classic oloroso from Jerez to taste like. Terrific, and an unforgettable taste.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chorizo 101, in photographs

Straining a blend of mixed reconstitued peppers

dried espelettes

various types of paprika, salt, pepper, garlic; chopped pork (and wine glass) in the background

Mound of pork

Back fat

The all important patty fry to check for flavor, night one

Ground chorizo after a day

The porkert, used earlier for grinding and with this particular attachment, for stuffing

The location

The chorizo

Monday, December 20, 2010

In pursuit of The Chosen Protein

There's something irresistible about good pork. Braised butt, hickory smoked bacon, pimenton seasoned chorizo, salt cured, dry aged ham. These are obvious truths to many, though to me these culinary delights have only made themselves known to me in my adult years. I'm a Jew, raised in a conservative Jewish (in political terms, think 'moderate') home steeped in ritual as well as cultural traditions. As a conservative Jew, pork was taboo, though bacon, as we came to understand it, didn't count. Not porky enough, and besides, too delicious. It was not yet the age of curing your own meat, paying several hundred dollars for butchering classes, and purchasing responsibly raised kurobota pork. In fact, it may still not be that age where I was raised, in Baltimore. So perhaps I was not missing much.

As a Jew though, a Jew currently with a stronger cultural bond than a spiritual one, I am occasionally conflicted about writing up any delicious experience with pork. How many fellow members of the tribe (MOTT) am I offending on Facebook? What about my family, what are they to think? (my parents, by the way, have ramped up the in-home kashrut: no meat and dairy, two sets of silverware/knives/serving utensils/plates...shit is crazy.)

As a Jew, I also have a theory:

Over the past decade or so, I have noticed that some of those most devoted to all things pork are Jewish (and for that matter, Muslim as well). Peter Pastan, chef and owner of Obelisk and Two Amy's in Washington, DC, offers a wide range of cured pork products which he himself produces. Cookbook author and NYT food writer Mark Bittman (a Jew, I think) has many different recipes for pork in his cookbooks. Then there is me, of course. Yesterday I was joking with a co-worker who was having a terrible day at work. He was convinced God was angry at him and I told him that maybe if he were to be Jewish for the day, his luck would improve. Over a smoked pork chop lunch at Gourmet Haus Stadt, I reminded him that given his Jewish for a day status he would need to consume the pork even more voraciously than usual.

So, going forward I have resolved to report candidly on any home cookery or meals out involving ham, sausage, bacon, pork, and the like. I apologize to anyone who is offended; feel free to quickly scan future post's titles and not read any further if you do not like what you see.

Tomorrow, I will discuss a first-time effort producing house made, semi-cured chorizo.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stamina/Old Wine

For so many folks the holidays are a wonderful and joyful, albeit stressful time of year. Not to belittle the work of anyone working in other sectors, but for those in the retail and service industries you especially can relate to the 'stressful' descriptor. Extra long lines to manage, harried customers to appease, additional hours to work in addition to the seasonal assortment of holiday preparation and partying. All of this would explain the paucity of material on this site of late. I'm in the midst of working 11 of 12 days, so maintaining stamina is key. Unfortunately, blogging has not been part of the regimen of late. Setting aside time for chorizo making, however, has been - look for a post on that soon. For now, though, how about some notes for older wines drunk recently? The Bordeaux and Silver Oak were all large format, I think 6L but cannot remember for certain.

1981 Cos d'Estournel St Estephe

Mature traditional Bordeaux nose, nothing too exciting. Rustic dark cherry fruits were shy and restrained initially, gaining more depth, floral qualities, and intrigue as it opened up in the glass. No revelation, but no slouch either, especially, I imagine, if you spend a bit more time with it than I did.

1986 Chateau Bellegrave Pauillac

Somewhat smoky nose. Red fruited palate that initially impressed for its brightness and proceeded to disappoint with a hollow feel on the mid-palate and a short finish.

1988 Chasse-Spleen Moulis en Medoc

Unyielding, or perhaps drying out? This was a quick 1 oz taste, not too carefully considered. And I must admit some prejudice as I have found this particular wine to be unexciting when tasted several times over the past few years. 1989, much better.

1983 Silver Oak Bonny's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Classic, spicy, dill inflected American oak driven nose. Fruit tastes clipped and has no purity, intensity or length. Not much to like on the palate, unfortunately. Didn't do it for me.

1955 Sandeman Port

Very herbal, sort of eucalypt/medicinal like aromas and flavors. Sweet red fruit. Yep, still quite sweet. While I may change my tune after tasting more older Taylor, as of yet the vintage port rarely makes me notice or care to drink it, let alone purchase it and drink it.

1973 D'Oliveira Verdelho

Yes! Deep chestnut honey colored, the wine has a terrific interplay of acid, dark brown sugar sweetness, and subtle spice notes. Hints of vanilla creme brulee. A winner.

1988 Barbeito Sercial Frasqueira

Holy shit! This golden-amber colored madeira has just a hint of residual sugar and a whole lot of acid. Be sure to decant it after opening to get this one going. And go it will. For the money, this is my favorite Madeira of the year. Granted, I've only had a half dozen or so madeiras this year, but given their performance this will definitely have to change in 2011.

1864 Averys Solera Madeira

Yes, you are reading this correctly. Some Civil War era madeira, or at least that's when the solera was formed. It was likely bottled in the 1960's, I believe, by the long established Bristol based wine merchant. This had a nice balance of sweet, dried fruits and spicy intrigue, though it definitely showed a bit of fatigue in the way that an older bottling of solera fortified wine can show. Sort of an element of grandma's old spice rack combined with her old brown liquor in the bar.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Long time, no youtube®

Proto yacht rock by the Beach Boys. Perhaps that's not really a fair description. This jam is delicious. Especially the B section. Live from 1973.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fallen Glass Soldiers

Happy December.

Some very quick notes on what has been in the glass over the past week, primarily during the Thanksgiving break.

2009 Trabanco Sidra
Delicious as always

2009 Domaine de la Pepieres Clos de Briords (1.5L)
Ripe but mineral, forward, juicy and still complex. Awesome.

2009 Vinya San Felieu Rosat
Sans soufre trepat grape tastiness. Cornelissen Contadino with more upfront fruit. No more available in CA until 2010 - damn!

2007 Pedralonga Vendetta
Fancy albariño with a fancy price. Better than I remember it. Great texture, richness and minerality.

2000 Peciña Crianza Rioja (1.5L)
Beautifully mature Rioja. Soft, delicious fruit with some earthy/meaty savory development. Texture and balance define this wine. I'm glad we purchased 120 for the store.

2000 Monje "Monje de Autor" Tacaronte Acentejo
Intriguing, smoky/ashy dark fruit from Tenerife in Canary Islands.

2009 Michel Delhommeau Clos Armand Muscadet Sevre et Maine (1.5L)
A very decent drink, but when the bar was recently set by Briords this definitely falls short.

2009 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais Village
Supremely disappointing, this tasted too much like a good grower nouveau shipped to the States - not my cup. I've never had Nouveau in its natural habitat, so I can't make a blanket judgement about all nouveau, but the better ones I've had here don't do it for me. Based on my recent experience with this Beaujolais Village, 09 Chermette doesn't cut it either. I had one delicious bottle 2 months ago purchased from Chambers St. Maybe I just wanted to like the wine that night and my palate enabled me to do so?

2001 Luis Rodriguez Vazquez Viña Martin "Escolma" Ribeiro

Lots of words in that wine's name...anyway my mixed emotions about godello continue, even with this - one of the best growers. Initially, it is very ripe tasting, with lots of starfruit and an appley quality as well. Almost a sweet, orangey caramel candy quality. Think bulk caramel, not that butttery toffee-ish Werther's stuff. With a few days of fridge time, though, the intensity of flavors and minerality reveal themselves. Ruby red grapefruit and a cutting acidity that takes a while to reveal itself on the mid palate. Though I'm still on the fence with godello, the potential for greatness is clearly there. Would be curious to see the result of less stainless steel, less "sobre lias" (extended time on lees) and maybe some more experimentation in the realm of fermentation and aging vessels and possible extended skin contact (even if just a few days) to name a few possibilities.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two Thanksgiving Recs

The holidays are for enjoying, not for stressing. They're for cooking simple foods, not driving yourself crazy over that 5 page recipe you read in The Way You Ought to Cook but Don't® magazine. As for wine, you could check out one of the two daily US newspapers who actually have intelligent, well informed reporters covering primarily wine on a full-time basis. Here is one and, right here, the other. Their suggestions are typically spot on. Or, you could check out a quick, witty take on the situation from any number of blogs, perhaps starting right here with these two suggestions:

1. Keep it Simple

Offering too many choices will confuse and ultimately, depress, your guests. You want your guests to be happy, not depressed. The holidays can be depressing enough on their own without you, Mr(s) Host, providing a perfectly roasted, brined, heritage turkey with foraged morel mushrooms, stuffing made from the rustic bread you baked from the new Tartine bread book, mashed potatoes grown in your backyard garden and a homemade galette from heirloom apples you picked off your neighbor's tree. And you're going to serve 6 different cru Beaujolais, including a normal and 'N' no sulphur added Marcel Lapierre Morgon, as well as Chenin Blanc from Anjou, Jasnieres, Vouvray and Montlouis? Get a fucking grip, douche. Keep it simple.

2. Drink what you like

Like Turley Ueberroth? Cool, do it up. It's your party and your guests might be miserable, but you are the one hosting all those begging Turkey freeloaders anyway, so as long as you're happy, go ahead and serve the Paso Robles zinfandel. Alternatively, perhaps you plan to serve only magnums of Thierry Puzelat La Tesniere Blanc? If that's what you feel, go on now and do it. Just save some for me.

What drinks are we serving Chez 360? Magnums of Rioja and Muscadet. Some variety of Deschutes for the beer drinkers. Trabanco sidre and cava for the chef and special guests while we party and prep beforehand.

We keeps it simple and we drinks what we like.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. See you after the hangover is over and the house is cleaned.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Four Rieslings in Five Days

Apropos to last week’s post on focused drinking, I decided that Riesling would be a logical place to experiment given that, over the past year I have, I’m embarrassed to say, dialed back the Riesling consumption. So, 2009 is supposed to be a terrific vintage for Riesling. Plenty ripe, I’m sure, as it was all over Europe, but likely producing many delicious wines to drink and age. I’m starting with the trocken (dry) styles, given that these are the wines I know the least, and that trocken wines in ripe vintages tend to be a pretty good combination.

There are four wines, tasted over the course of five days, which I will try to shed some light on here in three stages.

Day 1 – Introduction to the Trockens

I selected four wines priced from $14-$20:

2009 Josef Rosch Riesling Trocken

Very simple, ripe, stone fruit without a whole lot of interest texturally. One for uncritical drinking to sip without much thought or expecting much pleasure. Meh.

2009 Von Schubert Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Trocken

Whoa – sulphuric funkiness on the nose. Slatey as well, that double Ruwer combo of slate and sulphur, I believe, is painfully bad in trocken form. Not a big fan. Also, some weird bitter cherry cough drop type aromas as well. Maybe will improve with some fridge time.

2009 Keller Estate Riesling Trocken

Soft, pure, poached pear and ripe orange citric deliciousness. The wine managed to be the ripest of the bunch, but still refreshing, balanced and mineral as well. At the time, I was thinking this to be texturally closer to demi-sec to sec tendre Loire chenin than to riesling.

2009 Okonomierat Rebholz Riesling Trocken.

Very compressed, tight, mineral, tangy and DRY. Sort of a greenish quality to it, with subtle citric and vege notes that brought lighter gruner veltliner to mind more than riesling. A tough one to initially guage.

Day 2 – Sunday lunch

A glass or 2 of wine with lunch is one of life’s simple pleasures which unfortunately so many of us stressed out, overworked Americans miss out on – regular wine drinkers included. Anyway, I continued to check the development of these wines, this time in a more leisurely format while enjoying my Sunday away from work.

2009 Josef Rosch Riesling Trocken

Improving. Firming up, brighter fruit and acidity, more focus. Let’s upgrade this one from “meh” to not bad.

2009 Von Schubert Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Trocken

Still more ‘nast than Conde.

2009 Keller Estate Riesling Trocken

This was one of my two lunch glasses. Delicious but maybe starting to taste a little too ripe? Getting spicier and the texture, which I formerly though of as soft, is getting a little bit heavy and viscous. A glass was just the right amount.

2009 Okonomierat Rebholz Riesling Trocken

Markedly better. Fleshing out a bit, still showing wonderful minerality and bright, snappy citric fruits, but spreading throughout the palate more. At this point I am beginning to favor this one to the Keller.

Day 5 – Final Impressions

2009 Josef Rosch Riesling Trocken

Starting to lose some intensity and impact. Still, its not a bad drier Riesling for the masses.

2009 Von Schubert Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Trocken

Nope. Never again.

2009 Keller Estate Riesling Trocken

Alright, there is likely some botrytis in this wine. The texture is too viscous, the flavors too ripe and spicy, for this not to be the case. Without a doubt, this wine was at its best for me on day one.

2009 Okonomierat Rebholz Riesling Trocken

My favorite. Compared with a few days ago, it opened up slightly, though not remarkably. Mineral, fresh, invigorating, decidedly dry, but balanced trocken Riesling.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Random Oldies Tasted Recently

A self explanatory title. And here we go.

1999 Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma Valley

Rich, ripe, oaky chard, as expected. Getting on just fine, though, provided that rich, ripe and oaky is what you like. Sort of a fat balance. The George Foreman of chardonnay based wine.

1996 Frederic Esmonin Griottes Chambertin Grand Cru

Stemmy, earthy, sour cherry nose leads to a palate that is rather firm and acidic, yet one dimensional. Closed? Or goin' nowhere? If I were a betting man I'd say the latter but I know better than to bet, particularly when a wine's development is in question. That said, 5-2 odds that this wine only gets marginally better.

1996 Frederic Esmonin Gevrey Chambertin Estournelles 1er Cru

Baked red fruit aromas show some interesting advancement, though they do lack focus and layered nuance. A bit rough and tumble on the palate, with tangy dried cherry fruit and slightly unbalanced acidity. Still, this is a much more enjoyable bottle than the GC above.

1970 Chateau Beychevelle St Julien

A gem from the famous Mahler Besse cellars in Bordeaux, always a good sign regarding a wine's provenance, provided it hasn't changed hands much or at all along the way, of course. In this case the bottle came directly from their cellars, though, and it showed terrifically. A slightly sweet smoky balance of fruity and savory aromatics waft from the glass. Classic. Savory cherry flavors on the palate, with just a hint of herbaceousness, velvety texture, good length, and elegance for days. Once again, a classic. Five stars, Five mics, Five @'s, and 95 points.

1994 Pahlmeyer Merlot Napa Valley

'70 Beych was a tough act to follow, and unfortunately for Pahlmeyer it was in such a position. Perfectly acceptable wine, with a ripe sweet, dark fruited nose leading to a more ripe, front loaded example of red wine. Still balanced, just a different type of balance from a different part of the vine growing world.

1985 Veuve Clicquot (1.5L)

Big, toasty, yellow fruited nose, with some golden currants and other ripe fruits present. Ripe and showing a bit softer, fleshier, and flabbier (that's champagne flab, by the way, so not all that flabby) than I might have expected. Better, and enjoyed in the past year: Clicquot's 1988 and 1980. At least that's how the respective bottles showed for me this year.

1962 La Lagune Haut Medoc (1.5L)

La Lagune is, for lack of a better way of putting it, something of a 'super haut medoc' for the quality of its terroir, its wine, and track record of ageing. I have enjoyed tasting this wine from such diverse vintages as 2003 and 1998, which says something as I rarely enjoy the taste of young to middle aged Bordeaux these days. This showed a real smoky, meaty quality on the nose. Think Bubby's brisket - if you had a bubby who made brisket, that is. Otherwise, just think braised short ribs. Sweet and savory flavors are ripe and spicy, sort of a vinous version of the house chipotle ketchup at Monk's Kettle in San Francisco (purveyors of the best tasting best value plate of fries in the city). With all respect to this bottle of wine, which is still drinking at 48 years of age, I would prefer those fries and chipotle house ketchup.

1995 Ridge Jimsomare Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains

One of my favorites of this group, from the great state of California and the premier grape growing region of the Santa Cruz mountains, Jimsomare is composed of all cabernet from this little known Ridge vineyard, located below the Monte Bello vineyard, and below the fog line. It generally only goes to Ridge wine club members. For those nostalgic for classic Paul Draper wines, here's one for you. 12.9% abv. Rustic dark berries and currants on the nose (brambly currants, not syrupy cassis, ya listening Napa?). Firm but elegant flavors on the palate, with very pretty dark and blue fruits, bright acidity, tannins that are still on the youthful side and overall just a wonderful balance and presence. Terrific.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Drinking: A focused practice

"I'm focused, man" - Jay-Z

At some point last week, I remember the one and only El-P, independent rapper/producer extraordinaire and head "Def Jukie" (founder/head of Def Jux Records) tweeting something to the effect of "Attn: rappers. I don't need to know how focused you are every time you rap" (this is a commonly overused word in the rapper's lexicon - 'focused'). It brought a smile to my face, though for the past two weeks, at least as it relates to my drinking habits, I must admit: I'm focused. It has been a very sherry dominant period, as I have probably had eight sherries up in the mix, in the fridge and in the wine "cellar" of my apartment.

There is something you learn by comparative tasting flights, no doubt. However, what you can learn by picking a handful of wines from the same region, or perhaps contrasting in whichever ways you choose to select, and drinking them over the course of a week or two, is invaluable. I plan on doing so more frequently.

I am towards the end of the sherry focus (though there will still be plenty of it around regardless, you can believe that).


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Xit ton of Xeres - the ambers

Once you get into it, drinking good sherry is a dangerously addictive, habit forming way to roll. I highly recommend it.

I drink way more manzanilla and fino than any other type of sherry. Regardless of the season (yes, we do experience variations in temperature as well as seasons in San Francisco...well, sort of), I love the crisp, saline, sometimes appley sometimes citric bite of the drier styles of sherry. When I say "bite" I do mean it; these wines are bone dry, disarmingly so for many people. Anyway, I could be just about anywhere south of Greenland and still crave a bracing glass or two (ok, three) of manzanilla or fino.

Olorosos (the variety of sherry which never has much of a tuft of flor form above it in the barrel) are wonderful. Pedro Ximenez based sherries, for me, are just too damn sweet for sipping, regardless of the style or VOS (very old sherry) or VORS (very old rare sherry) status. Amontillado and palo cortado styles, with their initital ageing under flor influence, hit a nice sweet spot between nuttiness and racy, tangy immediacy [he says as he downs his glass of amontillado.] Ahh!

So that having been said, I'm focusing on the three bottles of amber hued sherries which are currently open in my apartment.

Herederos de Argüeso Amontillado Sanlucar de Barrameda

#AwwHellYeah. Oops, I'm not twittering now. Anyway, this tastes like dried toffee and orange candies, if you were to take out the sugar, add some salt and a pinch of magic. There is something about amontillados from Sanlucar that are so full of energy and vitality. Awesome value at $25/750ml.

Barbadillo "Obispo Gascon" Palo Cortado Sanlucar de Barrameda

Deeper amber in color, with a decidedly more pungent and slightly boozy nose. It's 21.5% abv, a bit up there by palo cortado standards. Aromas are a shade more rancio, more oxidized, with something that I often find in amber sherries that I can only refer to as "yellow Triaminic." I don't recall what the yellow variety of Triaminic cold medicine was specifically for (maybe really bad colds, given the extra nastiness of its smell and taste), but rest assured that this sherry "tell" as it were is a personal one, and just one element of a satisfying sherry experience. Flavors echo the richer aromatics, with a bit more ripeness, nuttiness, and a hint of a dark chocolate quality as well. To me I see this as a terrific after dinner drink, whereas the aforementioned Argueso Amontillado could function as apero as well as dinner accompaniment for the right dishes.

Lustau Almacenista "Pata de Gallina" Juan Garcia Jarana Oloroso

At 20% abv, this is a comparably lighter oloroso. Very minimal detectable sweetness as well. It drinks brighter than the Barbadillo Obispo Gascon PC, with racier acids as well as a more noticeable depth in the mid-palate and finish. Hella walnut, we might say here in the Bay Area. I think this could well be the most versatile of this trio, equally adept as apero, dinner companion, and after dinner drink with cheese (Cabot clothbound cheddar, perhaps?), nuts, or just a warm fireplace and some interesting modern or contemporary fiction. Nothing pre 20th c, that would just be too stodgy in today's fast paced, casual, drinking and reading environment.

Pues...nada. Salud!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Braised Lamb Shanks and...sherry?

I'm not going to lie. I just spent the last 45 minutes typing some bullshit about pairing food with wine. It was horrible. Truly awful, deplorable, boring wine feature in your local newspaper type stuff. Now that this is safely deleted, never, ever to be seen again, let me summarize what had taken me way to long to articulate on this screen. I love wine. I enjoy drinking wine with food. But I really like wine without food and often need a break from the minutiae of picking an "appropriate" wine for the dish before me.

Last night I braised lamb shanks. It was a delicious, rich, wonderfully lamby (read: slightly gamey) braise made all the more interesting by the stock, lemon juice and fino sherry used for the piquant braising liquid, as well as the late addition of watercress to provide another counterpoint to the meat and potatoes. The result was a lamb dish that I believed would benefit from the right sparkling or white wine. Another version of this story, I suppose, might be that yet another night I was not in the mood for any of the reds in my house. While the Etienne Dupont "Triple" Cider, El Maestro Sierra Fino, Hidalgo "La Pastraña" Manzanilla Pasada and Bodegas Argüeso Amontillado were all very good wines, not overpowered by the lamb, they did not add anything, enhance, or complement the flavors in any way.

In the tradition of my colleague Brooklynguy's "You be the Sommelier" posts, I'd like to ask you what you would pair with this dish. It would be interesting to get some ideas from the more experienced food and beverage types out there.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday B3 clips

TAKE IT AWAY, BABS. Barbara Dennerlein does some jazzy Bach improv

WHY COULDN'T I GRAB MY DIPLOMA TO THAT? Joey DeFrancesco Trio sound checking, in a gymnasium somewhere

IMPECCABLE TASTE Larry Goldings has a classic, yet original sound

THE GODFATHER Jimmy Smith and band play an uptempo blues (video cuts off, unfortunately)

Thursday, November 4, 2010


A quick list of things I've noticed may have more in common than one might expect.

Rubber, glue or swimming pool and fino sherry
Fino sherry and sake
Fino sherry and an energetic buzz
Gamay and grenache
Orange wine and a lay person's appreciation
Workplace and civility
Bass players and a sense of groundedness
Profit and loss
Joy and pain
Sunshine and rain (ok, so it was the band Maze who should be credited for those last two)

Enjoy the weekend.

Monday, November 1, 2010

SF GIANTS - World Champs

I'm not a long time Giants fan. And I'm not a Bay Area native. Nonetheless, San Francisco is home now, and this 2009-2010 season Giants team will forever be remembered as world champions. The best thing about this team is not only that they are weird and unpredictable, but also that they are professional and so incredibly clutch. They played their best ball when it counted. And most importantly, they beat the Texas Rangers in their home park, in front of Mr. Texas himself George W. Bush, to win the World Series. This is in many ways the most satisfying professional sports victory I've had the privilege to celebrate.

Though at 11:28PM, the celebration outside is still going strong, I just returned home and find it appropriate to celebrate with a Bay Area band whose creative output has been appreciated in arenas, stadiums and bars throughout the world.

GO GIANTS!! 2010 World Series champions.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Three Classics

I find myself constantly seeking out new experiences: a new ingredient to add to heavy cooking rotation, a new Jura bottling, the latest from an electronic music producer.

A few things this week reminded me of the value in taking comfort in the classics.

Palacios Chorizo

I love the balance of smoked paprika (pimenton), oily meat and fat globules in this inexpensive Spanish staple.

Gonzalez Byass "Tio Pepe" Fino

Sensing a Spanish theme here? I had three finos open in my fridge last week. This is the last bottle standing and, incidentally, my least favorite of the bunch. Nonetheless, it is still a damn fine drink. And the memory of the neon Tio Pepe logo, lighting up the side of one of the buildings in the barrio of Triana along the banks of the Rio Guadalquivir, clearly holds some sentimental sway.

Steely Dan Can't Buy a Thrill

Fuck, this album is so many things at their very best: classic rock, songwriting, session player performance, recording...listening to Steely Dan, I'm reminded of one of my former rabbis who presided over confirmation classes following my Bar Mitzvah. Rabbi Camras respected the Dan. When he shared that fact, I think that we cool 14 year olds either ignored him, rolled our eyes, or responded, "huh?" Anyway, this is the record with classic rock radio staples "Do it Again," "Dirty Work," and "Reelin' in the Years," as well as memorable album cuts such as "Midnite Cruiser" and "Turn that Hearbeat Over Again."

Last night, on the car ride back from a spectacular hike overlooking the Pacific and Tomales Bay, my brother and I eventually cued up this album and sang along during portions of most of these songs. The ladies in the car did not seem to mind.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Author Robert Camuto in Bay Area

I first met Robert Camuto at a reading he was doing at 18 Reasons, promoting his last book, Corkscrewed. Camuto's debut wine book was an entertaining page turner about visits made to some of the more interesting domaines throughout French wine country. Robert's background is not that of an industry insider, or longtime wine guru, but rather is in journalism. In particular, Camuto published and wrote for an alternative weekly for a number of years, and perhaps not surprisingly a similarly casual, informed yet witty and slightly irreverent tone is one of the stylistic hallmarks of his last book. Though he takes his work seriously, he does not take it or himself so seriously so as to make reading it a chore. Through a combination of research, personal experience, and an engaging writing style, Camuto's writing is likely to appeal to a broader range of readers than the usual wine book fare.

Camuto's most recent book about wine, Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey, has a more specific focus. It has recently garnered glowing reviews from the likes of NY Times wine critic Eric Asimov as well as several others. Here is where Camuto will be in the Bay Area:

Monday Oct. 25

6p.m.Reading/ signing at Books Inc. Marina (2251 Chestnut St. 415-931-3633)
.....directly followed by...

6:45 p.m. **Palmento Sicilian wine/food evening at A-16 Restaurant** (2355 Chestnut St., 415-771-2216) with Robert Camuto, Shelley Lindgren and A16 staff. Sicilian menu. Wines featured in Palmento.

Wednesday Oct. 27th

7 p.m. **Palmento Sicilian wine/food evening at Locanda da Eva** (2826 Telegraph Ave. 510-665-9601). Special Sicilian menu and a selection of wines from Palmento. $75 ($50 for designated drivers.)

And for those of you in the Pac NW:


Oct. 29 5-7:30 p.m. Palmento presentation signing and wine tasting at Cork: A Bottle Shop. (2901 NE Alberta St., 503-281-2675).


Nov. 1 5 p.m. Reading and book signing at Elliott Bay Book Company (1521 10th ave. 206-624-6600) .
...followed by.....
6:30 p.m **Palmento All Saints Day Sicilian soul food and wine evening at La Medusa** (4857 Rainier Ave. So. 206-723-2192). $25 includes wine and food.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Drunk at The Ten Bells

"Drunk," I should note, refers to the past tense of the verb "to drink." Not to a state of intoxication, as I rarely drink to excess while hanging out at one of my favorite wine drinking spots during vacation.

No notes were taken as I have a tough time being the guy with the notebook in a social gathering. Enough of an impression was formed with these wines to describe them in general, if occasionally abstract, terms. If some nuances go without mention as a result of my lack of notes, then so be it.

2007 Houillon/Overnoy Chardonnay Arbois

A bit reductive, salty jurassic chard fruit without the piercing beam of acidity of his Savagnin, nor the richness and depth of flavor that I was hoping for in a chard. In other words, this was something of a disappointment.

2009 Frank Cornelissen Contadino

Vibrant red fruit, up front acidity and a bit of a spritz of CO2, made this bottle a real palate refresher and a joy to drink. If memory serves, I was ready to call it quits after this second bottle of wine (split 3 ways) during night one of The Ten Bells visits. However, its deliciousness encouraged us to go for one more bottle and close out.the bar

2008 Les Champs Libres Foufoune Crozes Hermitage

This was the "one more bottle" referred to in the note above. A drink young Crozes that was certainly tasty, a bit smoky and spicy, if not quite as much of a vin de soif as the Etnaean beauty above.

2009 Domaine de la Pepiere Gras Mouton (1.5)

This is a bottling from Ollivier's recently purchased parcel on the Gras Mouton, a vineyard composed of gneiss, clay and a scattering of "amphibolite" (thank you, David Lillie). It is not as rich, dense and fruity as the Clos de Briords, instead a bit lighter, softer, more lemony. It has a gentler sense of minerality than the Briords. It was a great way to ease into an evening of lots of wine.

Frank Cornelissen Munjebel 5

Deep cherry and red plum fruits showed more of a tannic edge, certainly more extract, than the lighter Contadino bottling. Though I respected it, I enjoyed it less and therefore drank it less. Of course, we were also splitting the bottle with more imbibers, as well. Since I have minimal experience with this wine, I do not pretend to know where it is heading, though I suspect that there is enough of a core of fruit and balance to improve over several years before it heads south.

2006 Cos Pithos (1.5)

Ah, this one I'm glad we had a magnum to linger over a while. There is a combination of immediate succulence and weighty intensity, freshness and earthy savor, that makes Cos wines (when they are on) so good. Though this bottle is young, I found it to be on. It should be fun to follow over a decade.

1995 Francois Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvee Renaissance

If I recall correctly, most people really enjoyed this bottle, though there were some dissenters who found it to be over the hill. Creamy and appley aromas reminded me of middle aged Mosel riesling, though the sugar/acid/fruit/mineral balance did not seem to be as pitch perfect as it can be in those wines. While I enjoyed drinking this and learning a bit about where the '95 is in its evolution, the '02 vintage of the same wine (the only other Cazin CCCR I know) seems to be a superior wine at this point.

Thanks to everyone for coming out and partaking in the fun: Pam, John, Chris, gypsy jazz guitar Ben, Desor, even JP aka 'El Diablo de Tiburon.' It was good fun to meet many of you for the first time and to hang out to do what we do best....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mission Chinese: My New Favorite Restaurant in SF

My most recent post was a bit of a rant on why I seldom go out to wine bars. I could probably cut and paste elements of that rant, and with a few deletions and additions, make the same case for why so many restaurants are boring, overpriced, and utterly fail at exciting the discerning diner, or even the intrepid eater who merely wants an honest taste of something authentic at a fair price. More often than not, restaurants are poor examples of the cuisine which they purport to purvey, or simply offer yet another unoriginal, expensive take on whatever it is that "New American" cuisine is. Thank you, but I'll pass on that $75 meal and instead use the cash to head to the excellent Mission Chinese for a much more satisfying meal at a quarter of the cost. Owners Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint are to be congratulated for not only creating a spectacular new Chinese restaurant which pays homage to Szechuan, Taiwanese and Islamic Chinese food traditions, but for establishing such reasonable price points, thus encouraging menu exploration and multiple visits.

Mission Chinese is a small restaurant where the former restaurant Lung Shan still offers their more traditional, exhaustive, American Chinese menu. Upon reviewing the new, tidy, 15 item menu, however, I do not doubt that it is here where you will set your sites. Here are a few terrific examples of the traditional Chinese delicacies, often times re-imagined with top notch American ingredients:

Slow Cooked Char Siu Pork Belly

Thrice Cooked Bacon

Sizzling Cumin Lamb

A few notes about the above entrees. They all are very robustly flavored, with the first one perhaps being the most accessible to the largest number of people, given the more rich and savory (not hot and spicy) quality of the dish. Thrice cooked bacon uses bacon from Benton Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Tennesse, the same place that David Chang of Momofuku fame (as well as many other restaurants nationwide) sources his pork. This is my favorite dish here. Finally, the Sizzling Cumin Lamb is not at all shy with the cumin! Or onion. Or jalapeños. These entrees average a modest $10 each.

In addition to what I mentioned above, be sure to order the szechuan pickles: salt fermented cabbage, cucumber, roasted peanuts, chili oil, sichuan peppers and cilantro. Also, the chicken wings, which are coated with salt and ground sichuan pepper, buried beneath a layer of charred dried red chilies, will literally make your lips buzz - an unusual, but very cool sensation.

For beer, there is Tsingtao, Heineken, and something cheap and domestic, forget if it's Pabst or MGD. The wine list is short and, while you can do worse many other places, corkage is only $5 per bottle. I would suggest that you bring some Riesling and go crazy.

After my first visit, a lunch about six weeks ago, I could not stop thinking about the meal. I returned for a quick dinner a few weeks after that, followed by four more visits, three in the same week. In other words, Mission Chinese is that rare restaurant so good, so memorable, that you begin to plan a return visit as soon as you finish your meal. Fortunately, because it is so reasonably priced, that is exactly what I have done, and will continue to do, time and time again. They serve amazing food - for my money amongst the best in San Francisco.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Ten Bells is as close to perfect as wine bars get; or, why other wine bars suck.

I love wine. I hate most "wine bars." Surprisingly, in our wine obsessed culture, a good wine bar - that ideal place where you can drink wine with friends, make new acquaintances, learn something from the proprietors and listen to interesting, carefully chosen music in a warm, personality soaked and laid back environment - is a rare breed, indeed. I admittedly don't get out much, perhaps because when I do go out I blow my monthly wine and entertainment budget in a night or two at one of my favorite go to spots (read: The Ten Bells or Terroir SF). However, I do occasionally venture outside my comfort zone for trade events, meet-ups whose meeting spots are outside of my control, or very occasionally, just out of sheer curiosity. What I continue to notice is a complete and utter lack of what I would describe as good wine bars in the US. Rather than define what a good wine bar is, I think it is easier to describe what a good wine bar is not:

A good wine bar is not a handsome bar area in a fancy 2.5-4 star, 60-200 seat, French, Italian, Spanish, "Mediterranean inspired new American," "Locavore," mixologist's lab, Indian, Chinese, or Vietnamese restaurant. A good wine bar does not have a buildout creeping comfortably into six figures or more. A good wine bar does not serve 40 wines by-the-glass, regardless of their wine preservation system. A good wine bar does not serve any export label garnacha imported by Sr. Ordoñez, Mr. Solomon, or, with all due respect, Mr. Steve Metzler. A good wine bar does not have a PR person on retainer for $5,000 or more a month. A good wine bar does not concern themselves too much with labels or their perception of what their customers may feel "comfortable" with.

For any people in the industry who would argue otherwise, that to run a business you need to take into account one or more of the above, I would freely admit that you may be correct. However, know that in so doing your successful business venture is likely a shitty wine bar. Or, to be generous, a mediocre one at best.

The Ten Bells, located in the lower east side of Manhattan, is an examplary wine bar. Above all, the wine selection, though not extensive, covers many bases, at least if you enjoy a primarily European wine list. A list composed largely of small production, family estates whose reputations for producing extremely interesting, minimal intervention, highly drinkable, and often benchmark examples of their styles. These selections will not likely lead you astray, regardless of whether you choose a glass, bottle or magnum of wine. The wines (both whites and reds - so often served too warm elsewhere) are stored at proper temperatures. Your decanter may be a beaker and the stemware may have thick walled, smallish tulip shaped bulbs, but know that they will be clean. Do you prefer good wine in cheap glasses or bad wine in Riedels?

There are other factors, of course, which make The Ten Bells a destination for both wine geeks and people who simply want to catch an alcohol buzz somewhere. The place is a perfect size - small enough to be intimate but with sufficient table and bar space to accommodate a good crowd. The music is usually upbeat; good salsa is a mainstay, as is dancehall reggae, pop and other genres of music. It's not the most experimental or adventurous play list in town, and you may have to suffer through a Bob Marley "Legends" selection like I did with "Buffalo Soldier" last week, but generally you could do much worse for bar music. Much worse. And as I mentioned earlier, you are not likely to find a more carefully selected and focused list of wines at any other wine bar in the city.

Up next will likely be a quick summary of some wines drunk at The Ten Bells last week. Cornelissen Contadino 7, Houillon/Overnoy Chardonnay, Ollivier Gras Mouton, and more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A recent trip to New York City, in Pictures

While there may well be a cohesive post or two about a specific activity (read: eating or drinking excursion) engaged in during a few most enjoyable days spent recently in the Big Apple, I thought that I might take the easy way out (at least initially) and post some photos. Captions are included for your contextual as well as comedic appreciation. Enjoy.

Though some may balk at the idea of going to a Battali/Bastianich restaurant these days, Otto Pizzeria is still a great value, as this trio of contorni will attest.

My girlfriend was tough on these pizzas, these pies with the super thin, crisp, sort of tough crusts. But I just think it's a style thing; these are not Neapolitan. Maybe Roman, or fancy New York, with an element of shmorah matzoh (the hand baked, slightly charred round matzos you cannot source in the supermarket). This particular version had delicious pecorino cheese melted on tomato sauce and an egg on top.

A guy further down the bar from us ordered the carbonara. Though I had consumed at least a pizza at this point, there was no way that this could go unordered. McDuff and Natalie split the dish with me so it wasn't too much of an overindulgence.

I strongly recommend eating at the bar at Otto. Behind the bar on this super quiet Monday lunch shift was a guy named Eric, who immediately suspected us of being in the business because we were "quite critical of the food, but in an intelligent way." The delicious glass of Coenobium pictured above he gave us each on the house to accompany the carbonara. How could we turn that down? It was a terrific regional pairing, with the cidery freshness providing a terrific counterpoint to the creamy, guanciale laced pasta. Thanks again, Eric. Batali, Bastianich, give that man a promotion!

The walking sign means walk...down the side of a building.

To be more precise, that is Elizabeth Streb walking down the side of the Whitney, performing a 1970 Trisha Brown piece entitled, appropriately enough, "Man Walking Down the Side of a Building."

Anyone care to hazard a guess which movie these quotes are referencing? Easy, I know.

Pork delivery to a prime-time ramen destination.

From Philly and Morgon to the world

Yesterday I learned that soul legend Solomon Burke passed away. It took a collaborative effort of top-notch musicians (amongst them, the organist at Solomon's church) and songwriters including Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison and other, to make most of the listening public (myself included) aware of his talent, but what talent it was. If you have not already done so, then I would strongly recommend listening to the record that re-introduced the world to Solomon Burke, Don't Give up On Me.

This morning, I discovered on Manuel Camblor's blog that the legendary vigneron Marcel Lapierre also passed. Anyone who loves Beaujolais loves these wines. If Morgon is amongst the most distinctive, consistently impressive crus in Beaujolais, and Lapierre's Morgons are amongst the truest, most effortlessly delicious examples, then it is easy to understand the magnitude of his passing. All our best to Marcel's family, friends and colleagues.

I understand through Joe Dressner's blog that The 10 Bells will host a tribute to him this Tuesday night at 7pm. If you're in New York City or close by, I cannot think of a more fitting tribute than drinking good Beaujolais and raising a glass.

Here's a video.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Three Videos

A few things that have been on my mind today:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Weighing in on Natty wine

Within a period of two years, no single wine term has been as galvanizing, polarizing and heavily debated as "natural wine." Communities of vignerons, starting in France and spreading to Italy, Spain and the United States, have been formed around the strong sense of purpose and aesthetic behind natural wine. Business plans have been formed around the idea of selling natural wine. Columnists have given plenty of consideration to the topic. Wine blogs have formed their raison d'etre around natural wines (here is one, and another, notable example).

Recently, it seems that many in the wine intelligentsia are concerned about natural wine as a category and as a means of defining one's wine. In his column today, SF Chronicle writer Jon Bonné spelled out his concerns that the term "natural" is only beginning to see the type of abuse which will pervade the marketplace by wineries looking to market a trend. During the second annual SF Natural Wine Week, there was a debate about the "naturalness" of certain participating California wineries. A clever video illustrating some of the frustrations inherent in the terminology went viral (well, viral by wine geek standards).

Those who work hard to make what they view as natural wine, more importantly those who do so and are vocal about their methods, would argue that farming organically, on a smaller scale, fermenting musts with native yeasts, minimizing or eliminating the use of sulphur dioxide, enzymes and other additives, yields a more transparent wine. A wine that is more reflective of terroir, vintage, grape variety and the true regional style. While this may be the case, some would counter that the personality of some natural wines trumps the character of the surrounding terroir. Carbonic maceration, for example, does impart a certain character anywhere it is applied. A wine with no sulphur is more inclined to have a higher count of yeast and bacterial populations. These cause flavors that some find appealing while others find unacceptable.

I choose to view natural wine not as a style in and of itself, not as a flawed term soon to be exploited by marketers, not as a radical outsider movement. Rather, I view it as just one school of thought, one means to achieve what a winery is looking to produce. I respect anyone who makes the effort to produce a natural wine; it is not easy. Particularly, I admire those who, through a combination of experience, diligence, lots of work and study, and yes, unique terroir, are able to consistently produce good wine.

Two Kinds of Wine

There are two kinds of wine: good wine and the other kind.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Path towards Enlightened Snobbery

Recently I was reminded of one of the great shortcomings of the wine industry and of wine appreciation in the United States. A few friends and I were discussing ways in which we were "geeky," i.e. our varying pursuits and interests in which we perhaps take a greater than usual level of interest, and zealously pursue an ever increasing cache of knowledge. I copped to being both a music geek and a wine geek. "No," my friend Benjamin corrected me, "you may be a music geek, but you are a wine snob. There are no wine geeks, only wine snobs."

True, perhaps. How many serious wine drinkers can patiently explain what it is we may not like about the cheap commodity wine at a friend's party that motivates us in the direction of a cold beer instead? Or do anything other than nod politely, perhaps offer some faint praise, when someone speaks about a winery that one views as producing inferior, mediocre, boring, or downright dreadful wines?

Prior to my involvement in the wine business, my image of a wine snob was a stereotypical American one: that of a middle aged white male, likely betraying a proper English accent, drinking a well aged claret. Later, it morphed into a slightly younger American dude, wearing khaki pants with a golf polo tucked in, purchasing a case of $100 a bottle Napa cab at the local wine shop. Later on, a thirty something sommelier at a high end restaurant, stashing away bottles of Sine Qua Non. Now, the wine snobs I most often see, occasionally hang with and observe in their natural habitat have done more research. At least they are drinking more interesting wines. They are more likely to open up aged bottles of important producers' 1er cru Burgundy, cult natural wine a la Frank Cornelissen, an aged Cotes du Bourg demi-sec from Huet. It is a franco-centric, critic's darling, tightly allocated, potentially high dollar oriented sport, these gatherings of wine geeks, nay, wine snobs.

The lavishness of it all is not the only thing I detest about such gatherings. Wine is the centerpiece, trumping anything and everything else. It dominates the conversation, an embarrassment of choice bottles polluting the table, people taking a small taste of one cherished, hauntingly beautiful Burgundy before moving to an aged, leathery Barolo. "That's really fucking good," someone may remark before abruptly moving on to what's next, if for no other reason than the fact that a few greedier snobs bogarted the wine.

Do I always dislike tasting great wines, expanding my experience with famous producers in the company of largely kind, generous folks? No, occasionally it's a blast, and a great education. However, and maybe it's because I live in San Francisco, there is a lack of diversity at these tastings; people and wines alike blend into one big abstraction of, well, snobbery.

In European wine producing countries, wine is traditionally seen as a beverage of the countryside, something to slake thirst and consume throughout the day. You need not be wealthy, bourgie, or pretentious to enjoy it. Sometimes I wish the same were more often true here. Most efforts to democratize wine consumption in the US have tended towards the dreadfully boring, consumer advocate model, the dumbed down, crass, social media driven platform, the affluent, luxe lifestyle promoting publications or a combination of all three. If there is currently an effective effort to democratize wine education and appreciation of wines in this country, I am not aware of it. Serious wine study through tasting is still primarily enjoyed by those in the upper levels of the trade, as well as those who are lucky enough to know people who can afford exemplary bottles of wines from important wine growing regions.

Some would argue that wine should not be democratized, that the amount of effort, study and expense to understand it effectively functions as a weed out tool for those who are less serious. I would counter that while this may be partially true, more options should exist for people who are eager to learn by tasting wines, talking to vignerons, and engaging with professionals who take great effort to understand the products which they sell.

Returning to the issue of snobbery, I think my friend was right. I am a wine snob. Just as I'm a food snob and a music snob. I know what I like, and am not afraid to extol virtues as well as cite flaws as I understand them. However, I would like to think that my brand of snobbery is inclusive. Any knowledge should be shared simply for the act of sharing knowledge, not to delight in holding some hidden knowledge over someone else. For me, this is the case because I love learning from other people. My most rewarding discoveries happen this way.

Being an enlightened wine snob is a tough act to pull off. To be honest, I'm still not sure I'm cut out for it. But that certainly would not make me unique; I'm not convinced that many people are. One thing is for certain, however. More serious wine drinkers should aspire towards making the effort.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Today, on this blog: tomatoes. Tomatoes are truly a blessing. I don't care how hot and sticky your east coast summer was, or how how cool and unsummer-like our California summer has been. On either coast, we still have had access to tomatoes, that most delicious of fruits, and though the harvest may not have been the easiest or most abundant, there has been plenty of deliciousness in your local markets. Somehow, life is always better with a regular supply of fresh, locally grown tomatoes around.

We grew our own this year, in a pretty big way. While our seven cherry tomato plants have been very slow growers in our cool Bernal Heights community garden plot (the plants are still flowering and only a few green tomatoes are on the vines), the leaves are still verdant and healthy, the vines only three or so feet high but still thick and sprawling. I know that these will likely be the tastiest of our tomatoes, despite the long wait to pick ripe ones.

In Sacramento, where my girlfriend's parents live a few blocks away from the American River, we have found that the tomatoes love the combination of fertile soil, warmth and sunshine, growing taller than six feet and spreading all over. On Friday we harvested at least 8 lb of cherry tomatoes, eight heirlooms, and about 3 lb of san marzano tomatoes. Prior to that, we have enjoyed a few smaller harvests. There likely will be one more big harvest ahead.

What do we do with this bounty? We have given a lot away. But we have also cooked a lot of simple dishes, or snacked on the tomatoes in some time tested ways. Here is a quick list of ways we have been enjoying:

Taking out the tomato, "apple style."

This one is pretty self explanatory. Add a bit of maldon sea salt, if desired.

Tomato on toast.

Good for breakfast or lunch. I like to rub a raw garlic clove on a toasted slice of levain, something with a good tang and nice, large crumb. Pineapple heirlooms have been a recent favorite. Add olive oil (Frantoia is my long-time brand of choice) and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Cherry tomato sauce.

In good olive oil, cook a bunch of cherry tomatoes until they soften and can be fairly easily squished with a wooden spoon. I have been doing this one somewhere between a fresh, uncooked tomato sauce and a fully cooked one. Add minced raw garlic at the end, stir while still over heat for a minute or so, then add to pasta with some additional olive oil. Great, fresh sauce. Try it over orecchietti with grated cheese.

Classic gazpacho

Here is your ratio: 2.5 lb fresh tomatoes, 1/2c olive oil, 2 slices bread, 1 clove garlic, 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, salt and pepper. It's very simple. Use a cuisinart or if you're lacking this gadget, you can use a hand-held immersion blender. That's how I do it. I prefer san marzanos since they are less sweet and more likely to be what is used in Spain. Be sure to refrigerate the gazpacho for several hours. This is one of Penelope Casas' recipes so you know that it will be tasty.

a la Chinese

Stir fry kale or mustard greens in olive oil. Season lightly with salt. Add slices of heirloom tomato, along with some soy sauce and a bit of balsamic vinegar. Pepper would be a good addition, as would ground sichuan pepper and possibly fermented black beans. Add a few cloves of minced garlic at the end and stir in well. A few tablespoons of chopped parsley is also tasty on this dish. Serve with scallion pancakes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's cold in here, my allergies are bothering me and I wish I could write more interesting tasting notes

In the interest of full disclouse, and in an effort to not loose the last 3 of you who are readers and not related to me, I suppose this is a cobbled together post, consisting of a short paragraph with impressions of wines drunk and tasted over the past week. Just so you know what you're in for. Arnot-Roberts Trousseau (08?) from Clear Lake (?!) looked, smelled and tasted pretty much like Trousseau. Not bad. Their Mt Veeder Ribolla was simple and fruity. Gravner grafted, great marketing...2004 and 2002 Montborgeau Savagnin L'Etoile both delicious over the course of the week, more flor qualities to 04, richer fruit in 02. 2009 Clos de Briords is supposed to be the best wine he made or some such but to me it's just another really tasty Briords, why hype this more than needed? 15ish bucks. Everyone knows it's good, buy it; we're not composing email pitches from a home office in Seattle or something here, people...07 Huet Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec tasting simple, one-dimensional and not right on finish. Grey or RWC, is one worse than the other here? '02 Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Riesling Spatlese really hit the spot, great lithe structure and refreshing acidity, just enough tangy/sweet fruit. '88 Dauvissat Camus Le Clos sounds fancier than it tastes. '88 Preuses had more life in it, more verve. Still, merely a pretty good drink at this point. '95 Noël Verset Cornas smoky, peppery, and tannic. Somewhere there was fruit but smoke, meat, earth and tannin seemed to dominate. Though it was my first Verset and I do appreciate this read from someone who has more experience with these wines than I. '06 Cornelissen Contadino 4 was a pleasant surprise: ripe, expressive red fruits with skins, scruffy herbs, and a real fine grained, non-oak induced tannin structure for such a warm climate, 15% abv specimen. Intriguing.

Shana Tova to all!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Check out these DUBS!

Now that I'm not a regularly performing member of JohnStone, I suppose that I don't feel as shy about promoting a new record release. OK, I wasn't shy about doing so before, but all you musicians and artists out there, does it not always seem a wee bit awkward promoting your art? I mean, in an ideal world that's what the publicists, the marketers, and the labels are for, right? However, given the dual realities of the record industry's demise and the ability of social media to work for those who work it hard, why not work it hard, right? I mean, if someone as busy as ?uestlove can tweet throughout the day, any self respecting musician should at least aspire to do the same, right?

As many of you know, Tuesday is the official day for new album releases, whether it is at your local record shop or on iTunes. This Tuesday, I encourage you to check out Dub Confidence, the new release from my former bandmates. These are dub remixes of songs from the Innocent Children album the band released in 2007. If you're not familiar with dub reggae, look for largely instrumental versions of songs where the various components of a song are at turns emphasized, removed, and doused with healthy doses of reverb and delay.

You can check out snippets of the songs on iTunes or CDBaby. If you're so inclined, I'd love for anyone to help in one of the following ways:

A.) Listen to the music
B.) Tell friends about the music
C.) Buy the music
D.) Any combination of A,B, and C
E.) Extra credit! Review the record on Amazon, iTunes, and/or CDBaby.

Alright, that's it for now. But not for the week. For my twitter peeps out there, things may be getting a little more self promotional than usual. Consider yourselves forewarned.

Until the next time, good DUB to you and yours.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The job ain't that bad: More notes on old wines

When I'm not stocking, helping customers, tasting with suppliers, reading email offers, deleting email offers, crafting our very own email offers, or conducting staff tastings, I might be tasting through a line-up of curiosities from vintages past. A sampling of one such recent tasting:

1992 Etienne Sauzet Batard Montrachet

While I would argue that this particular wine does not make the case for long-term cellaring of your big, fancy white Burgundy, I had a tough time finding too much fault with it. It was not maderized or otherwise flawed. The nose was creamy, with ripe grapefruit, a hint of marzipan, maybe some botrytis? The palate also showed a creamy, citric quality, with moderate acidity and most impressively, a wonderful texture. A spicy, bitter honey inflected finish. It would be like an aged Auslese if only there had been more residual sugar, higher acidity and lower alcohol.

1986 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Napa Valley

This was showing terrifically. Red fruits, particularly cherries, with some savory and leafy qualities on the nose, opened up to a lovely palate that semed nearly delicate at this point. Unbeknownst to me, this bottling is not all from valley floor fruit, but rather has a significant chunk of Spring and Howell Mountain grapes in it.

1979 Chateau Palmer Margaux

A favorite from this vintage for many people, many think that the '79 Palmer was the best Bordeaux wine of the vintage, a year which was difficult and which favored the wines of Margaux. Aromatically it did not disappoint, showing a real spicy quality - sort of like a house made chipotle ketchup but more subtle and less sweet. Flavors were savory, with the fruit hanging in and the tannins fully resolved. Subtle, to be sure, but still showing plenty of interest and elegance at over 30 years of age.

1971 Chateau Coutet Sauternes

I don't have that much experience with older Sauternes. Drinking them young, though, holds no appeal for me. The wines conjure up an image of dissolving orange blossom honey and marmelade in sauvignon blanc, and blending by immersion. Climens is always the exception. I don't know why, it just is, I do like that wine. Anyway, this aged sauternes was not quite a revelation, but was really damn tasty. My notes read, "No spit wine." Exotic mango and guava flavors were balanced. The wine reminded me of a very good older Auslese for its texture and sense of balance.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Deux Chinon from '02 and an unexpected pairing

I was craving cab franc. Not a usual wine craving for me in the summertime, more likely a Fall, winter and early Spring craving. That is when I'm more inclined to want to drink something substantial and a bit savory, but with the bright flavors and relative textural lightness where you know you are still in the Loire Valley. Seeing as I live in San Francisco, though, and that July as well as August can well offer many cool, autumnal nights, I caught the Chinon bug and decided to crack open a few.

The Chinons

2002 Philippe Alliet Chinon

A basic bottling from this producer, it was honestly clumsy. It was like an aging, out of shape athlete type of Chinon. The muscle had turned to fat, maybe there was a hint of stale cigarettes on its clothes. The wine was front loaded, with a clipped finish and some brett which was increasingly noticeable.

2002 Olga Raffault "Les Picasses" Chinon

I know, comparing a specific terroir such as this to a basic domaine bottling is not fair. Needless to say, this was the far more enjoyable and complex wine of the two. To my tastes, this is nearly perfectly balanced right now between fruit, acid, tannin structure and secondary development. The wine has silky Chinon texture, terrific fruit purity and real presence on the palate. Given that this bottle continued to develop and drink well over a few days, I would not hesitate to age and re-visit this wine several years from now (in fact I will likely do just that as I have a bottle left). However, it sure is drinking well now.

The Pairing

Ever try Chinon with pesto? While pesto with a crisp Italian white is the more often recommended choice, I found that the slightly herbal, leafy quality of the Raffault Les Picasses complemented the pungent, garlicky, herbal pesto, and provided enough acidity to refresh between forkfuls.

The Trivia

Chinon is also the name of a photographic lens manufacturer. They are supposed to be pretty good.