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.