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.