Thursday, July 30, 2009

From The Chesapeake to The Four Seasons

Great food and wine go together, and lovers of one are likely to appreciate the other. I’m someone who believes firmly in the symbiotic relationship between the two: A great meal—for me, at least—is somehow incomplete without wine; and a great wine is often lifted even higher by the right food.

Readers of this blog know that, over the past several months, I’ve visited some of the most interesting wine regions in Europe, from Bordeaux to several regions in Austria. I’ve posted tasting notes, travelogues, and videos, and have focused primarily on the wines themselves, the production techniques, and the land from which they come. Indeed, the process that a wine goes through, from grape to glass, has been a recurring theme in my coverage here.

Today, then, I’d like to look at the other side of the coin and talk about food—specifically, a recent experience I had that was as profound and exciting as any food and wine lover could hope to have.

Several weeks ago, I received an invitation to attend a small lunch in the private dining room at The Fountain Restaurant at The Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia. The General Manager, Harry Gorstayn—known to one and all as “Mr. G.”—is an avid and accomplished fisherman, and he had recently returned from Florida with a seriously successful catch.

From snapper fish and chips with a mojito aioli, to dangerously addictive kingfish quesadillas, to sautéed mahi mahi with mango pineapple salad, this was a feast in the truest sense of the word. And the fact that we enjoyed it with beers from Land Shark and Corona and a crisp, refreshing Arneis, all in what I personally feel is the best restaurant in Philadelphia (and I’m certainly not alone in that assessment—here is the link to the recent glowing review in The Philadelphia Inquirer) made it even better.

And as great an experience as that was, it was just a prelude, because a few weeks later I had the chance to join my friends from The Four Seasons on a fishing expedition to the Chesapeake to see for myself what went into a meal like that.

After a 2:45 a.m. meeting time in the lobby of the hotel (my wife and I slept there the night before to lessen the pain of the middle-of-the-night wake-up call; I got up at 2:00…she slept in while I literally foraged for food that she would enjoy later that week…poor girl!) and a two-hour drive to the Chesapeake, we started motoring out to the fishing grounds.

Our boat, the Jennifer Ann from the excellent Fish Fear Us Charters, must have had the best luck of any vessel on the Bay that Monday. Because within just a couple of hours, we had caught our striped bass limit of 13—two for every guest on board and one for the boat. The real pro that day was Farra D’Orazio, the hotel’s Director of Public Relations: Her almost preternatural ability to lure fish to her hook and lift them into the boat would have been a thing of beauty had it not highlighted my own lack of skill on the sea. (The fish are safe if I’m holding the rod!)

Also fishing that day were Mr. G; Rafael Gonzalez, the executive chef at The Fountain; Scott Turnbull, the sommelier; and Bill McGaughey, who shot a fantastic video (click here for the link).

After fishing our striped-bass limit, we headed out to find spots, a much smaller fish that’s perfect for the fish tacos that Chef Rafael does so well. And that’s when we hit our jackpot: 48 fish in what must have been some sort of record time.

Thoroughly exhausted from the early-morning wake-up call and in a collective state of deeply satisfied, food-based sleepiness from the sandwiches that Rafael had brought along, most of us passed out in the fresh breeze of our boat ride back to land, dreaming about what the fish in the cooler would taste like when we prepared them back in the kitchen two days later.
Fish scales can move. You wouldn’t think so, but those little guys can really fly. So it only makes sense that, after scaling three or four fish, I would spend the rest of the day with gently shimmering hair, the occasional scale that I’d missed catching the light and sparkling like an odd-smelling jewel.

Upon arriving that morning in the kitchen of The Fountain, I was presented with a Four Seasons chef’s jacket, led downstairs to a tiled room with gleaming stainless steel counters, and introduced to Sang Luu, the restaurant’s expert fish butcher. He and Chef Rafael took me through the process of scaling, removing the fish’s organs, de-boning, and slicing the meat into appropriately sized filets—a skill that, like sushi-rolling or golf, requires years of dedicated work to master.

Once we’d worked our way through 45 minutes or so worth of fish, I headed upstairs to work with Chef Rafael on the lunch. The alchemy of great cooking—like great winemaking—verges on the miraculous. Just two days earlier we had caught the fish that we were about to enjoy in one of the most beautiful, elegant dining rooms in the country. And the transformation of those fish from jittery, flopping creatures on the deck of the boat to the deliriously delicious and perfectly composed ceviche with ginger; seared fillets with sweet corn, fava beans, cherry tomatoes, and lobster; and a steamed composition with tabbouleh salad and a dill-cucumber yogurt, was nothing short of astounding.

Then again, maybe I should have expected it: This was not just a seafood version of the much (and justifiably) lauded farm-to-table eating. It was, rather, something far more profound—a meal that I had seen through from its very beginning, on a fishing charter in the Chesapeake, to its thoroughly wonderful endpoint at a table in the dining room of The Fountain.

With great food, as with great wine, that kind of experience is as satisfying, and as life-affirming, as it gets.
Read rest of entry

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A New Spanish "Grand Cru"

The wine classifications of France and Italy are relatively familiar to most of their fans. In Spain, however, the system remains less widely known. Essentially, it works like this, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine:

“DO stands for Denominacio de Origen, a Spanish Controlled Appellation and the mainstay of Spain’s wine quality and control system.” Entire regions are given DO status, which dictates “the boundaries of the region, permitted vine varieties, maximum yields, limits of alcoholic strength, and any other limitations pertaining to the zone…A superior category, DOCA, Denominacio de Origen Calificada, was created in 1991.”

Above that, even, is the prestigious DO Pago, which, though it is not possible to get in all of Spain’s wine regions (the local regulations of some preclude it), is the highest classification in the country. It’s reserved for premium, single-vineyard wines with international reputations…and price tags to match.

This morning, reported that DO Pago status has been awarded for just the seventh time, this one to Bodega Otazu, in Navarra. And while the wine may not be terribly familiar to many people, it is sure to become more so as word of its elevation to DO Pago spreads. Even with a county whose wine classification system is a touch unfamiliar to many consumers, an achievement like this is bound to make people take notice of both the wine itself, the region of Navarra, and the country as a whole, which, in recent years, has justifiably gained a following as passionate and committed as that of any wine-producing nation in the world.
Read rest of entry

Monday, July 27, 2009

In Case You Missed It...

Decanter Magazine just posted its Top 10 varietal wines from South Africa, highlighting yet again how strong the country’s wine industry has become. And it’s not just Pinotage and Chenin Blanc, either: From Syrah to Cabernet Sauvignon to lots of great grapes in between, South Africa is an incredibly exciting place for wine, and all signs point to even better things to come.

And a couple of weeks ago, we covered the issue of wine and health here on, specifically the health benefits (or not…) or Resveratrol supplements. Now, it seems, some winemakers are taking it one step further. Click here for details.

And finally, good news for Prosecco’s Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, which is now officially Italy’s 41st DOCG, joining the likes of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and Barbaresco. Congratulazioni, Prosecco!
Read rest of entry

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chateau La Grande Clotte 2002

Its appellation is technically Bordeaux Blanc, but that’s just because there is no such thing as a St.-Emilion Blanc AOC. Which means that, despite all that this great Right Bank white has going for it, it has to carry that more humble label.

But maybe that’s a good thing. After all, the surprise that comes with the first sip is amplified, it seems, by the lack of expectations it’s appellation sets up.

No matter what you call it, this bottle of white, St.-Emilion born and bred—in fact, it’s produced from the only hectare of white vines in the appellation—is amazing. It’s a unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Semillon, and Muscadelle, and is produced by the Chateau Le Bon Pasteur team.

The 2002 introduces itself with a nose of rich, concentrated fruit and an almost oxidative nuttiness that gives it a nice sense of lift. The palate is deep and weighty, but well-defined acid brings a linearity that it otherwise would miss. Flavors reminiscent of dandelion, warm hay, almond, and something a touch charred and smoky lead to a finish that hints at honey.

This is a powerful, elegant, infinitely interesting and utterly wonderful wine. Too bad so little of it is produced. Tasted at Chateau Le Bon Pasteur this past May.
Read rest of entry

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Italian Whites

Just a quick post...

Wine Spectator just posted a rundown of their top-value Italian whites, and the list is packed with some seriously good bottles. It's amazing how far the white wines of Italy have come: These days, serious and casual wine drinkers alike are just as likely to grab a bottle of Italian white as they are anything else.

In fact, this time of year, I'd say that a good portion of my white wine consumption is Italian. From Prosecco and Franciacorta to the Lagreins of Alto Adige to Sicilian Insolia, it's dizzying how much good white juice is being produced on the Boot.

Refreshing, too--in more ways than one.
Read rest of entry

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Reading

The lazy days of summer are upon us: Sunny days, warm nights, and plenty of time to enjoy a good bottle or two. So why not delve into some interesting wine reading while you're sipping away? Here, then, are some recent highlight dispatches from the world of wine:

In a recent article on, Mike Steinberger puts forth the argument that, “Though these are grim days for the French wine industry…France is still the wine world’s beacon and will surely remain so long into the future.” His arguments are well-thought-out and provocative enough to really make you think, even if you disagree. Click here for the link.

And recently posted an interview with renowned wine writer Hugh Johnson. There’s no video, but the audio is fascinating: He holds nothing back, and when a man of his caliber and experience speaks, regardless of whether or not you agree with everything he says, it’s worth a listen. The audio is available here. Just scroll down for the interview.

Finally, click here for a fascinating look at the Cabernet Sauvignons of Chile’s Maipo Valley. Even now, with the wild popularity of all wines South American, its geography and climate are little understood by most wine-lovers. This is a good place to start for a better understanding of one of the most exciting places for wine in the New World.

There’s plenty here to read. Best to open a bottle of something nice before settling in for your homework…
Read rest of entry

Friday, July 17, 2009

Graham's Vintage Port 1986 "Malvedos"

Summer is in full swing: It’s time to talk about…Port?

Why not?

Too often, we think of this as a cool-weather wine, a glass to comfort chilly bones in the middle of winter. But opening up a nice bottle in the summer can be a real treat and a welcome break from the more typical wines that most of us tend to drink this time of year.

I recently had the chance to savor a serious glass of Port, and, honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered if it was 120 degrees out that day or 32: This wine was delicious enough to work in all types of weather, and seemed to embody the idea that it’s never the wrong time to pop the cork on a great bottle.

As with the Lafite last week, I tasted this one with my friend Scot “Zippy” Ziskind of ZipCo Environmental Services, Inc., the renowned custom cellar firm, at a monthly tasting club he hosts. And, as always, once the wines of the evening had all been consumed, he brought out a well-aged bottle of Port, in this case the Graham’s 1986 “Malvedos” from the famed vineyard in the Upper Douro.

Incredibly, the wine still showed a serious touch of youthful exuberance, even 23 years after the fruit was harvested. Dense aromas of warm blackberry conserve with hints of coffee, cinnamon, beef jerky, and cigar tobacco rose from the glass. Blackberry, cinnamon, and sachertorte notes followed through to the palate and led to more beef jerky and whole black peppercorns on the finish, as well as ethereal hints of lavender perfume and vanilla.

This is a fabulously structured wine, still fresh, generous, expansive, and promising another 15 years or more of evolution. But, really, who can resist it now…even in the middle of summer?
Read rest of entry

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Tempest in an Espresso Cup? reported today that there's a storm brewing in Alcase. Their article begins:

"Alsace vintners have reacted with outrage at proposals to remove varietals from wine labels.

Since March 2005, the INAO has given Alsace producers the option not to indicate grapes used for grand cru wines. Before, all grand cru Alsace wines were required to list grape variety on the label.

Now vintners are convinced the next move will be to make varietal labeling illegal. That would be a 'catastrophe', they say."

This may seem like a tempest in an Alsatian espresso cup, but the region remains a haven of sorts in France: Varietally labeled wines are the norm there in a country that otherwise overwhelmingly requires labeling by geography alone.

So here's the question: Is this a big deal? And in terms of the bigger picture, are you more likely to buy a wine that's labeled by grape variety than you are one that's only identified by region? Does it even matter to you?

Really, it's enough to make you want a drink...probably a glass of Gewurztraminer.
Read rest of entry

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Magic Bullet?

Wine is healthy for you. That, at least, is the overwhelming consensus: Study after study has found that, when consumed responsibly and in moderation, wine—especially red—possesses seemingly infinite health benefits.

The question on everyone’s mind these days, though, is whether resveratrol, the much-lauded compound that has attained ‘magic-bullet’ status of late, is capable of working its supposed magic when consumed as a supplement.

The Los Angeles Times recently ran a fascinating story on the quest to capitalize on resveratrol’s sudden upsurge in popularity, and the conclusion, for now, at least, is that at best it’s just too early to tell, and at worst it could actually be harmful.

Lots of questions loom right now, and whether or not taking resveratrol supplements turns out to be a boon or detriment to your health, one thing is certain: It’s a heck of a lot safer, and infinitely more pleasurable, to enjoy the tried-and-true health benefits of wine the way they always have been: From a glass, with a nice meal, and hopefully shared with friends and family.

No one can argue with medicine like that.
Read rest of entry

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chateau Lafite 1966: First in a Series

It’s a rare treat anytime you open a bottle of First Growth Bordeaux. A privilege, really. These are wines, after all, that have literally stood the test of time, even if the cork you’re popping has been used to seal off a more recent vintage from the world outside the bottle. Indeed, these greatest chateaux of what is arguably the world’s most famous wine region have been making the hearts of wine-lovers flutter for hundreds of years. Even our founding fathers knew of the superiority of these wines; Thomas Jefferson was—and remains—famous for his love of great Bordeaux. (Incidentally, for a riveting, wonderfully written account of the so-called Jefferson bottles, Benjamin Wallace’s excellent book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar, has just come out in paperback.)

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to taste a dozen or so vintages of what has become my favorite First Growth, Chateau Lafite, going back more than 70 years. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be posting occasional tasting notes on these wines, discussing where I tasted them, and comparing them to one another. I’ll even have video from the day I tasted the 1995 in Lafite’s barrel room during the Wine School’s recent trip to Bordeaux.

I’ll start, though, with the Lafite I enjoyed most recently—the 1966. As is the case with so many of the great old wines I’ve had the opportunity to taste, this one was courtesy of my friend Scot “Zippy” Ziskind, owner of the My Cellar wine storage facility and of ZipCo Environmental Services, Inc., one of the country’s most respected custom storage, cooling, and humidification specialists. He is also a great collector of wine in general and Bordeaux and Port in particular.

His main goal in opening up a great bottle of wine has nothing to do with the so-called prestige of the vintage and everything to do with the pleasure of sharing it with friends and family. His enthusiasm for wine is contagious, and his desire to enjoy it with those close to him is unmatched. Which is why he brought a bottle of the ’66 to lunch that Friday—because he wanted to experience it with family and friends, and he wanted to see how it was evolving.

So after getting settled at our table at Philadelphia’s Café Estelle with his wife, my wife, and my parents, he ever so gently extracted the cork and poured small sample glasses. With very old vintages, the saying goes, there’s no such thing as great wine—just great bottles. As the years tick away, minute differences in cork quality, storage conditions, and the like can be magnified tenfold, meaning that you never quite know what’s waiting for you inside the bottle.

But from the first smell it was clear that this one was in absolutely pristine condition. The brownish, age-typical color led to an almost shockingly vibrant nose that exploded from the glass with notes of blueberry, smoke, leather, black and oolong tea, tobacco leaf, and violets, and led to a silky palate kept lively by amazingly fresh acidity and flavors of raspberry, grapefruit skin and oil, and a whiff of gentle vanilla.

As is the case with so many older vintages of Lafite that I’ve had the chance to taste, this one was yet another example of the incredible longevity of the great wines of Bordeaux, a testament to how beautifully they age over the long-term, and, perhaps most important of all, proof, yet again, that enjoying even the most prized bottles with family and friends, in an atmosphere full of camaraderie and devoid of any sense of pretense, is the best way to make the most of whatever it is you’re drinking.

Even with great bottles—especially with great bottles—it’s the way they were meant to be enjoyed in the first place.
Read rest of entry

Friday, July 10, 2009

This Weekend's Wine: Something New

Friday is here, which means that it's time to start thinking about what wines to drink this weekend. And, here on the East Coast at least, the forecast is for pretty nice weather. Which means one thing: Cool, crisp whites and rosés and refreshing reds. (Unless, that is, you're having a barbecue, in which case you can go with a rich red to pair with your grilled meats.)

But instead of sticking with the same wines you've always had before, this is the perfect time of year to try some new ones. When it comes to whites, you can't go wrong with a fresh, perfumed Torrontes. We're seeing more and more of these in this country lately, and the prices are amazingly affordable; two of my favorites are by Alamos and Bodega Norton.

As for rosé, maybe this is the weekend to celebrate summer with a bottle that sparkles. I always keep several of the Juve y Camps Brut Rosé Cava in my fridge. It's perfect on its own or with food, in the afternoon or evening. If ever there was an all-around summertime weekend wine, this one is it.

And when it comes to refreshing reds, the first wines I tend to think of are the Beaujolais Crus, particularly Morgon, Julienas, and Chiroubles. Chill them down for 20 minutes and they will just sing.

Finally, if you're looking for an all-around great bottle to pair with a seriously meaty meal, treat yourself to the ripasso-style Palazzo della Torre from Allegrini—it's good enough to warrant a second helping of steak...even if you're not really hungry anymore.
Read rest of entry

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A New Solution to an Age-Old Problem?

Remember the first time you ordered a pricey bottle of wine in a restaurant and shuddered the moment the sommelier cracked open its screw top like the cap of a beer? It’s a moment that most wine lovers recall well, and probably smile at now that those closures have become not only accepted but fairly ubiquitous.

But, of course, they’re not perfect: While they eliminate the problems caused by natural corks tainted with TCA (2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole, which makes a wine taste musty or damp), they are not any sort of magic bullet. The main problem is their air-impermeability: Because they seal the bottle so well, they don’t allow any exchange of oxygen. This is fine for younger wines, but not so perfect for ones that need time in the bottle to develop and mature.

Which brings us to sintered glass stoppers, the newest entry into the bottle-closure ring. According to a recent post on, "they will be very different…[than] the Vino-Lok glass seals…which have a silicon ring between stopper and bottle top”

“The glass is sintered,” the article continues, “made with a microscopic weave that will allow ingress of oxygen…[mimicking] the porous nature of traditional cork.”

The new technology is even being given a trial run by Penfolds, one of Australia's most respected producers. How well these glass-to-glass closures work is yet to be determined, but one thing is certain: The search goes on for the perfect seal, and will continue until it’s found.
Read rest of entry

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Three Dolla Koala?

Seven years after Americans made the acquaintance of Two Buck Chuck, it‘s time to brace for yet another ultra-inexpensive wine, this one grown in the Land Down Under but bottled, labeled, and shipped out across this country from California by none other than Fred Franzia, the man behind the “Chuck” wines.

An article this past weekend in The Modesto Bee goes into more detail (click here for the link), but the ultimate question is this: How do wines like “Two Buck Chuck” or “Three Dolla Koala” impact the industry as a whole? Are they good points of entry for wine beginners, or category killers that unfairly set expectations of price unrealistically low? And, finally, what has been your experience with the quality of wines like these—positive or negative? Let us know what you think by posting a comment below.
Read rest of entry

Friday, July 3, 2009

Holiday Weekend Wine

As we head into the holiday weekend, this is the perfect time to talk about the versatility of wine. Because despite the fact that the 4th of July is typically considered a beer-ier occasion—hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and the rest—I’ve always had better luck pairing my lazy summer days with grapes than grains.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love a cold, crisp beer in the summer’s heat. But given my druthers, I’d take a cool rosé or a bottle of cold, sweaty-glass Vinho Verde every time. Because the truth is that fun, interesting white wines—from Godello to Verdejo to Albariño to all kinds of other things that might not be terribly familiar—offer all the pleasure of cold beer and bring to the table (so to speak) a whole range of pairing options (not to mention unexpected flavors and aromas, too) that you otherwise wouldn’t have.

And those wines are just for lighter dishes and drinking on their own. Just because it’s 4th of July weekend, after all, doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in something a bit more hearty. Ever tried spare ribs and Zinfandel? Or slow-cooked pork and a Tempranillo-based blend? Or Malbec and a burger? (And if you’re lucky enough to find really fatty ground meat, spring for a Cahors—it’s based on the Malbec grape, but its relationship to its Argentinean sibling is analogous to the one between, say, a gently prepared slice of veal and a grilled rib-eye. Think of Cahors as Argentinean Malbec’s older, brawnier brother.)

Even traditionally wintertime wines have a place this weekend. My favorite trick is to throw a bit of a chill on a bottle of ruby or tawny port—just a couple of degrees; too much and it’ll taste terrible—and pair it either with whatever chocolate- or nut-based dessert you’re enjoying (chocolate pecan pie and dried fruit would be great alongside a tawny), or even (it’s a holiday weekend, after all) a good, spicy cigar.

It’s Independence Day: Celebrate your right to drink what you want this holiday weekend, regardless of beer’s traditional role. And there’s no better way to do that than with a great selection of wine, friends and family, and, hopefully, clear skies and warm temperatures.
Read rest of entry

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Piedmont 2006: Another Success Story

Wine Spectator has just released the scores for its top 2006 Piedmontese wines, including highly sought after Barolo and Barbaresco. And the good news is that, because of the less-than-stellar vintage conditions, a number of them are supposed to be nearly ready to drink right now. This makes them not only worth seeking out once they're available, but also useful additions to any wine collection: While you're waiting for your more age-worthy 2003's, 2004's, and 2005's to mature, you'll have these 06's to tuck into in the shorter term.

Top scoring Barbaresco includes the Pio Cesare, the Ceretto "Bricco Asili," and the always stunning Gaja. In Barolo, Pio Cesare and Boroli both received high scores.

And, of course, while you're waiting for these 2006's from Barbaresco and Barolo, the Barberas and Dolcettos from the same year are available right now and are drinking beautifully. Even in a more difficult year like 2006, Piedmont has apparently, yet again, produced some real standout wines.
Read rest of entry

My Blog List

Uncork Life! Blog Copyright © 2009 Powered by