Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
You know the one--"Big Yellow Taxi," by Joni Mitchell. The one with the famous chorus: "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
Well, this is the real deal.
In a case of the modern world and its supposedly necessary infrastructure needs colliding with the age-old beauty of a great wine region, winemakers in Germany’s Mosel, and its legions of fans around the world, are finding themselves in a serious fight these days.
“Plans to build one of Germany's biggest bridges and a four-lane motorway through the Mosel valley, where the celebrated Riesling wine is produced, have outraged local wine-makers and international wine critics alike,” noted a recent report on the BBC’s website. The article continued: “Known as the Hochmoseluebergang, it will be 160m (525ft) high, 29m (95ft) wide and 1.7km (one mile) long.”
And it will slice right through some of the most beautiful vineyards on the planet, not only fouling the view, but potentially wreaking havoc with the natural flow of water from the forests above into the steep hillside vineyards below.
Click over to the article linked up right here, and take a look at the video embedded in it, for a glimpse of what’s at stake.
Friday, June 25, 2010
My friend Scott Turnbull, sommelier at the excellent Fountain Restaurant at The Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, is a wine lover, pure and simple. And despite the prestige and high profile of his job--he manages, and pairs food with, one of the top wine cellars in the region--he is, at base, the kind of person who is in this line of work because he truly enjoys wine, and loves sharing that passion with others.
As a result, Scott, like so many wine professionals and others with a deep knowledge of all things grape-related, is often frustrated by unnecessarily baroque descriptions and formal tasting notes.
He recently posted an example of this on my Facebook wall, and it seems like something that all of us should read and rebel against.
Here it is, a description of the Pinot Noirs from Marcassin that appeared on page 42 of the July 31, 2010 issue of Wine Spectator:
“The Pinots deliver a beam of complex flavors with olallieberry, wild raspberry, porcini, and red and black licorice...”
To which Scott editorialized: “My guess is that they may also smell like dreams, wishes, and rainbows, as long as we’re being hyper-specific.”
I could not agree more with Scott and what I think he was implicitly getting at: That specificity in wine writing is laudable and, yes, necessary. But when it is done in such a way that the language itself becomes exclusionary--when the references are so esoteric that none but an uber-select few members of some sort of gustatory inner-circle understand them--then their utility is diminished, if not completely undermined and destroyed.
Luckily, you could make the argument that this type of “purple wine prose” is on the wane, and represents the last gasps of a dying wine culture in which knowledge of, and comfort with, grape juice was used as some sort of stand-in for social status or cultural currency. Indeed, the democratization of wine--the fact that consumers from a beautifully wide range of professions, income levels, backgrounds, and education are, in varying degrees, exploring all that wine has to offer--has rendered this sort of language, and the exclusionary worldview behind it, so antiquated as to be practically irrelevant these days (thank goodness).
Now, I don’t want this to come off as an attack on Wine Spectator, which is still one of the best wine magazines being published, and a fantastic way for consumers and professionals at all levels of knowledge and interest to grow their understanding and stay current with the news that shapes the wine industry. It is, however, time that all wine writers (myself included), and the outlets that publish them, consider the ramifications of the words printed on their pages and web sites. A good tasting note is descriptive, evocative, and, in many cases, challenging to the reader--this is a good thing. But when it perplexes more than it enlightens, its entire raison d’être is rendered moot.
To be sure, wine writing should not cater to some sort of lowest common linguistic and experiential denominator, using only the most basic words and references. Indeed, I tell clients all the time that one of the best ways to increase enjoyment of wine, and to grow the range of words one uses to describe it, is to maximize the size and depth of the so-called flavor spreadsheet in their minds: Learn the difference between the aromas of a chanterelle and a porcini mushroom, or the similarities in flavor between a peach and a nectarine; become familiar with the unique and easily differentiated nature of the meat of an orange, its pith, and the oil of the skin.
And while there will always be flavor and aroma references that are unfamiliar to some (this is ultimately beneficial, as it forces consumers and professionals alike to familiarize themselves with them and, in the long term, likely increases their enjoyment and understanding of wine), they should at least be “learnable." I wander through farmers markets several times a week when the season permits, and am always on the lookout for new foods that I’ve never tasted before. But never once have I come across an olallieberry--and I taste things for a living!
It makes my skin crawl to think of the damage that a reference that impenetrably obscure does to the confidence of the budding (or expert) wine lover who reads it. Enough is enough--the woefully obscure olallieberry is one exclusionary reference too far.
NB: Wikipedia defines the olallieberry as “a cross between the loganberry and the youngberry, each of which is itself a cross between blackberry and another berry (raspberry and dewberry, respectively).”
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
This is a cab full of fantastic potential--7+ years at least, and likely more than 10 if you like your wines more mature. The nose shows plenty of ripe fruit, but it’s still firmly rooted in the terroir: This is what we hope for from great California cabernet sauvignon. There’s a deep minerality--it tends in the direction of slate and warm clay--that frames the nose here, as well as ripe dark berry and currant fruit and a hint of violets. One smell and you can tell that this is serious juice, indeed. On the palate, the structure and aging potential jump out right away, as does the ripe blackberry fruit that follows through from the nose. There’s also tobacco, cedar, a hint of forest floor, something a touch charred, and dark cherries, those last two leaving the impression of some sort of fabulous summertime pastry baking in the kitchen. The blueberry- and mineral-tinged finish, while lovely right now, promises many, many years of pleasure ahead.
(As an aside, after taking my tasting notes I had the chance to enjoy this wine with a grilled hamburger, and it was fantastic--all the proof you need that great wine and comfort food play perfectly well together, just so long as both are well chosen and paired thoughtfully.)
Monday, June 21, 2010
Two weeks ago, at the Wine Media Guild’s annual dinner in New York, Bartholomew Broadbent spoke on behalf of his legendary father Michael Broadbent on the occasion of his induction to the Guild’s Hall of Fame. He recently posted video of his speech on the Broadbent Selections Facebook page, and it’s well worth watching: The speech displays all the intelligence, wit, and charm that have made the Broadbent family such an important one in the world of wine, from Michael’s role at Christie’s and as an esteemed writer and critic, to Bartholomew’s as the head of one of the most exciting wine importing firms in the world.
The video is linked up right here. Pay particular attention to Bartholomew’s description of his father’s tendency to not drink: If this is a teetotaling lifestyle, then it’s one that we all should aspire to.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
If the keynote address by Steve Jobs last Monday, and his hotly anticipated introduction of the iPhone 4, made it a big day for techies, then wine lovers are up for a whole bunch of dramatic days right now. That’s right: It’s time to follow the release prices of the 2009 Bordeaux, and, yes, collectors and drinkers of these wines will be hotly debating the rationale (and, perhaps, justifiability) of the prices both as they roll out and well afterward...even as the wines are still resting in their barrels.
And for wine lovers, there is ample opportunity right now to waste hour upon hour during your up-coming work days, following, commenting on, and debating the prices in real time through Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites.
(I, for example, spent way too much time yesterday following the comments on the #bdx09 feed on Twitter. And while I haven’t yet decided what--if anything--I’ll be buying for myself, it’s been endlessly fascinating to follow all the drama as it unfolds.)
So while getting wrapped up in this minute-by-minute obsession may not be terribly good for your work-time productivity, it sure is entertaining. And, at the very least, will help you gauge the market and determine whether it really is a good idea to get into it this year.
Whatever you decide, it’ll be an interesting, drama-filled lead-up, to be sure.
Monday, June 14, 2010
I wrote a lot last week about high-end and older wines, which, when the bottles are stored properly and aged for the right amount of time, can be among the great pleasures of the palate. But that doesn’t mean that there aren't significant pleasures to be derived from wines intended to be enjoyed with far less fanfare. This time of year especially, I tend to gravitate toward the easy drinking of simpler, less complex wines.
And sometimes, those wines come in a box.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Boxed wine?!?!
Yes: Boxed wine. Because just like bottles sealed with screw caps, wine-in-a-box is no longer a guarantee of something you wouldn't want to serve in polite company. In fact, there’s some boxed wine out there that’s quite good.
Boxes have been making enough in-roads, in fact, that Time Magazine recently ran a piece on them. And while the old-school ones may look “tacky,” as the article notes, “savvy producers are trying to widen their appeal with a second generation of boxes that look a whole lot nicer sitting on a counter or in a fridge for a month and a half.
“This spring,” it continues, “Underdog Wine Merchants unveiled the Octavin Home Wine Bar, an artisanal collection of 10 wines in octagonal cylinders. These containers, which started hitting stores in May, do the impossible — they make box wines sexy. Some of the six winemakers Underdog has partnered with (Monthaven Winery, Silver Birch) look classy and expensive in their cylinders. Others (Big House, Boho Vineyards) are cute, almost flirty.”
The trick now is to convince consumers that not all wine is meant to convey a sense of prestige. In the end, it’s intended to be enjoyed. And if that means that some of it comes from a box, then so much the better: It’s about time we all took a step back and focused more on what really matters: The juice itself.
No matter what kind of container it comes in.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Some weeks, the stars align just right--the universe, we could say, decides to throw me a bone--and I have the very good fortune to taste wines that remind me exactly what makes this juice so special, and so different from anything else we can drink.
As I reported here on Tuesday, Monday evening’s Wine Media Guild dinner afforded me the opportunity to taste everything from Grand Cru white Burgundy and 60-year-old white Port to 1994 Jordan and Cos d’Estournel--and a whole bunch of great bottles in between.
Wednesday night, at the Wine Chateau Piscataway store, was the first of what hopefully will be many Sip and Twit tastings. Over the course of those three hours, we sampled five different bottlings from Iron Horse, including the Classic Vintage Brut 2005, Wedding Cuvee 2006, Unoaked Chardonnay 2007, Estate Chardonnay 2008, and Estate Pinot Noir 2007.
Then, last night, my wife and I enjoyed dinner with close friends, and Miguel Lecuona (who writes the fantastic City Wine Journal), brought along some seriously delicious treats, including a Chateau Palmer 1970, Chateau Latour à Pomerol 2001, and Chateau d’Yquem 1995.
I didn’t want to brush my teeth when I got home.
But the weekend is almost here, the temps are expected to rise, and the time, it seems, has arrived to start thinking about what to drink as the end of the work-week rolls around.
Personally, I’m a big believer in popping the corks--or unscrewing the caps--on bottles that are fun, relatively straightforward, and pair well with the foods of the season.
My friend Ben Weinberg, an internationally published wine writer, focuses on the wines of the season in the latest installment of his newsletter Unfiltered, Unfined. In this issue, he notes that summer is almost here, and the “change of seasons seems to alter other elements of life, as well. Meals tend to be quick and light and our beverages follow suit. Wine is no different, and an important part of vinous enjoyment is cracking open bottles that particularly complement warm weather, lighter food, and long, outdoor evenings.”
He goes on to recommend everything from solid sparklers to popular but still-underappreciated rosés to reds that will work wonders as the mercury climbs. Both Ben’s specific recommendations and the guiding philosophies behind them are excellent, and should really get you thinking about what to open this weekend.
Take a look, pop some corks, and enjoy the next couple of days off.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Last night, at The Four Seasons Restaurant for the Wine Media Guild’s annual Hall of Fame dinner, an interesting thing happened: The notebooks, in general, stayed in the guests’ pockets.
This is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect: A roomful of wine writers, PR and marketing experts, representatives of various producers, and other professionals with their hands in the wine business should have been reduced to a thoughtful--if enthusiastic--murmur, the scrape of pens against paper as pronounced as the tinkle of forks-tines on plates.
Instead, the dominant sound was--and I really can’t come up with a better way to describe it--a sort of white noise of joy: The passing of bottles from one table to the next, a constant thrum of contented humming (as in: “Mmm, that’s drinking great...”), all of it punctuated by the regular popping of corks.
This is the part of the wine business that most people don’t see, but that I wish the wine-drinking public were far more aware of.
The perception, it seems, is that when wine writers gather, they will always--or almost always--assess wines in ways that border on the dispassionate. And while that’s wholly necessary much of the time (it’s what tastings are for, after all), it is certainly not how wine professionals consume wine ourselves.
Herein lies the difference between tasting and drinking. And last night, despite all the great wines littering the tables--come to think of it, because of all the great wines littering the tables--there was far more drinking and enjoying going on than there was highly analytical assessment.
So: After missing the Champagne-and-hors d’oeuvres hour and walking into dinner half an hour late--traffic coming into the city was inexplicably brutal--the glasses of Morey Chevalier-Montrachet 2000 that were offered to us needed to be enjoyed, not picked apart. It was like a variation of that line that Al Pacino’s character utters during the airplane scene toward the beginning of Scent of a Woman: “...It’s like that first swallow of wine after crossing the desert.”
And what a wine to swallow: Still vibrant with ripe stone fruit, deep minerality, almond skin, a flutter of flowers in the background, and all of it strung up high by a sense of what can only be described as some sort of inner energy--a characteristic that, for me, is as telling of a great white Burgundy as any other.
One sip, and the entire commute vanished: Exactly what great wine should do.
There was three-decades-old California Zinfandel, all concentration, spice, and macerated plums. Nine-year-old Pomerol, still young and vibrant but with its dead-giveaway clay and mushroom notes starting to shine through. Petite Sirah from 1986 that, despite all the amazing complexity and layering that two-and-a-half decades of cellaring had given it, remained fresh like a wine a decade younger. The Catena and the O. Fournier Alfa Crux that, with their perfect balance between fruit, earth, and exuberance embodied all that is to be loved about the wines of Argentina. The 1974 Spanna that tasted like the early-morning air during truffle season in Piedmont. A gorgeous 2004 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino "Poggio alle Mura" with years of promise ahead of it. A side-by-side of 1994 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon and 1994 Cos d’Estournel. 1997 Huet Vouvray. And, as we were leaving, a mystery pour that turned out to be 1949 white Port--a rare treat, to be sure. And more. And more.
This is why I think most of us got into this line of work in the first place: Because we love wine. And last night’s combination of longtime colleagues, new friends, great bottles of wine, and excellent food was a powerful reminder of how seriously delicious and life-affirming this juice can be.
Sometimes, the best way to appreciate great wines is to drink them. A statement of the obvious, perhaps, but one that we all could be reminded of from time to time.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Brunello di Montalcino, unquestionably one of the great wines of the world, has seen its fair share of controversy, drama, and, of course, seriously great wines in the past year or so. Now, Brunello is in the news again, with the election of Ezio Rivella to be president of the Brunello consortium, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. And while this may seem like a footnote to most consumers, it’s causing plenty of drama among the most passionate Brunello fans.
I’ll be posting responses to Rivella’s election in the coming days and weeks, but as wine consumers, it’s a news story that, though it seems to be based in bureaucratic minutia, is likely to cause some serious discussion and debate. Details to follow as they become available. Just keep your antennae up for details and reactions as they filter in, and feel free to post links in the comments box as you find them.
Then, make sure to click over to Eric Asimov’s excellent column in this week’s New York Times Food Section, on California syrah. For lovers of big, brooding Australian shiraz, the more elegant, detailed style of California syrah that Asimov discusses here may be a bit unfamiliar, which is unfortunate, because they have the potential to be fantastic. But, as he quotes one of California’s great proponents of the Rhone Valley varietals as saying, syrah “'appears to have crashed and burned in this country,' said Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards, who 20 years ago was one of the early proponents of planting California with grapes from the Rhone Valley, like syrah, grenache and mourvedre. Or, as Ehren Jordan, proprietor of Failla Vineyards, put it: 'There has been a collective running into a brick wall by people who make syrah.'”
There’s hope, it seems, but California syrah has a way to go until it captures the significant market share it so richly deserves.
Finally, a follow-up to my post the other day on 2009 German riesling: Make sure to take a look at Bruce Sanderson’s column on the 2009s from St.-Urbans-Hof, which is often responsible for some of the top rieslings in Germany, year after year. He reports that, like so many others have pointed out, the 2009s are generally excellent wines, and certainly worth picking up.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Riesling, among far too many consumers, is either misunderstood or exists completely below the radar. Which is unfortunate, because for my money, there are few wines in the world that offer the complexity, ageability, and unmitigated drinking joy that riesling does.
Most people, of course, assume that riesling is pretty much monolithically sweet, German, and cheap. (None of which, of course, accounts for the great variety, and astoundingly high quality, of riesling that’s available.) As a result, even many of the most ardent white-wine lovers are missing out on one of the great pleasures of the wine world for no other reason than their first and last experience with riesling was likely with one of the mass-produced, teeth-rottingly sweet versions with quasi-unreadable Gothic script on the label and a flavor profile that consisted of sugar, a disconcerting mustiness, and little else.
But those wines--and we all know the names--bear as much resemblance to good riesling as, say, a straw-covered flask of Chianti does to the great wines of Barone Ricasoli. And in a year like 2009, when the conditions throughout much of Germany were more than favorable for an excellent riesling harvest, the wines are superb, offering complexity, depth, and a sense of sweetness that finds a sublimely balanced counterpart in the acidity that’s such a hallmark of the wines.
I recently had a chance to taste the 2009 rieslings from Heinz Eifel, a family firm that, while it may not share the same name-recognition as, say, Joh. Jos. Prum, is nonetheless producing some truly delicious wines. The wines are labeled simply by region and ripeness level; there are no vineyard-designated bottlings. This has not hurt the quality one iota: In fact, the blend of fruit and the careful, fresh winemaking style has resulted in bottles that are utterly charming right now, and really don’t require any aging to enjoy. My tasting notes are below.
Heinz Eifel Riesling “Shine” 2009, Pfalz
Very fresh peach, seckel pear, and orange blossom aromas jump from the glass and are backed up by the slightest hint of minerality and slate. There’s also a note of spun sugar in there, almost reminiscent of cotton candy in character. The palate shows a surprisingly tongue-coating texture on the attack, but that’s balanced out and cut quickly by a well-balanced and zippy sense of acidity. Fresh flavors of green apple, nectarine, and a hint of Meyer lemon dominate the palate, and lead to a finish that comes in a wave of acid and apple notes.
Heinz Eifel Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel
There are spun sugar and sugar-grilled peaches on the nose, as well as orange blossom, honey suckle, and the unexpected anchoring notes of mushroom. On the palate, there is enough acidity to keep it fresh, but the richness of the fruit, and its ripeness, come through very clearly, as do toffee and honey notes and a touch of flint. The lime-inflected finish is quite floral, and, though a bit on the short side, supremely fresh and enjoyable.
Heinz Eifel Riesling Spatlese 2009, Mosel
This is what I love about good spatlese: There is a real sense of bright, sunny freshness here despite the sweetness. The nose is beautiful and charmingly suggestive of springtime, with aromas of candied lemon peel, ripe Asian pears, and dried, slightly sweetened ginger. The palate hints at marzipan, hazelnuts, and toffee, as well as fruit notes that include sweet lemon, pineapple, ripe white peach, and red and green apple.
Heinz Eifel Riesling Auslese 2009, Mosel
The nose here is similar in profile to the spatlese, but, of course, richer: It’s like the smell after biting into a dripping peach on a warm late-summer day. There's also brown sugar, hazelnuts, marzipan, the crisp top of a creme brulee, and pears. Despite all this ripeness, it retains its freshness perfectly. The flavors of this wine cover a lot of ground, much of it fairly exotic: Solid minerality, yes, but also grilled pineapple, orange-peel candies, sultanas, clementines, and lemongrass, as well as preserved lemon and a French apple tart. The finish is generally of a piece with the mid-palate, but there’s a note of orange-pith bitterness that adds to its depth immeasurably. Utterly wonderful.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I spent the holiday weekend eating grilled meat, and lots of it. Too much, in fact: This, I think, is the quintessential American dining condition during weekend-long seasonal festivities throughout the year: We eat too much meat, and typically need a break afterward.
Which means that tonight is pasta night, preferably something simple and in a tomato sauce. And, like so many people, when talk turns to, say, spaghetti bolognese or other Italian classics, Chianti is my wine of choice.
Unfortunately, this most famous Italian wine is also perhaps the most misunderstood, and even today it remains stubbornly mysterious to the majority of consumers.
Perhaps responding to this, The Wall Street Journal ran a column this past weekend on the current state of Chianti. The results were generally promising, especially assuming consumers are willing to experiment a bit and explore the region.
In the Journal’s assessment, written by Lettie Teague, the Chiantis “fit into three broad categories. There were the light, bright juicy wines that were uncomplicated and delicious...Less popular and, thankfully, less numerous were the leaner, more astringent examples...And then there were the wines—and happily they were the most numerous—that were a beautiful synthesis of modern technique and Chianti terroir. They were wines that tasted of a place and a talent, wines that could easily match any wine in the world.”
Read the entire article, linked up here, for a rundown of the highs and lows of the tasting. Also, make sure to visit this link, the Italian Trade Commission’s Chianti primer at ItalianMade.com, an excellent resource for all things pertaining to the food and wine of Italy.
Finally, it may not provide all that much information, but this video, posted several years ago on WineSpectator.com, is, nonetheless, a beautifully evocative snippet of what is justifiably one of the world’s most famous and beloved wine regions.
So tonight, as you begin weaning yourself off of the grilled-meat-centric diet of the past several days, pop the cork on a bottle of Chianti and rediscover all that these wines have to offer. They’re delicious and varied and often surprising: Just like great Chianti should be.