Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Melon-Queue-Rouge. What is it, Exactly?

Back in March a guy named Nathan from Chicago read this post about fondue and the Puffeney Melon-Queue-Rouge I drank with it, and emailed me with an interesting question:

You indicated (and I've read elsewhere) that Melon-Queue-Rouge is a grape variety. Edward Behr in his Art of Eating number 72, 2006 devoted to the Jura suggested that it was a version or strain of chardonnay. The way he wrote it led me to think that it was in fact chardonnay. I recall him also mentioning something about red stems. There is of course plenty of "regular" chardonnay grown in the Jura, which he wrote about at length. I haven't been able to find much on the interwebs or in my various Oxford companions. Do you happen to know whether this grape is different than chardonnay, and, if so, are the two related? Not sure why I care, but I like to know these things.
Here is Ed Behr on Melon-Queue-Rouge, on page 13 of issue number 72 of the Art of Eating:
Melon is the arboisien name for Chardonnay, and this strain has red stems. Both it and Puffeney's regular Chardonnay have straightforward satisfying fruit. These (referring to Puffeney's-ed.) whites are topped up, one Jura tradition, and yet their style, which somehow hints at oxidation, isn't one you recognize from either Burgundy or the New World.
Nathan - I don't know why either, but I care too. So I asked a bunch of Jura wine makers when they were in town recently, and a couple of importers too. What is Melon-Queue-Rouge? Is it Chardonnay by another name, or is it another grape? Here are some of the answers I got:

Philippe Bornard - (translated by Savio Soares) - it is not Chardonnay. In the 1960's they forgot about Melon-Queue-Rouge, but my dad kept growing it. It is a cousin of Chardonnay. The grapes are very small and prone to diseases.

Nicole Deriaux, Domaine de Montbourgeau - yes, it is the same as Chardonnay.

Alain de Laguiche, Château D'Arlay - I really do not know the answer to this question, I am sorry.

Joe Dressner - it's a cousin of Chardonnay. Now leave me alone.

Philippe Dugois, Domaine Daniel Dugois - it is a special variety of Chardonnay. The stem is red and the grape is more aromatic.

Alain Baud, Domaine Baud Père & Fils - it is exactly the same as Chardonnay.

Stéphane Tissot, Domaine André et Mireille Tissot - Melon-Queue-Rouge evolved from Chardonnay in the Jura. Chardonnay on very bad clay soils near Arbois eventually became another grape, this red tailed grape we call Melon-Queue-Rouge. It is not the same as Chardonnay, but it came from Chardonnay.

Nothing conclusive, I guess, but I'm willing to run with Stéphane Tissot's answer, as he delivered it so convincingly. If you know what Melon-Queue-Rouge is, now would be the time to share.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Martha's Vineyard

We took our summer vacation kind of early this year, and spent most of the past week in Martha's Vineyard. We had a fantastic time - just a great vacation. This is a part of the country where places have names like Woonsocket and Squibnocket. The view from our deck was kind of nice.

We had a weathered little table to sit at (reminded me of the table on our deck in Brooklyn) and a lawn that rolled down to some marshes and a salt water pond. From that same spot looking north we could see Menemsha, a 300 year old small fishing village.

To the delight of our small daughters, rabbits would come and play on the lawn as the sun went down and the weather cooled.

Most of the Vineyard is dry - no alcohol for sale. It seemed like a good idea to bring some wine, even though it would have to sit in the trunk of the car for about 6 hours driving on a hot day. What wine to bring to Martha's Vineyard? I figured we'd be eating a lot of seafood, so along with a few bottles of rosé, I brought along a load of Muscadet, all from the 2007 vintage.

We opened them all at the same time and drank them over the next 5 days, getting to know each one as it developed. These are all very good wines - I really like 2007 in Muscadet. I cannot say that one was the absolute favorite, but Marc Ollivier's wines were both great. Domaine de la Pépière Clos des Briords, $16, Louis/Dressner Selections was richly perfumed and intense upon opening, very beautiful, and then it closed up for a few days. But it was very lovely again after about four days. Same with the excellent Granite de Clisson, $22, Louis/Dressner Selections. This was creamy and aromatic and completely delicious. But either this bottle wasn't as great as others I've had, or perhaps Briords is just as great of a wine in '07. The most delicate wine of the bunch was Jo Landron's Domaine de la Louvetrie Le Fief du Breil, $18, Martin Scott Imports. Still quite aromatic and very lovely, but with more of a lacy texture than either of the Pépière wines.

Fief du Breil was too delicate for fish tacos, for example. Luneau Papin's L' D'Or, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections, however, was rich and full enough for this lunch. Guy Bossard's Expression d'Orthogneiss, $22, Kysela Imports, is still a bit of a mystery to me. The wine began poorly, and I thought that it might have been a damaged bottle as it seemed too golden in color and rather advanced in its aromas and flavors. But it did very well with air over the next few days and in the end showed compelling and nuanced aromas and great balance and detail on the palate.

Hard to imagine wine not tasting great here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fancy Lunch, William Fèvre Chablis, and Natural Wine Thoughts

I live in Brooklyn, but I also live in New York City, and from time to time I go to Manhattan, where things can get pretty fantastic pretty quickly. Recently I found myself on the upper east side of Manhattan for lunch, and I cannot remember the last time that happened. I was lucky enough to be invited to a lunch at The Mark Restaurant by Jean Georges (whose new downtown place I recently kvetched about). 77th Street between Madison and 5th Avenue - I'm talking about stately awnings and flags. You would be forgiven for mistaking this place for the Icelandic Consulate, or something of that nature.

The interiors are amazing too. Of course there is the lighting and the stained glass, but notice the rug - that's tiger skin! The Mark staff maintain that no tigers were harmed to make the rugs, but I don't see how that can be true.

So why the fancy lunch on the upper east side on a random Tuesday? Didier Séguier, wine maker at Domaine William Fèvre was in town, and the Henriot people most generously invited me to this lunch and tasting.

I had a ball at this lunch. I sat right next to Didier Séguier and he is a lovely guy, very happy to talk about his wines and Chablis terroir, about his young daughter, or anything else that came up. There were five wines on the table, all from the 2008 vintage, which Séguier said is his favorite of the past 10 years, maybe more. He said that it is a "connoisseur's vintage," one that really showcases the different Chablis terroirs, like 2007, but that the wines have a bit more body than in 2007.

We tasted each of the wines, and then we drank them with lunch! An exclamation point because I thought it was such a smart way to do something like this. Sure, they could have barraged us with 15 different wines, but instead they selected five, and allowed us to get to know them with food.

I liked all of the wines, and of course it is great fun to drink wines from Grand Cru terroirs like Bougros and Les Clos, but on this day the wine that showed best was the 1er Cru Vaulorent, a wine made from a parcel within the 1er Cru Fourchaume vineyards. This wine was ripe and rich, but also very controlled and elegant, and it showed classy white flower and stone aromas and flavors. The finish was rather delicate, and the fruit there was outlined with distinct seashell and iodine notes, quintessential Chablis sensations. The Grand Cru wines were bigger and richer, and also still very much closed, so it was hard for me to truly understand them. I would love to drink them again in 5 years. But they were certainly delicious, and Les Clos in particular seemed to offer tremendous potential. It was more expressive toward the end of lunch with a simple and terrific plate of grilled black bass served with braised fennel, a dish that looked far more lovely before I tucked into it, before I snapped this photo. But you get the idea.

During our lunch I asked Dider Séguier which Chablis wines he liked to drink when he wasn't drinking his own wines. He said that he obviously liked Raveneau and Dauvissat, and then he named a few that I hadn't heard of (and mostly cannot remember now), and said that they were very small producers whose wines he doesn't think make it to the US. It turns out that one of them does, Domaine Collet, whose wines I've not had, but will have to try. I asked if he likes Alice and Oliver De Moor and he said yes, he likes some of the wines very much.

And when he said that about the De Moor wines I had a moment of clarity regarding an issue that's been in the wine news lately - Natural wines. There are Natural wine people out there who would patently dismiss the Fèvre wines because they are not remotely in the Natural wine camp (the fact that
Séguier is in the process of converting fully to organic farming notwithstanding). Some of these people would dismiss the wines without ever tasting them, in the manner that in high school the goths dismissed the jocks, and the punks dismissed the stoners, but that's not what interests me here. There are measured and open minded people, real wine lovers, who might dismiss Fèvre wines because they fall under a large corporate umbrella, or dismiss them because they are made conventionally and they don't fit in with the prevailing ethos of Natural wines. I will admit that I have dismissed them too.

But I've had plenty of
Fèvre wines in the past few months, and they can be very, very good. And the things is, I also love Alice and Olivier De Moor's wines. For me, there is room for Alice and Olivier De Moor and there is also room for Fèvre, they are not mutually exclusive. Appreciating a Fèvre wine does not dull my enthusiasm for the De Moor's amazing wines or my appreciation of their earth-friendly environmental practices. Nor would my enthusiasm for the De Moor wines be dulled if there were a severe rot problem in one of their parcels, and they were forced to use a chemical spray in order to preserve their income that year.

One of the problems with the natural wine movement, as I see it, is that it has painted itself into a corner, in a way. To acknowledge that Fèvre's wines, for example, can be very good, to drink one and to find it delicious and terroir expressive, would somehow be a betrayal of the Natural wine movement. There are very few things that can wisely be viewed in stark black and white terms, and I don't think that wine is one of them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

You be the Sommelier

The market is really getting good now. Peas are in full swing, and yellow and zucchini squash are here too. The other night I made a quick, easy, healthy, and delicious pasta dish. The idea was to take fresh sweet shell peas, toss with finely chopped mint, enrich with a bit of ricotta, and turn this into a "sauce" for rigatoni. And since the yellow squash looked so enticing, I added it too.

Okay, that's the dish, rigatoni with peas, yellow squash, ricotta, and mint. You be the sommelier - what wine would you serve with this? C'mon, don't be shy. Doesn't matter if you're a professional sommelier or a home cook like me. This dish hits the table and you can open anything you like - what would it be?

I'll tell you what I came up with and whether or not it worked well at the end of the comments.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Levi Dalton Roasts a Pig

Well, the chef at Alto did, anyway. Levi just organized the whole thing. And lucky for me, he invited me.

Levi, enjoying a thoughtful moment, or perhaps reaching down to tie his shoe.

Levi is a top shelf wine guy, truly Grand Cru. He is an extremely bright guy with a vast wealth of wine knowledge, and he's relaxed and easy going about it. Sharing a glass with him is a great way to learn about wine, as he is so good as describing in such an accessible manner what he likes and doesn't like about a wine. Plus, he has a razor sharp wit and is simply fun to be around. If this guy invited me to a three hour tasting of Boone's Farm wines, I would go.

Photo courtesy of Levi D.

So I was excited for Levi's pig roast the other night. The event was hosted by Alto restaurant and was in part a showcase for the Piedmontese wines of Silvia Altare. Many NYC sommeliers and other wine people showed up, some from as far away as Philly. Many wines were shared. I was incredibly lucky to spot, and then basically attach myself to this guy:

SF Joe: the little white lights are the constant smart thoughts buzzing out of his head.

SF Joe, as he's known on the wine bulletin boards, is a brilliant and dedicated aficionado of the Loire Valley wines (among others). He was hanging out with a guy named Kirk, another
NYC wine guy with a legendary cellar and a generous soul. So my night began with a glass of Kirk's 2002 Nicolas Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant. Nicolas Joly is a controversial figure, as probably the greatest living champion of the biodynamic movement in wine grape farming. And this is a controversial wine. Very expensive, and yet subject to what is apparently is a particularly high degree of bottle variation. Also, there are many who feel that this wine is plagued by problems with oxidation. I have no opinions on these matters, as I've had the wine too few times to understand it. But I will say that this bottle we had was very, very good. Attractive, balanced, absolutely pure, just lovely wine. Made me want to drink it again, although I don't know if I'm ready to plunk down my own $85 yet. I have enough problems with bottle variation already.

Then SF Joe broke out two absolute gems from the fantastic 1989 vintage in the Loire, wines that are pretty rare to come across today. First it was the 1989 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Clos des Briords, a direct refutation of the crazy talk coming from some guy on the left coast about how there's no reason to age Muscadet. This wine was a beautiful thing. No fireworks, nothing fancy, just pure, mellow, perfectly poised, deeply aromatic, and utterly delicious. If it were a house, it would be one of those weathered red-cedar shingle houses on the New England coast.

Then it was the 1989 François Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés. This wine always has a certain richness to it, but at over 20 years old and from a ripe year like '89, this one was infused with honey. It was full and lush but very nicely structured, and like the Muscadet, strikingly pure. I enjoyed how the wine changed from front to back, how the initial taste was so honeyed and floral, and then the finish was more delicate and stony. I decided that it would be with this wine that I needed to indulge in the roast pig.

This photo is terrible, not enough light, but it gives a sense of what was going on with the pig. The chef completely de-boned it and then stuffed it with itself - loin, leg, sausage, and so on. Which by the way, is exactly how I would like to die. Seasoned with rosemary, sea salt, and who knows what else, the pig was ridiculously good. Large portions were served and everyone would say things like "my goodness, there's no way I'm going to be able to eat all that," before slipping into a pig-devouring silence that lingered a little while after the plate was clean.

I loved the way the old Sancerre worked with the pig. I know, it was supposed to be about Silvia Altare's wines, and those were very good too (my favorite was a delicious white Langhe wine made from Pinot Noir). But there was something about the way the floral honey and the rosemary in the Sancerre mingled with the piggy-ness of the pig...

And then, just when I thought it was safe to hang up my glass and head home, Kirk rooted around underneath one of the tables and emerged with a bottle of 1998 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia. This is one of those iconic wines that I have very few chances to drink, and it's not easy for me to describe how good it is because I have little context for the wine. But it is one of those wines that just knocks you out immediately, the nose is so gorgeously deep with roses and herbs and tar, impossibly detailed, delicate, and energetic.

What an evening - thanks again for your generosity Levi, Kirk, and SF Joe.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More Tales from the Dark Side: Wine Retail Horror Stories

Ready for some more strange retail stories? Weird advice from the folks in the trenches? I know I am. Sorry if I sound like a flippant jerk, but here's the thing: it's easy for me to think that every wine store is like Chambers Street or Uva or Slope Cellars. When you are shopping at these stores and you have a question, the people who work there will answer it honestly or tell you that they don't know the answer. But sometimes the hunt for a specific wine leads me away from those stores and the few others like them, to random friendly neighborhood wine shops, and I am reminded that all is not right in the vast world of wine retail.

People love to answer questions, even if they have no idea of the factual answer. People love to criticize without any context regarding the object of their criticism. People love to make blanket statements that are misleading, and may or may not pertain to the issues at hand. And friends, I'm not speaking of the fine men and women who serve our country as United States Senators or Congressmen. I'm speaking of the people who work in our friendly neighborhood wine retail shops. And although you and I aren't really hurt by this because often times we know what we're looking for, imagine what transpires between these folks and 95% of the customers, people who just want a little advice on what to drink.

I think it is the responsibility of the wine store owner and manager to make sure that the sales staff knows something about the wines being sold. It's risky to make things up when asked a question because sometimes we customers can tell that you're making up the answer. And this does little to build trust between you, the seller, and us, the buyers. I'm not at all suggesting that retailers, or anyone else, should know everything. But if you are asked a question and don't know the answer, just say so. Ask another employee, ask the manager, or just leave it at that - "I don't know" is a fine answer, when it's the truth.

Some of the things I've been told by retailers lately make me feel very sad. If I had accepted these things as truth, as I'm guessing 95% of customers do when speaking with wine sales staff, I would be ignorant of my own ignorance (probably already true, but that's another story). Here are a few recent tales, Wine Retail Horror Stories... (I would love to insert drops of blood or something here, but Blogger for some reason does not enable that function).

They Shouldn't do that in the Jura
I was shopping at a large store in lower Manhattan, looking to buy a few bottles of Jacques Puffeney's 2007 Trousseau. There was only one bottle on the shelf, and the wax seal was a cracked mess. I asked a sales guy if he had more bottles. "How many do you want," he asked. "I'd like three," I said. "Okay, I'll grab two from downstairs.""Actually, the wax on this bottle is cracked and I want to cellar these for a while, so if you don't mind, I'd like three bottles from downstairs. I'm hoping for intact wax seals." Yes, I was being somewhat anal, but the point of the wax seal, as opposed to the typical capsule, is to prevent air from getting into the wine bottle.

The sales guy then says "They shouldn't do that in the Jura. The wax seals are always breaking and they don't do anything for the wine anyway. There's no difference whether or not the wax is chipped."

Now, I'm no scientist, but everything that guy said sounds wrong to me. Was he simply too tired to haul a third bottle from downstairs? Was he angry at the Jura and the lovely people who live there? Why say these things? I realized at this point that further conversation was pointless, and simply said "Fine, but I'd like three bottles with intact seals, if that's okay."

Doesn't that seem like a strange thing to say to a customer? That's a New Thing They're Doing in the Jura
Recently I was poking around in a wine store on the upper-west-side, a neighborhood joint that I had never before stepped into. Not the same store where I witnessed the Jura/Jurançon debacle, but it was the same afternoon. The selection was very good, and there were some slightly older vintages mixed in with the usual assortment of '07s, '06s, and '05s. I stumbled across a few bottles of 2000 Domaine de Montbourgeau L'Étoile Cuvée Spéciale, a delicious Jura Chardonnay made in the oxidized style. Two of the three bottles on the shelf had no vintage labels, the third had the 2000 banner at the top. Wow, I thought, I might have stumbled on a great deal here - the price is right. But wait - none of the bottles had wax capsules, and I felt as though Montbourgeau's wines always have wax seals at the top. Maybe these bottles were from an original shipment that arrived 6 or 7 years ago. I asked the very nice guy who had already competently answered other questions - "Have these wines been in the store for a while or are they newly released?"

"Oh these are new," he said.

"And this is the Cuvée Spéciale, the one made in the oxidized style," I asked. This was mostly to keep the conversation going, to help me to determine whether or not I could believe anything else he said about the wine.

"Oxidized style?" he asked. "This isn't oxidized. Why do you say that?"

Okay, so he doesn't know the wine. Whatever, maybe I can find out whether they bought it as a library release or if it had been sitting there for the last 6 years. So I said "But is this something you recently bought, or is this something that's been in the store for a while?"

"This is brand new wine," he said. "That's a brand new thing they're doing in the Jura."

I'm sorry, but if you're selling something you should know what it is. That's not asking too much - that's a very basic standard. Again, it's all well and good not to know something, but why pretend, like this guy did? Can you imagine how much nonsensical "information" is going out everyday to unsuspecting customers at their local wine retail shops...

Wine is Wine
When searching (in vain) recently for a specific bottle of Sigalas Santorini, I went to a wine store that I'd never heard of in Manhattan, just because an internet search said that the store carried the wine. I should have called to confirm before going, but I didn't. When they didn't actually have the wine in stock, the manager took an interesting tactic. He basically tried to make me feel like an idiot for desiring it.

"Why would you want Sigalas 06," he said. "That wine is dead now anyway."

"Hmmm," I said. "I tasted one recently that was delicious."

"No, you don't want that. Get a different wine," he said. "I have another Santorini wine back there now."

"Yeah, but it's the Sigalas specifically that I wanted."

The guy then said "Sigalas thinks he is doing something special, but he's not. Wine is wine, right?"

What can you really say to that? And how many people get their wine wisdom from this guy? Not every store can staff up with the best and brightest, obviously, but this is all too common at our neighborhood spots.

Am I wrong? Am I expecting too much? What do you think - how is the service at your neighborhood joint?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jura Wine Makers in Town and Odd Happenings at Wine Stores

There is a big Jura wine tasting today in Manhattan, the second such event. I learned a tremendous amount at last year's event and I'm excited to take part in today's event. A steady flow of Jura wine makers has descended upon NYC for this tasting, and yesterday, completely by chance, I had the opportunity to observe one of them on a "work-with," that thing wine makers do with their importers when they're in town - going to various retail shops together to show the wines.

On my late lunch break I was at an established and well respected upper-west-side wine retailer (when searching for specific Santorini wines, one must be willing to travel from Brooklyn) and a man and woman walked in. They both looked a bit weary, they had shoulder bags with them, and they stood and waited patiently near a little table with empty glasses on it.

I understood that they were waiting to show their wines to the buyer at the store. When the buyer came over, the woman introduced the man (didn't hear his name) as a wine maker from the Jura. My ears perked up - of course! They're in town, I thought, and they're probably spending their days working the retail circuit with their "handlers," the people who represent their wines in NYC. I buried my nose in the Greek wine section which was conveniently located near the tasting table, but I kept my ears open. I wanted to hear this conversation.

Wine maker Jean-Michel Petit, of Domaine de la Renardière, at the Jura tasting.

The wine maker, in perfect English, politely asked the buyer, a handsome young fellow, if he was familiar with Jura wines. "Yeah,sure," he said. "Okay," said the wine maker, " We have a Chardonnay, a Savagnin, and a Pinot Noir for tasting," and he began to pour wine. The buyer took out a little notebook and pen. He swirled his glass, sniffed, tasted, aerated loudly, spat, made a few notes, looked up at the wine maker and said "Yeah, the Jura, stars of the southwest in France," and smiled.

The wine maker looked confused, as if he thought his English might be failing him. "Again?" he said. "Stars of the southwest in France, the Jura!" The buyer repeated. The woman, the wine maker's handler, also looked confused. The whole thing made me feel so sad for everyone present that I couldn't help myself. I turned from the Greek wines and I said to the buyer "You're thinking of Jurançon. This guy is from the Jura, in the north east near Switzerland."

"Yes, yes, the Jura," the wine maker said. The buyer just put his nose back in his glass and kept writing in his notebook.

Stephané Tissot and Jean-Michel Petit at the Jura Dinner.

Imagine my delight when later that same evening at a Jura dinner put on by the folks at Chambers Street Wines, this very same wine maker walked in. I recognized him instantly and told him the story of what I had seen. The saddest part is that although Jean-Michel remembered what had happened at that store, it clearly was not the most annoying or hopeless moment of his day.

I'm happy to tell you that Jean-Michel Petit's wines are excellent. Chardonnays from marl and limestone soils are expressive of their respective terroirs (and the plots are merely 400 meters from one another), but my favorite is probably the structured, balanced, and utterly delicious Poulsard. Domaine de la Renardière's wines are imported by Willette Wines, and they are worth seeking out if you like Jura wine.

But c'mon, what's going on out there, retailers? Balls are being dropped. In fact, I've seen several odd happenings at retail shops recently, and I'll share them in another post. Several of them coincidentally involve Jura wines too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Montgomery's Cheddar from Neal's Yard

About a month ago I ate Wensleydale cheese from Neal's Yard and loved it, and most callously called it a Cheddar, which in fact it is not. Bronwen Percival, the cheese buyer at Neal's Yard, discussed this at the end of the post in her comments. Bronwen knows about a lot about cheese, which is kind of like saying that Stephen Hawking knows a lot about physics.

Well, it's been a long time coming, but I finally tasted the mack-daddy of cloth bound Cheddars, the king, if you will. I speak of Montgomery's Cheddar from Neal's Yard.This is a raw milk cheese that is aged for at least one year. I think Neal's Yard's description of the cheese is right on:

Rich, sweet, fruity, nutty, beefy flavours. Sometimes reminiscent of the caramelised edge of a Sunday roast. The texture is drier than most other cheddars with a grainy and crystalline crunch as it ages.
A friend and I enjoyed this cheese alongside a piece of Wensleydale the other night. Eating them together provided, for me anyway, a clear definition of Cheddar. Wensleydale shows some moistness at room temperature, and tastes of butter, cream, and grass. Montgomery's is more golden in color, harder and crumblier, and much different in flavor. As the above tasting note indicates, the flavors here are more savory. Both cheeses are wonderful, and I have no favorite. This might sound odd, but there is something about Wensleydale that makes me think of it as a morning cheese, and Montgomery's is for afternoon or night time. That said, breakfast this morning was Montgomery's on a slice of 7-grain and it was absurdly delicious.

Sadly, at breakfast I did not indulge in the beverage pairing that my friend and I did when eating this cheese the other night. We drank N.V. Bodegas Hidalgo Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Manzanilla Pasada Pastrana, $24, Imported by Classical Wines. Pastrana is a very special wine, a single vineyard barrel-aged Manzanilla that offers all of the briskness and sea salt one would expect from a good Manzanilla, but also shows an amazing depth, intensity, and complexity that for me elevates it above most Manzanillas.

Now, we had some wine with dinner before we arrived at cloth bound and Sherry, and I wasn't taking notes. I love this Sherry, but I think I might prefer to drink a dark beer with Montgomery's. Somehow the flavors of the Sherry and the cheese competed with instead of elevating one another. I love Pastrana with cheese, but I've had it only with aged goat cheeses. Perhaps it's not the best pairing with the king of Cheddars. Perhaps I should have tried them together again at breakfast. One day when I'm retired I'll do things like that.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel #5 - 2007 Bourgogne Aligoté

Honestly, who drinks Aligoté? It's so acidic and harsh and there isn't much of a reward. There's a reason that people add crème de cassis to Aligoté - it raises the beverage to a potable level. But I've had a few genuinely good bottles of Aligoté in the past year, one in particular that was truly memorable, and I began to wonder if Aligoté wines are improving.

I was at a dinner with Peter Wasserman a few weeks ago and he told me that Aligoté used to be 40-50% of Burgundy plantings, even in the 1er and Grand Cru plots. I don't remember what Peter said about when this changed, but I think he said it was the 1950's...? Anyway, Aligoté needs to be ripe, Peter said. It needs to be picked later than Chardonnay. Old vines don't hurt either. But most producers simply weren't devoting that kind of attention to Aligoté and it made more sense to pull out the vines and replant with either Chardonnay or Pinot. At that dinner we drank a great bottle of Lafarge old vines Aligoté and I was excited to find out whether it would be that wine or the fantastic Alice and Olivier de Moor Aligoté that would stun everyone at the tasting.

So, is there something happening here - are Burgundy producers making better Aligoté, or are these wines still best as Kir fodder? What better way to find out than to convene the Brooklyn Blind Tasting Panel and get into a few bottles. I decided to focus on 2007 because it's a great vintage for white wine in Burgundy, and also because some of the 2007 Aligoté that I drank last year I remember thinking would benefit from a few more months in bottle. For this tasting I was joined by three guys who know a lot about wine - Justin Chearno of Uva in Williamsburg, Scott Reiner of Discovery Wines on the Lower East Side, and Joe Salamone of Crush in Manhattan.

We tried our hardest. We were open minded and very serious about tasting these wines, but I must sadly tell you that if this sample of wines is representative of Aligoté, and I think that it is, Aligoté is still very much hit or miss (mostly miss), and it under-delivers at its price point. Here are the wines we drank, along with some notes:

2007 A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron, $22, Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. Aubert de Villaine makes wine for this other Burgundy producer called DRC. I've always been a bit biased against these wines under his own label. "What, 'cause you make DRC it means you automatically make great wines from the Côte Chalonnaise?" This is good wine though. Justin and Scott both picked it as their #2 wine in the tasting. It didn't "win" the tasting, but I'm listing it first anyway because by the time the tasting was finished and we sat down for dinner, this was clearly the best wine on the table. During the blind tasting it showed white flowers and a bit of honey, it was well balanced and well made, although everyone thought that it was a bit simple. It was better over dinner, but still not a wine to race to the stores for.

2007 Catherine & Dominique Derain Vin de Table Français Allez-Goutons, $23, Jenny & François Selections. This wine was kindly donated by Jenny & François for this tasting. No one voted for this wine, but everyone enjoyed it, and everyone gave the same reason for not voting for it. "It was really good, but so different from the others and it didn't speak so much of Aligoté so I didn't vote for it." I really liked this one - it was just ever so slightly effervescent and at 11% alcohol, it was light and lively with grapefruit pith on the nose. The palate was delicate and sheer, and very satisfying. Some thought it was too much about natural wine making, but I didn't. It was the only wine that held up well the next day. This is something that I would enjoy drinking again, but it is probably more divisive than any of the other wines we drank.

2007 Domaine Ramonet Bourgogne Aligoté, $22, Imported by Diageo Chateau and Estates Wines. Scott and I both picked this wine as our favorites of the tasting. I liked it because it smelled like Chardonnay, it was bigger and bolder than the other wines, and it had a lovely pungent minty nose. Scott thought it was the most complete wine. Justin thought the nose was great, with granite, rock, and soil. Joe felt that it was beefed up a bit. somehow made larger than it would naturally be. He felt a wood presence that intruded on the wine. For whatever it's worth, this wine did not maintain its goodness over dinner - by the time we ate it seemed disjointed and inflated like an air balloon.

2007 Paul Pillot Bourgogne Aligoté, $14, Imported by Margate Wine and Spirits. Joe and Justin both picked this wine as their favorites of the tasting, and Scott and I liked it too. Justin said that it was lactic at first, but that the fruit and acid balance was great, and he found himself thinking that he really wanted to drink it. Joe said that this wine rocked in the context of the tasting. It was nicely detailed with flowers and he appreciated the nature of the acidity - he said that most of the wines in the tasting showed acidity at the edges, but in this wine the acidity formed the core of the wine. I liked it too - my notes say apples, soft and pure, balanced, stones on the finish. The thing is, this wine was, to be honest and fair, basically undrinkable an half hour later over dinner. It completely fell off the table and became something that we were mystified about. How could it have been so good in a blind tasting and then been so bad while eating?

2007 Alice et Olivier De Moor Bourgogne Aligoté, $19, Louis/Dressner Selections. This was the truly memorable wine that I had a few months ago, and I was certain that it would "win" this tasting. The bottle we had was not representative of the wine, sadly. Joe said that although it was an outlier, he liked it anyway, and that it reminded him of northern Burgundy near Chablis - Kimmeridgian soils. I wanted to like it but I thought the nose had an oxidized quality that just turned me off, made the wine seem flat and lifeless. That said, I thought it was interestingly herbal - kind of minty, with lemon curd and herbal flavors, and a stony finish. Scott said that he initially didn't care for it but that it grew on him. We all agreed, drinking this wine with dinner, that it was an off bottle. Perhaps not flawed, but not representative of the great '07 De Moor Aligoté. In 2007 the De Moors combined their young vines Aligoté with their Plantation 1902, a beautiful Aligoté made from 100 year old vines. This bottle was not representative of the wine.

2007 Domaine Guy Roulot Bourgogne Aligoté, $20, Michael Skurnik Imports. I picked this wine as my second choice, but no one else particularly liked it. And they were right - it dropped off like a hot potato during our dinner. But during the tasting I liked its lean and stony profile and its pungent lemon scent. It was clean and acidic and very long, and I was certain that it was the next wine, the Lafarge. The others thought it was too creamy, too correct, with some artifice. Joe found the finish to be short - it grinds to a halt, he said.

2007 Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligoté Raisins D'Orés, $27, Becky Wasserman Selections/Martin Scott Imports. This wine was kindly donated by Peter Wasserman and Martin Scott imports for this tasting. This is an excellent wine made from 60-80 year old vines. It is delicate and intense and very stony and pure. But the bottle we drank was nothing like that, and we were shocked when we saw it unveiled - everyone knows how good this wine is, but this bottle was simply not right. The mid-palate was hollow, and it just wasn't very expressive. Joe thought it was the least together of all of the wines, with a darkness to the mineral finish. Justin thought the alcohol protruded a bit, and Scott thought it didn't carry its wood well. But trust me, this is a really good wine, and the bottle we had just showed terribly.

2007 Domaine Marcillet Bourgogne Aligote, $14, Savio Soares Selections. This wine was kindly donated by Savio Soares for this tasting. Scott thought this wine showed a lot of funk on the nose, that it was woodsy. Justin thought it was complex with woodsy and floral honey flavors, but also a bit murky on the finish. Joe and I both found it to be oxidized on the nose. He liked the expansive mid-palate, but he called it fundamentally flawed because the nose was so oxidized. I found the nose to be entirely oxidized and weird, and simply assumed that it was well past its prime.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Wine and Records

Apparently there is a lot of overlap among geeky wine collectors and geeky record collectors. I know a few myself. Why is this? Who knows, but there is something similar in the act of standing in a store coveting an expensive bottle and standing in a store and coveting an expensive and rare album. And with both wine and records there are seemingly limitless esoteric details to obsess over.

This came up in conversation the other night and one of the people at the table laid out the following piece of wisdom:

The importer is the record label; the producer is the artist; the vintage is the record; and the wine is the song.
--Justin Chearno, of Uva.

When I said "Interesting that there is no mention of the grape," Justin smiled and said "The grape is the instrument."

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Wine Big Shots and the Wines they Share

One of the many perks of the glamorous blogger lifestyle is the fact that you get to hang out with people in the wine and restaurant business whose knowledge of wine utterly dwarfs your own. Well, maybe you know more than I, but their knowledge dwarfs mine, anyway. And if you invite these big shots to your house for a drink or for dinner they tend to bring some fantastically interesting and delicious wine.

In the past week or so two of my favorite wine big shots came by, and I got to drink great wines that were new to me. And these aren't fancy expensive bottles - these are things that we all can afford to buy and share with friends. These wine big shots...they really know how to get the best out of $20.

Jeremy Parzen, the dude behind the great Do Bianchi blog, was in town recently and he came over one afternoon with his terrifically friendly and lovely bride Tracie P. It's a rare treat for me to get to hang out with Jeremy and although we insisted that he and Tracie were our guests, they insisted upon bringing a wine to us, a dry Muscat from the Veneto. We drank Champagne and Poulsard on that sunny afternoon, but I made sure to ask Dr. P what to eat with this wine. He recommended something like a salt cod purée. I've never made that dish, although I do love to eat it. Instead of waiting until I learned how to make salt cod, BrooklynLady and I opened this bottle a few days ago with seared fluke and spring vegetables.

It was fantastic! 2007 Vignalta Muscat Sirio Veneto IGT, about $20 (don't remember the importer because I'm sitting in the airport in Charlotte, NC, but that's another story). This wine is bone dry, which is the only way I enjoy Muscat or Gewurztraminer at this point. But aromatically so satisfying, with focused exotic fruit aromas and something like bitter honey. The palate is exotic and lush, and very fresh and pure with good focus and a mineral cut. It was great with our fluke, but I can see how a more robust dish like creamed salt cod would be an even better match. Thanks Jeremy and Tracie P - we truly enjoyed this wine and will be going back for more.

And that's not all - the inimitable Levi Dalton and his terrifically friendly and lovely girlfriend Ayako came by for dinner on a recent warm and sunny evening. Levi is the head Sommelier at Alto restaurant, and he's very good at bringing wines that he knows will be interesting to whoever he is hanging out with.

On this evening he brought a magnificent bottle of Lambrusco by Vittorio Graziano, the 2005 Vittorio Graziano Lambrusco Fontana dei Boschi, about $20, (again, don't remember the importer). Levi explained that this is an unusual Lambrusco in that it does very well with a bit of bottle age. Most Lambruschi are meant to be consumed when young and fresh. He compared Graziano in his talent and uniqueness to Raveneau in Chablis. This wine was fresh as a daisy, and it achieved this while mingling aromas of aged salami with dark purple fruit. A tickle of effervescence on the palate, dusty dark fruit, and a cooling almost medicinal hint on the finish - this was simply delicious wine. The next day it was even better, by the way (we had a lot of wine that evening, which is why a wine like this made it back into the fridge). We ate speck and roast asparagus with this wine, along with fresh bread and butter. All was good, but if I have the good fortune to drink this wine again (it is barely imported and Levi snapped up everything that came into the country this year), I will most surely pair it with the funkiest of salami.

Levi also brought along a wine that is more familiar to me, although I'd never had it in the 2004 vintage. The 2004 Domaine du Vissoux Moulin a Vent Rochegrès, price unknown, Peter Weygandt Selections, was in a great place. Mellow and smooth, the aromas and flavors like a bowl of fresh strawberries on a bed of iron filings. This is the kind of Beaujolais vintage that I really like, and this wine is developing beautifully. It still has plenty of upside, as it also improved the next day. Thanks to you too Levi and Ayako for sharing these wines.