Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bringing the Community Back to Wine

Just a short time ago, my wife and I celebrated our 7th anniversary. It seems like just yesterday that we were sitting on a beach in St. Lucia enjoying the aromas of Chateau Lamothe Bordeaux Blanc and basking in the heat of the sun. I remember looking at the wine list and thinking to myself, "No shit! I come all the way to St. Lucia and find one of Freddy's wines!"

To celebrate the occasion, I brought a bottle of 1995 Viader Proprietary Red up from the family cellar. Don’t tell my dad. I walked through the door just after 9:00 PM and rushed to fix a romantic dinner for my bride. Beef tenderloin and mushroom risotto on the menu, it was going to be a late night. Minding my priorities, I decanted the Viader first. We finally sat down to eat at 10:30 PM. Risotto just takes forever but was delicious. The tenderloin was clearly rushed and flavorless. The ‘95 Viader was its opposite. Patience rewarded. With striking levels of black currant fruit clothed by subtle toast, smoke, and floral scents this richly textured, medium - bodied wine filled the palate without subjecting it to unnecessary levels of weight. It was decadent without being gluttonous. Clearly, a memorable wine for both my wife and I. The winemaker needed to know.

As we finished dinner and began cleaning, I took a second to post a message to Delia Viader’s wall on Facebook. It stated that the ‘95 “had rocked our world”. Little did I know that Pandora's Box was now open. The dialogue began innocent enough and eventually morphed into the comparison of younger (‘05, ‘06, ‘07) with older (‘95, ‘96, ‘97) vintages of Viader. The conversation then warped into a discussion of taste preference. One can determine (through market trends and study) that Europeans prefer wines with a little more time in the bottle. US winelovers tend to like'em young. The conversation then shifted toward the wine distribution system in the United States with a nod to the idea that it is fundamentally flawed.  The topic is just to complex to discuss through a series of Facebook wall posts. However, the simple fact that both winemaker and retailer had the dialogue and agreed on the fundamental idea is nothing short of groundbreaking.

As early as 5 years ago, the above dialogue would not have taken place between a retailer and a winemaker. The logistics were too difficult. Now, these conversations can be had with an open audience. Everyone is invited. Of course it involves opening an account on Facebook or becoming a part of the "Twitter-verse".
The point is this: A singular terrific bottle of wine can, through today’s technology and resources, open spontaneous dialogues that previously would not have happened. It’s these dialogues that lead to the economically driven political discussions which can spark a community to affect change.

… And all I wanted was a romantic dinner.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Slightly Short of Epic

Last night I shared dinner with Brian Sypher and Peter Slywka from Michael Skurnik Wines. Brian, Peter and I rarely have the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a well prepared meal and geek out about wine. When we do get the opportunity, it's usually wise for the restaurant to attempt to seat us at a table away from the other guests. They can certainly try to do that but we're pretty particular in our restaurant service, almost to a point. We've each been in the wine/restaurant business for quite some time and know how to manipulate certain situations. Needless to say, last night fell slightly short of epic though it certainly had it's moments of debauchery that were quickly stifled by the smart staff at L'Escale in Greenwich.

The evening started at my retail wine store. We held a tasting that featured the wines of Kent Rasmussen, Stony Hill and Hirsch Vineyards, the founding fathers of California Burgundy. Obviously a play on words. Brian and Peter played the smart guys and grabbed a cup of coffee during the tasting. I had already tasted 26 wines during our regular Wednesday supplier meetings so my palate was feeling a little "busted". I opted for water but in hindsight, coffee would have been the better choice. I was beginning to tire from a long day with suppliers and a long week of industry frustrations. Eventually, we dug into the wines which were nothing short of fabulous, as one might expect from three of CA's most revered wine innovators.

Unfortunately, the event was not well attended. No matter, we had fun sharing our wine geek moments with those who joined. Then the cry came out "I'm hungry. Let's roll." To which I replied "Vega, you cool if I bounce". Vega agreed to take care the closing duties. Slewks hitched a ride in my car and we headed south to Stamford for a reservation at L'Escale. On the way down, Slewks aksed me if Sypher had mentioned what he brought along to dinner. Sypher was less than giving with that information. We rolled into L'Escale ordered some Pilsner Urquell for a little palate cleansing only to have the valet find me at the bar to inform me my tire was loosing air at an alarming rate. Great, a flat tire. Determined to not allow a little lack of air deflate our evening, I offer the valet a little grease to fix the problem assuring him I'm having dinner so there's plenty of time. He agrees. We move on.

As we're escorted to our table, I see Sypher hand a bottle to the Maitre d'. "Dude is that what I think it is?" I asked. "You have good eyes my friend. Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon."
"What vintage?"
"You couldn't bring somethin older? What the fuck?"
Laughter between the three of us erupts the fairly quiet dining room. The Maitre d' is less than pleased and knows we will be her problem table of the evening.

We settle on our dinner choices and decide it's best to start with the Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet "Champs Gains" 2007. Decanted and slightly over-chilled but that's how most American consumers drink their whites so we're not surprised. Colin Morey is using super long corks and sealing his wines with wax. This allows him to use less sulfur in his wines. Clearly a good thing. The Araujo sits in a decanter while we enjoy our appetizers. I had the Maine Crab Legs with Arugula and dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Flavors were good but overdressed in my opinion. I like to taste my crab but felt the lemon was little overpowering. It was interfering slightly with the Montrachet as well. Adequate, just not spectacular or epic. The Montrachet was a different story. I'll call it classic.

Now we're really geeking out, discussing Eric Asimov's article giving Bordeaux the kiss of death in the American market. Laughing about the Kim Severson's article about the use of marijuana in restaurants. We're sure the news came as a surprise to the American public. We're denouncing the use of private labels that seems to be growing rampant in the wine market. We're laughing about silly blunders we've made in youthful wine careers. We're cursing the fact the we work in one of the toughest states in the nation to sell wine. And of course, we're starting to get loud. Dinner arrives. Perfect timing for the table next to us. It was going to get ugly. I swear Sypher was going to demonstrate the Kung Fu he was going to use on the B&B guys that tried to shake him down.

The Araujo is poured and silence befalls the table. The next 15 minutes are spent studying the color and aromas of this absolutely stunning effort. Our table has been reduced to three high school freshman at their first keg party. We are stunned we can take part in this event. I won't go so far as to call the wine epic. But I will go so far as to give it an FB (stands for Ferris Bueller "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.") Since this is my first blog post, perhaps I've developed my first rating. I'll make it mean slightly short of epic.

Oh...the food. Fine, I had the lamb chops that were well prepared. Ordinary sauce, well prepared haricots verts, a little spinach and fingerling potatoes. I asked for a side of fries for the table. I will say the fries were very good. I'll reserve proper judgement of the food as this evening was all about the wine.

You've read this might as well get the notes.

Stony Hill Napa Valley Chardonnay 2006
It's a marriage of Chablis and Meursault with muted notes of apple and fresh pear, strong notes of mineral, slate and wet chalk. The palate is medium bodied with a linear, focused approach. A long finish that is edgy and clean. A great effort my the McCrea family.

Kent Rasmussen Napa Chardonnay 2007
Certainly shows it's California roots but allows the true flavor of Chardonnay to bust through and not be overpowered by manipulation. Look for tropical fruit and a rich mouth-feel that is deep and rather complex for what I believe to be a terrific value in today's Chardonnay market.

Kent Rasmussen Carneros Pinot Noir 2007
Rasmussen is getting back to his roots with this vintage. Gone is the jammy, super extracted wines of the past few vintages. I'm seeing more Volnay in this wine. Violet ruby color that's bright and vibrant. Aromas of stewed cherries, smoked meats, savory and wet earth. The palate is light bodied but full of rich fruit and texture. It's elegant and zippy with spice on the lengthy finish.

Hirsch Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007
Whoa. This is some serious, serious Pinot Noir. Beautiful violet color. Deep aromas of sour cherry, cola, herbs and wet slate and mineral. The palate is elegantly refined and balanced with fruit and acidity. Plenty of structure without being taught or clumsy. This is terrific Pinot Noir that a Burugndy only person could enjoy. Very impressive

Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet "Champs Gains" 2007
This Chardonnay has it all. Rich smokey aromas with a backdrop of fresh apple and pear. There's an underlying minerality that's sneaky and complex. On the palate the wine serves weight and structure with rich fruit and bold mid-palate that bursts with minerality. The finish is strong but not overdone and shows slight notes of smoke and apple. This is killer Chassagne Montrachet by an artisan producer.

Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Dense ruby black ink color. Aromas are extraordinarily complex with sweet cherry fruit, cedar smoke, tobacco, currant and floral notes. There's a note of earth and slight pencil shaving. I was expecting over-extraction on the palate but was pleased to find a wine of great depth and structure on the palate. It has plenty of staying power with a smokey, mineral finish that has plenty of sweet cherry to back it. This wine is still very youthful even after an hour of decanter. The bottle was decanted at 9 PM. My last sip at 11:30 was just starting to show a glimpse of opening.

We rolled out. Slewks cleverly placed a chair in the path of my foot drawing disapproval from staff and diners alike. Hey, we thought it was funny and that's all that matters. Tire fixed we drove back to Darien to quench our palates with a little Brooklyn Pilsner, a little biz gossip and "Honey I'm comin' home" phone calls. The entire evening can be given an FB. It was, indeed, slightly short of epic. I can't wait to do it again!

Thanks for reading!

In Good Taste,