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Brooklynguy's Wine and Food Blog

Drinking, eating, enjoying in Brooklyn.

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It's Hard to Say Goodbye

Thu, 29 May 2014 01:50:00 +0000

This has not been easy.

Back in February, I guess, I realized that I would stop writing this blog. And I've been meaning to write a goodbye post, but it turns out that goodbye posts are difficult. I wrote this thing for over seven years! It's been an integral part of my life. I've learned so much and experienced so much because of writing this blog. Much has changed in my life while doing this - my job, my marriage, friends, my whole self...

How do I say goodbye? What can I write that conveys how grateful I am for having had this experience? Every time I feel like I want to sit down and write goodbye to you all, in the end I cannot pick up the pen. It feels too daunting. Part of me hasn't wanted to say goodby.

But it's been a long time, and I'm too busy to give this blog the kind of attention it needs - other things take priority now. It no longer feels like I do it for myself - if I write it's because it feels like I should. So it's time to stop.

Because I haven't been able to think of the right subject for a final post, because I can't come up with the right goodbye to you all, instead I will close out the Brooklynguy thing with what feels fitting to me - a simple dish and a humble but lovely wine to go with it.

I found a new farmer at my market (Bill Maxwell retired last season, to my sadness). Her asparagus are pretty darn good. I roasted a handful with a little olive oil and a bit of sea salt - that's it. Served next to a piece of blackfish, the sweet moderately-firm fish that eats shellfish. Barely dredged in flour, seared in butter, finished in the oven, topped with a mixture of green garlic, parsley, mint, a small pinch of red pepper flake, and black olives.

This was a nice weekend lunch. It was elevated by this very lovely Chablis.

I like Gilbert Picq's wines. This is a humble villages wine from 2012, a pretty good vintage, it would seem. I spent less than $20 for this bottle. Okay, it was best about 8 hours later, and so maybe would benefit from a couple years in the cellar. But who cares. I loved it with my weekend lunch. It has fresh and airy aromas that provide a glimpse into the briny, stony, floral splendor that a great Chablis offers. The palate is lively and balanced, and surprisingly long and pungent for a humble villages wine. Not every day is a 1er or Grand cru day. Most days aren't, actually. A good villages wine is a wonderful thing, if you can find a good one.

Thank you again for being here with me. I truly enjoyed it and I hope you did too. I'm not going to take the site down because I still enjoy poking through the old posts from time to time.

And now I will say goodbye, and wish you all the best.(image)

More Thoughts on Quality.

Sun, 26 Jan 2014 04:44:00 +0000

First class seats on an airplane are better than the seats in coach. There is no question that this is true. They are more comfortable to sit in, they offer more space, they come with better food and drink, and also with the privilege of getting on and off of the plane before everyone else. They are the best seat on an airplane. They also cost a lot more than any other seat. Whether or not they are worth the expense is a decision that is our own, made according to our own individual calculus. That we have this decision and can opt not to buy first class seats does not imply, though, that there is some question about whether first class are best.Wine is like this too - some are better than others. But it's much more complicated of a thing to appreciate this in wine and I think that there are three major reasons for this:1) It's easy to for anyone, even a person who has never been on an airplane before, to understand why first class seats are better. Appreciating why one wine is better than another wine is not as straightforward.2) We develop personal preferences, we find styles of wine that we like, prefer one kind of wine over another. It is easy and self-serving, even, especially as we gather more wine drinking experience, to assume that our personal preferences are in line with an objective truth about quality.3) We get confused by price. We buy coach seats when we fly because, well, who can afford to fly first class? And no one wants to waste their lives wishing for what they cannot have. The $12 bottle of Château Peybonhomme les Tours Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux is delicious, terroir expressive, and entirely worthy of our attention. It might be among the best red wines at $12 in NYC today. But it is not better than first class, no matter how many bottles I can buy for the same price. It's more fun (or less unsettling, anyway) to think that we've struck gold in the high quality $12 bottle than it is to think about how much better Léoville-las-Cases is. -----If it sounds like I'm saying this from somewhere on high, I don't mean it that way at all. It's the opposite, actually. I've been trying to learn as much as I can about wine (while also enjoying drinking it) for the past ten years, and the point is, I'm still scratching the surface when it comes to any real knowledge of what is great wine and what is not. I simply am not exposed to enough wine, I cannot build the necessary context. I have come far enough, though, to know how much there is that I don't know.Occasionally I do get to have an experience where I learn something real about quality. Here are two such recent experiences.Right before Thanksgiving a friend and I drank the 2004 Éric Texier Côtes du Rhône-Brézème Domaine de Pergault. I bought three bottles on release in 2007 and this was my last bottle. Three years ago I drank a bottle and was not thrilled, but SF Joe, a guy who knows the wines pretty well suggested in the comments that I should give it a bit more time, perhaps three years more, in the cellar. He was absolutely right.The wine was so much better three years later. Here is my note on drinking this wine in late November:Just lovely, glad I waited for this. I caught the previous bottle too soon, as someone else suggested. Now this is mellow and alluring, with a rusty hue to the color, peppery, bloody, and floral aromas that are soft and gentle. Balanced and lovely on the palate too. The wine shows its class, but it also shows the limitations of the terroir - this is gorgeous wine, but it doesn't achieve the complexity or grandeur of great Syrah from a more illustrious site.You can probably see where I'm going with this. Although the wine showed better three years later, and although it was delicious and I loved drinking it, it was not great wine. I was reminded of this the other night when I had dinner with a few friends that I haven't seen in a while and we drank a great Syrah by the culty Rhône producer Noël Verset. It was a wine made in what I understand is the worst modern vintage for northern Rhöne wi[...]

Back in the Saddle

Wed, 15 Jan 2014 04:16:00 +0000

I haven't written anything in a long time. It's hard to get started again. I've wanted to, but the longer it gets, the more inertia sets in. Perhaps the best way is simply to write something  - anything. Even just a list of recent wines I've loved. If it's fun, I'll write again another time. The best red wine I've had in some time? A bottle of Beaujolais, but a special bottle - the 2011 Yvon Métras Moulin-à-Vent. This is not so easy to find here in the US, but whoa, it's worth looking for. Here's my note on the bottle: "Honestly, the finest red wine I've tasted in a while. A perfect bottle. Fragrant with fruit, flowers, stones, leaves. Beautifully expressive on the palate with complex fruit and mineral flavors, a structural firmness under the fruit that smacks of Moulin-à-Vent, texturally perfect, long on the finish - I'm trying to mention everything that's great about this wine which starts to feel silly. It really was just a wonderful bottle with a depth and expression of aroma and flavor that is fantastic." Métras is a cultish producer and that might turn some folks off. It turned me off, to be honest. But this bottle converted me. Then there's also this bottle, the 2008 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barbera d'Alba. Another one that is not easy to find here in the US. This bottle kind of blew me away. Pure and fresh, absolutely transparent in feel and the earthy minerality is pungent. The wine is so complex too - the finish is a melange of the herbal, the acidic, and the ripe but not overripe fruit (which itself is a melange of bright red raspberry and deep dark cherry). If you drink it now, save half for ay 2 - way better on day 2. I've not had too many Barberas, and I've had none that I loved except for a bottle a few years back by G. Conterno. This one, I loved, LOVED. Is this is what Barbera grown on great soils by a great wine maker is like?The 2012 vintage of Tissot Poulsard is here and it's really good. For me, this is the Poulsard to buy and drink with impunity these days, as Overnoy is a unicorn and Ganevat costs $50. This wine needs a good decant to deal with the reduction, but it is absolutely delicious. It comes from very old vines and it has no added sulfur (which should raise alarms more than act as a selling point, in my book, but this one does it beautifully). It will greatly please Poulsard lovers but also I think would be a nice way to introduce a friend to the charms of light and weird red wine - it's accessible like that. Cranberries, blood oranges, hard spices, flowers, harmonious and beautifully textured, this wine packs a lot of interest into a very light frame. It costs about $25. I'm still not entirely sure where I am with this wine. 2010 Weingut Günther Steinmetz Mülheimer Sonnenlay Pinot Noir Unfiltriert, as it is deftly named, might be an intense wine that offers way more complexity, terroir expression, and overall quality than its $23 price tag suggests is possible. Or it might just be an incredibly delicious and balanced Pinot from Germany. I can't tell yet. But I will tell you that I am vigorously enjoying the act of drinking the wine and further exploring this important question. I still drink white wine. Way more than red, actually. Here are some recent whites that also wowed me:2007 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese. You know, I look back at my notes from drinking this wine and it's not as though I loved it on paper. But the thing is, I loved it. I've thought about it a lot since drinking it. Maybe it sounds obvious to you if you drink these wines, but the purity, the delicacy, the impeccable really got to me and I must have more.2012 Bernard Ott Grüner Veltliner Am Berg. I think this is a great vintage for this wine. It's subtle and quiet, but absolutely delicious and entirely expressive of place and of Grüner. I like to decant this wine, and then there are clean and cooling aromas of sour cream, lemongrass, and green herbs. Quiet, but arresting. And versatile at the table. [...]

An Evening with the Champagnes of Benoît Lahaye

Thu, 12 Dec 2013 05:07:00 +0000

Benoît Lahaye is probably the best grower/producer in Bouzy right now. I use "probably" because I haven't sat down recently with a bottle of Champagne by Camille Savés or Paul Bara. But I feel pretty confident on this one. Lahaye is making excellent wines, mostly of Pinot Noir from Bouzy.Lahaye is a smart winemaker, strategically varying in his use of wood for fermentation, using naturally occurring versus selected yeasts, cork or crown capsules for secondary fermentation, presence or absence of malolactic fermentation, and deftly blending wines. There are 8 cuvées, I think, which sounds like a lot for a guy who owns fewer than 5 hectares of land. There's just not a large supply of any of the wines. He is also ultra-conscientious as a grape farmer. The first paragraph of Peter Liem's profile of Lahaye on describes this:A passionate advocate of natural winegrowing, Benoît Lahaye took over his family’s estate in 1993 and has been bottling wine under his own label since 1996. He became interested in natural viticulture early on, and inspired by Patrick Meyer in Alsace, Lahaye completely stopped using systemic herbicides in 1994. By 1996 he had begun to work organically, in addition to using cover crops in the vineyards and experimenting with biodynamic treatments; the estate was fully converted to organic viticulture in 2003, and certified organic in 2007. Lahaye has noticed a pronounced difference in his wines since the transition to organic farming. “It’s not really a question of being better,” he says, “but my wines attain higher levels of ripeness now, while retaining the same level of acidity.”I first tasted a Lahaye wine on the same day that I first met my good friend Peter - he brought a bottle of the 2002 vintage wine back from France and shared it over dinner in Portland. Since that day I drink the wines at every opportunity. Bottles are not easy to find, but there were always a few places. I used to drink the rosé off the list at Vinegar Hill House when it was something like $55. I could find a bottle here and there at places like Chambers Street and Crush. Peter always told me that a decade from now there are a few Champagne producers who will be widely recognized as superstars, and Lahaye is one of them. buy the wines now, while you can, he said. I am not an expert with Lahaye wines. But here is my take: like many Champagnes, they show better when they are opened well ahead of drinking them. I've never had a mature bottle, so I have no idea how they age. But the young bottles - open them a few hours before you want to drink them, if you can. And if you cannot, consider decanting, although that can change the texture of the wine. Lahaye's wines generally show great intensity of character, as opposed to opulence or overt richness. The best bottles show vivid and detailed aromas and flavors, and provide hours of interest and deliciousness. I find these to be particularly food-friendly Champagnes, too, working well with a good variety of dishes.All of that said, I've never tasted the lineup of wines in one sitting. I've never opened more than one Lahaye bottle at a time - I've never done anything with Lahaye wines other than to enjoy them bottle by bottle. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I was excited, then, when a few friends agreed that it would be good fun to find as many bottles as we could and to drink them all together, over dinner. We did this on a recent night and it happened that the weather turned entirely weird, reaching over 60 degrees on a December day, and poured rain in buckets. There are some evenings when the wines show beautifully. This was not one of them, my friends. The wines were fine, but did not show much of the intrigue and beauty that made us fans in the first place. There were things to appreciate and I very much enjoyed them. But some of the folks at the table who had not previously had a lot of Lahaye wine - those folks perhaps think that the res[...]

Thank You Bill Maxwell

Thu, 21 Nov 2013 01:38:00 +0000

Bill Maxwell, the New Jersey farmer is retiring at the conclusion of his market season this year. I've been buying his vegetables and fruit for about 10 years now and in that time I've come to see his as the finest and most consistent produce that I can buy. And it's not just me - in the peak spring and summer months it's necessary to get to Maxwell's stand before 8:00 AM if you want baby artichokes, asparagus, okra, and other wonderful things that he has in short supply. And let me tell you that at 7:30 AM on a summer Saturday you are jostling over a small bin of fava beans with the owner of Franny's and several other Brooklyn restaurants.Over the years I've developed a little bit of a friendship with Bill. We don't go out for beers or anything. It's the kind of friendship you develop with someone when you do personal business with them for a long time. I look forward to Saturday mornings. We always chat a bit - baseball, the weather at his farm, the state of our lives post-divorce, whatever. His hands are rough like a coral bed and his weathered face is beautiful. His smile is warm and he's nice to children. He's a genuinely good man.A few summers ago I took my young daughters to visit him at his farm in new Jersey. He helped them pick ears of sweet corn in the field, and we shucked and ate them right there. Every time I post photos of vegetables on this blog, from baby artichokes to shell beans to tomatoes, they are things that Bill grew. I can't begrudge him for retiring, but I do wonder how I will replace his food in my family's life.Happy retirement Bill Maxwell! I will miss your wonderful food, and I will miss you!I will miss your carrots.I will miss your pole beans.I will miss your cauliflower.I will miss your limas.I will miss your garlic - I got 20 stalks last week and will figure out how to preserve them.I will miss your bell peppers.I will miss your cucumbers.And lord above, will I miss your tomatoes. I cannot tell you how much.May your new post-retirement life bring you the same contentment that you brought to all of us through your work as a farmer.[...]

Thanksgiving Wines, yet again.

Sun, 17 Nov 2013 22:34:00 +0000

This time of year I always feel like staying out of the internet chatter on what wine to drink with the Thanksgiving meal. But I just looked back and in almost every year that I've written this blog, I do in fact make some Thanksgiving recommendations. I first did this in 2006 and nothing about the way I approach this has changed. Although I got funnier in 2010, I would say.

Wines for Thanksgiving? In sum, keep it refreshing and lively, try to keep the alcohol to a minimum, and as a good friend of mine says, "You don't want your clients to remember you because of your fancy suit." Point being, it's not about flash. Quality speaks for itself and the wine isn't the point of your family meal anyway. But you do want to drink good wine, right?

Here's what I'm bringing this year, because I know that you cannot enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday without this vital information:

Cyril Zangs Sparkling Cider - 6% alcohol, dry, refreshing, made from apples. About $15. Delicious.

2010 Günther Steinmetz Wintricher Geierslay Riesling Sur Lie - 10% alcohol, almost dry, creamy and refreshing, made from grapes, about $23.

Emilio Hidalgo Fino Sherry - 15% alcohol, bone dry, refreshing, about $12 for a 750ml bottle. Okay, this one is not guaranteed to go over with the family, but wow it seems like it would make everything on the table taste better.

2010 Clos Siguier Cahors - 12.5% alcohol, fresh and fruity old vines Malbec that's easy to drink and of high quality. About $13.

2012 Domaine de Sablonnettes Le Bon P'tit Diable - 12.5% alcohol, fresh and fruity Cabernet Franc that's easy to drink and of high quality. About $15.

2011 Château La Grolet Cotes de Bourg - a soil expressive blend of mostly Merlot, a delicious and traditionally-styled Bordeaux wine that will give lots of pleasure at the table. About $14. If the first two red wines are "easier" to drink, this one offers greater soil expression and complexity. Consider decanting, unless it makes your family feel as though you are putting on airs.

There, now you can enjoy your holiday.(image)

Drinking a Few Things from the Cellar

Thu, 14 Nov 2013 04:22:00 +0000

In 2005 I got into wine again, after a long time away. I bought some bottles and drank all of them. In 2006 I continued to buy wine to drink but I also bought some wines with the intention of cellaring them. According to my records I still have 18 of those bottles. I still have over 50 bottles of wine that I purchased in 2007.There are bottles in that group that I hope to hold onto for a good while longer, and there are others that seem like great candidates for drinking over the next year or two. I think it was the VLM who once wrote that the beautiful thing about collecting wine is not necessarily the trophies you can open on a grand night with fellow wine lovers. It's that you get to a point when you can go into your own cellar and open a mature bottle, and you can do so on a Monday night, just because you feel like it. For this to really work, though, I have to still like, or at least be interested in the wines I bought 6, 7, and 8 years ago. Have your tastes changed in the past 7 years? Mine have. But as I look through my cellar I see that there really aren't too many things that I am no longer interested in. That would be a great theme actually - a "bring-a-bottle-you-purchased-years-ago-but-no-longer-care-about" wine dinner.As I look through my remaining purchases from 2006 and 2007, I see that the wines are mostly Loire Valley and Burgundy wines, and that I did better with the Loire selections. Huet, Chidaine, Clos Rougeard, Baudry, Foreau...hard to argue with that. The Burgundy wines are mostly villages and "lesser" 1er cru wines, and I bet they will be delicious. But they are not things I would buy today, for the most part. It's just a matter of price - there are many wines today I would prefer to buy with my  $45 than Voillot villages Volnay or Pommard, for example. That said, I am the proud owner of both wines and look forward to trying them. So, I've started to dig in lately. In each of the past two weeks I've opened a bottle that I purchased a few years ago. Last Monday I made a simple dinner of skirt steak and vegetables and opened the 2005 Terrebrune Bandol. Yes, yes, I know, this sort of Bandol wine can take 20 years before it hits a true window of maturity. Here was my thinking - 2005 was a ripe year and the wine might be more generous than is typical. And before investing another 10 years in this wine (I have more than 1 bottle), why not check in to see how it's progressing? I am a fan of Terrebrune - the wines can be great. I've had excellent examples from the '80s and early '90s. I love the rosé too. When they're good they are intensely powerful and sturdy wines but they're also graceful wines, not heavy. And they faithfully express the animale wildness of Mourvedre grown in this hot southern clime. This bottle was not so great, though. On the first night it was exuberant and pleasing in its ripe, deep, dark, and spicy fruit. But there was not a great deal of complexity and the finish tailed off in a rather drastic way, leaving not much more than an impression of tannins. On the second night the wine is more harmonious, the fruit and the tannins better integrated. But still, the wine did not speak so clearly of Bandol to me. Where is the musk, the leather, the soil? Maybe the wine is closed down, or maybe I'm just not going to be a fan of this sort of wine in the warm vintages.I had much better luck this week. On Monday night the daughters helped me make a bunch of gray sole fillets for dinner. They seasoned some flour, dredged the fillets, kind of wiped their hands before touching everything else on the counter top, and we sauteed the fillets in butter. Ate them with a heap of rice and vegetables.I opened a bottle of Muscadet, one of the great wines from that place - the 2004 Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet le Fief du Breil. I loved this particular wine when it was young and saved a bottle to see what would happen when it turned 10[...]

Sausages and Beaujolais Will Make You Feel Better

Sun, 10 Nov 2013 21:18:00 +0000

You know how when you go to your parent's place out of town because your dad is getting older and doesn't feel so well these days, and you want to help out and so you offer to seal the wood on the deck before the winter sets in? And you get up there where it's a solid 10 degrees colder than it is the city, and it's very quiet? And you walk by the lake and see the gorgeous fall colors? And you light a fire in the fireplace in the evening? And you feel generally happy and at peace?

But you're a city kid so you're not an expert on applying stain or sealant to wood on decks. And so you leave a little extra time and resolve to do it right. But you know how in the country it seems to get darker a little earlier? And so all of the sudden there's not a lot of daylight left and you're rushing? And you pack up, lock the house, and throw everything back in the car before doing the sealing so that when you're done you can just get in the car and drive home?

Well, my advice to you next time you do those things is to make sure that you take your keys with you before you seal the deck, so that you don't have to walk back onto the wood to get back into the house to retrieve your keys. Because then you have to re-seal the deck and that takes a little while, in only the light of dusk, and you feel like a real idiot.

But if you happen to forget your keys then here is one thing you can do:
Make yourself a hearty plate of lentils, real sauerkraut, and a fresh Kielbasa from Jubilat Provisions. You should probably throw a few chunks of smoked pork belly in with the lentils, too. Never mind that it was a long and cold drive home, and your hands still smell like sealant. Lentils, sauerkraut, and really good Kielbasa will make you forget how dopey you were with the deck. You are allowed to feel good again.

And use good mustard. This one is so good, I recently ate a spoonful, just right out of the jar. 

Oh - and drink Beaujolais too. Preferably from a ripe year, hopefully with a few years of bottle age. See? That's not so bad. Maybe next weekend there will be leaves that need raking, or wood to chop, or something.(image)

Burgundy Price Sadness, Champagne as Consolation

Wed, 06 Nov 2013 00:22:00 +0000

I love Burgundy wine and would happily drink both the reds and the whites several times a week for the rest of my days. I do not like, however, paying for Burgundy wine. It's not that I refuse to spend money on wine - I splash out a bit here and there. Over the years, though, I like to think I've become smarter about how I spend my wine dollars. Now, when I spend $25 on a bottle of wine I want to buy something that represents the best wine I can get for that $25. When I spend $50, I want the best wine possible for $50. And it makes me sad to admit to myself that in the price range where I spend most of my time, I no longer think Burgundy represents the best I can get for my money.Wine old timers will talk about the days when you could buy Roumier Bonnes Mares on the shelf for $100, and other sordid tales. I was not buying wine in those days. But even 5 or 6 years ago it was possible in NYC to buy truly top quality Burgundy wine for $75 - wines from great terroir that would improve over time and reveal great detail and nuance, and would be utterly delicious. The top Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru wines were approximately that price. Fourrier 1er Crus from Gevrey, D'Angerville 1er Crus, and plenty of other wines that are truly exceptional. Those wines cost way, way more now. Today my favorite wine store in the world sent out an email advertising 2011 Burgundies and Chevillon 1er Cru Les Cailles costs $145. Les Cailles is a great vineyard and Chevillon is a wonderful producer - there is no question in my mind that this will be excellent wine. If money were no object, I would buy some.For most of us, money is a limiting factor. There is no conceivable situation in which I could imagine buying 2011 Chevillon Les Cailles for $145, and this has nothing to do with the quality of that wine. It has everything to do with the other wines I could buy for that same money, if I were to spend that money on a bottle of wine. Some of you will now say "But if you want Chevillon you can still buy 2011 Chevillon 1er Cru Bousselots or Pruliers for $115." Same problem - there are other things I would buy for that same money, were I to spend that money on a bottle of wine. The villages wine, the 2011 Chevillon Nuits St. Georges Vieilles Vignes costs $75. $75!All European wine has gone up in price in the past 5 or 6 years. The rate of increase in Burgundy seems to be more accelerated than most, however, and it means that I drink way less Burgundy wine, which makes me feel sad. That said, there are still places to spend that $75, should you spend that kind of money on a bottle of wine (and the holidays are coming up people), and to feel confident that you are getting the best wine for your money. For me, one of the very best places to spend up to $75 on a bottle of wine right now (NYC market prices) is Champagne. I know, that sounds weird - Champagne as a value. I don't mean it that way, exactly. I mean to say that I think that if you are spending $75 in a NYC wine store right now, Champagne in general is the place where you can get the finest wine, objectively speaking.Here are a few of the producers whose wines can be purchased at or below that price point, and that I believe represent truly exceptional quality:Roederer - yup, I'm leading with a big house. The vintage Blanc de Blancs is for me one of the reference standards for Chardonnay in the Côte des Blancs. The wine is delicious young but has the acidity and structure to age well. And this is why I'd rather spend my $75 here than on Chevillon VV - Roederer's vintage Blanc de Blancs is in the upper echelon of wines made of Chardonnay from that place. Chevillon VV is not.  Bereche - The whole lineup is of very high quality, and vintage wines made entirely of Meunier or from Chardonnay that are entirely expressive of place can be had for under $75. The rose in the ph[...]

En Rama Sherry

Tue, 29 Oct 2013 02:51:00 +0000

A few years ago Equipo Navazos Sherries began to get a lot of attention, and this opened the floodgates here in the US - a new generation of wine lovers became interested in tasting and drinking Sherry. There are many special things about the wines bottled under the Equipo Navazos label. One of them is that the wines are bottled with minimal filtration.Young whippersnapper wine connoisseurs such as myself may take this unfiltered thing for granted. Most, if not all of the wine I buy from Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and elsewhere is either unfiltered or minimally filtered. But with Sherry, this is typically not the case. A little over two years ago I wrote something about this that was fun (for me, anyway) to go back and re-read. At that point there were almost no unfiltered Sherries to buy here in NYS. Equipo Navazos, and Pastrana - a Manzanilla Pasada by Bodegas Hidalgo (La Gitana). Now, however, it seems as though everyone makes an unfiltered wine. I thought it would be good to revisit this subject, to take a look at the current NYC market for these wines. First, a couple of basics:Fino style Sherry (including Fino, Manzanilla, and wines from El Puerto de Santa Maria) is aged in barrel under a layer of living yeast, called flor. To bottle the wine without filtration would mean bottling bits of flor, perhaps still living, and various other solid matter. Most producers opt instead to bottle their wines after a heavy filtration. This allows the wines to be more stable during their overseas journey and the subsequent movement to warehouse and eventually to retail shelves or restaurant refrigerators. Stabilizing though it may be, this heavy filtration strips the wine of solid particles that contribute significant color, aroma, and flavor - the resulting wines are typically pale and without the complex aroma and depth of flavor that makes Sherry great. Consider the following quote from page 72 of Peter Liem's book Sherry, Manzanilla, & Montilla: a Guide to the Traditional Wines of Andalucia:What is insidious about this, in our opinion, is that we as consumers are now trained to believe that the pale color of these wines in bottle is natural. In fact, fino and manzanilla are not naturally pale in color, nor are they particularly light in body, except perhaps in relation to other types of sherry. By definition, they are aged wines, having spent many years in cask - even the simplest of these is aged in barrel for at least two years, and the best versions for much longer. When sampling a fino or manzanilla from cask, its color is pronounced, is aromas are pungent, and its presence on the palate is much richer than one might anticipate. All of this is lost, or at least significantly modified, by excessive filtration. When we fell for dry Sherry all over again, we fell for wines that had not been filtered in this way. Okay, Equipo Navazos filters wines before bottling, but lightly, "just to remove the flies," they like to say. But it is this lightly filtered style of wine that was our gateway drug. And as the market for fine Sherry continues to grow, more producers are releasing an en Rama, or unfiltered version of their brand. Here are those that I can think of off the top of my head:Tio Pepe now releases Tio Pepe en Rama (and also the Palmas, which are lightly filtered).Gutierrez Colosía bottled an en Rama version called Amerigo of their lovely Fino el Cano.Lustau released an en Rama Fino, a Manzanilla, and a wine from El Puerto. Bodegas Hidalgo now releases an en Rama version of La Gitana. Valdespino releases an en Rama version of their Deliciosa Manzanilla. Barbadillo releases four en Rama versions of their Solear Manzanilla, one for each of the seasons (!!). And soon Fernando de Castilla will release an en Rama Fino.I'm sure there are others and [...]

Sherry Fest 2013

Wed, 09 Oct 2013 22:25:00 +0000

The second annual Sherryfest just wrapped up in New York City. Peter Liem and Rosemary Gray did an excellent job once again, raising funds, organizing many people and events, and creating the largest Sherry tasting in the United States.This year Peter and Rosemary hosted the Grand Tasting at the Astor Center. The space was perfect - brightly lit and cheerful, roomy, not too noisy, but humming. This is such a special event, and here's why: most large tastings are put on by a particular importer/distributor. If you attend that tasting you do so to taste that particular book of wines. Sherryfest celebrates Sherry, not any particular importer, and brings together over 25 Sherry producers (and there really aren't many more than that) and 160 wines. This is a unique opportunity to learn about one of the world's greatest wines.Jan Petterson of Fernando de Castilla was there, showing and discussing his wines. He is a wealth of knowledge and any time listening to him is time well spent. He brought along a new wine this year, the first ever bottling of Fernando de Castilla Fino en Rama - delicious. En rama translates literally as "on the lees," and it means bottled without filtration. This is a popular trend now and many producers are offering an en rama version of their Fino or Manzanilla.Lorenzo García-Iglesias was there representing his superb lineup of Bodegas Tradición wines. Such a treat to be able to taste these great wines next to one another.Antonio Flores, the master blender behind Gonzáles Byass, was there. He is such a lovely man, and so good at explaining the wines. Tío Pepe is the world's highest selling Fino, if I am not mistaken, and the soleras that create the wine are massive, the job of tending them is enormous.Flores offers an en Rama version of Tío Pepe every year, and this one was delightful. Most of it goes to the British market, sadly. It was also an incredible treat to taste the four Palmas, the series of wines meant to illustrate to progress of Fino towards Amontillado. This year Flores showed the second batch of these wines, and they completely and entirely lived up to the hype. The wines are incredibly fine and wonderfully expressive.I tasted the entire lineup of Barbadillo wines (minus the Reliquias, those elusive treasures) with importer Julio Baguer and his daughter. These are such excellent wines, and they are so accessibly priced. I remembered at this tasting that Solear is a lovely wine, very complex and expressive, entirely delicious. A wine like this, produced on a large scale, not the top wine of the house - a wine like this can get lost in the Sherry shuffle. But Solear is really a good wine. And that's just the beginning for Barbadillo.  I enjoyed speaking with these and other producers I am familiar with, revisiting their wines. Sherryfest also offers the chance to discover new wines.I had never before heard of or tasted the wines of Delgado Zuleta, for example. Apparently this is the oldest Sherry firm, founded in 1744! I enjoyed the whole lineup of wines, particularly the lovely Manzanilla called Barbiana. The wines are an average of 6 years old and show a deep complexity of flor character, and lovely balance and freshness. One taste at one large tasting is not sufficient to judge a wine, but based on my experience at Sherryfest, I will eagerly try a bottle of this wine when it appears on retail shelves.Importer Robert Jordan said that it should retail for about $22 for a 750ml, a friendly price point for a wine of this caliber.This year Peter and Rosemary thought it would be fun to bring Sherry cocktails to Sherryfest. They were correct. Four talented bartenders offered a Sherry cocktail of their choosing. I was expecting to enjoy these drinks, and still I was surprised at how good t[...]

Slope Farms Addendum - Dinner

Tue, 01 Oct 2013 01:48:00 +0000

When I arrived home from my vacation, a trip that concluded with a visit to Slope Farms, I was hungry. It wasn't hard to decide what to eat for dinner.I bought a Slope Farms veal sirloin steak.Cooked some russet potatoes with onion, tomato, and seasoned with smoked pimentón. Bok choy in the wok with garlic, soy, and chinkiang vinegar.  Seasoned with salt and pepper, steak goes into a very hot pan. Steak rests. Steak is sliced.Dinner.  [...]

Slope Farms Beef, Catskills NY - a Visit with Ken Jaffe.

Sun, 29 Sep 2013 18:11:00 +0000

This is the longest post ever to appear on this blog, by far, but I wanted to share all that I learned at Slope Farms. I think it's very important to engage with this - thinking about where our food comes from. ----- I don't remember exactly when I began buying Slope Farms beef, but it's been over five years now. I tried several varieties sold at the Coop and found Slope Farms to be the most delicious.The label made me feel good too - no hormones, antibiotics, grass-fed, and never confined to feedlots. Then I learned from the meat buyer at the Coop that Slope Farms is run by Ken Jaffe, a guy who was a beloved Park Slope family doctor for 25 years. He retired from his practice and moved to the Catskills to raise beef cattle. I heard that you can't buy cuts of meat from Slope Farms - you must buy the cow. That seems like a very decent way to do business. I mean, what happens to all of the shanks if you let people buy only tenderloin? And so, over the years I kept eating this beef and feeding it to my children and it really is so much better than any other beef I know of. One day it would be interesting to visit this Slope Farms, I thought. How is this guy Ken Jaffe doing this? Why is he doing this? A few weeks ago, as summer was still vibrant but beginning to wane, I found myself in the Catskills for a few days. I emailed Ken and he welcomed me to come visit the farm. I drove west from near the Hudson River on Route 28, a gorgeous drive if ever there was one.Eventually I found the place to turnoff, a road that used to be called the Catskills Turnpike. There was no traffic on the Turnpike on this summer afternoon.  I stopped at the side of the road to admire the view. I hadn't been in a place that looked like this in a long, long time.  I arrived at Ken and his wife Linda's house and Ken told me to put on a pair of the big rubber boots that sat in the garage. We would do a lot of walking on wet ground, he said. We began by going out behind his house, past his little tomato garden, and heading toward the pastures. I asked him about how it happened that he became a beef farmer.Ken grew up in Brooklyn, in Fort Greene. He left NYC for college and went to SUNY Binghamton for college and then to SUNY Buffalo for Medical School - that's how he came to feel a connection with upstate NY. He returned to Brooklyn with his wife Linda and worked as an old fashioned family doctor for 25 years. Ken was the doctor, Linda ran the business. He was not part of a larger medical group - he had no other partners. He saw kids, old people, everyone. But eventually the necessities of the modern medical business establishment made it unfeasible for Ken and Linda to continue their business, and so they stopped. Their kids were grown. They had been visiting the Catskills for years, and decided to move there.Okay, I said. But why beef farming? We looked out at the hills of pasture from behind Ken and Linda's house. "I went to Columbia school of public health in 2002," he said, "and began thinking about the relationship between human health and how we raise livestock, and about environmental implications and health concerns regarding the beef industry." Ken went on to tell me that the Catskills region used to be covered with dairy farms, now largely defunct. "NY State has abandoned factories, just like Detroit," he said. "Ours are empty plots of land that once were used for dairy farming. You can think of the beautiful unused open pastures of upstate as similar to the empty factories of Cleveland or Detroit." Ken Jaffe doesn't strike me as a crusader. He wasn't preaching anything and didn't seem interested in converting me to any particular vein of thought. What I now realize is that I think he [...]

Late Summer Lunch - Shell Beans

Mon, 16 Sep 2013 12:59:00 +0000


Tipping and Restaurant Service: Thoughts on the Pete Wells' Article in the NY Times, and Some Stories

Wed, 11 Sep 2013 00:23:00 +0000

A week ago the NY Times published dining critic Pete Wells' thought provoking piece on tipping in restaurants. In the article Wells argues that our current system of tipping does not have an impact on the quality of service we receive and that we should consider changing the way servers are compensated. He points out additional factors that he suggests might lead restaurants to do away with the current system, including lawsuits and cultural issues within restaurants. This is not a long article and worth reading, if you haven't already. Tipping is one of those things that everyone has an opinion on. At of the time of this writing, the Times piece has generated 474 comments. I want to share some of my thoughts after reading the article.The economics behind the tipping question are complicated and I do not fully understand them, especially with regard to the equity questions raised in sharing tips with cooks, bartenders, and other staff. But I do think that it is worth asking this: why are we using the tipping system we use? Is our goal to ensure that servers are fairly compensated? Is our goal to provide servers with an incentive to give high quality service? Is our goal to allow customers to express their appreciation for services rendered? Is it a combination of the above?If the goal is purely about compensation of servers, then the system does not make sense. I am "served" by many people during the week, and most of them are compensated by their employers, not by me. The man at the hardware store helped me the other day to figure out how I should go about building some shelving for a closet. I paid for the lumber. His employer paid him. I felt good about the service I received and so I will return to that store the next time I need hardware.Why do we accept the notion that each of us must help to compensate a server at a restaurant, or the driver of a taxi, but not the employee at the hardware store or behind the desk at a medical office? If we are trying to ensure that servers are fairly compensated, then let's allow the labor market to function without the tipping intervention. But compensation isn't the goal, purely. It's also about restaurants lowering labor costs, and it's completely rational for them to try to do so using any legal means.  One of Wells' main points is that the system fails as a way to create the incentive for servers to provide high quality service, and he gives several good reasons for this. The problem is, a system in which tipping is not allowed or not customary also does nothing to create the incentive for good service. And this is the thing that I wish we would talk about more when we talk about the relationship between service quality and tipping.The way to create the incentive for servers to provide high quality service is for restaurants to evaluate servers based on their performance. A good service manager ensures that servers are properly trained and faithfully implement the restaurant's hospitality policies. A server that repeatedly fails to do so would not remain on staff. A service manager would be replaced if his or her servers too often fail to provide a high quality service standard.In a tipping-as-compensation system, as most of our restaurants currently use, management should evaluate servers performance using qualitative data, not simply by looking at tips as a percentage of sales. Tip percentage is often not a reliable indicator of the quality of service the customer feels they have received. In a system that fully compensates servers via salary, as in most of Europe and now at some US restaurants, managers cannot rely on tip percentage as a means of evaluating servers [...]

Rhode Island Wine Weekend, Part III

Wed, 28 Aug 2013 01:02:00 +0000

We drank several exceptional bottles of Rioja on Saturday night. Each of these wines was a special thing, something that could be the focus of a special dinner. I've had a little experience drinking mature wines by López de Heredia, and maybe a bottle or two by La Rioja Alta. But that's about it. So drinking these wines was a wonderful way for me to get a sense of some of the other great producers in the region.These wines also rekindled my thoughts about the objective an subjective in wine. The wine I liked the most was not, objectively speaking, the best wine. This is something that can be hard to wrap your head around as it's happening. For me, it can still be tempting to conflate favorite and best.We began by drinking two bottles by Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, a famous Rioja producer whose wines I had never before tasted. You see this producer referred to as CVNE, which everyone seems to then pronounce as if it were spelled CUNE. The 1970 CVNE Viña Imperial Gran Riserva is the first Rioja we poured and I was blown away by the nose. To me the nose was the epitome of Rioja. I could tell you that it smelled of leather and blood, and it did. But that could describe Syrah or wines from other places. There was just something particular about the sheerness of the aromas, the way they came together as a whole, that for me was a classic expression of Rioja. The wine was not as complete on the palate, but it was delicious and I loved it.The 1978 CVNE Imperial Riserva was thought by everyone to be the better wine, and as the night wore on, revisiting them both, I do not disagree. Also lovely on the nose, but with a more floral aspect, and more complete on the palate, the wine was great. It made me think of Burgundy, in a way, and I got hung up on this after the essence of Rioja that was the Viña Real. It's perfectly fine that I preferred Viña Real, but that doesn't mean it was the better wine. We then drank 1981 López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Gran Riserva. I've had this wine several times and this was the finest bottle yet. Beautifully perfumed, incredible balance and detail, a truly spectacular bottle of wine. This wine is objectively better than the 1970 Viña Real, and I absolutely loved it. But I preferred the former on this night. By this time I understood what was going on - the experience I had with the clarity of the terroir as expressed in the Viña Real simply made a bigger impression on me than the great things about the other wines.We finished with two very special bottles, 1987 and 1964 Marqués de Murrieta Castillo de Ygay. Both were excellent. The 1987 was noticeably young, especially after drinking the other more mature wines. The 1964, however, that was a memorable bottle of wine. Perfect harmony and balance, everything so well integrated, a lushness to the composition but the feeling was nimble and bright. Fantastic wine, maybe the best of them all.And yet, I preferred the 1970 Viña Real! You know by now that I am not trying to say it was better, because objectively speaking it might have been the least of the five wines. But on that night it spoke to me in a special way. That's worth something too, and I am happy to be learning how to appreciate both the subjective and objective.[...]

Rhode Island Wine Weekend, Part II

Thu, 22 Aug 2013 04:03:00 +0000

We drank Bordeaux on the first night, and it was a first growth kind of evening. This is because the guys we were hanging out with have been collecting wine for a long while, and they are generous people who derive pleasure from sharing cellar gems with friends.The lineup:1994 Château Laville Haut-Brion. 1966 Château Haut-Brion.1970 Château Haut-Brion.1975 Château Mouton Rothschild.1980 Château Margaux.Are you kidding me? Fugedaboudit.I have so little experience with wines like these - with every sniff and sip I am experiencing new thoughts. And on this night, we also drank a great California wine. A bit younger than the Bordeaux wines, but a great wine nonetheless. The 1991 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. If California used such a system, this surely would be a first growth wine. We drank it last, and it was fascinating to compare it with the other wines.First, there was this utterly stunning white wine. White Bordeaux is not something that I come across very often. This is as good as White Bordeaux gets, according to the Bordeaux cognoscenti. I've had Laville Haut-Brion one time before, the 1993 vintage, and it thrilled me. This one, the 1994, equally so. It really takes a while to open up and get going though. We saved a third of the bottle and 2 hours or so later on went back to it, and the wine was so much more energetic, pungent in its aromas, and vibrant on the palate. The particular combination of smells and tastes are unfamiliar to me - things like honeycomb and orange oil and lemon sherbert, all atop a subtle backbone of stone. Semillon is a strange grape. And this expression of Sauvignon Blanc, this is not something that you'll find elsewhere. The wine was fantastic, and a rare and true joy to drink.We drank 1980 Château Margaux. It was ridiculously good. One of our party was absolutely smitten with this wine, and he smiled and said to everyone who walked by, including waitstaff and other random patrons of the restaurant, "Hey - want to taste the best wine in the world?" It was sweet, because when they inevitably said "well, that does indeed sound good," he would pour them a taste.This wine was 33 years old, give or take, and it was fresh as a daisy. The fruit is still vibrant and sweet. The wine was knit together perfectly, with a rich bouquet of fruit and flowers, and although it felt exuberant, it was also entirely focused and perfectly harmonious in its balance.We drank the 1970 Château Haut-Brion. The 1966 was flawed. Not corked, but green and weird and entirely unappealing. But let's focus on the good news though, shall we? The 1970 was as great a Bordeaux wine as any I've ever tasted (not that that's saying all that much). There was less fruit, which makes sense - the wine is 11 years older. But somehow the wine felt more complete to me, even more perfect, if possible. The nose was just a grand thing, pointless to try and describe it. Full of energy, great depth and complexity, and a minerality that was so intense it practically shimmered. I know why our pal at the table was calling the Margaux "the best wine in the world." And I cannot say that one was better than the other because I do not possess the experience necessary to make such a statement. But I did agree with one friend at the table who said "I might have an affair with the Margaux, but I would marry the Haut-Brion."1975 Château Mouton Rothschild was a very fine wine, but it suffered for its company. Next to phenomenal wines like the Margaux and Haut-Brion, to me it simply was outclassed. Not that Mouton wasn't good, it's just that those other two were ridicu[...]

Rhode Island Wine Weekend, Part I

Tue, 20 Aug 2013 02:36:00 +0000

You know how you have those weekends where you go out of town to a friend's house where a bunch of serious wine lovers gather over a few dinners to open and share truly great old wines?Yeah, me neither. But this past weekend was exactly that for me. I spent time with old friends, met some excellent new friends, and drank some incredible things. On Sunday, on the way home in the car, I drowsily told Peter that there were three major things I learned about wine during the weekend. And so, dear reader, I will now present part 1 of what I think likely will become a syndicated sensation known as Rhode Island Wine Weekend...Big House Champagne and Grower Champagne are very Different from one Anther, and Big House Champagne is Good Too. We arrived after a long and traffic-filled drive, washed up, and joined forces with our friends at the Hourglass Brasserie in Bristol. We were visiting a friend from our Burgundy Wine Club. He and several of his wine pals set up a 5-course dinner at Hourglass so that we could enjoy good food and wine together.These gentlemen are an organized bunch. The very first thing we drank was a bottle of recently released NV Pol Roger Brut Réserve Champagne. Smelling and drinking this wine, I had a mini-epiphany about Champagne. It's not so easy to explain why this felt like a deep thought, but it did: big house Champagne and grower Champagne are very different from one another, and big house Champagne is good too. They are trying to do different things, and both types of wine have value. Sure, I prefer one style over the other, in general, but there are great wines made in each style.Pol Roger is a grand old Champagne house with a rich history, and a cuvée named after a British former head of state. I do not have a lot of experience with the wines - I've had maybe 4 or 5 bottles before this evening. But I drank this wine and I felt as though I finally understood something about the nature of big house Champagne. The wine is not trying to showcase purity of fruit, as do the wines of Cédric Bouchard, for example. The wines are not trying for a uniqueness in expression of character or terroir. When well made, a big house wine like Pol Roger's NV Brut achieves a striking balance, a focused harmony, a fine-ness of construction. The point of the wine is how well made it is, how fine it is, and that it is made in the Pol Roger house style. Pol Roger NV Brut did not thrill me (and that is a subjective comment), but I understood immediately that this is a well made wine. It was entirely focused and fine in its texture and flow throughout the palate, well balanced, and chalky and long on the finish. The wine had no deficits, it was not lacking in anything, and it was pleasing. And in this way it is successful. It reminded me of the Henriot Blanc de Blancs I drank in San Francisco a few months ago at Hog Island Oyster Company. A delicious, focused, and classic Blanc de Blancs Champagne. It did not thrill me the way certain other Blanc de Blancs wines thrill me, but its quality was unmistakable. It is classic, and speaks the language of Champage in its focus, balance, finesse, and chalky minerality. If I were at a wine store or restaurant and faced with a broad selection of non-vintage Champagnes, I would not choose Pol Roger's over Bereche's or Chartogne-Taillet's. But that is because I prefer those other wines, not because Pol Roger's is of lesser quality. This is the thing that became crystal clear for me this weekend at Hourglass. Pol Roger is also a very high quality wine. We've been conditioned in the past decade to thin[...]

A Night in Detroit - Slows BBQ and The Sugar House Bar

Mon, 12 Aug 2013 03:15:00 +0000

I recently spent a day in Detroit. It was a work trip. But two old college friends live in the area and so after work there was an evening of Detroit fun. And we had a great evening, which I will tell you about in a moment. But first, you may have heard something about Detroit in the news recently, something about bankruptcy. It's true, the city filed for bankruptcy. The thing is, and I can say this with only a little bit of familiarity with the city, Detroit has been a mess for at least 15 years now, and probably longer.Office buildings in the downtown area sit abandoned. Entire office buildings. Neighborhoods are depleted of people, home after home burned out or boarded up, huge weeds and other greenery rising up and reclaiming the space. The new urban jungle. Maybe 600,000 people live in Detroit now, down from 2 million at peak, maybe 50 years ago. There are almost no new jobs. There is no smart way for the city to provide basic services, like picking up garbage, when perhaps only ten families live in a 5 square block radius.Detroiters like to tell you that their city is so big that San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan combined would fit within its borders. And yet many of its residents do not own a sea-worthy automobile. But there are new sports stadiums, casinos, and a convention center. I hear about how the South Bronx is the poorest urban congressional district in the US, but it cannot be - it must be Detroit (or New Orleans?). Driving though this city made me feel like I was in a forgotten place, a place that was devastated and then never rebuilt. There is a set of large housing project buildings you see when you arrive from the airport on the main highway, all completely abandoned. Graffiti on top of one reads, in huge white block letters, "Zombie Land."And yet the people I met at work were people who believe in their city and are working to help rebuild. And my friend from college who now lives in Detroit with his wife and two sons - he loves it. He says that he has learned to appreciate the beauty of the barren cityscape, the bones of the old buildings. He showed me the new park/performance space in the city center, office buildings that are now occupied after sitting vacant for 20 years, and new hotels, cafes, and restaurants. He told me that there are people investing in Detroit, and that there are good things happening, that this place is full of potential. After 24 hours and a bit of a tour, I can feel it in my gut - I agree with my friend. It is an oddly beautiful place. And there is plenty of room for intrepid and creative people to make their dream a reality.  Detroit is urban America at rock bottom, and so there is no where to go but up.Slows Bar BQ is part of the upswing. We went for dinner on a Thursday night and there was a 90 minute wait for a table. In NYC that would be a big turn off, but here in Detroit we were happy to hang out at the bar and enjoy a few pints of locally brewed pilsner. In NYC, why wait for food - there are 6 gajillion places with interesting food here. In Detroit it felt great to be in this airy and beautiful space bustling with people of all ages and types, woodsmoke in the air, good music and good vibes too. And then the food came, and it was genuinely excellent. Slows is serious BBQ, without question. We ate baby back ribs, tasty sides, and my friend had a pit smoked ham sandwich that was ridiculous. My favorite part of our dinner was when our community table neighbors saw me staring longingly at their St. Louis style rack of ribs, and insisted on sharing with[...]

Wine Glasses and Champagne

Fri, 02 Aug 2013 20:07:00 +0000

Warning: I am about to write about an expensive wine glass, and I will suggest to you that it is the best of its type, and worth the money. And furthermore, that if you pay good money for good wine, you should buy this glass if you have not already.Why the warning? A lot of folks think that wine glasses don't matter, and that appreciating good glasses is snobbery or snake medicine. These people are wrong - there's no other way to say it. It's not entirely their fault, though. There is an unfortunate snobby culture that has been part of the modern history of wine appreciation and people might mistake the idea that some glasses are better than others with the false notion that you must use a certain glass to drink wine correctly. This is obviously not true. We have all had memorable experiences drinking wine out of bad wine glasses. It is not necessary to have the best glasses in order to enjoy a wine.That said, some glasses really are better than others. A good Burgundy glass, for example, allows a good Burgundy wine to show more of what makes it a good Burgundy wine. If you drink a wine out of different glasses, the wine will show best in one of those glasses - there is a difference. And I'm not suggesting this in a snobby way - there is no "right" way to drink wine, and you should do whatever makes you happy. But there is something to this, this glassware thing. If you are someone who will spend $75 on a bottle of Champagne, for example, you might consider experimenting with different glasses. You might find that the wines you care about actually show better, given certain glasses.There are few instances in which I feel that I know which glasses are best. Here is one instance: Champagne shows best out of Riedel Sommelier Series Vintage Champagne glasses. In the above photo the Riedel Champagne glass is on the left. It is a flute, basically, and this is not the fashionable way to drink Champagne these days. People like to drink Champagne from wider bottomed glasses like the Zalto (the middle glass in the above photo), or even from a Burgundy bowl. To me, the flute is the riskiest way to drink Champagne. Bad flutes (which to me are most flutes) restrict the aromas and flavors. But this is no ordinary flute. It is wider everywhere, and widens even more above the glass's halfway point. I cannot say that I understand the science here, but I appreciate the results.This is not my discovery, by the way, Peter Liem first told me about this. The photo above was taken at his house in December as we drank 2002 René Geoffroy Cuveé Volupté out of three different glasses. I went in with an open mind and there was no mistaking it. The aromas were more focused in the Riedel glass and yet still expansive and complex, and it just moved onto the palate better, feeling more balanced. I had tried drinking Champagne out of this glass before, but after this experiment I literally refused to open a bottle until I bought a set of these glasses for myself. This, my friends, is an expensive proposition - they are about $75 a stem. But I own some decent Champagne, and the value this glass adds to the experience of drinking Champagne makes the glass worth more than its dollar value.The first Champagne I drank from my new glasses was the 2008 Marie-Noëlle Ledru Rosé de Saignée. It's not a wine that emphasizes fruit, instead feeling very mineral and earthy. In the Riedel glass the wine's subtle fruit flavors mingled with the more intense minerality, and the wine showed perfect balance. Since then I've used th[...]

An Early-Summer Lunch

Mon, 29 Jul 2013 15:40:00 +0000


Mid-Summer Laundry List

Tue, 23 Jul 2013 02:48:00 +0000

I've been meaning to write more, I really have. It's not as though there's been a shortage of interesting food and wine to discuss - it's been an embarrassment of riches. But I am trying to write when I have a story to tell, not simply to blabber on when I eat or drink something interesting. That said, the other day I was in Washington DC and had dinner with my pal Keith Levenberg, and he gently chastised me for not writing so much. He said that I shouldn't worry about writing the occasional "here is what I ate or drank" post.I still disagree - I want to write when I have a story to tell. But sometimes one needs to get the proverbial juices flowing, and a laundry list post is a fun (for the writer, anyway) way to do that. So, patient reader, here is a mid-summer laundry list for you. Here are some things that I've been doing:It's been over two years now, but I finally got my grill up and running again. Wow, I love to grill. With hardwood charcoal. The slow way, but the dee-licious and lighter-fluid-free way.My pizza dough is beginning to be more consistent now too. It turns out that the small details are crucial - punching down, but not kneading the dough after it rises, for example.I spent some time (and way too much money) with my daughters planting on our deck. For a while, things really looked great. Then it rained everyday for over a week. Then the heatwave came. Plants that like super hot weather are doing okay, like the poppies above. Many other things have simply wilted. Next year I will choose plants more wisely - things that like intense sun and heat. Because NYC in the summer is now essentially the same as Dubai. But there is no climate change, people! There's been a lot of great wine.Some of it fabulous and now very expensive wine from iconic vineyards, wines that achieved great heights. Some of it more humble in terroir and aspiration, but capable of giving a different and also very valuable type of pleasure.I drank a few wines that are beloved by many wine folk, but that are completely new to me. This one was utterly compelling.I drank wine by producers I know and love, but wine that is new to me. This one is intensely sweet - a style that is hard for me to appreciate. But the quality here is simply impossible to miss and the wine was delicious and entirely expressive of place, even as a dessert wine. This is not an easy trick.I am lucky to have generous friends who take pleasure in sharing their treasures.And I try to do the same. This was my last bottle, and let me tell you - with 3 years of bottle age this wine is a finely tuned symphony of Manzanilla greatness. It's been a great summer and summer is only a month old. The outlook for the net two months is quite positive. More soon.[...]

Heat Damage - a Brief Addendum

Sun, 14 Jul 2013 01:31:00 +0000

A friend who is visiting her family in Italy sent an email to me yesterday:
"Hey, look what I found in my grandpa's closet... kept for 40-50 years there like this. Standing, no temperature control, forget about humidity... What a pity!"

Yup, those wines are from the 1950's and 60's. I wonder if anything in there could be drinkable. The corks have to be dry and shriveled. The wines must be oxidized, right? Who knows though...(image)

Heat Damage

Thu, 11 Jul 2013 02:36:00 +0000

Summer is in full swing here in NYC and we are having a hot one. For the past two weeks it's been in the high 80's to the upper 90's and quite humid. I enjoy this weather, actually. Not for all year round, but for a few high summer weeks I think it's nice. I'm not a fan of air conditioning - much prefer to open windows and use fans to keep air circulating. The kids are used to it, I'm fine with it, everyone is okay.Except, maybe not everyone.This is my wine fridge. I have another, larger one too. When I bought the smaller one I did not have enough wine to fill it. But as they say, "if you build it they will come." Now both fridges are jammed to the gills. Funny thing is I feel like my wine collection is woefully imbalanced and that I could double it and only begin to be well represented in the things I care about. It's pretty efficient though - there is very little space devoted to wines that are no longer important to me.And still, I suffer from an ailment that afflicts many wine lovers. It is commonly known as wine-under-the-bed syndrome. In some areas of the United States it manifests itself as wine-in-the-closet syndrome. The ill effects of this disease are typically felt in the hottest months, and last week I had a major flare-up.  I should tell you first that I try to contain this problem to the best of my ability. The wines under the bed are almost exclusively meant for near-term drinking. There are, however, some wines that really should be in a temperature controlled environment. I say this because my plan is to age them and drink them years from now, when they mature. Exposure to prolonged heat above 70 degrees is bad for wine. It compromises the sensory experience one can expect from that wine over time. In other words, it is highly likely that a heat-exposed wine will not smell or taste as good as an identical wine that is properly cellared. Here is an interesting piece of writing on this topic, for those of you who want to get academic with it. The other evening I was rummaging through one of the boxes under the bed and I noticed that a bottle of Riesling I bought with the intention of cellaring had literally blown its top. The top portion of the capsule had been cleanly severed by the cork, which now protrudes from the bottle. It was a separate piece of capsule but the cork pushed it off. This poor wine is the 2011 Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Spätlese. I bought two bottles in the late spring after my umpteenth experience swooning over a mature Riesling and lamenting that I own almost none. Maybe not the most promising vintage for aging, with its plumpness and relatively low acidity, but I drank the basic 2011 Schloss Lieser and it was great, and I know the producer to be top notch. Why not give this well-priced Spätlese a try?Why these particular bottles showed the effects of the heat and others did not is a mystery to me. I found that both bottles of Schloss Lieser Spätlese were obviously damaged. The one in the photo is the result of excess pressure generated inside the bottle by the heat, I'm guessing. The other one had sticky seepage coming from under the capsule (but I drank it and the wine was delicious). The same producer's 2011 Kabinett - no signs of damage. The bottles of Weiser-Künstler Spätlese and Kabinett in the very same wine problems that I can detect.So, I looked through the rest of the under-the-bed boxes and found[...]