Thursday, December 30, 2004

Park City Utah -- Postscript

As I was on vacation (and really enjoying the break after a busy Christmas season), I did not take extensive notes, but here are my observations on the trip:

  • Skis -- The Fischer SC's were great as were the Salomon Crossmax 10's. The Dynastar Intuitiv 74's would have been great the last two days during the blizzards, but who knew we would get 2 feet of powder in 2 days. (Of course, we got 7 feet in 7 days last year!) The 70 mph winds on Friday sent me back to the condo but I was ready for a rest. I think skin freezes in a matter of minutes at 20 degrees with 70 mph winds, but I am not a wind-chill scientist. This year I did not burden myself with second guessing my ski selection. Anyway, the Fischer SC's rock, period!
  • Wine -- Well, as I anticipated, the wine selection in Park City (and maybe Utah) was limited, so I am glad I brought the Sake. (Is premium Sake available in Utah? I never saw it.) My sister from Cambridge loved it and declared that Sake should be served more often. Of course, I agreed! The Chambers Tokay never made it to Utah due to an unfortunate accident in the front hall. The tile floor will be shiny forever, but it will take awhile to get used to the sticky residue when we welcome guests. I also brought 2 bottles of the '98 Wightman Cab as I correctly anticipated that the wine "stores" in Park City would be closed Christmas Day and the following Sunday. Sometimes, I am brilliant!
  • Wine Stores -- I only saw one, which was actually a "liquor" store. Wine and "strong" beer is not sold in supermarkets. I do not know the regulations of liquor retail in Utah, but I got a hint that maybe Ohio is not as backward as I had assumed. I am guessing that the 'liquor" store was owned (or maybe franchised) by the state and that the friendly staff didn't know wine. "I haven't tried that one. Is it dry? If it is, I wouldn't like it." This, from the "manager". Further, from a wine bar owner, the bars pay retail for spirits and the selection is limited. If my observations here are wrong, let me know.
  • Bacchus Wine Bar -- If you go, say hello to Meshelle and Tony. He is from Cincinnati originally, and she is from this world. This is Park City's only wine bar, on the right side of the street uphill of the Post Office, downstairs in a basement. Great selection with more than 100 wines by the glass and several "flights" and Meshelle's wine knowledge is vast. If you wish, you can sample the 2001 Opus One by the glass for about $50! Opens at 3pm, closes at 1am. $10 and you are a member for a year. ( I won't even begin to go into Utah's arcane liquor regulations!) Mention my name and you can go as my guest. I now have four clubs and this one is by far the easiest on the budget. But my brother-in-law's club across the street, "The No-Name-Bar" really rocks apres-ski and pre-dinner and is a must stop. Just don't order wine or you will be run out! The local Wasatch micro-brew drafts are great, on and off the slopes. I really liked the Polygamy Porter, not just for the name. "Why have just one?!"
  • 350 Main Street -- A great restaurant with a good wine list. About $30 per entree and definitely worth visiting due to the ambience and quality of food. I ordered a Pietra Santa "Super Tuscan" ($46) from Hollister, California, which was the last bottle. Let me say, that I will be hunting this wine down in Ohio. It is a beautiful wine at this price point ($25 retail). Back up the truck! Wait staff was very attentive even with a complicated bill. ****
  • Windy Ridge -- For New Years, I tried to get into Wahso but couldn't and I had gone to Chimayo last year two times. Windy Ridge is part of this chain and is a bakery and commissary for Grappa, Chimayo and Wahso, so the food is very good. We had a fabulous New Year's dinner for 18 there and the service and food was great. The setting is almost cafeteria like in an industrial park off of the main highway, but we got to stay all night and couldn't have been happier. The waitress from Boston really busted her ass to make it a special occasion. The wine list was short however. ****
  • Lookout Cabin, the Canyons -- Once in your life, you need to enjoy white linen table service for lunch when you are skiing. This may be it. Table for 12 at 11:30 while the wind and snow blows outside. Let's talk about where we skied and where we should go after lunch, but first let's enjoy the spinach and arugula salad with grilled shrimp, or the grilled portabella mushroom sandwiches, or the huge buffalo cheese burgers, prepared on the flaming grills in front of you. If you show up before 12 noon, then you will have to wait for your martini or "strong" beer, but the local drafts seem to hit the spot. Oh, when you are done, you will need to ski through the blowing winds as you meander your way on several bumpy catwalks over to the Dreamscape lift to explore the rest of the mountain. But, you would be advised to keep skiing the Super Condor lift. See the following.
  • Ski Areas -- My personal opinion is that Park City is the best ski area compared to Deer Valley and the Canyons. Canyons is weak except for the Super Condor lift, and Deer Valley is much better but just OK. (Although the dining is very good and some of the trophy homes are outstanding for rubbernecking.) Both areas suffer from a topography that requires that one take a chair or a catwalk down at the end of the day. I personally dislike that and it colors my whole experience. Park City has better challenging blacks, bowls, chutes and high speed groomers -- you know, where you lunge down a face picking up speed until your eyes tear up and your helmet whistles, and then it flattens out before the next drop, then it turns left before a hard right, if you can hang on, and you pray no one is below you when you get some air, and then you jam the brakes on hard for 100 feet trying to stop, and suck down air as you are out of wind while your thighs burn. And Park City has a "last run home". You can take a right off of "Payday" and take "Quittin Time" home to the bottom of the Town lift, or if you are going to the Mountain Resort, you can cut off to "Payday" and then take a left by the NASTAR course and follow the chair line to "Heckler". And "Payday" isn't bad unless it is overcrowded. Definitely stay away from "Homerun" due to the beginner crowds. We skied Park City 3 days and the others one day each.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Packing for Park City

Beside the usual requirements for preparation for a ski trip that includes clothes, and kid's clothes and ski equipment, and car reservations, and condo instructions, and something else I am sure that I am forgetting, I have bogged down on two major issues here. Beside the last minute work deadlines, and Christmas shopping (ha!) I am hurdling to that 12 noon flight deadline this Saturday. Although, when it is all done, I can almost picture myself sitting on the plane with wheels up and we are off to mountains of winter fun! But first, I have to work out the choices:

  • Skis -- I do this on every ski trip as I have many choices here. (Some people are amazed at the ski collection, others eye me nervously -- "Are all those yours?" -- I have stopped having the skis I buy on Ebay shipped to the house so as to preserve domestic tranquility!) Last year, I brought four pairs to Utah, but this year I am only bringing two, I think. The new Fischer World Cup SC's in a 165cm with a turning radius of 11 meters are definitely going. I sampled last Sunday at Perfect North (400 screaming vertical-feet in Indiana) and they cut up the ice and can carve and did not seem to have an upper speed limit. Now the hard part is the one and only second pair. (Say Polly, can I put an extra pair of skis in your ski bag -- or, better yet, just throw a third pair in there without telling her!) I should take the Dynastar Intuitiv 74's due to the absolute possibility of powder out West, but I am leaning toward the Salomon Crossmax 10's as they can float and carve. Yeh, float and carve! That's it, until I change my mind tomorrow.
  • Wine -- This is complex too. On some trips I will bring a case if I know I will be 100 miles from the closest wine store. Last summer I brought a case on the drive to the Adirondacks and am glad I did. It was a 30-minute, dusty trip to town on dirt roads. I did find a store in Old Forge that had a decent selection and offered some New York wines that were very good. On the trip to Maine last summer I flew, so I went empty-handed but had access to the Portland and Boston wine stores, not to mention the tiny out-of-the-way shops in Maine that surprise you with gems. (I found a very good Malbec from Argentina for $7 at a Texaco station!) And I loved the "Big Store" in New Hampshire that is, I think, owned by the State and had huge highway signs declaring that it was the "Last Stop for Liquor". Should a state be advertising with huge highway billboard signs to stop in for liquor? Reminds me of the billion-dollar tobacco settlement with the states where they get a piece of every cigarette sold. Do you want us to smoke them, or not? I thought cigarettes are bad for you! I guess it's OK in New Hampshire to drink so long as you drive on the interstate and stop by the State stores. (It's OK officer, I got all this stuff at the State store, the same one that pays your salary!) Sorry for the digression, but here is my current thinking on bringing wine to Utah. (Don't tell anyone as it is probably illegal.) First, Park City must have some decent wine stores there with a good selection as the restaurants do have great wine lists, so I am only bringing a Sake and a Chambers Tokay. They are light and small in half bottles and could come in handy in the case of flight delays. (When was the last time you had a really good wine at an airport?) I figure the reds and whites will be covered in Park City, but I will faint if I find a premium Sake and an Australian Tokay there! Then again, I am arriving on Christmas Day and the next day is Sunday, so the stores may be closed, so maybe I had better bring one or two reds, just in case! I can live without whites for a day or so, but going two days without some good red wine, well....

I will give you a full report when I return.

"The Best White Wine"

Cullen, Margaret River "Ephraim Clark" 2003 ($33) -- Australia. I don't know much about this producer, but the wine rep and the guy who runs the warehouse at a local distributor both said it is "the best white wine they have tasted!" These wines have the Parker scores in the mid 90's for the last few vintages. The 2003 is a Semillon (54%) and Sauvignon Blanc (46%) blend. Although I prefer reds, I very much liked this wine. The balance from start to a long finish is superb. The fruits are nuanced, clean and compelling. I did not taste much oak as only 34% is fermented in new oak. The back label says the wine will age for 10 years! Impressive! I guess this is more of a French style compared to the California Chardonnay style. I love the Hansel Chardonnays, in particular, the "Cahill Lane", but if you like a cleaner, tighter taste, this is it. And if you are drinking $30 whites, you must try this. It may become your favorite!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

My New Favorite White Wine

Chehalem, Reserve Dry Riesling 2003 -- Willamette Valley, Oregon. I have never been a student, nor a fan of Rieslings, but I recently rounded several up for my cousin's husband from San Francisco who was buying wine for my Aunt's Christmas party. I had been given this one recently by a rep to taste and broke it out on this cold, snowy night to see what all the fuss was about. In my readings on wine recently, I had perceived that among wine aficionados Riesling was the King of Whites, probably because it was unapproachable. Like those girls in high school. Like that "barnyard" nose in certain French wines.

I liked the steely fruit nose and balanced taste and structure, and it opened up as I left the bottle on the counter and continued to sample. I can't say that I would enjoy this all evening like I would a Cab or a Malbec or a Shiraz (ones you can curl up with for hours on a cold night), but as a starter or with food, it would be perfect. So, is this my new favorite white wine? Maybe?

That reminds me of the time my six year old daughter, out of nowhere, turned to me in the car several years ago and looked at me with those huge blue eyes and blonde curls and said warmly, "Dad...., you know, you are my best friend." My heart melted and I smiled back and said how sweet that was. Just think, I am my little girl's best friend! How cool and great is that! And then she smiled back at me and said, "Dad...., I have a lot of best friends!" ........Oh.

Well, I have a lot of favorite wines!

White Zinfandel

No, I am not going to review any White Zins here. I was just messing with you. In a recent conversation about this wine (it was a short discussion) I offered that we should all be thankful for the oceans of the pink sugared stuff. Without White Zin, how many old Zinfandel vines in California would have been ripped up and replaced with...gasp!....Chardonnay! Now, many may prefer the dry tannic Cabs, or muted, elegant Pinots, but for everyday drinkers at dinner, I think a jammy bold Zin is great. Here's a toast to all the idiots who loved White Zin and to the "producers" who are still making oceans of the stuff, although I have not personally seen anyone in two years actually drink it. Thank You!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Go Farther!

Like the funny car commercial where a God-like "voice" implores the young man to "Go Farther!", until he finally hears a thundering waterfall and the Voice says, "Too Far!", you must go farther in your search for the next great wine. The natural tendency is to buy and drink what you have tasted before and have liked. It is a natural tendency to play it safe. As they say in skiing, if you don't fall, you are not improving. (I have the bruises and dented helmet to prove it!) If you are not tasting wines you don't like, you are not learning. "Go Farther!" I almost bought a Sake on a restaurant menu recently that I had already tried, and then I tried a new one because, damn it, that's my job. Guess what, I found a new great wine. "Go Farther!" When you do hear that thundering waterfall, well nice knowing you, but until then keep paddling and keep trying new wines!

Two Thumbs Up

Rihaku Nigori Sake, "Dreamy Clouds" NV ($24 for 300ml) -- Japan; Tokubetsu Junmai Sake; exquisite, creamy (cloudy) dry, high-grade Sake. I had it served in a wine glass, slightly chilled at "Sake Bomb" (two thumbs up back at you Charlie!). This wine will stop your world and you will be amazed at the complexity, the finish, the clouds and the balance. Amazing stuff! Perhaps, the only thing missing is a big nose, but I have tasted recently many French wines that give up little on the front-end. Holly shit, is this Sake? I am going to spend the next few days looking for a Parker review on any Sake. I dare him not to give this a 90+. If he can extol the virtues of the Sauternes of France and the Tokays and Muscats of Australia, then he needs to consider the beauty of the fine Sakes of Japan! Mess up the minds at your next dinner party and serve this after dessert. This is a great wine!

[The Next Day -- OK, so I liked it alot and still do. The enthusiasm and the Parker challenge (are we still friends Bob?.....Bob?) could be explained by polishing off the little bottle by myself, but it really is great and should be experienced.]

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The $100 Lunch Tip

This has nothing to do about wine and, as I have decided to do all my Christmas shopping at Park City this year (after Christmas), I find myself with gobs of time. I was rooting around my stack of collected business cards when a name from the past (and a current name in the news) came tumbling out.

Mr. "X" (I am not using his name because he is not in jail yet and I have learned to be careful in naming names) was an "investment advisor" that was touting huge returns in his off-shore portfolio on "can't miss" option trades. An aquaintance on hard times (now deceased) had arranged the lunch at "Tellers" in Hyde Park to entice me to add money to Mr. "X's" portfolio and to get my clients in early on this great deal.

Having lived in Miami for several years, I think I have a PhD in scams, and I smelled this one from the start. First off, Mr. "X" said that he was running late and did not have any of his materials because "he had left his briefcase in the Viper." (Feel free to use this at any time as an excuse for not having your materials with you, even if you don't have a Viper.) Next, he said he had no audited financials, and the portfolio was owned by an off-shore (Cayman?) company for tax purposes, and I couldn't look at the trading records. I was done right there considering this great "opportunity", but I enjoyed the rest of the lunch as I was hungry. Then came the clincher.

When he got the check he paid by credit card for the lunch bill and then with great flourish handed the waitress a crisp, new $100 bill. She squealed and was very excited, and he said as a poor kid growing up he thought it was "proper and righteous" to take care of the little people now that he had arrived. The waitress is probably the only one to come out ahead on his scam. I am sorry for those that were taken ($10 million plus), but it wasn't me, this time.

So Mr. "X", you didn't impress me much. Have fun in the big house, and say hello to Big Larry and the "Twins" for me. I heard that they're dying to meet you. And thanks again for lunch!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Wine Serving Temperatures

This is old hat to most of you, but I think it bears repeating as I think the temperature that wine is served at makes a huge difference in the overall experience. Temperature and decanting are the two easiest ways to vastly improve the wines you serve. Too cold and the flavors and nuances are hidden, too warm and the alcohol takes over and masks the fruit. I think that, in general, the white wines are served too cold, and the red wines are served too warm. Try changing the temperatures to see if you notice an improvement. I am not going to suggest a chart of exact temperatures as the last thermometer I saw around here was used to, how should I say this, check a child's fever. Got it!

  • “Low-end” White Wines -- If you must serve them, serve it very cold in small glasses.
  • “Low-end” Red Wines -- If you serve them, don't expect me to stay long! There is nothing that is going to help this situation except for cold beer or good gin. I am not referring to inexpensive wines here, just the mass-produced, supermarket wines.
  • Sparkling Wines -- Start cold and then let stand on the table depending on how long it is going to take to finish off the bottle. I guess leaving on ice is fine too. It is traditional, after all.
  • Better White Wines -- Start it cold, and then let it sit out to let the flavors evolve. In the beginning, when it is cold, you can warm it up with your hands on the glass to get the right temperature.
  • Pink Wines (dry rose, not white zin) -- Same as whites but pull from 'fridge 30 minutes before serving.
  • Better Red Wines -- Technically, serving at room temperature means 60 to 65 degrees, not at 75 degrees, which is room temperature in the U.S. I don't think 15 to 30 minutes in the 'fridge is sacrilegious, and is often recommended for the lighter reds, like Pinot Noir. Again, you can warm them in the glass with your hands.
  • Dessert Wines -- Some are better cold, or cool, while others are traditionally served at room temperature, like the Ports. Experiment! I think they are best when they start cool, not cold, and then warm up.

Mt Veeder Cab

Mt Veeder Cab 2002 ($30) -- California. I had tried this recently at a wine bar from a "gas box" and decided that the "gas box" had tainted the wine. Now, having tasted a recently opened bottle, I can say that this is a very good, readily drinkable Cab that has full fruit and balance. I liked it and ordered a case after it was marked down from $42. It is a good choice to serve at a weekend dinner.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Moscato fior d' Arancio

Andrew Quady, "Essensia" California Orange Muscat 2001 ($14 for 375ml) -- This is a "sweet" dessert wine from a well-known producer of California dessert wines (and a high-end dry vermouth I have tried to find and taste with my occasional Bombay Sapphire martini). I would not say it is overly sweet, but it is (let me think) orange. There is an aromatic nose of orange (duh!) that may be overpowering for some, but works well with chocolate and tangerines (tonight's late night snack thanks to cousin David in Las Vegas -- David this is your official thank you for the gift. You're not getting a card!). The finish is not very long but pleasant and this is great for a few splashes. Again, this is excellent as an accompaniment to the right dessert in small quantities. Now bring on the Bombay!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A Sandwich to a Banquet

About four years ago, before I became an apprentice wine-geek, I went to a dinner party at a neighbor's house and being a thoughtful guest I brought a small offering of wine. It takes a real man to admit that it was a bottle of Blackstone Merlot. But the story gets better. We arrive, I offer the wine, and the host, a very friendly local doctor, nicely accepts the gift and turns the bottle around and advises me that he knows of the winemaker and how he is quite good. I feel pretty good about how bright I am in picking such a great wine find. I had been introduced to this wine one weekend in 1996 aboard a boat I had chartered in Miami to attend the Columbus Day Regatta. The wine tasted great with grilled steaks and zucchini anchored in Biscayne Bay. (I will not bore you with the rest of the details on the Columbus Day Regatta, but you can find great pictures of this XXX rated event on the Internet! In hindsight, I probably should have stayed on my boat and not swum over to the large party boat anchored 100 yards away! But that is another story for another time.)

Like I said, I am feeling pretty suave now about my wine choice and I hadn't even got to the good part of the story of the weekend that I had "discovered" this rare gem. The host then motions for me to follow him to the living room. As we stand there, he pushes a small button on the wall and a four-foot by four-foot section of the living room floor begins to open up on hinges. I peer down into a metal circular staircase. My confused brain quickly figures out that my host has a wine cellar. Not just any wine cellar, but a "major" wine cellar. "Why don't we pick out some wines for dinner." (I guess the Blackstone was going to sit on the kitchen counter tonight. It's probably still there!)

The doctor is quite pleased to show me around the room stuffed with First Growth classics, names, at the time, I could not comprehend. He said that he was overloaded with such great (and expensive) wines, that he was unsure of what to do with them and that he had been collecting for some ten or fifteen years. How and when do you serve that 20 year-old Petrus? He picked out a few wines and we ascended back up the staircase to the kitchen. (I wish I could tell you that we tasted some of the good stuff, but my recollection is a little fuzzy and I think we only sampled some second or third labels.) As I turned back to look into the living room, the hatch quietly closed into the floor.

The rest of the dinner (and wine) was great and we all had a wonderful time.

But, my New Years resolution this year is to get myself invited back to re-visit that cellar, and this time the Blackstone stays at home!

Friday, December 17, 2004

"Angel's Share"

Two Hands, "Angel's Share" Shiraz 2003 ($28) -- McLaren Vale, Australia. "Angel's share refers to the small amount of wine that evaporates from oak barrels while maturing. Medieval winemakers assumed that angels watched over the wines, and that they took their share." Sounds good to me. I liked this wine very much and it is very different from some of the other Australian Shiraz's I have tasted (Wolf Blass, Viking), which are stearner with a pepper nose. The soft fruits are well balanced with solid mid-palate, structure, smooth long finish. I am not usually very good at recommending food pairings, but we had this wine with a family dinner of boiled corned-beef and cabbage with roasted brussel sprouts. (Like I said, I really enjoyed this wine! Thank God!) This is an elegant, full-bodied wine that is drinkable now and should last for years. I can't tell you that it will get more complex with cellaring, but it is a great wine to buy in quantity and then sample over the next five years!

Beginner Muscat (without Training Wheels)

BV (Beaulieu Vineyard), Muscat de Beaulieu NV ($8 for 375ml) -- California. I have been partial to BV as it is probably the first wine I remember tasting back in Los Angeles as a teenager in the early 70's. Then, I had no idea that the 1968 Private Reserve Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon was a pretty decent wine. I was a kid. Who knew! (I saw it last week for sale on-line for $250.)

Having recently delved into the world of dessert wines (Ports, Madeiras, Tokays), I came across this little bottle with the familiar name. It is not as complex as the other wines I have sampled lately, but would be a good start and, for the same cost as two combo meals at Wendys, is an economical introduction to Muscat. I do not imply that this wine is low-end and not well made, but compared to other dessert wines costing two to ten times as much, it is not in the same league. At the beginning the flavors and taste are there and then it shuts down, while the more expensive wines keep going and flourish and add complexity and drip over the tongue.

I like this wine and think it is a great beginning in your exploration of Muscats and Tokays.

I Don't Make Up the News, I only Read It!

Santa Cited for Marijuana Possession (The Associated Press) HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. -- A man who visited a middle school dressed as Santa Claus on Thursday left with a citation for misdemeanor marijuana possession. The 40-year-old Detroit man faces up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine after a small plastic bag of marijuana was found in the pocket of his street coat, which he left in a school restroom, Wayne County Sheriff's Department officials said. A deputy who works at the school found the marijuana while searching the coat for identification after a teacher found it in the bathroom. The man dressed as Santa approached the deputy a short time later and identified the coat. The man denied the pot was his. His wife, who was at the school to take pictures of Santa with the students, apparently did not know the marijuana was in her husband's coat, officials said. "She was not happy," Lt. Paul Jones said. "It's going to be a long ride back to the North Pole."

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Salt of the Earth

This is a food and wine review. First, Debbie and Jim have a great luncheon restaurant and carry-out located at Red Bank near Madison. All the meals (Salmon, Turkey Meatloaf, Tilapia, Strip Steaks) are great as are the side dishes. My favorites are the Blue Cheese Coleslaw and the Waldorf Salad. And you have to love a place that serves warm Brussel Sprouts with butter. This place is a definite must try. I am there at least two times a week. But if you become a regular, be prepared to update Debbie on the wife and kids, or some other topical news, when you arrive. It's that kind of place!

And they have a fine selection of about 150 wines that are hand-picked by Jim who really knows his wines from his stints at the Celestial and Bacchus. (What, am I nuts recommending another wine store!) Jim personally knows all the wines and can give you a story on each. I spotted a Robert Pecota Sauvingon Blanc for $13 and I asked him about it, as I really like the Pecota Syrah. He said "Bob" makes some great small production wines and deserves our support. "You know I stayed with him once out in California." Jeez, if "Bob" were to invite me out there once (Hint, Hint), I could really get behind his wines and start selling cases and cases!

Robert Pecota, Sauvignon Blanc 2003 ($13) -- I tasted when the bottle was a little warm, not really chilled and got a floral, friut nose and a very well balanced taste with a medium finish. This would be an excellent summer aperitif, or a crisp wine with spicy food. I like the range of aromas and flavors that one gets with the Sauvignon Blanc grape, from floral to steely. This wine is a must try for anyone who likes Sauvignon Blanc. Even if I don't get that invitation to visit Bob, I Would Recommend This Wine.

[I re-tasted after proper chilling, and I concur with the above, and would add that the floral aspects have hidden and offer more subtlety, complexity and mystery. Even Better!]

Thinning the Herd

This from the headlines, and why it is the natural order that some members of the species should not procreate so that the remaining gene pool is stronger:

"Man Dies After He Dared Friend to Shoot Him While Wearing Protective Vest" A 20-year-old Idaho man is dead after apparently daring a friend to shoot him through a protective vest. Officials say Alexander Swandic died of a gunshot wound to the heart. And his friend, 30-year-old David Hueth of Kamiah, is charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Some Really Old Stuff

Favilla Malvazia Madeira 1920 ($285) -- I became fascinated recently about Madeira's when I was doing some research for old vintage Ports for an upcoming dinner. I don't remember tasting Madeira before, certainly not this old stuff, but now I am hooked. Of course, the aromas and flavors and complexities are unbelievable, but you will need to taste these for yourself as my writing is not up to fully describing them (others are much more eloquent), but the whole point here is to not read about tasting 85 year-old wine, but to taste it yourself.

Now about the age. Prohibition had just started when these grapes were picked. I am unsure of the history of this bottle as to when it was bottled and where it has been for 85 years. The idea of getting this wine came up after I invited my father-in-law over for dinner this week. He was born in 1920! What fun it will be to share this with him and my mother-in-law and their daughter and his grandkids (they may even get a taste!). "Kids, this wine is as old as your grandfather!"

I like the story of when Winston Churchill was given a grand dinner on the island of Madeira in 1950, they broke out the good stuff, the 1792 Vintage Madeira bottled in 1840. I have read that Sir Winston insisted on personally serving each guest the prized wine, while declaring to each, "Do you realize that when this wine was vintaged Marie Antoinette was alive?"

Something New, Something Old

La Vieille Ferme, Cotes du Ventoux Rouge 2003 ($9) -- Rhone Valley, France. First the wine and then the package. A light table wine for everyday dinner. Typical Grenache nose, smooth balanced taste with a somewhat short finish. A little thin and not much complexity, but it is a $9 table wine I would buy again. Now for the package. I guess the old label was a “contemporary” label, but the new front label, as proclaimed by the bottle talker as new, is more of a progression backward with the old style names of the appellation and the name of the wine/producer. I liked the look of the new "old" label. Oh, and there are two chickens/roosters in pen and ink. My French is a little weak here, but does “La Vieille Ferme” mean chicken or rooster? My Google search took me to a nudist colony with a cute couple in a meadow and the guy had a big straw hat on. But I didn't see any chickens. French students feel free to comment on my ignorance. Now, here is the good part. The back label has winemaker's notes about the blend (Grenache 50%, Syrah 20%, Carignan 15%, Cinsault 15%) and some nice language about the location of the winery and the winemakers. Whoa!! Has someone been listening to my rants! And now the unbelievable part! It has a screw-cap! Mon Dieu!! What will the French think of next? Case discounts? Now we’re talking. Thank you!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ten Top Reasons for Half Bottles versus a Glass of Wine

  • (10) - It's a brand new fresh bottle, not that last glass of two day old wine.
  • (9) - You can pour yourself 1/3 glasses and swirl away instead of just staring at a full glass.
  • (8) - You can enjoy the wine as it opens up glass by glass.
  • (7) - It's cheaper than wine by the glass. Like you're going to drink just one glass anyway!
  • (6) - It's great to share, or you can drink the whole thing yourself without guilt (but see #2 below).
  • (5) - OK, so it's a kinda cute bottle that is easy to lift and pour, but not as cute as the little airline bottles that are really cute and what the hell are you going to do on the plane anyway. Sorry!
  • (4) - If it's on the menu, it must be good for you.
  • (3) - So many wines, so little time.
  • (2) - In theory, you could share some with the hottie at the table next to you, while your wife is in the bathroom, but her date would probably not appreciate it, and well you could get busted, so...
  • And the Number One Reason to Order Splits versus Single Glasses
  • (1) - You don't have to wait for the damn waiter to show up to order another glass!

1999 Muga, "Reserva" Rioja

Muga, Reserva Rioja 1999 ($22 for 375ml) -- Spain; imported by Cutting Edge Selections, Cincinnati; Jorge Ordonez. After the typical 15 minute blow-off for Spainish wines, I got a muted, typical Tempranillo nose, with good fruit and a medium finish. Held up to "Cumin's" Tandori Tenders and Gohst Stew with Rosemary Naan. Very smooth with full body and structure. A Nice Little Bottle.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Domaine Manciat-Poncet, Pouilly-Fuisse, “Les Crays” 2000

Domaine Manciat-Poncet, Pouilly-Fuisse, “Les Crays” 2000 ($25) -- France; a Robert Kacher Selection; from the husband-wife team of Claude Manciat and Simone Poncet. I am told that this is one of the top small-producers in the area and is highly regarded and uses hand-picking in the vineyards. This is oak-aged, Chardonnay with a percentage of new barrels. I got a clean, slightly buttery taste with a good balance of fruit and acid with structure and a medium finish. There is only a hint of wood here. A great value for a small production Pouilly-Fuisse compared to the often more expensive producers, who make rivers of the stuff. Good Value for a Very Good Wine!

Decanting Wines

Although older wines should be decanted to remove the sediment from the bottom of the bottle, I think that all new red wines (and maybe the better whites, too) should be "decanted" not to get rid of sediment, but to open up the young wines. In this way you are, in a few hours, adding years of bottle age. I have recently had several very young $10 to $15 bottles of red, that over the course of two to three hours of being opened, have evolved, smoothed out and added nuances and complexity. Whereas, the first glass in the first five minutes was closed, rough and uneventful.

So instead of "decanting", just splash the wine into any cheap decanter and let it stand for an hour. Your $10 wine will taste like a $20. Your $20 wine will taste like a $50! And the dinner guests will appreciate the fine wine you are serving. So go out and buy several $20 decanters. The ROI will be huge!

Hanging Out at the Warehouse

More California Cab! Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Another Good California Pinot

Latetitia Estate, Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley 2000 ($20) -- California; “Winemaker Notes -- This medium bodied Pinot Noir is rich with aromas of plum and spice mixed with accents of clove and cedar on the nose. The black cherry notes on the palate are framed by velvety tannins that give the wine a soft and rounded finish.” I got a smoky, earthy nose with a well-balanced, complex, elegant taste and smooth finish with good structure. Very good, although I have recently had some $15 Pinot’s that come close to this wine. This wine is perhaps better made and deserves a try. Grab this and two other New World Pinots (Chile and Oregon) and taste blind with your next dinner party.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

French Labels -- Redux

OK, here's a second take on the traditional French wine label. I think I am prejudiced in that I prefer a wine with a classic label, like the traditional French label with a hand-drawn ink picture of the chateau and the name of the appellation and then some obscure reference to the producer. I recently tasted a Rose with a traditional label (Commanderie de la Bargemone, Coteaux di Aix en Provence 2003) and I think I liked it better than a similar wine with a "new" contemporary label (Domaine de Fondreche, Cotes du Ventoux Rose 2003). They both are priced the same and in a blind taste I probably couldn't tell them apart. But I would probably buy, and recommend, the Bargemone over the Fondreche. (There is probably some wine snobbery here by offering an obscure, unfathomable French label that I have supposedly ferreted out from some dusty bins at the distributor. Just don't ask me to pronounce any of these names!) How much a part of the buying decision does the front label and other packaging make? A lot! (I still think Bombay Saphire is THE best gin, period.) But both wines need to revamp the back labels to offer winemaking information – grape varieties, blends, production details, oak, no oak, etc. Now, if I could only remember the name of the wine I just had!

Another Hot Pink

Commanderie de la Bargemone, Coteaux di Aix en Provence 2003 ($14) -- France; Domaine par J.P Rozan; dry rose, pale salmon color; slightly floral, herbal nose; round, full mouth , no sharp edges; refreshing smooth, pleasant finish, that is drier than most "dry" wines. Fantastic aperitif, Sunday Brunch wine. Half the price of Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose. Chill for one hour or so in the 'fridge, then let stand at the table. Delicious!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Don't Wait for Tomorrow

I took one lesson from Fritz Kohler, here seen carving it up at Keystone and getting a pretty good hand drag, actually almost a forearm down. He used to say, that if you can get your elbow down in the snow, you got it! It was the best ski lesson in my 40 years on the slopes. At one point in the lesson, as a carving exercise, we threw down our ski poles, locked arms and carved together down the run like ice skaters, playing crack the whip. Amazing! I had planned to go to Switzerland last year to ski with him for three weeks, but had to change plans due to family and work duties. Sadly, in August I learned that he had been killed at the age of 34 in a motorcycle accident. Carpe Diem!

Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Dinner with a Winemaker

Once again, it's the people. Particularly when the person has the passion to make great wine. The passion that makes you get up at 6 in the morning and toil in the vineyards until 9am in your rented two acre plot, and then go to your day-job as a mortgage broker until 6pm, and then go back to the fields until it's dark. The passion that makes you take a "job" in Santiago repping for a Chilean winery to learn the business-end of the wine business and to travel from Santiago to Miami to Cincinnati to Chicago to California (to check on the vines) and then back to Santiago. And then back to the Mid-West to get the Chilean wines into Krogers. But for at least one evening you get a home-cooked meal (three helpings, please) and several wines and a wide ranging conversation about..what else, wine!

The day before you had nervously poured out your first wine, a Syrah from El Dorado County, half-way between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, that previously you had only served barrel samples to friends and family. Now, it is a wine rep for a distributor and a wine-store owner and some strangers (and some friends) swirling your wine in their glasses. The color is a dark red and the nose a little closed due to the six week bottle age, but the mouth is full and elegant and lasts with a long finish. This is a well-made, beautiful wine. The wine-store owner nods over to the wine rep from the big distributor, "This is really good!" She nods back, "Very good!" The wine is the hit of the tasting and soon it is all gone and everyone wishes there were more bottles of your wine. Jeff, we can't wait for the cases to arrive! A New Wine Arrives in the World.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

U.S. Supreme Court -- Inter-state Shipping

It seems the case will boil down to whether some states are discriminating against out-of-state wineries by allowing in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers, but not allowing out-of-state wineries to do the same. The wine distributors are fighting this case because it could undermine the foundation of the three tier system. If consumers are allowed to buy from out-of-state wineries, why can't wine stores buy directly in quantity at a discount with lower shipping charges. (I think the percentage of overall sales lost to consumer-direct purchases is small and would remain small due to the cost of shipping. Are they going to buy six $15 bottles of wine and pay $20 in shipping? The high-end buyers are and will continue to buy $50 bottles of hard-to-find and back-vintage wines.)

In Ohio, wine stores are allowed to buy directly from in-state wineries, but not out-of-state wineries. They must buy from distributors after mandatory mark-ups. They can arrange for special orders and special shipments, but the pricing usually puts some wines out of reach. If I wanted to support a new and upcoming winery, who wanted to break into the Ohio market, by purchasing 10 cases, he would have to sell his wine to me at $15 to have it retail for $30. He would rather keep the $30 by selling direct, but I could probably negotiate with him and pay him directly $20 to $24 and everyone wins. Except for the distributors!

And then, where will the distributors be? Big chains would cut deals with the big wine producers (Krogers with Gallo, Mondavi, Constellation, etc) bypassing the local distributors. Could the distributors survive selling the mid-sized wine producers to the little stores and restaurants? Could the little stores survive if they couldn't rely on the inventory of the distributors which allows for just-in-time delivery of single bottles? Where would the restaurants buy their wine from? Would we see the emergence of "big box" liquor stores that could buy in quantity with large selections?

It's a brave new world out there! I see the consumers winning on this one (unless the changes end in only 30 wines available at Costco/Sam's/Krogers). And I would be shorting the distributors' stock. And the little wine stores (as in every other industry) are under fire. Look at the plight of small local hardware stores, book stores, pet stores and drug stores. You do remember the small local hardware, book, pet and drug stores, don't you!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Artazuri - Navarra 2003

Artazuri, Navarra 2003 ($9) -- Spainsh Grenacha (Grenache), Tinto; pleasant Rhone Valley nose, with typical Grenache taste; a little thin and a bit of cherry (usually not my favorite), but bright with a nice finish. Like any young wine, I would recommend splashing into a decanter first to get maximum air to smooth out any rough edges. Good Table Wine for Monday Night Football.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Best of Show

Porta, Select Reserve Pinot Noir Bio Bio Valley 2003 ($14) -- Chile. At a recent tasting of six Chilean wines organized by the winery rep, this was my favorite, although the Chardonnay was very popular and reminiscent of a California Chard. I don't think I have ever had a Pinot from Chile, but it was elegant and full-bodied, more in a French style. I am told that the Bio Bio Valley is relatively new in producing wines, but I am looking forward to tasting more. And the winery rep, whose fiancé is the winemaker for the Pinot, says there are better wines to come. I can't wait.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Trader Joes -- $2 Chuck

As Trader Joes has just opened a new store for the first time in Cincinnati (Kenwood), I thought it only fair that I review the offerings. Trader Joes is that little $2 billion sales grocery chain, based in California, owned by the reclusive German billionaires, the Albrechts. The cheeses, meats, chips and antipasta sections offer a wide appealing assortment. The store was crowded, well layed out and efficiently run. But, we really came here for the wines! They appear to have more than a hundred labels mostly in the under $10 range with a few offerings at $25. I did see a Mark West Pinot. But onto the core holdings and what all the fuss is about. I thought I would satisfy my curiousity (and sacrifice my palate so you wouldn't have to) and see if the wines are at least drinkable. I have recently read that the earlier vintages were at least drinkable, but I am reviewing mostly the 2003 vintages. The $2 Chuck is actually more than $3 in Ohio due to the mandatory wholesale and retail mark-ups. Here goes:
  • Charles Shaw, Merlot 2003 ($3.39) -- California; a very slight fruit nose, then none, then some sort of gas (sulpher) nose; horrible taste which gets worse. I can't imagine drinking more than the sip I just finished. Give Me a Beer!
  • Charles Shaw, Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 ($3.39) -- ditto with less nose!
  • Charles Shaw, Shiraz 2003 ($3.39) -- A little more nose that was slightly appealing with some pepper undercurrents. Barely drinkable, but by now I am cringing when I see the label.
  • Trader Joe's Coastal, Merlot 2003 ($5.39) -- Central Coast?; ditto; no nose, not pleasant.
  • Trader Joe's Coastal, Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($5.39) -- ditto!
  • Trader Joe's, French Market Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($4.79) -- French, Vin de Pays D.O.C.; now this one is REALLY bad!

You are all welcome! I just saved you the misery of paying $27.54 for tasting 6 hideous wines. I am very greatful that I had some Wolf Blass, Brut NV ($13) to wash all this down with so that I am not stuck with a horrible aftertaste. The Brut is a very simple, pleasant, refreshing Sparkler at a great price. I will review again under better circumstances.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Gun Buns

Gundlach Bundschu, Mountain Cuvee, Rhinefarm Vineyard 2001 ($20) -- Sonoma Valley, CA; 69% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc; a "Bordeaux" inspired blend from the southern tip of the Mayacamas Mountains. I tried this wine this summer at an outdoor cafe on Hyde Park Square and liked it very much. Since then, I have also tried the "Bearitage", a non-vintage, low-end blend ($15), which is very good and a great value. An appealing, soft, fruit nose, with warm, pleasant flavors, full-bodied, good structure and mid-palate and velvet finish. A good choice to drink now with dinner at a moderate price. Your dinner guests will come back again (and again) if you serve this wine, so be careful in offering this tasteful and elegant wine from a fine California producer. Only Offer to Guests You Want to Stay.

The Open House

Thanks to everyone who came to the Open House at Cafe St. George. I think everyone had fun and enjoyed the wine and food, and thankfully the police did not have to be summoned, unlike on other occassions. The Duval Leroy, Two Faces and Wightman appear to be the early winners! For those of you who missed the event, here are the wines (I thank Mark Maher and Tom Stephen at Cutting Edge Selections, whose wines we poured and who helped in the pouring, although the ladies' glasses seemed to get the most attention! And I thank Tom for helping with these tasting notes):

  • Duval Leroy, Cuvee Paris Brut NV ($38) -- A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that spends three years on the yeast deep in the famous “Crayeres” caves. A champagne with delicate, fine bubbles, the mark of good bubbly. Golden straw in color, aromas of honeysuckle and hazelnut make this a treat before you even sip. Full-flavored and fresh, rich with an elegant and long silky finish. Presented in a spectacular blue bottle, designed and painted by artist Leroy Neiman.
  • Domaine La Hitaire, Hors Saison 2003 ($12) -- A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, 85%, and Sémillon, 15%. It offers aromas of super-ripe white fruits and a lush, silky-textured personality. Apricots, gooseberries, juicy red currants, and spices can be found in its highly expressive medium-bodied character. A fabulous value.
  • Cask One, Chardonnay 2002 ($14) -- A classic California Chardonnay that comes to us at an amazing value due to the excess of Chardonnay being produced in California. This wine was made entirely at Byron Winery in Santa Maria Valley and then sold at a discount to Cask One. The most recent issue of Wine Enthusiast awarded the ’02 Byron Chardonnay, which exists in far more limited quantity than usual, a score of 90 points. This is quite simply a great value.
  • Fondreche, Rosé 2003 ($14) -- The textbook, dry, rich, Cotes du Ventoux Rosé is medium to full-bodied, beautifully textured and concentrated, exuberant with intense aromas of flowers, strawberries and spice. It is as good as it gets when it comes to Southern French Rose. Real men drink pink!
  • Domaine de la Terre Rouge, Syrah, Côte de L’Ouest 2001 ($17) -- A California Syrah from one of the greatest Syrah houses in the United States. Specializing in French styled Syrah, Terre Rouge is known for elegant silky wines. Everything from the soil to the climate bears similarity to Northern Rhône. It has dark fruit forward style with great acid balance. Aromas of raspberry, pepper, and cinnamon contribute to this great food wine experience.
  • Two Hands, Brave Faces 2003 ($30) -- A blend of 65% Shiraz and 35% Grenache from Australia’s famous Barossa Valley. This may be the hottest winery in the world right now and their introductory blend is a good reason. Buoyant raspberry, red-cherry characters with a restrained savory palate, grainy tannins backed by integrated oak. A serious food wine that shows what a wonderful marriage these two varietals make if blended with balance in mind.
  • Wightman Tri-Leopard Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 ($30) -- A small production, boutique producer from Napa Valley with about 500 cases. Aged in 100% French Oak it has hints of chocolate, cassis and black cherry fruit on the palate. Although ‘98 was not known as a great vintage in California, some winemakers adjusted well to the difficult year. This wine is drinking great right now. Enjoy it now while your other California Cabs, from other vintages, sit in the cellar. A great value due to the ongoing grape glut in California.
  • Chambers, Rosewood Vineyards, Rutherglen Tokay NV ($17 for 375ml) -- Australian dessert style wine. Reviewed 11/29/04.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Hot -- Not Hot

(Work in Progress)

Here's my take on the wine biz right now in the United States:


  • Blends -- haven't the French been doing this for awhile?
  • Spain -- great value and fresh wines.
  • And Argentina and Chile -- ditto!
  • Sauvignon Blanc -- a great range of flavors.
  • Un-oaked Chardonnay -- it's so NOT chardonnay.
  • Gruner Veltliner -- it's a drier, toned down Reisling without the baggage.
  • Secondary Malolactic Fermentation -- just kidding!
  • Wine Bars -- wine by the glass, brilliant!
  • French Oak
  • Chablis -- who knew? Skinny ties next?
  • Syrah, Petite Syrah -- flavors and elegance.
  • Malbec -- a hearty red wine with steak. It's good for you.
  • Cava's and Prosecco's -- Pinot Grigio with bubbles! But chicks dig the bottle.
  • Oregon Pinot Noir -- better than Burgundy?
  • Inter-state shipping?


  • Chardonnay -- ABC (but see above).
  • France and Italy -- no offense, great wine--bad labels.
  • Australia -- love the Two Hands, but Yellow Tail! OK, it's better than Gallo or Mondavi.
  • Paying $28 at a restaurant for a $12 bottle of wine. I'd rather pay $38 for two bottles and everyone comes out ahead.
  • Ratings -- is an 89 not as good as a 91?
  • American Oak
  • Merlot -- unless we're talking Petrus, of course. But, that's only 90% Merlot!
  • Pinot Grigio's -- I'll have a cold glass of white tastless 12% alcohol please. No ice.
  • 30 wines at Sam's Club at great prices -- is this the future? 30 wines? Great Prices? Give me 20,000 wines from $2 to $2,000. I'll decide! Or maybe, try them all!