Thursday, April 28, 2011

Knowing wine for its purpose

Most times, early on, we would watch the games together. Dad preferred college ball ("because the players make mistakes" he had explained), and he always rooted for the underdog ("where is the fun in taking the sure bet?"). From him you got the feeling that the best thing that could possibly happen in the world would be a running back from one of "his teams" breaking several near tackles to cross the end zone as the clock ran down on the last few seconds. I know he enjoyed that because I saw him, my dad, and no longer a young man, rightly catapult from his chair as TV cameras followed a game winner across the line. It was as if nothing else mattered more than those collected yards. Definitely not his cheese sandwich, which had landed on the carpet, thick tomato slices asunder with the onions. Or his Pepsi, thrown hard against the floor so that liquid soda sluiced across jostled ice and into a flowing foam near the couch. I remember I had helped clean up with paper towels, and even today if I smell Pepsi and mayonnaise and paper towels all together I put on a little smile. There had been a lot of joy in that moment.

My dad was a scientist of the sport, a dedicated observer. Most times he never left the TV before a commercial showed up, not even for a second. If something big were happening he'd yell out "Watch! Watch! Watch! Watch this!!!" as if I might somehow be viewing another channel, different from his, and thus missing the big play, the fake handoff, the long pass, the key block. And he had rules. Which were unbreakable. Rules he would tell you about. "I don't like these guys with all the stickers on their helmets" he would announce. "Too braggy." A coach should wear a jacket and tie. A quaterback could not throw too many picks, or dad would turn hostile: "who let this guy in the game??". A receiver with hands and a good sense about him was always a hero in our house. A kicker should always make an extra point, or risk being met with jeers so loud that he would hear them, even from the distance to the game of our apartment.

Later on we fell apart, and maybe that has to happen and maybe it doesn't, but I remember just the sound of him chewing food would annoy me. "Do you always have to chew sooooo loud?" I confronted him, to which he replied, "do you know how you eat?" A question that is still haunting me. We mostly stayed seperate. The old man would go off on long walks around the neighborhood, and you could tell that nothing would have pleased him more than if I had wanted to go with him, so I refused. Game times would come on the weekends and I would be away from the house. I knew he hated to watch a game alone. He tried for awhile to make a big show of how great the afternoon had been, the place all to himself, only having to make one sandwich. But I knew he was lying. And after awhile he stopped watching most games altogether. I guess it wasn't the same without someone to share it all with. Of course I know it wasn't.

Recently, I was at a big dinner. It was a hoot. Lots of people, lots of good wine. A little drunk misbehavior; laughs. There had been some nice bottles. The kind people tend to pay up for. After it was all done I was telling some folks about that night, and someone was indignant about the waste: How could we drink those wines that way? Where was the reverence? What if we had missed something? Wouldn't it have been better to drink one bottle in the quiet, to fully make use of it? How come we didn't think to enjoy them alone, seperately? To all of which, I would reply: this is wine. The taste lasts longer and the flavor is brighter when you drink wine with people whose company your enjoy. The bottles are empty without friends around, even when full.

I like the kind of table that fits a lot of chairs, and holds a lot of glasses.

You don't miss something about a wine when you drink it in a group, you gain what you were looking for all along.

Monday, April 25, 2011

My Weekend with Clive

Owing to some very generous consideration by folks with cellars and pocketbooks quite a bit larger than my own, I was priviledged to attend a series of Burgundy tasting seminars with the famed Master of Wine Clive Coates this past holiday weekend. Really, I was thrilled and quite lucky to be there. One of the first books that really helped me early in my sommelier career ten years ago was Clives' Encyclopedia of the Wines and Domaines of France, which I obsessively read over and over. Actually, it is possible that I was the first person to read the Jura chapter of that Encyclopedia prior to 2009. If the Jura and Savoie chapters of the book had been a blog, they would have probably averaged about half a hit a year until three years ago. Quite busy now though, I'm sure.

Anyway, although I had heard many stories and owned several of his books, I had never met Clive before, and this was a big treat. To tell you the truth, the whole weekend was a treat, filled with just a lot of fun and good people.

It was sunny and beautiful the whole time
It was one of those kinds of weekends
It was one of those kinds of weekends

And the coolest part was, it turns out that Clive is a regular reader of my blog and was super psyched to meet me as well!
"Who did you say you are, again? Some sort of unemployed blogger type fellow? Hmmm, sounds right dodgy."
As soon as we got to talking, Clive got tremendously enthusiastic and happy! His eyes were bright and got wide, and it was like he was hanging on my every word! It was amazing!
"Do wake me when this person with an i stops babbling about nothing."
I had this inspired thought that maybe we should just scrap the scheduled Grand Cru tastings and sample instead a bunch of Givry, and Clive was beyond excited about that! He told me that it was the best idea that he had heard in a great while, actually!

"Right, well, this bloody Sommelier wanker better shove off from here right quick if he knows what's good for him!"
A lot of the other guests were similarly impressed with what I had to say.

"Wow, I'm about to watch this super dumb kid from Manhattan get his ass kicked by one of the world's foremost authorities on Burgundy! Rock on!"
After we all had a chance to get acquainted, Clive was able to start his seminars, which were truly amazing.
Here Clive reads from his treatise describing how to increase the rays of the sun by properly swirling one's glass of Bienvenue. Of course, the producer of the wine involved must practice biodynamic farming for this to work out quite right.
On the second evening Clive demonstrated the correct fist pump motion associated with Flagey-Echezeaux. A lot of people don't know this, but fist pump techniques vary a lot amongst males from different villages inside Burgndy's Cote d'Or. Indeed, as Clive told us, it is how the winemakers "represent." You'll notice an Americanized (West Coast) version of the same gesture displayed on the far left of this same picture.

As you can see here, the fist pump in Volnay is properly done as more of a rolling, open handed gesture.

While a fist pump in Aloxe-Corton is actually quite subtle and understated.

To be honest, there was a lot of wine, and I started to get a bit groggy towards the end of the evening. By the time Clive started to elucidate the proper fist pump of the Cotes-de-Nuits-Villages it became hard to maintain my focus on what he was saying.

But as I drifted into drowsiness and I stopped talking, it seemed to me that Clive became quite content.
"Finally, this idiot Levi fellow has shut up his trap and let well be! St. Nick has jolly come early to us today!"

Happy Easter Everybody!

NOTE: I truly enjoyed hanging out and learning from Clive, and in reality he was totally, totally cool to me and everybody else. I am just a terribly bad picture taker, and I only had these mostly dreadful shots to use for this piece.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Capovilla is back in the States

I was told today that after working for a year to make it happen, a local importer has cleared the final hoops of getting the Eaux de Vie and Grappe of Vittorio "Gianni" Capovilla okay'd and available for sale here in New York.

This is a big deal in the world of Italian distillates. Capovilla has a reputation in Italy of being on a qualitative level equal to that of the late Romano Levi (although in a completely different style). The Capovilla Eaux de Vie are extremely well-thought of, and are in my opinion the Italian equivalent of Riesetbauer.

I have been trying (for years) to tell any importer who would listen to bring in Capovilla, and I am so happy that someone finally put in the considerable effort to do so (each label for each product had to be BATF approved) on their own.

Capovilla makes a very wide range of spirits, and only a few will now start to show up here, but this is an occasion nonetheless, and worthy of mention.

I personally think of Capovilla as a stylistic Musigny of spirits, and a counter to the Chambertins that were produced by Romano Levi. Capovilla brings forth spirits that are quite refined and filigree.

Capovilla spirits are now being brought into the country by Jan d'Amore. You might check them out.

Here is a link to Jan's website listing

Here is a link to the Capovilla website

Like the late Marco De Bartoli, Gianni Capovilla was once a race car driver. He started his distillery in 1986.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

U.N. Report: Internet Wine discussions lack history of strong democratic institutions

NEW YORK- A newly released U.N. report links the recent emergence of real time internet wine discussions with an increase in online tribal wine warfare and improvised comment field attacks. Entitled Democracy in the Online Wine World: Problems and Prospects, the report outlines several reasons why cordial wine discussions may have failed to take hold in the wake of the declining authority of published wine critics. Pointing to a decline of critical autocrats in the wine world as leading to a "chaotic" open online field, the authors of the report suggest that self-promotion, boasting about expensive bottles drunk, and a desire to "seem like they know stuff they don't" has lead a number of online posters into a downward spiral of sectarian hatred and revenge that is threatening the very ability of these people to share a bottle of wine in the company of other people they like.

Examining this "Closed Circle" of Twitter attacks and Facebook vengeance, the report links the lack of face to face conversation with an increased tendency towards radical dismissal on the basis of wine likes and dislikes. "These animosities can take deep root and really prevent the formation of broad based consensus or even cordial relations at tasting venues." At present, the report continues "a broad based wine democrat, open to all bottles and all drinkers without prejudice, is not even an idealization, but a contradiction. The construction of postcritical democratic wine coalitions is hampered by increased levels of wine board flame wars, Twitter juntas, Facebook bottle lineup envy, Blogger comment torture scenes, and widespread corruption at the recommendation level. The tribal nature of political and drinking behavior in the wine world, along with a decrease in transparency owing to the use of 'pretend, made up experience' in that world, are keys to understanding the absence of tolerant pluralism in that milieu."

This man is preparing to dislike somebody's wine choice on Facebook

Democracy in the Online Wine World: Problems and Prospects was authored by 23 people, at least three of whom cannot agree about the desired sweetness level of a Cour-Cheverny, and by one person who refuses to drink Spatburgunder.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Shopping with Sipowicz

A lot of people just assumed that because he didn't drink anymore, that Sipowicz just never purchased wine. But it wasn't true. He was always buying wine. For gifts and stuff like that. And it went far beyond a hobby for him. He meant it. He'd sit in a stakeout all day long doing crosschecks on Winesearcher. He had a stack of offers on his desk. The thing about Andy was that he didn't so much shop for wine as interrogate the salestaff of wine shops. And he would break them. It was really something.

Andy: So this "Can't Miss" offer you say you have, why don't you just go over that with me one more time?

Salesperson 1: Look, it's like I told you. For a limited time, we are offering a great deal. You buy a case of this wine, and you get 20% off the price of the case. It's a great deal.

Andy: Listen jerkoff, I'm going to tell you what a great deal is, and there ain't going to be no full case, neither. You are going to give me that discount on a single bottle, so that I can give this here nice wine to my niece for her birthday. You are going to help me with this thing I got to do. Do you Understand?

Salesperson 1: Hey, I mean, the offer is on the case purchase, you know?

Andy: You like smacking people around with these case charges, huh? You like making nice girls cry on their birthday 'cause they got junk wine? Right. You just go ahead and forget about that. You go ahead and talk to me one more time about a full case and I am going to get REAL ANGRY, got that?

Salesperson 1: Well, uh, I mean, I would have to speak with my boss about it.

Andy: Nuh-uh. This is just us. Me and you. I served my country. I served my city. I spent my whole adult life getting killers and rapists and thieves off the street. I've done good in my life. But now you are going to hang me out for some full case purchase? That's the last straw. You are messing with the WRONG COP. This is how this is going to play out: you are going to take care of this right here, right now, at the register. And you are going to back off this case buy baloney like it never happened. And you ain't going to get no more chances, neither.

Salesperson 1: Ur, uh, sure, sure, I mean, just, sure, whatever you say. Whatever you say.

It wasn't just about pricing, either. Andy would have these guys on the ropes about taste and quality and all that, too.

Andy: You must have some sense of humor selling me that wine you sold me the other day.

Salesperson 2: Come 'on, man, that was good stuff, man. I sold you good stuff.

Andy: Yeah, I know what you said. "It'll charm the pants off a butterfly" you said, like you was doing me a big favor. And I went for it. But you know what? I'M BACK. And all those butterflies? They kept their pants on. So we got a problem. I am very unhappy at this moment. So you better go ahead and make this right. And I'm not giving you a whole lot more chances. You got that, scumbag?

Salesperson 2: Hey, come 'on. Be reasonable, man.

Andy: You aren't hearing me. This is what is going to happen: I'm going to walk out of here with a full refund, and maybe even one of them free wine keys as well. You got that? Yes or no? And the answer better be yes. You follow me? Or you AREN'T going to like what's going to happen, and I might do something that I regret.

Salesperson 2: Okay, man. Okay. Whatever you say. Whatever you say. Just put down the chair, man.

Andy: Don't you ever waste my time about butterflies again. Or I won't take responsibility for what happens. And you will be sorry for the rest of your life.

Salesperson 2: I got it, man. I got it. Just, just take the wine key, man. Just take the wine key right out of here.

And the thing about Andy, he wouldn't be talked down to about his understanding of wine, either. I remember this one time that some kid tried to sell Andy some high abv shiraz, and Andy just wasn't having it.

Andy: What'd you just try to sell me? SHIRAZ???? Well, I just need a minute to cool down. Look, I know you have resentments against me because I'm old, and I'm fat, and I don't wear skinny hipster jeans, but this is not how you are going to resolve these issues between us. You might have some real doubt about what I am capable of buying. Well, I am here to put that doubt to rest. Cour-Cheverny. Granite grown Muscadet. TROCKEN RIESLING FROM THE NAHE!! AMBONNAY ROUGE!!! I been there in that line, buying those wines. And nothing you can say is going to take that away from me. Whatever happened back there, whatever you thought you were doing, it wasn't right. I DO NOT PURCHASE RIVERINA. Do you understand? Do you understand that I have never been more serious about anything in my ENTIRE LIFE???

I have to say, sometimes Andy flew off the handle just a little bit when it came to wine, but at the end of the day, you just had to respect the guy.

Holding a moment, instead of an object

Every so often the wine glassware discussion comes up, where people speak about whether or not a different shape of glass enhances or detracts from the qualities or enjoyment of a particular type of wine. We all have our views on this subject at this point. What I think is most interesting, though, is that it is pretty much a given amongst wine folk that the vessel needs to be glass. There is never an admission that the texture of the vessel might be totally different, and that it might in some way enhance the experience if it were. Glass is assumed. Why?
A particular glass might be in many numerous ways different from another specific glass. But at the end of the analysis, a gussied up glass is still glass.

The texture of the desired drinking vessel rarely changes whatsoever in the wine world, outside of thickness of the glass and its weight. This is kind of strange, given all the possibilities that do exist.

Think about it for a moment. Here is an example by way of contrast: sake. Sake can be an incredibly complex beverage in terms of layered flavors and nuance. Sometimes sake is served in glass. It may also be served in porcelain. Or lacquer. Sometimes it is served in a hollowed out bamboo cup. And other times it is served to drinkers in one of these:

Sake cups made of sugi, a Japanese cedar

Or something like this:
A sake cup made of hinoki, a Japanese cypress
Hinoki sake cups are associated with particular ceremonies and times of year in Japan. There are actually two general styles of hinoki sake vessels: one is in a sturdy box alignment, which is very traditional, and the other is like what is pictured above, a cup made of thin wood. This cup construction is quite light and delicate. The hinoki cup may have a character for one's name imprinted on it, and it is expected to be used only once. It is often ritually crushed after use.

There are several emotional associations around these hinoki cups that I find fascinating. The cup itself is thought of in a temporal and very personal sense. A particular cup is meant for a particular occasion, a time of year, and a particular celebration. And then it is not used again. It is associated very directly with a particular person and that time in their life. There is a sense of moment, and also of fragility. The resonance of the particular occasion is specifically underscored by the drinking vessel. This time that we share this liquid together? It won't be forever. And it is more important and special for that. We won't be washing, hanging out to dry, and reusing this moment.

Why not with wine? Why is it that we avoid that kind of temporal aspect in our wine drinking? We do we emphasize how wine evolves over time instead of how wine shapes a particular moment?

Let me give you an example of how it could be different. Let's say we drank wine out of one of these:
What if we drank wine out of an egg shell? There would be a sense of delicacy, of fragility, and of a carefully constructed moment. I mean, sure you wouldn't want to do this every day. But what if you did it just once? Wouldn't you remember that for a long time? Wouldn't you have to be very, very careful not to crush the drink in your hand? Wouldn't there be a sense of care for the beverage, and of focus, that would be hard to replicate any other way?

What if you put one of these on the table, and told each of your friends to take up a drink to their lips?
It might be neat to do once, right?

I'll take it a step further. What if you took wine that had been matured in this way

And you went ahead and served it in egg shell cups?

Wouldn't that provide a sense of moment, and of resonance, that would be memorable?

During special occasions, isn't it that kind of sensation that we try to create? Why are we so limited in our imagination, as wine drinkers, when we try?

Why do we pay more attention to the shape of the ice than we do to the time it takes to melt away?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's budget discussion time, so I'm asking...

Which Public Art installation do you support?


It is getting close to summer. Vote for fun. Vote for playgrounds. Vote for Beaujolais.

Bring the Villages to your town.

Sponsored by the Citizens for Better Beaujolais Drinking.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Encounters at the End of the Wine World

Today was the Vins du Jura tasting in New York. 23 growers from the Jura, imported and otherwise, pouring at tables layed out with their wines. Luckily, I was able to attend. Werner Herzog came along with me.

Werner was a regular at my old place of work. In truth, if Werner Herzog takes the time to visit your dining room, it may mean that your restaurant is somewhat difficult to find.
Werner was just back from the Ardeche in Southern France, where he was working on a film. He told me that he enjoyed to drink Savagnin quite often while there. I asked him if that was his first introduction to the wines of the Jura, and Werner kind of laughed bemusedly at that suggestion. "No, no" he said, "I've been drinking Savagnin for all my adult life." And then he showed me this picture from the 1970s
where he is seen arguing with a coworker over who will have the last glass of Chateau Chalon. "Damn those small bottles" he said. Werner told me that he brings this picture with him whenever he goes to Jura tastings, because in the past he has had a lot of trouble getting into professional trade tastings. Apparently, there was this one time where entry didn't go smoothly at all, as Werner had forgotton his business cards at the office. He had a picture with him from that day as well.
Werner told me that he doesn't go to Malbec tastings anymore.
We didn't have any trouble getting in this time, though. Werner explained later that this was because he had rubbed some Comte cheese under his chin before we arrived. "I always do this with the Comte" he said, "the natives can smell it on you, and then they trust you." Which made a lot of sense to me, I have to admit. I will probably rub some Comte under my chin before I go to the Jura tasting next year. Wouldn't it be nice if they would have this tasting closer to Christmas so that I could experiment with Vacherin Mont d'Or as well?

Our first stop was supposed to be the Bornard table, but there was an enormous mountain in our way. Quite big. This didn't stop Werner, though, and he devised an elaborate pulley system to get us and our tasting booklets over the mountain. 36 days later we got to meet Philippe Bornard, who was quite pleasant.

Here Werner explains how to best lay out the cables for a pulley over Mt. Bornard.

I asked Werner what originally drew him to these wines. "I knew that there was something else out there. A new reality. But where were those truths? I had to find them. I searched the books, but there were no listings. I went to the stores, but did not find the bottles. I kept at my search. I would go to the very ends of the world to find these wines, authentic wines, original wines." This was pretty heartfelt stuff, so I asked Werner if he had ever thought of doing a movie about the wines of the Jura. "I did, I did" he said, "but I had to scrap it." Apparently, and this is really a shame, Werner's movie in progress had been called Vin Jaune Tale, but the makers of a commercial Australian Shiraz had forced him to stop production. Something about copyright infringement. Sad.

Next Werner and I went to taste with Julien Labet. The bottles were showing quite well. "When I drink this kind of wine the very birds fall from the sky" said Werner, which sounded a lot like a compliment at the time that he said it.
Werner got very excited while talking about wine with Julien Labet.

We proceeded to the wines of Montbourgeau. Apparently, Domaine de Montbourgeau is experiencing increased demand. I was told that a single restaurant in Chicago wanted to purchase more Montbourgeau in a single drop than the importer brings into the country in an entire year. There are concerns that once the Montbourgeau Vin Jaune is sold out, that it will be become quite scarce. After all, you cannot hurry the production of this kind of wine along. It takes several years to come about. Werner already knew all about these problems, of course, and said that in fact, several of his friends are quite worried that Montbourgeau will become as difficult to obtain as Overnoy.

This man is not happy about the possibility of allocated L'Etoile.

Next I wanted to try some top flight Macvin, but the D'Arlay table was all the way in the next room. "It is nothing," Werner said. "A real man must walk to his Macvin. When I wanted to ask for my bride's hand, I walked a thousand miles through a forest to find her at her door and ask for her hand." And it was true that there was no forest in the way of the D'Arlay table, so I stopped making such a big deal about it. We walked over to try the red Macvin, which was my favorite wine of the day. Werner liked the D'Arlay Macvin so much that he ate his shoe, which I thought was pretty hardcore.

It was when we were tasting with Tissot that Werner became very introspective.
Somehow this lake was next to the Tissot table. I'm not sure how that got there.
"I have wanted to try a Cremant du Jura like this for so very long," said Werner as he sampled the Tissot "Indigene". I asked Werner if he really did like the Cremant, and he replied "I would travel to Mars for a taste of Cremant like this one," which sounded pretty cool until I thought about how the atmospheric pressure of a Cremant would be all weird on Mars. But I think I understood Werner's point anyway.

Werner was tasting at the Bourdy table by himself when he was shot. It was some sort of random sniper attack. But Werner didn't want to make a big deal about it, and just wanted to try the Cotes du Jura Rouge. "It's happened before," Werner said, as he was bleeding into the spit cup. "And it is not a surprise. There are a lot of challenges to tasting these wines. But the poet must not avert his eyes. You have to take a look at the Jura wines that are around you."

It was true.

I took Werner home, but he did not want to go to the hospital. "I have been shot at with much larger bullets in my life" he told me. "You have to ignore the stupidities and concentrate on the wines. That is how we find illumination. Where is the ecstasy without them?"

And this was also true.

I went home and took a nap and dreamt that I was Klaus Kinski in a tux with a large bow tie.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A door entered from the ceiling

Die Verspottung, oil on canvas, 1984
"This slide is not upside down, it's a Baselitz" was how my art history professor first introduced a work by the German painter Georg Baselitz to our class as she used the projector to show us one of Baselitz's "inverted" canvases. Baselitz, a German who has enjoyed a long and successful career as a painter and art teacher, is most known for his knack of standing recognizable anthropomorphic images on their heads inside of his pieces.

Tanz ums Kreuz, oil on canvas
The effect is, well, a bit unnerving. At least to me. I often find myself tempted to take a reproduced Baselitz work and turn it "right side up," by flipping the book or poster at hand around. I can only imagine what trouble I would get into at a museum while moving the paintings on the wall. The truth, however, is that Baselitz very much intends viewers to see his paintings in this "upside down" manner, and these works have been very intentionally placed at odds with our normal perceptions.

Lazarus, oil on canvas, 1984
This being art, there are of course numerous theories to explain what Baselitz is about in his placements. Here is some of what I think: firstly, those forms represented this way seem more vulnerable and haunting as a result. But more importantly, by turning the image of a man on his head, Baselitz very precisely points up the realities of what we have here. This is not our reality. This is not about making an illusion for our eyes. This is a canvas. And you can see all the layered brushwork more clearly because you immediately perceive what is before you in the terms of a painting. The technique of the brush is highlighted. The focus is on the painting as a painting. You don't look at this work and see a person you recognize. Instead you search to recognize what has happened to an image you might aprehend, and in that searching Baselitz has you: you have just spent time looking at his painting, and that was the key for him all along.

Georg Baselitz, here seen right side up
The viewer focuses attention on the artwork as if it were a puzzle, and in the search to apprehend it clearly, understands what it is in its details. This method of display made Baselitz quite the sensation. His work came on the international scene after a long run of cool Minimalist dominance on the world art stage, and his contemporary critics often describe being seduced by the lush brushwork of his pieces. Here was a painter who loved paint. And he stood in the German Expressionist lineage, but also against it, turning it indeed upside down in a postmodern way that employed artful manipulation of the viewer. There is a tangible sense of boundaries being crossed. Very certainly, the paintings induce viewers to think.

Recently, at the end of a very fine meal, someone shared with me a bottle of sherry. The dinner, and the other wines we drank that night, are chronicled quite well here. I was in the company of friends, people whose company I enjoy, and I was completely unnerved. Not because of the people in the room, but because of the sherry in my glass: Valdespino "Tio Diego" Amontillado. I have had quite a few top flight Amontillados in my day as a sommelier. I recently even put together an all-Amontillado dinner with the estimable Peter Liem as the host, where we tried several excellent examples. But this wine was different. Most of all it made me think. Here was an Amontillado that showed so many elements of a fine Fino, but with the overall character of a lighter styled Amontillado. I'd never had anything like that before. Zippy, intensely dry, saline, and thus in many ways like a Fino, this wine also had a subtle richness against a rather light frame that was revelatory. All I could do was wonder about it. It was like the frames of my reference points were being turned askew. It was asking me for a new understanding, and I was drawn to think about the layers of this wine more deeply than perhaps any wine of recent memory. Here was an Amontillado that loved Flor.

Hightoned lime against richly styled caramel. It is an rare combination, yes? Perhaps only as rare as this wine, the "Tio Diego," which at this point is virtually never seen in the United States. Having once poured the the classic Valdespino "Innocente" Fino by the glass at a restaurant that I worked in, I could only wonder at the change here. Here was the Innocente, but many years later. And transformed. Clearly it was different, but what had it forgotten? Less than I might have thought.

One of the takeaways from drinking the Tio Diego was a true understanding of what Peter Liem means when he says that a real Amontillado is just another intrepretation on the spectrum of Fino. Another takeaway is that I still have a lot to learn about wine, and that there occasionally comes along an example that just totally turns my world upside down. I am still vulnerable.

This picture is Brook's. Sort of.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Old School Wine Junkies

As you know, from time to time I like to hand over the blog to an acknowleged wine authority for a brief chat. My latest guest, a fellow Bostonian, will need no introduction to the five of you who read this blog. Simply put, he is one of the names most associated with wine tasting and wine drinking in America today. So it is with great pleasure that I welcome Armand van Helden to this forum.

MC LD: Armand, now you have been around the wine scene for what seems like forever, and I know a lot has changed since you first got your start. You've seen the trends come and go. Garage wines. Techno wines. Euro wines. House wines. Euro House wines. So let me ask you, what was popular when you were just coming up? What was the popular rave back at that time?

AvH: No doubt that it was Flowerz Pinot.

Crimino' D: You mean to say Flowers Pinot Noir, right Armand?

AvH: Right, Flowerz. Walt was laying in the real dope way back when.

LDeez: I agree, Armand. Flowers Pinot was one of the first real breakout, blockbuster labels for that grape variety in California. I remember how allocated it used to be, and how everyone wanted to be on that mailing list.

AvH: It was hard to get into the club, yo.

Luv D: Well, what about now, Armand? What are the hot trends that you see in the wine world now?

AvH: Like you alls, I'm drinking the funk phenomena. Brett like a limousine. It takes you there.

New Jack D: Huh. Like a limousine. I like that. Well, what about trends in production? How do you feel about Biodynamic viticulture?

AvH: I brought that.

LDre: What? I'm sorry Armand, could you repeat what you just said?

AvH: I told you befo', son. I brought that. I did that. I been about it since before the Day One on the Calendar. The phases of the moon. Different trips from the different filled cow tips. Tribal scene. Ambient chill out yeast. All that.

Heavy D: Wow, really?? Where did you talk about this that I might have seen it? Did you get a chance to expand on these concepts somewhere?

AvH: 'course, cuz. Check it on the Full Moon ones and twos. That's the frootz of my rootz.

L-Train: That's amazing, I have to say, that I never made that connection. Thanks, Armand! It really is amazing what I learn from these interviews. Just amazing.

AvH: 'taint nuthin, cuz. I'm down wit' it.

IceD: I mean, does this happen to you often? Is there an audience out there that fully understands what your contributions to wine as a subject really are?

AvH: I open people's heads up. That's this man I am. Shuh, U Don't Know Me sometimes and for som' things, but now you does. That's what's 'sup.

Mack D: Well so, in that same sense, a lot of people out there probably don't know that you are huge into amari, but I have heard you say that you really are. Are there any favorite amaro brands that you are currently drinking that you would like to share with the readers?

AvH: Inga is my baby boy! My, My, My.

Kid 'n D: Inga "My"! I like that one a lot myself. Certainly a nice rec there, Armand! It's very good over some rocks, I think.

AvH: I tell kids it's fo' sure: Go Inga, Go Crazy!

Whack D: So let me ask you then about another hot topic of these days, because I want to know where you stand on this: how do you feel about tasting notes, Armand? What do you think about flavor descriptors? Boysenberries, cassis, currants and all that?

AvH: That ain't no wine, cuz. That's what's the duck sauce.

Slick D: Well put, Armand. Well put. So Armand, besides yourself, who would you say is the most influential voice in wine circles today?

AvH: None to none it's Barbra Streisand, son.

Lil' LD: Armand, thank you so much for being here. Maybe we can look forward to another visit from you soon, and maybe Barbra can come as well?  What do you say?

AvH: Everybody gotz to obey the Rulez of the House, mighty man. 2 da Future!

Balla' D: Thanks, Armand! It was really great having you here. We'll see you again!

AvH: True dat!

On the NYC Wine Beat

Monday, April 4, 2011

A life amongst flowers and clay - from wd 11/3/2009

Back in late 2009, I had a great afternoon tasting and discussion with one of the Vodopivec brothers, of the eponymous winery in Northern Italy. Because I am into purposeful obscuration and the building of suspense, I didn't post up this reminiscence on my blog until now.

Some of the takeaways...

The Vodopivecs run a horticultural concern based around flowers. That is actually their main business interest.

As far the wines were concerned, they had experimented with Spanish Anfora, but had been unhappy with the results. They had also been unhappy with the results of skin-contact, long maceration wines made from white grapes macerated in wood. There had been a problem with the equilibrium of the wines, which I took to understand as an unbalance of wood tannins.

The Vodopivecs had decided to turn to Georgian Anfora. There are apparently NO books in Italian indicating how to make wine in Anfora. Numerous searches at the library only confirming this for them. So trips to Georgia were required. I asked if they spoke the Georgian tongue, "of course, my surname is Vodopivec" was the quite apt response. But Mr. Vodopivec did anyway employ a Georgian/Italian translator and guide to help him with introductions and government documents and such. How many of these sorts of people do you suppose there are out there, these translator folks? Someone who can help an eager Italian through the byways of regional Georgia? That's right! There is just one, uno, singular! I expressed surprise at this, as the countries are close to one another. "After all," shrugged Mr. Vodopivec "it is a very small place we are talking about."

And so it was that Mr. Vodopivec visited the Caucasus. The Caucasus are Anfora World Headquarters, apparently. I asked Mr. Vodopivec if he had visited the wineries in the region as a stagiare or a tourist. He responded that there was no such thing as a tourist for this region. Score another point for Mr. Vodopivec and the True That Team. Apparently, much drinking is involved in the patriarchal Georgian winemaking family. Much drinking. We are talking about 2-3 litres a day of wine per person. Serious numbers. This was a major obstacle for Mr. Vodopivec: how not to appear impolite, and still drink the glass empty at each (numerous) toast? Mr. Vodopivec seems to have survived, although the memory still makes him shake his head in disbelief of that fact. The folks in Georgia drink the wine, he said. Sometimes okay, sometimes not okay wine, but they drink the wine. A lot of wine. And then he said it was like 250 years ago over there. By which I think he meant more like 250 years ago in Carso, rather than 250 years ago in NYC. But who knows.

There are apparently 7 or 8 producers of Anfora. The actual Anfora vessels. You order one year ahead of the date of completion for your Anfora purchase. I'd tell you who to order from, but the name is only in cyrillic. So you order your anfora, you wait a year, and then you must pick it up. Which is a problem, because the local mafia types like to shake down the foreigners at gun point, as they did Mr. Vodopivec, when they took his truck from him. There was a bit about paying off mafia types and then having only so many hours to load up the truck in the middle of a forest before high tailing it out of Dodge City. Fraught with danger and genuine concern for safety seemed to be major themes of the retelling at this particular point of the story.

Mr. Vodopivec did make it back to Carso with his Anfora intact, of course. Which means those Anfora have to be cleaned, apparently quite the chore, as it must be done entirely by hand, using only water. And the issue of burial. Mr. Vodopivec is a staunch supporter of Anfora burial, not giving any credence at all to Anfora left above ground. Apparently, both the temperature control and the life forces are thrown all out of whack by leaving the wine in anfora above ground.

Currently Mr. Vodopivec is macerating his wine for 6 months in anfora. He hopes to extend that period to 1 year. But there are concerns about reduction. Apparently, Vitovska can get mighty reductive if you try to macerate with the skins for two years or so.

As a side note, there is no Solo / MM wine being made at Vodopivec at the moment, as it has been produced in the past. They may make this reserve wine again in the future, however.

How many times might a wine caretaker use an anfora to produce wine, you have perhaps wondered? 300 years seems to be a realistic response, as Mr. Vodopivec has tasted wine out of a 300 year old anfora located in Georgia.

Also to note, the Church was a big influence in keeping anfora winemaking alive in Georgia.

Some answers I have perhaps forgotten, and might remember later. Some questions I forgot to ask.

Hope you find it all as interesting as I did.

This man grows flowers.

On a related note, you have seen this and this, yes? Because they are important to see.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

This level is filled with many doors

So I rolled to the tasting with Laurence Fishburne, because he is a big Champagne guy who also has these badass sunglasses, and he was all like "If one bottle fails, they all fail. All of our lives, we have fought this war. Today I believe we can end it." And I was like, I dig it L-Dog, tell me more! So he says "Today is not an accident. There are no accidents. We have not come here by chance." And I said, Damn Straight, badass glasses man, we had a taxi and some good directions. But then he goes: "I do not believe in chance. When I see 12 bottles, 12 tasters, 12 glasses, I do not see coincidence. I see Providence. I see Purpose. I believe it is our fate to be here. It is our Destiny. I believe this day holds for each and every one of us, the Very Meaning of our Lives."

Which was all pretty heavy, so I went over to talk with the Oracle for a little while. She is always at these things, and she is usually pretty nice. "My goodness," she says "look at you! You turned out alright, didn't you? How do you feel?" So I tell the Oracle that I lost my job, and she seems to know already, and says to me "I know you're not sleeping. We'll get to that. But let's get the obvious stuff out of the way." And I'm like, well, I just lost a sommelier gig that I loved, and I have a lot of feelings attached to that, so I suppose the most obvious question is: how can I trust you? And she just looks right back at me, and says "Bingo! It is a pickle, no doubt about it. Bad news is there is no way to really know if I am here to help you or not. So it's really up to you. You just have to make up your own damn mind either to accept what I am going to tell you, or reject it." And I thought that was pretty fair.

Then she reaches out with a bottle, and asks
"Vouette & Sorbee Saignee de Sorbee?" And I say, do you already know if I am going to like this enough to rank it as my favorite of the tasting? And she's all nonchalant, and says "Wouldn't be much of an Oracle if I didn't," with this big Whatever shrug. But I want the answer, so I'm like, If you already know, how can I make a choice? She isn't having any of that, though, and shoots back "Because you didn't come here to make a choice about whether you love Vouette & Sorbee. You've already made it. I read your blog. You're here to try to understand why you made that decision." So I drink some Saignee de Sorbee, and she shows me that she is not to be played with. "I thought you'd have figured that out by now," she says.

Which was all pretty rough stuff, so I straight out ask the Oracle: why are you here? But she doesn't even blink. She says "Same reason: I love Vouette & Sorbee. We're all here to drink what we're all here to drink. I'm interested in one thing, Levi with an i, the good stuff in my champagne flute, and believe me, I know the only way you can afford this stuff is together. You know where you must go with this early mid-day buzz, right? You've seen it, in your dreams, haven't you? The Door of Non-Interventionist Method. What happens when you go through the Door?"

I was looking at a World without Time.

I had to choose.

I named the Saignee de Sorbee as my favorite wine of the tasting.