Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sitting down for a chat with Patrick Cappiello

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Patrick Cappiello, who is the Wine Director and Sommelier of GILT Restaurant in New York's Palace Hotel. Patrick has been quietly assembling an amazing wine list over the last two years, and I thought it would be a good time to check in with this extremely knowledgeable steward about what he is now bringing to the tables at GILT.

This is the ceiling at Gilt, in the lounge area. This is one of my favorite places in all of Manhatan to uncork a bottle of wine. There is a feeling of the exquisite in the surroundings that adds to the sense of awe I find in a great wine.
The mantelpiece in the lounge at Gilt. Being surrounded by such details helps attune one to finding the detail in a layered wine, I think.

I was lucky to get to talk with Patrick and to hear what he had to say, just as I have been lucky in the past to follow his wise counsel about bottles of wine from his great list. You can peruse that list here. See the full interview for yourself: I promise that time listening to Patrick will be time well spent.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

the Amari file: Spanish interlude

I took this picture in 2009, at Star Bar in Ginza. I had no idea at the time that I was looking at the last Xerez-Quina still produced.
On a trip to Tokyo a couple of years ago, I became acquainted with the Xerez-Quina of Valdespino. You can see a clearer depiction of the label, and its listing of 15% abv., here. Today I learned, through the help of friends, that Eduardo Ojeda of Valdespino (whom you can see in this video) believes Valdespino's to be the only Xerez-Quina still produced in the Sherry zone today. I was also told that the name of the product will soon change, from Xerez-Quina to simply "Quina," owing to a change in the labelling regulations.

Why does this matter? Well, because you are looking at the last remaining example of the Sherry equivalent to Barolo Chinato. This is Sherry that has been infused with quinine, herbs, and spices. A solera aged wine made into a Spanish Chinato.

What other Xerez-Quina labels were there in the past? Well, Ruiz was one. So was Agustin Blazquez. Saenz. R. O'Neale. Merito. Los Arbolitos. Bodegas Morilla "Santa Lucia"V. Diaz & Co., A&A Sancho, Jorge Thuillier, and Luis Caballero. And a few more.

But we are left now with a single example of Xerez-Quina, of which only a small quantity is made, and none imported into the United States.

I wonder if we will let this last example also disappear, as we cast about for something clever to say on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving thanks

As you uncork many bottles of special wine in the next few days, perhaps spare a moment of thought for those who labored successfully to fill them for you.

A Happy Holiday Season for Everyone.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Two Tough Cops. Two Killer Spanish Brandies.

They're good?
Real, real good. Top quality product. High shelf.
What'd you hear?
A few bottles to start, no big shipments, only two bottlings, but there is going to be impact. Big impact.
My guy said this is going to change things on the street. The Spanish Kings are making a move. Equipo Navazos.
Navazos? La Bota Navazos? Your guy said Navazos, he said this a move? Your guy from Soccer Bar?
Equipo Navazos. It's going down. What people say about Spanish Brandy changes after this. Big move.
You talked to your guy? When?
We talked. There was a meet. I said hi. But nothing is on the record but this and this. That's what we know for now.

When do we have more to go on? Do we even know what we are looking for?
I got a picture.
Real current. Yesterday.
What do we do now?
We watch. We keep an eye out for them. That's what we do.
Stake out?
This product is going to move. If we don't watch now we miss it. The buys will be quick or there won't be buys left.
Where is the connection? Who?
Palazzi. Our old friend Nicolas Palazzi. He's the mover. He's FROG 1, the French Connection.
Palazzi? Tough guy Palazzi?
Yeah, Palazzi with the gold chains. He's with the pmspirits.com outfit out of Poughkeepsie now.
Your guy said Equipo Navazos?
He said spirits? Brandies?
This is it, this is the move?
This is the move.
I guess we watch then.
Yep, we watch. We wait for it. Popeye time starts now.
You want some coffee? We might be here awhile.
Forget coffee now. I'm pumped. This is Equipo Navazos coming. This is the move.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rereading Peter

My relationship to tea might summed up as Cheech and Cha: more avid recreation than thoughtful research.

I do, however, know some people who are quite knowledgeable on the subject of tea. I was just rereading this classic rumination from Peter Liem on the terroir of the teapot, and what a tempest of thought it can provoke for tea and wine folks alike. It would be easy to neglect the amazing writing Peter did on his personal blog because he no longer adds new posts to that classic compedium. What a mistake that would be! Go back and peruse some of Peter's posts. They deserve a reread. They offer an opportunity to engage with one of the keenest minds in the wine business, and in long form.

It's easy to get hooked on the daily new, the latest chatter on Twitter, the recent tasting, the big mention. I would suggest that if we confine ourselves to the new, while forgeting to acknowledge some of the superb writing of the past, we risk having their keen insights go up in (tea) smoke.

And of course, don't forget Peter's nonpareil current writing at www.ChampagneGuide.net

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sometimes the toughest decisions are those that involve a Family of wines...

Clemenza promised the Contract Growers a three times bonus if they brought in grapes at 30 brix. You took over, and you didn't give it to them.

I welched?

You welched.

Yeah, Clemenza promised them nothing. Clemenza promised them nothing! He hated those high alcohol Pinots more than I do!

Frankie, they feel cheated.

Michael, now you're sitting high up here in this city penthouse, and you're drinking, what are you drinking? You're drinking Champagne cocktails! And you're passing judgement on how I run my harvests!

The winery still makes highly lauded wine, and you'll run it to make highly lauded wine.

My winery doesn't make food to eat with that wine, my family doesn't eat food with that wine, and it doesn't eat nothing with Industrial Yeasts!

Now Frankie, you're a good old man, and I like you. I've respected your palate for years.

The Contract Growers, they're taking hostages. They say we can't harvest the grapes in parcels 6, 7, or 8. And Mike, they spit right in my refractometer! All because they are backed up by these Industrial Yeasts and these high sugar musts!

I know. That's why I don't want the grapes touched.

You don't want them touched!?

I want to be fair about this.

You want me to be fair about this!? Hahaha. How can this be fair? For chrissakes, listen, they blend in CHARBONO, they blend in SYRAH, they sell these made up, painted wines to their own GRANDMOTHERS. And I tell you, everything with them is VELVETY MOUTHFEEL. Velvety mouthfeel and soft tannins. And they leave the finesse to last! Now I want to run this harvest without you on my back! And I want these grapes picked earlier!



Now I have a business that is important, and I don't want it disturbed.

And you give you loyalty to a CULTIVATED YEAST before your own wine label?

Come on, Frankie. You know my father did business with Cultured Yeasts. He respected them.

Your father did BUSINESS with Industrial Yeasts, your father RESPECTED the science behind Industrial Yeasts, but your father never TRUSTED Industrial Yeasts! OR these high pH numbers!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

the Amari file: Chinato as it was

We know the situation of Chinato today: there are about 30 commercial examples of Barolo Chinato produced in the Piemonte, with several of those produced on a contract basis by distillers that have been given a recipe by a winery. There are in addition to these the assorted Chinati made for personal use by those wineries who do not want to file the extra (apparently extensive) paperwork required by the Italian beverage and taxation laws and who want to make the Chinato themselves, without employing a separate distiller. It is not premitted in Italy to run a winery and a distillery on the same premises, nor is it allowed to make Chinato in a winery (if you are thinking that this means that the Bartolo Mascarello Barolo Chinato is not made at the Bartolo Mascarello Cantina, you are right, that is what it means). There are Chinati produced in areas outside the Barolo zone, even as far away as Toscana, but the market today mostly follows the Barolo Chinati.

But what was the situation before today? What was the Chinato scene like 100 or so years ago, when more or less it was just getting started at a commercial level?

Looking for answers to an entirely different question, I stumbled on this Agricultural Journal. The article dealing with Chinato, which is a small piece of the larger Journal, is dated 1919. It concerns the analytical testing of the available commercial Chinati of the time.

There are a few generalities to be gleaned from the article (which can be downloaded as a large .pdf file or converted to plain text for translation).

Chinati were not exported in any significant quantities until 1907, although we know that Zabaldano Chinato received a commendation at a fair held in Nice back in 1899.

Part of the interest of the article is the articulation of the broad range, stylistically, that was involved across the available examples of Chinati. Most of the Chinati being produced at the time were not Barolo Chinati. The dominant area of production inside the Piemonte was centered around the Province of Torino, which was also home to the vermouth industry. There was white Chinato. There was Passito Chinato. There was extra old Chinato. There was Barbaresco Chinato (which does not officially exist today). The alcohol by volume of a Chinato might be just over 10%, or it might be as high as 20%. Sugar levels could vary even more radically, although something like 14 to 16% was the norm.

So what Chinati from the province of Cuneo (home to Barolo Chinato) might have been available for purchase in 1919? It just so happens, the report tells us.

Abbona e Figli (Barolo) 10.09% abv.
C. Barale Fratelli (Barolo) 17.54% abv.
Bianchi e C. (Bra) 16.08% abv.
L. Calissano e Figli (Alba) 14.01% abv.
Fratelli Camerano (La Morra) 16.64% abv.
Cantina Sociale (Alba) 12.97% abv.
G.D. Capellano (Alba) 16.74% abv.
Fratelli Faramia (Savigliano) 14.39% abv.
Fratelli Gancia (Canelli) 15.46% abv.
Raimondo e Ravinale (Grinzane d'Alba) 15.65% abv.
C. Rinaldi e Figli (Barolo) 18.64% abv.
Enrico Serafino (Casale) 15.75% Barbaresco Chinato & 16.63% Barolo Chinato
S. Zabaldano (Castigliole Falletti) 16.14% abv.

Zabaldano "China" and "Chinato," side by side

So, what to make of this? Well, the Barolo Chinato market seems to have expanded considerably in the last 100 years, despite the difficulty that you or I might encounter in sourcing a particular bottle. If in 1919 there were less than 15 major producers of Barolo Chinato, and today there are 30 or so, well, there are a lot more today. This assumes that there were indeed less than 15 to choose from in 1919, and that the report doesn't just skip over others that might have been out there.

There would also appear to be little link today with the bottlings of the past. From the list above, I have only ever encountered bottles of Barolo Chinato from a few of those cited, including the co-founders of Barolo Chinato itself, Cappellano and Zabaldano (although Cappellano might be spelled with two p's, it is listed as "Capellano" in the Agricultural Journal). It would also seem likely that a Cappellano Barolo Chinato from 1919 would have been made from grapes sourced from vineyards other than would be the case with a modern day example from Cappellano. In the case of Zabaldano, although bottles may still be found, the Barolo Chinato is no longer produced. The last member of the family to make some, Victor Zabaldano, died in 1989 and left no heirs. It is thought that he took the recipe for the family Chinato with him to his grave, roughly 100 years after it was conceived. So we seem to have in what is available today very little chance to experience what might have been on offer a century ago.

Unless you have a bottle lying around, that is. In which case you should call me.

Other Pages in the Amari File (so far):
A Link of Interest
An Amari Cocktail for the Holidays
S. Maria al Monte

And Mr. Asimov's article, which is seasonally appropriate once again

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The blind tasting

We were able to get the blind tasting group together today, which was great, because it had been too long.

It was quite a turnout!

I think a lot of tasters were really thrown off by the first flight. Someone mentioned "meaty" notes right at the beginning, and you know how that can really sway a whole table's opinion right off. It turned out to be more of a classic example of salinity and minerality wrapped within a firm texture.

The second flight, a side by side, was a much more obvious and clear cut example of the differences between Cote de Nuits, seen here on the left, and Cote de Beaune, on the right.

The Noveau was a particularly fine example of the kind of texture and joyful mouthfeel you can really find only from this style. Most of the tasters had no trouble identifying what we were dealing with right away. A "banker" as they say, and it very pleasant indeed to taste a bit of this on such a sunny afternoon.

Some tasters objected to the serving temperature of the next flight, mentioning that the "gloopy" and out of balance texture was really more a feature of how it was served, as opposed to the actual wine.

But the debate was most vocal surrounding the last flight of the day, with some tasters quite strong in their belief that they sensed the classic pork rind of Syrah, while others were just as convinced that the stewed beef more characteristic of Mourvedre was at play here. In the end, I never got a look at the label to find out.

Certainly it was a lot of food for thought, and I was very happy that I could attend!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sherrie Levine : Sherrie Levine

11/11 and repetition.

We went to the Sherrie Levine show.

This is a picture of the Tour Guide at the Sherrie Levine show. She explained to us how Sherrie Levine questioned the idea of authorship in an age of mechanical reproduction. She said that it was Sherrie Levine's method of repeating and multiplying "original" artworks that created a tension between the idea of the "original," authorship, and what they mean now, today, when it is so easy to copy and reproduce. She told us what Sherrie Levine's intentions were. The Tour Guide was the author of her remarks about what Sherrie Levine meant. The Tour Guide was not Sherrie Levine.

I took the picture of the Tour Guide hurriedly, because it is prohibited to take pictures in the galleries of the Whitney Museum. The Tour Guide gave me her permission to take her picture. I explicitly told her exactly where in the room to stand. She is female and I am male. We are both caucasian. I did not ask her if she believes in God, nor did I share with her my views on the subject.

I sent this photo from my iphone to my email account, then saved it to the desktop of my computer. Now I have uploaded the picture to my blog.

This is a picture of the Tour Guide at the Sherrie Levine show 18 times.

This is a picture of Marcel Duchamp. I did not take this picture, but I have taken it and put it on my blog. The Tour Guide told us that Marcel Duchamp greatly influenced Sherrie Levine. This is something that I have been told before.

This is a picture of Marlene Dietrich. I did not take this picture, but I have taken it and put it on my blog. Marlene Dietrich has the same initials as Marcel Duchamp.
 We walked home.

This crosswalk had a repeating pattern that recalled the repeating patterns of Minimalism. Possibily Minimalism recalled the repeating patterns of a crosswalk.

What does this have to do with wine?

This is a photograph that I took of a photograph that I did not take of Bartolo Mascarello. The original photograph hangs in the Cantina of Bartolo Mascarello. I have previously represented the other on my blog.

Multiples of "original" bottles at Cantina Bartolo Mascarello. Bartolo did not make any of the wine in these bottles, someone else did. Bartolo died in 2005.

Multiples of "original" labels at Giuseppe Rinaldi. A machine will put these labels on the bottles of Giuseppe Rinaldi.

This is that machine.

Staircase from Giuseppe Rinaldi's vineyards.