Friday, March 30, 2012

Larry Stone returns to Trotter's

Even the vines seem to be giving Larry Stone a nice pat on the shoulder on the occasion of his recent announcement.
I was very happy to read that legendary sommelier Larry Stone will be returning to the famed Charlie Trotter's restaurant to finish out the run of that extraordinary venue. Trotter's, as you probably know, will be closing in a few months. It seems entirely fitting that Larry, who gained worldwide respect and attention while the Head Sommelier of Trotter's back in the early 1990s, should be with the restaurant as the page is turned. I have a lot of respect for Larry, and I think he is a rare person in the business, especially in regards to his own dedication to the trade. Often people don't get a chance to revisit iconic places that meant a lot to their own careers while sharing time with old friends about to embark on the next chapter. This is the opportunity Larry has been given, and it is one that he surely deserves. I am very happy for Larry, and would suggest that you go see him at Trotter's while you still can. Larry helped define what we think of as a Sommelier in this country, and I admire him for blazing a path we could all follow.

Cheers, Larry!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

the Amari file: Bisleri the Lion

Not many Americans have heard of Bisleri, perhaps the most renowned Ferro-China. I was amused to come across this vintage Italian commercial for Bisleri. See for yourself.




Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How I speak about myself when I speak about myself.

In different lighting the resemblance to Miles Davis becomes exceedingly apparent.

Here is a link to an interview wherein I compare my own situation in life to that of a gifted black child growing up in a midwestern town I've never been to. I also strengthen that correlation by wearing a pocket square and drinking from fine stemware.

Enjoy!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Empty handed

She said she had been in theatre before. I never asked, but I assumed with some kind of puppets kind of thing. We sat down to dinner at this little place and she picked out a Sancerre and it was crisp and fresh and alive and everything was jumpy in a good way. She made gestures with her hands. Small around and sometimes kind of quick. I remember the first time she made a circle with her two front fingers, one on each side, and then pulling them out straight for a line across the bottom. She said it was a sun rising in the sky. I had thought it was a heart and maybe it was that too.

We stayed together a lot afterwards. I put my jacket on her when it was cold and we were outside at a place on a corner, no block from the wind. She held her hands close with one palm wrapped inside the other and I put my arm around her and we were alright. She had the waiter pour for us a brandy and there was a warmth there that I hadn't expected. She cupped my glass in her hands.

It had been only a few days but it didn't matter. "Something ripe" she said and handed me a full tulip. It was red and I didn't ask too much about it maybe because I didn't need to. Or else didn't think to. She reached out to grasp something in the air in my direction. I smiled a smile that curved up on one side only. I didn't pause much further and neither did she.

I had said some things and maybe they could have been alright to say but they weren't and we both knew it. She opened up something to get our thoughts thinking onto something else. Caramel. Shrill. Wasted. Premox. She didn't reach for another bottle. There was the gesture of the first circle with the two fingers, and the line underneath, but this time it seemed like the circle was falling down to the floor. I left pretty soon after and she didn't say much about it.

I heard later that she was living with a guy from West Campus. After some while there was news of a marriage, but I never was told too much around that.

Probably it took some time to realize I had never asked her about the wines. What they were. I hadn't noticed. And in more than one way I had missed what she was trying to tell me.

An Announcement



Spring is here and the flowers are blooming and even the air seems golden. You don't need me to tell you this, but it just feels great. Like a gift.

What have you been drinking? Perhaps share some favorites in the comments?

Dear Distributor,

  How about you stop handing out heavy spiral bound tasting books at the entryway of your major Spring Tasting and instead supply wi-fi and an iPhone app? Frankly, I don't really look at the tasting book anymore anyway, and it is a pain to lug around both the heavy book and a tasting glass. Nowadays I just take a picture of the wines I like with my iPhone. Why don't you provide me with an App for your tasting? Like I could scroll over to Table 18, and there would be the list of wines from Table 18, and if I tapped on a wine it would tell me the applicable pricing for that wine. And maybe there would be some information about the producer or grape variety breakdown for the bottling. A link to the winery's website might be there. And there could be some sort of Save Favorites function that I could use to mark what I considered to be the highlights of the tasting, saved all together in a folder I could tap on and open up later and maybe add notes to. If there was someplace to attach my own photos of labels to the bottle pricing info, well that would be just too cool, don't you think?


  Maybe one day there could be audio pronunciation guides, or virtual winery tours, but that would be next level sort of stuff.

  Would this amount for you, the distributor, to more than the cost of printing up and transporting all those tasting books? I don't imagine it would, and it seems like the App could be updated for each seasonal tasting. That would save a lot of trees.

  Maybe you could think about it?

  Thanks for your time.

Best Wishes,
Levi with an i

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What I learned from Arsenio

As a sommelier I recognize that I have learned from other great sommeliers who worked before me, and who I have worked with myself. There have been many, many instances where I only understood something important because another sommelier took the time to make it clear to me. But in addition I am aware of the many crucial lessons I have also learned from chefs, and from waiters, and from Arsenio. That's right, Arsenio. Arsenio Hall has been one of the most important reference points for me in the business that I am in, and I want to take a moment to recognize Arsenio and give my tall lankey homie a shout out.


Here is some of what I learned from Arsenio:

Get the Audience Involved... Arsenio got the people going. The crowd for him was a huge part of the show. There was an energy and an excitement there that he stoked and brought up. Remember the whole Roo! Roo! Roo! arm pump? People dug that. Aresnio came on the stage and talked to the people, and he didn't talk over them or even to the camera. He was out there with those people, he wanted them involved, and they felt that. He gave out audience hugs, he gave out audience high fives, he gave out audience smiles. He forever pointed to his favorites in the seats. Arsenio brought the vibe, and he got the audience looking where he wanted them to look. Seriously, watch Arsenio decide to focus the attention of the entire studio on the sax player. He could do that.

A wine can be tremendous. And a wine can be great. But a wine can't make a connection or a sale all by itself. If a sommelier doesn't get his customers excited about the wine they have in the glass those poor people may never realize the importance and sheer awesomeness of what is going on in that moment. A good sommelier sets a tone where people are into the wine that is front of them because of how it has been shown to them. Arsenio taught me that.

Pay Attention to Pronunciation... "Arseniooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Hall!" was how the anouncer used to say it in the intro. He elongated that first name into like 8 names, all of which were Arsenio. And as a viewer, you would remember that. Sometimes when I know people pretty well I like to say "Macabeoooooooo" or "Pouilly-Fu-Said" or "Beaujolais-he-who!" Or "Of Corse" instead of "Cap Corse." You know, put a little English on it, make a moment a bit funny and memorable in a good way. Thanks for the intro, Arsenio show announcer guy!

Put them in the Show Before They're Gone... Arsenio got his guests on the show before they were shot, or broke, or all out of totally crazy inappropriate clothing to wear. Arsenio understood that you can't have a good interview with old out of work MC Hammer, you have to have it with Hammer when he is in his prime. Likewise in his 2Pac interview, Arsenio grasped, perhaps before anyone, that he better have this guy 2Pac on the show quick, before he was shot down by one of those "nines" he was always rapping about. Arsenio knew how difficult interviews with dead guys could be.

I think about this when I think about wines by the likes of Verset, or Gentaz, or Vatan. You have your chance to put the wines on your list, and then maybe that chance doesn't come again. Take it or lose it.

Leave Room for the Unexpected... Arsenio had this guy Bill from Arkansas on his show and this guy played the saxophone and the next thing you knew, this guy Bill was THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Boom. Zip. Zoom. That was it. Election over. Bill Clinton took over with that sax solo. It made him. Forget about whatever he said during some sit down interview, nobody remembers that. Bill had some screen time and he shined in those moments like few politicians have shined in the history of these fine States.

What if instead of allowing Bill to play the Sax, Arsenio had just been like, "hey, just so you know audience out there, I'm going to tell you this, Bill plays some good saxophone!" and then he had cut to a commercial? I mean, Ross Perot would have been President! Which just goes to show, you have to let the wine do its thing. It can't be like, okay, sniff, sniff, talk over the wine, talk about whatever, decide the wine is not doing it for you, move on to another wine. That's no good. You have to let the wine have a moment. You have to let it show you what it can do. Because you really can be surprised sometimes. Tell me if you don't think Arsenio is just totally surprised by how good Bill is on the sax. Even he didn't see it coming all the way how it actually went down.

Diversify and Develop... Don't just have one show. Have a couple of different shows. Guest star. Work with your friends. Get out there. You never know what might really catch on, or what direction you might find yourself liking. Work the floor, but write a blog. Travel around, but tell people about it back home. Take pictures. Lead seminars. Use twitter. Don't expect the world to come to you if you don't come to it a little bit.

Let Jay tell the White Bread Jokes... Look, there is a big audience for the kind of comedy Jay Leno does, but maybe it doesn't have much edge to it. Any edge, really. Arsenio was all edge. Maybe too much edge. Look at him going at Vanilla Ice over race when Ice was all kinds of popular. Look at him putting all of N.W.A. on the show for an interview with Eazy-E in a straight jacket and MC Ren talking about police brutality. And of course there was the Farrakhan interview. Arsenio didn't go for the obvious sells. He didn't make up a list of bland Pinot Grigios. Arsenio knew that someone could always buy bland somewhere else and that the worst thing he could try to be was the same. Arsenio didn't want the whole pie, he just wanted his part.

Arsenio, look man, you taught me a lot of my business. I thank you for that.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Without Benefit

I had been thinking about Kipling's story for three days, and that line "Then I will mourn, and afterwards take an inventory of the furniture in this house." It was only yesterday when I realized that exactly a year ago I liquidated the cellar at Alto. Back then, and I guess it wasn't so long ago, I took an inventory and moved it off piecemeal.

I guess you don't know how things will come at you until they do. I hope you never have to find out how bitter it does taste to take a razor blade to your own canvas.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The textual me on the context of wine pairing

It's not often that I read something and think, Wow, not only do I agree with a lot of what this guy is saying, but I also feel like we have a lot in common as well!


But that's what happened when I read the piece A Studied Take on Pairings in the April 30th issue of the Wine Spectator.  Check it out if you get the chance. It's behind a paywall, but those of you not in the blog business probably make tons of dough, so no problem.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Waiting by the sea.


It's probably not a coincidence that at the same time we stopped manufacturing things to last forever, we placed a renewed emphasis on making transient moments - like food and wine pairing - memorable.

Bussers, waiters, dishwashers, chefs, sommeliers: we all build sand castles.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

No label, and no tag for this post.

On Kawara.

Joseph Cornell.

Rudy Kurniawan.


Definition isn't just what something is, it is also how well it is reproduced.

Do you find it disconcerting that the frame is askew?  I do.

Sulphur


Sulphur is like a snow fall. It covers every thing and takes the color out. Some prefer a light dusting and some prefer none, but no one likes a blizzard.

Eventually, with time, the white receeds and the original contours return, but the early tracks through the landscape can be difficult.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Out of breath: an empty Bond


Breathless is a movie about how movies lie to us. About how trying to act as our on screen heroes act can poison and destroy the communication we need for actual relationships. A man who can't talk about his feelings tries to live the all outside life, the life of the movies, where every action and scene is external, and no internal monologue brings no regret.


He wears the clothes of a gangster, but they fit him poorly. He talks in the phrases of the gangster, but is less well understood. There is a sworn allegiance to his own idea of Bogart, but the outcome for him isn't as he might have imagined the script.


Michel Poiccard steals the car, beats up the guy, and shoots the cop, but in the end for no applause and no girl. The movie fantasy, acted out, has undone this man's life. What he has idealized has led to his own betrayal. Never seeing his own heroes having done so he has not said "I love you" and so his love has left him, sure that he doesn't.

Breathless is a movie that says watching movies is dangerous because they tell a story we can't follow.

I wonder if I didn't do the same as Michel, in my own way.


James Bond debuted on the movie screen in 1962, and it was in 1963's From Russia with Love that he delivered the line "Red wine with fish...well that should have told me something". In Dr. No he had said no to the doctor's preference for '55 Dom Perignon over the '53. The blind guesses were always apparently correct. The directions to bartenders always sounded urbane. Here was a man who appeared on screen to know his beverages and what he was about. An ideal.


As a kid growing up, we watched the Bond movies all the time. Thinking about my own inspirations, it certainly wasn't the Paul Masson ads starring Orson Welles that got me interested in wine. Forget that. I wanted to wear the tailored suits and drink the fine vintages. I wanted to deliver the quick quips and maybe, just maybe, win the hearts of fine women. I hoped to say my wine lines with discernible authority and aplomb, and I'll tell you what, I don't think I was alone. In fact, I would say that in the late '90s the only-the-best-will-do luxury expert was perhaps the defining model for "sommelier" in the United States. And I tried to live up to it, going broke and developing a shallow relationship with wine in the process.

And it is only because I have changed that I can see that now. These days I'm more likely to spend real time with wines that I love, and let me tell you, they aren't all perfect beauties. But we get on. And most of what I've learned about wine has come about through listening, and not trying to be the smartest guy in the room. I never saw James Bond give credit to a small farmer for his hard work, but now I try to whenever possible. Sometimes the make believe that we see on the screen is a bad example.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What are you doing on March 19th?

A Map of the Gironde, 1767. From the collection of the Bibliotheque nationale de France.
It turns out, and you probably didn't know this, I am really into wine. I know: soooo weird that I'm just telling you about this now. How could I have kept this strong feeling from you all this time? You, my loyal reader. And what else have I been hiding from you? I bet next you'll be wondering if in fact I am freakishly tall, or something so entirely not possible as that.

Anyway, I am really into wine, super into wine, and wine seems to be okay with me, too. So there's that. We are a thing, me and wine. We have a relationship. I admit it. We have been seeing a lot of each other, and it's been awhile now.

Really it all began when the La Mission Haut-Brion stayed overnight at my place. Before that moment I had been in a pretty much monogamous relationship with The Simpsons TV show. But after that evening, well, wine and I have been going steady ever since.

Turns out I'm ready to take our relationship public. I need to get it out there. I need people to understand. So I'll be talking about wine and Bordeaux, our time together, and what it means to me. I decided to let you know now, in case you'd like to be there. Hey, it's a love story, and who doesn't like one of those?

Maybe I'll see you on the 19th.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The faces of La Paulee

La Paulee, the Burgundian tasting event and dinner, was recently held in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to be there and meet a few people. I thought I might share their pictures with you.

Francois Carillon

Pierre Gouges
Charles Ballot
Jean-Marc Roulot
Laurent Ponsot
Pierre Yves Colin-Morey

Sunday, March 4, 2012

One interesting wine: Koshu Orange


The Coco Farm and Winery F.O.S. ("Fermented On Skins") is a Japanese Orange wine. It is made from the Koshu grape variety, which is a grape thought to have been cultivated in Japan since the 8th century. Recently, I got to try this bottling from the 2007 harvest. The Koshu grapes were picked late and fermented with native yeasts, skins in contact with the juice.


Coco Farm is a Japanese winery that employs autistic and developmentally disabled workers. The Coco Farm wine programs are overseen by Bruce Gutlove, an American University of California Davis graduate now living in Japan.


This wine had a nose that I think is hard to replicate outside of the Orange idiom. Grape tannins leverage smells, perhaps. Everyone talks so much about the color of these wines, I wonder if it is all too easy to forget the perfume.

Thank you for sharing this wine with me, Mariko.

Friday, March 2, 2012

the Amari File: French Chinato


The bottle label reads:
"Compose de vin genereux tres vieux, d'excellents quinquinas, de delicieuses plantes aromatiques et prepare avec le sels de Vichy, cet aperitif est bien le plus parfait."

Which might translate as:
"Consisting of very old wine, quinine, as well as delicious herbs and prepared with the salts of Vichy, this is a most perfect aperitif."

Poster from 1899, and in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. See the BNF online catalog entry here.



Thursday, March 1, 2012

La Paulee, the Cadet de Bourgogne, and the scud missile attack

video


All credit to Sir Betts for the video. Thanks for making me look like a witting terrorist, bro.

Rich Somm, Poor Somm

This man did not write or endorse this post in any way.
Growing up and around the wine business, I have seen that there are two kinds of Sommeliers: Rich Somms who know how to make their beverage cost and a profit, and Poor Somms, who do not. You might have an extensive wine education, you might work hard, and you might even be at a busy restaurant venue. But those factors by themselves won't ensure success when it comes to the all important number that determines whether or not you can keep your job: the beverage cost percentage. If you follow the sure fire educational tips below, you can learn to think like a Rich Somm. Start now and find yourself happier when the month ends and the numbers come back.

Rich Somms know that the profit is in the buying. A Rich Somm doesn't buy the hyped up vintage in quantity, they buy the vintage that was forgotten about and closed out by distributors trying to make room for the hyped vintage.

Rich Somms master the micros. They know that the easiest way to lose money is to undercharge the customers, and they take extra care to make sure that the micros keys are up to date and easy to find, with the correct pricing attached. A Rich Somm also makes sure that beverage revenue is reporting to beverage sales on the reports.

Rich Somms are always tasting. Rich Somms are always on the look out for the underpriced gem that no one knows about, and they take every opportunity they can to taste more wines.

Rich Somms don't overextend the cellar. A Rich Somm would rather get a good deal on a large quantity drop of a wine they really like than pay more for single case buys so that they can fit three more wines in the cellar space and on the list.

Rich Somms are careful about their numbers. They make sure to update the inventory. They double check the spreadsheet formulas before sending the results off to accounting.

Rich Somms measure out the size of their glassware. A Rich Somm knows how many ounces are going into the champagne flute or dessert wine glass, and prices accordingly.

Rich Somms are nice to wine reps and sales managers. They know that he who gets the closeout list first gets the closeout items before they are gone.

Rich Somms pour tasting pours for guests to try. A Rich Somm would rather have a half ounce glass of wine returned than have a five ounce glass of wine returned.

Rich Somms check in their own deliveries. They don't submit invoices to be paid without knowing for certain that the correct items arrived in the correct quantities.

Rich Somms think about breakage. A Rich Somm would rather pay a few dollars for a rubber mat in the cellar than a few dollars for broken glass in the cellar.

Rich Somms return corked bottles. They ask for and receive credits for corked wines.

Rich Somms believe in training. They want the staff to know the wines so that the recommendations are right for the customers, and less wine is returned.

Rich Somms keep guide glasses in the service station. A Rich Somm wants the staff to know what amount they should be pouring into the glasses, and keeps example glasses filled with grenadine and water on hand for the staff to see.

Rich Somms know the difference between a void and a comp. They ring in wines given out by the house to be comp'd by a manager.

Rich Somms buy beer for the kitchen staff to be drinking, so as to keep them from the good stuff.


If you would like to add to the Rich Somm's Education, please do so in the comments.