Saturday, December 24, 2011

From our blog family to yours

From all of us here at So you want to be a Sommelier?, a Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Taking a different reward home each day

A friend told me about her childhood living in Manhattan. She had grown up in a small building on 27th Street, several decades ago. She said that on one side of the family flat there were the wholesale flower vendors, warehousing daffodils, and that in the other direction were the furriers, busy cutting large swathes of mink down into stoles and pillowy muffs. Each weekday my friend would walk home from her school, and if she walked by the flower stalls, the slender, serious men who worked in them would give this young girl a flower to take home with her. And if she passed instead by the furriers, the large men with long smoking pipes who tended the shears there would present the young miss with a small swathe of fur. She would rub the soft fur between two fingers and find the texture of treasure there. On the other afternoons she would burrow her nose into a single flower stem, finding the fragrance held inside. And each day she could pick which direction home to take: fur or flower.

I know how she felt. This winter I find myself luxuriating in the plush texture of red Saint-Joseph, or with my nose buried deep inside glasses of intensely floral Roussanne.


In the winter they pruned the vines

When you consider that this:

1. One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longings
- ah, the sheer grace! -
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
- ah, the sheer grace! -
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
- him I knew so well -
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

from the Catholic Friar Saint John of the Cross (written originally in Spanish in 1585)

is possibly apt to turn with time into this...

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winters nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

from the scholar Clement Clarke Moore (written in 1822)

I tend to give, in this cold season, an extra thought to those monks who toiled amongst vines for those many years to hand down to us more clearly the thinking of their place, written in translucent liquid.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

East Coast Raj

I remember the first time I met Raj Vaidya, I had ordered a bottle of the 2002 Huet sparkling at Cru - far from the most expensive wine on the list at that time, to say the least - and Raj practically bounded to our table with the bottle, asking "Who is the smart person who ordered this??" Well, of course this was a person that I liked right off. And I've seen this same attitude again and again from Raj in a multitude of situations. He gets ebullient and jazzed about wine, but comes across in a disarming manner, quick to appreciate other people's love of wine as well. This is a pretty much ideal disposition for a man with his job: Big Man on Wine at Restaurant Daniel.
And have you seen the list at Daniel lately? It is a superb mix that includes classics from the likes of Raveneau and Chateau Latour, offering vintage depth, with superlative lesser known producers such as Ledru in Ambonnay, and Gahier in Arbois. There is tremendous drinking at all price levels, and wines that are very much in keeping with the spirit of the food. After having been in his role for two years, it is easy to see that Raj is very eager to maintain the Daniel tradition of offering guests a "thrilling document" (as the NYT once phrased it) from which to select wine.
Raj and I recently sat in the skybox at Daniel, a perch that is one of the country's truly superb tables, and we spoke about how Raj got to Daniel and about what he wants to accomplish there in the future. Along the way, he gave a few tips to those looking to break into the business, and described some of the wines that he most loves. Check out the interview on snooth.
Restaurant Daniel especially glows during the holidays. It possesses that same halo as the tree at Rock Center, or The Nutcracker production at Lincoln Center. A highlight of New York City in December. Maybe this would be a good time of year for you to introduce yourself to Raj?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The wine that slips away from itself

"Nets are for catching fish; after one gets the fish, one forgets the net. Traps are for catching rabbits; after one gets the rabbit, one forgets the trap. Words are for getting meaning; after one gets the meaning, one forgets the words. Where can I find people who have forgotten words, and have a word with them?"   - Zhuangzi, Chapter 26

This passage is part of the Zhuangzi, a collection of writings at least some of which are attributed to the historical Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosoper who lived during the 4th century BC. I particularly like the English rendering above because it artfully captures in the wordplay some of the duality that can be seen in Zhuangzi's thinking as a whole. Zhuangzi's "Transformation of Things", from the second Chapter of the writings, states clearly what I think of as this duality, or easy "slippage" (my term) between two forms of existence:

"Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction!"

Where do I see this kind of slippage of worlds in the original quotation, from Chapter 26? Well, how about that phrase "Words are for getting meaning" which was so well set up by the two previous examples from the animal world? You might say the line aloud and listen to what you hear. Are words forgetting their meaning in this passage?

Or what about "Where can I find people who have forgotten words": have the people forgotten the words, or do they instead have the forgotten words?

And when the author asks to "have a word" might he be asking for his own name amongst these people - and thus a defineable meaning for himself - in addition to the gist of having a conversation?

It is interesting to think of these kinds of dual meanings in the context of wine, because I think that in general, we don't. At least not when we write about wine. Often enough we make note of a wine as we perceive that it is, and fail to acknowledge that what we perceive also contains in itself the beginnings of a change into something else. As I was reminded recently, a 2000 Chateau Simone Blanc tastes today nothing like it did on release. All sorts of savory and rich characteristics have evolved out of a deeply creviced liquid that once displayed a fresher fruit and a softer glide. What do we make of this? As we place a verbal image of a wine into text, are we fully acknowledging that we are in a sense standing at the edge of a moving river, taking a snapshot of a liquid that will change as it progresses down the arc of its loop around the visible bend? What we see, what we imagine as the total sum of the river in our minds, slips away and is replaced. Perhaps as we raise a glass of wine to our lips, we should try to remember this.

As a wine has a bottle and a label, we tend to believe it to be contained entirely. But as time goes by, do the words on that label forget one meaning in favor of another?

Monday, December 19, 2011

My List of the Top Wine Movies of All Time, Part 2

Well, without further ado, I include here the remainder of my personal list of the TOP Wine Movies of Forever. See what you think!

L.A. Story, 1991

Perhaps not the first Wine Movie that would come to mind for a lot of people, but this certainly deserves inclusion for one scene alone, wherein a character describes how she puts her wine in the Spinning Cone and then takes off the first fake fruit she sees in there. Also notable is the sequence where the pruners threaten each other with loaded firearms as they race one another on tractors down the vineyard rows. Certainly this film is a must see if one wants to learn more about Southern California winemaking as it was in the heady days of the early '90s.

Citizen Kane, 1941

The story of a man of ideals who thought "it would be fun to run a Wine Critic Newsletter". He is subsequently lionized, and wields great power, telling a correspondent "You furnish the wine, I'll furnish the waiting list." But is he ultimately misunderstood by the people he sought to influence?

Broadway Danny Rose, 1984

A well meaning Jewish Sommelier takes the only job he is offered, and finds himself watching as people tear apart hundred dollar bills and throw them at Super Tuscans. He tries to get customers to appreciate the wines he holds dear, but encounters boatloads of difficulty as people dismiss his Frappatos as balloon art. Soon enough he wonders if he can develop the backbone of a top flight Taurasi, or if he must forever be a ventriloquist for wines he does not enjoy. Looking for solace amidst pastrami, he runs past the Carnegie Deli, realizing that it is strictly for tourists, and heads to his true love Katz's.

My Night at Maud's, 1969

At a dinner party featuring seductive older vintages, the protagonist Jean-Louis (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) must decide if he will stick to his own stated ideal of drinking Muscadet young, or if he will follow the logic of Pascal the Vigneron, who famously waged that if God does exist he must be often drunk, and most surely understanding of those who also take a tipple.

Last Year at Marienbad, 1961

A man repeatedly and in different places claims to have had Overnoy's "Black Capsule," but the woman he claims to have had it with does not remember him, and an apparently smarter man resembling Joe Dressner frequently abuses him. Has the first man, known only as "X", actually sampled the masterpiece, or is he only hopelessly confused? Why can he not remember the vintage, even though he says that he asked for the label to be removed? And did he really wear that formal black evening jacket to a hipster wine bar in Williamsburg after all??

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968

As everyone else around him is sleeping late at night, a man gets into a seemingly polite but highly emotionally charged argument on a Computer Wine Chat Forum, where the question at stake hinges on who is foolproof and incapable of error in their subjective assessments. When it becomes clear that neither party is incapable of error, and that oxidation might be harmful to wine but that lack of oxygen surely kills, one of the accounts is deleted. After this episode, the man travels a tremendous distance to an Ian Schrager lounge designed by Philippe Starck, but finds that he has arrived late (early?) to the dancefloor and is the only one there. He subsequently and simultaneously sees himself as an old man and as childish.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My List of the Top Wine Movies of All Time, Part 1

When you think about great - really Great - movies centered around wine, multitudes come to mind. There are so many superb wine movies to name, it is more a matter of whittling down the sizeable list to something more manageable. I've gone ahead and put together my list of All Time Wine Movie Favorites, and I thought I would share it with you here. Maybe one of your favorite wine flicks has been left off? Please do say so in the comments.

Despair, 1978

Of course any list of wine movies would have to include something from Fassbinder. It is just a matter of chosing one in particular from amongst the several wine themed Fassbinder pictures. The neglected classic Despair  finds Fassbinder at his most wine-y. Dirk Bogarde plays Hermann Hermann, a man slowly gone mad, unable to tell the difference between Saint-Bris and a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. He hatches an elaborate plot to serve the later to his guests at a dinner party, confident that they will find minerality in the glass. Amazingly enough, the film is set in 1990's Berlin, against an imagined backdrop of the problems inherent with German reunification. Throughout the movie Hermann Hermann remains blind to the fact that his wife is having a tawdry affair with Pinot Grigio.

Blade Runner, 1982

Harrison Ford plays a man charged with hunting down fake Jeros of '45 Pomerol with only his corkscrew and his palate to go on. In this dark vision of the future wine world, Rick Deckard (Ford) must track down each fake wine before it enters the market and does irreperable harm. He faces a deep moral dilemna when he encounters a wine that he knows to be "fake" but which he loves the taste of. Should he continue this dangerous relationship? And Deckard's very identity is called into question when it is revealed that his first experience of '45 Pomerol may have been from a forged bottle, implying his earliest taste memories may not, in fact, be "real." A bleak cinematic picture of global wine world sprawl and a wine terrain far removed from terroir and the indisputable sense of place. An imagined dinner table where every dish smells of synthetic truffle oil. How pliant is a reality that absorbs the fake whole? Is it possible to escape a permanently dark city-world built upon the convenience and desire for replication?

Rebel Without A Cause, 1955

Perhaps most disturbing today owing to the three shining bright talents starring in the film having been taken too early by the scourge of Hollywood: Premox. But when viewed again, this picture painfully renders the spirit of a boy unable to find solace or faith in his parent's love of straw-covered fiasco Chianti, and unable to find answers in a school life devoid of Poulsard. A reminder of the loneliness of youth when the desire is to drink verticals whole, but who knows of what.

to be continued...

Eleven Madison Park: The Wine Director's Cut

Over the summer I spoke at length with John Ragan, who opened acclaimed restaurant Eleven Madison Park as its sommelier and wine director, and who built a top notch wine program there over the course of a near 6 year stint. Going back over the edited video footage, I was reminded of those bonus discs you receive with a dvd purchase, wherein a film's creator talks you through a movie as it plays. It seemed as if John was letting the audience in on his way of thinking, his rationale for directing the wine show at EMP as he did. Why the emphasis on dialogue in those scenes at the table? What were John's favorite lines from wine script? Who was the target audience for this wine story? John lets us know.

"And the Oscar goes to..." John Ragan (left), winner of a James Beard award for Outstanding Wine Service at Eleven Madison Park [photo by Kent Miller]

In the interim since the interview was filmed, John has gone on to accept a corporate level wine director position with Union Square Hospitality, Danny Meyer's restaurant group. Seeing John again recently, he said to me "I had completed what I wanted to do at EMP." The snooth interview occured just as John was putting a wrap on his work at that restaurant. This is an excellent opportunity to hear from John about what went on behind the scenes. Don't miss this interview!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Locally Famous

My host explained to me that these two were locally famous in town. Two mutes, neither ever saying a word. And I was told that they were always together. Early each day they would come out from the large house where they lived and criss cross along to the very edges of the road until they would stop, which was often. The one who steered the way was a wide dog with a pot belly and rich brown coat, and who most times walked so slow that his leash fell loose behind him. The other mute was a slender man. He possessed a sharp, clear eyed expression. Always immaculate and very soberly dressed, he wore a pressed suit firmly buttoned down against the morning chill.

The old dog was not in a hurry. He would halt and hug the very ground with his fat paws, rolling his pot belly fully across the deep earth. The trim man would stand behind him quietly, a firm grip on the leash. If he was impatient to get to a set appointment, he never showed it. Instead he would wait, eyes very fixed in the present, and when the dog was ready to move again he would give a silent nod and they would go forward. Each day they walked in this manner, without sound, taking their time.

Locally famous. Perhaps it doesn't sound like much, but I have realized that this is what I set out to find some time ago, when I became a sommelier. I'd like to tell the small stories of a particular place, and it if applies to everywhere and always, maybe I'm not interested. I don't know anything about epics, or what is the greatest. I know that in this place, across an ocean from where I live, there were two mutes who did not speak for themselves, and I have a mind to tell you their story for them. Life is what happens in front of you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Me, You, and #SommChat, together

Tomorrow, Wednesday the 7th, I'll be taking questions live on Twitter from noon to 1pm (EST) via #SommChat. This is your chance to ask me about the smallest white Grand Cru in Burgundy, which Woody Allen movie name I believe to be the greatest, and what brand of comfy soft socks I prefer in winter (Answers: Criots-Batard-Montrachet, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Wigwam, not necessarily in that order). Tune into #SommChat tomorrow on Twitter, facilitated by @KeeperColl, to follow the flow! I am sure that I will say something mildly embarrassing, if not truly profound.

This is actually not a picture of me. It is a picture of Walt Whitman. I'm not sure why this picture is here, but I am sure that I do dig that hat.

The Amazing Jordan Salcito

Jordan explores the roots of wine by travelling far underground, and somehow also manages to have great glassware on hand.
Awhile back, when summer was still humming along, it was with great pleasure that I caught up with Jordan Salcito, the young and talented wine director behind the wine program at Crown restaurant in upper Manhattan. You have probably heard a bit about Crown already, but here is a look back to what Jordan was tackling in the time ahead of the opening, when every line of the list was still a possibility, and nothing was written.

Most of the wine interviews you hear about, they are with people who have been in the business forever. Those people may have replied to the same question with the same answer on repeat for who knows how long. Here is a new face making up fresh answers to the difficult challenge of a restaurant opening, and the responsibility of taking up her own first wine list. This is someone who in a short span of years has managed so much, including stints at top restaurants and cellar visits to amazing producers. Why not take a moment to hear what she has to say?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blog Birthday

Well, the blog is one year old today, and I'm sorry that the real commemorative post will have to wait a day or two, as I am late for work at the moment. But I will say that I started this blog to voice the kind of stories, theories, histories, poems, and travelogues that are difficult to elucidate tableside. And I've been happy with the result. The wine life has to be about more than "Would you like the wine to be fuller or lighter bodied?" and I hope you have also enjoyed some of the conversation that has happened here over the last year.

I leave you now with a print of a man making an infused distillate in olden times, a clip from the Amari File. Of course the exact recipe must remain a secret until I can decode the written script.

Thanks for your time. Thanks for tuning in and commenting as this blog has done its thing. As recent birthday boy JLG has said, every story must have a beginning to the story, a middle, and a finish, but just not necessarily in that order.

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 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

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.