Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summertime help kit - from wd

Well, it's summertime, and most of the sommeliers I know are chillaxin' a bit with the 3 Rs: Riesling, Rosato, and Romorantin. But this is also the time of year when all those people from towns without a Spotted Pig show up for a visit. These people usually want a friendly recommendation or two about how to best enjoy their time in the Big Momofuku City. Recommendations take time. Drinking rose at the summer share takes time. How to manage this balancing act? Well, don't stress! Old Uncle Levi with an i is here for you with some timely recommendations about what to do in New York City. Feel free to pass them along as if they were yours.

Order a Caffe Latte at Abraco in the East Village. This must be accompanied by an olive oil cracker (not the olive oil cake, but rather, the cracker).

Have a Tres Leche cake doughnut from the Doughnut Plant in the LES. I recommend purchasing two doughnuts. You are there, after all.

A Super Heebster sandwich at Russ & Daughters in the LES. Accept no substitutes. Ordering the "Super" version, with the wasabi flying fish roe, is the thing to do.

The tea service at Lady Mendl's, on Irving Place. Come early for your reservation (you have to make a reservation) and sit in the waiting room for awhile. So lovely.

Many good options exist for Neapolitan style pizza, even now that Una Pizza has left to SF. I personally end up at Motorino now and again, but there are lots of potentials. Lucali is popular with the byob set.

Prune is a treasure, and specifically at lunch time, when it is possible to walk in without a wait and have a delicious meal. I highly recommend the lamb burger on toasted Enligh muffin. East Village.

An order of pork buns at a Momofuku. In the East Village.

The grilled corn at the take out side of Cafe Habana in Nolita.

Composed dishes (more than the sushi) at Soto. West Village.

Go to Milos Estiatorio. Select your own fish from the wall of fish. I usually get the Turbot, if it is available, and I am prepared to wait extra for it. Have it simply grilled whole. Have a nice bottle of greek white wine. Share with someone whose company you enjoy. Best to make a reservation in advance, so as not to get stuck at the bar tables. Midtown West.

Second City Dog at Shake Shack. Lots of locations now.

The Greenmarket days at Union Square are fun to be at.

The beer room at the Whole Foods Bowery has a nice selection of imported beers. I think it is a good option for grabbing a few bottles of brew.

The best grocery shopping for the best price, all things considered, is probably to be found at Fairway Market on Broadway.

The cocktails at Vandaag are great. And the staff is nice. Really worth a stop. East Village.

A very good porchetta sandwich can be had at Porchetta, although sometimes they are a touch dry these days. A bit of evoo would help with that. Make sure to sprinkle on some of the flavoring from the little tin can by the cash register. East Village.

An evening at the NY Philharmonic in Lincoln Center. The Summer Series is very deftly handled. Arrive early on a sunny day and sit on the grass above Lincoln.

Aburiya Kinnosuke for the Yellowtail collar special, if available, and a fresh squeezed juice cocktail. They give each patron their own juicer. That's fresh. Near Grand Central.

The Ten Bells. Of course.

A visit to The Cloisters museum for a walkaround followed by a picnic on the grass overlooking the Hudson. Waaay uptown.

Finding a great wine with age on it for a more than reasonable price is easy enough at Tribeca Grill, as you can see here:

The housemade non-alcoholic sodas at Perry Street are delicious. Sit on one of the couch like things in the lounge and look out the window at the river. West Village.

The tea smoked duck entree at Grand Sichuan on 55th and 2nd Ave. They allow corkage here.

The Kreuz Market sausages available at Hill Country make it worthy of a stop in.

If you are willing to pay up, the various locations of Grom have delicious gelato.

I enjoy to go to Dinosaur BBQ, up by Columbia. I won't say that it is great, great BBQ. But I will say that I enjoy to go there.

July is good timing to catch something at Summer Stage in Central Park. The shows are usually very good, and also free. An easy walk from the Whitney Museum, if you want to double up on the day.

A frisbee toss on Roosevelt Island can be nice on a summer day, as long as the wind isn't too strong. Roosevelt Island's grassy spaces are less populated than Central Park's, and so lend themselves a bit more to frisbee adventures. Take the Tram out there. Pack a lunch.

Grandaisy Bakery on Sullivan Street in Soho. This used to be the original Sullivan Street bakery. Still a favorite destination for me. Get a pizza square. The funghi is my favorite.

A visit to The Paris Theatre for a viewing of what is current amongst French Cinema. 58th St. near 5th Ave.

People have their favorite steakhouses. But one they usually forget to mention is Le Relais de Venise l'Entrecote, which admittedly is more about the sauce than the steak. But what sauce!! Just the best steak frites idea imagineable. Midtown East.

Most people think of the same 4 or so places to have a good bagel, but my favorite remains unheralded: Bagel Works on 1st Ave., between 66th and 67th Sts. Arrive at 5:30am or so for a fresh from the oven, totally terrific warm bagel.

Terramare Cafe on East 65th St. has delicious bombolone. Don't get anything else. Just get a bombolone and promptly leave, walking over to Central park to sit and eat.

Lunch at Ippudo offers what is probably the best ramen currently available in NYC. It is best to go as a singleton to have any hope of getting a seat within a reasonable amount of time.

The Morgan Library and Museum has this glass elevator that I just love. You feel like you are riding up to the very sky. Midtown East.

Di Palo's on Grand Street is a must visit for fresh mozzarella. Be prepared to wait.

It is a good idea to have oysters at (the original) Blue Ribbon. Also the bone marrow. But especially the oysters. Soho.

It is worth it to go to the Time Warner Center just for the Nutter Butter cookies at Keller's Bouchon Bakery.

Banh Mi Saigon in Little Italy is good if you want a delicious sandwich (skip the other options) on the cheap.

Despana on Broome Street is a good market to go to when looking for gourmet items from Spain.

Of course for wine there is Chambers Street, Crush, Astor, and Uva.

Recommended bars that could be referred to as dives: Milano's (LES), International Bar (East Village), McSorley's (East Village), Dubliner House (UWS)

Franny's in Brooklyn's Park Slope is a favorite. Be prepared to wait for a table.

If you haven't strolled through the great hall of Grand Central Terminal before, you really need to do that at least once. There is a Murray's Cheese and a Joe coffee shop in there, too.

A stop into the Gramercy Tavern bar room for a glass of wine. 20th off of Park Ave. South. Also to mention, Chef Michael Anthony is right now turning out some of the finest food in the history of the Tavern.

Watch the locals model the latest summer fashions in the Sheep Meadow, in Central Park.

A stop into Bar Jamon for a glass of Ameztoi "Rubentis". Just perfect about this time of year. And the 2010 is back on form for this wine.

I have yet to have a spellbinding Kaiseki meal in NYC, but the closest I have come to that ideal was at Rosanjin in Tribeca, which is a place that I would like to return to some time soon.

A trip out to the Brooklyn Botantical Gardens for a stroll amongst the cherry blossoms.

A visit to the Met Museum on 82nd for a walk around - there is a newish American wing, btw - to be followed by taking in the view from the roof. Eat and drink before you arrive, though. Options inside have often have long lines. Of course, Central Park and it's lake with all the small boats is just right around the corner.

A pastrami sandwich on light rye from counter service at Katz's Delicatessen. Accompany with a Dr. Brown's soda. LES.

Stuffed Grape Leaves at Bereket. LES.

Dinner at the hidden Japanese restaurant Tsukushi, on Tudor City Place, where the only chef is the owner, and the clientele are mostly Japanese folks working at the U.N. There is no a la carte menu here. It is a set menu, and it is full of little, special treats. Sometimes they allow corkage, but it is best to ask ahead.

A visit to the hidden back drawing room at Gilt, which is amazing little spot to have a glass of wine. Or get the couch by the fireplace in the vestibule. A highly coveted perch, in my opinion. One of the great secrets to drinking in the city.

An order of amaro at Lupa. I dig on Caffo del Capo a lot, myself. Soho.

A late night run to Sake Bar Hagi, in midtown near Times Square. 49th St. Have some Kubota sake and order several many skewers. Delicious and cheap. Avoid the larger entree offerings.

A beer or scotch at the original PJ Clarke's on 3rd Ave. Open till 4am every day.

The only street food I return to with regularity is the Lamb Sandwich on Pita at the Halal Guys food cart, 53rd and 6th Ave. Look for the guys in the yellow sweatshirts.

An afternoon trip to Bryant Park, and perhaps a stroll through the main Library Building as well. One way to take in Bryant Park that not a lot of people realize is to go up to the second floor cafe of the Japanese bookstore across the street and take a stool at the window seats.

Late night Bi Bim Bap at Kun Jip in Koreatown. Get a beer to accompany. Don't overorder, they are going to lay out a lot of food for you.

A stop into the Essex Street Market (LES) for a cheese discovery at Formaggio Essex.

A Lure Burger at Lure Fishbar in Soho.

Brunch in Chelsea Market. Why Chelsea Market? Because you have tons of options to mix and match your meal from the different vendors there, there is open seating, and best of all, no huge lines. Brunch in NYC usually involves huge lines. This is a get around of that phenomenon. I especially recommend the Grilled Cheese sandwich from Amy's Bread or the meatloaf sandwich from Dickson's Farmstead Meats. The Highline is nearby.

Pegu Club for a Gin-Gin Mule. Still one of the best cocktails on offer in NYC. Soho.

Super Taste in Chinatown for hand pulled Chinese noodles with beef, in broth. Get a side of the greens (in the packet) to add in, and do not miss an order of dumplings, which are delicious.

Take in a picture at the Film Forum.

Stop in to Argosy Books on 59th St. to check out the selection of out of print wine books (downstairs). This is a special place in Manhattan.

A visit to the Peking Duck House for, what else, Peking Duck. I like a side of Chinese Broccoli, myself. Corkage allowed.

Dinner at Soba Koh for cold Inaka Soba, and an appetizer from the specials list. Sapporo on draft. East Village.

The soup dumplings at Restaurant 456 in Chinatown are the best that I know of around here.

A visit to Cocktail Kingdom/Mud Puddle Books on West 21 St. for a look at vintage cocktail book reproductions and high quality barware accessories.

The original Wondee Siam in Hell's Kitchen for Thai. Bring your own beverage. The experience is increased ten fold if you happen to bring someone who is Thai with you. Somehow the food becomes much better.

Happy summer ya'll!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wine Libs!!

Yesterday's __(distributor/importer )__ portfolio tasting was an __(adjective)__ mix of ___(noun)___ and styles. There were definitely a __(adjective)__ bottles I ___(verb)___, but the room that afternoon was __(adjective)__. From __(person, place, or wine)__ to __(person, place, or wine)__, the vibe around the tables at the __(time of day)__ was very __(adjective)__. And __(name of fellow sommelier)__ ___(verb)___ ___(adverb)___, as usual. That said, if you ___(verb)___ that I must buy __(specific wine)__ to get my allocation of __(better specific wine)__, then I ___(adverb)___ have a problem with it.

All sales orders should be ___(signed)___ and submitted in writing. All quantities are__(term for zero)__ until they are confirmed by a sales manager. __(Numerical order)__ come,__(different numerical order)__ served.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What not to say

Not too long ago I was leading a staff tasting at work, and while describing a particular wine I made reference to a movie that pretty much everyone has seen when they were a kid. Nothing obscure, or Foreign, or Dramatic, mind you. I'm talking about major box office action and effects, with a spinoff video game in the arcade afterwards, the whole bit. And guess what? Nobody in the room, a group of about 30 people, had seen the movie or knew in the slightest what I was talking about. Which is when I realized that I have become an old man. I'm working with folks today who weren't even alive when I was passing afternoons watching films in the theatre instead of studying for the MW exam.

I've done a bit of polling and inquiry about this subject since that day. As it turns out, most of the references I use to describe wine are waaaay outdated, just as it is true that nobody says waaaay anymore, and in fact most people that I talk with today have little idea what I am trying to get at most of the time. I have become a relic. An original Star Trek redshirt, etc. To ensure this never happens to you, I have compiled a list of outdated references that the younger generation(s) has passed up. I have done this as a public service, with the hope that however old that you may become, that you never feel that old. At least not at a wine tasting, where most times someone is there trying to embarrass you anyway. These are not just movies and such that played awhile ago, that's not the deal. These are movies and such that played awhile ago, that were once quite popular, and that subsequently have been totally and utterly forgotten or never known by the young kids sippin' wine today. So, here goes, the cultural ephemera that you should avoid referencing in your wine talk:

Mr. Belvedere
Out of Africa
Pretty in Pink

The Full Monty
"More than Words" Extreme

Silver Spoons
Anything with Kevin Costner in it, especially if it is Bull Durham

"To Be With You" Mr. Big
Body Heat

Parker Lewis Can't Lose
"Kiss Them For Me" Siouxie and the Banshees

Jem and the Holograms
"I've Been Thinking About You" Londonbeat

"Unbelievable" EMF
A Different World
The Mysterious Cities of Gold
"Pop Goes the Weasel" 3rd Bass

Fraggle Rock
"Live and Learn" Joe Public

Care Bears
Designing Women
The Fall Guy
"Achy Breaky Heart" Billy Ray Cyrus

Family Ties
Greatest American Hero

Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines
"I Got A Man" Positive K

Night Court
Scarecrow and Mrs. King

The California Raisins
A River Runs Through It
"Zombie" The Cranberries

So there you have it. Don't go inserting any of the above into your wine speak unless you want to seem old, or unless I'm around to understand you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Divine Intervention

Recently, Mr. Magical opened up a bottle of Louis Michel "Les Clos" Chablis 1986 for the staff tasting.

Jules and Vincent were there to help us drink it and share some comments.

Jules: You see the color of that wine he poured for us? It was golden brown. That wine should be f'ing dead, man.

Vincent: I know, we was lucky.

Jules: Nah, nah, no. That wasn't luck.

Vincent: Yeah, maybe.

Jules: This was divine intervention. You know what divine intervention is?

Vincent: I think so. That means that God came down from heaven and stopped the oxidation??

Jules: That's right! That's exactly what it means. God came down from heaven and stopped the motherf'ing oxidation.

Vincent: I think it is time for us to leave, Jules.

Jules: Don't do that! Don't f'ing blow this off! What just happened here was an f'ing miracle!

Vincent: Chill, Jules. This stuff happens.

Jules: Wrong, wrong. This stuff doesn't just happen!

Vincent: You want to continue this theological discussion now, or in the very back of the staff meal line, which is where we will be, because it is getting about that time?

Jules: This wine should be f'ing dead, my friend. What happened here was a miracle, and I want you to f'ing acknowledge it!

Vincent: Alright, it was a miracle. White Burgundy doesn't do that anymore. You're right. Can we go eat now? I'm hungry.

Altogether, it was a pretty amazing tasting.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Highway to Wine Heaven

We watched a lot of Little House when I was growing up, so you knew that when Highway to Heaven came out, also with Michael Landon as the star, that we would be watching that, too. Highway to Heaven, for those of you who might not have seen it, was basically like Quantum Leap, but with a G-d angle. In the show, Michael Landon played an angel come down to earth who tried to help people make the right decisions in their lives. As we all know, making the right decisions is pretty much the hardest part of the life-as-human deal, so there were plenty of opportunities for Michael to help folks out, and the show ran for 5 seasons on the air.

Recently, I had one of those experiences where you figure, Uhm, no way did that just happen on its own. Cause that was just too great. Those are the times where I figure somebody up there must have been helping me out a little. But because it is sometimes difficult to find the web address of one's guardian angel, I'll go ahead and post here on my earth bound blog about how you could have a similar experience, if you so desired.

Here's what occured: I had a glass of Equipo Navazos "La Bota N. 22" Manzanilla sherry. I had a heaping spoonful of wasabi infused flying fish roe from the famed Russ & Daughters. And I had beautiful afternoon weather outside on a friend's patio with charming company. Cue the music, and the takeaway: this is how it is supposed to happen. There was no mistake. This was a beautiful, pure, delicious pairing. Heaven, even.

The La Bota 22 is remarkably elegant and detailed for such a robust wine. I recommend everyone to get a bottle. Seriously. These sherries from Equipo Navazos are some of the greatest wines in the world, by whatever measure you might want to judge "great", and they are usually under $100 a bottle retail, which is a measure about none of the other wines labelled as great could apply. I feel like each time there is a release in the series that there is a new reference point given for what sherry can be and is.

The wasabi roe is a part of the reason that when people ask me about all of my favorite places to eat in New York City I reply: Russ & Daughters.

Thanks to whomever was looking out for me that that could all come together. I owe you.

It was a blessed day.

Reading List

I frequently am asked for advice by those looking to learn more about wine. They want to know which wine books they should purchase for their home libraries. This makes sense, as there are any number of worthy authors out there who have written at length about all kinds of subjects relating to wine. People want a short list of the important books, and they often turn to me for that list, assuming for some reason that I am well read. What I have decided to do is to post the list of important wine books here, on my blog, so that I may just refer people to the link in the future, and thus by so doing, subtly intimate to these people that no one buys physical books anymore.

So without further ado, this is my listing, given in no particular order of preference, of my very favorite books about wine.

The Sneetches and Other Stories (1961) by Dr. Seuss
This insightful text on wine collecting is a must read for any budding wine enthusiast. The Sneetches are a species of Cabernet, and some of the Sneetches are born with "100" on their bellies, while others are not. The desire for the 100 sign on a belly greatly preoccupies the Sneetch culture, as it also defines the Sneetch social hierarchy.

The Little Prince (1943) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The story of the narrator's long search for a good blind taster. Repeatedly the narrator is frustrated by those who identify the mystery wine as a Hat DOC, when it is in actuality a Boa Constrictor That Has Swallowed An Elephant DOCG. Finally, the narrator is heartened to find an excellent, intuitive blind taster, a little boy who can not only discern the Provencal AOC of Box, but also identify the specific commune of Box-Holding-A-Sheep-Inside. Later there is a lot of talk about planets and stars and flowering times.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Which follows the many tasting exploits of the famous Master Sommelier Sherlock Holmes. Holmes frequently reminds his protege Dr. Watson to fill in all of the tasting boxes, explaining that this is the key to deducing the mystery at hand. One of my favorite passages involves Holmes deducing the origins of a unknown banker. "It's elementary, my dear Watson" says Holmes, to the amazement of the doctor, "this banker is from New Zealand, and his name is Sauvignon Blanc!"

Where the Wild Things Are (1963) by Maurice Sendak
This is still the benchmark work on Natural Wine and the Natural Wine Movement. With this book, Sendak explored some of the rituals most associated with Natural Wine, such as burying the cow horn and staring at yellow eyes without blinking once. Sendak also showed for the first time that many of the prominent Natural Wine Growers dance a wild rumpus by moonlight, something that is common knowledge today, but which was rarely talked about before the arrival of this key text.

Clifford the Big Red Dog (1963) by Norman Bridwell
The story of a dog named Clifford the California Pinot Noir, which although it was once a runt, grew and grew and grew, to hugely gigantic proportions. Clifford the California Pinot Noir grows so big that he is hard to accomodate around the dinner table of his home.

Just So Stories (1902) by Rudyard Kipling
This classic book explores the origins of many now common phenomena, such as how the Leopard got its Spots, and also how the Camel got its Hump. An often overlooked chapter, which is my particular favorite in the book, explains how the Ribolla got its Orange. A treasure trove of reliable wine related information.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (1987) by Judith Viorst
An extended look at the Biodynamic Calendar and the concept of "Root Days," those rotten days when even the finest wines fail to show well.

Everyone Poops (2001) by Taro Gomi
A spirited defense of Brettanomyces in wine. Includes lots of cute drawings!

Curious George Takes a Job (1947) by H.A. Rey
Like all the best sommeliers, Curious George began his career as a dishwasher.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Sommeliers I've Rapped With

Well, it's been over a decade since I got my first sommelier job, and I must say, I've worked with some real characters in the wine business. Here are some of the memories that stand out for me about my fellow sommeliers from over the years.

Too $hort was always pouring out bottles for his dead "homies". Every dinner we were at, every bottle, there he would be pouring wine out on the floor. Honestly, it was annoying. It was just too much. And he never offered to help clean up all those spills or nothing, neither. I mean, seriously. One day I straight out asked him, I was like "$horty, do you even really know this many dead people? Like, did you used to work at a hospital, or an old folks home, or what? Who are all these people? And are you really helping them out by spilling La Tache onto the dirt? I know I would have liked to have had another glass from that bottle, but now it is all gone because you poured some out into that flowerbed. I mean, do we really have to always pour out DRC for people who aren't even here? I mean, it's really expensive and everything, man. If you want to pour out some $avigny, that's fine, but let's leave the DRC alone. Really. Seriously." But he wouldn't even hear that. He would just keep spilling out my wine for these dead people I had never even heard of. And those cigars he was always smoking? Cheap, man. Cheap cigars. It wasn't Opus X or nothing like that at all. I had trouble respecting that.

For Biggie, it was all about Chambolle. If he was in a good mood he would be all like, "Musigny now, livin' better now". And you would know exactly what he meant. I remember that time we were drinking Les Fuees and I was all like, "this is Junior M.U.S.I.G.N.Y., man" and he loved that! He even used it later in his Ready to Drink debut. Cause he did love to drink. I remember he was like, "And I just can't sip, because one of these Grand Crewz I gotz to be with". I remember Biggie loved to talk about wine. He was always mad question asking when it came to wine. And I got that. We used to talk and talk. And if he really liked a wine there was nothing better that he would say about it than that it was "juicy". That for him was the ultimate compliment. Juicy. And also he would say "Big". That was high praise as well. If we were drinking something and he was into it, he would be like, that is why they call this Big Hermitage, or Big Chablis, or Big Irouleguy. I mean, "Big" was a big compliment. This was in the late '90s. That's how people used to talk about wine back then.

Sean Combs didn't like to work lunch. I mean, he was always trying to get out of his lunch shifts. It was pretty crazy. And the excuses he would come up with were just amazing. He wouldn't show for a lunch, and then he would be like, "nah, man, I wasn't scheduled". And it would be like, dude, your name is right there on the schedule for lunch, and he would be like, that isn't me, man. And so it would be like, well, it says Puffy right there on the schedule, but he would be all like, nah, that's not me. Puffy is somebody else. I'm P. Diddy. Puffy is somebody else. And it would be like, really?? So who is Puffy, then? And he would be like, not guilty, man, you got to feel me, it's not me. And it was just all so crazy. I think that's why he changed his name so many times, just because he didn't like to work lunches. It was incredible, really. He was a good sommelier, though. He sold a lot of Champagne, let me tell you.

Breed was a real character. He just had this way with words. I loved it. I remember we were at this blind tasting and Breed wanted to know what the bottle under the foil was. A lot of people would have said something like, Excuse me, would you mind unwrapping that bottle? But not Breed. Breed was like "Man, tear down the doors!!" Tear down the doors. That was so great. Being at blind tastings with Breed was funny anyway, because he wouldn't say Old World or New World. Not Breed. He wouldn't say that. For Breed, it was always East Side or West Side. He'd be like, "I'm not sure exactly what this is, but it is def representing East Side. Is anybody else getting East Side from this?"

I remember there was the time some guy said that a bottle was corked and Breed just wasn't having it. He was right in there, telling this guy that there was no future in his frontin'. It was pretty amazing, really. I remember how, for him, the wine cellar was "the neighborhood". I remember he used to be like, "Levi, let's go roll through the neighborhood". That was funny. Breed was really one of a kind. There was the time that he wanted to get "Graacher Himmelreich Grosses Gewachs" tattooed on his forearm, but the guy at the shop said that he couldn't do it, because there just wasn't enough room, and Breed was like, well, that wine tastes like flint, why don't you just put flint on there, then? And that was what happened. I thought that that was pretty cool.

I have had some tough bosses in my career. If you worked for Ja Rule, for example, you always had to be on time. No excuses. But the toughest guy I ever worked for was definitely DMX. DMX was hardcore about wine. He used to call vineyard sites "his dogs", and he would throw these crazy hard pop quizzes for all the sommeliers where you had to tell him where "his dogs were". You would have to sit there and be like, well, Clos de Tart is a dog in the southern part of Morey-Saint-Denis, and it shares a border with Bonnes-Mares. But DMX would still want more details. He'd be like, every dog has a bone, where is the bone? And you would be like, do you mean the northern border with Clos des Lambrays? Those quizzes were tough, man. Seriously. Like the worst thing that could happen in your day was DMX saying "where my dogs at?" DMX was a tough boss. You had to respect him, though. He loved his dogs.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lament for Perrieres

with more than a nod to Federico Garcia Lorca

At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
The bottle was corked
at five in the afternoon.
An X in black was struck
at five in the afternoon.
The wine tainted, and bereft.

The steward took away the bottle
at five in the afternoon.
And the TCA wafted up
at five in the afternoon.
Now the sommelier talked with the table
at five in the afternoon.
And a substitute was brought
at five in the afternoon.
The Caillerets was opened
at five in the afternoon.
Straw and corn and smoke
at five in the afternoon.
Groups of silence in the corners
at five in the afternoon.
And the waitstaff wonder about decisions
At five in the afternoon.
When the sweat hangs on the brow
at five in the afternoon,
when the glasses are filled to the brim
at five in the afternoon.
The Perrieres lies wounded
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.
At five o'clock in the afternoon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The yard

We would wait until night came down around pretty thick and then we would head out to the graveyard. Gerry would bring along whatever he could get someone to buy for him at the Quickstop - usually it was the cheap stuff although I remember one time there was Michelob - and we would go sit on the far side of the yard, where you could see the entry driveway but from where we still had time to make a run for it if need be. Drinking in the cemetery was my idea, but still I thought it made a lot of sense. It was pretty close to both of our houses, so easy enough to get to, and nobody much was around to notice we were there. Whatever people might get up to doing, what they don't usually do is take midnight walks in a cemetery. So we could sit out there and drink beer and get away with it, so long as we took away the empties afterward.

We didn't bother the folks resting there none, neither. We weren't kicking over stones or stealing flowers or nothing like that. We just wanted to drink and talk aloud a bit without getting hassled. The long term residents seemed to understand this alright, and left us to go about it. Our biggest worry was usually the sprinkler system. It would come on real quick, and if you were sitting in the wrong place when one of those sprinkler heads popped up out of the ground, well, too bad for you. I guess I still kind of worry about getting drenched by a rapid water sprinkler any time I take a walk across an expansive lawn. It's funny what sticks with you across the years. And there were the black ants. I remember climbing up to sit in this old, gnarled tree for awhile and thinking that that was pretty cool, until I got back home and the ants kept falling off the edge of my pant cuffs and onto the kitchen floor. I was so worried somebody was going to see those black ants everywhere on the floor in the morning. Boy, I was scared. I cleaned up every last little speck with a paper towel and then went back over the floor with a sponge. Still I ended up seeing a stay behind on the tile when we were eating breakfast and it gave me a start.

It would get so dark out there in the cemetery that you couldn't see much more than the whitest of the headstones. That's 'cause there weren't any lights to speak of anywhere around. I remember the difference between walking past the yard during the day, and seeing all the many parts of it, and being there at night, and seeing hardly anything at all. It was like that time I was talking to Driese's eyes. He had dark skin, and it was late, and all I could see were his two eyeballs. Two white golfballs looking at me through the night and that was it. Where his body was I couldn't know. It was the same with the headstones, the ones you saw were the ivory colored ones. MARSHALL or DASH or GELB. I didn't know any of them, but I did look on their names, and I did relax in their company.

It took me until about two days ago to realize, but I've been drinking in graveyards for almost my entire adult life. Giovanni Conterno. Giacomo Bologna. Henri Jayer. Philippe Engel. Vincent Leflaive. Gaston Huet. Andre Tchelistcheff. Al Brounstein. Gerard Chave. Jacques Reynaud. I have never met any of them. But which day goes by that I don't think about one of them? Their vintages span wine lists. I owe thanks to each, but they were gone before I could pass it on to them in person. Sometimes a human, even as great as they might be, seems like a cloud running across the sky. It's not so long before you can't see them anymore.

A lot of people tend to ask that basic question "What was it that got you into wine?" I guess maybe I should answer that, from the beginning, it seemed like however much one might sit and drink by oneself, we don't choose to drink alone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the Amari file: Braulio

A chef friend of mine has a modern translation of a cookbook from several centuries past, when vast numbers of staff worked in stone kitchens to provide enormous feasts for feudal lords and their host. The text is notable for its recipes, of course, but my friend is most taken with the descriptions of the prep work involved. Long before KitchenAid and Frigidaire there were people who set to work sourcing cauldrons big enough to accomodate the soup intended for a hall full of vassals. Or servants who left on expeditions for ice. The ice was a bit tricky back then, you see. Teams had to travel to "the north," they had to cut the blocks with hand tools, and then they had to pull those cut blocks back home with rope. It would take awhile. One quote in the book listed a time frame measured in months. I imagine a typical recipe progressing like so:

what you'll need to do to prepare
first, assemble your men to collect the ice

wait 5 months

second, chip the ice into small cubes...

It rather does make a quick, thrown together meal difficult, doesn't it?

I think about this when I drink a glass of Braulio. Braulio is an alpine amaro from Lombardia. Quite a good one, actually. The vintage Braulio has a dry, firm character and can exhibit stewed beets greens and a long lasting, cooling menthol note on the finish. I have taken the liberty to tell you what Braulio tastes like because if you are an American, the chances are pretty good that you haven't tried Braulio for yourself. It's not imported to the States. Which is a shame. Because with Braulio we have a very good family of amari that have a long history (with the original recipe developed in 1875), which begin their life as grapes (instead of beet based liquor), which see significant oak age (as opposed to significant caramel coloring), and which are flavored with locally picked herbs (that's right, regional!). Yet despite the high quality and the high regard within Italy, it can take awhile to find oneself in front of a bottle of Braulio in this country. I know this, as I once spent about a year assembling a collection of about 35 amari samples for a venue in New York, and guess what? No Braulio.

It is perhaps true that this tablecloth (visible to the right of the bottle) and this bottle label were really meant for each other. Funny how things work out like that sometimes.
So I was pretty excited when my friend Kevin returned recently from Switzerland with a bottle of Braulio "Riserva" 2007 and put that prize right in my hands. It was as if the ice guys of lore had decided to make an extra run just for the heck of it, and were back with the cool blocks right as the summer heat started to really come up. Excellent! Cheers for everybody! Or at least that was the thought. I certainly didn't waste any time opening up the bottle of 2007.

And I got luckier still when another friend of mine, Liz, recently shared with me tastes of both the "Riserva" 2005 and also the normal release Braulio.
The Riserva Braulio is released in 750ml bottles, while this bottle of Braulio normale was in a 1L format. I found the normale bottling sweeter to the taste and less complex than the Riservas that I tried.

The 2005 Riserva had a cloudier color than the 2007 that I tried, and it also seemed to me that the flavors of the 2005 were less distinct. It had a similar profile, though, and the alcohol level was the same. The Riservas are bottled at 24.7% alc., while the normale is 21%.

A closeup of the scroll on the front label of a bottle of Braulio. "Braulio" is the name of a mountain near the town of Bormio (in the Valtellina) in which the Braulio amari are produced. The Braulio distillery also makes grappa.

A look at the back label of the Braulio normale, for those who speak Italian. Some of the ingredients used to make Braulio amari include juniper berries, gentian, and musk yarrow. These are air dried and then pressed before being added to the liquid. The Riservas are aged in wood for an extra period of time past that which the normale is aged before bottling.

For those making their own journey out for Braulio, the cellars of the distillery are located under the small mountain town of Bormio. The owners of the distillery also operate a tasting bar in that town, and perhaps best of all, they offer distillery tours. The bar is located on Via Roma. You can see a video visit to the distillery on Youtube here. You can visit the website of the Peloni family, who make Braulio, here. The Braulio website is here, but it is only in Italian.

Good luck in your search. Don't forget the ice.