Monday, December 31, 2012

The 1999 Remix

This song was my go to get ready for the action song. Like this is what I'd be listening to when I was wearing my Emporio Armani slacks and my black crushed velvet shirt with the butterfly collar. That was hip, butterfly and black. Glamour was still something people wanted back then, but it wasn't the big hair, shoulder pads glamour of the 80s, it was the glamour that rolled out of a nightclub at 4am, maybe later, and then went to another party after that. Euro in the know through the smoke glamour. Louche sophistication. I wanted to know which party it was that people were going to. The question was full of intrigue and interest for me. What was really happening had to be happening there, at those parties. Because it definitely wasn't happening out on my block, where I lived, and it definitely wasn't happening during my day.

All black was really hip. For like, awhile. And then it wasn't anymore. But this is from when it was. This track was released in early 99, and I'd never heard of Cassius before but I bought this immediately. Every Thursday night I'd load my Cassius cassette into the boom box, press down on the BASS XPANDER big button, and flood my little rented room with dance club. I'd use the bathroom I shared to put the pomade anti-humectant in my hair, lace up my shoes (black, obviously, and with the white leather piping), and head out to dance all night (true) and look for exactly the wrong kind of girl (also true). Cassius got me going. I remember I would even walk to this beat sometimes. Like I had a rhythm in my head that was the same as the rhythm of this song, and I would walk to that pace.

I used to take the bus in from the suburbs, because I would be saving up for my black and cokes and couldn't be wasting no money on no cabs. The bus was far from glamorous, but I figured nobody else would ever know. Until one night when I saw this other big club guy on the bus doing the same thing. That's when I figured out that the club game maybe wasn't as glamorous as I had thought. Maybe all these people weren't movie and music moguls after all. Pretty soon after that I saw the teller from my local bank at the club. And that's about when I stopped going. I realized we'd all been fooled. None of us were living the European glamour life, we were just paying for it.

1999 was also the year I started as a sommelier. It was when I got to try two different wines, 89 Rayas and 89 La Mission Haut Brion, that I was into right away. And then it took me awhile to figure out that maybe the high glamour, big money wine life wasn't my thing either.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The unfinished blog posts of 2012, number undecided: Glimpsing Valentini

Many times I start a blog post, and for whatever of several thousand reasons, never finish it. But rather than let these rough gems continue to languish in neglect, I've decided to share them with you in the remaining days of 2012. These are the unfinished blog posts of 2012. Today's is the Valentini post. I have a real problem committing to Valentini. Not to the wines, but to what I want to say about them. When I think about my own indecision on the matter I often remember the waiter I knew who, thinking he'd won the lottery, phoned in to work to say no more, he'd quit. The next day he looked more closely at the ticket, realized he hadn't won as much as he had thought, and called again. Any chance he could come back for a shift? Valentini does something similar to me. First, I go firmly one way, knowing exactly what I want to say with certainty, and then, wait a second...hmm, maybe something else. I'm not talking about vintage variation, I'm talking about the same wine will change on me. Or I change my opinion of it. One of those three possibilities. Anyway, I never did write anything down in this post. Afraid to commit, I guess. So it's just the pictures. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The unfinished blog posts of 2012, number wuh?: What were you saying to get laid in 1999 and 2012?

Many times I start a blog post, and for whatever of several thousand reasons, never finish it. But rather than let these rough gems continue to languish in neglect, I've decided to share them with you in the remaining days of 2012. These are the unfinished blog posts of 2012. Today's post is one that I wrote about getting laid. And that's probably why I didn't post it before. These days wine folks are often annoyed by the suggestion that drinking wine and talking about wine are somehow related to getting laid. Like, not cool. As if it were not at all appropriate, and certainly not how wine should be discussed. Terroir shamans and angelic farmers who know the bounds of morality because they work the earth's soil in ancient lands with their own hands. That is where the focus is. Which is actually fine by me. But I think there is something to be said for talking about fucking sometimes, too. So here is a post about wine, lines, and getting laid. Enjoy.

Well, it is time for the year end wrap up post. Goodbye last year. I thought I would close out 2012 by sending out a short survey to friends of mine, asking them to divulge their best technique for getting over in the last year with their technique in 1999, which was the first year that I started working as a sommelier. My thinking on this was simple: what we say to get laid doesn't really define us, it defines a moment. What have the changes been? I've gone ahead and listed the answers below. These are straight up cut and paste from the emails, there's been no editing. You can be assured that if Vick exists, that this is what he said. What were you saying in '99? In 2012? Spill in the comments!

Brian (then: party planner, now: web consultant)
1999: "I used to get Glow Sticks and move my hands around a lot."
2012: "I get a bottle of Pet Nat and try not to shake it around too much."

Arthur (then: hedge funder, now: Singapore Savings & Loan)
1999: "I told people that I was buying a winery in Napa."
2012: "I tell people that I won't drink any 1990s vintage from Napa."

Bill (then: urban planner, now: renewable resource and green spaces designer)
1999: "I used to stock the fridge to the top with Australian Shiraz and yellow label."
2012: "Loire reds make up most of my go-to's. Canadian Cab Franc also works in a pinch. And Pierre Peters for everyday."

Raphael (then: graduate student, now: graduate student)
1999: "I would quote Derrida in the original French."
2012: "I find reciting Chauvet to be the better panty dropper these days."

Tre (then: real estate agent, now: foreclosure and title specialist)
1999: "I told this girl I would Micro-Ox her orange juice in the morning."
2012: "I talk about how I'll lay some sherry flor over the top of our juice solera and that really gets things going."

Nate (then: assistant captain, now: sommelier)
1999: "I would correct some other random dude's pronunciation of Petrus. No one really knew how to say it anyway, so whatever I said ended up sounding right."
2012: "I correct some other wannabe's pronunciation of Houillon."

Vick (then: bartender, now: mixologist)
1999: "I got my girl a customized bottle of Maker's Mark with her name on it."
2012: "I named a negroni after her. Cask aged Bitters! That stuff is the jam."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The unfinished blog posts of 2012, number perspective: the shape of wine

Many times I start a blog post, and for whatever of several thousand reasons, never finish it. But rather than let these rough gems continue to languish in neglect, I've decided to share them with you in the remaining days of 2012. These are the unfinished blog posts of 2012. Today is a post that I clearly wrote when I was a little drunk. All the hallmarks of being a little drunk are right there on the screen: I'm apparently convinced that this topic under discussion is more Important and Monumental to our understanding than it actually is, the sentences tend to run on and on, and it all abruptly ends. Also, I don't remember writing this post. I think I was most inspired by the picture that's involved. It is a pretty cool picture for several reasons, not the least of which is the addition of the bird (?). The bird is what really gets my attention, out of the whole display. Is he what? With the marks coming out of beak is he singing? Talking? Breathing? Is this all a demonstration of skill, with geometric perspective and a drawing from life on the same canvas? Like the different kinds of painting are represented to show the fluency of the artist? Hard to say from this vantage point. Much like the text I wrote below it, the picture doesn't do a great job of explaining itself. At any rate, Enjoy.

16th century demonstration of linear perspective
A wine doesn't go straight. A wine isn't like a line. It rolls and groups on one side or another, or the top, and is consumed as it proceeds. We perceive a progression of flavors over time, but the form might better be represented by a thunder cloud. The flavors glide along, mostly grouped together, and at times one especially stands out and strikes the palate on its own, noticeably and forcefully, before disappearing. Like most clouds, these shift as you watch them, and you might see in one instance a pear, but in another the face of a man. [over and out]

Wishing you Good Cheer

Happy Holidays, Everybody!

Monday, December 24, 2012

I'll Drink to That! is taking a Holiday Break

Paul Klee knew how to set a holiday table.

Hey, folks. Matt Duckor and I are taking the week off from I'll Drink to That! releases to spend more time with our families. And drink some wine. Which you should do also! We'll be back with new episodes in 2013. Thanks for listening! If you start to miss us too much, you can always load up a previously recorded interview, there are plenty to choose from.

The unfinished blog posts of 2012, number smurf: The Lord of Large Format

Many times I start a blog post, and for whatever of several thousand reasons, never finish it. But rather than let these rough gems continue to languish in neglect, I've decided to share them with you in the remaining days of 2012. These are the unfinished blog posts of 2012. Today is the Large Format Smurf piece. This piece started with a joke: what if you remembered that the name of one of the biggest wine bottle sizes was also the name of a rarely mentioned character from a cartoon everybody used to watch as a kid? Wouldn't that be amusing? And then that joke was continued with another joke: what if you tried to have a straight wine interview with a guy who is solely obsessed with his hatred of smurfs? Wouldn't the failure to communicate with each other be kind of funny? Well, I thought so. Problem was, I couldn't think of the third joke that I needed to keep the piece going. Seemed sorta like the guy was just going to keep talking about smurfs, and the other guy was going to continue to ask wine questions. I think then I got bored. Luckily, the post never got that far, so it never did get boring. Enjoy.

Recently, I've been opening up a lot of big bottles of wine. Pretty much every day I'm cracking open a magnum or jeroboam bottle from somewhere or other. A lot of people think that wines generally drink better from large format, but is it that just an unproved assumption? Is it really true that big bottles produces better glasses of wine? To find out once and for all, I spoke with the King of the Big Bottles, The Maestro of the 12L, Lord Balthazar.

Levi with an i: Well, Lord Balthazar, you know more than just about anyone when it comes to the subject of large format bottles. What would you say are the reasons that they are considered superior over the smaller, 750ml sized bottles?

Balthazar: I will get you, you little sniveling Smurfs! I will get you all!!

Levi: Uh, I'm sorry, what was that? Did we catch you at a bad time, Sir?

Balthazar: Smurfing in my smurf were they! Well, they'll be smurfing in the belly of my Moat Monster soon enough, they will!

Levi: Gee, uh, well, we could come back later...

Balthazar: [...and that's where we ended. Probably he would have said something about smurfs]

Sunday, December 23, 2012

How Sommeliers used to talk before they were called Somms

"Oh, yeah? Well, I've got some things to say about that..."
I was reading the piece about Somm speak in the Times today and I was struck by how tame it all sounded. I remember back in the 90s, when I first got started in the business, there was a little more party in the lingo. More zingers. Judge for yourself. I've recalled a few lines below.

"More sequels than Rocky": regular customer

"Holly Golightly is in the powder room": there is a woman doing coke in the bathroom

"Fredo is in the bathroom": there is a dude with two women in the restroom

"Let's call up Foxwoods and tell 'em who we have here": this guy thinks he is a big player, but he is small time

"Extra strawberries for that one": this guy doesn't know anything about Champagne

"Don't dirty the jigger": extra big pours for these guys, they know how to tip

"This guy can say Grgich": dude knows about wine

"Mimosas, well done": Put some extra OJ in the mimosas

"Paulie thinks it's leap year": the waiter screwed up his schedule and didn't know it was his shift today

"He says Meritage both ways": wants another bottle, but something different this time

"Call me 'Big Worm'": Sommeliers wanted to be called Big Worm back then, because of the movie Friday

"The barber has got the shakes": somebody needs a drink so they can settle down

"Couple of nurses looking for a doctor": prostitutes

"A blizzard just came in the door": a coke dealer is trying to make connections at the bar

"Only drinks Versace": likes a full bodied white with a gold color

"We got our busser from the Dave Matthews band": he crashes into people

"Auntie Chianti": she doesn't care what she drinks

"They're on the Atkins diet": no, really, people used to be on the Atkins diet

"Wants squid ink with her pasta": wants a big red wine

"Only drinks unleaded": wants a fruity wine

"Has a Mick Jagger tongue": this gentleman has a good palate

"It's a Peter Michael type evening": A bottle of Chardonnay and a bottle of Cabernet for that table

"No, the other really big glasses": there used to be a lot of confusion about glassware back then

"I'd like a Red Breast and a Dry Sack": this was just a funny thing to say

"Johnny Two Times": tells you the stories about every wine he's ever had, and tells them to you twice

"You can't do that on Television": a wine you can't put on the list because you can't get any more of it

"Doesn't sing Edith Piaf": wants an American wine

"Going Deep Space Nine": wants to explore

"If he's a doctor then he's not a dentist": has bad breath

"He just got back from Havana": this guy smokes cigars, all the wine is going to taste the same anyway

"Roy Orbison, Jr.": dude dressed in all black (more common then)

"We do have a couple guys from Kenya, though": we don't have a Sommelier (sounds like Somalian) working here

"Wants a bottle of the Red Chardonnay": confused people trying to order wine

"Parker Lewis Can't Lose": Buys on Parker scores

"Says the little line over the e in Fume": has odd pronunciations for wines

"They ordered Lipton Extra Brut": they want unsweetened ice tea

"Wants to be Huge Johnson": this guy is trying to look like a big shot with the wine order

"Only talks to the bald presidents": Pays with hundred dollar bills

"Wants the Heineken vineyard": forget it, he drinks beer

"She's on the soundtrack to Friends": has an annoying laugh

What do you think? Have some more to add from your own days working the floor? Please do so in the comments.

The unfinished blog posts of 2012, dos: A Procrastinator's Guide to Sherry Events in New York

Many times I start a blog post, and for whatever of several thousand reasons, never finish it. But rather than let these unfinished gems continue to languish in neglect, I've decided to share them with you in the remaining days of 2012. These are the unfinished blog posts of 2012. We come now to the Sherryfest promo. Apparently, I was trying to hype the event while also making it sound like it was already super popular, which is a tight rope to walk, that one. Got to sell those seats though, son. Clearly with this, I just ran out of time. Half the post was about being crazy busy. Actually, probably more than half the post was about being crazy busy. I was too busy to tell, apparently. I remember I was late for the first Sherryfest dinner, so busy was definitely going on. Why was I so busy then when I sure don't seem to be so busy now? Maybe I was trying to go to all of the portfolio tastings around town. Maybe I was trying to rewatch every episode of The Rockford Files. Hard to say at this point. Anyway, enjoy.

Well, it's Thursday. How did that happen?

It's been busy times over here at the So you want to be. I'll call you at 4pm but it's already 5, sorts of times. I know you know what I'm talking about, and that's why I'm talking to you. You probably live in New York, just like I do. And you probably don't like to wait for anything longer than I do, so it is lucky for the both of us that Sherryfest is almost about to happen. Or is basically happening already. It's more and more flor, if you read the tweets and the blogs on the subway like I do. Seems like everyone wants to be sharing their sherry positive sensibility. Which is cool, because the wines are good. And still underpriced. And crucially, at least to how I think about things, aged on somebody else's time. As I said, I'm busy enough already.

But what is it that these people are going on about in the fractional blend of tweets and twitter pics? Well, let me cut to the chase and tell you straight out: it's worth your time to find out. This is a very cool lineup of near full tastings and dinners and near full glasses, and it's going on near you. Here are the details. [...and that's where it ends. It was a baller lineup of events, though. Hope you went to one.]

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The unfinished blog posts of 2012, numero uno: the Ciro post

Many times I start a blog post, and for whatever of several thousand reasons, never finish it. Sometimes I just run out of time, sometimes I just run out of steam. I know, hard to believe that I would ever run out of things to say about a wine, but it happens. So rather than let these unfinished posts continue to languish in neglect, I've decided to share them with you in the remaining days of 2012. These are the unfinished blog posts of 2012. First up, the Ciro post. This one had some cool pics, some experiments with formatting that didn't work out, and an interesting historical thing going on, which I never got around to completing. Enjoy.

Awhile back, thanks to Jamie, I got to try some old Ciro. Not some old Ciro, really, but some very old Ciro. Two bottles of 1975 and one 1969, all from Vincenzo Ippolito. And boy were they thrilling to drink.

For me Ciro represents most clearly the influence of the Greek palate in Italian wine. By far the most well known wine from what is now called Calabria, this was an area that hosted ancient Greek settlers as far back as the Bronze Age. And something like Ciro is thought to have been served to the athletes of the original Olympics. I've heard it said that Ciro is the world's longest continuously produced wine. An unbroken thread of grape type (mostly Gaglioppo)...[and that's all there is, so I guess the thread wasn't completely unbroken]

A Happy Holiday table to you and yours

Bartolo Mascarello - second from the left - with the family.

Best wishes for the Holidays. Thanks for following along with the blog in 2012. Cheers!

What's been happening on I'll Drink to That?

Hey, there have been several new additions to the I'll Drink to That! neighborhood lately. Some real fine upstanding individuals - and also Matt Stinton - have joined us on the show. Here's a rundown of all the new arrivals.

Ruben Sanz Ramiro recently decided to leave New York and his Head Sommelier gig at Veritas. But before he packed up his belongings we asked him to sum up a career that has spanned two continents and some world renowned restaurants. We also got the skinny on cleaning out the foudre at Zind-Humbrecht, something that used to be Ruben's job when he staged there. Ruben said it took him a week to figure out how to twist and turn his body so as to get inside those big barrels.

Ryan Ibsen just went through some tough cleaning jobs of his own, having to deal with the aftermath of 6 and a half feet of flooding at the wine shop Pasanella & Son, where he is the buyer. Ryan, who clearly knows who to ask for an excellent headshot, has been running a retail program like one might run a restaurant program, emphasizing the discoveries. He told us what that means to him and how he ended up there.

Matt Stinton, who was recently elevated to Beverage Director for not only Hearth Restaurant, where he has worked for many years, but also for all the Terroir Wine Bars, told us that the Summer of Riesling drives him to drink - and he's happy about that. He also shared some sage advice from that other OG, Ice-T.

Joaquin Simo was our first cocktail dude interview yet on the show, and frankly I wanted to know how it was that he and I could have gone to the same college in the same town and studied the same thing at the same time, without ever knowing each other. Joaquin didn't come out and say it, but it sounds like the explanation is that he was just much more popular with the ladies than I was. And I'm okay with that. Watching Joaquin behind the bar at Pouring Ribbons, I know that he is a people magnet. He talked on the show about just how important being nice is to what he wants to do, even in the era of the secret password speakeasy.

And Joe Salamone from Crush raised the IQ of the show for 50 minutes, dropping science about the transformative power of the email blast on retail. He talked about working his way up at the shop, a rise which has had a lot to do with reminding people on the phone to taste wine.

You can catch all these interviews and more, for free, on the website, on Stitcher, or on iTunes. They're good listening when you are travelling for the holidays.

Friday, December 21, 2012

I have seen the face of Zinfandel

Wine by Sutter Home. Selection by Darrell Corti. Harvested in 1969. Palmed and poured by Tegan Passalacqua.
I read Eric Asimov's piece about a search for a restrained Zinfandel with especial interest today, partly because I share from my own experience a lot of the feelings towards Zin that Eric expressed in that article, and partly because last night I tried the very summation of nuanced, ageable Zinfandel that he wrote about looking for. Which was a pretty cool way for the written wine world and the drinking wine world to come together, I thought.

I certainly felt pretty lucky when Tegan Passalacqua, the winemaker for Turley Wine Cellars in California, gestured me over to try what he was pouring, and even luckier when I put my nose in the glass. A 40+ year old Zinfandel, and just perfectly in its drinking spot. Really gorgeous, both in aroma and taste. And made by Sutter Home. There is just nothing about that equation that I would have predicted. But the wine was so, so lovely. Really a highlight of an evening that was brimming over with wine highlights already. Tegan, who talks about old vineyards in the same way some people talk about beautiful antique cars, told a fascinating story about the history of this particular wine. It had been bottled especially for Darrell Corti and his Corti Brothers wineshop in Sacramento. Darrell had helped Sutter Home in the early days and they repaid the favor by making this special bottling for him. And boy, was it special. Just not at all what you might expect from a Zinfandel like we often think about today, but clearly with Zinfandel fruit right there in the glass, even after all those years in the bottle.

It was a real treat to experience. You can see the stats and specifics on the bottle label itself. The grapes were picked on the 19th of September, and the finished alcohol level was 13.5%. If these days you start to wonder if there is such a thing out there as a successful and restrained Zinfandel, trust me when I tell you that there can be. Because I've seen it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Le Montrachet's top search terms of 2012

Curious what the vineyard of Le Montrachet searched for on google this year?

Find a list of the most popular 2012 searches from Le Montrachet below.

when is it village and when is it villages?
map to hospices de beaune walking time
what do they pair with chinese food?
WebMD: premox symptoms
youtube: how do I saber a still wine?
gangnam style
where is the jura?
did united states almost elect a president who doesn't drink wine??
images for it hurts when you spray me
who is the highest grand cru on winesearcher today?
when the barrel wasn't round and other incroyable stories
nsfw orange wine
did Chambertin buy the Wine Advocate?
epoisses seamlessweb

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Showing well

Been trying forever to depict how a complex wine changes when you drink it. 
With a little help from Anish Kapoor, I think I've got it. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A wine might change less than a winemaker

A friend was nice enough to open up this bottle of Fourrier recently, and of course I'm always happy to drink Fourrier, so that was a happy circumstance. And indeed, this was Clos St. Jacques, maybe one of the top premier crus to be found in all of the Cote de Nuits, and in this instance from vines planted around 100 years previously.

But what was particularly cool about this opportunity was that this was a 1995, which meant that not only was this a wine with a bit of age on it, it was also from near the beginning of Jean-Marie Fourrier's time at the family domaine. Jean-Marie, who helms Fourrier today, started working with the wines in 1994.

It was so interesting to see how a Jean-Marie Fourrier wine has developed, and also to see how his own winemaking style has evolved from what it was. Because this was a wonderful wine, but it tasted perhaps a bit more conventional than I might associate with Fourrier today. I got the same character of fruit that I might get from this same site and producer in a current release, but the handling was different. There seemed to be clearly defined edges, and more broad, burnished fruit than one might expect from the light touch of Fourrier today. It was as if Pousse d'Or had gone a bit north for a moment and made a wine from Clos St Jacques. There wasn't the disolved CO2 spritz, or the low sulphur directness to the flavors.

One of the hallmarks of a Fourrier wine today is how the fruit can hit the palate. It is for me the same as when very cold water is poured over my hand. There is a sting. Not a burning, warm, broad feeling, but instead a surprise that wakes me up. The fruit is like that on a Fourrier from, say, 2008. The pulse of my palate moves faster when I taste it. I am paying attention. If before I was watching from a distance, now I am close up.

The 1995 was excellent, but it was produced by a Burgundian. Later on he would produce wines as Jean-Marie Fourrier.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mr. Chris Cannon is the next guest on I'll Drink to That!

My former boss Chris Cannon steps out of the shadows and into focus tomorrow during an I'll Drink to That! interview. The whole audio, clocking in at about an hour and a half and containing some tidbits that are sure to piss some people off, will go up on the site by noon tomorrow. If you have been asking me how Chris is doing, and a number of you have been, this is your chance to find out.

You've be warned.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


It doesn't feel right talking about wine right now after what happened to those children and teachers in Newtown.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Things people say

Sometimes a phrase will stand out from the crowd a bit. Sometimes I'll hear them and think. And sometimes I'll hear them and share them with you. This one from today was one of those.

"Don't be afraid to like a wine when it's cheap and don't be afraid to drink a wine when it's not."

My thanks to the author.


A Rizzi retrospective

Puttin' on the Rizzi.
Recently I had a chance to attend a really well done comparative tasting of Barbaresco from the Rizzi estate in Treiso. I visited Rizzi earlier this year but my experience with the wines had been limited. Rizzi is both the name of a vineyard and the name of an estate. The Dellapiana family owns a large part of the first and all of the second. As their wines do not currently have a national importer, the bottles can be somewhat difficult to track down. This particular evening offered a chance to taste Rizzi Barbaresco 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004 from both the Pajore ("pie - or - RAY") vineyard and the Boito ("boh - oy - TOE") parcel of the Rizzi cru. It was really helpful to compare the two different bottlings in 2006, for instance, and get a feel for the style of Rizzi, the vintage, and the vineyard differences. I was fortunate to be able to attend.

It is a special occasion indeed that I find myself using a pencil.
The tasting was held at Astor Center, and the staff there did an excellent job of running things smoothly. I know how difficult it can be to pour out tasting flights for 30 different guests, but everything was kept perfectly on track. If you are looking to purchase a wine from Rizzi, Astor is pretty much your go to and only source in New York right now, as they are directly importing the wines.

Tiny bubbles!
The tasting started off with the Rizzi sparkling wine, which is an extra brut blend of 60% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, and 15% Nebbiolo. This is a non-vintage wine, although what we tried was based primarily on the 2008 vintage. That is the same as the current release, because the sparkling is aged for 36 months in bottle before being sold. In terms of sparkling wine from the Piemonte, this may be my current favorite, besting in my opinion some of the more well known options. It is clean and crisp, but interesting at the same time, and has some layers. Perhaps the quality of this wine is due in part to the age of the Chardonnay vines involved. Ernesto Dellapiana of Rizzi was actually one of the first producers in the Piemonte to plant Chardonnay, in part because his wife prefers to drink white wine.

How do you play a good game of checkers when all the pieces are red? These are the questions I ask myself sometimes.
After the sparkling wine we moved to the Barbaresco flights. The winemaking for the different crus of Barbaresco produced by Rizzi is pretty much the same across the board, so you get a chance to see vintage and vineyard differences when comparing them.

I took this picture at the Rizzi estate during the 2012 harvest there.
What does the winemaking involve? I asked Enrico Dellapiana (Ernesto's son) that question, and he had a lot to tell me. The Nebbiolo is destemmed and then there is a maceration on the skins for 20 to 25 days. The maceration and fermentation occurs in stainless steel vats, with pumping over but no punching down. Natural yeasts are preferred, but not always used. After fermentation the Nebbiolo is racked 2 to 3 times, and then moved to Slavonian oak botte to mature (there is no use of barrique at Rizzi). That move usually occurs about 5 to 6 months after the harvest. Once in wood the Nebbiolo may be racked once or twice, possibly three times. The amount of racking is determined from the indications given when tasting through the unfinished lots. After 12 to 15 months in wood the wine is moved once again, to rest in closed top cement tanks for one year before bottling. The wine is then bottled and sold. The wine from the Boito cru is aged for 1 year longer than the other crus, and is effectively a Riserva, although it is not labelled that way.

The Rizzi cru.
Rizzi owns 35 hectares of vines, and 15 of those hectares are planted to Nebbiolo. In terms of the crus themselves, there are several differences.

Fondetta is a steep plot composed of compressed sandy stones. Vines were planted there in 1972, and then additionally in the mid 1990s, 2001, and 2007. The oldest of the vines is bottled as Fondetta by Rizzi.

In Pajore the vines are older. Those were planted in the 1960s, although there was some additional planting in 2008. The planting in 2008 followed the purchase of a second Pajore parcel by Rizzi in 2007. Again, the older vines are sold as the cru bottling by Rizzi, and that bottling is the Pajore. About 250 cases are made of the Rizzi Pajore each year.

The Rizzi cru is quite big, and basically in two parts. There is the majority of the Rizzi vineyard, which is sandy stones, and then there is the Boito parcel of Rizzi, which is mostly clay. The Boito section is at the top of the vineyard behind the family house. One portion of the Boito vines was planted in 1969, and the other was planted in 1994. Enrico mentioned to me that while in Boito they do a lot of green harvesting, less is necessary in Pajore, probably because of the higher percentage of old vines in the later.

Much of the Nebbiolo from the younger vines is sold off in bulk as wine.

In terms of style, I was told by Enrico that the Fondetta tends to make the more elegant wines of the three crus, while the Boito turns out the most powerful. Pajore tends towards the middle in terms of weight. This has been my experience as well after sampling the 4 vintages of Boito and Pajore at the tasting, as well as a 2000 Rizzi Fondetta a couple of years ago.

At the tasting I really enjoyed the 2004 vintage from both Pajore and Boito. The 2004 Pajore was my favorite wine of the evening, really showing well, while the 2004 Boito held more sapid power, and perhaps more potential. The Boito wines did tend towards more powerful flavors, and sometimes a little astringency at the edges. They were also darker in color than the Pajore wines. My opinion about the relative merits of the 2004 vintage at Rizzi was shared by Enrico, who called 2004 the best vintage to have occurred at Rizzi since his personal favorite, 1990. He also said of the developed and complex 2004 Pajore that it was "one of the best moments to drink this wine."

That got me to thinking, because I realized that although the Rizzi wines are very accessible, they really need time to show their layered nuances. They are open knit wines in their youth, and I think for that reason perhaps not given their due in the US market. We may be nearly over the "I want a BIG  wine, like a Barolo" era of Italian wine consumers in this country, but I think that many still expect a fine Nebbiolo to display a lot of grip. The Rizzi wines do not. This is perhaps for many different reasons. The cap is not punched down or submerged, would be one reason. That means there is less contact of the juice with the tannin bearing skins. The wines are then fermented in stainless steel, and probably (although I did not ask this) with some degree of temperature control. This also emphasizes the fruit profile. And this is Barbaresco that doesn't see that much wood or that much time in wood. The wood is large and used, and the wine is in and out of the botte in under a year and a half. So not much wood tannins, and also not so much time for oxidation through the staves. The wine is also not racked that much. It might be that a Nebbiolo wine at Rizzi is racked only once after it goes into wood. That isn't so much, relatively speaking. That also contributes, I would imagine, to more pure tasting primary fruit. And finally, it may have something to do with Treiso. Treiso was an area well known for Dolcetto, Enrico tells me, before the rise in the fortunes of Barbaresco and the desire of growers to plant more Nebbiolo. The style of Dolcetto that Treiso is known for, Enrico said, is one that is less strong than what is found in Dogliani or in Alba generally. It may be that that "less strong" characteristic carries through to the Nebbiolo as well.

I bring all this up because I think that Rizzi is overlooked in the US market. As I mentioned, they do not have a US importer, even though they are a sizable estate that owns large parcels in significant crus. And I think that they do not have an importer because the wines do not seem in their youth to be entirely "serious." They are red fruited. Pure. Easy to drink. Open knit. Accessible. And if you didn't like them then you might think that they tasted commercial, even though they are not flashy at all. I would just say that I have had very good experiences with how these wines age, as for example with the 2000 Fondetta that I mentioned earlier, and I think that we may well be witnessing a classic example of a market that is not properly understanding the potential of the wines. They are being dismissed as being simpler than they really are. With a bit of time, they show you what they are about. Buyers in other countries seem to have already gathered this, as for example Rizzi sells decently in France, which is in general surprising for any Italian producer.

The Rizzi wines are easy to drink with food at any age, even giant slabs of cheese as big as these.
Which brings me to a discussion of vintages. Enrico pointed out to me the funny coincidence that, to him, 2006 seems much like 1996, 2007 much like 1997, and 2008 much like 1998. He meant by this that 2006 still seems very young, as the 1996 always has, that the 2007 shows the broad and big fruit that 1997 did, while the tannins of 2008 seem similar to those that were found in the early days of 1998.

In terms of other vintages, 2012 seemed to Enrico to be a very good vintage, avoiding the hail that fell in certain parts of Barolo, and also the dryness of other parts of Italy. 2011 was a very hot year, with rich wines, and powerful Barbera. Enrico prefers 2010 to 2009 for its better blend of classic elegance, acidity, and complexity. He also finds 2005 Barbaresco to be better than 2005 Barolo in most cases, and he attributed that to the earlier picking dates in Barbaresco, which allowed growers there to avoid the rain that started on November 2, in 2005 and continued for four days.

In my own opinion I would say that the 2007 vintage is my least favorite of the recent Rizzi years. It displays at Rizzi the characteristics that I tend to dislike elsewhere: the fruit loops of unbalanced fr00t, the lack of a real underpinning of any kind, and the need to settle down and in. I have some sympathy for a grower who has to find an importer on the back of what 2007 brought. But some folks certainly like 2007 for the same reasons that I don't, so perhaps Enrico will be okay.

Whether or not the wines do find an importer, I plan to follow them in the future.

Enrico Dellapiana says "Respect the Boito."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

When I met Robert Parker

    Robert Parker used to come in about once a month for lunch and the first time I saw his name on the reservation sheet the day before I freaked out and stayed at work all night changing the list. Literally all night. I remember 3am came around and I got so hungry I was like screw it, maybe there is something to eat in the walk-in. Of course it was a restaurant walk-in, not an apartment refrigerator, so there wasn't really anything in there already prepared to eat, except for the gallon tubs of plain yogurt. Everything was portioned out raw beef and thin prepped tuiles under plastic wrap. Probably that was the moment that I actually realized what cooks do. Oh, I see. They turn all of this stuff into food. Got it.
    Anyway, there wasn't anything to eat so I ended up calling it a night, going home, laying awake, taking a shower, pulling out the nicer of the two ties that I owned at that time, and going back to work. I wasn't scheduled for lunch but I would be there. They were going to need my help. Parker was going to order a lot of wine. The waitstaff wouldn't be able to handle it. I brought out two corkscrews, one with a longer blade and one with a longer worm, I polished glasses, and I folded extra serviettes. I was ready to go.
     Parker came in. He wore a blue blazer, a black turtleneck, and grey trousers. With brown penny loafers, the same kind as my dad used to wear. He was heavyset, but not as big of a giant as I had heard. Of course I'd never met him before. I'd never even seen him before. This wasn't New York, this was Boston. We didn't get the regular Parker visits from Monkton, we just knew him from the black business typeface and the bound, 3 hole punched tan paper stock. His wife was quite chic in all black heels, hose, and leather jacket, not at all what I had imagined, but very 1990s. They were going to have a great lunch. I was going to see to it. Parker was going to look at my list and he was going to ask for the sommelier and I would be there and we were going to be friends. This was it.
     "He ordered ice tea, extra Splenda" said Sal, the waiter. He ordered ice tea? What was this, the kind of preparation that they do in sophisticated wine circles in Paris? Priming the palate for all the wine to come? I asked Sal how I should help. What should I do? "Could you get some extra Splenda?" he said, "That would be great." This was not what I had imagined I'd be doing. But I waited. Surely Parker would look over the list thoroughly. I had reprinted every page of every list in the house that morning, all 15 wine lists, even the one we kept at the hostess stand, just so there wouldn't be any stains, any misspellings, any torn pages that might possibly find their way to his table, the only table that mattered on this day. "He doesn't want the list. He just gave it back to me" Sal informed me curtly. WHAT?? What was this? Some kind of heinous joke? Was Parker trying to insult me personally? Our wine program wasn't good enough for him? This was outrageous!
     "I don't think it's him" Sal told me after a few minutes. What do you mean it isn't him? This was Robert Parker. Like I had said in the pre-service meeting. I had told everybody. Even the porters in the kitchen hauling trash knew about him. "No, this is somebody else. This guy writes mysteries. I talked to him. He said he writes mysteries." I wouldn't stand for this nonsense for a second. I went right up to the table. Excuse me? Aren't you Robert Parker? I just want to say that it is very special that you are here. Thank you for coming. It is really great. Really great. Parker shot me a glance. "Sure kid, thanks for reading my stories. You like Spenser?" Stories? Spenser? And that was how I met Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser novels and a resident of Cambridge, right across the river from Boston.
     Like I said, he came in about once a month. Ice tea and extra Splenda every time. There would be big piles of torn open Splenda packets on the table. Never any wine though. Parker didn't drink.
     A lot has changed since then.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Xtra Large

Maybe, as a reader of a blog called so you want to be a sommelier? you've asked yourself at one point or another what it might be like to be a sommelier. Possibly you've wondered how sommeliers go about opening up and pouring those big bottles of wine (what is the name of that size, again?). Or maybe you've been craving a decent joke involving both wine and famous rappers who've been shot.

No matter what, this piece I wrote for Bon Appetit has you covered. Enjoy.

My homeboy Darren likes to open up the big bottles. He tells some good rapper jokes, too.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tasting the top Crus of Serralunga on December 11th at 6pm to benefit Governor Restaurant in Dumbo

Everybody knows that Barolo is an excellent and well respected area for fine wine. But relatively few people have much familiarity with the vineyards that compose it. While single vineyard bottlings of Barolo have risen in prominence over the last 60 years to represent some of the very finest wines from the Piemonte today, the understanding of what specific vineyard names represent has not always been well understood outside the region. The differences in the finished wines can be as stark as those we associate with the Cote de Nuits versus the Cote de Beaune, or as nuanced as the distinction between Bonnes-Mares and Musigny. Just as with those wines, the story of a Barolo is found in its flavors, but that story is originally written in a vineyard.

Cascina Francia
Come find out more about the vineyards and taste the differences yourself as we explore together the Serralunga commune, an area known for majestic, powerful Barolo and some of the Piemonte’s grandest vineyards. We will sample eight wines: a collection representing the top vineyards of Serralunga and the producers most associated with them. This is an opportunity to taste in the same evening the wines from the most esteemed vineyards of the famed Serralunga commune, as interpreted by the winemakers who know them best. Vigna Rionda and Cascina Francia are both thought of as tremendously great vineyards, but how do they differ? What characteristics do Gabutti and Parafada share in common, and where do they diverge? How have different vintages affected the region? These are some of the questions that we will address in discussion and tasting on this special evening.

Nebbiolo vine in the Brea vineyard
I'll be leading this exploration of Serralunga, and I have walked every one of the vineyards included for the tasting, as well as met with every winemaker whose wines will be discussed. This is a chance to better understand the places of one of the world’s greatest wine growing regions.

The Serralunga tasting will begin at 6pm on December 11th, at Governor Restaurant in Dumbo, 15 Main Street in Brooklyn.

Wines to be tasted...

Boasso “Gabutti” Barolo 2004

Vietti “Lazzarito” Barolo 2003

Schiavenza “Broglio” Barolo 2006

Luigi Pira “Margheria” Barolo 2007

Poderi Oddero “Vigna Rionda” Barolo 2004

Massolino “Parafada” Barolo 2007

Giacomo Conterno “Cascina Francia” Barolo 2005

Brovia “ca’ mia” Barolo 2005 from the Brea Vineyard

This is a charity benefit for Governor restaurant, which was closed after sustaining significant damage from Hurricane Sandy. Attendees are asked for a minimum donation of $100 to attend. All proceeds, minus 10 percent to be donated to local Brooklyn Hurricane-Relief Non-Profits, will go directly towards helping Governor get back on track.

To reserve your seat for this tasting, or to find out about the other wonderful tasting events that have been coordinated to help Governor by DANIEL Sommelier Raj Vaidya, please email Governor Chef Brad McDonald directly, at

This charity tasting has been made possible with the generous support of Rosenthal Wine Merchant, Polaner Selections, Domaine Select Wine Estates, Soilair Selection, Michael Skurnik Wines, David Bowler Wine, Martin-Scott Wines, and MFW Wine Co.

And the Eric Texier interview is up!

Eric Texier, vigneron.
It may be the longest interview we have run yet on I'll Drink to That! Certainly there is a lot in there to think about. Give a listen on iTunes or Stitcher.

Happy Birthday, JLG (only one day late)!

Nana the unwitting philosopher, from Vivre sa vie.

You've seen Talia's new blog, right?

In case you hadn't already heard, super smart Talia Baiocchi has her name up in the big lights now, over at The Wine Spectator online. She's still the Wine Editor for Eater National, but she has also started blogging on timely topics over at the Spectator as well. Which is great, because Talia is great. She has a way of covering a lot of ground quickly in her writing, while informing her readers in a way that makes them feel up to speed rather than talked down to. It's a neat trick, and one that I appreciate. She is one of a handful of wine writers that I make a point of always reading.

So I was pretty tickled when she asked for my thoughts in researching her most current piece. That post is an examination of the shifting boundary lines between the cocktail and wine worlds today. You should check it out if you have an interest. It is the kind of topic that Talia is great with, where other writers might have only been able to cover one side of the story well. Because no matter what, whether it be cocktails or wine, I can tell you that Talia is drinking well, and wants the same for you. Now all you have to do is keep up.