Saturday, March 30, 2013


This is the warm smile of Elena Pantaleoni, from the La Stoppa winery in Emilia-Romagna. Somehow I managed to take over 300 pictures during my visit to La Stoppa last year, but not a single one of her. A fault I have now remedied. If you haven't met Elena, you should try to do so. So is delightfully fun to spend time with.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Vinos y Mas on I'll Drink to That!

Veronica Stoler's conversation is up in the big podcast lights today, and it is an honest and refreshing take on the wine business that you should definitely listen to. Veronica's knack for embracing with a strongly positive attitude the setbacks of the wine business day to day makes her a winner in my book. Also her ability to laugh along with life. Listen in.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Randall Grahm is Doon with I'll Drink to That!

Randall Grahm is on the podcast show and the interview turns a little dark: he is today making some of the most interesting wines of his career, and feeling ignored for it in the process. Has the wine business decided to forget one of its most talented and thoughtful pioneers? We talk about it.

Bottle check: Fattoria San Lorenzo "Il San Lorenzo" Rosso

The 1997 Il San Lorenzo Bianco, made of Vermentino by Fattoria San Lorenzo, was the single most impressive white wine I have ever drunk from the Marche, and a wine that I still think about often, years later. So when I saw that there was an Il San Lorenzo Rosso available at the Indie Wineries tasting, I made a B line for it. Fattoria San Lorenzo is a fairly new project, having begun in 1995, and given the short history they make quite the spread of wines, both red and white. But I was unaware that there had been an Il San Lorenzo red produced, until I saw it at the tasting. In hindsight this is perhaps not much of a surprise, as the wine is not even listed on the producer website. I know that the 1997 Il San Lorenzo Bianco was made in scant quantities (although you might have drunk some at Convivio, I mention wistfully). I assume that the 2001 Rosso was also a limited release. I also know that Fattoria San Lorenzo has Sangiovese, Montepulciano, and Lacrima planted for their various reds, although I do not know the makeup of the Il San Lorenzo Rosso bottling. My guess would be Sangiovese primarily with Montepulciano, and this all matters because you should not hesitate to turn over every stone until you find this wine, which is truly excellent and I'll go so far as to call astounding. Really and truly good, good enough to entirely melt the too cold heart of anyone who still dares to repeat the "Sangiovese is not a noble grape" canard.

I tried this wine during the middle of the big Burgundy festival and for me it was the equal of anything I tried that day. I'm truly shocked that this amazing wine could sit quietly in a corner, ignored by an intelligent city. You'd think the very walls of the room would have been torn asunder. I'm serious. Get out and taste around if you think Sangiovese can't conjure miracles. And think outside the Tuscan box if you are tired of being contained by it. After all, it was Saint Lawrence (San Lorenzo) who was credited with finding the Holy Grail, and he was not Tuscan.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Last bottles, long feelings

Recently I've had in my hand some bottles of wine that were significant not just because they were outstanding wines made by excellent producers, but also because they were the last vintages of those wines ever produced. The legacy of a long winemaking career becomes more poignant when you are witnessing the last of the run, I think. It is in the same way that watching participants cross the finish line of a marathon is more emotional for the viewer than watching those same runners back when they were beginning the turn in mile three. You feel more history is being made at the end.

During my recent visit to California, my friend Bruce, the longtime sales powerhouse behind Kermit Lynch, opened for me a bottle of Verset Cornas 2006. That was a very generous thing for Bruce to do, and the gesture was not lost on me. Here he was pouring for me the final vintage that Verset released commercially. Bruce also knew Noel Verset, having worked with him, and there is no doubt that that kind of connection resonates around a table. I'll never forget the moment a few years ago when Bruce shared with me how old man Verset used to open up the family scrap book and point out the photographs he had taken of his very much loved, and now deceased wife. Bruce said you could see the several stains on the pages of the book where the big tears had landed, as Noel would cry each time he saw his wife again. We were at dinner at a busy restaurant when Bruce told me that story, and damn if I didn't start crying right then myself, right there at the table.

The wine was still young and agile. The notes were lifted and high toned, a soprano lilting out phrases each time I swirled the glass. The wine seemed leaner and more pure than Verset wines often are, which may be because of the lighter vintage, may be because of the excellent storage since release, and may be because Noel Verset had by that time sold some of his traditional vineyard sources. Whatever the reason, I am drawn to the thought of an old man who towards the end of his life passes along a wine which remains remarkably youthful.

My friend G., who has an extensive wine cellar in his own home, asked me recently if I would join him for lunch at Le Cirque, and I happily agreed. Le Cirque is one sort of definition of New York City society, and of course I haven't seen it much on my own, having been a restaurant employee myself for most of my life. I have some trepidation about going to eat a meal at Le Cirque, actually. There is the lingering fear that at any moment a busboy there might ask me to help him clear a table on the far side of the room. I dread the embarrassment that might ensue if I am shown up to the assembled for who I really am. Like my nightmare is that I'll automatically and unthinkingly refold the napkins of the people at other tables, as I have done thousands of times, when they get up to use the restroom. So imagine my surprise when nothing like that happened at all, and instead as we sat down G. asked me to pick the wine for our meal. Me, picking from the list at Le Cirque. It's not a situation that I am in everyday. I mean, there are a lot of wines that break the $800, $900, and $1000 mark on that list. A lot. If you start ordering a DRC here and a DRC there, well, that might get expensive. Like more than my monthly rent expensive. So what to order? It was a conundrum.

My plan was to find a bottle from the low side of the list. To stay in the inexpensive neighborhoods. Fixin. Mercurey. Something not too pricey. That's the polite thing to do when someone else is paying and they hand you the list, right? I wanted to be a good guest, after all. And I kept that thought foremost in my mind, right up until the moment that I saw the Giacosa Collina Rionda 1993 was available for purchase, at which point the austerity plan was immediately vetoed. 93 was the last vintage of Rionda that Giacosa ever released. I saw it there on the list, and then after that everything happened very quickly and maybe somehow not quickly enough. I ordered the wine within probably 4 seconds, and yet it all seemed like eons until I was drinking it. I thought maybe G. would curse me out at the table in the meantime, "You spent WHAT?? HOW MUCH?!" But I was already too far gone. I was over the wall. If I got to at least try the wine before being thrown out of the restaurant, then I was willing to take whatever punishment came next. But G. was all understanding. He asked me how I liked the wine. "I'm dying," I said. "There are heart palpitations. Maybe we should get an ambulance on standby." Because it was true, I became lost in the waves of that wine. I'll tell you something about 93s, they show their mature side. You can get inside them. 93s show you their secrets, like a low tide that has gone out and left shiny shells and many colored stones behind on the beach. And this was Rionda, so there was plenty in place there to see. Rionda from when old man Canale was in charge of the old vines. I have actually run from the bottom to the top of this vineyard, and seen from there to the Castle of Serralunga which overlooks the vines. The last Giacosa release. I'll tell you, it tasted like Giacosa to me, through a Serralunga lens. With the Roagna Rionda releases that came later, I thought they were excellent wines, but they didn't taste like Roagna. With the 1993 Giacosa Rionda, such distinctions are hard to identify. Perhaps Bruno Giacosa and Aldo Canale worked in a similar direction in their wineries.

Maybe I should direct a word of caution to future lunch hosts: don't hand me the wine list if it contains within it Barolo that I supremely lust after. Because if that happens I can't be held responsible for my own actions. Or maybe I should just explain to them that the last vintage of a superb wine is like a fine broth, in that the last sip may hold the most flavor.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jean-Marie Fourrier in New York

Jean-Marie Fourrier at Roberta's.

Jean-Marie Fourrier is on I'll Drink to That! and what he says will change the way you look at Red Burgundy. Don't miss the interview. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

'cause plastic parts are made for toys

"It may be that 2011 is the definition of a modern vintage: pleasing, but with nothing behind it."

- Eric Texier gets all Sir Mix-a-Lot on '11

How to best serve young Fourrier Burgundies, with advice I received from Jean-Marie Fourrier

Fourrier flower petals

Recently, I helped out at the La Paulee Verticals Tasting, which is a great event that you should definitely attend if you have the opportunity to do so. The format of the Verticals is that many several Burgundy producers bring three different vintages of the same wine and present them side by side for you to taste, often with the person who made the wines standing right behind the table for you to talk to. It is a really congenial way to get a true sense of a wine. And the producers involved are some of my favorites, with names like Mugneret-Gibourg, Dauvissat, Lafarge, Leflaive, Roumier, and Rousseau. The last two years that this event has been held I've poured Roulot wines, which was a big friggin' deal to me. 'cause, whoah! This year I got to assist Jean-Marie Fourrier, which was just a superb experience. The man is patient and friendly, and just right there with you the whole way. I don't think I've met someone better at explaining obscure winemaking concepts than Jean-Marie Fourrier is. It really is cool to see it happen. Like you sense how cool it is right there as it is occurring. 

Jean-Marie brought along three vintages of his Vougeot 1er Cru Les Petits Vougeot to taste, a 2007, a 2009, and a 2010. He said that the 2007 is in a happier drinking place than the 2008 at the moment, so he brought the 2007 and skipped a year in the sequence. But these were some fairly young wines. In fact I think we were the only table showing a red 2010 at the tasting. Which makes sense in terms of the winemaking, because Jean-Marie really avoids racking the wine in his cellar, and that means he maintains a lot of the primary fruit that is just so ravishing in a young bottle. But it also makes sense in terms of my experience tasting young Fourrier wines. Or tasting young Fourrier wines that Jean-Marie Fourrier is pouring, I should say. Because I have definitely had amazing wines poured to me by Jean-Marie, for instance a run of 2008s at my first La Paulee, that inspired me to go back to the restaurant and open bottles that in actual practice weren't quite the same. Jean-Marie would pour me wines of crystal clarity and perfect poise. I would try to repeat the practice on my own and would find wonderful wines that seemed to slouch a bit. They were a bit dull, or browned, at the edges. This is something I ascribed to unresolved carbon dioxide gas in the wine, which you can tell is present because of the sensation of spritz that you get sometimes when you drink young Fourrier wines. I had the sense that the gas was acting like a layer of gauze between me and the pure expression of the fruit. But I didn't know what to do about that except wait for the wine to mature. Or decant the bottle. My suspicion was that Jean-Marie knew from experience just how far in advance to double decant the bottles, and that this was what he was doing to make his wines taste so great when he was the one doing the pouring. But I had it a bit wrong.

What Jean-Marie actually does is shake up the bottles. He puts his thumb over the top of the open bottle and then gives the bottle a few quick up and down moves in the air. You can see the result in the pictures below.

The carbon dioxide gas bubbles up into a big froth.

And then the bubbles pretty quickly dissipate.

Until the wine starts to return to how it looked before. Except now the taste is different. The gauze is gone, and now when you taste you get all that pure fruit character that Fourrier expresses perhaps better than maybe anyone in Burgundy. By shaking the bottle Jean-Marie provides a catalyst for the CO2 to be released as gas. Why is this more of an issue with Fourrier wines than with other wines? Well, it goes back to the racking. Racking is when you move the liquid from one vessel in your cellar to another vessel. Usually when you rack, the CO2 gas goes away into the air as you move the wine. But Jean-Marie doesn't like to rack. And so the carbon dioxide stays in the finished bottle of wine. Jean-Marie is cool with that, and in fact he prefers to use the carbon dioxide to protect the wine from oxidation instead of the alternative, which is sulphur. In the end the carbon dioxide is retained because the aim is to add very little sulphur.

When you think about it, we are usually drinking young Fourrier wines. You don't see much of his dad's wines in this country, and when Jean-Marie took over it was 1994. The first vintage that he released commercially was 1995. There aren't many bottles produced, and what is out there is quickly snapped up. So we are usually drinking the wines somewhat young. If you find yourself in that situation, perhaps remember Jean-Marie's technique for bringing the wines along.

the Amari file: Mauro Vergano Nebbiolo Chinato

Recently, Mauro Vergano was in town and I always consider that a treat. Mauro is a reserved man that would rather you taste than he talk, and he might graciously and carefully go about preparing a drink for you in silence. But here is a man that knows volumes about chinato, and vermouth, and americano. On this occasion I asked Mauro to define what is meant by "americano," and he replied that an americano is a vermouth to which something bitter has been added, making a result closer to Campari. I tried Mauro's Americano again, and it remains an uproariously joyful rendition of Grignolino dancing along the jagged edge. I also tried a recent batch of Luli, which was quite subdued in terms of fruit and really not what it once was. I've kind of watched the Luli drop off over the course of a few releases now, and in truth this makes me sad.  It is sort of like watching one of those plump girls from a Peter Paul Rubens canvas go on a starvation diet.

But what was most interesting to me on this tasting date was the Nebbiolo Chinato. It tasted noticeably more mature than in the past. Like the base wine itself had been aged for a longer period before being made into a chinato. I know a producer, who shall remain nameless, that makes a chinato for family consumption. They buy in especially old bottles of Barolo and then blend them together as the base for their beverage, because they like that old wine taste. This is not what one usually finds from the commercial producers, who often use a fairly young base wine, something that is powerful and full bodied, with the fruit to balance out the bitter. And in fact it seems to me that full bodied fruit and a fairly tightly wound, young wine style used to define the taste of Vergano's Nebbiolo Chinato in the past. But no longer. This batch tasted of maturity. Of course I may be wrong, and I don't know the specifics.

Here is the lot number of what I drank recently, in case you are curious.

They were known as happy places

Margrit Mondavi told me recently that during Prohibition, the producers in the Napa Valley with a bit of wine for sale would plant a palm tree near their building. They couldn't very well put up a sign, I guess. That was the code, a tall palm tree. I hadn't known.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A new Barolo from Altare

Silvia Altare was in town recently, and we got a chance to chat for a moment. She also had brought along several items to taste.

One bottle in particular caught my attention, because it was the first release from Altare of a wine from the Bricco Cerretta vineyard, a Barolo from 2005. This is the same vineyard in Serralunga that Schiavenza also bottles a Barolo from. In the case of Altare's parcel, the vines are fairly young, around 10 years old. The Serralunga location is also new for Altare, as they are mostly associated with La Morra. So this was fun to see how a different commune would be interpreted by the family so closely associated with modern technique Barolo. And indeed this wine saw what could be described as a modern upbringing, with a short maceration of about five days in rotary fermenters, followed by 24 months in French oak barrique. In my opinion the raw materials are in a way complementary to that treatment. Cerretta for me tends towards a fruit laden power, a kind of fruit cake density. And as with a lot of Serralunga fruit, you can often almost taste the heat of the sun in the finished wine. So all of that makes sense to me, in terms of what you might be looking for if you were making wine in the fashion that Altare does. Must have made sense to the Altare family as well, and thus their purchase of the parcel.

I actually must admit that 2005 was a vintage that sort of turned my head back around towards Altare when the La Morra crus were released a few years ago (I am not sure why the Bricco Cerretta was held back and released late, as it isn't labelled as a Riserva). I thought I detected a lighter touch in the Barolos of Altare in 2005, something a bit more airy than in the vintages that preceded it. At first I wondered if this was owing to the vintage being something light, but 2006, which was in many hands a powerful vintage, seemed to continue the lighter trend at Altare. And I'll admit that I have really liked some wines from Altare in the past. The 1996 Brunate, in particular, stands out in my mind as a smashing success from the producer. I first visited Altare in 2004, and I'll be honest, I've always felt that something important was going on there, even if it wasn't necessarily always my thing. At any rate, this 2005 Bricco Cerretta seemed (begin air quotes) heavier (end air quotes) than those La Morra Barolos from Altare in the same year, but that may well be a function of the fruit source. I'll be curious to follow the wine in future vintages.

Thanks, Silvia.

Arianna Occhipinti is on I'll Drink to That!

The Arianna Occhipinti episode of I'll Drink to That! was released today. Do go ahead and check it out. She is pretty amazing to listen to.

Bottle check: Bartolo Mascarello Langhe Nebiolo 2010

Recently I got a chance to try this Bartolo Langhe Nebiolo stateside, with some Peking duck (thanks, Raj!). This was an interesting bottle for me, because this was the wine that was held back at Bartolo and released after an additional year of ageing in wooden botte. The malolactic conversion had taken an unusually long time with this wine, and at Bartolo they don't force the malo one way or the other, either to start or to stop. So they waited and released the wine later, on the following September 1st when they next bottled their annual releases.

So what did the wine taste like? Well, quite good. I love 2010 for Nebbiolo in general, and I think 2010 may be the most exciting Piemonte vintage since 2001. At least to my palate. 2010s have layered depth and complexity, but also have a freshness that pulls everything together nicely and brings you back. This wine wasn't just lifted by the vintage, however. This was also a Langhe Nebiolo with Barolo character and weave. And some forward motion of maturity. I suspect that the extra year in wood, breathing through the staves, may have brought this wine along a bit more quickly than if it had been stored in bottle during that time. Certainly it tasted more resolved than when I had it at the winery, shortly after bottling. It really is true that sometimes I prefer the "little" wines that have evolved and which in a way my palate can see through, to the impenetrability of young "great" wines. At least I prefer them for drinking with food, which was what we were up to.

Perhaps a wine to track down if you get a chance. This particular bottle was a hand carry, but congratulations are in order to The Rare Wine Co. for recently being named the national importer of Bartolo Mascarello.

The Amari file: Gianni Gagliardo Barolo Chinato

I tried this Barolo Chinato from Gianni Gagliardo recently. The style was reminiscent of the Barolo Chinato turned out by Marcarini, which makes sense in a way, because both producers are based in La Morra. The similarity may also have to do with what I am guessing is a preference for the same or similar aromatic oils in the recipe. Particularly, there is a note of orange rind oil that they both share.

Unfortunately, the Gianni Gagliardo website doesn't supply many details. I did notice that this Chinato was being brought in to New York by Bowler.

Another recent picture that I liked

I actually can't remember where I took this, so I can't tell you if there was good wine involved or not (I'm not always drinking the finest). I do like the picture, though. Of this diorama I only took two different versions. The other is more close up on the glass. I prefer the rendition above.

A recent picture that I liked

This was at Maialino. We had a 2001 Poggio di Sotto Brunello (delish!) and a 1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco (thanks, Max!). I kind of became fascinated by the different textures and surfaces and shadows in this scene. I actually took a picture three different ways. Maybe good wine does that. Makes you more aware like that.

Murano glass grappa bottles at SD26

I thought these were pretty neat.

A Tasting with Walter Anselma of Schiavenza + an addition to the Amari file

Walter Anselma was in town recently, and I was happy to get a chance to taste with him. Walter helps run the Schiavenza winery in Serralunga, which I was able to visit not too long ago. Amiable and patient, Walter is a kind soul, and I found him to be in a particularly good mood when I caught up with him. As he explained, back home at the winery the expectations of work only allow him to sleep 4 to 5 hours a night, but while travelling he is allowed to sleep for 8. Plus, this was his first visit to the big New York City and he was understandably excited about it.

We moved into the wines with the 2011 Dolcetto d'Alba and the 2011 Barbera d'Alba. The Barbera, in contrast to most of the Schiavenza wines, is sourced entirely from Perno at the moment, in Monforte. Schiavenza, which does not buy in grapes, has a parcel in Perno in addition to the holdings in Serralunga. In 2012, Schiavenza added to their owned vineyards in Serralunga by purchasing two parcels that total about 0.6 hectares. Inside of the new vineyards there was some Barbera planted, so that in the future, after some time, their Barbera may be a blend of Monforte and Serralunga fruit. But for now the bottling is a strictly Monforte Barbera.

In terms of bottling, Walter decoded for me the lot number labeling information on the back of the bottle. L12285 means that this 2011 Barbera was bottled in 2012 (the first two numbers), on the 285th day in that year (the last three). The Barbera typically spends 6 months in oak before being bottled.

After tasting the Dolcetto, the Barbera, and a Langhe Nebbiolo made from declassified Barolo, we moved to Barolo. The Schiavenza Barolo are, for me, a really interesting translation of the power inherent in the Serralunga crus, and I find tasting them to be somewhat of a mind bender, because they are stylistically unique. Or at least I think so. In an era where primary fruit is king, whether it be obtained by modern methods or natural, Schiavenza plots a course in another direction. Schiavenza racks often, and draws out with exposure to oxygen the orange marmalade and rusted rebar notes of Nebbiolo. I sometimes find a Schiavenza Barolo to taste dusty, like with the flavor and texture of dust, as if some of that drying quality had been kicked up by the movement of the swirled glass. There is little gloss or sheen or polish to a Schiavenza Barolo, and rather they seem untamed, like the burning embers of a smoldering fire. Where there is fire there is smoke: I should mention that if you are adverse to VA that this is perhaps not the Barolo address for you.

Each of the Schiavenza Barolo are handled in the same fashion. The are fermented in cement, with pumping over, and they see a maceration on the skins of 25 days. The malo occurs in oak botte, and after frequent racking ("we often move the wine to separate the sediment," says Walter), the wines matures in botte for 4 years, or longer for some of the more rarely released Riserva bottlings. Interestingly, Walter mentioned that the Barolo vineyards which Schiavenza bottles individually, the Broglio, the Prapo, and the Bricco Cerretta, all have the same exposition to the sun. So the differences might be said to come down to the soil types. The Serralunga Barolo normale is a blend of four different vineyard sources within Serralunga. This 2008 was, I thought, a good representation of that restrained vintage.

The Broglio Barolo, which I typically find to greatly benefit from some serious time left open, was rather shy from this particular bottle of 2008. Walter mentioned that the bottle had been opened the previous day, and I think we may have caught the wine in that chrysalis moment before something special happens. Not too long ago I double decanted a 2006 Broglio and then left the half open bottle in my fridge for three days and that turned out to be just the best thing ever after all of that.

Next up was the last bottling of what was the Bricco Cerretta and what will be from 2009 the Cerretta. The Consorzio has decreed that the Bricco designation should be left off the bottle labels, and Schiavenza will comply with the next release. The Bricco Cerretta is a particularly small holding for Schiavenza, which is why they rarely release a Riserva from that cru. Riservas were made of the other two crus in 2006 and 2008, and even a touch in 2007.

The Prapo 2006 showed the approachable character of Prapo, and the extra age on this bottling had allowed for all the aromatic oils of the Schiavenza style to swell up and run together. Walter noted that Prapo is distinct from the other crus because of the limestone soil found there. He also expressed admiration for the 2006 vintage, which he called "very classic."

And a few more details besides what I've already collected about the Schiavenza Barolo Chinato, because you know I am into that. A Barolo Chinato has been produced at Schiavenza since 1956. The recipe calls for 15-18 herbs, depending on the year. As with Cappellano, the family buys herbs from many different sources, so as to protect their recipe. Those herbs are crushed by hand with a mortar and pestle. Then they take a demijohn half filled with water and blend in alcohol that has been macerated for 2 to 3 months with the herbs and taken the form of a kind of concentrated syrup. To this mixture is added the wine, some sugar, and some more alcohol. The finished product is usually either 17% or 17.5% alcohol. About 2,000 bottles of the Chinato are produced each year, and none leaves Italy. The Japanese importer asked about bringing some in, but the quantity of extra paperwork was so much that the winery just said no.

I really appreciated Walter sharing some of these details with me. If you really want to know about the crus of Serralunga, then this is a producer whose interpretations you should seek out.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tomorrow on I'll Drink to That!

It's quite the show tomorrow on the ol' podcast. The interview should be up by about noon. Don't miss.