Friday, October 8, 2010

The Cheer in Review

"Do something you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life". I'm not sure who exactly came up with this quote, but I could not agree more. What I love most about being a restaurant professional is that there are no two days the same. As a wine guy, I feel that there are no two bottles the same. The combination of the two are an endless journey of unique and often times obscure experiences. Here are just a few:

March Restaurant, 2000

A delightful couple orders a bottle of 1982 Pichon Lalande for the low low price of 582 dollars. The gentleman was promptly tasted on the wine to assess its quality. Everyone agreed that the wine was sound and ready to be enjoyed. At the end of their meal, upon paying the check, the couple had again requested to view the wine list. A serious red flag for any Sommelier.

As it turns out, the 582 dollar bottle was viewed as an $82 dollar bottle. Mistaking the number 5 for a dollar sign. Apparently my mans eyesight had started to take a turn for the worse in his later years, though his wife's sense of humor was well intact. I don't think I have ever seen anyone laugh so hard before. Now, I could feel bad about this but there was very little I could do at this point. Even though they enjoyed such a great bottle with the notion that it was worth $82 bucks, what they ended up with is a story that is priceless and I'm sure gets told at least once a year ever since. Money well spent.

-1982 Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtess de Lalande, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France

BLT Steak, 2006

While I don't often get star struck, there are a few occasions where you really cant help but feel the presence of an icon while in your dining room. On this particular evening it was my friend Robert Kamen of Kamen Winery in Sonoma County that arrived with his guests Harrison Ford and Keenu Reaves for a memorable evening. Robert's success in writing screenplays (Karate Kid, The Fifth Element, Transporter etc..) have paved the way for his passion in wine making. After a good time, copious amounts of wine, we proceeded to enjoy a bottle of fine ice wine all the while Harrison impressively had created a turban out of his button down shirt. Would you expect anything less from Indy?

-2004 Kamen, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California

-2003 Inniskillin, Rose of Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagra, Canada

Apiary Restaurant December 2009

This holiday season a young man had approached me at Apiary inquiring about a pork belly dish Chef Scott Bryan had put together for our winter menu. "Crisp pork belly served with a slow poached egg over stewed lentils topped with pecorino cheese". This was to be a gift for his girlfriends father in Wisconsin this year to obtain some serious brownie points as he is a dedicated Scott Bryan fan. When asked how he was going to get such a delicate dish all the way to Wisconsin, the answer was to freeze it. I'm really not sure how well that dish travels, so I had suggested maybe he get the dish with the poached egg left off and self prepare it at the final destination. While I don't know how well the integrity of the dish held up, I suppose its the thought that counts here.

Though wine had only been suggested for this dish, It was a high acid white wine from the Kamptal region of Austria paired to cut the richness of the pork belly and egg yolk yet play well with the stewed lentils and cheese.

-2007 Loimer, Gruner Veltliner, Smaragd, Kamptal, Austria

Side Note: Every monday night at Apiary in NYC we host a BYO- No Corkage Night and While my wine list gets little or no play, the wines that show up prove to be an outstanding experience in palate tuning and education.

Never a dull moment in the food and wine industry. Whats even better, is that anybody that makes a point of sorounding themselves with a bottle of wine, good food, or good company has generally got a great demeanor and is a lot of fun to be around. Drink well...


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Size Matters

Ok, I know what you are thinking but you have plenty of time to get your head back in the gutter after having enjoyed some of these large format bottlings.

Let's start by listing the most popular sizes:
-Split: 187ml (1/4 bottle)
-Half Bottle: 375ml
-Standard: 750ml
-Magnum: 1.5L (2 bottles)
-*Jeroboam or Double Magnum: 3L (4 bottles)
-*Rehoboam: 4.5L (6 bottles)
-Methuselah or Imperial: 6L (8 bottles)
-Salmanzar: 9L (12 bottles)
-Balthazar: 12L (16 bottles)
-Nebuchanezzar: 15L (20 bottles)
-Melchoir: 18L (24 bottles)

*it should be noted that some of these bottlings are only meant for Champagne and a Jeroboam for still wine is 4.5L (6 bottles)

You may have noticed that the names given to these bottlings are mostly biblical. It's no wonder as wine has played a huge role in many religions. Here are some of the meanings:

-Jeroboam: "First King of The Kingdom"

-Methuselah: "Oldest Man"

-Salmanzar: "Assyrian King"

-Balthazar: "One of The Wise Men", or the famed french bistro in Manhattan

-Nebuchadnezzar: "King of Babylon", and also the name given to Morpheus's ship in "The Matrix"

I think it is also important to say that with large format bottles comes more age ability since wine preserves wine. For instance, when you compare a half bottle of wine to a magnum you will notice a much higher percentage of wine on the surface area of the half bottle thus leaving it more susceptible to the elements that damage or accelerate the maturation process IE: light, temperature fluctuation, and oxygen.

Larger bottles also have a way of making a very dramatic statement. Nothing says "special occasion" like a jeroboam of wine with dinner. They also make for great aesthetics in any wine cellar. Often times the production of larger bottles are limited and prove to be great collectibles. I had the pleasure of recently enjoying an Imperial of Silver Oak from 1992 autographed by the late Justin Meyer (winemaker). One of only 200 bottles produced. To this day, It's the best Silver Oak I have ever tasted. If I had to speculate in terms of youth, I would say that it would be the equivalent of enjoying that same wine from a standard bottle back in 1999.

While it is proven that wines do age at a slower pace due to the decreased air to wine ratio for larger bottles, it does not mean that bigger is always better. In fact, often times larger bottlings of champagne are filled by pouring individual standard bottles until it is filled, thus making the wine more for novelty and not particularly age-worthy.

If less than 5% of the world's wines are meant to be aged, my advice would be to invest in some of the more age-worthy appellations when looking to purchase large format bottles. I personally enjoy collecting large format Bordeaux over any other region.

Eat, Breathe, Drink Wine...


Friday, June 19, 2009

Wine as a Second Language...

Everyone wants to be educated but nobody likes to be schooled. That said, nobody likes a know it all either. I find experiencing the pleasures of a good bottle amongst friends, family, and peers much more enjoyable than memorizing the 59 Wards within the 21 Districts of the 5 Major regions of South Africa and so on. Whatever your approach may be, it is an additional challenge to be able to verbalize what your experiences have been.

Over the course of my career as Sommelier, I have heard some really geeked out styles of taking what's in the glass and transcending that into words. While I respect most attacks, I often feel that people put wine on a pedestal so high that it becomes unapproachable and seemingly pretentious. I refer to this as the "Frasier Crane Method". After all, isn't it mere grape juice we are talking about?!? Please don't take that the wrong way.

Once your homework is done for the day, you can keep what information you feel enhances your level of enjoyment and leave the rest behind. My all time favorite way to learn about wine is through travel. There is so much you can learn about a wine by just surrounding yourself with the local culture, weather, history etc..

As far as speaking goes, there are no right and wrongs here. I just recently heard someone analyzing a wine and refer to its structure as being "Leona Helmsley in style". His point being that while the wine had a rough exterior, there was a touch of softness at its core. I have also heard one of Bordeaux's finest, Chateau Latour being referred to as "a silk glove over an iron fist". There is also the ever popular sexual innuendo ie: "I find this wine to be curvaceous yet resilient with long legs that complement its perfume of vanilla sweat". As they say, sex sells!

My approach to this is to be as honest with myself about what I find in a glass as I can be. For instance, have you ever heard someone go on about lingon berries with slight undertones of the obscure African wafer bean?!? While this person may very well have had the rare experience of plugging these items into their sense memory, I have not been so lucky. As a result, I prefer to keep it simple and sincere. If I smell fruit loops, then fruit loops it is!

My Advice would be to find out what works best for you through tasting, tasting, and more tasting. Not to be confused with drinking, drinking, and more drinking as the better the wine, the more you drink and the less information you retain.

PS: To my knowledge, there is no such thing as the African Wafer Bean, Ha ha!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wine For Change...

Like a good song from the eighties, that has a way of bringing you back to that time and place in your life, I feel that wine can have the same effect. Not only specific to one's own life, but intertwined in a timeline that dates back eons before we ever had a clue the world was round. Although there is little evidence to pinpoint exactly where and when wine production began, I do enjoy the romance of associating wine with significant events throughout history. With such political fervor surrounding our country I feel it only fitting to celebrate the ghosts of bottles past in our nations capitol.

While there is no known wine cellar in the White House, it is nice to have a president in office that respects the ritual of wine on the dining room table or the consumption of wine to commemorate special events. Here is an unofficial report of two wines that have been enjoyed by President Obama thus far:

-Graham Beck Brut NV, Robertson, South Africa - Election Night
Notes: A sparkling blend of pinot noir and chardonnay showing light yeasty aromatics coupled with a creamy texture and fine mousse.
(A difficult find ever since) 

-Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, 2007, Napa Valley, California - Inauguration Lunch
Notes: Citrus and lemongrass flavors that show rich on the palate with a round leesy finish.

PS: I think it is worth mentioning here that our Ex-President Bush hasn't enjoyed a glass of wine in over 20 years. (Go figure?!)

Having had the rare opportunity to advise (a pulmonary conscious) former President Clinton towards a good fit for his dover sole at BLT Steak. It was the Domaine Serene pinot noir that won his heart over. In retrospect, I might have paired a pinot noir that has only just hit the market this year by Dr. Revana (Cardiologist) and Lynn Penner-Ash (Winemaker) named "Alexana". Both stunning examples of pinot noir from Oregon showing off place of origin. There is something special about a Cardiologist in the wine business that seems so right!

-Domaine Serene, "Evenstad Reserve", 2004, Willamette Valley, Oregon

-Revana, "Alexana", 2006, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Since Lyndon Johnson decreed that only domestic wines were to be served in The White House, it was of course Tricky Dick that could not let go of his love for French wines. In fact, upon Richard Nixon's resignation dinner. The servers were instructed to wrap a napkin over the 1966 Chateau Margaux that I am sure paired well with the beef tenderloin. However, during President Nixon's Famous trip to Beijing, it was a 1969 Napa Valley sparkler that he toted with for the now famous "Toast to Peace" with Mao Zedong. 

-Chateau Margaux, 1966, Bordeaux, France
Notes: Wish I knew first hand.

-Schramsberg, "Blanc de Blancs", 1969, Napa Valley, California
Notes: Its been said to have an amazing amount of life left!?!? 
(I will be sure to inquire with my friend Ray Tuppasch who I bet has a bottle of this up his sleeve!)

Incidentally, Schramsberg has been poured for state dinners under every president since!

Probably the biggest oenophile out of the bunch would be Thomas Jefferson whose income was outmatched only by his expenditures on wine! (uh oh, feels way to familiar) While Jefferson did favor the brilliance of Chambertin, his cellar was reported to house a fine collection of fortified Port wines and Madeira's that were all the rage at the time. 

-Chambertin, Burgundy, France
Stop whatever it is you are doing and pay attention when this wine presents itself. Unless of course it has something to do with Babette's Feast on your dinner table!

Last but not least, it was the original gangsta George Washington that gave it a good college try at planting his own vineyard in Mount Vernon, Virginia. In addition, after his presidency George went on to become one of the nation's more successful distillers of whiskey. Now, I'm not certain what grapes GW was planting or how good his whiskey's were? I do know, aside from grapes and whiskey, it was his all consuming interest in the hemp plant that I find most curious.
Is that what they were calling it back then?

Friday, January 2, 2009


While most people are under the impression that it was Dom Pierre Perignon (a Benedictine Monk) who invented Champagne, it was really one of the of the worlds greatest 'happy accidents', maybe? Decades before Dom Perignon's era, it is said the English had been complaining about the "foamy and funny tasting wine" exported from Champagne, France. Due to warmer shipping conditions, the casks of wine had undergone a secondary fermentation during transport and carbon dioxide had been trapped within the wine itself. Dom Perignon had actually worked diligently to try and prevent this phenomenon from occurring. There is also evidence to suggest that it was Christopher Merret (an English Scientist) who had invented sparkling wine three decades before Dom Perignon. Either way, the end result remains the same.

Another myth that I feel is worth mentioning here is that the glass designed for the consumption of champagne (more commonly used today for margaritas) was produced using a wax mold of Marie Antionette's breast. While I do like the association, It is known that the English once again had beaten France to the punch in designing that glass almost a century prior. For the purposes of enjoyment though, it is the flute style glass that helps to enhance the longevity of all those fantastic bubbles!

Of all the ways to enjoy a bottle of sparkling wine though, it was Marilyn Monroe who I thought had the most original attack of filling her bath tub with over 350 bottles of the stuff. Talk about two great tastes that taste great together! Also, a standard bottle of champagne is said to contain approximately 45 million bubbles. That would mean that Marilyn's tub contained 1.54 trillion air pearls.

Here are a few of my favorite Champagne Houses:

-Krug Grande Cuvee MV, Anything by Krug is a safe bet but in the rare experience you get to delve into the "Clos du Mesnil", it will be life altering.

-Salon Blanc de Blancs "Le Mesnil" Vintage, Power and Finesse all in one package.

-Bollinger Special Cuvee NV, Hey, if its good enough for 007, then its good enough for me.

-Ruinart Rose NV, I would choose this over a dozen roses for my date any day of the week.

-Billecart-Salmon Rose NV, Hardly gets more elegant.

"I drink champagne when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I Drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
-Madam Lilly Bollinger

In my personal and professional opinion, there is no better way to begin or end anything in life other than a glass of bubbles in hand.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Good Times, Bad Times...

In an unhealthy economic climate such as ours, it may seem like a good idea to consume more than one glass of wine per day or sitting. It certainly has a way of softening the daily grind. And while wine in moderation can be very good for you, the sticker price of consumption can rise a lot faster than your cholesterol levels can fall. Wine is after all what I like to refer to as "Vitamin W". Though scaling down on the quantity or quality of wine you consume may be the quickest and most obvious solution to the amount you spend, it is not necessarily the best one. 

Wine by artisan standards today, versus ten or fifteen years ago are in a much better place. With more financial investment, better education, and state of the art equipment, wine is being produced in moderate yields with an emphasis on quality. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely a romance behind drinking the local jug wine while enjoying your stay in Burgundy or Tuscany but here in New York, I don't recommend it.

Here are a few regions that I look towards for enjoying an outstanding bottle of wine without the sticker shock!

Italy, Yes Italy!
Boasting more indigenous grape varieties than any other wine producing country, Italy is making a slow but steady movement towards regionality and wines that express it. Because Italy has often times been referred to as one giant vineyard, it is important to have a savvy retailer who can help you navigate through their offerings.

-Aglianico del Vulture, RE: Manfredi, 2004, Basilicata, Italy $Price N/A
Big yet balanced version of aglianico with finessed notes of chocolate and black cherry that undoubtedly will improve with slight aging.

Argentina and Chile.
Having just traveled to South America this year, I was delighted with the obvious direction in which both countries are heading. Argentina and their respective darling Malbec, has suffered over the past due to forced higher yields and less focus on quality. There is a big trend moving forward to correct this in many artisan wineries that care not to make wine just for the sake of turning a profit. Chile on the other hand has been playing on a global stage for a much longer period of time with stylistic versions of Carmenere and Merlot (often times confused with one another).

-Malbec, Catena, 2006, Mendoza, Argentina, $15.99 Retail
Aromas of mocha and violets on the nose followed by a sumptuous array of dark fruits to follow. 

-Carmenere, Vina Chocolan, 2006, Maipo Valley, Chile, $12.99 Retail
Drinks right out of the gate with elegant soft black fruits and balanced tannins.

Has anybody ever seen a yellow kangaroo jumping around the country? No? Really? Me neither, they don't exist. In jest, I had to ask a few of the locals and made a few good mates while laughing over it.
My advice to anyone looking to experience value oriented wines that don't carry a profit driven branding scheme is to look for wines from more specified regions and delimited vineyard sites from reputable producers.

-Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre, Langmeil, "Three Gardens", 2006, Barossa Valley, Australia $12.98 Retail
Blueberries, cedar and tobacco offer up in this user friendly blend, a sure crowd pleaser.

Though Spain is a region long known to produce value wines and sometimes of great quality, it is bitter sweet to say that the quality of wines produced in Spain have risen dramatically but along with that, the prices have followed suit. All is not lost however. There are still many good buys to be had, but not for long!

-Txakolina, Bodegas Berroia, 2006, Basque, Spain $12.99 Retail
Look forward to this dry high acid style white wine to give rose a run for its money over the warmer months. Best known for its slight sparkle and citrus refreshment that will inevitably keep you longing for another sip.

Good Times...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Wine to Remember

Many have spoke about the olfactory system being the strongest sense we possess. I often times felt that it was also the most overlooked. Though anyone who has run into a bystander wearing the perfume or cologne of an ex knows exactly how powerful your olfactory can be. 

It is important to note that the olfactory system is broken into two parts:

*Main Olfactory-Which is receptive to volatile airborne substances and odorants that are inhaled through the nose.

*Accessory Olfactory-That is (believed via behavioral evidence) more stimuli driven by pheromones.

While tasting through a flight of white wine, it was a viognier that hit me right in the olfactory! 

- Condrieu, Yves Cuilleron, "Les Challets", 1998, Rhone, France

The vivid memory of being no older than four years of age picking honeysuckles with my sisters hit me like a ton of bricks. Yet, I had not even tasted the wine! The funny thing is that I also had no recollection of this event ever taking place prior to smelling that glass of viognier. The mere fact that the wine had sparked a fond memory of mine was enough for me to purchase it, or twelve to be exact. Condrieu has since been on my radar and though a slight bias, Yves Cuillerons wines have been the most consistent examples of viognier deliciousness I have ever come across. 

Now, while both olfactory systems play their own role seperately, they are also both known to trigger chemical signals to the brain that parlay into perception. It has always been my belief that it is in fact, "Perception" that is 9/10 of the law, or at least reality. Which begs the question:
What happens when you mix a good date + champagne?