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?

Friday, October 24, 2008

When To Say When!!!

Early on in my career as Sommelier, I had an interesting experience including an out of sorts couple from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. For obvious reasons to follow, I shall refrain from using their names. But for the sake of this blog, lets refer to them as Dick & Jane. 

Anyway, as anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant understands, the last seating can sometimes be the worst as just before you are about to close the book for the night, in comes a late walk-in. Always a great conversation peace for the Chef on duty. As their dining is about to begin, I had suggested that perhaps Champagne may be a festive opener. Jane agreed, and proceeded to without question to order the Krug, "Clos du Mesnil", 1981. You can imagine the excitement for a Sommelier with any amount of experience. 

Krug, "Clos du Mesnil", 1981 - $979 (a bargain by todays standards)

The question to follow was in regards to the 1964 Petrus vs. 1982 Petrus. I had graciously explained that I had not tasted either merlot but to express how rare and sought after they had been for many years. Thus the price:

Chateau Petrus, 1964 - $2,649
Chateau Petrus, 1982 - $4,891  

Jane ordered both for them to enjoy side by side...

Now, at midpoint of the meal, I had observed a bit of a tiff unfold. As any good service professional would do, I paid attention. As it turns out, Dick was trying to make up for being unfaithful to Jane, all the while Jane was taking Dick to the proverbial bank. Dick was not well versed in wine or (more importantly) their values! The look on Dicks face upon receiving a $10,000.00 dinner bill for two was to say the least, priceless. I, from that day to this day, have never again seen somebody turn that shade of green.

Back in the year 2000, it was illegal to take your wine out of the restaurant if indeed you did not finish it during your meal. That since has changed in New York thanks to another unfaithful, Governor Spitzer. It was my pleasure to have cleaned up one half of each bottle ordered and left behind for "Sommelier Education".

I'm really not sure how things worked out for Dick and Jane but I cant imagine things lasted too long between them. I am however quite sure of one thing, that it was not in the best interest of Merrill Lynch to be picking up the tab!

PS: out of feeling obligated, Dick left $2,000 for Gratuity. Good Times...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wine, its What's For Dinner

Many a glass of soda, milk, and kool-aid with dinner has been the norm as long as I can remember being on the dinner table growing up. I also fondly remember my parents drinking wine, and would like to say it was a Cote-Rotie or Sauvignon Blanc for that matter, not so. Truth be told, it was more like Mountain Chablis and Hearty Burgundy and neither one of which having anything to do with Chablis or Burgundy and usually out of a box! Now, while im not above a good throwdown with some quafable swill from time to time, it is a pleasure to see that the youth of this country have embraced wine as the newest and most fun addition to simple meals, nights out, and American culture.
Wine, its what's for dinner

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sommeliers do it Better!?!?

While on my last journey to Napa Valley, it was a delightful guest during a recent dinner party at Revana Winery, a young lady that was forthright about the concept that Sommeliers do it better. While there was no real insinuation as to what exactly "IT" may imply, but one may be inclined to imagine.
Much like a good meal, great company, and a bottle of wine, there is something to be said for all that surrounds you at the time of enjoyment. With a Backdrop like Napa Valley on the brink of harvest, I think you might have to be less than human not to do "IT" better. Kinda makes it difficult to screw up!?!!
Though, I would still have to agree with her...