Monday, December 31, 2007


I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and vinous New Year!

I am finally feeling better after 10 days of the flu and I'll be back ranting before you know it, I promise. I know, I know, you just can't wait...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Out with the Flu

Dear faithful friends and readers,

I have been out with the flu, and an apparently wonderfully nasty version of it too, for the past week, so no wine-tasting, barely any eating, let alone cooking, and no posting. On the bright side, I'm losing weight real fast.

I can't wait to open up a good bottle of wine and just sit there and enjoy it over a few hours.

So I apologize for my delay in posting and promise to get back to ranting as soon as possible!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Merry Vinous Christmas!

I just wanted to take a little intermission and wish all my readers and browsers a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. I'll be back ranting soon enough...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tree-Decorating Wines (Champagne & Burgundy, what else?)

We finally bought a lovely little tree for our NYC apartment and spent most of Sunday's miserably cold and rainy afternoon decorating it. What better way to celebrate the nice tree and the crappy weather than with a bottle of bubbly? Heck, what better way to celebrate any day? Champagne is just wine with bubbles, and in my continued quest to find well-priced bottles, I opened this:

-NV Andre Clouet Brut
Toasty, yeasty with more of a light brioche and gingerbread aspect than lemony fruit, this was nice, especially when its high acidity met the silky, velvety fat of the Jamon we were eating. A surprising complement, it just cut through the Jamon's hedonistic delight while simultaneously clearing the palate for the next bite. A nice, not great Champagne, especially at $28.

Dinner was a light workout on the new stove, with a potato-garlic gratin, some sauteed Bok Choy and a broiled 28-day dry-aged boneless sirloin. What better way to celebrate the beginnings of a new kitchen than with a lightly-aged Burgundy?

-1993 Robert Ampeau Volnay Santenots
At first blush, this teasingly revealed some funky fine fruits and berries, the nose coming and going, like a cabaret dancer darting on and off stage. I let it breathe while I cooked, and doing so helped out tremendously. Still shy when plates were served, she finally woke up to lightly dance and prance around our palates, a feather-light boa of red fruits curling around the tongue, with some stiletto heels of acidity to balance the fruit, its medium-length finish like a whisper reminding you of what you just saw.

Much better than the 1976 I opened recently, which didn't show anything at all and was a complete no-show. Did I mention how much I love Burgundy?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Nice Snack

As we're setting up the Christmas Tree, our stomachs grumble, so I reach into the refrigerator and find my souvenir from my trip to Madrid: some lovely Joselito Jamon Iberico... Within minutes, it's on the table, slices of bread and some salt alongside to keep us company as we decorate the tree.

As it warms up, you can almost taste the nuts the pigs browsed on before giving themselves up for our pleasure. On the tongue, this silky ham just melts away, almost evaporating.

A nice treat to tide us over before a dinner of 28-day dry-aged boneless sirloin, potato-garlic gratin and sauteed Bok Choy straight from Chinatown. Yum!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

And so it begins...

The Old Range

...The kitchen renovation, that is.

Yes, after many years of putting up with a kitchen the size of most Americans' shoe closets, I've decided to throw down the gauntlet. Time for a kitchen renovation... God help us.

One of the first steps was to replace the old range, a GE model from 1995, with a brand new Bosch 700 Series Evolution Gas Range. The old model's oven died in May and so I've been pan-searing/sauteeing/boiling/steaming since then. No roasting. As someone who loves cooking, this situation was completely unacceptable. Luckily, we had a toaster oven, but man did I have to jam that roast chicken in there. When it came out, it certainly didn't look like chicken anymore...

The New Range

Well, after procrastinating a long time and researching a lot, I decided on the range shown above. Whereas the old one had a hard time getting water to boil, this one can basically send the Space Shuttle into orbit with 16K BTU of power. When I first turned this on, the paint on my ceiling peeled. The next time my upstairs neighbor gets noisy, I'm turning this sucker on and letting his floor melt.

I made our first meal on it tonight, a quick saute of chicken, vegetables, garlic and pasta. Easy right? Well, apparently there's a learning curve with this new-fangled thing. The chicken was over-cooked, the pasta slightly mushy, the pan handles got very hot, so I've got some adapting to do. I am worried about my next omelette.

The Old Kitchen with the New Range

In any case, the next step(s) will be taking down the wall shown on the right-hand side of the picture, replacing it with a peninsula with storage cabinets underneath. All the cabinets in the kitchen will be replaced by custom-made ones, and a new granite countertop is being cut as I write these words. Yay!

I'll keep updating this blog with the work as it progresses (or doesn't), and I estimate we should be done in, say, 2012.

To celebrate, we opened a bottle of 2002 Jacques Frederic Mugnier Chambolle Musigny, a lovely, elegant and almost subtly poetic wine. Very light-bodied, it was just full of that lovely Burgundian funk, with cherries and light raspberries filling the palate on an elegant frame, its acidity just washing out the mouth and prepping you for the next glass. Beautiful, finesse defined. God, I love Burgundy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Madrid- A Time for Work

Ageing Barrels

And so now it was time to taste some wines. We gathered in the lobby of our hotel, a motley crew of wine buyers and wine press from all over the US, wondering what this trip would unveil. Never having been to Spain, I was more curious than the others. I knew about the traditional regions like the Rioja and the Priorat, and of course the Ribera del Duero, but the Vinos de Madrid wines were a completely new beast for me.

Red wines in this area use traditional Spanish grapes like Tempranillo and Grenache (called Garnacha, and apparently originally from Spain as per Victor de la Serna), as well as more international varieties like, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Whites are made with Airén, Albillo, Malvar, Macabeo, Parellada, Torrontés and Moscatel de Grano Menudo. OK, so I knew a few of those, but many were mysteries.

Our first stop was at Bodega Jesús Diaz, where they've been fermenting wines in enormous earthen amphorae since 1898, ageing them in 15th century cellars. We tasted their white wine, from the Malvar grape, a light, floral, waxy wine with hints of tea and McIntosh apples. It was rather weird, especially to this Francophile palate. The finish was a bit short, and frankly the wine smelled better than it tasted, offering all up front then falling flat at the back of the mouth.

Before heading to lunch, we stopped at a research center where they're trying to improve the quality of local wines. Admirable and interesting in a geeky sort of way, but I won't bore you with the details. Lunch, back in Madrid at the Paradís restaurant, however, was delicious. We were introduced to a variety of officials and a few winemakers, as well as Spain's eminent wine critic, Jose Penin. His wine guides are a must-read for any lover of Spanish wines. Even though he didn't speak English, he was fluent in French, and so I managed to have a lovely chat with him. Turned out we had many friends in common in the wine business in France. Who knew?

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by the 9th International Salon de los Vinos de Madrid (trade show). There were a few good wines, far too many bad ones, but sadly prices weren't as friendly as I'd hoped. On more than one occasion, I had to stifle a chuckle...

For our first night, we decided to be real Madrileños and hit as many tapas bars as possible, starting with Madrid's oldest, La Venencia. This very old, smoke-stained bar specializes in Sherry, and that's it. And so we had some delicious Manzanilla (dry) Sherry, with an assortment of cured meats and fish. The rest of the evening quickly became a blur of bars, wine, beer, and more Jamon Iberico than you can shake a pig's leg at.

At the Edge of the Abyss

The second day dawned grey and dreary, but that was fine as most of us were tired from the previous evening's, um, work. Yeah, let's call it that. In any case we appreciated the long bus ride to where Bodega Gosálbez Orti was located. This tiny, family-run winery is a new, modern affair. The visit was pretty straight-forward, and I have to say I was impressed with the investments in technology that were plainly evident.

Then we hit their tasting room.

You know, I always get worried when I see beautiful, ancient Chinese lacquered furniture, flat-screen plasma TVs and engraved tasting glasses waiting for me. Call me old-fashioned or just paranoid, or just plain cheap, but when this happens, more than likely I'll be asked to pay for all this marketing. Granted, the room looked great. And frankly, the wines were quite good, in fact, they were very good. But, my first, gut reaction was correct, as it usually is: prices were through the roof and far too much for me.

Before lunch, we stopped at Bodegas Tagonius, a large operation making wine as well as olive oil. And while the wines were nice and well-priced, I really found the olive oil making process fascinating. Lunch was amazing, even better than the previous day's: the restaurant we visited basically threw a few pigs' legs into the oven and we devoured them, along with multiple courses of delicious courses, served alongside the wines from the Tagonius winery.

Our last stop was at Real Cortijo de Aranjuez, a new winery in old cellars. Despite the impressive surroundings, I wasn't impressed with the wines, and neither were most of my colleagues. Ah well, a swing and a miss...

Dinner this night was at the famous Casa Lucio restaurant in central Madrid. The food was delicious, culminating in one of my favorite dishes, steak a la plancha. On our way home, we inadvertently stumbled into a few more tapas bars, but this was a tasting trip, so it was all done in a very professional way. "Professional" what, I'm not sure, but we sure did make sure to taste as much as possible...

Traditional Winery Mural

All in all it was a very informative trip, I did find a few interesting wineries with whom I'll be following up in 2008. But I didn't get that "Ah-hah!" moment I live for, where you sit up and go "wow". Still, I did get to meet some great people and had a wonderful time.

Pictures can be seen here:
Madrid Day 4
Madrid Day 5

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Dom Perignon on a Friday Night

Last night a motley crew of about thirty thirsty wine lovers gathered at the brand spanking new Astor Wine Education Center. At first glance, the place looks amazing. It looks, as my friend Keith said, like Mission Control, with stainless steel Viking appliances, stainless steel sinks and motion-sensor faucets (mine seemed a bit buggy, unless a buddy was playing a prank and waving at it when I wasn't looking...). There are under-table lights that allow you to look at the color of your wine, and the chairs are comfortable and made of leather (or some leather-like material). Arrayed in a broad semi-circle, we faced a kitchen-like area with the aforementioned appliances, with three flat-screen TVs above the speakers showing us information about the wines we were tasting.

How cool is that?

Alongside the Champagne we were offered a small plate of sushi from Morimoto, which was certainly nice and better than the stale cheese and crackers most places hand out. In any case, we were thirsty and an informative Brand Manager from Dom Perignon regaled us with stories of its history while we swirled and sniffed the following wines:

-1999 Dom Perignon
Beautiful light yellow color, with yeasty almonds, hazelnuts, lemons, hints of mushrooms, some hints of light red fruits and chalk on the nose. The palate followed through, reminding me of a very young Puligny Montrachet, redolent of almond skins on a crisp frame that was full of lovely acid and structure. Somehow, this managed to be both crisp and creamy at the same time, ending with a long finish.
Quite nice if young.

-1993 Dom Perignon Oenotheque
Served in a white wine glass, interestingly. As a matter of fact, I now tend to drink all my Champagnes in white wine glasses, I find the aromas and flavors really come out more even if the bubbles diminish faster.
Creamy, lemony mushrooms with cafe au lait and toast meet the nose, this one is much more powerful, packing a fist of flavors. Yet on the palate it was crisp and elegant, with more of that lovely lemony cafe au lait and some light caramel, with a rich body offering more toast, darker nuts and a sensual, velvety mouthfeel. Sexily scrumptious.
If the 1999 reminded me of a young Puligny, this was a P-M with some nice age on it.

-1996 Dom Perignon Rose
Also served in a white wine glass.
At first this was a bit funky, making me wonder if it was a good bottle. But I think it just needed to come out of its shell, as some friends concurred. The nose was flowery, with light red fruits, chalk and some very light cafe au lait on a perfumy frame. Crisp, lemony red fruits filled the mouth, with some spicy acidity backed by strawberries and some light nuts on a nice structure.
Still, a bit young and tight. I found this to be the least expressive of the evening.

My favorite would be the Oenotheque, though I don't think I'd pay the premium for it. I really liked the 1999 and that can still be had for a reasonable price. When someone asked how many bottles of the Rose they make, the rep told us he could tell us, but he'd have to kill us. So the mystery of their total production continues...

Astor's Wine Education Center includes the tasting room and several other areas, including a beautiful kitchen. They officially open in January and I for one am looking forward to seeing the classes and events they offer.