Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Great Pratt's Gathering

Every January, the wine geeks migrate north of New York City to a forested glen, within which sits the legendary Peter Pratt's Steakhouse. Like the great herds of the Serengeti, they move in packs, circling each other to find out who's wine is the alpha, occasionally jumping from table to table to sample each other's wares. As the day winds down, a ceremonial steak is eaten, cigars are smoked, and the new year is celebrated with laughter and much camaraderie. Then, one by one or in small groups, they head back out into the cold, the warmth of the afternoon fading into a lovely memory.

Pic 1: The Geeks Gather

Pic 2: The Cheese Master and his Better Half

Pic 3: The California Table (sober)

Pic 4: Opening the Bottles

Pic 5: Pouring the Bubbly

Pic 6: The California Table Begins

Pic 7: Jay Shares his Champagne

Pic 8: A Treasure Trove of Burgundy

Pic 9: The Best Table (aka The Burgundy Table)

Pic 10: Taste This!

Pic 11: Smell This!

Pic 12: Try To Enjoy This!

Pic 13: Despite the Abuse, the Two Jays like each other

Pic 14: Flitting from Table to Table

Pic 15: The Cheese Table

Pic 16: The Three Amigos

Pic 17: Happy Faces

Pic 18: Mingling with Mark

Pic 19: The California Table (not so sober)

Pic 20: Friends meet again

Pic 21: Enjoying the cigars

Pic 22: Showing the IPhone off

Pic 23: What do you mean it's time to go?

Pic 24: The Exodus Begins...

Monday, January 21, 2008

When Good Wine Goes Bad

Abused Haut Brion and Lafite Rothschild

Or why provenance matters...

It always drives me nuts when people tell me they're really getting into collecting wine and proudly proclaim that they've started a nice little collection. Except that 9 times out of 10 their vinous treasures are happily ensconced in one of those honeycomb racks above the fridge or worse, near the oven. When you see them, usually they're leaking or the corks are pushing out, a sure sign of heat damage. Such was the case in the picture above.

Why is this bad, you ask?

Because wine is a perishable product, like milk or eggs. Would you leave the milk out on the counter, or worse, near a heat source? No, of course not, it goes bad. Well, guess what, the same thing happens with wine. It's a living, breathing product, and the better examples need time to grow into their own to really shine. During this time, they, like milk, need cool temperatures and a certain level of humidity, or they go bad. Why do you think wines are cellared at the winery in very cool caves or cellars?

Now, granted, 99% of wine sold in the world is meant to be drunk right away and NOT cellared. But even these quaffers can't be put in the kitchen next to a roaring flame for too long. Like every other organic product exposed to high heat, they caramelize and, basically, cook. The best thing to do is leave them in a cool place in your house until you are ready to drink them. Whites can even be placed in the fridge for a long time.

But if you're going to spend the money to buy age-worthy wines, spend a little more and either store them professionnally or buy a wine fridge. It will be worth it, so that in 5, 10, 20, 30 years, your wine can be enjoyed in all its glory. In addition, when buying older wines already aged, make sure they've been well-stored and that they have good provenance. Otherwise you end up with bottles like the ones in the pic above, which can't even be used for vinegar. The low fill levels show that the wine leaked due to heat damage. These wines are undrinkable.

Which is a shame, as the pristine examples of those bottles that I've had are otherwordly examples of what wine can be. Something more than a simple quaffer, something that makes you sit up, smile, and realize that all is good in the world and that God exists. They make you want to sit with them, get to know them, and allow them to envelop all your senses.

So go ahead and buy ageable wines, but take care of them or you'll end up with expensive colored water.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Taste of Terroir: Morey St Denis Dinner

The Clos de la Roche Grand Cru in Morey St Denis

Aaah, Burgundy, the region that has stolen my heart (and wallet) and gives me shivers of joy that seem to touch my soul. How is it that this little valley, stretching for 100 miles from Dijon in the north to Lyon in the south, can produce wines that make grown men weep and turn philistines into poets? How can Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from this land make one believe that not only is there a God, but that he wants us to be happy?

The other night we tried to answer that question by looking at one of the villages in Burgundy, Morey St Denis. It is situated between the better-known towns of Gevrey Chambertin to the north and Chambolle Musigny to the south. The others are slightly more famous, and it's relatively easy to define them: wines from Gevrey tend to be more powerful and spicy, while wines from Chambolle (my fav) tend to be lacier and more feminine. So where does that leave Morey St Denis?

Well, with some damn fine wines, frankly.

A small group of intrepid tasters gathered at Cookshop on Manhattan's far West Side, bottles in tow, and palates thirsty with the desire to explore this town. A note on the food and service: all of my dishes were delicious (I opted for several smaller plates as opposed to a main course), and more importantly, not over-salted. Service was excellent and gracious, despite our propensity to carpet our table with wine glasses. So kudos to Cookshop!

But what about the wines, you ask?

We had many bottles, so I'll just list them with conclusions at the end. Easier to read that way, and it won't be too geeky...

-1991 Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses (starter - very shy and not really showing well)

-1991 Louis Jadot Bonnes Mares
(technically not in Morey, this slipped through the cracks by virtue of a small plot that crosses the town line)
-1998 Dujac Clos St Denis
-2001 Dujac Clos St Denis

-1998 Hubert Lignier Clos de la Roche
-2001 Hubert Lignier Clos de la Roche

-2001 Clos des Lambrays
-2000 Rousseau Clos de la Roche
-1993 Drouhin Clos de la Roche

-2004 Truchot Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Clos Sorbes

-2003 La Tour Blanche Sauternes

The wines were fantastic, just soul-stirring renditions of their vineyards. It was particularly interesting to compare two different vintages of the same wine from the same producers (the Clos St Denis and the Clos de la Roche). In the Dujacs' case, the 1998 was rounder and softer, while the 2001 was precise and pure, a crystalline showing of Pinot grown in that Grand Cru plot. For the Ligniers, the two were remarkably alike, though again the 2001 was more precise. The Rousseau was fantastic, though the Drouhin smelled better than it tasted. And the Truchot offered a weird funky note that quickly blew off, but didn't make me a believer in 2004 red Burgundy.

For dessert, we had the 2003 La Tour Blanche Sauternes, thick and ripe and viscous but deliciously young, a beautiful sticky from that part of Bordeaux.

So what can we say about Morey St Denis wines?

Well, in the right hands they are classic examples of gorgeous, haunting Pinot Noir. OK, that's obvious. What else? Does it have the power of Gevrey or the laciness of Chambolle? No. What it does have, the one thing I found in common, was a certain high-tone on the nose, a sort of slap to the nostrils that woke you up and said "Pay attention to me, I'm special". How cool.

In the end, though, the love of wine is the love of conviviality, and this evening my friends and I were the pure definition of that. A great way to end a Tuesday night...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Wine.Com is Evil

So apparently Wine.com has been having its friends and lawyers order wine from out-of-state retailers, then snitching on these retailers for breaking inter-state shipping laws. As it is, these laws are, to put it mildly, a hodge-podge of idiotic protectionist policies.

How sleazy can you get????

As Alder Yarrow writes on his blog Vinography, this is like taking down the license plates of cars going faster than 65 mph and reporting them. It's a great article and I really recommend reading it. More importantly, BOYCOTT WINE.COM.

Show them that dirty dealings like this won't get your money. Stuff like this just pisses me off. I'll say it again, BOYCOTT WINE.COM.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Why European Wines? (Part 2)

OK, I'm back, the meds have kicked me into high gear, and I want to get back to explaining why I love European wines so much. Now, as you may recall in my previous rant about the New World, I am not fan of those wines. As opposed to cars or textiles, wine is not an industrial product. When done well, it is an artisanal commodity, despite the inherent contradictions of such a statement. By "artisanal commodity" I mean that it can be hand-crafted, with attention to detail, yet still be produced in quantities large enough to satisfy a market.

So I prefer wines from the Old World because they focus more on finesse and elegance than on raw power. To my palate, wines from Europe tend to be more complex, unfolding gently on the tongue, slowly exposing their mysteries as opposed to just showing you everything up front. It's the difference between Audrey Hepburn and Marylin Monroe. Sure, you wouldn't mind spending the evening with Mrs. Monroe, but wouldn't you want to grow old with Mrs. Hepburn? I know I would.

Wines from Europe come from a climate that is, in general, cooler than wines from the US or Australia. Thus, grapes tend to ripen more evenly, allowing all the different elements to slowly integrate and come together. And it's this balance that I love and look for in wine. In addition, European winemakers don't use tons of new oak unless they're masking defects, and they don't look for the high-alcohol, high-fruit extraction that one sees in the New World. With millenia of experience behind them, they can treat their wines with confidence and allow them to gently seduce us.

That's not to say that all European wines are great, mind you. Between freakish weather and winemakers' folly, one can find plenty of plonk coming from Europe. But, in general, I have preferred the wines of the Old World to those from the New World.

And the wines I have chosen to represent show this. None of them are "fruit bombs", none will shove oak splinters down your throat. But as they sit and unfold in the glass, they will all make you smile. Well, they made me smile.

Are they tougher to sell? Yes. Are they slightly more expensive? Sometimes. Won't the exchange rate be a bitch? Yes.

But it's worth it. I want to reintroduce these wines of elegance and finesse to the American palate, and I believe this is the time to do it. The market is trending away from the Yellow Tails and those horrors and more towards wines that can be drunk with food. It truly is an amazing time, as a real culture of wine is evolving in the US (last year wine surpassed beer as the favorite alcohol).

So there you have it, this is why I've chosen to represent European wines.