Thursday, July 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Mrs. Vinotas

The Table is Set

It's Mrs. Vinotas' birthday, so time to open a birth-year wine and cook some yummy things. Plus, it's been a great week work-wise, I managed to get two more wines (my Cotes du Rhône and my Minervois) into the biggest market in the US: New York, baby! If you can make it here, well, you know the rest...

As per the wife's request, I picked up some lamb chops from the local butcher, some tiny potatoes from the nearby farmer's market, and some spinach from, well, let's face it, I'm lazy, the nearest store.

The lamb chops are ready

The menu was pan-seared lamb chops with herbs, steamed spinach and baby potatoes roasted in duck fat with garlic, shallots and onions.

What's the best way to start any nice dinner? Champagne! To satisfy our need for bubbly, I picked up a bottle of NV Champagne Gonet Medeville Blancs de Noirs, a producer I'm not familiar with. This 100% Pinot Noir was quite nice, with peach, sour cherries, dark toast notes, and hints of licorice. The acidity was quite nice and the wine was big enough to hold its own against seared lamb chops, an impressive feat.

1973 Paul Chanson Corton Grand Cru

When I met her, I turned my wife to the Dark Side that is Burgundy, and now that's all she wants to drink. To say the least, I am thrilled. So as I cooked, I popped, or tried popping, a 1973 Domaine Paul Chanson Corton Grand Cru. The cork was stuck, and all the corkscrew kept doing was dig up cork. Frustrated, I finally had to push it into the bottle, at which point decanting was essential, unless we wanted to chew our wine. So what to do? Usually, I'd cover the opening with some cheesecloth and decant the wine. I couldn't find any cheesecloth, so I just decanted it, at which point of course my wife found the damn stuff. So I covered the top of the decanter to filter any cork bits that might try to intrude into my glass.

And how was it? Not bad, not great, it slowly breathed and opened up, and certainly seemed to develop with the lamb. Lots of sous-bois, as you can imagine (that's that lovely forest-floor aroma), with soft, dark cherries, leather, hints of iron, a soft mouthfeel, and a somewhat unbalanced frame that ended in a short, slightly sour finish. While this wasn't dead, it wasn't great. Then again, 1973 wasn't a very good year in Burgundy (or anywhere else except maybe Champagne).

Dessert was semi-homemade vanilla ice cream (what's semi-homemade? It's ice cream I bought at the store near the house but served at home) in a fresh crêpe. No dessert wines as we have an early-morning flight for a weekend of vinous depravity.

Happy Birthday Sweetie!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Friday Night Wines

You meet a lot of people who share this passion for wine, and most are generous and quite nice. As in every relationship, a very few end up being close friends, and this past Friday we were honored to have two couples that we call close friends over for dinner. It is nights like these where you realize how lucky you are, to share in the friendship as well as the wines.

This was something we'd been planning for a while as they hadn't seen the new kitchen and were sick of my constant rambling about it. So after a day slaving in the kitchen, our guests arrived, to find foie gras and sliced Rosette de Lyon sausage. What to serve, you ask? What else? Champagne!

We began with a NV Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain, big and bold yet beautiful and complex, a lovely wine that could stand on its own as well as up to the powerful taste of the foie. A friend offered a bottle of 1999 Kistler Cuvée Kathleen Chardonnay Sonoma County, but it was slightly oxidyzed, so we had to pass on it. The Henriot was quickly emptied, so we popped a NV Champagne Charbaut which was steelier, yet whose finish was rather clipped. It seemed to fall off the palate rather rapidly, something I didn't care for. Still, a learning experience if anything.

Our first course was a Melon Carpaccio, drizzled lightly with some olive oil and lime juice and sprinkled with tarragon leaves. If I might say so myself, this was fantastic. Perfect for a summer's evening. After much hemming and hawing over which wines to serve with this dish, I decided on a 2001 Zilliken Forstmeister Geltz Saarburger Rausch Kabinett Riesling (that's a mouthful, no? And people say French wines are hard to understand????). Beautiful, crisp, lively on the tongue, with minerals and lime fruit dancing joyfully across the palate. And quite good with the melon to boot!

Main course was a duck breast on a bed of wild mushrooms, a dish I'd never made before. Sadly, I think I overcooked the poor birds, as I do prefer them medium rare. What can I say, I'm still learning the ins and outs of the stove... Yeah, that's my excuse... Anyway, for our first flight we poured a 1988 Arnoux Vosne Romanée les Suchots and a 1995 Patrice et Michele Rion Chambolle Musigny les Cras. The Arnoux was corked (those damn Portuguese trees again!) so I tossed it, but the Chambolle showed sous-bois, mushrooms and light cherries on the nose, giving way to similar aspects on the palate. For a Chambolle, the wine was surprisingly mouth-filling, leaving a haunting resonance long after it was gone. Not as lacy as a Chambolle should be, the flavors were slightly muddled, but it was still delicious. For the record, Patrice Rion was the winemaker for the heralded Domaine Daniel Rion, and 1995 was his first vintage making his own wines.

The next flight, though, was killer: 1989 and 1990 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape, both brought by our guests. Talk about generosity! Both of these looked so young we were wondering if they might be fakes, but as they breathed they put on weight, took on some darker colors and began showing graceful signs of ageing. Both offered very similar bouquets, though the 1990 was a tad darker and muddled than the 1989, but I'm quibbling here. Basically, here was everything you could ask for in older Chateauneuf: leather, game, meats, dark and heady fruits, and a lovely balance. Absolutely decadently fabulous with the duck, too, I might add. We lingered for a while over these wines, as you can imagine.

Next came a flight of cheeses (aged Comte, raw milk Morbier and a Tomme de Savoie), with which I poured the 2002 Carillon Puligny Montrachet. Heady aromas of hazelnuts and lemons filled the air above the wine. This was just pure Puligny, backed with some startling acidity which made for a great match for the cheeses. Now this is what Chardonnay is all about!

The night ended with some home-made Mint Sorbet with assorted cookies, and at this point we were pretty happy. I am not sure what could have gone with the Sorbet, maybe Champagne? Sadly, we were out of bubbly (a sign of the Apocalypse, perhaps?), so we went back to some of the other wines once the mint had disappeared down our gullets.

It is nights like these that I am thankful for the people I've met through wine. We talked about the wines, it's true, but we also talked of other things, and laughed and lingered at the dinner table until the wee hours of the night. This is what it's all about.

And a big thank you to our guests for their generosity and for putting up with the smoke conditions while I prepared the duck.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wining and Dining in South Florida

It's good to be home after a week of sun, heat and humidity in South Florida. That said, the weather wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been, I got some major tan lines, did some serious laps around the pool, and still managed to find some good wines. Food, as usual, was another matter, to some extent. There were some good, and some bad experiences.

There was Fifth Avenue Grill, where they tried to upsell us on their more expensive main course, after not only taking our orders for the $15.99 rib special, but also serving the salad and the drinks. How does the server not know that they "ran out" of the rib before taking the orders or serving part of our meal, especially at 7:15pm? The only other options were the lobster special or the shrimp special, both for $15.99, or ordering off the regular menu which had NYC prices for decidedly un-NYC sounding dishes. Steak with cheese sauce anyone? When I asked if I could get the NY Strip at the same price as the rib special (since it wasn't my fault that they "ran out" of it), I was told no. Nothing was comped, no apologies were offered. Bullshit they ran out, they were just trying to upsell us (and, I might add, succeeded, as I was in a meat-eating mood). But when dining out with elderly family, I've learned not to make a fuss...

We visited Bova, a popular Italian place that looks like it was plopped right out of South Beach. People here are so fabulous it hurts to look at them. That said, the food was good (my octopus app was fantastic) and service was very good. Best of all, BYO was $25, even for my bottle of NV Champagne Henriot Souverain. The wine was delicious too, BTW.

Another delicious find was FAH Asian Bistro, where the welcome was warm, the fish fresh, and the prices decidedly friendly. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Other times we cooked at home, which is always nice. There is a BBQ in the complex, where I sweated and steamed one night over some huge boneless rib steaks from Costco that were delicious. My wife offered us a bottle of MV Champagne Krug (and you wonder why I love her?) to go with them and what can I say? This was fabulous, but not as usual. I’ve had this wine before LVMH bought it, and since then something’s changed, though they deny it vehemently. But to my palate, this has become more lean and angular and less round and voluptuous, which it used to be. Maybe it needs more bottle time? Still, it was wonderful, with deep, toasty, yeasty, lemony and nutty notes, backed by hints of ginger and cinnamon aspects. The mid-palate was a bit shallow, but the front and back end were big and brawny. Tons of acidity seemed to strip the enamel off my teeth and leave with a lip-smacking finish.

My discovery was the 2005 A&P De Villaine Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise La Digoine, a gorgeous red Burgundy. Wow, crisp, bright, clear and fresh red berries mingled with a lovely earthy note, with a gorgeously elegant mouthfeel that made you feel like you were tasting something more expensive than you were. This was just fantastic. As it breathed, it took on some dark fruit notes, all the while maintaining a balancing streak of minerality and acidity. The finish was medium-length, but it had that haunting quality that good Pinot Noir gets. A great food wine, this went well with some hanger steaks, arugula and boiled potatoes. Did I mention this was fantastic? And what a steal at $24.99! And yes, I bought up everything I could find. If you see this, buy it. ALL of it.

Over a light lunch of pasta salad, I grabbed a bottle of 2004 Carillon Puligny Montrachet, one of my favorite producers in Burgundy. We have another winner! I swooned right away as I sniffed this wine’s aromas, a lovely lemon and almond mix that was soft and wrapped in velvet, yet on the palate the lightly-oily mouthfeel was balanced with some spicy acidity. This was another wine that lingered on the end, reminding you of its presence in an almost teasing way. I could have hung out with this for a while if it hadn’t disappeared so fast down my throat.

For my last night in Florida, I accepted the gracious and generous invitation of some fellow local winelovers. We cracked some seriously impressive wines, again showing that this passion of ours usually brings out the best in folks. My host and his friends were friendly, generous to a fault, and a pleasure to spend an evening with.

I brought another 2004 Carillon Puligny Montrachet and a 2004 Santo Stefano Castello di Neive Barbaresco. Ooooh, welcome to traditional Piedmont. Roses, bright cherries, tar and earth mixed in a lovely bouquet above the surface of the wine. On the palate, it offered more of the same, with an elegant frame that carried the flavors through to the tart finish. Way too young, this was decanted for the better part of 2 hours before it was drinkable. Letting it breathe really allowed it to shine.

But best of all was the 1970 Mouton Rothschild. I love this wine’s label, drawn by Chagall, a favorite artist of mine, and shown here. Right away, this was unmistakably old Bordeaux: cigar box, leather, some dusty vegetal aromas and some cedar. But as it breathed, it really began fleshing out, a lovely red fruit emerged, and the mouthfeel really smoothed out and became balanced. Beautiful, if on the down-slope.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed an Australian wine (I know, I know, I'll never hear the end of it now): the 2001 Clarendon Hills Old Vines Grenache. Big and dark yet light on its feet, this was well-balanced and not over-the-top or too alcoholic. Why can't they make more wines like this?

So, while I will say we ate somewhat well, we certainly drank well (a recurrent theme in my life...). But prices in Florida are through the roof for basic foodstuffs of even mediocre quality. At least in NYC when we pay through the nose we usually get good stuff. Most importantly, we spent a lovely week with the family and enjoyed our time with them.

Now, back to work.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Au Revoir!

I leave for a week in Florida on Tuesday, so I won't be blogging too much as I have no Internet connection there (Sacré Bleu! Hard to believe in this day and age but it's actually nice in a quaint sort of way). I will, however, still be tasting some great wines (I know a shop or two near us that stock some interesting stuff) and eating, um, well, I'll be eating. Let's just say I'm never too impressed with the quality of the food where I am in Florida.

Anyway, I'll be back on the 23rd and promise to bore you all with what we ate and drank while in FL.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I'm Sorry

It's been pointed out to me (by my wife, no less, which means I really can't ignore her comments), that my blog has become somewhat commercial in the past week. That was never the purpose of this blog in the first place. Unlike some other bloggers, my main goal was to keep an electronic diary of my adventures in the wine business. If people liked my wines, so much the better.

I was just so excited and happy to have left the textile industry and followed my passion that I wanted to share it with the world. After several years in the wholesale side of the business, I started up Vinotas Selections, and now here I am. That's it.

So I apologize to you, Dear Reader, if I came across as a shill. And God knows I will have to apologize to the Boss (aka my wife), who made a point about it last night at dinner. No more "Look at my wines!" posts for the foreseeable future.

Instead I'll share with you some more Champagne finds, some more dinners, some more thoughts on wine and the people in it, and of course some more travelling (Florida next week... yippee?). If you're still reading this, thanks for putting up with me and my excitement.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

They Like Me (Part Deux)!

Well, yet again, not really me (understandable, after all I am an opinionated, stubborn SOB as most of my friends will tell you), but rather one of my wines. I was thrilled to see a review of my Chateau La Bouscade on the influential Mark Squires Bulletin Board.

I guess I should preface this with a disclaimer that the poster is a friend, it's true, but sometimes friends are the best/worst critics. I had been nervous when he told me he had bought a bottle and was looking forward to trying it, as I knew he wouldn't be shy with his opinion. Would he be scathing? Would he love it? Would he just shrug his shoulders and say "bleh"?

To be honest, I was worried that I would disappoint him and my other friends, who've been such good sports and really supportive of my endeavors. Vinotas Selections is after all a brand new company, and there's nothing more nerve-wracking than starting a new venture, especially in the middle of a recession. And when one of the wines you've worked hard to import ends up in someone you know's hands, you are really putting yourself in their hands (not a bad thing if you have models for friends, but, alas, such is not the case for me).

So this morning he emailed me and said he had posted a note about the 2004 Chateau La Bouscade Les Septs Vents, a wine from the Minervois region of the Languedoc in the south of France, near the border with Spain. It's a 100% Syrah which does see a little time in oak, and frankly is the most New World-like (shocking! shocking! Now I'll never hear the end of it from my friend Ben Sherwin who has made it his goal in life to force-feed me CA wines...) wine in my portfolio.

OK, I've babbled enough, here is his review, and many thanks to Paul Jaouen for letting me post it here:

2004 Chateau Bouscade Sept Vents – This is 100% syrah made with a modern touch from I believe Languedoc. Aromas are white pepper, blackberries and currants. The wine is medium bodied with still primary black fruit flavors, and some oak notes. It puts on weight in the glass over time and the wine feels denser in the mouth. Finish is medium length and quite enjoyable. A mix of the old and new world. 88 points and a solid value at $13. Disclaimer: I am good friends with the importer.

So there you have it. He liked it! Seriously, though, I am breathing a bit better now. It's currently available at the Wine Library for $12.98, in case you were interested... I'm just saying...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Work-With


A "work-with" is when the representative of a winery follows its distributor's salesperson to various accounts, such as restaurants and stores. There, he talks up and pours the wine for the various wine buyers. It's a way to generate interest in your wine with both the wholesaler's rep and the people who deal with the buying public, ie sommeliers and store salespeople.

So yesterday I had my first work-with, with a great guy named Howard, who works for the Little Wine Company. They are the NY wholesaler who grabbed my Cahors producer, Chateau de Gaudou. They bought a split pallet of 2 wines, the 1733 and the Tradition. Howard and I clicked almost immediately, he was down to earth and really made me feel comfortable, which of course made my job easier.

The 1733 Label

Malbec and Tannat are the traditional grapes from the Cahors region of South-West France (MAP). The 1733 is a bottling made from relatively young vines (about 30 years old), a 100% Malbec with absolutely no oak (no wonder I like it so much!), all steel-fermented and focusing more on the grape's dark fruit aspects than its tannic ways. This is the entry-level cuvée for Gaudou, but it's still well-made and an easy quaffer. It should retail for around $12.

The Tradition Label

The Tradition is a blend of Malbec (80%), Merlot (15%) and Tannat (5%) from a patchwork of aged vineyards, most between 30 and 120 years old. Again, there's no oak here, which allows the fruit to shine through without any distraction. This wine is much more complex than the 1733, due to the blending of the various grapes. In fact, there's a flowery, fruity aspect to it, with a tannic background from the Tannat, and smelling this is as much a pleasure as tasting it. This will be around $16.

Granted, I am terribly biased, as you can imagine.

In any case, the work-with was a real pleasure. I had been a bit apprehensive, as this was my first one. And while I liked my wines, I wasn't sure how others in the wine community would take to them. After all, my tastes aren't exactly mainstream... But I was wrong to worry about anything. In fact, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Between the quality of the wines and the price points, the wine buyers loved them. Several joints in NYC grabbed 1-2 cases of both wines, to my surprise. July, as you can imagine, isn't a big red-wine-buying month, and it wasn't exactly cool outside on Tuesday (86F and 75% humidity).

Our very first stop, a little bistrot on the Upper East Side called Demare (formerly Bandol), grabbed a few cases of the Tradition right off the bat, and the day stayed positive after that. I was, as you can imagine, thrilled. We hit the UES, Alphabet City and Hell's Kitchen, and the reaction was the same everywhere. Between this day and last week's review of my Chateau de Montfaucon, I'm starting to think I chose well. Nice to be vindicated by your peers...

So I have another Little Wine Company work-with at the end of the month, but I won't be so nervous this time. I know what to do, what to say, how much to pour, and when to keep my mouth shut (probably the best thing I can do - let the wines do the talking!). I'd like to thank Howard for making me feel really comfortable and making my job that much easier. On a side note, Howard is auditioning for a TV trivia show, so let's all wish him well.
PS: Some of you have asked where you can buy my wines, email me and I'll send a list of places that grabbed them.