Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy the Big Bird!

I will be with family in Florida, cooking the Big Dinner, and serving Champagne and Burgundy alongside it. If my wines were in this market I'd serve the Felines Jourdan Picpoul, as I think it's both aromatic and crisp enough to hold up to all the different flavors. Then again, I am biased, after all.

Cheers and Happy Turkey Day!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Week In Paris

Morning in Paris

Yeah, there are worse places to spend a week than in Paris.

I decided to treat myself to a week in Paris, where I could do some business and also celebrate my birthday. To put it mildly, I have my priorities straight, thank you very much.

I left Macon very early on a Saturday morning, taking the TGV from the quaint little town to the capital. To my surprise, the train was packed to the gills, though everyone was asleep due to the early hour. Rocketing through the fog-shrouded French countryside felt like flying, with nothing but clouds and sun outside the windows and that shallow rocking motion high-speed trains get. What a civilized way to travel!

Upon arrival, my first order of business, of course, was to eat breakfast (espresso and croissant, delicious) then head over to Caves Augé to meet some friends for a tasting of Burgundy producers. The tasting was a lot of fun, we met some great winemakers, tasted some very good wines (especially Marechal and Pacalet), and tasted some not so good wines (nope, won't bad-mouth them). Best of all was hanging outside on the street while tasting, and popping over to a table where some fresh jambon persillé and some paté de campagne were being served. Yum!

We then ran over to Willy's Wine Bar for lunch. A stop at Willy's is de rigueur for me on every trip to Paris. It's a great deal for lunch (20 Euros if I recall correctly), and the wine list is fantastic. We shared a bottle of 2002 Anne Gros Clos de Vougeot "Musigni" which was nice but took forever to open and reveal itself. The best glass, as usual, was the last. Of course.

It was quickly decided that we were still thirsty, so we headed over to Caves Legrand Filles et Fils, across the street. Their wine bar has some interesting selections and the store itself has some deals (sometimes, you need to really do some hunting however).

For some reason, I can't quite recall what I ended up doing for dinner...

The following morning I woke up early and decided that the apartment I rented needed some food, so I hopped on one of the municipal bikes (Velib) scattered throughout the city and headed over to the Boulevard Raspail Organic Market. If I may say so myself, I was quite dashing, with my leather jacket and scarf, speeding through the sleepy streets of Paris on this cold fall morning.

That is, until I hit the streets still paved with cobblestones.

I won't need to worry about having kids after those. Ouch. Those bikes weigh a ton, and have no shocks, so you ladies need to use your imagination, but all the men reading this just winced.

Lesson #1= avoid the cobblestoned streets.

In any case, I piled all the fresh produce (eggs, herbs, salad, etc...) into the little basket at the front of the bike and headed back to my apartment. Problem was that the place I rented was in the 9th, near Place Clichy, which is at the top of a hill. Boulevard Raspail is all the way at the bottom, and across the Seine.

Lesson #2= make sure you have the energy to bike a heavy, steel bike up steep hills before attempting to look cool biking through the City of Light.

After this abuse, I made it back home and prepared a lovely omelette aux fines herbes the way it's supposed to be: runny and gooey and freakishly delicious. There's something about eggs in Europe, they're denser and so much more flavorful than the eggs we get in the US, even from farmer's markets.

My friends Sharon and Arnaud invited me to dinner for my birthday, and much good, no, fantastic wine was consumed over a lovely meal. Highlights included a NV Ruinart Rosé from magnum (WOW), a 2000 Armand Rousseau Ruchottes Chambertin Clos des Ruchottes that was swoonfully good (yes, I just invented that word, deal with it) and a mind-blowingly good 1993 Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Champgains".

Over the course of the week I found a few new wine bars and restaurants that I will add to my revised Wine Geek's Guide to Paris (look on the right-hand side of the blog, link is right there). I also cooked myself some lovely meals and discovered a neighborhood I didn't know very well but ended up really liking.

Now, back in New York, I am re-energized for work and looking forward to showing more of my wines as business grows, even as I long for and miss Paris. Sigh...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Night in Macon

The town of Pouilly Fuissé

I left Avignon for Macon, in southern Burgundy, with a heavy heart and a somewhat heavier head (more like a pounding head to be honest). My winemaker, Didier Tripoz, of Domaine Cathérine et Didier Tripoz, picked me up at the tiny train station. I represent their monopole wine, the Clos des Tournons, a walled enclave of old vines (between 30 and 65 years of age). This makes for a lovely, unoaked and full-flavored yet light on its feet Chardonnay that is just making its appearance in the US.

The moment I saw the vine-covered hillsides, I knew I was home: Burgundy! Even though I was an hour south of Beaune, the regional capital, it felt like I was back where I belonged. The vines’ leaves were turning yellowish with the changing of the seasons, making for a beautiful undulating golden carpet. Absolutely glorious.

A rocky spur overlooking vineyards

We dropped my stuff off at the crappy hotel I was staying in (never, ever, ever, stay in a Balladins motel, it’s downright scary: the bathroom was a solid piece of plastic, so I could take a shower while taking care of business while brushing my teeth – a nightmare of efficiency taken to the extreme), then proceeded to head right into the vineyards. Didier drove us through a beautiful vista of steeply rolling hills covered in those golden leaves, with rocky outcroppings popping up at odd intervals, all lined by centuries-, if not often millennia-old, stone walls. God I love this part of the world. There really is something magical about this region, something timeless that just really stirs the soul.

Didier challenges me to a race up the hill

We visited a new plot that Didier had just bought in the Pouilly Fuissé appelation, angled so steeply that going up was a chore but coming down was an adventure. I swear, this thing must have been at a 45° slope! There, we were joined by his assistant winemaker David, who had helped out with this year’s harvest. After stints in New Zealand and several other wineries, David has settled in as Didier’s helper going forward. He’s really ambitious and eager to increase the quality of the wines, which is always a good thing.

Looking up the slope

Looking down the slope

Lost in a sea of Chardonnay

After driving around the perimeter of the Clos des Tournons , we came to the winery, which is basically an addition to the house’s garage. We began tasting the 2008s from tanks, and I was thrilled to see that this year's Clos des Tournons would be another success, with beautiful fruit backed up by almost stinging acidity and a lovely, rich mouthfeel. We also tasted the Pouilly Fuissé, which holds much promise as well. We made our way through all the wines, from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir as well as Gamay (the grape used in Beaujolais but used here to make red Macon, very rare). Quite nice if I may say so myself.

Didier pours from the tank

After the winery visit, we retreated to the tasting room, where some 2007s were opened for my perusal. I was pleased to see that Didier hasn’t lost his touch, his wines were just as beautiful as I recalled. Then, as his wife Cathérine announced that dinner would be ready soon, he poured me something else, something intriguing, something quite surprising. “This is for our aperitif,” he explained.

Now, I’m a sucker for Champagne, I just love the stuff. I am not a fan of Crémants or other bubbly wines, in general. So I was wary about this.

The wine he was pouring looked like Champagne, a golden liquid with surprisingly tiny, elegant bubbles, it smelled like a Blanc de Blancs, on the palate it was richer, with bracing acidity, yet it wasn’t Champagne: it was his Crémant de Bourgogne. I almost fell off my chair. This was stunning. This was amazing. This was unbelievably delicious.

Using the traditional Méthode Champenoise, Didier makes a sparkling wine from Chardonnay without adding back the liqueur d’expedition, or the base wine plus sugar that most sparkling makers add back to make the wine richer and balance its high acidity. In this case, he doesn’t add it back because, being further south than Champagne, his grapes achieve a higher level of ripeness: in other words, they don’t need the sugar, some of theirs survives the first fermentation.

The result is unbelievable, at least for a Crémant. This is something I’ll be happy to show to my clients very soon.

Dinner was a long, leisurely affair with Didier, Cathérine, their son and David. We laughed a lot and chatted about the upcoming elections (I swear the French were more obsessed with it than we were). Finally, I retired to my crappy motel and tried, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep.

I had an early morning TGV to catch: I was heading to Paris. Yay!

Next: A week in Paris.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The United States of America

Note: I am taking a small break from reporting about my last trip to France to say a few words about this election.

I have never been prouder to be an American.

The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency is an amazing event. No matter who you voted for, no matter what you think of him as a person or as a politician, you have to admit that this is a singular, momentous occasion for this nation: an African-American man will be the 44th President of the United States. Whether you're happy or not that he won, you have to admire how far this country has come.

Do we still have racial problems? Absolutely. Is there still much work to be done? Absolutely. And of course let's not forget the economic mess our "Masters of the Universe" drove us into, or the wasteful war in Iraq and the forgotten war in Afghanistan. There's lots of things to fix after 8 years of incompetence and corruption.

But Barack Obama's election reminds us, and the world (which, let's face it, has been watching with baited breath) that the United States of America is not just a country but an idea and an ideal. We might have gotten horribly distracted from it for the past eight years, but this election tells us that the ideal survives and thrives. It is one of hope, freedom, and the absolute faith in a person's ability to thrive and rise to the top with hard work and dedication.

Whatever his policies and views, Barack Obama's victory shows that we as a nation are willing to give anyone a chance. No matter the color of their skin.

I have never been prouder to be an American.

Of course, to celebrate, I popped a French Champagne, but I do have to be faithful to part of my heritage, non?