Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local Food, Imported Wines

Eric Azimov has an interesting article in today's NY Times about locavore restaurants in California which also serve European wines. It would seem to be hypocritical, but in many ways I can understand why they do this. Truth be told, most, not all, CA wines don't go with food. But before you get your panties in a bunch, please reread what I just wrote: I didn't say ALL CA wines don't go with food, I just said most.

In general, and again, this is a GENERALITY, many CA wines are not food-friendly, especially if the food is more on the delicate side (obviously, a hunk of BBQ'd beef is another matter). Ripe, sweet fruit, low acid, high alcohol do not translate to things one wants to drink with a meal. They tend to overpower most dishes. And don't get me started on the liberal use, or rather abuse, of oak.

Most (again, not all) European wines are not as big and brutish and their acidity lends itself to food much more easily than CA wines. So I can understand why many CA restaurant lists have these wines. It would be nice if more CA wineries tried to make more food-friendly wines, but these don't get the points and attention that big, oaky, sweet fruity alcohol bombs do. And don't get me started on points...

Luckily, here on the East Coast, we have a plethora of choices, both from the Old World and from the New World. We are truly blessed for living between the two and having access to them. Of course, this negates any attempts whatsoever at being a locavore unless you try to get Long Island wines (which are more European in style than their CA counterparts).

Frankly, I am not saying CA wines are bad, just that they don't match with food as readily as European wines do. Someone once told me, CA wines are for cocktails, European wines for dinner. And I can understand why he said that.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Harvest in Spain

Sunrise in Navarra

Harvest is that magical time when the grapes are plump and ready to be taken off the vine, a wonderful period of the year when the air is humming with possibilities. Right? It's also a mad dash that goes on almost all day and night, when a year's preparations are focused into a 2-4 week period.

Vineyards awaiting the pickers

As in most parts of France, Spain had a fantastic year. 2009 is shaping up to be a very good year in many places, but we won't know for a while. In the meantime, the grapes came in clean and plump, as these pics show.

Back to work!

To give you an idea of what it looks like, here are a series of pictures from my winemaker Txus Macias in Navarra. Harvest here is a family and friends affair, with everyone pitching in.








Of course, at the end of the day, it's time to break bread and pop corks and enjoy the fruit of your labor, basking in the glow of a day's work and the warmth of your friends. But isn't that wine is all about? It's not about points, or what's supposed to be the "right wine", but about sharing good times with good friends and family, and realizing that these are the most important, and sometimes ephemeral, things in life.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Battle of the Bojos


No, not the bozos. "Bojo" is short for Beaujolais, and I am sure as Hell not talking about that plonk that arrives in November labelled "Nouveau". Frankly, if you're into that, then there's nothing of interest to see here, please move along to the next blog. Seriously. Go away.

I am talking about real Beaujolais, which is real wine. Delicious wine. Long-lasting, intensely satisfying wine. Stuff that makes you wonder how Nouveau can even exist at all. Made by small farmers with a real love of the land, it speaks of its terroir as well as its northern cousin, Burgundy. It's also something I really like and appreciate, even if I haven't really written that much about it. I suppose I was too busy drinking it to really stop and write about it.

And in case you were wondering, it's made from the Gamay grape, once called "a treacherous grape", as it is quite vigorous and can make tons of crappy wine if not cultivated carefully. It was banned from Burgundy in the 14th century, and found a new home south of that region, in the Beaujolais. And here it's made some fantastic wines that are really not appreciated by either the serious drinker or the wayward wino.

Well, recently, I had the chance to open two Bojos side by side to see how they were doing. Admittedly, it wasn't completely fair, one was 2007 and the other 2008. That extra year was really important, as I've had the 2007 and it was completely different from the 2008.

The 2008 Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorees Vieilles Vignes L'Ancien Beaujolais was the first victim. Right from the start, this smelled gorgeous of light cherries and earth, yet was completely tight and unforgiving. Things in the mouth had yet to come together. This was like looking at the sketch of a beautiful suit, handling and choosing the fabric, but not finishing the stitching job. We decanted this for several hours, and it still refused to come to the party. Smell was great, taste was just not there. The 2007 of this is absolutely fantastic, BTW.

Compared to that, the 2007 Pierre-Marie Chermette Domaine du Vissoux Cuvee Traditionelle Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes was a sex bomb on the nose and in the mouth. With a sappy, ripe smell of cherries and light fruit and plums wrapping a core of earth and smoke, you just wanted to sit there smelling it. The palate was similar with a gorgeous mouthfeel that was almost velvety and ended with some crisp minerality with a long finish. Beautiful.

OK, so it wasn't a real battle, more of a skirmish. But I really encourage folks to drop their Nouveau and try one of these. It'll change the way you think of Beaujolais. And best of all, these wines cost less than $20 each.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Season of Tastings

The Orsay room is set up

'Tis the season for tastings, and so these past few weeks I've been busy standing behind tables pouring my wines that are distributed in NYC. At T Edward's tasting Jean-Pascal Aubron's Muscadet got very good reactions, a testament to his wine-making skills. But the biggest taste test was at Orsay, where Gabriella Wines held their Fall Portfolio Tasting. I poured four wines (Chateau La Bouscade, Clos Bagatelle, Felines Jourdan and Chateau Haut-Musiel) for eight hours, standing in a low-ceilinged room while hundreds of store and restaurant wine buyers filed past, sniffing, swirling, tasting and spitting (for the most part). To say I am exhausted is putting it mildly.

The room fills up

But I did find some things very interesting. For one thing, many folks are upbeat about the economy, which is a plus for everyone. Rising tides and all that. For another, it was really fascinating to see how the people who choose the wines the end consumer finds on lists or shelves make their decisions.

K&D Wines' Buyer

Most stopped and listened, either out of politeness or interest or both, as I rattled off the information about my wines. Many seemed to enjoy learning about what they were tasting, and took the time to ask questions and probe deeper. Others shot past, gulping the wines quickly and nodding a quick thanks.

One of Premier Cru's wine buyers

But I found it fascinating to think that all these people would be making business decisions that would affect what ends up in the glasses of the end consumer. Just like I'd gone through thousands of wines before choosing the ones I represent, they had to taste through hundreds of bottles lined up on tables like soldiers on the march. Like me, they seek the wines that are both well-made and sellable (the two are sometimes mutually exclusive, sadly).

With so much to taste, it is easy to become overwhelmed and fall back on the standard labels. So it was nice to see how dedicated these buyers were to finding interesting wines (sometimes mine! yay!). For me, it was physically and mentally exhausting (you'd be amazed at how tiring it can get, standing and talking ad nauseum about my wines for hours on end, and I love my wineries. But it's a part of the job I love precisely because I get to talk so much about my portfolio. And folks seemed to appreciate the effort, I am happy to say.