Sunday, November 21, 2010

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Grolleau Pétillant est arrivé!

La Perlette Sparkling Grolleau

I know all the signs say the Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived, but screw that fruity banana-y crap. How about some real wine? Something that'll make you sit up and go "Whoa". How about some Sparkling Grolleau?

Pascal Pibaleau's wonderfully eccentric and deliciously different sparkling wine has finally landed, just in time for Turkey Day. Grolleau is usually made into innocuous still red and rosé, but in Pascal's hands it's turned into a sparkling jewel. This wine has character, is alive, and truly tastes unique. It certainly doesn't hurt that it's from a biodynamic Loire Valley producer in Azay-le-Rideau. After manually harvesting the grapes, Pascal halts the alcoholic fermentation partway through, then lets the wine sit on its lees until disgorgement, at which time no sulfur and no dosage are added. You end up with a lightly sparkling ("perlant" in French) wine that starts off fruity and ends with a super dry and rather nutty aspect. How cool is that?

And I know it's stupid, but I really do love that label. At first you see a grape vine with bubbles rising from it, but take a longer look and you see something else, something more whimsical. This reflects Pascal's character. Like me, he doesn't take himself too seriously, though he is dead serious about the quality of his wines.

So if you're looking for an affordable (under-$20) sparkling rosé for Thanksgiving or for the end-of-year holidays, uncork (or better yet, saber) a bottle of Pascal Pibaleau's Sparkling Grolleau La Perlette.

Man, I love this stuff.

Monday, August 09, 2010

A Day on the Farm


Well, summer's the slow season in the wine business, so I've been planning for Fall and watching my expenses. Well, trying to do that last one. And, it's been brutally hot in New York, I mean just disgusting. So, an escape from the steamy city seemed in order last Saturday, damn the torpedoes. Of course, it just happened to also be one of the most beautiful days we've been blessed with in a long time, with barely a hint of humidity to glisten one's skin. Fantastic!

Heading north on the MetroNorth train, we found ourselves surrounded by lush greenery and a beautiful working farm, in all its colorful, smelly glory. It always amazes me that if you travel barely 20 miles due north of Manhattan and its steel and concrete canyons, you can find yourself in a wild oasis. Here, outside the picturesque town of Tarrytown, is the Blue Hill at Stone Barns farm complex.

Here, the "farm to table" concept is practiced to the utmost. Crops are rotated, animals change pastures with the seasons, and everything is self-sustaining. All the food grown here is used in the two Blue Hill restaurants, the one at the farm as well as the one down in the city.

Truly addictive tomatoes

As expected, the foodstuffs are incredibly tasty. In fact, looking at these tomatoes again, I know I'd do unholy things for more of them. Yes, they're that good, with snappy skin and juicy flesh that just screams REAL TOMATO.

Peppers anyone?

Peppers were bright and alive, but man those tomatoes... I'm in love. Did I mention that I'd do very naughty things for more of them?


As we wandered the grounds, we were observed by a happy looking herd of black and brown cows, lazing in the afternoon sun.


Elsewhere, a shed full of seemingly very happy turkeys gobble-gobbled and hopped around, looking at us with curiosity. Maybe we were the main attraction to them?


Further down the road, very big Berkshire pigs rolled around in the mud and snorted and followed their keepers to get their meal, also seemingly quite happy to be out and about and free to roam their pens. I'm no animal expert, having grown up mainly in cities, but these seemed really content and relaxed, never fearing people. There was definitely a relaxed air about the whole place. This probably translates into the quality of what is grown and made here, as we would discover later that night.


There were other sheds and small barns, where different things were stored. Here, French Rose garlic was hung to dry, the door open to let the breeze tease them.


In a greenhouse, onions sat in long rows, drying out slowly.


Lettuce, bright and vibrant, sat happily in the dirt of the greenhouse, soaking up the heat and light.


The path back to the restaurant was lit by brightly colored flowers, a welcome invitation to enjoy all the farm has to offer.


We sat down for an early dinner, knowing that Blue Hill here has no menu. It's just a tasting of what's fresh that day. You can, however, choose 5 or 8 courses. As you can imagine, we chose the long dinner, and settled in for what was to become one of the best meals I've eaten this year. Everything was so alive with flavor and color and aromas, I just wanted to bask in almost every dish's glory. I won't put up pictures to tease you, plus I'll be honest and say that I don't recall all that we ate (there were, as you can imagine, more than a few bottles of wine consumed as none of us was driving).

BUT, the main take-away from this experience was that when vegetables are grown in healthy conditions, and when animals are free to explore and roam at their leisure, everything tastes better and fresher and frankly cleaner. It just feels RIGHT. And that's something we should all be striving for, even in the cities.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Meet Champagne Bourgeois-Diaz

Jérome Bourgeois, winemaker

Anyone who reads this blog knows I like Champagne. Heck, let's be honest, I LOVE Champagne. I do like other bubblies (especially Cremants and Perlants, some Cavas and Proseccos too), but the French stuff is where it's at for me. Maybe it's genetic, who knows? So as someone who represents small, high-quality growers, it's killed me that I couldn't find a good Champagne at the right price point. Until now.

Harvesting grapes

I was turned on to Champagne Bourgeois-Diaz in, of all places, Montpellier, which is in the South, nowhere near the Champagne region. A friend in the business in France proferred a glass and said "Tais-toi et bois" ("Shut up and drink"). Lo and behold, here was a gorgeous bubbly, tart with bright acidity and minerality, with lovely, lively fruit aspects. What is this, I inquired, and he showed me the bottle. A few quick calls and emails, and poof, here we are.

Stainless steel fermenting tanks

This tiny family-owned estate farms their own 7 hectares (17.29 acres), scattered around the town of Crouttes-sur-Marne, south-west of Reims. The vineyards are planted on clay and chalk soils, and composed of 55% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay and have a south-west exposition. All the wines are made using a traditional basket press, with a minimal dosage (9g/l for the Brut), and while the basic cuvée is aged in stainless steel, the higher end bottlings see some light oak ageing.

Oak ageing some of the wines

Jérome Bourgeois, the young winemaker, believes in showcasing his terroirs, and this is evident in the final product, which is both reflective of the high quality fruit he gets and a platform for the land’s characteristics.

To achieve this purity of expression of the land's character, Jérome has gone biodynamic. What does this mean? No man-made chemicals are ever used, a careful ecological balance is maintained in the vineyard by allowing cover crops to grow between the rows (check out the wild-looking vineyard in the picture above), and the biodynamic calendar is scrupulously followed, among other things. Whether you believe in biodynamie or not, maintaining a healthy vineyard and not polluting the earth can't be half bad. And the end product reflects this: the wines are alive with an energy one doesn't find in the mass-market bubblies out there.

Filling the old-time basket press with Pinot Noir

Jérome currently makes four different cuvées:
-the Brut Distinguée (40% Pinot Meunier, 40% Chardonnay - of which 20% is vin de réserve - and 20% Pinot Noir);
-the Rosé Distinguée (an assemblage 40% Pinot Meunier, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, of which 18% is AOC Champagne still red wine);
-the Cuvée du Fils is a wine that sees some oak-ageing and is composed of 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay (half of which sees wood);
-Lastly, the 2004 Le Millesime is a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay, aged in oak barrels until Jérome feels it’s ready.

Look for this label soon!

Best of all, Jérome is not afraid to experiment: his next projects will be a Zero Brut (no dosage added) and a Rosé de Saignée (meaning extended skin contact to extract the necessary color and flavor profiles).

I will be showing these wines around to various distributors in the next few weeks, so hopefully one of them will see the light and pick him up. How cool would it be to serve these wines sometime this Fall? Wish me luck!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Happy Birthday America!

Ribs, New York City style

Well, it's summer in the city, so the wine business is slow and sleepy. What's a budding entrepreneur with a growing business to do? I suppose it means I should be travelling, but I'm trying to watch expenses and set up sales networks for the Fall. I am also cooking at home much more, and this July 4th was no exception.

Living in Manhattan means no outdoor space unless one is extremely lucky or rich or both. I am none of those. So I make do with what I can. This July 4th, I couldn't BBQ (the neighbors, building management and the FDNY complained last time when I tried doing something with an open flame inside my apartment...), so I resorted instead to slow-cooked Asian-spiced baby-back ribs (see pic above).

Ribs, sauteed bok choy and pea shoots with mushrooms, fluffy rice

Cooking the ribs slowly for 3 hours at 300 degrees and finishing them in the broiler results in meltingly tender meat. But what wine to serve with this rich meat and sauce combination? This being July 4th, I opted for American red wines, with one Frenchie just to celebrate my background. Zinfandel has worked in the past, and this year was no exception, a 2002 Turley Juvenile Zinfandel holding up to the strongly flavored marinade. A 2006 Bella Zinfandel was too sweet and oaky, and surprisingly a 2005 Domaine la Milliere Chateauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes held its own.

Of course, once the reds were finished, we went straight to the bubbly. I mean, this is a celebration, right? Three bottles of NV Ganevat Cremant du Jura and one NV Champagne Pol Gardere ensured we were in a sprightly mood for the fireworks.

Watching the fireworks the civilized way

Watching fireworks in NYC means one of several things: crowding with your fellow sweaty, loud and obnoxious New Yorkers along the shores of the rivers to watch them live, getting invited to someone's place with a view, or staying at home in the air conditioning and turning on the TV. With temperatures in the mid-90s and high humidity, we opted for the latter. I think we chose well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I Love New York: Sri Lankan Brunch


I've said it many times before, but we really are blessed in this maddening, crazy city of ours. As a food and wine lover, this is doubly so. Oh, sure, anyone with enough money can hit the high-end places, but where's the fun in that? You're almost guaranteed a great experience (note I said almost, not always) every time. The real thrill is in finding that little hole in the wall with authentic food that delivers a great bang for the buck. While these still exist in Manhattan, it's becoming harder than ever to find them.


Which is why we headed to Staten Island with some friends this past weekend. Of course, there's another benefit to leaving Manhattan's steel and concrete canyons: you're reminded how beautiful Lady Liberty is, and how NYC is composed of islands and waterways that are woefully under-used (though, truth be told, this is changing). Best of all, of course, the picturesque ride on the ferry is free. Yes, you read that right, FREE. In one of the most expensive cities in the world, a 20-minute boat ride across NY Bay is completely FREE. Talk about a deal!


Sri Lanka is, from what my expat friends tell me, a gorgeous place with some amazingly delicious food, a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate. Despite a horrendously long civil war that recently ended, or maybe because of it, the food is filling and full of bright flavors, and frankly just looks very joyous. So when one of them recommended Sanrasa restaurant in Staten Island, I jumped at the chance to try something new.


To say I was not disappointed is putting it mildly. Yes, it was slightly spicy, but I like spicy food (whether my body likes it or not is another story). The buffet was full of aromatic curries: chicken curry (good), mutton curry (fantastic), fish curry (good), peas with garlic cloves (yummy but not sure anyone was kissing me after that, however...), delicious eggplant, and collard greens chopped up into tiny bits. Everything sits on a bed of saffron rice and vermicelli (see pic above), then it's all eaten together at the same time.


An earthy cashew sauce was added to the plate, and seemed to somehow bring everything together. Man, this was good but rich stuff!


And as if that wasn't enough, the waiter dropped off baskets of fried fish balls at our table, like little cannonballs of fishy goodness. You'd think this was all horrendously filling, and while it did fill me up temporarily, I soon found myself heading back to the buffet for more. Gluttony, you win!


On the ride back to Manhattan, we were chased (and eventually passed) by a feathered companion. Watching him glide quietly alongside us helped me digest this fantastic meal, and reminded me why I love this city so much. Sometimes you forget the riches that are right at your doorstep until you step outside of your little world.

Now, of course the big question: what wines should I bring next time?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010



Whoa, it's been a long time since I've posted anything here. I've been swamped with work but also personal stuff, so my focus has been, well, I guess you could say, somewhat fuzzy. That said, I have tried to find the time to enjoy some lovely meals with some very nice folks, which made me think a lot about this thing we call wine and our love of it. It all comes down to one over-riding habit, something we forget to appreciate when surrounded by a bevy of open bottles: generosity.

It's the one thing that binds all winelovers together, whether we know it or not. We collect these magnificent examples of winemaking, but what fun is it drinking them all alone? Appreciation of wine is inherently a social exercise, so we're almost forced to share it. Luckily, we can choose with whom we open those bottles, but still, the fact remains the same: someone is sharing a small treasure with someone else.


Whether it's a stunning bottle of 1996 Duval-Leroy Cuvee Femme that was opened with a Mother's Day dinner or a table of regular and HUGE bottles (above) sitting side by side while even more treasures are popped around them amidst a crowd, generosity is one of the reasons we love and share wine.


Other times it was lovely bottles of Burgundy, things that you don't just open on any night, but were opened for me at intimate, smaller dinners. Events like this remind me not just why I love wine, but why I like the people who are into wine.


And the generosity doesn't stop with wine, but with other things, in one case morels. These gorgeous little fungi are rare and expensive, yet were doled out like popcorn one night by a friend who never ceases to amaze me and yet never demands reciprocity (though I do try when I can!).

So the next time someone offers you a lovely bottle, don't underestimate how lucky you are to be sharing a drink with another person who thinks so highly of you. We take it for granted sometimes, but really we shouldn't. Generosity is certainly something we should raise a glass to. The world could use more of it, that's for sure.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The End of an Era

At the dawn of the Internet, wine geeks gathered on various online fora, chatting and learning about the wines that they were so passionate about and discovering they weren't alone with this sickness we call a passion. Eventually, a few good sites evolved from the multitudes, rising to the top of the heap and really dominating all discussions about wine. Mark Squires' Bulletin Board on Robert Parker's website was, for a long time, the top dog in this pack of wine sites.

Like many others, I cut my teeth there when I first came into wine. The people there helped me fall in love with the grape, they shared a ton of information (from folks whose depth of knowledge still scares me), and became some of the most amazing friends I've ever had. Of course, it wasn't perfect, but what is? It was the best, most knowledgeable place to talk and learn about wine on the Internet. The amount of information about wine, winemaking, and wine storing there was incomparable. It truly was a vast, free resource for anyone interested in learning about wine.

But, as with all things, to this there came a time. Slowly, as the site grew in popularity and personalities (not all of whom were angels, it's true), the moderators began to tighten their fists, squashing dissent and any criticism of Robert Parker or of their heavy-handed ways. To paraphrase Princess Leia, the more you tighten your fist, the more winegeeks will slip between your fingers. And thus it came to pass. Eventually, a few split off after being run roughshod over and started up Wine Berserkers.

For a while the two coexisted, with a few other distant websites chattering about wine. An uneasy coexistence settled in, with both boards taking pot shots at each other. BUT, one could easily navigate from one to the other (unless you were banned from the Squires board - as far as I know no one is actually banned from Berserkers). While Berserkers encouraged free-wheeling (and occasionally sophomoric, to be honest) discussions about wine, Squires' censored all talk about its competition, whether blogs, boards or other critics. More and more people began to jump ship, sensing the end approaching.

And then the final blow came the other day, posted without notice or warning: the Squires Board was going to be only accessible to full-paying Robert Parker subscribers.

Why should you care if you're not a winegeek or wine collector?

Because despite all its faults and foibles, the Squires Wine Bulletin Board was one of the most knowledgeable places to learn about wine on the Internet. If you have any passing interest in the grape or how wines are made, this was the place to visit for information. And I'm not even referring to participation from Parker or other critics, which, frankly was minimal and contentious, to put it mildly. No, the regular people, people like you and me, were what really made that board special. Many had moved on, but their posts and tasting notes remained, like vestiges of an ancient civilization with lessons to teach future generations.

Now it's all locked away behind a door in a vault on a ship that is sinking rapidly. I am saddened by this heavy-handed, brutal and frankly unnecessary action. The business explanation doesn't cut it for me, sorry. This was about control and censorship, pure and simple.

But, amidst all this sadness, there is a bright light: (wine) life goes on, as many of the intelligent, experienced people who once made Squires' Bulletin Board interesting have moved on to Wine Berserkers. So there is hope in the universe of wine, despite the passing of a once great forum. I suggest you stop by, say hello, open a nice bottle of your favorite vino, and begin learning.

It's a wonderful journey that never ends.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Love New York - Sripriphai Part Deux

Yes, I've written about this place before, but frankly it's worth revisiting. Another hidden gem just outside the sacrosanct boundaries of Manhattan, this restaurant offers some of the best Thai food in the city, if not the best. I have a friend who says that another place, which I will visit soon, is better, but right now I'm sticking with Sripriphai.

Like most New Yorkers who live on this island, I tend to get myopic when it comes to travelling outside of my little universe. We can always find an excuse not to leave our little fortress of solitude: problems/delays with the subway, most of us don't have cars so moving about can get complicated, and bus service can take forever. However, a quick ride on the 7 line brings you to the wildly, colorfully diverse neighborhood of Woodside, Queens. This melting pot of cultures from all over the world offers something for everyone from everywhere. Literally. On one block, a mosque sits next to a Chinese take-out, which is near a Dollar Store, with an empanada joint next to it, and an old-school Italian pizza place is its neighbor.

What to drink...?

A visit to Sripriphai calls for a little forethought when it comes to wines. You can't just bring any red or white. This food is bright with pure colors, flavors and aromas, and sometimes very, very spicy. Most wines will get blown out of the glass. What you need is something with good acidity and/or something that has some residual sugar. Bubbles are a plus too. Which is where either Champagne (acidity and bubbles) or Riesling (residual sugar and acidity) come in handy.

Papaya salad

These types of wines can stand up to the intense flavors in these dishes. They can also carry through and cleanse your palate, preparing you for the next treat.

Fried tofu

Heck, the bubbles in Champagne can act as little scrubbers, cutting through the intense flavors that are inherent in some of these.

Fried watercress salad

Sugar in the Riesling acts as a protective layer when it comes to spicy plates, countering the spicy oils and also preparing your palate for what comes next.

Drunken noodles

Some of these dishes are quite extraordinary. Bright, vivacious, alive.

Red snapper with garlic sauce

They haven't been dumbed down for their American audience, they have maintained their authenticity and are true to themselves. Which is what I love, and respect.

Curried pork with beans

I am not certain stuff like this would fly outside of New York. Or at least it wouldn't do as well as this place has. Sripriphai used to be a tiny sliver of a restaurant. Now, it's a large establishment with a gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous back garden.

Chinese greens

Braised pork leg (amazing)

Curried noodles with chicken (insanely good)

We're stuffed, but dessert comes anyway: sticky rice with taro and banana

It's places like this, that have remained true to themselves, that remind me why I love New York sometimes. Despite the gentrification and Las Vegas-ification of a once proud city, you can still find restaurants that haven't sold out to the fast food crowd. They require you to sit, be patient, and enjoy both your food and your company. Take your time to discover them and you will be pleasantly rewarded.

64-13 39th Avenue
Woodside, NY 11377
Tel# 718.899.9599

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Pause

Happier Days

I've had many things happen to me in life so far, many good, many bad, some down-right awful. The worst was losing my father 12 years ago, just shy of his 70th. It was a sudden, wrenching loss, that left me and my family scrambling to pick up the pieces. He was an entrepreneur, and like me, didn't like being told what to do. He also had a hard time letting go of the reins of his company, so taking over after his passing was somewhat stressful, to be polite. Worse was the fact that I'd planned on leaving the industry we both worked in (fashion/textile) as even back then I could see which way the tide was flowing (hint: (far) Eastward). It also wasn't my passion, wine was a budding interest and I was curious about the business opportunities there. In essence, there was no future in our side of the economy, and I wanted out.

Instead, I found myself running a factory that made fabrics with 50+ employees in an industry that depressed me to no end and yet had no exit. I had always wanted to impress him, so I kept the family business going for another grueling and difficult 8 years before giving way to the winds of destiny. There were other issues involved, of course, but I wanted to prove to him (and myself) that I could succeed and provide as good a life as he had. But it would be impossible in the textile business.

My father pushed me to be better, to work harder, to keep an open mind, and to not be lazy (well, on that last one, there's still some work to be done). While it's true I hated to work for grades in high school (college was better as I could choose what to study), I got up every Saturday (and some Sunday) mornings at 5am, no matter how hungover, to go work at the factory. He forced me to keep pushing on despite all the obstacles.

Thus, I am trying to follow in his footsteps with Vinotas Selections. Sure, I blather on a lot about the wines I drink, the food I eat, and the places I visit. Sure, life can be (and has been) worse, I am not complaining. But behind all that eating and drinking and travelling, there's a lot of work being done. It's difficult work too, especially as I am not a good salesman, I can only push things that I believe in.

And it certainly hasn't been easy. But everytime I hesitate, everytime I think that perhaps something else would be easier, everytime I doubt myself, I see him, his shirt-sleeves rolled up, clambering over a 16-ton lace machine, covered in grease and oil. Just because he was the boss didn't mean he couldn't get his hands dirty. "Come on," he'd say, "get back to work."

So I'd like to take a little pause and say "Thanks, Dad". You taught me to push on despite all the problems, road-blocks, and dark days. You taught me to believe in myself and follow my passion and do what I thought was right. It's been a while since I said thank you and so I thought it should be said out loud, in public, so you and everyone knows how much I appreciated what you did for me. You made me the man I am today. And I hope you're proud of what I've done so far.

I miss you, Dad. OK, back to work.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Meet Pascal Pibaleau

Christine and Pascal Pibaleau

I love this job. It isn't easy, there's lots of travel, I am constantly trying to show wholesalers why they should be picking up my wines, and I have to taste lots, and I do mean LOTS, of crappy wine. But the thing I love the most about this job is when I find something interesting, something that pops, something that makes me sit up and take notice.

Enter Pascal Pibaleau.

I had been looking for some Loire wines at the Angers Trade Show in February, and had been invited to a tasting of sparkling wines from the area. As someone who loves anything sparkly, I couldn't resist. However, I was pretty disappointed in most of the offerings: too much sugar, too much alcohol, or just completely out of balance for the most part. Except one.


A sparkling rosé called La Perlette, this wine had character, was alive, and truly tasted unique. The fact that it was from a biodynamic Loire Valley producer in Azay-le-Rideau only piqued my curiosity even more. As a wine geek, I thought it superbly cool that it was made from a red grape that has been derided by some of the biggest names in the business (Robert Parker, for one): Grolleau. There's very little of this left out there, so now I was practically salivating. And the price point was right where I needed it to be.


I caught up with Pascal at his stand and we began talking and tasting through his line-up of wines. He and his wife manage 15 hectares (37.06 acres) of vineyards in the Azay-le-Rideau appelation. These are planted on clay and limestone soils, where he practices biodynamic viticulture, so no man-made chemicals are used, everything's harvested by hand, and there's lots of care for the balance of life in his vineyards.


His whites, from the Chenin Blanc grape, are delicious, with white flowery notes backed up by hints of honey and wool. As is the custom in the area, he makes dry, off-dry, and sweet versions of them. His reds were very good as well, and of course there was his Perlette, made from Grolleau.

As I said earlier, La Perlette really caught my attention. This is manually harvested like everything else, and the wine made traditionally: the alcoholic fermentation is stopped before bottling. The wine is disgorged but no liqueur de dosage is added (the slightly sweet still wine that some Champenois add before bottling). The end result is an ever-so-slightly sparkling wine ("perlant" in French means very lightly bubbly, like tiny pearls on your tongue) with dry dark red fruit notes that are backed up by an earthy elegance and a long finish. It tastes like summer all year-round.


So I ask you to welcome Pascal to the Vinotas Selections family, where hopefully a wholesaler will see the potential in his wines and start selling them at a store or restaurant near you.