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.