Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wine, Business, and The New York Times

On the front page of this morning's New York Times business section is a lengthy article, complete with color photography, about rich businesspeople going into the wine business as a second career. Here's the link. I found myself scratching my head as I read about the former Dallas real estate developer and his wife the former ambassador to Austria, now relocated to Napa, and the couple who used to work for Intel, now running a winery in Texas.

I searched the phrase "to make a small fortune in the wine business start with a large one," and while I couldn't find the origin, I did find it over and over again, often with the preamble "There's an old saying..." is this news? How did this end up occupying precious column-inches in the Sunday New York Times? More to the point, who is having their back scratched? My candidates include (in order of appearance in the story): Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates, a wine industry consulting firm; or Bill Nelson, president of WineAmerica.

Or who knows? I can easily think of a non-conspiratorial explanation: Maybe something else got pulled at the last minute and this story was handy. Or maybe the Times thinks its readers are up for a little winemaking fantasy amid the news about Dubai.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Problem With Puzelat

The problem with Thierry Puzelat's wines is that once you've tasted them, everything else seems calculated. Les poured some "Le Telquel" the other night, and it was simply wild: Wild berries and some kind of musky, green character on the nose that evokes the untended grassy fields of my youth--former farmland, turning back to grassland while waiting for the developer's backhoes and front-loaders to invade so that even more split-level ranches might be erected to house refugees from Queens and Brooklyn, yearning for their very own lawns.

Anyway, the wine was cloudy and tasted of red raspberry at the front of the tongue and fresh strawberry at the back. As explained by David McDuff, Puzelat's treatment of the gamay grape, while rigorously natural, did not fit in the INAO's frame of what Touraine gamay should be like. Hence, it is "vin de table" and has no vintage information. (Unlike David, neither Les nor I could find a code on the label.)

Which I suppose gets back to my original point: Puzelat's wines are literally too wild for the INAO, and they make most other wines seem housebroken. Maybe that's why the dog is wagging his tail?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #5

Into each heart, some tears must fall. Though you love and you lose, you must stand tall. So sang The Marvelettes, and the truth of the song is eternal. Which is to say, we had our first Bummer Night At The Usual.

Les, great host that he is, offered us ways out, but no, I had to taste this SB that I'd read about on Jamie Goode's blog. And when offered structured tastings of Cru Beaujolais or Loire Valley Cabernet Franc or "grab bag," I went for grab bag. I can't help it, that's the bait I rise to every time.

Maycas Limarí Sauvignon Blanc, made 3/11/08, an effort by Concha y Toro. Les said: "It's pillowy," meaning it just kinda disappeared at the end of your tongue.

Elaine: "It smells like pudding. Tapioca pudding with a hint of passionfruit."

Me: "Clean white socks."

Elaine: There's some Granny Smith apple at the finish. Not much finish."

Me: "What finish? It disappears halfway across your tongue."

Karl: "As it warms up, it loses some of that acidity. When it was really cold, it was all acid."

Elaine: "It makes me salivate, it's so acidic. I don't like that."

Me: We say "mouth-watering acidity," and it's good. That is, if it's Italian and it's red. And I'm not getting any mineral quality.

Elaine: It's chalky. Like it has tannins from stems.

Karl: If the binary decision is buy/not buy, I say "Not buy."

Me: All the way at the back of the palate, maybe some apple skin.

Elaine: "Apple skin" is generous. It's a lot of tannin.

Karl: Who is "Royal Imports, Old Brookville, NY?"

Through the magic of google, now we know.

And thus ended the Limarí Valley obsession.

But wait, there's more.

"Les états d áme du Mas Jullien" Languedoc 2006:

Fone Foto by Karl.

Karl: Is this candy or pie? I shouldn't make fun of the label, but I've been doing label design on the side, and the flaming hair is my signature.

Me: I'm getting chocolate mint cherry cordial. And rosemary and maybe even more chocolate.

Karl: The herbs are coming out, the pie fruit is going away. Meaty, too. Now it's like pork tenderloin roasted with rosemary.

Me: Well, now we know what to pair it with.

We are distracted by hearing Marilyn Manson on the jukebox, and engage on a discussion of Goth vs. Emo. Elaine mentions Depeche Mode, a band that has been around so long that I remember them. "It's all music by depressed people," I say. What was that band that sang "Everybody Wants To Rule The World," A Flock of Seagulls?"

"No," said Elaine. "That was Tears for Fears."

"Yeah, so what's the difference?" I said.

Elaine: This wine is too tight, too rough, too disjointed...too young. It needs another two years in the bottle.

Me: It really is tannic. It reminds me more of '06 Bordeaux than '06 Languedoc.

Next week, I'm plumping for the cab francs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #4

Les discussed with us the possibility of tasting through all 10 of the Beaujolais crus (except probably St. Amour, which I've always thought of a wine for Valentine's Day, and was never especially impressed with anyway) over the next few weeks so we could discuss the influence of terroir. He also proposed a tasting of cabernet franc from the Loire. "Or, you could just do random bottles," he said, and plunked down in front of us an Arbois and a Valle D'Aosta. We like to do what's in front of us, and Elaine has already had both of these wines and loved them, so that's what was opened.

Jacques Puffeney Poulsard Arbois DOC 2006: "There is some complete aroma in here," I said. "I'm trying not to break it into components. Strawberries when they're still green? And a layer of cherry."

"There's something like red currant, and I'm definitely getting cinammon," said Elaine. "Cranberry...something botanical. There is also something that reminds me of sawdust--like the wine is corked, but it's not. And something floral."

"Rhubarb," I said.

"I'm getting rhubarb too," said Karl. "It really reminds me of my mother's strawberry-rhubarb pie, right down to the cinammon."

"I think of rhubarb as something sour," said Elaine.

"Not in my mom's pie," said Karl.

"I'm also getting a note of crisp green pear," said Elaine.

"It's moving from fugitive to evocative," I said. This provoked laughter. "Hey, I went to college," I said.

We paused to order apps: Duck breast, gnocci with gorgonzola, and crab rangoons.

"This is really opening up now," said Elaine. "Tannins are present and accounted for. This is real mountain wine."

"It needs yodeling," I said.

"And goats," said Elaine.

"I'm getting a little pickle note," said Karl.

"Dill?" asked Elaine. "I'm getting a little cranberry jelly note...cranberry and lemon...and the texture of aspic. Like trout in aspic?"

"Wow, when was the last time I had trout in aspic?" I wondered aloud.

"Cream cheese really cuts the acidity," said Elaine. "It's all fruit now...I could eat this for breakfast."

We were distracted for a few minutes by a montage of movie scenes featuring Yul Brynner on the TV. (Kathy usually has the TV tuned to Turner Classic Movies.)

We were additionally distracted by an ounce or two of "Axia" Syrah/Xinomavro 2006, which Les told us had been open since Saturday, and consequently had little nose left, but a whole lotta barrel char.

Then, on to Alpine Wine #2 (see, there really is a theme here).

Grosjean "Torrette" Valle D'Aosta 2007: This is petit rouge and a few other grapes, from high in the French-speaking Italian Alps. After the Poulsard, which was as light as a lot of rosés, this seemed positively beastly.

Karl: "Smoke!"

Me: "Yes. Also some red cherry and plum."

Elaine: "And that bitter walnut-skin finish."

Me: "That's how we know it's Italian."

Alfred Hitchcock's "Topaz" is now showing on the TV. Kathy advises us that it is one of the Master's worst movies.

Me: "I'm getting a note of watermelon." Incredulous looks from both sides. "Well, like that strawberry/watermelon note you get out of a Tavel," I said, defensively.

Elaine: "This is bloody. I don't know what is going on with the soil, but this is the same taste I get when I accidentally bite my tongue. I'm also getting some ripe apple."

Me: "Thank you for saying that! Sometimes I find my self censoring out aromas or flavors that I associate with white wines."

Karl: "Like an apple orchard when some of the fruit is rotting on the ground."

Elaine: "It's really open now. Loose and easy."

Me: "We say 'user-friendly.'"

Elaine: "Slutty."

Me: "OK, it's a little harlot, as Peter Tryba used to say. It's showing everything."

Elaine: "It's like a really good Brouilly or Morgon."

At some point, we'd ordered sandwiches; shrimp "poorboys" ("That spelling makes me nervous," said Elaine.) for Elaine and Karl, fried chicken with cheese, pickles, and mustard for me.

"I'd just like to confirm your pickle note," I said to Karl. "It's right here."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hangin' At The Usual Suspects #3

Les presented us with several choices: For whites there was an aged Muscadet and new sauvignon blanc from Maycas in the Limarí Valley in Chile (supposed to be the latest and greatest); for reds a A "baby" supertuscan, a Grignolino, a Lagrein. We're bored with supertuscans, and Les advised us that the Grignolino was super light, and I said I didn't want to drink anything super light under a full moon, so we went with the Lagrein. I was excited at the prospect of the Limarí wine, because I'd just read about it at Jamie Goode's blog, but I bet I get another chance at this, while the chances of running into another 2004 Muscadet were probably off we went:

Luneau-Papin "L'el D'or" Cuveé Medaille Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2004: Les said it would drink more like a white Burgundy than a Muscadet, and I got hazelnut on the nose right away. Elaine picked up pineapple, tasted it and thought it was a bit hot with alcohol. Karl got ripe apple, and pointed out that as it moved to the back of the mouth, the acidity receded.

"Woody," I said.

"Like a fresh stick kind of woody," said Elaine. "And the mineral quality is like really soft water."

After a decent interval while we ordered stuffed figs, Moroccan chicken kebabs, and yet another American Napoleon, we went back to it. "It's still pretty fresh," I said, thinking this was exceptional for a five-year-old Muscadet. "The '95 is still fresh," said Elaine. "It's insane."

Niedermayr Lagrein Aus Greis "Blacedelle" Alto Adige 2006:

"I'm getting asphalt and blackberries," I said.

"That's UV inhibitor spray," said Karl. "It smells exactly like the Mothers spray you use to clean your dashboard."

"With pie crust!" I said.

"Eucalyptus," said Elaine.

"I wonder what "Aus Gries" means," I said.

"I'm going to text Mike Tiano at Haw River right now," said Elaine. "He's used to getting messages from me at all hours. And I'm getting some black peppercorn in the finish now, like the fresh ones that smell very floral."

"The UV spray thing is gone now," said Karl.

To general astonishment and hilarity, Mike texted back within a few minutes: "Aus Gries refers to a zone for Lagrein production right outside of Bolzano."

"The blackberry is running to blueberry now," I said. "Tannins are asserting themselves."

"It's like blackberry seeds," said Elaine. "Blackberries are seedy."

As the evening wound down, I decided that the batter-fried little cubes of okra that decorated our pimiento-cheese burgers (Monday night special) were kinda like Tater Tots, except lighter and therefore nicer.