Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Big change at Chambers St. Wines

As readers of the VLM-TR well know, we are big fans of David and Jamie (and sometimes Rockss and Douche) over at Chambers St. Wines. Well, they are moving to a new location and David sent me an email to let me know, and I thought I’d pass it along to the readers here who might want to get in on the moving sale action.

These guys are friends of mine, so I have a conflict of interest. Fuck you if you don’t’ like it.

I hope you buy a lot of wine, here are the terms:

  • Prices will be valid as of 12:01 AM Friday August 1.
  • Order by emailing David or call 212.227.1434.
  • Sparkling wines not discounted.
  • Non-discountable items remain that way.
  • However, most old Barolos and pre-arrivals which are discountable will discount 10%.
  • All other still wines will discount 20% on bottle one, or more of course.

Most importantly for VLM-TR readers, all Loire and Beaujolais are included.

Don’t put off rounding out your Baudry, Breton, Huet, etc. Lots of cool stuff, try to get there before me and Blackwood get all the cherries.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Old school in the New South

After having such a wonderful meal at the Highlands Bar and Grill, it sounded like a great idea when RJ and Darcy mentioned dinner at the Magnolia Grill in Durham when our mutual friend Mike was in town. When we were all in graduate school at UNC we used to try to have dinner at least once a month. RJ, Mike and me with my then girlfriend and their girlfriends (who became wives, unlike mine who broke my heart). Then Li and Wenjing moved to Chapel Hill to complete our 8 and we had a good ride. However, the truism is that all good things must end and we all finished school and moved about. It was nice to have a chance to get back together. I feel really lucky to have found folks that I like so much in graduate school, of all places.

About the Magnolia Grill, over the years I think some folks, including myself, have taken this restaurant for granted. We were all on the lookout for what was happening now, and despite the accolades that Ben and Karen receive, the food can sometimes seem a bit dated (from the era of New Southern Cuisine) when you have that mindset. The thing is, if you approach the food for what it is, meticulously prepared from fanatically chosen ingredients, most of them from right down the road, you can’t help but be charmed. This is an institution, the trailblazer for true fine dining in Durham, without which, folks like my brother might never come into being. Kudos to Ben and Karen for keeping it going for 22 years. Anyone can open a restaurant and start strong, it is another thing entirely to keep standards high for over two decades. This place is going back in my regular rotation.

2005 Grosset Riesling Polish Hill
I ordered this because in all of our dinners, I don’t think I’ve ever served (don’t own any) or ordered an Australian wine. I’ve always liked Geoffrey Grosset’s wines, but the rieslings in particular. This was showing well, if not spectacularly. Sometimes his wines manage to be dense and packed and amazingly light on their feet at the same time. This bottle had the density and concentration, but I would have liked to have seen more lightness and complexity. There were 6 of us at the table, so it didn’t get much of a chance to open.

2002 J. J. Prüm Riesling Kabinett Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Now this is what I should have ordered. That glittery fruit of young (but not too) Prum Sonnenuhr is just hard to resist. Mine was futile. It assimilated me like the Borg. How is that for geeky?

2004 Salvo Foti Etna Rosso Vinupetra
Much better than a bottle I opened a few days before. This bottle showed in the Burgundian manner that I remembered from a year ago. There is a slightly smoky to the relaxed cranberry/sour cherry fruit as well as a stony nuance. Lacks a bit of drive and force, but complimented the food nicely.

2005 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey 1er Clos St. Jacques
Decanted as soon as possible. Showed a good hit of oak upon first open, which isn’t surprising given that it is raised in all new barrels, and Laurent “magic barrels” to be precise. I’m not going to get into a long dictum here about the use of oak and the quality of it, but these barrels are pretty amazing in person. Thickest staves I’ve ever seen on a barrel. Anyway, by the time we got around to drinking it, the oakiness had subsided and it was showing a lot of typicity, which was good as a recent bottle of 2002 was a very big disappointment. There is some around, I think I’ll pick up some bottles and see what they do, if I have any cash left after buying Foucault.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Rougeard repast between Txakoli

In between bouts at the Txakoli fest at Six Plates, I met a friend for dinner at one of my favorite local spots, Vin Rouge.

1997 Clos Rougeard (Foucault) Saumur-Champigny
Sometimes referred to as the Clos bottling, this is one I generally don’t buy, but had a chance to get some at an attractive price in Europe a few years back. We had this decanted for about 30 minutes before dinner. The color was a nice ruby, but the nose was a bit muted (big low pressure system), but the palate was all silk and perfection. It was really a killer showing. I would have liked a more complete showing, that is, with more of the aromatic fireworks that Foucault wines can bring. Some coaxing brought out the nose a bit more (headed into some tobacco and dried fruits), but the wine on the palate and the inner mouth perfume were really dazzling. Maybe I’ve made a mistake about the Clos bottling by not purchasing it in the past. Another point to make is about Foucault in warm vintages like 1997 and 2003. Pierre Breton once made a point about how certain soils, aided by conscientious viticulture, remain “cooler” and the vines are deep enough not to shut down since they are still getting water (I’ve found it true for his Perrières site in Bourgueil as well). Thus, I’m very bullish about Foucault in warm years. Anyway, food for thought and discussion.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Other recent Durham arrivals

Some friends of mine from Reno recently moved to the Triangle for a job. Got a chance to sit down for dinner and give them tips on the area. Wasn’t a great wine night, but hey, they all can’t be.

2005 Ulivi Montemarino
My friends enjoyed this more than I did. Frankly, I really love the Filagnotti Gavi for it’s laser like voice and bustling freshness. Still, a good wine, but lacking the drive that I wanted.

2004 Salvo Foti Etna Rosso Vinupetra
Disappointing bottle of this. Past bottles completely left me speechless. Complex like Burgundy, but a wine that had been kissed by sunshine and showed the warmth and spice to that effect. This bottle was a bit diffuse and lacking in purity and drive. I’ve got a few more, maybe I’ll try another one soon. Maybe this is an example of an excellent wine that just isn’t built to age, although I’m surprised by that.

Another vote for Briords

I'm a bit ambivalent when the general media gets involved in wine that I like. In Slate today, the generally pretty good Mike Steinberger heartily recommended the Pepière Briords (without a vintage) as well as a Bossard wine, the 2006 Gneiss. Personally, I think it is a good article and folks who read it will be better informed and, if they listen, will get some good wine. I also agree with him (with a few notable exceptions) about aging Muscadet. In the short to medium term, yes, but much beyond that I am only ocasionally convinced.

How do the rest of you feel about another spread of insider wisdom? Should we string up Steineberger and Asimov, or be happy that Olivier and Bossard wines will see a wider audience?

I'd make an actual poll, but I don't really give that much of a shit, besides, the sample size would be too small (not to mention, lacking in any sort of random assignment).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Catching up with friends, Burgundy always helps

Trying to catch up with friends this weekend and had a chance to dine with my friends Sophie, Damon, and Will at the very good Vin Rouge here in Durham. Even though you might think they are direct competition for my brother, we’re all pretty good friends and I think that Matt is a great cook and Michael is as good a front of the house guy as there is in the Triangle. He’s put together a very nice winelist as well. Besides, the way I look at it, we’re all on the same team. We all want to eat great food and drink great wines and we know the difference. I think there is enough room for both places to succeed.

I seem to have been on a roll with Burgundies lately. Watch the next few show like ass.

2001 Roagna Solea
This is a chardonnay from the Piedmont with 5% nebbiolo blended in; thus, it should be cool. It was interesting to a point, but I found it a bit clumsy but maybe it would have shown better with the right food, whatever that would be.

2000 Dauvissat Chablis La Forêt
Folks out in CA had claimed that they had experienced premature oxidation with Dauvissat. I didn’t really buy that. This bottle scared me a bit at first as it didn’t really bolt out of the gate. It did begin to build after being open for a while, but didn’t ever blossom into what I had hoped it would be. Good, but that’s all and not nearly enough from such an historically excellent wine.

1999 Geantet-Pansiot Gevrey Vielles Vignes
Really showed great. Opened for 30-45 minutes before we dove in to it. Lovely depth of fruit and that unmistakable animal/mineral quality I associate with Gevrey. It’s been about a year since I’ve had a disappointing Geantet wine, and it was a 1996 which hasn’t been kind to me across the board. Darker in color and deeper in fruit than the Fourrier and only a bit less elegant. Really held it’s own.

1999 Fourrier Gevrey 1er Champeaux
This was decanted upon our arrival to the restaurant, so it had a good hour+ in the decanter before we got into it for real. I don’t have as much experience with Champeaux as I do with some of Fourrier’s other wines. This was typical Gevrey, with dark red and blue fruits mixed in with forrest and a touch of animal. I found this to be very good both in terms of structure and flavor. Was great with food and deft in the way of all Fourrier wines. Drinking well now, and sure to improve, but there is no harm in digging in.

Aubry Champagne Brut Rosé
Eh, just OK. Better when I mixed it with some Dauvissat…

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Shellshock and the medicine

First day of my new job, and I feel like I was thrown in to the deep end of the pool. Definitely needed some good wine to ease the brain. Why exactly did I leave the ease and comfort of my job in California for the stress of a high-octane research environment? Too late to go back now, the only way is forward.

2000 Arnoux Echezeux
This is my second bottle of this in the past 6 months or so and it was fantastic. This is silky generous in keeping with the vintage. An herby nuance to the deep red fruits. Typically spicy notes around the edges and a nice earthy streak (not gamy though, more of a light earth). Don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on one if you see it around. Compared to the Vosne Suchots and Romanée-St.-Vivant, this is ready to go and should drink great for another 10+ years, but I don’t see it getting much better than it is now. Maybe improving for another 3-4 years and plateauing for a good while.

2006 Tête Juliénas
One of the joys of returning to Durham is that I get to drink Tête Juliénas from a carafe at Rue Cler, my brother’s restaurant. Michel Tête has been cool enough to put a cuvée of his Juliénas in a 10 litre bag-in-the-box for my brother to serve. It’s great, keeps the wine fresh and lively. The 2006 is lighter than the 2005, not surprisingly, and really takes to the whole carafe treatment. 500mLs of deliciousness.

2005 Pépière Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Granite de Clisson
Do I like this more than the Briords? It’s one of those questions that you have to ask, but are hard to answer. This is broader, richer, and more Burgundian than the Briords, but it is still granite based Muscadet. If you haven’t tried this, you should try it, buy more, and cellar them.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Excellent Cathiard, mediocre Olek

Met up at Rue Cler with my friend Susannah for dinner after work.

2005 Olek-Mery Chinon Blanc
I’d been really curious about this wine for a while and was psyched for Susannah to bring it to dinner. I’m curious about the etiology of this wine as it could be the same grapes that Matthieu Baudry uses for the Croix Boisée blanc, but I don’t know and will have to remember to ask. This had a leesy scent and what appeared to be some new wood. It was a bit flabby and dilute, not really what I was hoping for at all. Compared to the recent bottle of 2004 Baudry Croix Boisée blanc, it was distinctly inferior.

1999 Cathiard Nuits St. Georges 1er Murgers
I decanted this and then set it aside while we tried the white. This wine built and built like a slow train. It reminded me of Coltrane. Snoop would dig it on the Soul Plane. Anyway, for the first time I understood a comment someone said to me about Cathiard being fruity. I’ve never though of the wines as fruit forward, but as supremely elegant and reserved wines, especially in the context of Vosne. Right upon opening it was quite fruity and not appropriately structured. This all started to change dramatically at about the hour mark. I suspect that folks who find this fruity just popped and poured. It really benefitted from time in the decanter. The unfurling picked up speed and the wine gained in precision and focus, stretching out before us while developing snap and verve. Cool red fruits framed by floral and Spring field-ish notes. I loved the structure. This was strikingly precise and detailed for a wine from Nuits St. George, but the vineyard location and vigneron have something to do with that. I wish Cathiard wines hadn’t got so expensive. I think the 2005 sells for like $200 or something ridiculous like that. Who knew?

Friday, July 18, 2008

For Durham-ites

We live in a cool town. The best in the Triangle, hell maybe the south if you are a lover of real wine.

Tomorrow (Saturday) at Six Plates they're having Txakoli fest hosted by Andre Tamers of DeMaison Selections who imports the coolest book of Spanish wine on the planet, and also happens to be a good friend.

The vlm will be there drinking from a porron and generally causing mayhem. If you are lucky enough to live in our fair city, we'll see you there. Thank god there aren't too many hipsters to ruion this event the way Real Wine Attack was ruined in New York. I'll have my cricket bat, so I would shave and leave the skinny jeans at home if I were you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Drinking off the list

A mellow dinner at Pop’s with my folks and an old friend of theirs upon their arrival from Montana. It's nice to be able to easily drink off a wine list at a local restaurant, as opposed to SoCal where having a choice of good affordable wine was very rare.

2006 Franco Toros Collio Tocai Friulano
Thanks to Damon who turned me onto to these wines. Really exceptional depth and clarity. I like all the Toros wines, but this one is probably my favorite. Something about the fruit quality in Tokay really appeals to me. It is like if there were a version of lemon custard that wasn’t so blurry, sort a clear wax version. Anyway, my dad went gaga over it, which is always a good thing.

2005 Montesecondo Chianti Classico
An old favorite, this has been showing really well lately and seems to be prospering despite the supposedly poor vintage. Pleaty of fruit, earth, and leather, with lots of snap and tannin to wash down food. It really is a delightful food wine and this is the third or fourth bottle I’ve enjoyed in the last month. Not sure that it’ll make bones, but should drink well for the next few years at least.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Tuesday at Rue Cler

Dinner at Rue Cler with a couple of friends.

2002 Breton Bourgueil Les Galichets
I’m very fond of the two “villages” wines at Breton, the Chinon Beaumont and the Bourgueil Galichets. They are sometimes awkwardly alike, but they are unpretentious, well structured, and generally delicious. This bottle showed very well, although still a bit young, which came as a bit of a surprise. While the hipster versions, the Franc de Pied and the Nuit D’Ivresse get more attention, I think that the Galichets and the Beaumont are the value stars at Breton.

1996 Courcel Pommard 1er Grand Clos des Épenots
Last December, I had a fantastic bottle of this. This current one was not in the same class, but it was still very good, and did improve through the evening to the point where it may have blossomed had I decanted it or opened it earlier. It was light in color with a more rhubarb scent to the red fruit and a nice earthy/animal sense of Pommard, although still elegant and Épenots about it. Fairly well balanced and in a decent place to enjoy now. Not a wine of great depth, but with enough complexity and charm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What the cool kids are drinking this Summer

There is always something new for the summer. 5 years ago it was the rosé resurgence. A couple of years ago it was Txakoli. Last year it was Txakoli rosato. Our friends over at Cépage (pronounced SEA-page) are a bit out-of-date on what the cool kids are drinking.

Well this year, it’s something different. What the cool kids are drinking is the Juliénas Spritzer.

  • Take one 10L bag-in-box Michel Tête Juliénas and put in refrigerator.
  • Take Lurisia sparkling(or Pelligrino if it is not available in your area) and also refrigerate.
  • Wait until chilled.
  • Take out 8.5 oz Picardie tumbler.
  • Add 1 part Lurisia and two parts Juliénas from the spout.
  • Drink and repeat until satisfied.
  • Garnish if you like, but I don’t.

This is what the cool kids are drinking.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy Bastille Day!

We here at the vlm-tr are big fans of Bastille Day. We're bigger fans if there is a cool time trial or mountain stage on Le Tour, but we don't have the flexibility to watch the Tour during the week anymore, so we hope others fare differently.

Generation Kill, episode 1

The new HBO show Generation Kill started last night. As you may know, the vlm-tr is a HUGE fan of David Simon and Ed Burns’ last show, The Wire, which I think may be the best television ever produced. Needless to say, I was anxiously awaiting this mini-series based on the book by the embedded reporter Evan Wright.

Episode 1 was marked by trenchant realism that we’ve come to expect from Simon & Burns. I wasn’t struck numb the way I was with The Wire, but then again, I’ve lived in Baltimore and been held at gunpoint, I haven’t been to Iraq, nor been in the armed service. What I like about the way they approach their subject matter is that nothing really has to happen, there is a narrative arc, but they do not feel any inclination to insert action at every turn, or even at all. I don’t feel I can make any pronouncements about the show for a few more episodes, but it looks to be a worthy successor to The Wire.

A NY Times review, was sort of lukewarm, but not particulalrly good, IMO. A much better review, as well as more positive, from Tom Shales as well as one from a fellow embedded journalist, also of the Washington Post. The New Yorker had a slightly negative review that I think missed the point.

The vlm-tr gives it a preliminary “Watch it, biaatch!” with hopes that it will join the pantheon of greatness.

A great 2003 saves a night of crap

Had a chance to have dinner with good friends Matt and André. Very OK steakhouse fare, but great company.

Henriot Champagne Brut
Total crap. When people say Champagne blows, this is what they have in mind.

2003 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Léognan
After a great bottle of 1998 I had recently, I had high hopes for this, despite the vintage. I mean, great growers make good wines in all vintages, right? Well, this was all fluffy and even a bit lactic. The fruit was all outsized and crude. Could never really get into it, not could anyone else.

2003 Clos Rougeard (Foucault) Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeux
Well thank god for the Foucault brothers. I have always found that the Foucaults and the Bretons do very well in hot vintages compared to some of their neighbors. Pierre Breton once told me he thinks it has to do with how he has been farming and how deep the roots get and how the rock under the vineyard keeps the parcel cool (that is for his exquisite Perrieres). I think this is particularly true for Saumur, whose wines start off blockier than their Bourgeuil cousins. This wine was rich, but not blowsy and retained its shape and even stretched out a bit as it opened up, which is always a good sign. Excellent length, depth, and cut. I’m not always a huge fan of the Poyeux as it is quite expensive and, given limited resources, I prefer to spring the extra dough for the Bourg. In this vintage, the Poyeux is just fantastic. I buy as much Foucault as I can. You should do the same. On pre-arrival at Chambers. I bet Rockss and Douche didn’t tell you that, did he?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dinner with the crew at Pop's

Dinner at one of my brother’s restaurants with a mixture of wine business friends and normal friends. Always interesting to see how that works out. Rather well on this night. We had great luck with the wines as well, the Baudry, Geantet, and Occhipinti in particular.

2004 Baudry Chinon Blanc La Croix Boissée
Great fucking wine. Matthieu is still getting the hang of it, so it doesn’t reach heights like this every year (I found the 2005 overblown), but when it hits like this, I think this is destined to be one of the great chenin blanc wines of the world. Planted on the top part of Croix Boissée where the cabernet franc kept dying because of the high limestone content of the soil. The vines are young, less than ten years old, but in 2004 there is a density and purity that is admirable. It doesn’t have the wooliness of chenin closer to Tours. What it does have is an electric balance between fruit, soil, and acid each weaving in and out of the other. Really superb and I urge you to try it if you can find it.

1998 Geantet-Pansiot Charmes-Chambertin
A great showing for this wine which is definitely in a sweet spot right now. Good deep dark red pitted fruits with a hit of spice over the top and some bottom notes that were in the leatherish end. The balance and freshness here are really remarkable and there is plenty of snap and structure to the fun. Exactly what Charmes should be, charmant! I think that Geantet wines don’t get enough respect. Lyle from Rockss and Douche even gave me a little grief about liking them back when he was at Crush. I don’t understand why, the wines aren’t spoofed, they aren’t really oaky, the vines are all old with most of them pinot fin. Yes, he bottles on the early side, but so does Leroy. Anyway, miss these wines at your own peril.

2000 Georges Mugneret Nuits St. Georges 1er Les Chaignots
Susannah really liked this, and I brought it because she had liked a bottle of the 1999 so much a couple of years back. This lacks the precision of that previous wine, but it is showing very well right now. In fact, my experience over the past year with 2000s has been fantastic. While I liked it very much, others really liked it, even more than the Geantet. They’re wrong of course, but it was good.

2005 Occhipinti Nero d'Avola Sicilia Siccagno
An excellent showing for this wine as well. Sappy and deeply pitched, well fruited and just a very happy wine. It had the right structure and balance to get us through the end of the meal and enjoy some afterwards. This wine had dramatically improved over it’s year in NC.

1981 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia
Others liked this more than I did. I really enjoyed a younger version at Tia Pol not long back, but this was a bit much. Probably would have been better with the correct food instead of by itself after a meal.

Arsenal in the transfer market 1

This is an important summer for my other obsession Arsenal F.C. of north London. Personally, if we can make big money off of Adebayor, I say let him go. A $40-45 M profit (what we paid versus selling price) from him and $10 M could be used to grab David Silva and another striker. The biggest issue for us is that Adebayor allows us to play a 4-5-1, which is good for the Champions League. I’d also really like to see us sign Jeremy Toulalan who I think could be a great defensive midfielder so that we could operate in a 4-2-3-1, which is the formation I like the best.

We also need a top notch defender. I have Micah Richards in mind. He has expressed interest in Arsenal and he could be the player that shores things up. He won’t be cheap, but the Arsenal board really need to suck it up and spend. It would be nice to get a world class keeper, but that doesn’t look likely. Shea Given could be nice, but what we really need is someone imposing physically and Given is very much like Almunia.

I really like the signing of Nasri. I’m not sure where he fits in, hopefully as the successor to Robert Pires who has never been adequately replaced (which may actually be impossible). Not sure about this Bischoff guy, but no one had heard of Clichy, Sagna, or Fabregas before Wenger grabbed them, so we’ll wait and see.

A lot depends on how 3 key players recover from injury and whether they can stay fit. We’ve yet to see the rampaging Rosicky from the 2006 World Cup. He may end up being too fragile to the EPL. Van Persie is another very important cog. He is one of the most outrageously talented technical players in the world. In fact, Thierry Henry once said that he was the only player he has ever played with that was Zidane’s equal in that regard (he said this before playing with Messi though). The return of Eduardo is another very important development. I admit, I was unconvinced by his early displays, he seemed off the pace and lacking in skill. I think I was wrong about that. Once he got his sea legs, he just started scoring. He didn’t always light things up in build-up play, but

The two players we need development from are Theo and Diaby. Theo’s run against Liverpool was a thing of beauty. I’m hoping that Wenger gives him a chance to play more regularly this season. I see Diaby as the successor to Viera, with a box-to-box mentality. In some ways he is more skilled than Viera, but he doesn’t seem to have the tactical nous or the defensive sensibilities. We’ll see.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

There's Florida and there is FlaJim

For those of you that don’t already know, and there must be at least 3 or 4 of you left, Jim Cowan is a gem of person. Almost makes it worth visiting Florida. Almost.If you notice a difference between the first two wines and the last two, the first were at our hotel, the last were at the restaurant we went to for dinner. Terrible wine list, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway, and my folks got to meet Jim, which was nice for everyone. The bill came service compris, which was odd. Just goes to show how many Europeans are showing up in Florida these days with their damn Euros and a willfull ignorance towards the tipping customs in the U.S.

1998 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-Léognan Rouge
Really excellent bottle. Tannins have folded in, very Graves nose and all the tobacco, earth, and red fruits that this implies added to the more predictable cabernet-ish darker notes. Balanced and harmonious without anything seeming outsized or forced. In 1998 at least, this wine has resisted the call of the concentrator. Paid about $45 which I think is fair for the wine. Worth seeking out.

2005 Luneau-Papin Excelsior Clos des Noelles
Excellent. Although from an entirely different soil, every bit as good as Marc Olivier’s Granit de Clisson. Maybe more aggressive than Marc’s. I like these new luxury Muscadet and hope these projects continue. Not sure how others are responding. I’m on the lookout and will be putting some in the cellar.

2006 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc
Drinkable, sort-of.

2004 Sonoma-Cuter Les Pierres
Bloody awful. I tried really hard to find something to like. I should have had a martini.

The Divine Miss Lee lights up LA

The Divine Miss Lee is Lee Campbell the restless, job-hoping, sometimes wine-merchant, sometimes sommelier, sometimes from NYC. She was in town for a wedding and I was honored to be her escort. Lee and I met a few years ago on a trip to France and immediately bonded and have remained friends ever since. There is as much life in her as three of me, I’ll tell you that for nothing. Unfortunately, the best I could do for her in Santa Monica was another totally underwhelming, totally overpriced dinner.

2005 Wittmann Riesling Trocken
This was positively shimmering. Bright, floral, dry, with mouthwatering acidity that begged to be drunk. I could drink fuck-tons of this. Maybe twice my body weight. No shit. Pristine, crystalline and everything I want in an aperitif riesling. It went OK with the first course too, but who cares. I take back all the snide remarks I’ve made about weird Wittman wines in the past. This was $35 on the list. That means it is out there somewhere, cheap. Find it, but it, drink it, and tell your friends that the vlm rules!!!!

2002 Harmand-Geoffroy Mazis-Chambertin
Brought this to the restaurant. I loved a bottle of the 2002 Lauvaux St. Jacques earlier this year and so had high hopes for this. Unfortunately, it never really delivered. What ruine dit for me was what I think of as reduction, but what some others have called “gunpowder”. It obscured everything else about the wine and made it impossible to really enjoy. My experience with this type of thing is that it is a flaw in the wine, not in a particular bottle (and this bottle was in perfect condition). I’ve heard tell that this ages out, but I’m not so sure.

2002 Sociando-Mallet
I’ve been drinking Sociando-Mallet since I’ve been drinking wine. It was always a stalwart around the house as dad was a big fan. I was really disappointed by this bottle. It was all glommy, but diffuse fruit. I would have preferred something leaner and more nervy, if that’s what the vintage gave, rather than trying to make a 200 when none exists. Didn’t really have any backbone to it at all,, which makes it useless at the table.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Great Burgundies with my brothers

It isn’t very often that I get to sit down with both of my brothers and their wives for dinner, without folks or kids. We were all in Florida for a wedding so it was perfect opportunity. Rhett from B-21 recommended this restaurant, which was totally old-school. Prime-rib, wood walls, white leather banquets, it was totally cool. We were the youngest people in the joint by about 30 years. The wine list had some cool older Burgundies at prices that had not been adjusted upwards. Storage seemed good, but the corks on the bottles were stained. I suspect that the bottles saw a bit of heat at transport, but have been well stored since.

It was a great night. We got to relax, laugh like hyenas, and drink great Burgundy. Truly, this is a memory to cherish.

2005 Drouhin Chablis 1er Vaillons
Really just OK. Very fat and sweet for Chablis, and not really my cup of tea. I haven’t had many 2005 Chablis, but I guess this is more the norm.

1991 Drouhin Chambolle 1er Amoureuses
This bottle had the worst cork, and was the least of the three 1991s. That being said, on any other night, it would be a centerpiece in and of itself. It had definitely advanced more than the other two wines with the sous bois really showing through and the red fruits on the dryer end of their span. The earthiness partially occludes the Amoureuses-ness, but that is a minor nit against an excellent wine.

1991 Drouhin Musigny
This was decanted and absolutely stunning. The thing about Musigny that makes it so special is that there is a density of flavor that never gets heavy, each part wafting gracefully over the next. Texturally luxuriant with layer after layer ghosting across the palate, but without ever losing shape. This was Musigny in every way and a very fine example of both 1991 and that vineyard. What I love about the way 1991s are showing right now is that they show a density without heaviness, killer precision, and translucency (valued above all other things).

1991 Jadot Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
Great showing for this wine. Missing any sort of blockiness one associates with Jadot wines. Silken, darkly mineral and earthy with a core of red and blue fruits. This was richer than the Musigny, but not finer. Younger too with more tannin present and a more primary feel to it. While it doesn’t stratch at the inside of your soul in the same way the Musigny did, this was a great wine, and maybe the best Jadot wine I’ve ever had. I worry sometimes that the house style missed the pinnacle of this vineyard, but this did not, at all.

Martell Cordon Bleu
This was my first love in Cognac, and I’ll always have a soft spot for it. Warm, rich, and forgiving if not as interesting as Delemain or more boutique producers. Still, a great way to end the night, chatting and sipping in the warmth of the moment.

Monday, July 7, 2008

There and back again

It probably comes as no surprise to the 5 or so people that read this blog that I’ve spent the last year out in Southern California, more specifically, in Laguna Beach. I can’t really think of a more beautiful and pleasant place to live. My commute in the morning took me by the Crystal Cove state park overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s a hell of a thing when your morning commute makes you smile. Well, like Frodo, I had an 11 month journey to and from the West Coast. I left California on June 19th and drove back across, back to Durham to my new job at Duke University. It’s a job with A LOT more responsibility than I’ve ever had or wanted, but I’m really excited at the opportunity to make an impact on the world and stretch myself intellectually.

Day 1: Laguna to Tucson

It got up to 116 in the Arizona desert. That is really ungodly hot. There were some really cool vistas at the California/Arizona. We stayed in the hills on the western edge of town, using all my Marriott points to stay at the Starpass resort. Gorgeous sunset. Had dinner at El Charro, a Tucson institution which looks the same, but has really changed since I was there. The food and service was nowhere near what it had been, before they opened other branches and the old owners were nowhere to be seen. Like they say, you can never go home again, or in this case, to your college town. The Hotel Congress has been gussied up, but it still has a cool vibe. I bought a Club Congress t-shirt to remind me of the old days when I was a young and full of hope and vigor.

Day 2: Tucson to Dallas

Some cool views, but not as cool as Arizona. Once we enter West Texas, things get UGLY. El Paso is a dump. We stop in Odessa for dinner, which is also pretty grubby, but had some pretty good Texas BBQ (not to be confused with actual BBQ, which can only be found in eastern NC). We then get completely pounded by an unbelievable rain storm, the kind you only get in Texas. I think this was part of the system that caused all the flooding in the Midwest. The rain got so hard that I couldn’t see the road, crazy. Got to the east edge of Dallas at about 2:45. Poured a huge glass of scotch and slept like the dead.

Day 3: Dallas to Birmingham

We stopped for an awesome breakfast at some diner on the Louisiana border. Made it to Birmingham with only a little more rain. Stayed at the Highlands Hotel which is an updated, hipsterized old hotel. The rooms are a bit tight, but that’s fine with me. The best part is that it right around the corner from Frank Stitt’s empire. We had dinner at the Highlands Bar and Grill, the original restaurant. The food was a bit dated, very 1990s, but it was perfectly executed. I had a cold cucumber soup that was soul satisfying, zucchini blossoms that were light as air, a grit cake with fresh mushrooms that was southern and yet French at the same time. For my entrée, I had veal loin and sweetbreads. My companion had the scallops, which she claimed were delicious, but I didn’t try. As an aperitif, we had peach Bellinis from fresh peach juice. Not as good as the original concoction, but fresh and delicious. We also had a glass of 2006 Nigl grüner-veltliner Kremstal which was good. With dinner we had a bottle of 2002 Chevillon Nuits Vaucrains which was tight, as I suspected of a young Vaucrains, but exhibited very good character for a 2002, a vintage I have found lacking in terroir. This wouldn’t be hard to pick out as Nuits blind, and if you knew the producer, this was most surely Vaucrains. It never really opened up, and in retrospect, I should have had it decanted. However, its class still shown through and the fat of my dish really did ameliorate some of the tannin. I’d check back in with this in 3-5 years.

Day 4: Birmingham to Nashville

Ahh, finally a nice easy day to my good friend jblackwood’s place. Watched the Dutch exposed by the Russians in HD (Arshavin was brilliant, in case you missed it), then went to the pool for a dip and mohitos before dinner. Nashville has generally been a restaurant wasteland, but the last two times I’ve been there I’ve had nice meals. Not Highlands nice, but good. With dinner we had a bottle of 1997 Castello di Lispida merlot which started with a very promising nose, but faded to be merely good, and a fantastic bottle of 2002 Montevertine. I was never as big a fan of the 2002 Pian del Ciampolo as John, but this was a different story. Snappy and totally alive, and utterly delicious. Straight sangiovese (with some canaiolo), no chaser. Back to the case and the pool for some healthy splashing about before a good nights rest.

Day 5: Nashville to Linville

What better way to follow up a wonderful day with John and Trinka than to stop in to see FlaJim at his mountain retreat. Upon arrival, we jumped right into a dinner party. Jim has posted about the wines on Wine therapy, so I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that the wines were good, but they were hardly the point. Friendship and relaxation were. The main thing was the lovely company and wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. Everything moves at a friendly pace, if that makes any sense, and it suits Jim to a T.

Day 6: Returning to the Shire

It’s been a very strange year for me. I have always been more of a creature of opportunity than ever having any real “life plan”, so when I had a chance to move to Southern California, I jumped at it. I had a marvelous time there, and was, frankly, loathe to leave. There is a lot to be said for the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves smashing against the cliffs at Laguna Beach being your lullaby. I came a long way towards healing the wounds of a failed relationship and made some very real strides professionally, enough that I was recruited for my new position at Duke, one that promises to really challenge me. They say you can never come home again, and to some extent it’s true, I’m a different guy than I was a year ago (and it isn’t just the 10-15 lbs of Japanese-cuisine inspired weight) and although Durham is as familiar as an old pair of 501s, everyone here has moved on as well. In some ways, I am very much like a returning Hobbitt, I am a more serious guy than I was a year ago, with more purpose and much more responsibility (something I’ve successfully avoided my entire life).

I had a great time in SoCal and there were a lot of people who made it that way. From a wine perspective: Matt C. and the Lyleistas, Jim & Jim, Greg K at the wine pavilion, Dan and John at Hi-Times. Last but not least, the fact that anyone actually reads this blog is a bit humbling, so thank you and I hope to be back on track and updating on a much more regular basis.

Now if I can just find that bottle of Old Winyards…