Locking

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“One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four.  The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time.  I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.  Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June.  What could be springier than May and June?  Summer is July and August.  Really hot, right?  Autumn is September and October.  See the pumpkins?  Smell those burning leaves?  Next comes the season called Locking.  That is when nature shuts everything down.  November and December aren’t winter.  They’re Locking.  Next comes winter, January and February.  Boy!  Are they ever cold!  What comes next?  Not spring.  ‘Unlocking’ comes next.  What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be?  March and April are not spring.  They are Unlocking.”

-from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1978 Freedonia State University speech, “How Jokes Work”

My grandfather, who was born and raised in the Albany area, always had a terribly optimistic line for not-so-fun situations.  Like, while scraping ice of his Oldsmobile windshield on skin-crackingly bitter cold days, he’d declare, Oh, the joys of living in the great northeast!  My mom likes to say that he had a lot of regional pride.

It’s been a little dismal here in the great northeast with short days, naked trees, and a chill that works its way to the center of your bones.  Clearly, we’re in the midst of the season of Locking.

On shivery days, I just want to fill my world with coziness.  Chili and Chinon, I say!

At least this new(ly named) season is less sticky than the one they dreamed up in Bartholomew and the Oobleck.  Ewww!

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Anyhow, below are some of my wine-drinking adventures during this first month of Locking.  They’re all pretty cheerful.

If you’re looking for some Thanksgiving wine inspiration, Eric Asimov pretty much says it all (and says it best), here.  “As far as wine goes, turkey is like a big, friendly pooch; it pretty much cozies up to anything you serve.”.

Happy Day!  Gobble, Gobble!

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“Pink” Pinot Grigio from Pullus in Slovenia.  Frizzante.  Copper-colored from skin contact- as it should be.

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Croci’s Gutturnio.  Emilia-Romagna.  Barbera & bonarda.  Frizzante.  Deep & refreshing.

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Valdigue from Hobo Wine Company in Redwood Valley.  California’s Gamay.

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Petite Rouge from Anselmet in Villenueve, Valle d’Aosta.  Light, pretty, sub-Alpine stink.

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Gamay from the village of Brouilly.  Chateau des Tours.

Yuletide Gifting

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From “Gourmet, The Magazine of Good Living”, Volume XXIX, December 1969.

It’s the time of year to find a special something for all your special someones.  If you ask me, it feels just as good to give a sweet gift as it does to receive one…so let’s enjoy the shopping.

As a jumping off point, here are a few ledes for your quest to find just the thing for the people you love who love wine.  Or even those who you would love to begin loving wine.  I mean, your 2012 gift could be the one that ignites the fire, opens their eyes to a whole new world (of wine).  It’s a nice world.  I’ll quote Mr. Steve Jobs when I say, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Bottles:

In NYC (and Brooklyn, too!) we are spoiled by a market saturated with almost every incredible wine you could (and couldn’t) think of.  In this day and age, most of that wine can be shipped to most places in the U.S.

In my opinion, if you’re looking to give the gift of wine- something unusual and of high quality, that you want to be sure has been handled and stored properly- look to a great NYC wine shop.  They know what’s up.  Ideas…

Aglianico del Vulture 2007 by D’Angelo from Drink Up NY.  $22

100% Aglianico grapes grown at the base of the extinct volcano, Mount Vulture.  Crafted into a boomingly tannic, blueberry-ish, mineral-rich wine by Donato D’Angelo, the man who pretty much taught every producer in his region how to craft the “Barolo of the South”.

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Antonin Rodet from NiNi’s Wine Cellar . $31

100% Chardonnay from this historic estate in Burgundy’s Cote Chalonnaise.

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St. Emilion Grand Cru 1998 by Chateau Gracia from Gnarly Vines. $95

Classic Right Bank Bordeaux.  Ready to Drink.  Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Give a grand gift of tradition.

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Barolo Cascina Francia 2008 by Giacomo Conterno from MCF Rare Wine. $159

100% Nebbiolo harvested from the venerable 5 hectare vineyard named Cascina Francia.  This wine is made by the talented Conterno family, currently headed by Roberto Conterno.  Aged for about four years in oak.  A gift for prosperity, as this wine should not be opened for at least another 10 years.

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Sassella Riserva DOCG Vigna Regina 2001 by A.R. PePe from Flatiron Wines & Spirits (Magnum Size). $235.

Show your love in a BIG way (the bigger the bottle, the better the home for the wine).  100% Chiavennasca  (nebbiolo) made from vineyards planted into the stony rich foothills of the Italian-Swiss Alps.  The region is Valtellina, the zone is Sassella, the cru is Vigna Regina.  Bright wine for bright friends.

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Books on Wine (& Food, & Stuff):

Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Jose Vouillamoz.  $111.92.

Recent release.  All the rage.  Every known grape out there.  Must-have.

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The Drops of God, Volume ’01 by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto.  $10.17.

A comic book for wine geeks.  Part 1 of the series (snort, snort).

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Edible Selby by Todd Selby and Sally Singer. $23.10.

Beautiful photos of beautiful food, made in beautiful kitchens (by beautiful people), and served on beautiful tables.

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The Selby is in Your Place by Todd Selby with Intro by Lesley Arfin.  $23.10.

Ok, this has nothing to do with wine, or even food- but such a gorgeous book.  Inspiration for amazing spaces…spaces where wine can be drank?!

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My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (With Recipes) by Luisa Weiss.  $16.25.

The (cook)book from The Wednesday Chef.

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Further Thoughts:

Wine Skin from MoMa.  $4

For travels with that special bottle or 2.  Spill and break proof.  Ease the mind- a suitcase full of white sweaters will be safe.

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De Long Wine Discovery Tools. $ Varies.

Maps, maps, maps!

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Sign up for Cynthia Hurley’s (almost daily) newsletter with informative and interesting descriptions of her excellent selection of French wines.  She will ship orders directly to your doorstep.

Take a class at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange.

For a serious enthusiast- give the gift of the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust).  Levels & $’s vary.

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“The Conosur” by the Anthony Picone. Check out his work at http://antpicone.com/

*Photo sources are links mentioned with products.

Adam’s Beef With Burgundy

Today, a real treat- a post by a favorite friend, Adam Robertson. Adam is wise to the world of wine as he has been working and playing in the industry for a good while. He is pretty wise to the world of, well, worldliness too. You know, he’s eclectic, or something cheesy-sounding like that. I’m trying to sum him up, but the coolest people just can’t be. Adam is a Louisiana boy, wears cute little hobo hats in the wintertime, whips up a mean Cacio e Pepe, and has a strong opinion on the thing about Burgundy…

From the map on Catherine’s wall.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Burgundy

I’ve heard it said that one completes one’s wine education with falling for Burgundy. Or devoting one’s every waking thought to Burgundy. Or something like that. And over the course of my wine education, I have (reluctantly) come to agree that pinot noir’s best expression is in the myriad AOC’s, crus, plots, and subplots of Burgundy. Not California, not Italy, not Germany, not the Loire. But there’s something impenetrable about navigating Burgundy, and this has always bothered me.

It is said that every postage-stamp plot of land in Burgundy has a different character; and that the long-held, the swapped, the shared, and the dearly purchased plots have acquired a taxonomy that goes back centuries, even while evolving almost daily. Throw in the negociants, the recoltants, and all the famous houses who trade vignerons like it’s Major League Baseball, and you’ve got a lot of knowing to do. So, naturally, when I was studying for my sommelier’s exam, I blew it off. There are lots of other wines to know about in the world, even in France; I picked my battles, left a sizable chunk of the exam blank, and decided to learn Burgundy on my own time (I passed my exam, but only barely).

I joined a Burgundy tasting group last fall in the hope of catching up. One can’t, after all, claim to know about wine and be so ignorant of all this. And as I hunkered down in our first meeting, with what was described as an attempt to better know a much-maligned vintage of a great wine (2007 Volnay), I had a million questions. About soil, aspect, rainfall. About cellar practices and AOC rules. What I got, though, was a lot of talk about the producers – about who was working for whom, where they had been working before, and from whom they were buying their fruit. Not a word about the winemaking, only about the winemaker. I asked about requirements for yields, ripeness, and cellaring, but was told that French wine law had none. (Can this be? It’s definitely not true of Spain, Italy, or Germany.) I asked about the soil composition in this plot versus that one, so we pulled out The Wines of Burgundy and looked up Volnay. But we never really got an answer.

I work in Italian wine, mostly; and there, the discussion is all about viticulture and vinification. It’s all we talk about in our weekly meetings, and we talk avidly about it. It’s engrossing, lively, and challenging. Why was this not happening in my Burgundy group? I attended a (remarkable) Burgundy tasting at a very studious wine bar last week and it was the same story. Lots of names, but little technique. in fact, when the question came up whether or not a particular Chablis producer used wood in the cellar (they plainly did – it was right in the nose), the distributor said no. Then he changed his answer and said actually, yes. And it’s not so much that he didn’t know, but that it didn’t seem to matter. To anybody but me.

My friend Beth Baye, who knows Burgundy much more intimately than I do, and loves it (and studies it) with a passion I can’t match, has always said about it, “you really have to know the producer.” That is, you can’t just study up on the good crus, good vintages, the vagaries of French wine laws, and then march confidently into your wine store and say, “This 2004 Chambolle-Musigny will surely be worth the $55 I’m about to spend.” The prices are high enough that experimentation is utterly discouraged, yet the whole world also seems to agree that to get something worth the price, there are a lot of things that “you just have to know.” I think that’s a huge problem with Burgundy. It keeps beautiful wines out of the hands of those who would otherwise love them the most.

Au Naturel

Drive-by winter field, Slingerlands, NY

Have you heard of nature deficit disorder?  Usually mentioned in relation to kids these days growing up with a lack of dirt-digging and tree-climbing…it’s a real thing, or so the docs say.

Consider me a believer.  Living in Brooklyn, I crave me some mountains.  Despite NYC’s farmers markets, rooftop gardens, climbing ivy, sidewalk sprigs, Amelia’s fig tree, Edith’s blue bells, rainy day worms, daffodils, ducks, my cactus cultivation attempts, Union Square’s lone magnolia, great big parks, small patches of green, and other blips of nature in between- the vitality of the great outdoors cannot be replicated or dosed out.  It just can’t.  The way it puts our bodies in their most primal rhythm, our minds at unbelievable ease, its pine, birch, moss, spruce, dead grass, live grass, lilacs, and a bit of space for their melancholy scent to travel- are meant to be gulped if we are thirsty, sipped if we feel like going slow.  Mother Earth.  She’s good.

For city dwellers, an entire world of worlds await us at our clumsy doorsteps.  No shortage of inspiration- it almost comes too easily (until, of course, we remember that this is the benefit of living in a city so hard).  And if we’re here, it’s because we love it…or something close enough…

…and I thought of that old joke, you know,

the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says,

Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken,’

and uh, the doctor says, ‘well why don’t you turn him in?’

And the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’

-Alvy Singer, Annie Hall, 1977 

We can have it all.  Except the nature thing- that’s not to be found in an east or west village, on a graffiti-filled borough wall, Minetta, Waverly, Broadway, or Broome- it’s different.

When I begin to feel that… deficit… I open a bottle of wine (surprised?).  If we drink a wine responsibly farmed from a healthy plot of earth, a cure for the Brooklyn blues isn’t such a stretch.  Just a touch of dandelion (rosemary, mint, violet, bark, thyme, sea, sun, and sky too) may do the trick.

Because you can find a forest.  In a 750 ml. bottle.  Perhaps enchanted- dark and brambly, swallowing visitors whole, setting spirits free.  Fermenting witches, princes, dragons, treasure trunks, friendly thieves.  Snow White and her dwarves setting up house in a bottle of Cahors.  Like one of my recent favorites from Chateau de Chambert .  Or Monteforche’s Garganega, made by Alfonso Soranzo- former horn player, current champion of Colli Euganei soil.  Lucky for us, these are just two of the great many wines on the market that can bring us to that natural place.  If we drink them at the right time, on the right day,  we are golden (Steiner! how did you sneak into this fairy tale?  Glad to have you.).

And I’m not talking about “natural wine” here.  Well, actually that’s a total lie.  Natural wine is exactly what I am talking about, but I was going to try not to drive home the dreaded term as I’m in full agreement with the sentiments expressed in this January post from Jeremy (a little potty talk here, but his blog is brilliant).  The core of the topic of natural wine is fully important, but has been beat to so fine a pulp that it may as well be made into true blue denim, proudly worn by every progressive wine geek out there.  We’re all heroes.  We’re all guilty.  It’s better than a market void of awareness, but I think it’s been fleshed out to a point where should take what we will from the conversation and simply make it habit.  Be the change.  Stuff like that.

But I veer…from the trail…which I was hiking along…you should join me…we’ll dine at the top…I packed a bottle of this foggy aligoté …like pleasantly sour honey and small daisies… pollen and particles float in warm sunshine…a nap on a picnic blanket while crickets chirp nearby, and…

Found a lake in the Sierra Mtns. Glimmer.


Gobble Gobble

Like any holiday, there is no textbook Turkey Day.  Every celebration takes on its own traditions- such a beautiful thing!

Of course there are the foundations- football, feasting, family, and friends who we love so well that they may as well be kin.  And then there is thankfulness- we say a little grace, and maybe take a moment to appreciate the seen and unseen blessings and threads that weave our days.  There are so many!  If we are upright and thinking and breathing, we have the whole world in our hands.

But about the feast.  It is hard to say that there is any Thanksgiving wine pairing prototype.  The game can change with the sauce, the roast, recipe, climate, or company.  Some choose to serve lamb, duck, tofurky, whatever!  So it’s really anywine’s game, oh-so-American.  Be playful- who better to experiment with than your nearest and dearest?  Here are just a few suggestions to throw into the mix…

-A beastly white like that made from the Tortona Hills of Piedmont’s Timorasso grape.  Timorasso’s tannin, petrol, and saline qualities are so fitting for a slow-roasted bird.  Terralba is an excellent producer.

-A crowd pleaser like a bottle from Lebanon’s Bekka Valley Messaya.  The red blend of Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah has some sassy fruit going on, but holds its own as a nicely balanced table wine.

- A cabernet franc from the Sierra Foothill’s Burch Hall.  Practice patriotism with some dusty green pepper goodness.

-Embrace the autumn bouquet of a Copertino Rosso from Italy’s Salento Peninsula producer, Rosa del Golfo.  Mainly made from the negroamaro grape, its red fruit, fall spices, and rustic character will keep hearts and conversation warm.

-Have some bubbles (always have some bubbles!).  Segway into the meal with a tart and toasty sparkler like a Cremant d’Loire.  Most that you find on the market are lovely sparkling expressions of the wine’s primary grapes, chenin blanc and cabernet franc.

-As for me, I plan to sip down the well travelled and much loved route of the new release of Beaujolais Nouveau.  Always cheerful and light, the festive wine is produced annually from gamay grapes harvested earlier in the season in the southernmost portion of France’s Burgundy region, Beaujolais.  The wine is produced using carbonic maceration, swiftly bottled, and released on the third Thursday of November.  Though I am reminded every day that the very best things take time, every now and then a little instant gratification is completely satisfying.  Beaujolais Nouveau is to dig in the here and now as the wine will have greatly withered by this time next year.  There are a number of good producers, I recommend staying away  from larger houses such as Duboeuf.

The Importance of Drinking Ernest

In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.

-Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

It wasn’t all whisky and absinthe for our earnest Ernest. Quite a writer, he pokes at our insides with simple suggestions and a loyalty to true characters as complex and human as you and I, wrote wine into his stories as seamlessly as he did fashion, pace, dialect, and weather. Considering that Hemingway was an avid believer in the editorial process- of tossing away draft after draft of all the things that one has to put down in ink before coming to a full understanding of what he has to say, it is worth mentioning the decent amount of attention he devoted toward the wine his characters sip- their origins, descriptions, and pairings. From the bottle of 1915 Bollinger Brut that the indulgent threesome in The Garden of Eden enjoy with “large firm grey caviar”, to the bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape shared with Ernest Walsh during a decadent lunch in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway makes no secret of his discerning palate and appreciation of the consumable.

Americans have a tendency to think of wine in relation to the grape it is made of. In the Old World, wine is usually identified by its place- implying something about the people and geography, earth, sun, and wind that together make the wine what it is. In A Moveable Feast Hemingway’s characters speak of the Alpine foothill wines of Aigle and Sion, “splendid white wine that was sort of a Muscadet”, Sancerre sipped with oysters and crabe Mexicaine, light and nutty manzanilla from the lowland near Cadiz called the Marismas, bottles of white from Macon, Pouilly-Fuisse, Cahors, and a Corsican wine that had “great authority and a low price”.

And then there were the wines hardly identifiable by much more than their shade. In The Garden of Eden David and Catherine Bourne lunch on a meal typical of the area near Cannes where they were passing through- stuffed eggs, roast chicken, pickles, and fresh long bread with Savora mustard. With this “they drank rose”. Near the same area of the French Riviera, specifically the Grau du Roi, David Bourne worked long and hard to catch a strong-swimming bass. Later he grills it up and serves it with butter, celery remoulade, small radishes, home pickled mushrooms, and fried potatoes. It is paired with a local white wine. “It was a good, light, dry cheerful unknown white wine and the restaurant was proud of it”. Hemingway knew that sometimes a simple red, white, or rose would do. Like American midwest high school football heroes and Jersey fresh tomatoes, regional wines have long been a cornerstone of tradition and pride in wine-producing European towns. They were during Hemingway’s time as an adventuring expatriate, and like the enchanting vignettes he paints of another time and place, many of them untouched by the global market, still are.

At the end of the day…

The excitement and drudgery, accomplishment and pleasures of our everyday- the scheduled and the unexpected, emails and to-do lists, running after (and waiting for) planes, trains, and automobiles, the schlepping of the groceries while holding a phone to one ear and trying to sincerely listen.  The attempting to keep up with current events, authors, catch phrases, lyrics. The feeding of your inner political beast, participating in community programs, supporting local agriculture…dairy…meat…art.  All while knowing that you should be trying to do more yoga, maybe even meditating, adopting a dog, and of course, taking a moment to stop and smell the (corner store?) roses…

Amidst all of these things that we do to get by with a little sanity and style, we seek moments of peace.  If not for a daily indulgence or two- be it taking the time to breathe in the sweet blossomy fuzz of summer’s first peach, or turning off the mind and relishing in the coziness of a warm creamy latte, what are we doing here? That old adage, life is too short- it’s really real. So, at the end of the day we celebrate with friends, family, strangers, and sometimes the sweet company of ourselves.

When we do this, why not imbibe in something ridiculous and lovely? Match a wine to your mood. On a quirky day when you realize that everything is connected in a very I Heart Huckabees sort of way, pour yourself a glass of Domaine Pascal Pibaleau’s La Perlette, a charming sparkling made from a grape called Grolleau- little-known and typical of France’s Loire region. Feeling light and free? A bottle of Jean Folliard’s Morgon Cote du Py will solidify the feeling. A Zinfandel from one of my favorite Napa Valley producers, Storybook Mountain, may cater to a more gregarious mood, its transparently hedonistic qualities offering instant gratification. Need something to sip with a savory slow-roasted meal and your Autumn sweater?  Cozy up with a wine made from one of southern Italy’s most capable grapes, Aglianico (thought of by some as the “Nebbiolo of the South” for its ability to render broodingly tannic wines worthy of age).  There are numerous talented producers of Aglianico, including Donato D’Angelo, who has forged quite a path for the grape in his region at the base of Mt. Vulture, an extinct volcano.  On laundry day chill down a bottle of Pierre Boniface’s current vintage of Vin de Savoie. You will feel utterly drunk on the idea of the fresh Alpine air where its Jacquère grapes are grown. And isn’t utterly drunk just the point?