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.

Empty Boxes

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Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince is one of the most beautiful stories ever written.  Subtly and sweetly offering lessons on how to take care of your planet and your flower and your volcanoes.  How not to be a ruler, how not to be a narcissist, or a self-destructive drunk.  How duties and rituals are important.  How not to chase trains going nowhere, how to find great contentment in the things we earn, how to see beyond numbers, and how we can not really own the stars (or anything else for that matter), but if we take care of and tame and love things well enough they will be so special that they become ours.  How to feel the heartbeat of a desert, how to laugh, how to make a friend.

You know, lessons in matters of importance…like how to properly draw a sheep.

In the beginning of the story, when the little prince and narrator first meet, the little prince’s first words are a request.  “If you please- draw me a sheep!”  His request soon becomes a demand and the narrator does his best to fulfill it.

He comes up with several versions.  None are what the little prince had in mind…

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The narrator continues to try until finally he draws something and says, “This is only the box.  The sheep you asked for is inside.”

“That is exactly the way I wanted it!”  The little prince understands so many things that grownups do not.  Like how some things cannot be properly expressed through the means that we have at hand.

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Like the little prince’s sheep, the essence wine is not easily captured in a drawing, or with words, or anything of that sort.  Maybe the nearest form of the expression of a wine is music.  Both are complex, alive, multi-dimensional, folding us into layers of our mind and heart and moving us the way they do.

 As Exupery tells it, “Words are the source of misunderstandings.”  Well expressed here by John at SF Wine Blog and here by Whitney Adams for Punch, when it comes to wines, we can go to the ends of the earth to find comparisons for what we smell and taste- the cranberry, tobacco, orange peel, sandalwood, musky, smoked cardamon on the eve of winter solstice- but they don’t and can’t and never will fully describe the wine in the glass and on the palate and in the mind.

We all use them.  Especially in the wine business.  We must, but it’s challenging to do a wine justice with descriptions like these.  We will always try, but even the most naturally talented wordsmiths can sound boring/contrived/repetitive when traveling too far down this route.  Even when simply telling of a wine as we experience it.

I recognize and appreciate the importance of tasting notes.  They help us center in on and determine the home and story of a wine.  I’m not  against analyzation, but there is a time and place.  In the wrong time and place, they take away from the magic (or if it’s a boring wine, the hum drum) of the moment and connection and carefree enjoyment (and isn’t that the point?).

We cannot be blamed for attempting to capture, to hold onto with tasting notes, or whatever form of expression, the pieces we can recall of something like a wine that was  filling our world for a (wonderful clock-stopping) sliver in time.  Alas, it’s not easy to be as young and wise as the little prince.

Perhaps there are some wines that deserve their very own Taj Mahal.  But even for those, I think we will always and mostly appreciate the unwritten notes, the idea that was wine was enjoyed in the spirit of the moment, the picture in our mind of the bottle inside the empty box.

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Piemonte in June

Lately I haven’t been really great at finding words.

Words for all of the wonderful and new (and old) and tasty things that I want to tell you about.  A whole jumble of ideas in my mind that haven’t properly found their way out.

SO.  Instead of remaining silent for an even looooooonger time, here are some pictures from lately (ish).  They are part of a bunch that I took while traveling around northwest Italy during the last week of June with Vias, the company I work for.

A week of warm sunshine.  The Langhe gods were on our side.  We made it to Valle d’Aosta, Strevi, and Oltrepo Pavese too.

We were there in a moment a person can’t forget.  Among some of the greatest vineyards in the world.  Puffy shadows of clouds floated over endless hills green with summer vines.  Most wineries reported being about two weeks behind in harvest this year.  Good things come to those who wait.

Mostly away from phones and work and all that sort of stuff, I was surrounded by good old fashion conversation.  Food tasted better- tajarin! cioccolato! pomodori that melt in your mouth like candy!  Wines more fully understood in a quiet world with a quiet mind.  Such a pure place and enticingly simple life.  For a visitor, at least.

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Atrium in Torino

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Vines of Maison Anselmet in Villenueve, Valle d’Aosta.

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Mountain runoff water.  Pearly white from marl picked up on its way down the Alps.

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Giorgio Anselmet, winemaker, in the barrel room of Maison Anselmet.  Entire winery was built by Giorgio and his father, Renato.  A little bit of love and pride in every basalt tile.  You can taste it in the wines.

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Sunset over the hilltop village of La Morra.  View from Damilano winery on the border of Barolo & La Morra.

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Said border.

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Village of Barolo.

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Safe haven for dolcetto- Dogliani.  Snapped from Pecchenino Winery.

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Alba in the evening.

MORE TO COME!

Yesterday’s Gourmet

Gourmet 2/72

In 1972 Italy’s appellation system was just about 10-years-old.  Wineries were beginning to bottle wines they’d been selling locally in town centers where people would fill jugs from taps and hoses.  These local specialties were in the process of becoming better and better and better.  This was the beginning of the wines of Italy that we are so fortunate to know today.

Toward the end of May I was able to spend some time with my grandmother who gave me a new old issue of Gourmet Magazine from ’72 .  This is my favorite one yet.  Among the amusing ads, dinner party plans, and refreshingly good writing was a piece by Hugh Johnson, The Wines of Italy- Part 1.  Reading through, I felt privy to a moment in time long after the land that became Italy began making wine and right around the birth of its quality wine production.

The piece begins with a point that, even with modern winemaking, I hope will always be true of most Italian wine, “Noble as their names are, and long as they have been cultivated, most of even the best Italian wines are still cottage industries.”  Though there are certainly regions and producers that are making downright good wines, part of the beauty of Italy is its diversity.  There are so many little towns and regions that are making individually special wines which fit their community and culture in specific and delicious ways.  It is not a question of whether these wines are the greatest in the world- Italian wine is so much more than that.  It is a question of if they are a soulful and enlivened expression of a variety and all that cultivates it.  It is a Schiava that is a Schiava, a Ciro that is a Ciro, an Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone that is exactly that.  They are interesting and contemplative and telling of a history of terroir, people, politics, patterns, cuisine, and all of the idiosyncrasies that follow along.

Johnson uses part one to bring his reader through the North, from west to east, making note of grapes, wines and, in some cases, producers on his path.  For example, he provides a rundown of Piemonte’s “reliable suppliers”: Fontana-Fredda, Franco Fiorina, Pio Cesare, Contratto, Bersano, Damilano, Marchese di Barolo, Borgogno.  And by hearsay: Giulio Mascarello and Francesco Rinaldi.  He says that everything about Barolo and Barbaresco is “massive”, which is an entirely apt descriptor, though I believe that the massiveness of then and the massiveness of now has probably transformed quite a bit.

 Not only are Barbera and Dolcetto mentioned as Piemonte’s other red varieties, but also Freisa and Grignolino, which we rarely hear about.  Such a shame because Grignolino is such a delightful light red; I would drink it any/every day of the week.

Johnson also mentions Spana and it’s homeland around Gattinara and Ghemme, “Though in tiny supply, is really often as good as good Barolo.”  Not to be forgotten!

Running up the road into Valtellina, Johnson talks about Sassella, Grumello, and Inferno, saying they are deep and dark and need to spend a long while in cask before even being considered ready for drinking.  They were not widely available then, and though they are not super available now, there are certainly more accessible and approachable versions of Valtellina’s chiavennasca on the market these days.  Oh how far we’ve come.

Johnson arrives in the Veneto and puts forth that Soave is “possibly Italy’s best white wine”  and that the “narrow green Soave bottle announces a thoroughly civilized experience”.  He acknowledges Valpolicella rosso’s usefulness as an everyday drinkable wine, even if a bit bitter on the finish, but cannot get down with Recioto, the “dark brown pride and joy” of the region.

In Modena, Johnson writes, “Lambrusco, the local specialty, will always remain rather a joke with me.”  I find it impossible to take fizzy red wine seriously.  THANKFULLY, after years and years of phonies, the dry, slightly tannic, palate-cleansing REAL lambrusco has made its arrival on the US market.  Its goodness cannot be denied.

There is more and more, I wish I could read it all to you; shall I?

It is in the introduction that Johnson hits the nail on the head.  That is the nail that, stubbornly, will never fully be hammered into place- the elusive enticement of Italian wine.  A beauty far better experienced and personally understood than explained.

“Can one say that any wine tastes Italian?  I think one can.  Although it seems improbable that a common thread of flavor should run through the produce of a country eight hundred miles long, and even of its offshore islands, there is something- it must be the culture of Italy expressed through one of its ancient artifacts- that Italy’s wines have in common.”

PS- Just a little song.  It’s a nice one for humming.

Schopenhaur’s Schnoz

It occasionally happens that, for no particular reason, long-forgotten scenes suddenly start up in the memory.  This may in many cases be due to the action of some hardly perceptible odour, which accompanied those scenes and now recurs exactly the same as before.  For it is well known that the sense of smell is specifically effective in awaking memories, and that in general it does not require much to rouse a train of ideas.  And I may say, in passing, that the sense of sight is connected with the understanding, the sense of hearing with the reason, and, as we see in the present case, the sense of smell with the memory.  Touch and Taste are more material and dependent upon contact.  They have no ideal side.

-Arthur Schopenhauer

We smell a smell and there it is.  The musty funky sweetness of Hawai’ian dirt, lilacs on chilly and dewy and promising Spring mornings, a hint of smoked meat and all the times and places and people we’ve enjoyed it with.  From there a “train of ideas” is roused.  I think Schopenhauer has it right about most things, including these words from his writings in Studies In Pessimism (excluding his chauvinistic way of completely overlooking womens’ intuitive, ever-capable awesomeness.  But, anyway…).

Scent is part of the way that people fall in love, how doggies get to know one another, how we can tell if a wine is sound or not.  Scent and memory are so connected.  Sometimes the connection is so powerful that I think it might be magic.  But it’s not.  It’s physics and science and amazing tangible stuff like that.  The connection is a beautiful gift that we shouldn’t, but probably usually do, take for granted.

Sight and taste of wines can be pleasing, and interesting, and can tell us many things- though it is the scent that carries us to worlds outside our present time and place.  Different people smell different things in different wines at different times.  Quite the quilt.  If you find a good wine, and if you’re paying it some attention, it can bring you on your very own sort of trip.

Sometimes when I taste a wine I get so lost in thinking about where and who it’s from, how it’s made, what it costs, where it would fit on a particular shop shelf/glass pour/ bottle list.  In the midst of trying to place a wine in a way that makes sense to me and customers, I forget to stop and pay it some mind.  To see what is going on, what it has to offer.  It doesn’t always have to make sense.  Sometimes there is not much there, sometimes it is pleasant but nothing special, and sometimes (the times that make it all worthwhile) I am moved.

It’s important to try, and important not to forget, and important to remember to sniff!

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What is Annie Hall Drinking?

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There is that iconic scene in Annie Hall (I use “iconic” because I think every shot in the film that I have seen 2 bagillion times is iconic) that takes place on the day when Annie and Alvy first meet.  Annie invites Alvy up to her apartment for some wine “or something”.  She grabs any two glasses and goofily tells the story of a dying narcoleptic as she  pulls an already-opened burgundy bottle of white wine from a cabinet-chest-type-thing and pours a bit into the glasses.  She then sticks the bottle into a planter box full of red geraniums beautifully set against her NYC apartment porch view and sips along with her guest.  They chat, and flirt, and feel like idiots, each in their own special way, hoping the other doesn’t notice.  And so goes the beginning of an idiosyncratic love affair.

I love the scene for so many reasons.  But I think about the wine.  I always wonder what it is.  And why is it sitting in an unrefrigerated cupboard? And why is it already open?  Is she hiding it from someone?  Is Annie like my mom- taking a week or two to drink the same bottle, sometimes adding ice cubes?  Is it disgusting and warm and old?  Or had she opened it for a quick glass before going off to play some tennis and meet the funny little man who would change her life?

Every detail is considered when a movie is made, right?  So the wine must have been considered.  Maybe.  Maybe Woody just didn’t care, and I am a weirdo because I do.  Oh well.  La di da. La. Di. Da.

And, if you’d like to surf a few wine (and food) waves around the web…here you go!

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning-  Paul Lukac’s new book.

“The local AOC system is based on communes, not terroir, and rewards conformity.” Le Puy & AOC hopes.

How to Make Wine- Cool 12×18″ print on Etsy

Burdigala happened at St. Bartholomew’s Church yesterday.  Go Bordeaux!

You’ve got to read this:  The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.

Inspired by Valentine’s Day, but a year-round message: Sarah Chappell begs you to Please Stop Pairing Red Wine and Chocolate

…and beyond chocolate- a simplified pairing poster (via A Cup of Jo).

Handsome Noodle is getting Lucid (and making linguine with tuna sauce).

In honor of the 2013 ZAP festival, Cali vine pride, and my ah-hah wine- a blog full of Zinfandel love.

Vine Box

I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (whaddup!).

When my mom was helping me settle into my new apartment over four years ago, she commented that I was moving to little Warsaw.  It’s really Polish in these parts.  My block is surrounded by Polish groceries, meat markets, bakeries, hair salons,  dentists, doctors, accountants, travel agents, driving schools, you name it.  Their signs, and ingredient lists, and menus, and pricing are all written in Polish.

At first I thought it was weird, now it’s homet.  I’ve made some favorite Polish discoveries.  Like…

These chocolate-covered marshmallow treats.  Not too sweet or gooey, they are fluffy and delicate.

Best chocolate covered marshmallow treats ever!

Naleczowianka sparkling mineral water.  Heavenly frizzante agau for a seltzer-lover like myself.

  Kitty-corner from my apartment is this Polish restaurant called Relax.  The food is incredible, but it is pretty dingy inside so I always take-out.  Their potato pancakes melt in your mouth.

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This past July we got a Polish wine shop too.  Not with Polish wine, just Polish owners.  Vine Box is owned and managed by husband and wife team, Robert and Ivanna.  They are from Krakow and Warsaw and have brought their renaissance skills to the project.  They are darlings and have become friends.

Their shop was pretty much entirely built by these two with the help of their amigo, Aldi.  They took their time and constructed every portion properly.  The space used to be a smelly, greasy, little fish and chips joint.  Now it is an enchanting space that feels like a slice out of the center of some quaint European town.

Robert’s wine selection has got its oldies and goodies, with travels down more adventurous paths as well.  He is into trying new things, and is into his customers doing the same.

There are lots and lots of wine shops around Manhattan and Brooklyn that I admire (I sell wine, so I see lots of them).  They have varying philosophies, energy, and decor.  This one has become particularly dear to my heart.

A pair of Vine Box regulars from Stereospectacular put together this little bit introducing Robert and his shop.  I really like the way it is done and wanted to share with y’all.

Solstice

Salzburg

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

Today is the first day of wintertime.

When I lived in Napa Valley, I looked forward to the quiet of the natural world during the winter months.  After the persimmon harvest was finished, the constant sunshine would turn off, and the ever-growing everything would nearly stop growing.  I would have the feeling that something important was happening behind the chilly rainfall, grey days, and foggy moor-like landscapes- Wuthering Heights style, but with rows of naked vines all around.

In the natural world, this is a time to shut down so that all can properly start back up again when the moment is right.  Beautiful things can brew during hibernation.

In the human world, we grow cold.  We seek out enjoyable and convenient ways to stay warm.  Here are a few words I wrote a few weeks ago for the lovely ladies of Sister Disco- 12 wine suggestions to keep you cozy this season.

Merry Solstice Everyone!

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.

A Diplomatic Wine

Though life is politics, when it comes to election time, I try (lately) to keep my opinions to myself and my ballot.

I mean, to a certain extent, what is the point?  Our individual opinions (and the policies they lead to) will never ever completely align with everyone else’s.  And how could they?

We each come from our own little corner of the world- have had our own advantages and disadvantages, education, triumphs and losses, visits to the principal’s office, hairdresser, traffic court, theater and third world countries.  Each with a different pocketbook and lunchbox.  Each with our own history of friendship and kin and love with people …who each have a story all their own.  We are all influential and influenced.

Our vote translates to some cocktail of our experiences.  But real life exists in between, and at the end of the day we’re all just a bunch of human beings, so can’t we all get along?!

Yes, I think we can.  During dinnertime, at least.  With lambrusco.  I have not yet met a more diplomatic wine than lambrusco.

Photo by Chris Rogers

For awhile there, the sugary froth made by the likes of Reunite brought a certain reputation to the version of this wine that was mostly sent to the American, British, New Zealand, and Australian marketplaces.  It was what it was, but it was not the real thing.  The real lambrusco has been made and sipped by the people of its region of origin since the time of the Etruscans.

Diplomacy explained:  Lambrusco can negotiate almost any border- be it meal, occasion, or palate.

Northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna is the region.  Lambrusco is the grape (there are around 11 or so subvarieties of lambrusco, like Grasparossa, Ancelotta, Salamino, Marani, and Sorbara, that are usually blended).  Frizzante is the style (somewhere between still and sparkling).  Alcohol usually hovers between 10-12%.  Rich foods (like Emilia- Romagna natives Mortadella & Parmigiano-Reggiano) that require a decently acidic and mildly tannic sip of refreshment to cut through its fat is the accompaniment.  Palate cleansing is the purpose.

Those who “only drink red wine” get to drink red wine.  Those who “only drink white wine” can close their eyes and allow themselves to enjoy the slight chill, light body, and bright acidity.  The grapey-ness of most lambruscos may please those with a penchant for sweet things, though their fruit is not offensive to those who prefer a drier style.  The wine is uneventful enough for drinkers who dislike bubbles, and bubbly enough for those who seek a little zing.

 Lambrusco amicably pairs with pastas and pizzas, cheeses and cured meats.  It can get along with poultry and gamey roasts.  It jives with Indian, Moroccan, Vietnamese, Chines, Mexican, Korean, and Thai.  It may even (and often has in my house) be sipped all on its very own (let me refer back to that measly percentage of alcohol…wink!).

Eric Asimov provides a solid list of producers that can be found on the market toward the end of this July piece (here).  I would suggest not to pay much mind to the whole part about it being a summertime wine.  It is that indeed, though also pairs perfectly with meals of every season.  Alicia Lini, daughter of winemaker Fabio Lini of Lini 910, told me a few years back that in Emilia-Romagna, lambrusco is actually consumed in greater amounts during the colder months than any others as it is a natural sidekick for heftier fare.

Be brave! ~ I promise it’s nice! ~ Don’t be afraid to give it a go!

PS- Grapes of Cath is beginning to rumble around on Tumblr.  Hopefully helpful visuals of only awesome wines!

PPS- I hope you were able to stay safe & dry & comfortable during the Sandy storm.  If not, I’m sorry, and I’m thinking of you.

On Keeping a Notebook

Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally; only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

-Joan Didion, from “On Keeping a Notebook” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Do you keep a notebook? Do you keep a book of wine tasting notes? I keep…neither, really….unless you put together all of the things that I write a down on the corners of important papers, post-its (so many post-its), the palms of my hands, napkins, the “notebook” app of my intelligent little phone, the first few pages of a journal that for a hot second I am always so dedicated to maintaining.

Most of my notes are rarely re-visited. Even if they are, I am lucky if I can decipher half of the scribble. But I wrote it down, so it happened, and that’s what counts.  For me, anyway.

Seen: Highly effective looking guy reading Secrects of Highly Effective People on subway. Recording something in a gigantic black Moleskine.

Heard: How can one remember thirst? (narrator of Sans Soleil, incredible film!)

Travel notes: Graziano Motta in his desolate castle where the quiet enters you and makes you sad. Atop the hill in the town of Montegrosso (Piedmont). 150 yr. old technique so that barbera doesn’t become too acidic. Closed tank so that CO2 bubbles into pipe that goes into water. 1 week of pumping over in ferm vat. Fiberglass until January. Barrels- botti made from combination of French/Slavonian oak. Pretty lunch spread in room with fireplace. Table set by elves? Russian salad, beef carpaccio, roasted pepper, egg fritter, chocolate dessert thingy. Barbera 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, ‘Ndre (a memory), Bonarda, 1 other wine hand-drawn label for Swiss market.

Random wine-type ramblings too: The La La La’s- like man, woman, and their kid. Are they really some of the greatest wines in the world?!…Old crotchety guy at Montague Street cafe upset that he was given a white wine when he ordered pinot grigio… Drank Woodbridge from a 1.5 liter bottle with Dee Dee and it was the most delicious fruit juice in the whole world because I was with her…Piedirosso, Pied de Perdrix, Piedmont, pied pied pied, feet, feet everywhere!!

And then there are actual tasting notes, which range from pretty technical to kind of dreamy. Comparatively, mine are barely informative. Would smoked wild strawberries, steadfast aciditymedium body, and the kind of wine that Julie Andrews would drink in her hill spinning scenes of The Sound of Music mean anything to anyone from one day to the next?

Some tasters keep them with great diligence. In organized composition books with their names on the front. Swishing, spitting, and communicating with wines for however long it takes to feel and taste and listen to what they have to say. Writing down thoughts and findings, facts and amusing notes in some sort of form, WSET inspired, or whatever.

I wonder if people ever go back to read them.  Actually, I shouldn’t wonder because I know for a fact that people do.  For professional purposes when buying for a shop or wine list, as a hobby, for pleasure.  Example- Melissa, the adorable manager of the similarly adorable Brooklyn wine shop, Atlantic Cellars, let me know that her “tasting tablet” notes are precious to her.  Wine is her everything, takes up a lot of her thoughts and energy and passion, and those notes are a kind of tangible proof.

Part of the thing about writing anything out is that it takes a moment and solidifies it. And the solidification is art because you can write it any way you like. A tasting note can script a wine into something ethereal and enchanting, downright gross, or simply simple with bare bone descriptions.

Even those can be tricky, though.  I remember reading a piece in Diner Journal a few years back about tasting wine. I don’t recall who wrote it, but the thing that stuck with me was that the author said he doesn’t like to ascribe certain attributes to wine such as “It smelled like a peach” or “it tasted like a peach”. That would suggest that a peach smells like a peach or tastes like a peach. And what is a peach?  A peach may taste like a pear, a pear like a Turkish fig, a Turkish fig like some exotic foreign land. Every palate reads differently, and the power of suggestion often reigns.

Is wine like any other aesthetic creature when business becomes involved, in whatever form, offering all sorts of potential for bullshit?  Do we all just smile and nod and ohh and ahh when we taste with someone who seems to know a thing or two and they say that this wine is brilliant and it’s got a cherry cola thing going on?  Are we just a herd of sheep tasters?

Dubious, I know.  Every wine tasted by every person will be a little different from one palate to the next, one bottle to the next. Is that the point? Does it matter? Does anybody care?!  And, considering that I seem to be questioning the importance of wine in the first place, the issue of how much weight a tasting note even carries seem to be mostly inconsequential, eh?

As cynical as I may sound, I do believe there is beauty beyond the bullshit. Lots of it.  I tasted a Bandol yesterday that proved it so.  I mean this. Was. Gorgeous.  Totally moving.  Old-vine mourvedre from the Bunan brothers at Mas de la Rouviere (disclosure- I work for the importer!) that brought me to a place, told me there is so much more to this- this day, this moment- than I go around believing.  Made me realize for the billionth time just how far out wine is.

A too flashy photo of a favorite bottle recently shared. Schloss Gobelsburg’s rosé (grapes: Zwiegelt & St. Laurent) brought in by Mr. Terry Theise.  Enjoyed with a friend at her house by the beach.  Tasted like I was sucking on both a clean river rock and a watermelon Jolly Rancher at once. Lots of fun and laughing involved, including spilling about half of the bottle while we were at it. And that’s all the note she wrote.

I don’t think tasting notes help anyone but ourselves, even if sometimes we pretend that they are so vital that a really great one could save the world from all its ails.  Just the same, I don’t think we should stop writing them out.  Like how one shouldn’t stop jotting down the thing that someone said when no one else was listening. Or recording the way the sky, or the sun, or the people in your world look to you on a certain day- the loneliness or joy or amusement that it inspired.  You know, minute to minute news.

Wine notes may be just that.  A cue to remember. Simply so that we don’t forget.  Homage to the transience of a glass of wine. Moments alive, and we were alive right along with them.  Maybe if we keep going we will finish stories, satisfy questions. Maybe years from now we will look back on our notebooks and find all of the answers. Maybe, maybe.

P.S. Too great not to share. Show some respect.

Subterranean Style

CELLAR AT CASTELLO DI VERDUNO

Whenever I think of cellars, Edgar Allen Poe’s morbid tale, The Cask of Amontillado, comes to mind. You know, the one where Montresor buries Fortunato alive in a pocket of his palazzo catacombs. Lured to a corner with the promise of a taste of rare Amontillado (oh, the things we will do for a beautiful sip), Fortunato is chained and sealed into the space behind a wall of bricks that Montresor, a mason, lays. The root? Pride, revenge, sick minds. But there he is- Fortunato- still in that cellar- laughing in his Carnival garb. Waiting, ageing, dying…

What’s in a cellar anyway- what’s in your cellar?

Stockpiles for just the right moment that may or may not ever arise? A cove of thoughts and dreams, plans and possessions. For posterity, for a rainy day, for safe-keeping, for the rager of the century. All things that will come and go. Time is a ____ thing, and when related to wine (when related almost anything), as mysterious as ever.

Cellar- survival- salumi and potatoes- (Nintendo, washer and dryer, Dad’s dumbbells?) shielding people and provisions from weather and time.

To cellar, it’s become a verb, cellaring. A collector’s hobby- what to acquire, what to seek, how long to keep it, define your cellar, your stock, your store. How much to squirrel away? To pursue the wines, or let them come into your world as they may? A special vintage every here and there? So many things to commemorate. Why do we keep them? Is it like displaying books that you have already read? To warm a room, show off a bit, conversation material, reference material, mostly because they bring you comfort just to know they’re there?

Regardless of the designated spaces that we create for our wine- a simple rack in any closet/ cabinet/ garage- there is something to be said for a true cellar to properly store precious bottles. Somewhere below ground, a consistent 55° F, a little bit moist (to keep the density of corks in balance), hidden from the sun. Conditions that exist naturally in certain climates, some of the best being built into hills. Where there are no hills, when you don’t feel like digging a giant hole, when you live in the Carolina lowlands- air conditioning will do just fine. There are also cellaring facilities which will store your wine as professionally as possible. A little impersonal, but it works.

I find it difficult to maintain much of a wine cellar myself- impetuous lush that I am. Always keeping in mind the whole being here now thing, it requires too much waiting. So rare for me to look at a bottle and say you are for another day. So excited to give everything a try- to see how it is doing- right now- I want it to be part of my world, my taste memory, not lonely in a cellar. Even old wines. Even venerable wines. Even bottles that really could use some more time to themselves. A shame perhaps, but what good is that Lagrein doing staring at me, awkward, belly-up?

Be patient, Ophelia. Love, Hamlet

-Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Don’t follow my lead though (too much, at least)- a little delayed gratification can yield immeasurable rewards. That 2004 Barolo- 2001 Barolo- 1996 Barolo (Spanna on the mind!) revealing more of itself after a long nap. There is nothing like opening a bottle on just the right day and finding it has hit its stride, has fully come into itself, is so ready for you.

How do you know? A little bit of trust, a little bit of chance. There are educated predictions about what you’ll find, but you won’t know until you try it since wine is, according to economists, an “experience good”. Drink enough and pay attention to what is going on. Eventually you will develop a sense about how a wine will age as you would with cooking or gardening or other such arts where we work in rhythm with natural processes- an experiment in science and beauty and time. All of those things that time can do.

Of every event in our life we can say only for one moment that it is; for ever after that it was. Every evening we are poorer by a day. It might, perhaps, make us mad to see how rapidly our short span of time ebbs away; if it were not that in the furthest depths of our being we are secretly conscious of our share in the inexhaustible spring of eternity, so that we can always hope to find life in it again.

-from “The Vanity of Existence”, Studies in Pessimism , A. Schopenhauer


CELLAR SCENE FROM FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT'S "STOLEN KISSES"

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.


Money Ain’t A Thang

Wine will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no wine.

-Hippies

It doesn’t matter if you make a bagillion dollars or play the recorder on the subway for small change- wine does not have to break the bank. You can get a damn good bottle of wine for somewhere between 10 and 30 clams. Actually, this is the best price point to experiment with more obscure grapes and styles on a daily basis. Don’t be intimidated by long names and high price tags. Nota bene- McQueen, Lagerfeld, and Chanel play muse to the threads we pull on everyday, but very few wear couture on a daily basis.

What are we paying for in an expensive bottle anyway? Bragging rights and wine-induced transcendence? Well yes, totally. Along with vineyard real estate, time and methods of aging, cost of living and producing on the property, market competition, rarity, importing hassles, government subsidies- you get the idea. Currency is always representation of so much more. But when it comes to what is actually in the bottle, price ain’t nothin’ but a number. I mean you could open a $2,000 bottle, and it could be corked/ cooked/ or simply not to your liking. It could happen, so what does it all mean? A gamble and conversation for the ages…

Of course there are wines out there (and ARE there) that are costly and gorgeous and it takes just a taste at the right moment to consider investing your life savings in the happiness they bring…

But let’s focus here! Wine really is one of the humblest things- whether you’re drinking it to accentuate food, friends, or for inspiration toward something that has absolutely nothing to do with drinking (cleaning, taxes, phone calls, reading, writing…emails, love letters, grocery lists), and no one says it has to be fancy (well, maybe we should define fancy- what matters to you?). I say we follow the lead of our friend, Hem, and drink styles typical of places and people who value good wine. Once you get out there and exercise this pursuit at your local wine shop- or wherever you shop- you will feel more and more comfortable finding out what is good, what tastes real, what speaks to you, even if it only says whaddup. Don’t feel forced to overreach on cost. Overreaching doesn’t work.

I take that back, sometimes it does.

I don’t mean to advocate for cheap wine- not cheap in quality at least- made by industrial and irresponsible producers who may as well be making pogo sticks or sneakers. I’m suggesting to think twice before purchasing that magnum of Yellow Tail/ Mondavi/ Woodbridge/ Vendage/ Gallo/ The Little Penguin for the next luncheon/ book club/ rager. I get it- big bottle, low cost, guests with smiles on faces because alcohol is in their cup. Believe me when I say that there is so much better for just a few bucks more.

Something like...this, or this, or this (this, this, and this too!). Just a few ideas of the many…embark on your own adventure.

In the end, hopefully you’ve got something in your glass that you like, and hopefully it moves you enough to remember that you can dream up beautiful things- and that your heart is pumping blood- and that your lungs are filled with air (did you remember to breathe?). No matter the means, that should be the end.

Socrates’ Prayer from Plato’s Phaedrus

Dear Pan, and all you other gods who live here,

grant that I may become beautiful within,

and that whatever outward things I have

may be in harmony with the spirit inside me.

May I understand that it is only the wise who are rich,

and may I have only as much money as a temperate person needs.

“As Simple As That…”

January is Mentor Month!  I really like the word mentor, because when I speak it in my mind I think of my Dee Dee telling me about her “5 Great Mentors” and everything they taught her.  Who is your mentor?

I’ve been fortunate to have had a few poignant advisors in my wine life so far, but the person who started it all is my grandmother, Lindy Roes.  Far from a wine person, she is a world person.  To me, wine is world, so I guess it can apply to this wine blog, si?

My grandmother is the singular most enchanting human being I have ever known- her spell is potion of untouchable qualities that have something to do with the way she sings half her words, always smells like an English garden, and gracefully flows through challenges that would cause most to melt, offering friendship to everyone along her way by saying things like you can accomplish all things.  She has inspired almost everything I know about how to be.

One of the first times I remember drinking wine was at my her home outside of Charleston, SC.  It was not good wine, but I didn’t know that at the time.  It was red and I drank a lot of it (too much, probably).  I remember feeling for the first time all of those things that one feels when they drink wine- poetic and brilliant, with an understanding that the world was beautiful and sad, and believing that it would all go on forever.  Thinking that if I was lucky and smart I could take part in some of the best parts along the way.  The next day I went out on a boat trip where I also learned about hangovers and the helpfulness of a hair of the dog.  Big lessons in little time!

At my grandmother’s home, as at most grandparents’ homes, you can find a serious accumulation of interesting things- books, pictures, and publications galore.  On a day when we have nothing in particular to do (the best kind of day), we putter hours away poking through carefully stored piles of the past.  I listen to her stories of growing up, being a grown-up, and travels around the globe.  We drink wine and eat peanuts.  We laugh and cry, she sings, we rhyme.  We get serious, and in the next moment, straight up silly.

The archives are full of all things witty and weird.  Like the clipping below.  I really got a kick out of this.  So from my mentor to you, a little snippet from a Vanity Fair issue published sometime around the 1940′s…