. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: November 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Since the conglomerated eruption of nationally franchised family restaurants in the United States in the late 1970s, the vast majority of culinary service establishments have also become purveyors of alcohol. When places like Bennigan's, T.G.I.Friday's, and later Applebee's and Outback Steakhouse began to sweep the nation in response to the rocketing popularity of fast food, they brought with them the assumption that a place where you could sit, talk, have a steak on a plate and endless soda refills was also a place where you could purchase a draft beer, a glass of white zin or a scotch and soda. (They also served as the nation's chief harbinger of obesity, heart disease and deepening lack of respect for culinary proficiency; this however, is another topic for another day.)

Restaurants have more or less continued to cater to the slow-food crowd's propensity for drinking with dinner, partially because it's a relatively painless service to provide, and mostly because alcohol profits make up large portions of restaurant revenues (particularly in New York City, beverage bills often comprise well over half of a restaurant's profit margin). Some would consider the standard restaurant markup on a gin and tonic or a bottle of Bud akin to highway robbery, but considering the brusque and hefty expenses an establishment incurs to simply serve alcohol, those robberies may very well be as reasonable as the market will allow.

Aside from the costs of storing and maintaining various products, a restaurant must also apply for and be granted a legal permit to serve alcohol (in layman's tongue, a liquor license) by their state's Liquor Authority. In some states, this process is fairly painless and expedient; in others it is, in a word, not. The state of New York happens to fall into the latter category, and with over six thousand alcohol-serving restaurants in New York City alone, not only is the process of obtaining a liquor license mind-numbingly complicated, it often takes the lifespan of a hamster to complete. For some, this time is a liability build in to opening a restaurant - it is unavoidable, and must be factored into an establishment's creation. For others, an alternative concept (and the true subject of this edition of the De-Vino Times) is more enticing: BYOB.

The acronym BYOB was popularized in the 1950s, but it's become a household staple on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where BYOB restaurants and cafes have flourished for years. On Clinton Street in particular, Cube 63 is haven for the concept as well as The Orchard and Subo. It benefits both the proprietor and the patron, allowing one to showcase food, fun and atmosphere while the other can still enjoy a glass of wine, a beer or a cocktail at a negligible relative cost (often up to 200% less than in a restaurant where liquor is served). These BYOB places are win-win, and should be experienced frequently and fervently.

Speaking of which... one of the best Italian restaurants in the city, Il Bagatto, is now granting permission for BYOB on Tuesday nights - with no corkage fee. This is an opportunity not to be missed, especially with De-Vino only two blocks away! Imagine the warm, busting atmosphere, a rich plate of Osso Buco, and a bottle of Brunello that cost less than half of what it would have any other night; I don't know if I could bring myself to miss a BYOB night at a place with food that succulent.

Il Bagatto is located at 190 2nd St, near Avenue B. It is two blocks north of De-Vino. Reservations can be made at (212) 228-0977.
Happy BYOB dining!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My Dumb Period

A while ago Eric Asimov wrote an article about the dumb period in wine, a particular time window in the course of a wine's life where the flavors disappear, hiding under an umbrella of tannins and tartaric acid.
It's a funny thing... every few years, that happens to my palate as well - a three or four-day period where everything seems to taste bitter and metallic.
Last night, a customer and I were having a chat about specific wines and how many times you have to drink a bottle to really understand it. He told me that in some cases, the wine will taste different almost every time, and though the food they were eating might have played a role, he was convinced that the inconsistency had to be deeper than that. As a matter of fact, there most certainly is; smell is the most corruptible of the senses, especially when talking about wine. The brain processes the information altering the interpretation based on experience or external influences.
I read an article a little while ago in an Italian newspaper that showed proof that the brain can exert influence over taste, i.e. your brain can make you taste things differently. Other senses can also interfere, e.g. certain colors and shape might induce us to think about bitter and sweet flavors.
In reality, even one's mood can affect taste, as well as certain medicines (antibiotics are deadly for the palate). Personal experience showed me that if I'm upset about something, things tend to taste more metallic; when distracted things are duller and acidic; and when I'm tired, they are sour and bitter. A good friend with a very fine palate once told me that tasting is an art and a gift that not everybody has. He made an analogy with a runner saying that most of us are able to run for 1oo yards, but very few of us can do it under 10 seconds, and considering how many years it took me to achieve a sufficient palate, I can relate. I guess a good taster is not just the one that can spot a flavor but is somebody that can filter all the interference that the information finds during the trip from the nose to the brain.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Friday, November 02, 2007

Did you know...

...that in Montalcino in the late 70s the Mariani brothers, owners of Banfi, asked all the farmers in the area to plant Moscadello instead of Sangiovese?
The story of the Mariani in Montalcino is controversial, as their influence could have had a significant destructive effect on one of the best wines in the world - the Brunello di Montalcino.
In the late 70s, John and Henry Mariani bought 1,800 hectares in southwest part of Montalcino, a property that would soon expand to 2,830 hectares. They also built a humongous cellar and restored the castle for a cost of 200 billion of the old Lire. The two brothers made their fortune selling Lambrusco in the States, and their business plan was concentrated in making Moscadello frizzante, a sweet slightly fizzy white wine, and selling it in the USA to reply to the success of the Lambrusco.
They planted 350 Hectares with Moscadello, which is a marginal grape for Montalcino's climate and soils. They also made mistakes in choosing the training system for the vines, selecting one that didn't allowed the grapes to be exposed to the sun. And worst of all, they even asked the other growers, during an open city board meeting, to replace their Sangiovese in favor of the Moscadello, promising to buy the grapes from them. If it hadn't been for people like Piero Talenti, who at the time was in charge of Il Poggione, Franco Biondi Santi and many others who refused the offer, Brunello di Montalcino may have ceased to exist - forever. But because those that loved and had a much better understanding of the area kept their Sangiovese, one of Tuscany's signature wines remains intact.
The story's aftermath tells us that the steadfast Tuscan farmers were right to keep their Sangiovese. The Mariani brothers couldn't really sell much of their formerly promising sparkling wine, and eventually eradicated the Moscadello and planted Sangiovese.
Today Banfi is the biggest producer in Montalcino. Their lands are in the lowest and the flattest part of Montalcino, which is not ideal in any way for vineyards. Yet still, they are known around the world to be synonymous with Brunello di Montalcino, even though they tried to wipe out the Sangiovese, the very grapes used to create Brunello.
That is why I usually choose not to comment when I hear about how much good Banfi did for Montalcino, and for the promotion of Brunello di Montalcino around the world. While all of that might just as well be true, the fact remains: if it had been left up to the Mariani brothers, we would not have any Brunello today, whatsoever.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti