. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: May 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Business As Usual

After yet another fiasco in Italy,
the resolution led to its usual result - nothing.
It's business as usual, with the scandals leaving only a smattering of irony behind.
Let's start with the bad news. The winemaking scandal involving addition of acids and other harmful fermentation agents that SHOULD have absorbed the majority of concerns, at least in quantity, slid silently in to the Land of the Conveniently Forgotten... with the government's help, it has disappeared from the front pages of newspapers (although there is an investigation still going on). And at the center of attention is the Brunellopoli, the ongoing yet ultimately arbitrary argument over the integrity of the wines being labeled "Brunello di Montalcino." I must say that for once I was proud of my fellow countrymen: they did such a good job keeping attention focused on the Sangiovese's purity that the news got to the ear of the American government who, because of concerns for the American consumers, decided to look into the mess as well.
The American Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has asked their Italian counterpart to provide information about the wineries involved. But, since the "Magistratura" in Italy is still investigating the case, little or no information was sent by the Italian authorities, upsetting the Americans, who are now threatening to block all the Brunello imports by June 9th unless the shipment is furnished with laboratory test documentation that attests to the wine's purity. Meanwhile, back at the ranch... some of the wineries involved, namely Antinori, Frescobaldi, Banfi and Argiano decided, rather than waiting for a court date, they would declassify their Brunello to an IGT wine, and sell it at roughly the same price. A few houses have even decided to give the wines alternative names (I think Argiano is going to call it Duemilatre).
You might be wondering where the irony might be in all of this, and I will tell you that to defend themselves, the wineries involved stated that they added small amount of international grapes to please the American palate and most important the critics, to make it more approachable and easier to drink, enhancing the fruit bouquet. That being said, because some wineries in order to please the American palate, sophisticated the Brunello, the American authorities are going to stop the imports of it, depriving the same palate that those practices was supposed to pleased, of their precious nectar. Now, because the wineries involved decided to downgrade the label, the American market will get the declassified label of the blended wine for about the same price while the "clean" producer will be stuck with expensive laboratory tests and drawn-out bureaucracies at customs. Meanwhile, back at the Fattoria the long arm of the Italian law still wasn't able to recall all the wines cut with dangerous acids that are still for sale in the major supermarket around the "Bel Paese."
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Pictured: the former Agricultural Minister.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Last night I had Piers over for dinner and we rehashed our Cru experience from the previous week . One of the more prevalent subjects of conversation was the Champy 1961, because of the spectacular condition the bottle was in. It was because the wine was released by the winery long after it had been bottled, after the Maison had been bought by Jadot, so the bottles sat peacefully for 30 years before being sold. Piers and I had a similar experience with an Austrian Pinot Blanc from 1989 that was bought from the winery last year. The bottles were covered with mildew and dust, and the labels were almost nonexistent, but of the 6 bottles I drank, none had perceivable problems or flaws; they were all in perfect condition. Traveling can be destructive to a wine's condition. I remember an incident that happened back in the 70's when, because of a strike in the San Francisco docks, an entire consignment of French wine sat at port for over a week and cooked in the 100-plus degree heat. Today the containers are, for the most part, refrigerated but still mechanical malfunctions can happen and the results can be disastrous (this can also be a problem because those wines will be released to the market, being that the importer might not be aware of any mistakes that were made along the way).
I wrote a while ago that wine is alive (at least what I consider to be wine) and that, like a human being, it can get injured and heal, leaving a scar. An overseas trip could be stressful for human being as well as a case of wine - just thinking of what I have to go through in order to get on plane I get stressed, and like a human being, a bottle of wine will also need some time to settle down after a trip. The difference in taste can be dramatic especially when the wine is old (once again like the humans a young body is more resistant to injuries and can repair much faster than an older one) and the proof is the way the 1989 Pinot Blanc and the 1961 Burgundy tasted; aging signs were nonexistent, and the wines were still vibrant and focused. And the bottle conditions were surprising perfect. That being said, the provenance of a wine is one of the many key factors for a wise acquisition. Sometimes if you see a bottle sold for a lot less than its normal value, you'd be wise and prudent to check were it came from. Here is another step on the road to the essence of the nectar of the gods which is as complex and intersected as a 1961 Beaune 1er Cru.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Finally Some Real Service

This week has been an uncommonly busy week! I've gone out almost every night, and had some great wines. I already relayed the pleasures of Monday's dinner at Il Posto Accanto... and now I would like to share with you my experience at Cru on 5th Avenue and 9th Street.
On Thursday evening I met up with Mike, Piers, and two new friends, Pierre and Nick. Piers, an art auctioneer at Christie's and a French wine specialist by passion, went in during the afternoon and had opened a few bottles that were previously chosen with Mike, an old vinyl and hi-fidelity equipment specialist with an impressive cellar, mostly composed of old vintages from Italy and France. They opened the wines during the afternoon so that they would have the time to open up and be ready by 8 o'clock.

The evening's theme was Burgundy. Piers loves wines that are produced from a single varietal,sp to start, we indulged in a Puligny Montrachet Premiere Cru Folatieres 1992 from Etienne Sauzet. It had a pale yellow color, strong minerality and high complexity. We finish that bottle with the "amuse bouche" - between the five of us, there was just enough for a glass each in the bottle. The service at CRU is impeccable, the knowledgeable Maitre'd described our options regarding the food, and we decided to have the chef tailor the menu with the wines we where about to drink. The attention of the staff was incredible; it was one of the first times I actually saw wine poured in a proper way at a proper temperature in the right amounts, which is to say the capable staff managed to keep a constant flow in the glasses refilling small amounts frequently. Personally, I hate when full glasses are poured... there is no need, and is usually indicative of the staff trying to sell you more wine. I realized how much I'd forgotten about what good service was - the ability to anticipate your needs, the above-mentioned wine etiquette and the perfect pace of the whole experience. It is refreshing to see that it's still possible to get a ratio between staff and guest at one to one.
While we were waiting for the appetizers to show up we had a bottle Mersault Charmes 1990 from Francois Jobard, a totally different style - golden color with fuller fruit bouquet compared to the Puligny Montrachet. The minerality of the Montrachet was replaced by tropical fruit and fresh apricots. It was paired magnificently with few different appetizers based in fish. Most of the dishes we had were prepared specifically and they are not present on the menu (actually, when you decide to have the chef choose your dishes, not even the floor staff know the line-up, which I think is great). I love when a professional surprises me. Then we moved on the "rouge," into the wine that gave me the best emotions of the night; Maison Champy Beaune 1er Cru Les Greves 1961. The Cotes de Beaune sits on a limestone ridge that gives way to paler, lighter and more perfumed wines. This bottle was opened half an hour before being served and not decanted. We let it breath in the glass and the bottle, because that kind of wine with that much age will have a very small window of peaked flavors and textures, and if opened too early or decanted, it could die in the glass. It was indeed a very good call - the Burgogne was elegant, thin and vibrant, still with acidity and life. The red juice was changing at every sip, trading a floral note with an herbal shade... the aromas were literally dancing on the palate. Silky and focused at the same time, the Beaume was so engaging that I almost forgot about the food. After a series of appetizers the first course appeared and I kept on going with fish, in this case a calamari julienne and crab meat duo that melted with the wine, while the others, who are not following a no-carb regime, got their pastas dishes; an enticing homemade gnocchi with an incredible rabbit ragu and some great oxtail ravioli ( I did had a taste of both just for chronicle duty). Meanwhile a bottle of Pommard Clos Des Epeneaux 1993 made its appearance on the table along with a new set of Burgundy crystal ware that sat next to the ones still holding the Beaune. Piers had the Pommard opened in the afternoon, because unlike the Les Greves, it needed a lot of time. Next to each other you could definitely notice the difference in color - the Pommard is a big, muscular Pinot Noir with the nose showing horse saddle scents. It almost resembled a Pomerol or a Cabernet-based Bordeaux. As was predicted, the Beaune had very short window of life, I would say 30 minutes time frame, so the last sip of it was showing signs of tiredness. So we had space for another great Pinot Noir from another great Premiere Cru - more specifically, Vosne Romanee Le Malconsorte 1995 of Sylvain Cathiard. The Cote de Nuits is the home of the world's most famous and probably most expensive winery, Romanee Conti. Despite the monopoly control of four of the six Grand Crus, the village has at least forty growers sharing its vineyards; Romanee Conti, La Romanee and La Tache are exclusively owned by Domaine de la Romanee Conti, La Grande Rue is a monopoly of Domaine Francois Lamarche, the Richebourg and the Romanee Saint Vivant are the only crus that are not in a monopoly regime. The Vosne Romanee 1er cru is right next to La Tache - the two crus are divided by a ditch, and they also share similar characteristics and soil. The wine itself has strong and firm violet and mineral aromas, focused and clean the wine was well open and showing a wide range of herbal and spice flavors. Although still young (at 18 years old), compared to the previous wines, the Vosne Romanee Cru produces wine that are more approachable at early ages. "Dulcis in Fundo," as the Latins us to say, we got to the desserts; selections of Vahlrona chocolate under different shapes and forms along with mousses and other delicious sweet treats made their way to the table along with a bottle of Mabilliere Vouvrey Moelleaux 1989 from the Loire that was served at a perfect temperature. Bortytis dessert wine, the noble rot that add life to the grape, showed nice an light flavors of apricot and honey, still high acidity that made the sugar residues almost unnoticeable.
The whole experience was remarkable and I'd like to underline again the excellent service. The wine was always served at the right temperature, the staff frequently poured small amounts in the glasses that needed to be refilled and never overfilled them. They managed to keep a constant flow without ever being pushy, most of the time the staff movement was so natural, it was unnoticeable.That night, I remembered that etiquette exists for good reasons and far too often, it is forgotten in a lot of higher-end New York restaurants. The city used to be different 10 or 12 years ago, and I'm sure that any of you that have live here longer can tell me how different service was even earlier than that. The reality is that the customer services levels, of which the USA used to be a model of, has sadly fallen dramatically in every aspect of the service industry. So complimenti allo chef and the rest of the staff for such professionalism... it was time for the check and to call it a night...are you curious about the tab? One thing I can tell you is, it was the most expensive meal I've ever had and paid for... but worth more than the total.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti