What it’s all about: real people and real wine.

February 16, 2008

Reader and wine professional Scott Luetgenau (left) recently wrote the following comment on my post A Quick Confabulation with Aldo Vacca, Winemaker and President, Produttori del Barbaresco. He really captured what’s so great about Produttori’s wines:

“Nice. Real Barbaresco. A recent bottle of the 96 Pora jogged my memory of just how magical wine can be. After a long night of work I curled up on the couch with a great book and enjoyed the lengthy, layered transformation even more than the finished product. It is refreshing to see the coop retains its incredible value while most Piemonte producers have obviously shed their ‘insecurity’ as their prices increase every year.”

He makes a very important point when he describes “the lengthy, layered transformation”: one of the greatest elements in the wine experience is how a wine evolves from the moment you open the bottle until the last drop is poured. In America, we often lose sight of wine’s beauty because we overly festishize its delivery to our palates: is the serving temperature correct? has it aerated long enough? is the aperture of the glass correct? is the vintage “ready to drink”? is it too young? etc. etc.

For me it’s more about: how does the wine change as it begins to aerate? as it begins to warm in the glass? and even how does a left over glass taste the next day?

Scott gets it right: it’s not about the “finished product” its about the “layered transformation.”

Thanks, Scott, for the insightful comment.

Scott is Director of Operations and Beverage Manager for The Urban Food Group, which owns and operates four restaurants in Raleigh, North Carolina.


Shameless Self Promotion: Nous Non Plus, Saturday, March 22 at Midway

February 15, 2008

SAT MARCH 22
Club Midway
25 Ave B between 2nd/3rd
$6

NOUS NON PLUS 12:00
MODAKAI 11:00
ARMS 10:00
HOSPITALITY 9:00
JASON REISCHEL 8:00
$6

We are back and prêts à roquer. After a much-needed hiatus, Nous Non Plus will be playing a late show on the lower-east side to hone les chops before heading to Ljubljana, Slovenia in April.

Oui, NNP is big in Slovenia thanks to our Mobitel commercial.

It will be a festive evening and our only east coast appearance for a while, so please mark you calendars now.

Click here for a cool slide show of our second gig in Paris (February 2007).

Impossible n’est pas français.


Dim Lights Big Barolo Downstairs at Cru

February 14, 2008

The first time I went to visit the Aldo Conterno winery in 2000 (to taste his 1996 crus), Aldo’s son Franco took me and Luigi Ballerini for an unforgettable lunch at Trattoria della Posta (Monforte d’Alba), where Franco paired a dish of poached eggs, Fontina fondue, and shaved white truffles with a 1990 Vietti Barolo Rocche.

“We’re not drinking Aldo Conterno for lunch?” I asked Franco. “No, I wanted to show you what I think is one of the best Barolos beyond Conterno,” he said.

Last night, the lights were dim and the Barolo was big in the subterranean dining room at Cru in the West Village. I was the guest of Jay McInerney and Vietti winemaker Luca Currado who had gathered friends, food writers, and assorted Nebbiolophiles to enjoy some older vintages from one of Jay’s (and one of my) favorite producers.

Among the many tales recounted on this chilly, rainy New York eve, Luca retold the story of his family’s Roero Arneis. According to the legend, Luca’s father Alfredo had decided to make a white wine (in a land where only red wine was made). He didn’t want to use an international grape variety but he knew that some farmers had plantings of white Arneis grapes (used as a decoy to protect the more coveted red grapes from birds according to some, used to brighten up Nebbiolo according to others). He asked the priest of his local parish to make an announcement at Sunday mass: “please bring your Arneis grapes to the town square tomorrow because Alfredo Currado wants to buy them,” the church-goers were told (or so the legend goes). The farmers appeared the next day in droves and history was made with the first Vietti vintage of Roero Arneis, 1967. Italy’s top wine writer Luigi Veronelli tasted it the following spring and his enthusiastic review quickly catapulted it to enological stardom. Today scores of Roero Arneis are produced but Alfredo Currado and Vietti were the first to release it on the market (Bruno Giacosa was once attributed erroneously, said Luca, as having been the first. But after reading her father in print, Bruna Giacosa quickly called over to the Currado residence to apologize for the misquote). The secret to the wonderful aromatics of Luca’s Roero Arneis? “We age the wines on its lees,” says Luca [lees are the dead yeast cells present in wine after fermentation].

Luca shared many other interesting anecdotes last night (including that of his family’s nineteenth-century single-vineyard planting of Barbera in the now famous Scarrone site, unthinkable in a time when the best sites were reserved for Nebbiolo; the same vines, some more than 100-years old, are still used to make the wine).

But the most fascinating and certainly the most noteworthy story was revealed when the subject of modern vs. traditional was put on the table, so to speak. 1980 was the first year they brought barrique into the cellar, said Luca, for the Barbera. And in 1988 they began to use barrique-aging for the Nebbiolo as well. But what Luca said next totally blew me away. “Yes, we use barrique for aging the wine. About 30%. But we air-dry the staves for several years before the barrels are assembled [exposure to air removes any green-tree or bark smells and flavors from the wood]. And then we steam our barriques before we use them so they don’t impart any of the vanilla, oaky notes to the wine. You should see the water that runs off after they’re steamed: it looks like Australian Chardonnay!”

In fact, Luca’s wines are made in a judiciously modern style. They show some of the fruit-forwardness that dominate in excessively modern expressions of Nebbiolo but they retain the classic earthly notes of terroir-driven Barolo.

“When you look at those vineyards,” said Luca at the end of the night, “you are wrong to make a wine that doesn’t express the terroir. The identity of those vineyards is so strong. To try to hide it would be wrong.”

Luca is one of the nicest and most well-spoken winemakers I’ve ever met (and he speaks perfect English). To speak and taste with him, you see that like his wines, he lives in perfect balance between tradition and modernity. As Jay pointed out, there are some who believe his wines are too modern in style. But Jay and I agreed: Vietti’s wines are fantastic and they taste like Barolo.

Notes:

2006 Roero Arneis: fresh, with beautiful acidity, drinking beautifully (100% Roero grapes are used for this wine, Luca pointed out).

2003 Barbera Scarrone: one of the first single-vineyard Barberas ever marketed and simply one of the best.

1971 Barbaresco: tired but interesting to taste nonetheless.

1982 Barolo: the “classico,” blended Barolo, off the charts good, with lively acidity and nuanced berry fruit that just kept getting better and better in the glass (note the Kermit Lynch strip label on the neck of the bottle, second photo from top; Luca said it was the first Barolo imported by Lynch, one of the earliest proponents of natural European wines).

2001 Barolo Villero Riserva: everyone agreed, this was drinking beautifully, seductive nose and balanced acidity and fruit in the glass; but these tannins could use some more time in bottle.

1995 Barolo Rocche: this wine is still evolving and it was lost on the crowd but I found it to be the most traditional in style, with earthy aromas and flavors that I look for in Barolo.


When Wine Writing Becomes News

February 13, 2008

Above: click the image to read today’s Page Six piece about Alice Feiring and her new book.

Alice Feiring’s book won’t be out until later this spring but it’s already making news. Whether you love her or hate her, there’s no denying that she’s shaking things up.

Click the image above to read today’s Page Six piece.


Vietti: between modern and traditional at the Modern

February 12, 2008

Above: national treasures Ed McCarthy and Mary Mulligan with winemaker Luca Currado of the Vietti winery at the Modern.

Whenever you get to rub shoulders with the likes of Ed McCarthy and Mary Mulligan, be sure to have notebook in hand. I gladly caught up with them at the Modern, where Luca Currado poured his recently released 2004 crus.

Ed agreed that 2004 is going to be a great vintage for Langhe and he told me that he recently returned from Piedmont where he tasted Giacomo Conterno’s as-of-yet unreleased 2002 Monfortino. An early-fall hail storm dashed the hopes of most Langhe producers and few made wine that year. But “the 2002 Monfortino is fantastic,” Ed told me, “and with a price to match,” he added.

While Giacomo Conterno is arguably Barolo’s top traditionalist producer, Vietti — Ed and I agreed — is one of our favorite modern-leaning producers, “definitely one of the top-five,” Ed noted. (I’ve profiled Ed previously in this post.)

Above: we tasted the 04 Vietti Crus and the 01 Villero Riserva.

Mary Mulligan
and I enjoyed a glass of Luca’s 2003 single-vineyard Barbera La Crena (previously released). The perfectly Italophone Mary is one of our country’s leading experts on Italian wine and its first woman Master of Wine. She pointed out that Vietti makes some of the best Barbera available and has really set the standard for single-vineyard bottlings. No disagreement from me on that count…

Above: one of the many works on display. The exhibit featured drawings and paintings commissioned by Vietti for their labels.

Not thoroughly modern at the Modern: Luca’s wines fall somewhere between modern and traditional in style. Although they have some of the fruit-forwardness that you find in excessively modern expressions of Nebbiolo, his wines retain Barolo’s classic characteristics and are never too extracted or concentrated for my palate. I’ll be tasting with him later in the week… so look for my notes in an upcoming post!

Above: the main dining room at the Modern is one of the most elegant and glamorous spaces in NYC. Even I felt fabulous…


A quick confabulation with Aldo Vacca, winemaker and president, Produttori del Barbaresco

February 12, 2008

Earlier this year, Produttori del Barbaresco’s president and winemaker Aldo Vacca (left) took time out from his importer’s grand portfolio tasting to talk to me about recent vintages and the cooperative’s approach to winemaking.

Produttori del Barbaresco has always stood apart for its steadfast traditionalist approach to winemaking. Where do you see Produttori in relation to the current trend of modern-style Nebbiolo?

You have to understand that the winemaking tradition in Langhe comes from an entirely agricultural mentality, a “farmer” culture. Early on, we were insecure, if you will. We didn’t have enough faith in our land. This insecurity led a number of winemakers to adopt a modern approach. There are also a lot of new producers who have only recently begun making wine in Langhe. Many of them don’t have the respect for our tradition of winemaking. This trend has developed over the last 20 years and has had a big impact. But I also see that many producers are returning to a more traditional approach.

Produttori del Barbaresco has never changed its style. From the beginning, Produttori has always made wine using traditional methods [extended maceration, natural fermentation, and aging in traditional botti, large oak casks]. The winery’s style is very distinct but the wines are always respectful of the terroir.

How are as-of-yet unreleased vintages showing?

Both 2007 and 2006 were very good vintages in Langhe. 2006 saw a warmer summer and it will be a more “fleshy”* wine, with softer tannins, while 2007 is comparable to long-lived vintages like 1996 and 2001.

The harvest came early in 2007, but this was not because of a hot summer. It was due to the fact that the mild, dry winter caused the growing cycle to begin early. As a result, we harvested early. 2007 has intense tannins and high acidity [good signs for long-lived Nebbiolo].

* Aldo and I conversed in Italian and it’s interesting to note that he used the English “fleshy” to describe his impression of the wine.

*****

Is it a sin? Many American Nebbiolophiles recoil in horror at the thought of opening vintages like 1996 or even 1999, arguing that they’re not nearly old enough. I’ve tasted Produttori back to the 1970s and when properly cellared, the wines reveal nuanced beauty and truly awesome power. But with a good decanter and some aeration (and some patience), even younger expressions of these wines will show beautifully. To be sure, the wine experience is enhanced by knowledge and respect for the wines themselves. But we must never lose sight of the fact that wine is part of the gastronomic experience and when it’s overly fetishized, we run the risk of negating the pleasure we may derive from them. Here are some bottles I’ve enjoyed recently.

My friend Greg (aka Harry Covert, forgive him for drinking Veuve Clicquot, Nous Non Plus’ drummer) recently surprised me with a bottle of 1996 Produttori del Barbaresco Pora. Some might remember my post entitled “The Day After”: Greg had inadvertently opened the last bottle of 96 Pora from my once (pre-mid-life crisis/disaster) modest collection, which I had been storing at his apartment.

He and I had opened the second-to-last bottle in December and to be honest, it seemed to have become even “tighter” in its evolution. But as it opened up, it revealed rich tar and seductive manure (yes, seductive manure) aromas that gave way to red berry fruit in the mouth. We paired with pepperoni pizza from one of our favorite pizzerias, a decadent but irresistible match.

My brother Tad grilled shell steaks for our family’s Super Bowl gathering in La Jolla. Grilled American beef and traditionally vinified Nebbiolo is a happy marriage of new and old worlds, with the rich tannin of the Nebbiolo drawing out the flavor of the grilled fat. This 1999 Asili will continue to evolve in bottle but it drank marvelously on Super Bowl Sunday. I didn’t have a decanter on hand so I opened the wine a few hours before we sat down to eat. Asili is arguably Produttori’s most prestigious cru (depending on your palate) and while 1999 was a very good vintage, it doesn’t have the power of the 96 or 01 (last year I drank 1979 Produttori Asili at a collectors dinner, one of the best bottles I’ve ever had in my life).

Someday, when my living situation returns to permanence, I’ll start my collection up again.

Produttori is so affordable (it makes you wonder why Nebbiolo is so expensive today): each of these bottles weighed in at less than $50. I can’t afford to drink them everyday, but they make for great special occasion wines. Greg, please feel free to surprise me anytime with 96 Pora!!!


Snowing in NYC

February 12, 2008

It’s snowing in New York. That’s Butler Library at Columbia University, where I spend my days while in the city (thanks to reader privileges).


Circa 1913: Grand Central’s Oyster Bar

February 10, 2008

Winnie and I met the other day for a snack at the storied Oyster Bar (above) in Grand Central Terminal. I used to eat there a lot when I first came to New York and was broke, back in 1997: a friend had hipped me to the fact that its clam chowder ($5.75) is one of the best lunch deals in town.

Above: potager Komor Rudin mans the soup station at the original counter.

Many of the milk-based “stews” are created using a pair of steam-powered double-boilers (bains-marie) bolted into the original counter circa 1913. The potager assembles the soups by tossing seafood, milk, and/or tomato sauce in the two vessels. It’s very entertaining to watch.

Above: Panroast Oyster stew ($9.95) is a new favorite at the Oyster Bar but classic Oyster Stew (also $9.95) is still a winner.

Above: there’s not a lot worth drinking on the list at the Oyster Bar (mostly Californian) but the naturally made Domaine de la Pepière 2006 Muscadet is fantastic, the only Muscadet — the traditionally pairing for oysters — on the list! At $7 a glass and $28 a bottle, it’s also one of most reasonably priced lots (go for the bottle).

Above: the arm chair (hand chair?) in the bathroom lounge looks like it came straight from Woody Allen’s 1973 Sleeper.


D.I.Y.: Wine Cork Door Mat

February 9, 2008

My friend Dana sent me this photo of a doormat she made by drilling holes through wine corks and stringing them together using fishing line. The corks were provided in part by Vine Wine, her local wine shop.

“I drilled holes using a 1/32″ bit (think I need something smaller next time),” writes Dana, “and used fishing line to thread them together… arduous task, but satisfying!”


I’m Too Sexy for This Wine

February 8, 2008

Above: Roman-born Piera Farina makes a line of wines called “Sexy” in Sicily (click the image to read more in Italian).

Does anybody remember the one-hit-wonder Right Said Fred? I’m sure that even Right Said (is that his first name?) wouldn’t be “too sexy” for Barolo… unless it were a Barolo made by a modernist producer like Domenico Clerico, who chimed into the “Barolo is the sexiest wine” debacle a few weeks ago saying, “Of course it’s a sexy wine, because it’s fascinating, just like all things that are hard to attain and conquer.”

Maria Teresa Mascarello, a traditionalist producer (one of my all-time favorites), was a little more even-handed in her comment on the “sexy” that never was: “‘Sexy’ can be an ironic term but I believe that Barolo is more of a intellectual wine. That doesn’t mean it’s any less seductive. I might have used the word ‘intriguing’ [to describe Barolo]. I’d use ‘Sexy’ to define a wine that belongs in a lower category.”

Clerico and Mascarello were quoted in Roberto Fiori’s January 19 article published in La Stampa, “According to Americans, Barolo is the sexiest wine.”

Never mind that Eric Asimov never called Barolo “sexy.”

Here’s my original post on the tidal wave of misunderstanding that followed an Italian news agency’s mistranslation of Eric’s January 16 article on Barolo. (The Agenzia Giornalistica Italiana erroneously claimed that he had called Barolo “the sexiest wine.”)

Italians’ views and attitudes about sex are much more liberal than Americans’ and nudity and sexuality are often incorporated into advertising for food and wine. I find it all the more strange that the “sexy” never written caused such a furor there. Below I’ve collected some “sexy” wine images — Italian in provenance — to put it all into perspective.

Alice e il vino is on of Italy’s most popular wine blogs (click image to read the post).

Even the Gambero Rosso — publisher of Italy’s leading wine guide — isn’t above the fray.

I found these bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon from Emilia-Romagna on Italian Ebay.

*****

I’m too sexy for this blog…

I’m too sexy for my love too sexy for my love
Love’s going to leave me

I’m too sexy for my shirt too sexy for my shirt
So sexy it hurts
And I’m too sexy for Milan too sexy for Milan
New York and Japan

And I’m too sexy for your party
Too sexy for your party
No way I’m disco dancing

I’m a model you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah on the catwalk on the catwalk yeah
I do my little turn on the catwalk

I’m too sexy for my car too sexy for my car
Too sexy by far
And I’m too sexy for my hat
Too sexy for my hat what do you think about that

I’m a model you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah on the catwalk on the catwalk yeah
I shake my little touche on the catwalk

I’m too sexy for my too sexy for my too sexy for my

‘Cos I’m a model you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah on the catwalk on the catwalk yeah
I shake my little touche on the catwalk

I’m too sexy for my cat too sexy for my cat
Poor pussy poor pussy cat
I’m too sexy for my love too sexy for my love
Love’s going to leave me

And I’m too sexy for this song

– Right Said Fred


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