A stunning Russian River Chardonnay from Lioco & chat with Kevin O’Connor

kevin o'connor

Above: A new American gothic? Kevin O’Connor from Lioco.

Conversation with Lioco’s Kevin O’Connor last night over dinner at Sotto (where I co-curate the wine list) in Los Angeles spanned the heady days of his tenure as wine director at Spago and his years prior in New York when the current renaissance began to explode.

It was truly moving to hear him speak of the legendary Los Angeles sommelier Michael Bonaccorsi, one of his mentors and a rising star on the U.S. wine scene when he succumbed to a heart attack at 43 in 2004.

russian river chardonnay

We’ve worked with a lot of Kevin’s wines at Sotto since the restaurant opened. And while we included the winery’s entry-tier Chardonnay on our inaugural list, I had always found it to fall on the softer side of the Chardonnay spectrum.

After I tasted his 2011 vintage, we talked about the shift Lioco’s winemaker has made toward a more muscular and acidity-driven wine. He talked about how they are now balancing large-format cask fermentation with stainless steel and how all the wines continue to be aged in stainless steel (and some cement, he said).

I was blown away by his 2011 Russian River (one of the higher tier in the Chardonnay line). It was rich in the mouth but retained that lightness of body that I look for in fine wine and its acidity sang out over a rhythm of white and stone fruit.

A Russian River Valley Chardonnay that I loved? I bet you never thought you’d hear me say that!

Catch the band on Good Day LA on Thurs. & “best show” pick from LA Weekly

music valentines los angeles

Got a call from our manager earlier this morning confirming that my band (Nous Non Plus) will be appearing on Good Day LA (Fox) on Thurs. morning at 9 a.m.

I’ve been sworn to secrecy as to the events that will unfold during the show. But I can reveal that we’ll be playing the entire time (nearly a whole set) including a special song we’ve prepared for Valentine’s Day.

Just landed in LA from Austin and was geeked to learn that the LA Weekly gave us a shout out as one of the best shows in LA this week:

    With their fizzy melodies and French lyrics, Nous Non Plus sound like they must be from Paris, but the groovy septet actually are spun off from the New York City band Les Sans Culottes. Don’t let the realities of geography get in the way of enjoying breezy songs like “J’en Ai Marre” and the rocking power-pop anthem “Loli,” in which a sunny trumpet crowns Cal D’Hommage fuzzed-out and leering guitar riffs. Céline Dijon coos with oodles of charm on the jaunty “Fille Atomique,” as Morris “Mars” Chevrolet rolls out swells of new-wave synthesizer. Nous Non Plus never take anything too seriously, and even a song with a title like “Catastrophe” turns out to be a giddy, ebullient lark.

I love the part about “leering guitar riffs” (my stage name is Cal d’Hommage).

Click here for Los Angeles (Feb. 14) and San Francisco (Feb. 15) tickets and info.

Thank goodness for Liz Nicholson wine director @Maialino_NYC

liz nicholson maialino wine

It’s no wonder that Eric the Red includes Maialino wine director Liz Nicholson (above) in the Times tasting panels devoted to Italian wine: she’s got one of the most ambitious Italian wine lists this country has seen in more than a decade. (The other Italophile wine professional he always includes is the inimitable Levi Dalton; check out his great post today in Eater on the evolution of the contemporary wine list.)

My last day in New York (earlier this month), I visited the bar at Maialino on Gramercy Park because I wanted to check out her new Fiorano (whites) tasting flight, reaching back to the 1988 vintage of the prince Buoncompagni’s Sémillon and costing only $50 for a half pour of four of the wines (check out Eric the Red’s post on the wines from way back in 2004).

Liz got the last allocation of these storied wines, which captured the imagination of the New York wine scene in the mid-2000s.

fiorano white wine

Oxidative, orange, and in some cases tending toward brown, these wines are not for everyone (and I had to ask the bartender to replace one of the younger wines because it had turned to Marsala).

I’m also not convinced that the Enomatic cruvinet is the best vessel to store these old, delicate wines.

But I love that Liz is sharing their last gasp with people like me, who have followed the wine with great interest since they first landed in NYC nearly ten years ago.

Her wine list has a great selection of Langa Nebbiolo and a good balance between traditional and modern styles.

But she also has a fantastic Franciacorta list, my favorite Lambrusco (Rinaldini), and all kinds of cool stuff (Dessimus by the glass, sparkling Valtellina by the glass, etc.).

It’s the kind of list that I love to just leaf through as I sip the 1992 Sémillon (which, in my tasting, showed best in the flight of the Fiorano).

Chapeau bas, Liz! I’m so looking forward to following your career and your lists to come!

Where the cheap wine is the best: dinner at NoMad NYC

olga raffault

Above: Olga Raffault 2001 Chinon Les Picasses, one of my favorite wines and only $65 (yes!) at NoMad in NYC.

It was the night of two dinners.

“Order any wine you want,” said restaurateur Tony, my friend and client who was treating me to dinner.

We were at NoMad, a newish and very hot NYC restaurant that Tony’s chef Grant had recommended. We were eating our way through New York and Tony, who’s always overly generous with me when it comes to the wine selection, told me that “the sky’s the limit.”

roast chicken nomad

Above: The famous roast chicken at NoMad, as presented before service.

The wine list at NoMad is phenomenal and the European selections are stuff of dreams for me (we started with Alfred Gratien rosé by the glass).

I was tempted to take Tony up on his offer. I believe that both Bartolo Mascarello 1997 Barolo at $375 or Produttori del Barbaresco 1970 Barbaresco (classic) at $400 would have drunk brilliantly (and look, I wasn’t going to do Giacomo Conterno 1971 Barolo Monfortino at $3,200, however much I would LOVE to drink that wine).

But I also knew we were going to be tasting at least half of the menu and so I craved something extremely food friendly that wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the myriad flavors.

Twelve years in its evolution, the 2001 Chinon Les Picasses at $65 (!!!) was ideal (the 1989 at $125 would have been great, too, but I wanted to go with a younger wine that would have the versatility to stand up to the flavors that were heading in my palate’s direction).

chicken plated

Above: The the roast chicken mise-en-place.

Schmuck! I hear you say.

I know, I know… After all, I do a great job for Tony and we’ve become close friends. Back home in Texas, he’s opened more than one bottle of Quintarelli 1990 Bandito and 1990 Recioto for me (among other crazy labels).

But the 2001 Picasses was just right for the speed of the evening and the truly perfect pairing for the restaurant’s famous roast chicken.

tony vallone houston

Above: Tony (right) uses his phone to take pictures of dishes he likes. Between Doug (left), Tony, and me, we were tweeting up a storm.

We were joined that evening by my new bromance Doug Cook (my fellow Italophile and oenophile and super cool and brilliant dude).

“Bring anyone you like to dinner,” Tony had said, his largesse rivaled only by the amount of fun we were having the two evenings we spent dining our way through the city.

We ended up staying to close the place and I had a blast chatting with the sommeliers about their list (they proudly showed me emptied bottles of old B. Masarello and Soldera that had been brought in by a mutual friend and one of the top Italian collectors in the city and they treated us to 1996 Oddero Barolo by the glass).

The best news is that that bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco 1970 Barbaresco Pora at $450 will probably still be there when I return east in the fall.

Paper or plastic no more in Austin (it’s all part of my rock ‘n’ roll fantasy)

Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance

Music to my ears: on March 1, 2013, the City of Austin will begin enforcing strict regulation of the use and distribution of plastic bags in super markets.

Here’s the city’s link with info on the new ban.

Here’s some recent local news coverage.

And here’s some background from The New York Times.

I hate am happy to say I told you so: when I go grocery shopping, I bring a plastic tub (above) that I drop into my shopping cart. And while I still use plastic bags for “wet” vegetables and fruit (spinach, lettuce, etc.) or loose farraginous vegetables (like green beans), I just drop my purchases back into the tub after checkout (often to the bewilderment of the young baggers). I’ve been doing this ever since I moved here more than four years ago.

Beginning March 1, super markets will no longer provide free plastic bags.

Chapeau bas, Austin City Council!

I’ve been obsessed with plastic (and trying to live without it) since I was child (that’s my self-image at six years old above).

Just one word: plastics. While no one knows for certain, our daily contact with plastic seems to affect our over-arching health (see this Times Op-Ed by a woman participating in a study of life without plastic).

But there’s no doubt whatsoever that the use of plastic shopping bags has a profound effect on the environmental health of our communities.

And just in from the department of “my rock ‘n’ roll fantasy”…

rock and roll fantasy

Merci bien! to everyone who came out to my band’s show on Saturday night in Austin. Super fun times… Great to have the band in the live music capital of the world.

We’re playing LA on Thurs. and SF on Fri. of this week.

Click here for show info.

Nous Non Plus (my band) in Austin tomorrow night FREE SHOW

celine dijon nous non plus

My Nous Non Plus bandmates Céline Dijon and Jean-Luc Retard landed in Austin last night and we made our way over to Vino Vino for some pork belly and Lapierre Beaujolais (as you can imagine, we are not a rock band that lives by fish tacos alone!).

Our 9 p.m. show at the Parish Underground tomorrow night (Sat. Feb. 9) is FREE.

So please come out and see how my other half lives (and my bleached blond hair).