Above: You had me at hello… The oven-roasted gulf oysters at Cochon in New Orleans, in February 2009.
Reading The New York Times this morning as I munched my quesadilla (topped with “casera” salsa by Herdez, which, btw, you must look for in a can as opposed to jar, because it just tastes SO much better), I found myself entirely mesmerized by the “domino effect of lives touched” described in this article and I couldn’t help but remember my first gulf oyster (above), masticated in New Orleans not long after I moved to Texas, back in February 2009.
Will it be my last?
Above: Before the BP oil spill, it was common to serve endless raw gulf oysters at crawfish boils and other summer gatherings. This year, it’s not.
Gulf oysters are in short supply these days in the wake of the oil spill and subsequent catastrophe but I trust and hope they will rebound. Check out the Times article. It’s fascinating… My favorite passage:
And yes, the captain eats oysters. Using a short knife, he pops the seal of a just-harvested oyster with safecracker élan, makes a cut, and slurps the wild goop down.
Blind tasting can be such a tricky business and in many ways, it removes wine from the terrestrial context in which we consume it (and the way it was intended to be consumed). In blind tasting, our experience becomes metaphysical, in other words, beyond the physical inasmuch as it treats wine as an abstraction. The intention is noble: blind tasting is intended to remove as many “extraneous” variables as possible and force the taster(s) to evaluate the wine purely on its sensorial attributes as an empirical expression of its intrinsic value. But wine, by its very (human) nature, cannot be reduced to pure science.
Even Eric, whose palate I admire greatly, was surprised that Il Poggione didn’t make the top-ten cut. “Some very well-known brunellos,” he wrote, “missed the cut in our blind tasting, including one of my perennial favorites, Il Poggione… A cautionary note about blind tastings: they are snapshots of a wine at a particular moment. I would never say no to a bottle of Il Poggione, even if I did reject it here.”
Never ones to say no to a bottle of Il Poggione, Tracie B and I went to Trio in Austin last night and asked our friend sommelier Mark Sayre to open a bottle of the 2004. Above and beyond our friendship, I turn to Mark when I want the proverbial “second opinion” (and his wine program offers the ideal setting for tasting fine wine in Austin).
Tracie B, Mark, and I all agreed that the wine is going through a very tannic moment in its evolution. We opened the bottle, decanted it immediately, and then tasted it immediately. Then, we put it aside and let it aerate for about 45 minutes.
Above: We also tasted Scarpetta 2007 Tocai Friuliano (bottled by Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey) with the shrimp croquettes. This old-school wine is one of those “not-for-everyone” wines but just right for me and Tracie B!
At first sip, the wine was overwhelmed by its tannin, but when we returned to it, it had begun to open up beautifully, showing that magical balance of tannin, fruit, and acidity that makes Montalcino (in my view) one of the greatest appellations in the world.
Not everyone made great wine in 2004. As much as the Tuscan wine industry would like us to believe that 2004 was a 5-star vintage, it simply was not: summer heat spikes plagued growers whose vineyards lie at lower elevations.
But, as father-and-son winemaking team Fabrizio and Alessandro Bindocci will tell you, Il Poggione’s vineyards lie at some of the highest elevations in the entire appellation, reaching 400 meters a.s.l. and thus keeping summer temperatures cooler during warm summer months.
I don’t think 2004 will be remembered as a great vintage in Montalcino but I do think a handful of producers made superb wines and Il Poggione was one of them. The wine has many, many years ahead of it in the bottle and will only get better with age. It’s a young buck right now and just needs some patience and aeration to temper the power of its youth.
The je-ne-sais-quoi moment came when Mark insisted that we pair the fried pork belly with the wine: the classic plum notes of the wine and its tannin attained an ethereal nobility when blended with gelatinous fat and caramelized flavors of the dish.
What happened with the bottle that Eric and the panel tasted in New York? We’ll never know: on any given Sunday, even in a laboratory environment, a bottle of wine can be affected by innumerable variables (including how it was handled by the many actors who “touch” it before it reaches the end user).
Our evaluation? In the words of Tracie B, “Mikey likes it!”
It’s that time of year again and the holiday season is upon us…
A recent post by Vinogirl on the ubiquitous Vitis californica of my home state got me thinking about the miracle of the vine and its fruit.
Not so long ago, in a comment to my post on grapes under an earlier Tuscan Sun, Vinogirl noted sagaciously that the vine provided “food, drink and firewood for man, leaves for oxen and seeds for pigeons…”
It made me think about what winemaker Dora Forsoni (below right, with her partner Patrizia) told me last year when I visited her and she brought out table grapes for us to munch on as we tasted her wine. “My father was so poor,” said the Tuscan native Dora, “that he couldn’t afford fruit for us kids to eat. So he planted a vine so that we’d always have fruit.” Even without tending, the vine will naturally render fruit. The grapes tasted sweet and juicy.
For Tracie B and me, finances are tight (as we try to put away some money for our upcoming wedding) and the business of wine sales continues to be an uphill battle. But the miracle of the vine continues to give us a livelihood, even in the tough economic climate.
The Thanksgiving weekend is almost over and tomorrow we’ll pick it up again after taking the weekend off (a rarity for us these days). In these tough times, when a lot of folks in our country and across the world are struggling, we sure have a lot to be thankful for: love, health, and the miracle of the vine.
Casual was the call for attire at the wine dinner I hosted on Saturday night at Jaynes Gastropub and so I decided to don the above psychedelic vintage 70s disco shirt (recently unearthed in a box that arrived with my library from my Manhattan storage). I’ve never really been able to figure out what it means. On the back, a bunch of grapes transforms into silver balls. On the front, silver balls reveal a convex image of a wine bottle and one of the balls falls to the ground and bursts. There is an upside down dessert sunset that lines the bottom of the shirt (from the wearer’s POV, it looks like a sunset).
I’ll post more on the dinner tomorrow so stay tuned: Australian wines I like! Yes, I actually found some!
Lastly, due to an editing error on my part, one of my favorite wine blogs ended up on the cutting room floor of Tom’s interview: Wayne Young’s blog The Buzz is most definitely one of my daily reads. Sorry about that, Wayne!
In other other news…
Check out this way cool Austin slide show and profile in The New York Times Travel mag. It features the Broken Spoke where I’ve been playing some gigs lately.
Who knew that Austin was such a great place to live? ;-)
Above: Bahia Don Bravo’s new Tortilla Soup was too sexy to resist. No trip home to La Jolla where I grew up is complete without a visit to Bahia.
Tracie B and I returned late last night to Austin from San Diego where we met a lot of great people, poured and tasted a lot of great wine at the SD Natural Wine Summit, and caught up with mama Judy, the German Professor, and the Cheese Hater’s mom over dinner at Jaynes Gastropub (yes, even on my night off, I ate there, that’s how much I love it).
Above: Owner Carlos Bravo aka Don Bravo was in the kitchen on Monday when we stopped in with mama Judy for lunch. The carnitas were particularly delicate and tasty, moist and rich on the tongue.
I’ve got a lot of really cool posts on deck, including more from the Natural Wine Summit, a wonderful toasty vintage grower’s champagne shared by a dear friend, and some old and very special traditional-style Sangiovese from one of the most famous producers of Brunello di Montalcino.
Above: Who ever thought beans could be so seductive?
It’s 8 a.m. and I’ve already been at my computer since 6:30, trying to catch up. So I’ll make this post a quickie.
On deck for tomorrow: “Good wine lovers go to heaven, bad wine lovers go back stage.”
It really is the best of times and the worst of times. Across the board, wine sales are down, restaurateurs are suffering sharp declines, and many businesses are hanging on by the seats of their pants. In the same breath, I can also say that I feel lucky to have a good job and a happy life here in Texas, where I know I am truly fortunate to have such a wonderful lady in my life and such good people around me — personally, professionally, and virtually (a nod to all the friends whom I know through the blogosphere).
Just yesterday, I read a report that Italy saw a significant drop in U.S. exports in the first quarter of 2009 and anecdotally, I hear from my Italian wine colleagues, friends, and peers locally and on both coasts that things are tough all around.
Having said that, I believe wholeheartedly that Italian wine represents the greatest value for quality on the market and I was thrilled to see Eric’s article in the Times and subsequent post on Valpolicella and the value it offers the consumer.
As is often the case with Italian wine and regulations governing its production, there seems to be some confusion as to how Valpolicella is labeled — specifically with reference to the term ripasso meaning literally a passing again or refermentation. (The only instance of the term ripassa, with a feminine ending, that I have been able to find is for a Valpolicella produced by Zenato. But this seems to be an anomaly, an affected corruption of the sanctioned term.)
Basically, ripasso denotes the use of “residual grape pomace” in the refermentation or second fermentation of the wine (see below).
Some time back, Italian Wine Guy did this excellent post on three different techniques that can all be classified as ripasso.
The use of residual grape pomace from the production of “Recioto della Valpolicella” and “Amarone della Valpolicella” is allowed in the regoverning [refermenting*] of the wine Valpolicella, in accordance with the ad hoc standards established by the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry Policy and the territory office of the Central Inspectorate for the Repression of Fraud with respect to the standards of the European Union.
Controlled Origin Designation (DOC) Valpolicella wines classified as “Valpolicella,” “Valpolicella” classico, “Valpolicella” superiore, “Valpolicella” classico superiore, “Valpolicella” Valpantena, and “Valpolicella” Valpantena superiore can be refermented on residual grape pomace from the production of the wines “Recioto della Valpolicella” and/or “Amarone della Valpolicella.”
Wines obtained in this manner can utilize the added designation “ripasso.”
* In Italian the term governo or governare retains its etymological meaning, steering or to steer, from the Greek kubernaô.
One of my guilty pleasures is reading Maureen Dowd’s op-eds. Yes, it’s true. I’m a sucker for her gossipy Cheney bashing and I find her over-the-top satire thoroughly entertaining. It seemed only appropriate that I check in with Maureen last night, on a drive home from Houston, where Dan and I worked in the market and he pointed out both the Enron and Haliburton buildings… or rather, the Enron and Haliburton industrial military complices (pun intended for the Latinate among us). (Dan drove, btw, and he and our ride-with were chatting in the front while I blog-surfed on my blackberry in the back seat.)
“Rummy grins,” she writes, “taking a gulp of his brunello. Dick grunts, raising a fork of his Risotto Gucci with roasted free-range quail.” (It’s always bugged me, btw, how the Times style-sheet does not require grape varieties to be capitalized. In the case of Brunello, I feel capitalization is doubly important but we can get into that later and don’t get me started on montepulciano d’abruzzo, where there is no questioning that Abruzzo is a place name! [Addendum: Eric the Red pointed out rightly that the Times renders the grape name “montepulciano d’Abruzzo”; what I meant to write was Montepulciano is a place name and should be capitalized; see Eric the Red’s comment below].)
I couldn’t help but wonder, what Brunello would they drink? So, I went online (duh, I practically live online!) and looked up the wine list (there is actually a dish called Risotto Gucci: “roasted free range quail over a lemon and spumante wine risotto.” Free range quail? Those quail are about as free as the orange-jump-suited detainees in my antfarm!).
The obvious choice would be the Valdicava Brunello 2004, 95 points according to the Wine Spectator, at a meager $450:
Displays complex aromas of blackberry and cherry, with a hint of licorice. Full-bodied, with silky tannins and a delicious finish of wonderful yet subtle fruit. Well-integrated and beautiful. Everything is in the right place. Best after 2011. 5,000 cases made. –JS
There are a handful of wines on Cafè Milano’s dick-wagging list that I could actually drink — Conti Costanti, Poggio Antico, Biondi Santi — but I can’t really afford them. (If Tracie B and I were forced to eat there, the virtual sommelier would recommend having the white label 2004 Carema by Ferrando, for $95, over-priced but within reach, although incorrectly listed with Barbaresco.)
But then it came to me in a flash. Cheney and Rummy would drink the 2003 Brunello by Argiano — on the list at a spit-take price of $185!!!