Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Hyperactive Now I'm Grown"

Want something to do tonight (Saturday) that will be wickedly entertaining? Come to Just Jakes in Montclair (30 Park St) and see me and my bandmates rip through 32 or so songs with Death Star-like precision. It's sure to be a funky good time, we're playing some new tunes and I'll probably Tweet from the stage. What could be more fun than watching a 41 year old play rock-n-soul while Tweeting about the sights?

I rest my case.

JCB the 4th

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Fraud

Sadly, I was dry on Thanksgiving.

Not that it's really such a major deal, but the big wine director who made pairing suggestions to hundreds in the last couple weeks enjoyed his turkey and trimmings with...fruit punch!

A late arrival to dinner coupled with a 30+ family member gathering with lots of catching up to do left my mind not really on wine. I did have some on hand, as I asked my mother to tote 3 bottles to the dinner for me and anyone else who cared to enjoy. 3 bottles, 30 people? Have you lost your mojo, Le Monstre?

As I previously chronicled, there is not much of a wine (or any sort of imbibing) culture in my family, so I'm a bit of a renegade in that respect. On top of that, my mother forgot to bring the bottles in from her car and I wasn't in the mood to run out and get them as the food began to flow. No matter...a late night bottle of bubbly with Madame Bruce was delicious, the NV Eric Rodez Champagne Brut "Cuvee des Crayeres". It has more crisp apple tones with a chalky personality and long, lascivious finish. It's so bad, it's good.

JCB the 4th

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wine Diversion #1

This is unreal live grown folks music. Enjoy!

JCB the 4th

Lyrics Hall & Oates - She’s Gone lyrics

Thanksgiving Juice

Believe it or not, my family is not big on wine. I didn't grow up with parents who drank much at all and wine was never really a part of the dinner atmosphere. So when we gather for Thanksgiving, I usually bring something tasty and not terribly expensive, dare I say Cellar Defender™?

NV Michel Fonne Cremant d'Alsace Brut - A great Champagne alternative, crisp and dry Pinot Blanc with bubbles.

2007 Alain Corcia Bourgogne Chardonnay - This is delicious Chardonnay from declassified fruit from Meursault. An outstanding deal.

2008 Willi Schaefer Riesling Qba Mosel - Just enough sweetness, just enough minerals, just the right price. Bring on the yams!

2007 Domaine des Billards St. Amour - Devastatingly good Gamay, the best I've ever had. Those who poo-poo Beaujolais should taste this Cru Beaujo and prepare to be rocked!

Happy Thanksgiving!

JCB the 4th

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No Respect!

Can anyone explain to me why the retail wine merchant is the Rodney Dangerfield of the wine business?

I mean, ok, I get it. There are a lot of uninformed, slovenly folks out there who happen to own licenses that don't really give a hoot about wine. They lack passion, imagination and a firm understanding about the how and why wine is the magnificent, lovely and essential beverage that it is. Perfectly comfortable to just pump out wine scores and sell on the merits of other palates rather than their own, they do a disservice to the wine world as a whole. It's very irksome to ponder...

I'm often invited to lunch or dinner by our stable of distributors and importers to meet and dine with various winemakers from around the globe. It's usually at a very swank restaurant in the city and I'm always thrilled and very appreciative to attend. The first thing that I notice upon arriving is the ratio of retailers to sommeliers. It's usually in the 4 to 1 range in favor of the somms. Not sure why I care or why I even mention this but I always perceive it as a (very tiny) disrespect to the power of the educated and effective retailer. What is usually more surprising to me is that many winemakers are in love with sommeliers and having their wines on the lists of great restaurants. Don't get me wrong, a great sommelier is essential to the dining experience and some of my best friends are sommeliers. But the somms themselves feed into this also. Can't tell you how many times I've met one and upon me introducing myself they ask, "What part of the city is the restaurant?" When I mention that it's a retail store AND in NJ (another no-no) they usually try to end the conversation as soon as possible and find another somm.

It's a bit of an ego thing on the winemakers part, that much I understand. But the bottom line is unless your wine is being poured by the glass, the great restaurant might go through a couple cases of your wine in a year. A good retailer can do five (or twenty) times more than that in a day. No one goes in a restaurant and orders a case of the same wine. Would be kinda nutty to do so considering the markup.

Show a little love toward your friendly neighborhood wineshop.

JCB the 4th

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Barolo Testing - 1, 2, 3...

A small gathering of wine pro's gave a test drive to 2004 and 1996 Barolo last night...

2002 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Clavoillons 1er cru - What the heck?! This ain't Barolo. Hell, it ain't even red! What are we supposed to start off with Cortese or Favorita? Killer wine that unfortunately could have used an hour to unwind or better yet five more years.

2004 & 1996 Marcarini Barolo Brunate
2004 & 1996 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo Brunate
2004 & 1996 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
2004 & 1996 Guisepp Mascarello Barolo Monprivato
2004 & 1996 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia
2004 Roagna Barolo Vigna Rionda & 1996 Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda
2004 Giacosa Barolo Falletto (White Label) & 1996 Giacosa Barolo Falletto (Red Label)

1995 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes - Super yum!

Much discussion about which wine was best in the respective vintage and surprisingly there was not a clear consensus. Since this blog is my sandbox, I'll say the Bartolo Mascarello wins as the best 2004 and the Giacosa (Duh!) wins as the favorite 1996. The Giacomo Conterno wines were the best pair, although in serious need of further slumber, and were my second favorite wine in both vintages. As always, they were devastatingly good. Both wines from Rinaldi were superb, a classic producer doing the old-school strut to perfection. Finally, I've never had a wine by Masolino, but after this encounter, I desparately want to try more from them. Really lovely...

Thanks to Doug for organizing and everyone else for sharing such precious juice.

JCB the 4th

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dinner with a Vieux

Francois Thienpont is about as charming as they come. Just look at him...wouldn't you want to buy wine from this guy?

Born of Belgish (is that a word?) descent, his family has graced the Bordeaux landscape since the 1920's. Purchasing the hallowed Pomerol estate, Vieux Chateau Certan, the Thienpont clan has embarked upon a singular mission to create the best they possibly can from the top-notch "terroir" to which they have at their disposal. Seems simple, and at its very core, it naturally, don't use chemicals, avoid the pitfalls the vintage tosses your way, and wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, when the vine whispers to you that the time is right, you pick the fruit by hand. You ferment the grapes with its natural yeasts, you allow malo-lactic fermentation, you rack to barrels and then you wait. Easy, right?

But there is talent involved and that talent lies in the hands of Francois' brother, Alexandre. His touch with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is feather-light, a bit of an oxymoron when referring to Bordeaux. But if Pomerol is the Burgundy of Bordeaux, then Vieux Chateau Certan is the Vosne Romanee. It's velvety and sleek, certainly the most sexy of the Right Bankers. In short, I adore the wines of VCC.

Francois came to a Grapes for Good wine dinner in his honor at Culinariane in Montclair this past week. He humbly told the tale of his family's estate, described in-depth the winemaking philosophy of his wines and showcased gorgeous examples of his wines ranging from $11 to $179 per bottle. Hell, he even helped me personally double decant all of the reds prior to service. Spilling a bit, it was refreshingly hilarious to hear a Frenchman curse in both French and English! But his wit, charm and moreover, his wares won over the group who sampled them along with the devastatingly delicious delights of Chef Ariane Duarte, my hometown culinary goddess. Many proclaimed the Yogurt Marinated Lamb Chops, Vadouvan Carrot Puree, Raita, Petit Seasons Mix and Maldon Sea Salt, the best lamb to every pass their lips. High praise from the experienced foodies in attendance...

Four wines really stood out to me that night:

2006 La Gravette de Certan Pomerol - arriving in a week or so
2006 Vieux Chateau Certan Pomerol - arriving in a week or so

These wines are essential Bordeaux. Naked, honest and real...

JCB the 4th

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Throwback...

Like short-shorts, the afro pick and white socks over the calf, these wines are a throwback to the good ol' days. The times when wines we're as honest and hard-working as James Brown and smooth as Dr. J gliding through the lane.

2007 Domaine Haut Cances Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne "Tradition" - Hard to argue with the value of this wine as I defy you to put it in your mouth blind and not think old-school Chateauneuf du Pape from a strong vintage. I know nothing of this winery (but I'll learn more before we offer it this week) and have never tasted any of their wares before yesterday. But there is no doubt that there are many wines that can satisfy, but few can tell a story as vivid as this in just one taste without some serious terroir, history and deft skills. Flat out the best Cotes du Rhone I have tasted in years, truly stunning.

2007 Lamy Pillot Chassagne Montrachet Les Caillerets 1er cru - Shining like the true star it is at a recent tasting in NYC, this Chardonnay is all about pedigree. Caillerets is for my money, the best non-Grand Cru site in Chassagne, without question. And while no one wants to give credit or much attention to Sebastien Caillat, who not only married well into the Lamy family, but also is a gifted vigneron who has a lacy touch with his wines. This is so stunning a wine that it will, to quote a friend of mine from California, "Roll yer socks up and down three times!" How can that be beat?

Both of these wine are coming in the next week, so savvy Le Monstre readers get the inside skinny, like George Gervin with the patented finger roll.

JCB the 4th

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Coming Ko-rrect...

While this restaurant is subject to a wide variety of opinions in the blogosphere, I just wanted to relay my thoughts as I dined at Momofuku Ko a few nights ago. Forget the sparse minimalist 12-seats, impossible reservation system that rewards those with itchy trigger fingers and super fast internet connections or even the slightly underwhelming wine list...this place is what I would open with unlimited funds and no one to answer to. Complete with a pumping soundtrack of every thing I love musically: Jay Z to Weezer to Led Zeppelin to Mos Def to James Brown, it's an unrelenting artistic endeavor. Why else would one open a micro-sized, mega-course restaurant with a food max $ intake of $2400 ($100 pp x 12 seats and two seatings) a night? Certainly not a king’s ransom in Manhattan...

But it's really about the food. Determined to live in the moment and not tweet my way through the dining experience, I didn't document each of the 10+ courses presented. But this was clearly the best meal I've ever had in NYC and pretty close to the best one ever, period. The amuse of feather light Pork Rind and an English Muffin of salty Pork fat melts in the mouth. Things like Oxtail Consomm√© with Caramelized Onion Ravioli, Purple Basil and Cilantro were so fine and subtle, while an intense southwestern inspired, Sweet Grilled Corn Ravioli with Chorizo, Pickled Heiloom Tomato and Scallions literally exploded with flavor. The amazing (and now famous) Lychee, Riesling Gelee, Pine Nut Brittle and shaved frozen Fois Gras just might be the best thing I’ve ever consumed despite the plate looking like a Fois Gras snowstorm. A Deep Fried Short Rib braised in Soy Sauce, Mirin and Sugar is wondrous. Blueberries with Black Pepper Crumble and Black Pepper Ganache is a sweet, savory dream.

I ordered a 375ml of 2004 Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse “Le Clos” which was delicious and drinking to perfection. I opted for the $45 corkage and brought a bottle from my cellar, 1996 Joseph Roty Gevrey Chambertin Les Fontenys 1er cru (link to the 2006 -- give it a decade and it will be just as amazing). It was showing brilliantly with loads of luscious black cherry fruit, Gevrey-spice, deep sappy cassis, and hints of animal. Phenomenal with the Short Rib…

I hope that one day I can return and despite the coolish demeanor of the guys behind the line, I’m in love. And when you’re in love, one’s slight foibles are endearing. If you are lucky enough to get in here, you’re really in for an unforgettable meal.

JCB the 4th

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Stream of Inebriation Documented

I'm sure you thought the subtitle of this blog was a joke, but a few days ago, I connected electrodes to my brain to capture what flows through my head while sleeping. The results were shocking to say the least.

Almondo's Roero dogs need to stop...White Pie with Broccoli...Michael Vick...almonds...long more barking

Oddero...dynamite...old delightful Nebbiolo grape...Risotto...clown in grease paint mocking a school kid...2005 Barolo's better than 04's, possible?...kid kicks clown in groin...Sette Cucina...lovely...paybacks

Fries Riesling and sweet...The Jefferson's Weezie...baked apple compote...Hogan's Hero's Col. Klink...aging forever...stones, stones, stones and acid...pork chops and applesauce...Sanford and Son's Lamont...amazing deal...Horshack

Anyone have the number of a good dream therapist?

JCB the 4th

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Haiku for That...

Longing Freak of Wine
Stemware Edge to Wanting Lips
Nectar Bringing Love

Inspiration - Selosse

JCB the 4th

Friday, September 4, 2009

Angrily Staying Ahead of the Herds!

I'm a little pissed and I'm comin' out swingin'!

I've documented how much I enjoy the wines of Brewer Clifton, a long time fan. My trip to Santa Barbara a couple months ago only galvanized my admiration of what Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton are accomplishing in the Santa Rita Hills. Fine, Ok, so what has my panties in a bunch? This morning, I found out that all the wines are gone. And the reason for this is the Wine Advocate gave them big scores the day before and the stampede commenced.

Liz Willette (the fantastic NY distributor) has had these wines in her warehouse for probably 6 months. They have been shown at multiple tastings and my sales rep has brought them out to taste as well. Bottom line, any retailer or restauranteur who wanted to try them since then had ample opportunity to use their own palates and buy accordingly. Instead, like the lazy lumps they are, they sit around waiting for Lord Parker to tell them what to buy and how good it is by way of a numerical figure. And once he weights in the herds descend like cattle infected with Mad Cow Disease. It makes my nuts!

Believe me, I have no axe to grind with Robert Parker. He has done way more good for the wine world than almost anyone in the last 50 years. I don't necessarily agree with his palate, but that's why they make chocolate and vanilla. It's not Parker's fault that the entire wine world hangs on his every word, to the point where winemakers are crafting wines solely to impress him. That's another rant for another day.

In summation, here is a link to the Brewer Clifton wines we have in stock, the Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay and the Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. Both are solid Burgundian styled efforts that I've tasted and think are special. I've calmed down now. Thanks for helping me through this...

JCB the 4th

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The 56 Degree Wine Road Show - All Aboard!

Enough with the vacation already! Let's get this soiree swingin'!

First of all, I have to report that tonight, Dave Powell of Torbreck Vineyards, will be joining the 56 Crew at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster for a super-duper Aussie Barbeque feast. It promises to be a night for the ages as we'll wash down all the superb meats from with Dave's supple lip-smacking wines that are always full of fruit but supremely balanced. Can't wait!

And if you've never been to one of our 56 Degree Wine dinners, you have no idea the fun you're leaving behind. Sign up for our email blasts by yours truly at 56 Degree and enter the world of wine wonder, Master of Wine-style. Which leads me to a preview of what is to come this fall, so that those of you savvy enough to read this blog get a sneak peek and first dibs on attending.

I hatched an idea of the 56 Degree Wine Road Show a few months ago. Essentially, we'll do wine dinners at select destination restaurants outside our area with various themes and differing pricepoints. Some will be top-end and some will be ultra-casual. But I guarantee that all of them will be phenomenal experiences.

The first stop on the Road Show will be at DeLorenzo's Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, NJ on Sunday September 27th, 2009. This place is legendary in NJ as having the best tomato pies (calling it pizza is sacrilege) in the world. The original DeLorenzo's is still alive and kickin' on Hudson Street in Trenton, where it has resided since 1947. It's so entrenched in the fabric of Chambersburg that this is probably the only restaurant in the state with no bathroom. No lie, they were grandfathered in! This place serves only tomato pies and soda. No menu, no restroom and if you try to order a pie with pineapple, they'll probably kick you right out on your butt! This is old-school, hand crafted tomato pies at their best and freshest, featuring wafer thin crust that is the stuff dreams are made of. Since I didn't think we could do a wine dinner in a place with no toilet, we'll host this at the new Robbinsville location, owned by Sam Amico, the grandson of Chick DeLorenzo. Sam has fantastic salads on the menu, continues to make the family recipe tomato pies and...even has his and hers johns! The best part is that we'll be able to do this casual wine dinner for a song, enjoying the pies and sipping on Dolcetto, Barbera and Sangiovese. Mark your calendar!

I'll have more heads up info on the 56 Degree Wine Road Show very soon.

JCB the 4th

Monday, August 3, 2009


Le Monstre is on vacation this week. Won't be much wine, but should be lots of fun and some truly memorable experiences with all my loved ones...

See you in a week.

JCB the 4th

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Big Glass of Hater-ade...I mean, Bordeaux, Please!

I never fell in love with Bordeaux...

Back when I was just a wine lovin' fool, I took a class at the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) in New York City. While listening to my instructor extol the virtues of fine Bordeaux, I raised my hand and made some smart-alack remark about how Bordeaux wasn't the end-all, be-all of wine. My teacher shot back something to the effect, "If one doesn't understand and adore Bordeaux, one could never truly be an expert in this field." Despite my internal temperature starting to peak, I shut my mouth. My early feeling was that Bordeaux couldn't shine Burgundies shoes and I was darn happy that everyone else loved it except me. Less people grasping at Beaune meant I would have an easier time getting my hands on it.

But I have softened my least a little. Time and experience (as well as very generous friends and colleagues) have offered me tastes of mind altering wines from Bordeaux, 1st Growths and little satellite wines alike. To me, there are two kinds of people in the world, Bordeaux people and Burgundy people. Bordeaux is regal; it's the grand-daddy of them all. I can respect that even though there definitely seems to be a "type" to the personality of a Bordeaux lover. You guys like big things...Cabernet, tannins, tooth-staining and mouth-coating wines. I completely get it! It's seductive as hell...I like to think of myself as a Burgundy guy. We're a little geeky, sorta pensive and like to speak in over-flowery language like the wine poets we are, waxing on about terroir and the soil differences between Vosne Romanee Les Beaux Monts vs. Vosne Romanee Les Malconsorts. Also Burgundy guys tend to be a bit more immediate-gratification types. Bordeaux is damn-near undrinkable in its youth (or is below) and requires 10-20 years of patience before one can experience the nirvana of Margaux. Hell, I'm a spry 40, but I don't know if I've got the stick-to-it-iveness to wait these suckers out.

And then I run across a wine like the 2004 Chateau Pape Clement Pessac-Leognan, a surpirsingly drinkable and absolutely delicious blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite being so lovable currently, this will no doubt turn into a swan in 15 years as well because of the plethora of black fruit, dark chocolate, cassis and melted licorice notes propped up by plush tannins. This wine struck me so deeply that my faith in Bordeaux has been restored, renewed and recharged. It's funny how wines can do that to you, even when you least expect it.

JCB the 4th

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Simple Things in Wine...

I got a call from my friend today thanking me for a gift I gave to him. It was a bottle of (no link, there's none left) 2008 Ameztoi Txacolina "Rubentis", a tasty Rose wine from the Basque area of Spain that I spoke about a month or so ago on this blog. He opened it with some wine loving friends and apparently everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. I gave the bottle to him as a huge "merci beaucoup" for supplying the wine and food for the aforementioned Sunday Night Debauchery listed below. Mind you, this is a guy with one of the most amazing cellars I've ever seen, filled with extremely well selected "best of the best" Old World classics. That night we probably plowed through a few thousand bucks worth of unreal juice; such a great education I received. Why in the world would JCB the 4th think that a proper offering would be a $23 bottle of Rose Txacolina?

Because there is bespoke beauty in the simplicity of wine, the things that move one's soul. It's not's not who's is bigger. It's the right wine for the right meal with the right crowd and the fit is exacting and precise. It's like the perfect riff', so basic at its core and refreshingly pure.

Wine is quite a wonder to behold if you can allow your mind to accept all it is...

JCB the 4th

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sunday Night Debauchery

My good friend and wine biz associate, Doug, invited me to his gorgeous home for a night of sheer wine masochism. No photos to protect all involved but witness this gory mess...

1985 Krug
1995 Billecart Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois Billecart
1991 Coche Dury Meursault Perrieres
2004 Roagna Barolo Vigna Rionda
2004 Giacosa Barolo Falleto (white label)
1992 Niellon Batard Montrachet
1992 Ramonet Batard Montrachet
1993 Rousseau Chambertin
1993 Bachelet Charmes Chambertin
2006 Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie Cote Blonde
1990 Giacosa Barolo Collina Rionda (red label) - corked - like a stake thru the heart!
1978 Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape
1988 Henri Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve de Celestins
2002 Neveu Sancerre Vielles Vignes
1999 Berthet Bondet Jura Chateau Chalon
1989 Huet Vouvray Cuvee Constance
1995 Dal Forno Nattare Passito

And a Cuban...the only misstep of the night.

Thank you, kind Sir!

JCB the 4th

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Love From Wall Street...

Big shout out to the folks at the Wall Street Journal for recognizing out little shop this weekend. In a question about temperature control, they referenced 56 as a champion of all things chilly. We appreciate the love...

Below is my newsletter to our clients about the article and why we freeze our butts off at 56...


Despite the name of the store, sometimes folks come in shocked at the temperature. "How can you stand it in here?” the common question heard. Quite honestly, we care more about your wine than we do our own comfort. It's that important. Just take a look at the recent Wall Street Journal article by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, where they tackle the question of storage temperature and champion our store as a place to get perfectly stored wine. They explain superbly what we've know for quite a while; temperature is of paramount importance. So critical that we staked our name on it.

The bad things that happen to wine occur at breakneck speed when the temperature rises. Produce is kept cool at the supermarket and during transport so the food stays fresh and allows the natural flavors to shine. Wine is no different. We want to provide you with the brilliant flavors the winemaker coaxed from the fruit that was naturally and carefully harvested. And while we have many offerings that are rarities, we care just as much about the storage of the $12 white from the Touraine.

We'll gladly suffer for our winemakers art and your pleasure.


Joe Bembry
Director of Wine

JCB the 4th

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ronchi di Cialla - The Best Italian Whites, IMHO...

Picture late May and you’ve just come off a 10 hour connected flight horror show, piled 7 adults in a mini-van and drove an hour to Friuli. After multiple tastings, you wander hungry and exhausted back in the van. Finally, you drive up a dusty, windy hill that opens up into a plateau with a gorgeous garden surrounding a 15th century home with vines of Ribolla Gialla, Picolit, Verduzzo, Scioppetino and Refosco in full bloom. This is the oasis known as Ronchi di Cialla, the best of crus in Friuli and home to the most memorable white wines I’ve ever tasted from Italy, period.

The Rapuzzi family has owned the property for 45 years and Paolo Rapuzzi relentlessly holds on to the traditions of the area. His staunch stance on only using indigenous varietals is about more than money. It’s about history…and it was history that he made when he “rescued” the Scioppetino grape from extinction. He was given an award by the Italian government for doing so in 1975. Legendary, yes, but how are the wines?

Amazing…just take a sniff and swirl of these wines and you’ll be in love. They are unique, extremely food friendly and age effortlessly (I tasted back to 1997 at the winery) continuing to gain depth and intrigue. They are superb blends of Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo and Picolit.

2007 Cialla Bianco – One year in bottle and one in barrel give this the tools to display its waxy white fruits, almond and lemon drop tones. Long finishing and young with a vibrant tangerine note in the resolution. $38

2004 Cialla Bianco – More developed nose and palate with briny tones, white fruits, spice cake, floral honeysuckle notes and hints of apricot. This is a dynamite wine with white asparagus risotto, as I can personally attest. $52

1999 Cialla Bianco – Outstanding aromas of vital white fruits, this seems to have barely aged a bit. Very fresh fruit cocktail, clover honey, melons, macadamia, and sea salt. Like breathing in fresh ocean air, this is what wine dreams are made of…miraculous length and freshness. Wow! $65

These wines are great, period...end of story!

JCB the 4th

20 Seconds Away from Wine...

The final stroke has been played and Jay-Beezee is the 2009 Mercer County Match Play Champion 2nd Flight. A long winded title for a minor achievement that was none-the-less extremely satisfying. Not only because I dusted off a 16 year old flat belly phenom 5 & 4 (five holes up with four holes to play, for you non-golfers) but also because my father was there to witness the carnage in the final match. Pictured at left, showing perfect form at Trump National last year, he even was giving my brother in Los Angeles text message updates during the match...erroneously, I might add. Once I got up by 4 holes, he began to fib about what was going on; relaying things like my opponent holed from the bunker to close the gap, just made a string of birdies, 50 foot putts and other miraculous, big fat whopping lies. See, I told you he was diabolical!

But it really was a thrill to accomplish the feat and a treat to have him see it. 20 seconds is up now, back to wine, so read above...

JCB the 4th

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Today's Best

Look out for the new vintage of Seis de Azul y Garanza, the best selling wine in the history of 56. The 2006 version can be found HERE and while there are a couple cases left of it, the 2007 will be arriving shortly and it is devastating. There is just a little more of everything, juicy ripe dark berries, complex coffee tones, heady aromatics and supple tannins. This might be one that will age a bit as well for those who like things a bit more mature. But for those seeking sex appeal, I can't think of a better burger candidate than this right now, perfect for the holiday weekend. Fire up the grill, make mine medium rare, and don't forget the cheddar!

As an aside, there is a little wine by the same producer called Abril de Azul y Garanza that is done in cement tank and is a cheap, juicy dynamo. Look for that in September...

Just landing today is THE white of the week, a minerally yet luscious Gruner Veltliner that goes by the name KALMUCK. It is a Federspiel (think Kabinett if this was Germany) but its bone dry with beautiful weight, crispy white fruits and just a measly 12.5% alc. Could it be the perfect wine? Well, it's darned close because it's just $16.50 and that makes it one to load in the trunk by the case.

Friday night is staff holiday party night. So much Txacolina, Cialla Bianco and Chateauneuf we'll feel it coming out of our pores Saturday morning!

JCB the 4th

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wildin' out on the West Coast...

The delay in posts stems from a short jaunt I made to Vegas, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Short in the respect that it was 3 places in four days, but long in the fact that I took planes, (air) trains and automobiles to accomplish the journey.

Las Vegas was...well...Las Vegas. I won't go into what went on, as like the commercial states, it stays there. But I did have a very good meal at Bouchon in the Venetian's Venezia Tower. This Thomas Keller run restaurant showcased wonderful dishes like Salade de Poulpe, marinated octopus and flageolet bean salad with parsley vinaigrette and garlic toast. It went superbly with the 2007 William Fevre Chablis AC, showcasing all the steely, taut citrus fruit. Moving on to Gigot d'Agneau, a roasted leg of lamb with ratatoille and sweet garlic jus, I opted for a magnificent, albeit outrageously priced 2007 A. Clape Cotes du Rhone. Gloriously fragrant and delicious Syrah from the Northern Rhone that really shouldn't be $90 on a list. It's freakin' COTES du RHONE!! Actually, if you poured it in a glass for me and asked if I'd think it was worth it, I'd say "Hell yeah!" as it's that good. But what is this world coming to when Cotes du Rhone is $90? A rhetorical question that I wish I never asked. I sound like an old man who walked to school everyday...5 miles...uphill...both a snowstorm.

After leaving Vegas, the journey led to Santa Barbara where a meeting with the great Greg Brewer of Brewer Clifton and Diatom was on the docket. I've always been a fan of their wines, even purchasing a bunch on my own dime back in the day. Greg is a thinker, a generous soul and a guy who seems fairly unfazed by his fame in the world of wine. Tasting his 2008 Diatom Chardonnay Babcock Vineyard showed just how wonderful California Chardonnay can be when unfettered by oak. Citrusy, tangerine-toned, bright and sunshiny, this wine keeps the emphasis squarely on the fruit as he uses 6% new wood with the rest older oak. The freshness of the wine is really impressive. We will be receiving a small amount of this wine very shortly, so get some while you can. We followed up with tank samples of the not yet bottled Brewer Clifton Chardonnays (the Santa Rita Hills and the Gnesa were my favorites) and finished with the Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir (fragrant cherry and green tea), Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir (amazing spicy, Gevrey reminiscent wine that's locked, loaded and needing cellaring) and Mount Carmel Pinot Noir (lush and sexy, juicy and ripe black fruit). An astoundingly fantastic tasting and I thank Greg for his patience and generosity!

Finally, Los Angeles, where my brother resides, has never been my cup of tea. It's like a bunch of sprawled out communities with no real grit. I mean, where are the city blocks, the subways, the flavor? How can you love a place that never rains, never gets cold, has earth quakes and Kobe Bryant? But there is a charm to Santa Monica and after a good burrito and margarita at Lula's, we had dinner at Chaya in Venice. A fun and loud spot that has lousy service, but solid food and one wine by the glass that rocked, the 2008 Claude Branger Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie "Le Gras Moutons". Briny, spiny and shiny, this is tasty quaffing wine with Peruvian Salmon Ceviche with Red Onion, White Corn and Chili Lime Sauce as well as Lobster Enchiladas with Cilantro Cream Sauce.

East Coast represent...

JCB the 4th

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

60 Seconds Away from Wine

Yes, Le Monstre du Vin does more than wine and music. I have two other passions, the first of which I'll reveal now...

I have been a golfer ever since going to college. My father, who is the smartest and most steady person I ever met, diabolically introduced me to the game as a young kid. I don't know if I should thank him or flip him the bird. For after all these years of bashing balls, spending money, traveling to courses all over the country and incessantly seeking a golf ideal (the perfect round) that really doesn't exist, I have finally come to peace with the game. Golf has a way of exposing your every facet. It's a game based on honor. The rules and etiquette involved are revered, as well they should be. In what other sport do you call penalties on yourself? Have you ever seen an NBA player that actually thought they EVER committed a foul?

Bad rounds of golf used to kill me. I'd take that sinking feeling with me off the course and often let it affect my life outside the links. These days, I'm so busy with work, fatherhood, family issues, musical endeavors and just generally living, that I rarely get that upset by golf. It's the fun diversion that it should be unless your name is Tiger. I'm proud to say this new outlook has manifested itself in my reaching the Finals in the Mercer County Match Play event, by winning my match this morning 2 & 1. Since I have been enjoying just playing, I've actually been playing better and having more fun in the process. Don't get me wrong, I'm still extremely competitive and want to beat your brains out on the course. But it doesn't rule or define me. Le Monstre just might be growing up after all.

Since this should have taken you less than 60 seconds to read (unless you read slow like me), I'd like to get back to wine for just a second. A couple days ago, I had the 2007 Lamblin Bourgogne Chardonnay, a super tasty white from declassified Chablis vines. It was so lovable and so cheap, just another re-affirmation of the value spectrum and how fantastic wines can still be made for a song. So tasty with Chinese food from Sesame in Montclair on Sunday night.

JCB the 4th

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Battle Royale...The Sweet Science of Wine Pairing & Transformation

I've always thought that wine and food make music when they come together. Sometimes it's raucous, sometimes it's serene and sometimes it's profound, ponderous. But there is almost always a difference between having wine (and assessing it) on its own vs. with a complimentary meal. I was reminded of this just a couple of days ago, while speaking to a group of corporate clients at the Pluckemin Inn on Thursday. It got me to thinkin'...

I walked everyone through a comparative tasting of classic French and Italian wines. My idea was to keep it real, as in true, indigenous varietals made in the traditional fashion. No pumped up, micro-oxygenated, cone-spun, water added, over-extracted, tuti-frutti, Johnny-Come-Lately's allowed! We began with a delicious Champagne, NV Gatinois Champagne Brut Ay Grand Cru , which was superb with its toasty, zippy, copper-tinged Petit Pinot d'Ay fruit. We stayed with that wine through the amuse and then dived into two whites from 2007, the fantastic Ronchi di Cialla Colli Orientali del Friuli "Cialla Bianco" and the Domaine Bzikot Puligny Montrachet AC. Right out of the box the Bzikot was all pedigree, minerals and definition, the way more exuberent wine. On the surface it didn't seem like a fair fight, like sticking me in the ring with Lennox Lewis. But I'm scrappy, and so is the Ronchi di Cialla, so with a bit of air time AND the dish presented (Scallops, White Eggplant Puree & Riviera sauce) which had just a hint of honey character, Ronchi transformed like a pheonix and made music. It was tremendous! And like the true champion, the Bzikot put on a brilliant display as well, but slight nod to the underdog.

Next up, we gave Piemonte a chance to bump heads with Burgundy as we pitted the 2001 Scarzello Barolo Vigna Merenda against the 2002 Domaine des Chezeaux Chambolle Musigny Les Charmes 1er cru. Ah, now there's a match of heavyweights! Decanting the Barolo for 2 hours prior gave it the early lead in aromatics and presence, but never underestimate Laurent Ponsot's accumen. And never underestimate Chambolle Les Charmes ability to allow the flavors of Organic Zucchini Risotto, Parmesan, Roasted Quail & Squash Blossom Tempura to envelope your senses. The Barolo actually was amazing on its own, but when the food arrived, I longed for red meat or maybe a veal chop. The Chezeaux was magic with the dish as its delicate fragrance yet deep and penetrating black cherry fruit soared.

In the final Smackdown, we aimed to create a deathmatch of the quintessential regions of each country, Bordeaux and Brunello di Montalcino. 2005 La Gravette de Certan Pomerol was pitted against the 2003 Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino. Once again, the Bordeaux was decanted 2 hours prior giving it excellent pronounced aromas of blackberry, plums, spice and graphite. The Collemattoni is the best 2003 Brunello I have tasted (after sampling scores of disappointments) and it showed like the supremely balanced wine it is on that night. When the cooked-to-perfection Roasted Lamb, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Crushed Spring Potatoes, Favas & Young Onion arrived, I was hard pressed to decide which was better. But what a difference with the food. The earthy, gamy tones of each wine came to the fore and the fruit seemed to explode with vibrancy. Just the ever-so-slight advantage to the Pomerol, despite my Bordeaux bias against, it was other-worldy stuff, only in need of another decade of cellaring.

The Pluckemin Inn rocked it out once again, and with the battle over and the blood drawn, I was left with just one thought...

What's for dessert? Professional Pig, at your service!

JCB the 4th

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Intruder ALERT! A Visit to Riecine...

Sometimes its tough for an outsider to be welcomed with open arms. Such is the case with one particular Tuscan estate with a rich storied history that I visited last month called Riecine. Savvy 56 clients know the name Riecine as makers of ultra-fine Chianti Classico. But it is the work of Sri Lankan-born, Londoner Sean O'Callaghan, who made the move to Riecine in 1991 after finishing his studies in Germany, that has really set them apart. He was not exactly greeted to resounding applause by the Tuscan natives upon his arrival, leery of an "outsider" coming to the great Chianti Classico region. Were they worried he would tarnish the "straw flask" ideal that has done so much to "uplift" Chianti in the past? But his emphasis on the classic approach to vinifying Sangiovese, organic farming and now bio-dynamic practices, has won over just about everyone who ever comes in contact with his wines.

I was lucky to visit the estate last month and even luckier that the birthday party they had for Sean at the winery the night before left him still upright. A slightly hungover, but none-the-less charming and accommodating, Sean, showed us his wares in the cellar as we tasted barrel samples of some upcoming vintages. Later, we retired to a local restaurant, Badia a Coltibuono, for a serious test run of the 2007 Chianti Classico, the 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva and a special treat, of 2005 & 1994 Riecine La Gioia, a Super Tuscan-like Sangiovese based wine that is aged for 2 years in older and new barriques. The 2007 Chianti Classico is elegance personified. All of the roundness one could hope for juxtaposed with the acid tension that makes Sangiovese so alluring. The 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva ramps up the intensity without screaming, sorta like listening to Toto's Africa through super high-quality speakers and gently rolling the volume knob. There is a superb depth of fruit and spiced wild berries, smoke and white pepper with superior length.

Finally, the La Gioia is a Tuscan dream wine. The 2005 version was stunning; the wine reminding me of great encounters I've had with top vintages of Flaccianello or Cepparello. Powerfully made and structured for the long haul, this young wine struts out of the glass with brash, brazen black fruit, plums, raspberry and spice, leather and tobacco. Finally the 1994 La Gioia was seductive, self-assured and sultry...lots of lovely dark fruit, truffles, incense, pomegranate, pan drippings and aged balsamic notes melding in harmony. Very long finishing and a lustful, guilty pleasure, I hope like hell that we can get some of this in the near future as it's tremendous, aged wine.

Alas, the visit had to come to an end. And all intruders eventually return home. But maybe if you live in the fruits of the area long enough, you can create your own reality and subsequently, find a space in the world that is new and uniquely yours. I think Sean has done just that.

JCB the 4th

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fresh As a Daisy...

It's time, people!

As I stare out into the parking lot of the U.S. Post Office in Bernardsville, NJ 07924, the solar glow shines through the window of my corner office. It's a little ray of sunshine to a space that's not very sexy. If you'd ever had a chance to see my desk with various printed wine propaganda strewn about, you'd know what I mean. Certainly it's clutter, but it's my clutter...and I know just where to find whatever I need.

But this beam of hope and warmth can only mean one thing...Rose is a must. Just the thought of that copper colored elixir cuppled with the radiating rays brings joy to my mind. Any worry-some thoughts shrink and one's ability to expand the possibilities available increases. Sheesh, it's just good shit!

My favorites this summer are the 2008 Robert Sinskey Vin Gris Los Carneros , a California Rose of Pinot Noir from vines that quite honestly could be making amazing Pinot. For Rob, this wine is a labor of love, a triumph for the palate and probably a bit of a headache. Everyone wants more than the supply provides and you can't please all. They don't even have it still at the winery. I feel very fortunate to be able to get a modest amount of this. True story, a gentlemen came to our store yesterday from Manasquan (a good hour and 15 minutes away) just for Vin Gris. It's so good, it'll make you do unusual things just to get it. Scary, eh?

For value, the 2008 La Ferme Saint Pierre Cotes du Ventoux "Cuvee Juliette" Rose can't be beat. It's all Grenache (used to think it was Syrah...misinformation) and so lively and fresh with that deliciously mineral thirstquenchability that is a requirement for me with Rose wines. I love to slug this back while I'm doing my cooking and sometimes there isn't enough left for the meal. Be careful though, as this isn't 8% alc a la Riesling. But it's so refreshing that it's hard to hold back. Just look at that rosy it's making me nuts!

Real men drink pink.

JCB the 4th

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Top 5 Grubs in Italia

Sorry for the delay in posts, but I've been abroad, soaking up Italia on a whirlwind romp that had me in six regions in six days...

If it seems I've been waxing on and on over Italy, I have. Every time I run across a new Italian find, I have a new favorite wine of the moment. I don't know why Italy is striking a chord with me at present, but my recent journey to Italia from top to bottom has only fed into my Jones. Let's leave wine to the side for the moment to focus on the five best Italian dishes EVER (or at least that I consumed while there)!

1 - Risotto at Trattoria Al Parco - Paolo Meroi is not only the owner of his eponymous winery in Friuli, but he and his wife have a phenomenal restaurant called Trattoria Al Parco in Buttrio. The only wines served are his, where apparently 80% of the wine is sold. His simple Risotto with a local herb was life changing. I have never had (nor probably ever will) another Risotto done with such skill. A testament to the simple approach and the perfection of cooking to the proper doneness. The best dish, bar none.

2 - Carne Cruda at Gillardi's Home - Giacolino Gillardi's mother made us a magnificent lunch capped off with the best version I ever had of Carne Cruda. Raw meat mixed with a few simple spices and drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Seems easy, right? This is one raw food movement that I can actually get behind. My God, unbelievable...

3 - Fried Stuffed Zuchini Flowers at Carpe Diem - In Piana di Monte Verda, serious back-water Campania, we had what I can only describe as an appetizer filled with cheese infused crack cocaine! Impossible to stop eating them and amazing with a particular white from Pellagrello Bianco by Alois called "Caiati". The chef has promised to come to Bernardsville and recreate the experience for our clients. If he doesn't, I will hunt him down!

4 - Pasta all'Amatriciana at Casale del Giglio - This is a classic, rustic Lazio dish that was a magnificent foil to their Satrico Bianco, but I might prefer it with a lighter red, even Nebbiolo perhaps. I got 5 things for you...Olive Oil, Short Rigatoni, Sausage, Guanciale (pig jowl) and Pecorino Romana. That's it! Amazingly simple and astoundingly good. Even I can do this one, if I can ever find Guanciale in NJ...

5 - Pasta alla Patate at Carpe Diem - (In a cheesy DJ voice) "Carpe Diem checking in with 2 dishes in our top five countdown, this is Enrico Battisti's favorite thing in the world to eat." He even went in the kitchen to help and he didn't screw it up. This is Mac-n-Cheese for adults, little bits of potato and layers of flavor. This chef rocks and I wish I could remember his name. But if you ever find yourself in Piana di Monte Verda, you must go to Carpe Diem. And then head for Rome pronto...

More on the wines to come, as they will be arriving soon. The first of which will hit next week as we'll uncover some gems of Friuli from Ronchi di Cialla, one of the most gorgeous estates I have ever seen, period.

JCB the 4th

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Best Down the Gullet This Week...

These were remarkable and consumed this week...

Didier Larue came to our store this week with the intention of showcasing his gorgeous wares from St. Aubin and Puligny. Indeed they were stunning; none moreso than the flashy 2006 and 1999 Murgers des Dents de Chiens 1er cru . It was a case study on young and older White Burgundy, showing the classic hallmarks of each wine in its respective evolutionary stage. Those prefering younger, more vibrant wine would gravitate to the 2006, as it was just so precocious and showy. The 1999 was boisterous aromatically but really showed what an aged St. Aubin is all about on the palate. Lots of glycerine, tangerine tones and plenty of terroir. $50 and $57 respectively make them a steal for 1er cru wines of their stature.

What can I say? I can't get enough of the 2008 Ameztoi "Rubentis" Getaraiko Txacolina . Unfortunately, this is one of those rare wines that is just $23...and allocated! Crazy, but they just don't make much of this deliciously crisp, minerally and vibrant Rose Txacoli. We've got about 3 cases of it left. Let's see if you can beat me to them as I'm out of the office the next couple days. You ready, set, GO!

Want a great way to encounter gastrono-oenologic bliss in NYC. Head over to Txikito in Chelsea on 9th Ave between 24th and 25th Sts, for a true Basque experience. The small plates are delectible with my favorite being the Piperrak (pictured), flash fried Basque peppers sprinkled with sea salt. Every once and while you'll get one that will set your mouth ablaze. A little rolling of the gastronomic dice, perhaps? You'll need a bottle of lovely Txacoli to wash it down. They pour the wine in the traditional method with the bartender holding the tumblers low and the bottle overhead. Great wine theatre! Who cares if his hair is reminiscent of A Flock of Seagulls circa 1983?

JCB the 4th

Friday, May 8, 2009

Vintage, Vintage, Vintage...I Want My Vintage!

Ok, I'm going to go out on a limb, here. Vintage ain't all its cracked up to be...

Now before you click off this blog, never to return again, let me expand upon the notion a bit. My opinion is that vintage is important, as the laws of terroir tell us that climate factors are crucial to grape development and the resulting wines. But I think that our American pysche of "only the best will do" can betray us at times. If one becomes consumed with only the best vintages, you will miss out on magnificence to the 10th degree in the form of an underdog. I can't tell you how many times I've tasted great (yes, great) wines from supposed "off-vintages". They just needed some time to come around, like those high school movies where the geeky girl becomes the bombshell.

Here's how it works in the world of wine...

Wine experts, in the form of the press, travel and taste, as well as talk to the producers to hear about the new vintage. These are all good things! Hell, I try to do as much of it as possible to understand what is in the bottle and why it tastes the way it does. But somewhere along the line, the word gets out on the greatness or not-so-greatness of a vintage, in general terms. A broad brush paints everyone's mind who hears about it and that's that. But wines change and evolve from barrel to bottle. And no one likes to go back and say that they might be wrong about a vintage characterization. So that pervasive notion's a shame.

But what is wrong with a wine that is not from a great vintage? If it is still pleasing to drink and enjoy, why not do just that? It would be a boring wine world if every vintage was great, even if every wine I drank was great. There is a profoundness in the differences that can tell the story of a family's passion. Maybe about the trials and tribulations associated with the challenges to make a good wine when nature threw curve balls in the dirt. I love that.

JCB the 4th

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Love in a Clear Bottle Heads the List...

Liquid love in a clear bottle was consumed a few days ago in the form of 2007 Aveleda Vinho Verde Grinalda Reserva, a seriously delicious wine for the heat that just recently broke. At a non-mind boggling 11.5% alc, I damn near killed this one off on my own. Just really refreshing Louiero, Trajadura and Alvarinho from a winery with a long history that is cheap and lovely, one of my favorite combinations. Perfection with tilapia simply prepared with a squeeze of lemon...

Ahh, now that the reds from Joseph Roty have hit, what more can I say about the 2006 Joseph Roty Bourgogne Cuvee de Pressonier, it has exceeded my expectations from tasting it at the cellars of Roty in January. The vines are located in Gevrey Chambertin; part of them village level and part Bourgogne. But this is about as tasty a bottle of value Gevrey (it really drinks like village) you'll see and its a perfect indicator of just how good the 2006 reds are. If you don't buy some 2006 Red Burgs, you may be kicking yourself down the road...same as those who poo-poo'd the 2001 vintage. I won't discuss the other reds from Roty, as I don't want anyone buying them. There ain't much left and I sleep better at night knowing that they are still here!

JCB the 4th

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Digression..

Just a quick post to say that I made my debut on guitar this past weekend. Despite performing on stage as a vocalist for 20 (that's right, I said 20 for those not familiar with "Rock-n-Roll Joe") years, I haven't felt nerves like this since I first became a man at the not so tender age of 16. Talk about performance anxiety!

The show went off without a hitch, or at least that is the report that I have been given. And while my performance at 16 was way, way shorter, this one was pretty gratifying. I took guitar lessons as a 12 year old for about a year. But when my teacher insisted on showing me scales rather than how to play "Strutter" from Kiss, my enthusiasm waned. Fast forward to this past January and I made myself three tiny resolutions for the new year: learn French, drink more Italian reds this year (check) and pick up the guitar. Since my 11 year old son, Isaiah, has been playing for a year and a half now, I have been inspired to do the same. Every time he'd came over, I'd pick up his guitar and noodle around. In February, I bought a Fender Telecaster (Burgundy colored of course) and started hacking away. And now "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" will always have a special place in my heart. Just like that first time...

JCB the 4th

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Viva Italia! - The "Grown Folks Zone"

Without question, the one place in the world of wine that use to mean nothing to me was the wines of Italy. I'll chalk it up to one part ignorance, and two parts immaturity. While I'm still pretty immature in some ways, (like my love for peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on wheat bread) when it comes to Italian wines, I have come into the "grown folks zone". By that, I mean the period when you wise up, and learn that its not all about T & A. And that a little age isn't necessarily a bad thing. Kinda like the difference between Justin Timberlake "Sexy Back" and Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On". Need I say more?

Italian wines always struck me as hard and fruit-less when I was a littler in the wine world. These days, I drink them more than wines from any other country and that includes my beloved France or more specifically, Burgundy. The value can be staggering. I'm in love with little Dolcetto's with pizza, Barbera's with pork and Chianti Classico with Bolognese. And let's not forget the whites, like Verdicchio and Pigato, San Zuan and Vermentino, perfect for quaffing and superb with seafood. In the land of a thousand grapes, the list is endless.

Sometimes patience is required for the more noble wines like Barolo and Brunello to come into their own. But isn't that what being a "grown folk" is all about? Wisdom, patience, knowledge, understanding...

Dim the lights, and let's put on some Marvin, cook up some pasta and open a bottle of Bonarda from Oltrepo Pavese. Who says getting older isn't fun?

JCB the 4th

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sweatin' the Small Stuff

Happy Easter! My apologies for the long delay between posts. Life intervenes times a slight malaise equals no output. Which brings us to this holiday thought...

I try to make it a point of never forgetting about the inexpensive wine. If you are a 56 devotee,(which I hope you are if you're reading this) you know we call these Cellar Defenders. It describes the wine equivelent of a "defense" against constantly raiding ones cellar and consuming all the collectibles at breakneck speed. I am often guilty of not having Cellar Defenders handy, but sometimes it's a joy to be "forced" into opening something special at a not-so-special moment. It can make a night.

So as I enjoyed my Easter dinner at my fathers house, without wine, I returned to my Montclair lair and opened a bottle of 2005 Chateau Lauriol Cotes de Francs made by the Stephane Derononcourt and the Thienpont family of Vieux Chateau Certan and Le Pin fame. This wine is so delicious, that it re-affirms my faith in inexpensive wine. Not that my faith has ever waivered but everyone needs afirmation. God bless drinkable, juicy Bordeaux that is less than $20. So drinkable that it doesn't even require food right now. It's that lovable.

I went to dinner at Culinariane in Montclair on Thursday Night with one of our clients. I brought a 1996 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Les Taillepieds 1er cru that was about as pure a wine as you'll ever encounter. I was in ecstasy. I'm getting NEARLY as much joy from this little Cotes de Francs tonight. The former wine is about $100 and the latter is $19.50. Value is alive and well people! Ya gotta just know where to look.

JCB the 4th

Friday, March 20, 2009

Need Further Proof? Please Meet Bert...

In the very first post of my blog, I documented the psychic abilities of my Ipod. For lack of a better name, let's call him Bert. I dunno why, it just seems to fit. Like a laser beam from a starship, his intuition to selecting musical accompaniment to wines is uncanny. Bert knows when to show restraint, when to pounce and when to surf the middle ground like a champion. So it was with great anticipation that I put Bert through the paces at an industry tasting this week. The excitement was fevered!

I entered Cru, a bastion of colossal wines with equally colossal prices as it was the site of the Liz Willette tasting. Liz is a wonderful lady and I'm told her company began when one of her best friends married Jean Louis Chave. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Regardless, her palate and stable of producers are very fine indeed. I walked up to my sales rep and personal wine god, Doug, to sample a bit of White Burgundy. While the wines didn't "wow" me at first, I did notice Bert shift into overdrive as I sipped the Vincent Mothe Chablis Bougros Grand Cru, diving into Queen's "Barcelona". Of course, it would be an obvious choice for something from Catalan... a Priorat perhaps, but the majesty of Freddie Mercury and the layers the musical tapestry create are perfection with Grand Cru Chablis. Yes, I sense this will be a good day.

Sliding over to Kellen Lignier, the now winemaker/proprietor of Lucie et Auguste Lignier, I delved into a few offerings of the domaine, and some with a bit of bottle age. Like clockwork, Bert changed the game with Jay-Z's "30 Something". Let's face it...thirty's the new 20 and 40 is definitely the new 30. This 40 yr old still feels vibrant, just like Kellen's 2002 Gevrey Chambertin. Smokin'!

One more pitstop at the Champagne table brought new jams. The NV Le Brun Servenay Brut Selection was mesmerizing and sassy, so I felt Bert's selection of Kelis' "Milkshake" an intriguing choice. An enticing bubbly for an enticing song...just makes you wanna go nuts. And I think that was his intention all along, that rascal!

JCB the 4th

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I'm Jazzed About...

These have all been tasted in the last few days and are wicked good, hella-tasty and stupid-fresh!

2004 Kientzler Riesling Gaisberg Grand Cru - We haven't seen hide nor hare of this wine in over a year and I'm yearning for the measly 3 cases to arrive next week. Riddiculously wonderful Alsatian Riesling that is textured, fine and precise.

2006 Yves Cuilleron Condrieu "Vertige" - Someone told me that Cuilleron's Condrieu Vertige is oaky. I beg to differ. This wine is lithe and mineral and really doesn't display a trace of oak. It's so long on the palate, it could block Kobe Bryant driving through the lane. A dynamic, soaring Viognier that is a great wine, period! I adored it.

2007 Vaona Valpolicella Classico - You pour this into a glass and think its light color is going to lead to a thin, flavorless wine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Opened and consumed over 3 days (I know, shameful...I'm sorry) this is Pinot Noir-ish in its ethereal-ness. Just gets better with more air. This can't be beat for just $17.

2004 Ada Nada Barbaresco "Elisa" - Can someone please not buy all of this so fast? I didn't even get a bottle of the 2001! Superb Nebbiolo in the most classic sense with all the rusticity I love and just enough ripe, forward fruit to satisfy those with a more New World palate. An absolute steal for $42! 56 followers, this offering is coming on Monday.

1998 Joseph Roty Gevrey Chambertin La Brunelle - If there is something more beautiful than ready to drink, perfectly aged Burgundy, I suppose I have not really lived up until this point. Soft fragrant, strawberry, spice, saddle leather, incense and love. Sorry, we sold out of this eons ago but the good news is the 2006's are coming in April (I tasted them all at Roty's cellars) and with a little patience, they'll be as divine as this 1998. Lovely wine and thanks for opening it, Nita!

Drink something good this weekend, people...

JCB the 4th

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pha-Pha-Phooey! The Problem with Wine Ratings...

Shout out to Howard, one of my heroes...

Ah, wine ratings, they make the whole wine world go round. Or do they?

There is no denying the power and influence of the wine press on the drinking habits of the populus. The Honorable Chris Cree tells us that there was once a time when wine merchants tasted and bought what they liked, and didn't have to purchase a palate of shlock to get a case of something highly regarded. Must have been before I was born. I recall a distributor telling me that unfortunately, in order to have the "privilige" of purchasing some fairly well regarded Burgundies, I would need to order 10 cases of a $100 per bottle California Cabernet that is quite honestly, pedestrian at best. I wonder if that hard working Burgundian farmer knows that is the way the game is played in NJ?

But back to the numbers. No doubt that if one lived in a non-cosmopolitan area where pickins are slim, a guide to what is good in wine can be helpful. I also can appreciate Robert Parker's palate. While very different from my own, his is consistently accurate in the sense that the wines he loves have a common thread and if you like the style, he's an excellent barometer. My problem lies with wine merchants who are either inexperienced, under-educated or just flat out too damn lazy to get out there and decide for themselves. When did wine shops just decide to hang a WS 94 on the shelf and sell based solely on that, having never tasted the wine at all? When and in what other business can you know nothing at all about the product you sell? How about that same wine that got 94 points in the previous example the following year gets 89? Let's see how easy it is to sell it now! Unless we're talking about Bordeaux en primeur, the price ain't going down. Why would the customer buy it for the same price or more when it's obviously an inferior product to the previous vintage? Or maybe it's not inferior but just different. Another rant on that subject at a later date...

Folks, wine is not a sport. It never has been and it never should be. We just don't keep score. Can you imagine an art conversation like, "Well, Sherman, the Mona Lisa is clearly a 99 pointer while Whistler's Mother is merely just a 93!" Crazy, right? Wine is truly an agricultural product that is an art form with no equal on earth. It is a beverage that rightfully so, is the compliment to a meal that offers the person enjoying it to fine tune and elevate the food and the wine through the symbiotic pairing. Wine can lift your spirits and it can transcend your mood. My favorite nights to open a great bottle are never holidays, birthdays or special occasions. I much prefer to decide to prepare something simple but flavorful on a Tuesday, open one singular great bottle, and let that and the food be the "Starlet Johanssen" of the evening. Sexy, right?

Please leave the point scoring to LeBron and leave the artistry to the artisans. Thanks.

JCB the 4th

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gettin' High on Your Own Supply...

No, I ain't talkin' about a Cheech & Chong moment. Quite honestly, that practice has never done a thing for me. Like my man Slick Willie Clinton, I only did it once and I didn't inhale. And yes, it was because of a girl when I was a youngin'. Sadly, like Slick Willie, "Ah did not have sexual relations with that woman!" The best laid plans...

What this is about is "What I'm drinking Lately", a frequent topic of discussion on my favorite wine chat board, started many years ago by a good friend of mine. Essentially, folks list all the great, awful and so-so wines they have tasted of late. Many like to rate them with scores (my harsh views on that topic upcoming) but most list what they drank and if it was ready or not. I drink many wines that we sell at 56 Degree Wine and you can always tell my favorite wines, by what I list at VinoCellar. Actually, the wines that I choose to cellar myself in my modest (by-wineguy-terms) 300 bottle collection are most often my absolute favorites from tastings. A recent raid of my wine fridge the last few weeks yielded these great results...

2007 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett

2005 Jean Garaudet Monthelie

2006 Joseph Voillot Volnay Champans 1er cru

Each one was fantastic!

I try to do my best to squirrel away a few bottles of stuff here and there when my budget will allow it. But it is hard to watch all these great bottles of wine come into your "house" and then watch them go to other happy homes. A good wine buddy of mine once remarked, "You're so lucky! You get to touch all bottles that come in the store." But the first rule is "Don't get high on your own supply". Or else you will be broke with a kickin' collection of wine.

I can think of worse things.

JCB the 4th

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sinskey Is My Homeboy...

This photo is about more than a goofy tag line. It is a mock-up of a t-shirt I was going to have made to give to my girl, who is a #1 fan of the Vin Gris, a gorgeous rose of Pinot Noir made by Sinskey. It's flat out sexy wine, from its flute-shaped bottle to its pale, pink-tangerine hue. It just makes any summer night one to remember. Rob Sinskey is an icon to me; a man who blazes the path of organic wine grape growing and is now engrossed in bio-dynamics. His emphasis is deliciousness and balance, in that order. How can one not look up to a guy who ripped out all his Chardonnay to plant Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer?

I happened to be fortunate enough to score an invite by Rob and Maria Sinskey to Hearth, the ultimate homey, comfort food mecca in New York City, this past Tuesday evening. The name of the event was Rob Sinskey's Electric P No Acid Test, a comparative tasting of Pinot Noir with great food in three flights containing four wines per flight, all wines from the 2005 vintage. In each quad grouping, there would be two Burgundies, one "cult" (this notion of cult wines makes me throw up a bit in my mouth) domestic Pinot and one made by Sinskey. As Rob explained, he didn't want anyone to necessarily score or rank the wines, but rather get the input of this talented group on terroir and acidity. We were left to the task of figuring out where each one was from. Over-generalizing, the end result was the "culty" wines stuck out like the steroid-sized behemoths they are, the Sinskey wines were ripe, balanced and juicy and the Burgundies were comme ci, comme ca, a hard statement to make for a hard-core Burg-nut. Some (Gouges Nuits St. Georges Clos Porrets St. Georges and Vincent Girardin Volnay les Caillerets) being sultry and wide open while others were shut down and locked up.

With a little bit of self-congratulation, I must admit that I went 12 for 12 in identifying the place of origin, even recognizing the Sinskey wines apart from the big-boy New World Pinots. In years past, a tasting like this with a roomful of gifted sommeliers and winemakers would have made me nervous to give my opinion out loud, lest I screw up. I knew they would go back to their respective restaurants and wineries saying, "Man, I just went to this event with a guy from 56 Degree Wine and jeez, was he clueless!" But maybe I've garnered enough experience (or I just don't give a damn!) to be more comfortable in these situations. So much so, that I began to get a bit cocky, leaning toward Rob at one point saying, "Congratulations, on Wine #1 in the second flight. It's delicious!" Luckily, it was his Vandal Vineyard Pinot and it was magnificent. Just so I don't leave you with the impression that I can identify any wine with a sniff and a swirl, my Burgundy trip blind tastings in January probably left me batting about .200 in terms of guessing the place. And I had the benefit of knowing they were all Burgundies. Straddling the Mendoza line is as bad in baseball as it is in wine.

Back to the drawing board...

JCB the 4th

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dark Faces in Wine Places...

Why aren't there more black folks in wine?

We'll I'm here, although my whole life I have rarely been pegged as an African American, except by African-Americans. There's nothing more disturbing than having someone say something extremely racist in your presence since they don't think there are any of "those" people around. Used to happen to me fairly regularly as a kid, not so much as an adult. Skeeves me out just thinking back to the time, but I digress...

Set aside the socio-economic arguments, one would think that in 2009 the wine world would have at least a representative number of black wine professionals, but it's still a rarity from my viewpoint. Growing up, my parents didn't drink wine in any way, shape or form, so there was no precedence for my wine rearing. That may be a major reason why we don't see many people of color in the wine world, but there are, for instance, professional black hockey players. Don't know it for a fact but I'd bet their parents didn't grow up on skates. Here are a few wine professionals I know of...

Ruben Morancy - This gentleman is single-handedly responsible for my career. A Haitian man who speaks at least 5 languages fluently, he forced me to drink my first red wine against my will when I only would consume oaky Chardonnay. He then gave me an expensive, rare bottle of wine (1991 Dominus) to make sure I was completely drawn in to the passion of the grape. He's currently starting his own distribution company in California. Ruben, I owe you everything. Best of luck with the new company!

David Brown - I met David Brown of Brown Estate many years ago when I was just a wine fan at their home. I was just thrilled to see that an African American family owned vineyards in Napa. Then I tasted the wines and was equally thrilled by what was in the glass. I haven't tasted them in a while, so I should request some samples.

I met Andre Mac, the former sommelier at Per Se in New York City, once at an industry tasting at the restaurant. Seemed like a nice guy. I understand he's looking to make wine on his own. I wish him success. I also met quite a character, Mac MacDonald, of Vision Cellars recently as he visited us at 56 Degree Wine. He's a larger-than-life individual and his wines are a mirror image of his personality.

That's about it. Bummer.

JCB the 4th

Friday, February 20, 2009

Best of the Week - Feb 20th, 2009

A quick run down on the most notable wines I tasted this week...

2007 Georges Vernay Cotes du Rhone Sainte Agathe - This is gorgeous Syrah from vines around Condrieu. Really fragrant and a good barometer of how fantastic the 2007 vintage is in the Northern Rhone.

2006 Porter Creek Pinot Noir Fiona Hill Vineyard - Alex Davis really coaxes the true varietal character of Pinot Noir from this organic and biodynamically farmed site. Really impressive...

These are a couple that are arriving shortly...

2004 Ada Nada Barbaresco Elisa - Good lord, as good as the 2001 was (which we sold out of in a blink) this 2004 is so luscious, with the fruit more primary and prominent. We wanted more 2001 but I'm tickled that we're getting some 2004.

2006 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonomoa Coast - A deeply concentrated Pinot Noir that really has all the bells and whistles. Jasmine Hirsch came to visit and her family home vineyard site has superb terroir that any Pinot fan would enjoy.

The following were tasted via the generosity of one of my suppliers and good friend (Thanks DS)..

1988 Krug Brut
1990 Comtes Lafon Meursault Charmes 1er cru
1990 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru
1990 Domaine de Montille Pommard Pezerolles 1er cru
1990 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Clos des Ducs 1er cru
1990 Dujac Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
1990 Armand Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru
1990 Quinterelli Recioto della Valpolicella

JCB the 4th

So You Wanna Be International like Jay Beezee, eh?

Believe me, (and no one does) it's not easy being a professional pig. Everyone says, "Ohh, tough job you have there, jetting around the world, drinking wine everyday, eating in great restaurants constantly. Where do I sign up for that?" Well, all I can say is, "Be careful what you wish for."

Do I love my job? Absolutely!

Would I trade it for any other profession? No way, Jose! Unless I can be a professional golfer or poker-pro, but they've got drawbacks too.

So what is so difficult about what you do? Well, ya got a minute...

No one wants to hear me whine and I swore this blog would be a no whining zone, but here goes nothing. If one wants to be a true connoisseur of gluttony, you better have the constitution for a day like this....

7am - Wake up
7:45 - Breakfast in lobby of hotel. Usually the local goodies, croissant, cafe noir, yogurt and pain. If in Spain, maybe a little cortado and tortilla. If in Italy, stick to a great coffee and a less stellar croissant. They suck at breakfast.
8:15 - Drive to vineyard
8:45 - Arrive at vineyard. Oh and I forgot to mention that we always travel in January/February. The producers have time, the importers have $ and we are slower during those months making it easier to block the time. So suffice it to say that it's freezin' ass cold out.
9am - Walk the vineyards.
10am - View the winery (yes, that was one hour in the cold)
10:15 - See the cellar and taste barrel samples. Sometimes up to 40 samples, many times the same wine from differing tanks and casks. Often they are in the middle of malolactic fermentation, so it's like having a little bacterial science project going on in your stomach, even though you're spitting every drop.
11:30 - Lunch -- oh, not just a little sandwich, but a spread of 4-6 courses over a 3 1/2 hour span so you can test drive the producers wines with food, quite honestly, the way they should be. It's the way the end user (you) will enjoy them so you want to see how these puppies perform.
3:30 - Drive to next vineyard
4:30pm - Arrive at vineyard and stand outside for another hour among the vines, see the winery, taste another 40 or so samples and arrive at...
7:30pm - Dinner. Where you will indulge at somewhere between a great local haunt to a gorgeous Michelin starred restaurant. The food is always outstanding. So much so that it is often difficult to stop eating until all 6 plates presented are clean. Don't forget the cheese course and dessert. The best meals are those at producers homes when you get a great classic home cooked meal of an indigenous nature. Often there will be back vintages of the producers best to enjoy as almost all of them are a generous lot. One caveat, if this is Spain you must shift two hours ahead. The Spanish refuse to eat before 10pm, but they do take a siesta, those cheaters!
11:30pm - Head to hotel
12:30am - Back in hotel room.

Sounds fun, right! Ok, now go back to the 7am part and repeat this schedule for six to nine days in a row and then roll (and I do mean roll) yourself to the airport, fly back home and make the adjustment to eating like a normal human being. This sound like vacation, but if I'm a bit tired on day 3, I can't say, "I'm gonna skip Domaine Du-du today and catch up with you guys tomorrow." I owe it to my boss, the importers and the producers to be "on" at all times and give the attention to them and their wines that they deserve for providing me with these experiences that I can in turn share with clients and paint a picture that's as vivid and vivacious as the people who make these great wines.

Don't forget that there are three tasting appointments on the day of your return to the shop.

Yeah, booyyee!

JCB the 4th