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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Super-Intelligence of My Ipod in Puligny Montrachet

I made my third journey to Burgundy this January and just as last year, I traveled with the most engaging, Juan Prieto and one of my wine idols, Olivier Daubresse. The generosity of these two men and their excellent stable of producers is unparalleled. Msr. Daubresse is one of the most articulate palates I have come across in all my wine years. It's always a learning experience.

On the morning of January 15th, after 4 days of complete culinary and oenological debauchery, I decided to not let myself turn completely into a veal and ventured out for an early morning walk amongst the vines. We were staying in the Hotel Montrachet, located in the center of the thriving, metropolis that is Puligny with its population of 400. I set my Ipod on shuffle, bundled up as best I could and got to steppin'. The first song my genius of a machine chose was Deacon Blues by Steely Dan. It was a wise selection: stark, pensive and smoky. Just as the burning of the vine shoots filled the air with the sweetest smells. I walked up the Routes des Grand Cru, swiftly passing by Bienvenue and Batard Montrachet on my left. As if by magic, as soon as I entered the site, the song changed to Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come". The song is so emotional, and Sam's voice (my favorite vocalist of all-time) is so laced with soul, the music so majestic. It captures the essence of why Grand Cru is Grand Cru and 1er cru wines, as great as they are, don't have the emotion, soul and majesty of the Grand Cru's.

I made a right turn and breezed past Les Pucelles, shimmying up the hillside to Les Folatieres. The vineyard is steep as hell, you really don't get the feel until you stand at the bottom and look up. My ipod was on it! Shifting gears to the the raucous jam, "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Bahgdad)" by Outkast. The lyrics come at you in a rapid-fire succession of layers, just as the resulting wines from Folatieres slap you with layers of fruit, then minerals, then (differing) fruit and minerals until they fade off into the distance. Sampling Sylvan Bzikot's gorgeous 2006 Puligny Montrachet Les Folatieres just two days prior left me with that dancing across the palate sensation. It's stupendous!

Finally descending down, I walked past La Garenne toward Les Combettes, a 1er cru site that to me always brings fatness tempered by excellent cut. What would be next? Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back"? Too obvious, as my ipod is nothing if not clever beyond imagination. Much more imagination and intelligence than I, as evidenced by this lovely photo I had to take myself at arm's length, too ignorant to figure out how to make it shoot with a timer. Yes, my ipod went for the jugular with Nirvana's fuzz-infused "In Bloom". The guitar work by the late Kurt Cobain creates a wall of sound that still has definition and precision, just like Combettes. Absolutely frightening!

At this point I don't know if I should just drop this freakin' thing and run back to Puligny screaming for the villagers to gather and burn my ipod at the stake, like the witch it is. I decide against it lest they look at me like the maniac that would think of such a thing and do what I suggested to me instead. Oh how the mind wanders when left on its own devices.

This final photo is of the gate of Les Combettes, notable because of the bottle of the french equivalent of "Two Buck Chuck" strewn at the base of this hallowed site. While I would consider this tantamount to drawing a mustache on Whistler's Mother, obviously some local was just looking for a good spot to catch a buzz? Or maybe it's like "Lover's Lane" for the Pulignese? Sheesh!

JCB the 4th

"Feels Like The First Time..."

And it is. I'm not much for reading blogs as I had always fancied it a waste of what is precious. Lord knows there is enough blathering on at Facebook and the other devices of predators. But I'm here to set the whole world ablaze with my views on wine first, and life, second. I can feel your excitement as I finish typing this sentence. I'm pumped myself!

That being said, I have no idea what makes an interesting blog so this will be a work-in-progress. My intention is to update regularly, not daily. I'd like to think that I have a little bit of a life going on here. Yet like the Foriegner song...

"I have waited a lifetime,
Spent my time so foolishly,
But now that Ive found you
Together well make history"

Music will play a major role here as I'm a bit of a pseudo-singer myself. So let's begin with the tale of how my ipod is smarter than yours.


JCB the 4th