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