June 2008 issue

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PAGES (7-14) June 2008

NOTEBOOK, CALENDAR, HOT PICKS

Service Tip

St. Thomas once said that “beauty is the splendour of order,” and that statement holds as true in a dining room as anywhere. In our chosen profession, many of us are asked to perform multiple tasks—for example, running a wine program and serving as a restaurant manager. One of the responsibilities of running a restaurant is ensuring that we, along with our staffs, offer a clean, ordered, and, most important, welcoming dining room. In our focus on servicing guests, learning their names, and memorizing and tasting different courses, it is easy to forget the most basic part of our job— mise en place . Although this French term is most commonly used for the kitchen setup, it literally means “everything in its place.”

When I dine with my wife at any restaurant, I look to see if everything is in order and in its proper place, because if it is, I know the service staff isn’t going to be spending floor time behind the scenes polishing Bordeaux stems, looking for beverage coasters, or folding serviettes; it’s already been done. If I see that the linen on the table is crisp and clean and the silver polished, I know the dining room is ready for guests. Yet many times, whether due to a shortage of time or any number of other reasons, I have encountered guests being neglected at fine-dining restaurants simply because the staff wasn’t prepared for the evening.

As hotel and restaurant professionals, we pride ourselves on our level of service and product knowledge. As far as I can recall in my 20 years of working in this business, I have never seen our career so sought after or even, dare I say, glamorous. But to give our guests the experience they are hoping for, we need to be mentally and physically attuned to our purpose. So before opening the doors, ensure that you have all the essential tools you will need to take care of your guests.

JOHN RUTH
Sommelier
The Lodge at Torrey Pines
La Jolla, Calif.

Notebook

“BACK TO REALITY” FOR 2007 BORDEAUX

During the first week in April, the usual hordes of buyers, journalists, and commentators descended on Bordeaux to taste and assess the wines of the new vintage. Americans were noticeable by their absence this year, although the association of the Union des Grands Crus claimed that the number of visitors was actually greater than in 2006. Despite the large number of tasters, there was scant praise for the wines of 2007. Château Latour’s Frédéric Engerer said, “This is a good vintage for egos. Some of us thought we were stronger than Mother Nature and could do anything we wanted. This is a ‘back-to-reality’ sort of vintage.”

Unlike 2006, when growers experienced an ideal early season, reminiscent of 2005, and were hampered only by a rainy end of season, 2007 looked bad almost from the start. After an unseasonably warm April, the weather became cool and rainy in May—a pattern that lasted until the end of August. Some have held that the 2007 vintage was saved by the beautifully warm and sunny September weather, but unfortunately, that was too late for most producers. Denied summer sunshine and water stress, the vines never directed their energy toward the maturation of fruit.

As a result, the Merlots generally failed to ripen, although the clay soils of the Right Bank produced notably more successful Merlot wines than the gravelly soils of the Left Bank. The later-ripening Cabernets, benefiting from the late-season warmth, improved substantially in maturity. Even these, however, lack the density of structure and flavor that one expects from the great Bordeaux producers. Apart from the top performers, there is little consistency and much disappointment to be found. Many of the red wines have unripe flavors and are hollow and short. In contrast, there are also wines that are flabby and soft, apparently made from grapes left on the vine as long as possible in an effort to catch up with ripening. Because acid levels are low across the board, these wines will be approachable early.

In contrast to the great Bordeaux vintages, where the wines supposedly “make themselves,” human participation was a key factor in 2007. Growers who had the foresight and funds to engage in early leaf pulling and crop thinning, and who continued this work throughout the season, produced the best fruit. Winemakers who were able to bring out the fragrant and delicate nature of the fruit, while showing restraint in the extraction of tannins and use of oak, made the best wines. These are soft, appealing, fruit-driven wines for early-to-midterm consumption. The communes of Pauillac and St. Julien made the best red wines of the vintage on the Left Bank, while Pomerol takes the honors on the Right.

The whites fared better overall than the reds. Dry whites from the Graves and Pessac-Léognan districts are pure and consistent, less rich than the ’05s, and more approachable, but less crisp, than the ’06s. But it was in Sauternes that the weather conditions really favored quality; here, the late, fine weather produced fabulous botrytis. The early samples of these wines are rich, concentrated, and delicious.

Should you be buying the 2007s? If (and it’s a big “if”) the Bordelais drop their prices significantly, there may be some bargains, but there are few, if any, “must-have” reds. The whites (especially the Sauternes) will be a safer buy. Because the 2007 reds will be ready long before the ’05s or ’06s, they could make a useful early-drinking addition to a wine list—but for wines to serve now, the ’04s are probably still a better bet and more reliable in quality.

—Beverley Blanning, MW

WINE WRITERS RECOGNIZED

The second annual American Wine Blog Awards recently announced winners in eight categories. Best overall wine blog went to Vinography, published by Alder Yarrow, a member of Sommelier Journal’s Editorial Advisory Board. Yarrow also won the award for best wine blog writing. Other winners included Good Wine Under $20 for best single-subject blog and best wine-review blog, Chateau Petrogasm for best wine blog graphics, Grape Radio for best podcast or videoblog, Tablas Creek for best winery blog, and The Wine Collector for best business blog.

“These aren’t the first awards that I’ve won here, but in many ways, they’re the most meaningful,” Yarrow said in a Vinography entry. Citing the prolific growth of professional-quality wine blogs in the past year, Yarrow said “in this context I am both proud and humbled to have won.” The awards were established a year ago by Tom Wark, publisher of Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog. This year, they were decided by a panel of judges and more than 2,000 public voters, whose opinions counted as 70% of the final decisions.

Karen MacNeil, ACWP, was also recognized recently for wine writing, being named the 2008 International Wine & Spirit Competition’s Communicator of the Year. Determined by an industry panel, the award recognizes the individual who has contributed most to consumer communication in wine or spirits during the past year. MacNeil is chairman of professional wine studies at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif., author of The Wine Bible, and host of the new wine culture section of the website eRobertParker.com.

REHEARING DENIED IN COSTCO CASE

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on April 1 denied Costco Wholesale Corp.’s request for a rehearing, the latest loss in the company’s four-year fight with the Washington Liquor Control Board over the laws governing distribution of beer and wine in the state. In January, a three-judge panel of the court had reversed a District Court decision and upheld all the contested regulations except the “post-and-hold” rule, which requires distributors to post their prices and hold them there for 30 days.

Other laws upheld by the court provide for minimum 10% markups, dictate uniform pricing that includes delivery costs, and prohibit volume discounts, warehousing, and credit sales. Washington was supported in its appeal by 23 other states, who have similar rules favoring distributors and smaller retailers over warehouse stores. “We are pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s decision to uphold most of Washington’s liquor-control laws,” said Attorney General Rob McKenna in a statement. “The decision means the Legislature will continue to make any necessary policy changes to the distribution of beer and wine in our state.”

ABSOLUT GOES FRENCH

An $8.8 billion bid to the Swedish government made French company Pernod Ricard the new owner of Vin & Spirit Group, producers of Absolut vodka. The third-largest spirit brand in the world, Absolut will join the company’s other premium brands, including Jacob’s Creek wines, Mumm champagne, Beefeater gin, Havana Club rum, Chivas Regal scotch, and Jameson Irish whiskey.

“Absolut is an exceptional brand,” said Patrick Ricard, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard, in a statement. “Its integration within our portfolio of premium brands combined with the strength of our worldwide distribution network paves the way for outstanding growth prospects. We become thus the co-leader of the global wine and spirits industry.”

RETAIL GIANT AMAZON TO SELL WINE

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, will soon sell wine on its website, according to a Financial Times report. The company is looking for a senior wine buyer for the Specialty Foods group of its Consumables division, which includes the non-perishable grocery business that Amazon launched two years ago. As stated in the job description, the buyer will be responsible for building a massive new wine selection from the ground up.

Peter Granoff, MS, managing partner at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco, sees the company’s entry into the wine retail industry as “a good addition to the wine retail arena for consumers, much the way Costco is.” Rather than feeling threatened by Amazon, he said, specialty merchants should view this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves. “Amazon won’t get much of the scarce, small-production, or allocated wines, no matter what they may be telling themselves now,” Granoff noted. “In the book arena, they are proud of having everything in print all the time. In the case of wine, this is actually nothing to be proud of. We are proud of not having thousands of wines, but only the ones we have tasted and consider worth presenting.”

COMINGS AND GOINGS

Zorzi, a New York City cocktail bar and restaurant inspired by the rustic food of northeastern Italy, is set to open this spring, with Francesco Zennaro serving as manager. An Italian wine bar, Bar Baresco, has opened in the former Chelsea location of Sette, with chef Roberto Lopez and sommelier Buddy Kenney. Master mixologist Albert Trummer is planning to open his own Chinatown bar, Apotheke, featuring an old-Singapore decor and Asian-inspired food. On the Lower East Side, the all-natural, organic wine bar Ten Bells has opened, with partners Yassine Bencaleb and Fabrice Vautrin, also owners of Le Pere Pinard, and wine director Philippe Essonne at the helm. Twin chefs Nicola and Fabrizio Carro have been asked by Trump Soho Hotel Condominium to open a branch of their Miami Beach restaurant Quattro Gastronomia Italiana in the new luxury building, which opens in spring 2009. Chicago chef Charlie Trotter has announced plans to open a new restaurant in another New York condominium tower, One Madison Park; Molly Wismeier, formerly of Charlie Trotter’s, is the new corporate director of wine and spirits for Cenitare Restaurants in Chicago. Matthew Conway has been hired as general manager and wine buyer for the new Tribeca restaurant Forge, where he will work beside chef Marc Forgione, former executive corporate chef for the BLT Group.

SEND US YOUR NEWS

Have you recently achieved a professional wine certification or passed a level of a major wine education program? Have you been recognized for excellence as a sommelier, wine writer, or wine educator? Have you landed a new job as a restaurant wine director? Send your announcement to Rachel Zawila, Assistant Editor, Sommelier Journal, 7010 Broadway, Suite 204, Denver, CO 80221, or e-mail rachel@sommelierjournal.com, and we’ll publish your good news in this space.

Hot Picks


VALUE WHITE

2006 Sigalas Santorini, Greece $20

A beautiful, windswept island in the middle of the Aegean Sea, Santorini survived a huge volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago and now has an abundance of volcanic ash in the soil to prove it. The Assyrtiko grape thrives here, often grown on low, basket-shaped vines to protect it from the constant winds. If a wine ever had a sense of place, this is it. The combination of great structure, minerality, fruit, and alcohol inspires future aging, but the wine drinks magnificently now. Importer: Diamond Importers, Chicago.

HIGH-END WHITE

2005 Château Carbonnieux Blanc, Graves $35

Almost overlooked in the great 2005 Bordeaux vintage are the beautiful white wines. This Carbonnieux proves that oak and Sauvignon Blanc can be happy bedfellows. Its nose is a fascinating combination of Meyer lemon with hints of yeast, minerality, and rich oak. The best white Graves can age nearly as long as their red counterparts, as this wine will demonstrate. Importer: Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, www.diageowines.com.

VALUE RED

2005 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne, Piedmont $18

Vietti was a pioneer in the production of single-vineyard wines in the 1960s. Its Tre Vigne vineyard, located near the town of Asti in Piedmont, has always produced one of the classic examples of Barbera, a grape that deserves more respect on restaurant lists. From its concentrated blackberry and cherry notes to its balanced oak and juicy acidity, this wine is absolute purity. Importer: Rémy Cointreau USA, www.remyusa.com.

HIGH-END RED

2005 Frédéric Mugnier Nuits-Saint-Georges Clos de la Maréchale, Burgundy $60

The Clos de la Maréchale vineyard, controlled for many years by the Faiveley family, reverted back to Frédéric Mugnier’s hands with the 2004 vintage. His 2005 shows a wonderful combination of dark and red fruits, great depth, and amazing balance. This wine not only showcases a classic vintage, but also demonstrates Mugnier’s insightful understanding of the vineyard in only his second year of ownership. I can only imagine what is to come in future vintages. www.mugnier.fr.

ROBERT BATH, MS
Robert Bath Imports
St. Helena, Calif.

VALUE WHITE

2006 Planeta La Segreta Bianco, Sicily $20

As summer heats up, we wine buyers tend to look for more snappy and citrussy whites to serve by the glass, but I sometimes think we overreact to changes in the weather. This wine can help keep us honest. An un-oaked, fragrant white blend from one of the trailblazers of Sicilian wine, it works great by the glass because of its high floral notes, full body, and reasonable price. Planeta has crafted a rich, round, exotic wine that still has a place at the dinner table. Importer: Palm Bay International, www.palmbayimports.com.

HIGH-END WHITE

2004 Ronco del Gnemiz Chardonnay Sol, Colli Orientali $39

Hold your fire, white Burgundy snobs. I love white Burgundy as much as the next guy—well, maybe not as much as Rajat Parr. But many winemakers seem to be trying to duplicate Burgundy in other regions, forgetting that the wines need to be pleasurable, not just brainy. This Chardonnay is both. Made from old vines, more than 40 years old, it features toasted almonds balanced by minerality and a bit of wood. It takes patience, experience, and good vineyards to make a wine like this—one that has texture without leaning too far toward nervosité. Importer: Vignaioli Selection, www.vignaioliamerica.com.

VALUE RED

2004 Cantina del Taburno Aglianico Fidelis, Campania $16

With the euro doing pushups and the dollar looking more like the peseta, it gets harder and harder to find economical by-the-glass reds. Here is an estate to watch. Aglianico is a grape that has always had breed and length, but has tended to suffer from rustic winemaking. The Cantina del Taburno shows wonderful balance, with pure, up-front fruits like sour cherry, but it also has earth and focused secondary aromas of tobacco and dried flowers. That complexity makes it an exception in this price range. Importer: Vin Divino Ltd., www.vindivino.com.

HIGH-END RED

Betts & Scholl Grenache The O.G., Barossa Valley $30

If you have been to The Little Nell in Aspen, Colo., you have seen Richard Betts, MS, in his element. He and partner Dennis Scholl love sexy, ripe, textural Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is their ode to that style, combining the warm, fruity fun of Châteauneuf with the elegance of Burgundy. Highlighted by a spicy, sweet marmalade of summer bush fruits, the O.G. is backed by a haunting wisp of wood. It’s a great way to add a lower-tannin, well-bred wine to your list without going to the usual suspects. www.bettsandscholl.com.

BOBBY STUCKEY, MS
Wine Director
Frasca Food and Wine
Boulder, Colo.

VALUE WHITE

2006 Mönchhof Estate Riesling, Mosel $18

Owner-winemaker Robert Eymael uses declassified fruit from some of the Mosel’s top vineyards for his Estate Riesling. The results are consistently superb and, year in and year out, one of the finest values in white wine to be found anywhere. Look for aromas and flavors of ripe white peach, lime zest, white flowers, honey, and slate, balanced by racy acidity. Importer: Rudi Wiest Selections Imported by Cellars International, Inc., www.rudiwiest.com.

HIGH-END WHITE

2005 William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, Burgundy $70

Classic Chablis is quickly becoming an endangered species, so finding a wine that has this austere character of pronounced, briny minerality and racy acidity without too much winemaking cosmetic surgery is not an easy task. Enter the 2005 Fèvre Les Clos. It has all of the above in spades and is just now hitting its stride; expect it to be enjoyable over the next seven to 10 years. Importer: Henriot Inc., New York.

APERITIF

NV Carpano Vermouth Antica Formula $30

Vermouth? Seriously? Absolutely! Carpano, producers of the outstanding aperitivo Punt e Mes, has recently released its “ancient formula,” bottled only in liters, to the American market. Known as the “King of Vermouths,” the Antica Formula is modeled after the firm’s 18th-century recipe, balancing herbal elements with a pronounced vanilla-spice note that only adds to the bittersweet palate. The Antica is delicious sipped solo over ice and garnished with a slice of orange or a lemon twist. It’s also guaranteed to elevate any traditional cocktail into the major leagues.

HIGH-END RED

2005 John Duval Wines Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvèdre Plexus, Barossa Valley $40

Australian GSM is the country’s best-kept wine secret and could actually be the ultimate comfort-food wine. The blend of hedonistically rich Grenache fruit with the peppery spice of Shiraz and the savory elements of Mourvèdre is a winning combination. And no one does GSM better than John Duval, former chief winemaker for Penfolds. Duval sources fruit from a number of dry-farmed vineyards in Barossa, ranging from 50-110 years in age. His 2005 is an utterly seamless blend of rich, spicy red and black fruits and fine tannins. Importer: Old Bridge Cellars, www.oldbridgecellars.com.

TIM GAISER, MS
San Francisco