Jan 2009 issue

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PAGES (6-12) January 2009

NOTEBOOK, CALENDAR, HOT PICKS

Service Tip

Inviting the guest into the wine list

One of the most frequently forgotten aspects of our job is that good service can be both easy and fun to deliver. It is especially essential for us to remember that point in today's economy, as our guests become ever more mindful of their money. At Vetri, one of our basic mottos is to make our guests feel as much a part of the evening as they desire. Reading the guests can lead to many conclusions. Some want no direction; perhaps it's a date or an important meeting. These people will do fine to hear the night's specials and have their drink and food orders taken. Others are here for the interactive experience. They could be with friends, spouses, colleagues, or anyone, but they want to be part of Vetri for the evening. That is my favorite kind of table. I relish being able to speak to the guests about the restaurant, talk them through the menu, entice them with wine—in short, serve as their travel agent for the night.

When creating a wine list (or a menu, for that matter), it is important to make it an invitation to the type of service each guest desires. Make the list approachable to all without being intimidating to any. Although I'm sure we are all nice people, the truth is there are still those who are frightened by the prospect of our joining them at the table, opting instead to choose from the list. A well-thought out list that organizes by flavor profiles or, when possible, includes short notes, can really put the guest at ease and actually increase sales. Guests who are used to choosing solely on the basis of price can see many options that fit their flavor profiles; they may be enticed, for example, by the middle-priced wine in a list of five with the same characteristics. Those who enjoy talking to us should also be able to easily navigate the list ahead of our discussion. Selecting wines with these people can be a fun, interactive event, which can also include others at the table. The days of lists for lists' sake are gone. When used properly, wine lists can actually create repeat customers and long-term friends.

JEFF BENJAMIN
Sommelier
Vetri Ristorante
Philadelphia

Notebook

HALL OF FAME NAMES 2009 CLASS

The Culinary Institute of America has announced its 2009 Vintners Hall of Fame inductees: Gerald Asher, Gourmet magazine wine journalist; Jack and Jamie Davies, founders of Schramsberg Vineyards; Jess Jackson, founder of Kendall-Jackson Estates; Carole Meredith, University of California-Davis professor and co-founder of Lagier-Meredith Winery; Justin Meyer, co-founder of Silver Oak Cellars; and Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Frederick and Jacob Beringer, founders of Beringer Vineyards, will also be honored as “Pioneers”—a category for significant contributors to the California wine industry who died before March 1989—at the gala induction dinner, to be held March 14 at the CIA’s Greystone campus in St. Helena, Calif.

Meredith has spent more than 20 years studying grape genetics and using DNA-typing methods to trace the origins of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Zinfandel. “I’m very pleased to be chosen for the Vintners Hall of Fame,” she said, “but I’m surprised they picked me because all the other inductees have had much longer careers. I really enjoyed the genetic detective work that I did with my students and international collaborators, and I’m pleased that our discoveries have been of interest to so many people. My greatest satisfaction today is seeing people enjoy the wine we make from vines that we planted ourselves.”

“This is a great honor for all of us,” added Jackson, a founding member of Family Winemakers of California. “It validates our approach to winemaking: We believe that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you. We entered this business dedicated to handcrafting deep, rich, and diverse portfolios of world-class wines that originate in the land. We are also committed to using natural, sustainable farming methods in our vineyards, and I think that approach has been affirmed by this honor.”

PCI TO OPEN IN ORLANDO

The Professional Culinary Institute will open a second campus in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 3. Offering full- and part-time programs in culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, and sommelier certification, the 14,000-square-foot campus will house three teaching kitchens, a kitchen demonstration theater, a 2,000-bottle wine cellar, a wine classroom and tasting room, and a student resource center. Students will also have the opportunity to intern at Doc’s Restaurant and work with executive chef Neil Connolly, who helped PCI president Richard Battista open the Orlando branch.

Like the original PCI in Campbell, Calif., the Orlando campus will offer a 55-class Certified Sommelier curriculum that will prepare students for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ first two levels. Twenty-four aspiring sommeliers will be admitted to the first class in Orlando, under the tutorship of Andrew McNamara, MS. According to the PCI’s director of wine schools, David Glancy, MS, CWE, Battista had been looking at central Florida for some time as a potential location. “Florida as a whole has rapidly become one of the most important wine markets in the country,” said Glancy. “Thanks to trailblazers like Virginia Philip at The Breakers and John Blazon at Disney World, the sommelier community in Florida is on fire. In 2001, there were no Master Sommeliers in the state, and now there are eight.”

IN MEMORIAM

Lauren Chapin, restaurant critic for The Kansas City Star , died Dec. 10, from a ruptured aneurysm. She was 50. Author of Sommelier Journal’s November Closing Time column and December “Molecular Mixology” article, Chapin earned her first-level sommelier certificate in 1997 and was a fellowship recipient of the 2007 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley. In 2005, she was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation award for best newspaper columns. She is survived by her husband, Timothy Finn, the pop music critic for the Star , and their two daughters, Brenna, 16, and Maren, 14. Offers to help the family can be posted at www.laurenchapin.wordpress.com .

COPIA CLOSES ITS DOORS

COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts shut its doors on Nov. 21, and after failing to secure a $2 million emergency loan, will apparently remain closed for good. With a reported debt of $78 million, which is directly linked to the organization’s 12-acre, riverfront property in Napa, Calif., the organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early December. Opened in November 2001 with extensive backing from Robert Mondavi, the center was envisioned as a gathering place for food and wine lovers. It had to face the challenges of an economic downturn and a decline in tourism, however, and never fully achieved its mission. “The building is off the beaten path, so tourists never really found it and locals did not really need or want it,” commented Joyce Goldstein, a Sommelier Journal Contributing Editor who had taught culinary arts at COPIA since its inception. “Opening fees were too high. You never knew what it was. Was it a museum? A concert hall or a community center? A teaching facility? A restaurant? A wine center? They tried to do too much. Good intentions, but poor definition and fuzzy identity.”

According to CEO and president Garry McGuire, while the headquarters for the nonprofit COPIA Foundation is likely to stay in Napa, the organization will shift its focus to a franchised, for-profit center with a TV studio, cooking school, wine classes, wine bar, and retail shop, to be located in San Francisco’s Ferry Building or Sony Metreon Building. Goldstein, a San Francisco resident, said she is dubious about the new venture: “Do we need such a center in San Francisco? There are multiple wine and food events here almost every night. And again, we have to ask who is the COPIA audience? Those of us in the trade? The average foodie? Wine buffs? Tourists? How they answer that question certainly would affect the location and marketing approach.”

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The new year is beginning with a raft of multiple-concept openings. Chef José Andrés has helped launch The Bazaar in the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, Calif., a collection of retail shops and dining spots including Bar Centro, the Patisserie, tapas restaurant Rojo y Blanca, and white-tablecloth restaurant Saam. Several fine-dining restaurants have opened in the new Wynn’s resort, Encore Las Vegas, including Marc Poidevin’s Switch , a French-inspired steakhouse and seafood restaurant; Mark LoRusso’s Botero Steak ; Kim Cantennwalla’s Society Café Encore , serving classic American cuisine; Theo Schoenegger’s Theo’s , a modern Italian restaurant; and Jet Tila’s Asian bistro Wazuzu . In Washington, D.C., chef Robert Wiedmaier plans to open his three-concept venture in the Lorien Hotel & Spa next month. Brabo , the main restaurant, will serve Belgian-American cuisine, while the adjacent Tasting Room will offer small plates and wine, and the gourmet Butcher Block will sell wine, beer, cheese, and charcuterie. At Boston’s new Bina Osteria & Alimentari , one side is an Italian restaurant and bar; the other is a gourmet food and wine shop. The executive chef is Brian Konefal, and Andy Cartin is the beverage director. Gitane , meaning “gypsy,” is now open in San Francisco, featuring French, Iberian, and North African cuisine by chef Lisa Eyherabide. Mixologist Dominic Venegas has created a cocktail program focusing on Sherry, while Sean Diggins’s wine list features small-estate Spanish, French, and Portuguese bottlings. New York’s Il Mulino is soon to open another branch in the new Residences at the Little Nell in Aspen, Colo. Chef Christopher Lee has left Gilt in New York City and taken over at Aureole , which is relocating to Bryant Park. Roger Dagorn, MS, sommelier of New York’s Chanterelle , has been inducted as a Sake Samurai by the Japan Sake Brewers Association for his commitment to furthering sake education around the world. Dagorn has also been named the sommelier for 34 Leonard, a new luxury-residential development in Tribeca. Appellation America co-founders Roger Dial and son Adam Dial have left that organization; Tom Welch, a major investor, board member, and treasurer, is the temporary CEO.

Hot Picks

VALUE WHITE

2007 Montecillo Rioja Blanco $9
This elegant Spanish white, made with the Viura grape, is clean and fresh, with notes of ripe Bosc and Asian pear, citrus, and honey. Medium-bodied and creamy, it is ideal for showcasing grilled fish or shellfish dishes or to serve with cheese plates or tapas. Importer: W.J. Deutsch & Sons Ltd., www.wjdeutsch.com .

HIGH -END WHITE

2005 Vineyard 7 & 8 Chardonnay 8, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley $50
Intense, mountain-grown fruit is transformed by the hands of winemaker Luc Morlet, formerly of Peter Michael Winery, and his assistant Wesley Steffens, formerly of Harlan Estate, into a rich, full-bodied, vibrantly fruity yet bone-dry and minerally Chardonnay. It is not white Burgundy, but it may well fool you in a blind tasting. www.vineyard7and8.com .

VALUE RED

2006 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil, Loire Valley $15
Light and earthy with plum, tart-cherry, spice, and saddle notes, this cool-climate Cabernet Franc is subtle and grippy on the palate. Fruit tannins show through initially, but the wine opens up nicely with aeration, softening and gaining complexity. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, www.kermitlynch.com .

HIGH-END RED

2006 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Vineyard, Russian River Valley $58
Warren Dutton stirred up controversy in 1997 when he planted Pinot Noir in a cool, foggy vineyard on the coastal side of the Petaluma Gap, but it is now recognized as an outstanding site. Intensely fruity with cherry, strawberry, and raspberry notes, this Pinot has moderate alcohol (13.8%) and beautifully integrated oak tannins. www.duttongoldfield.com .

Catherine Fallis, MS, CWP
Planet Grape LLC
San Francisco

VALUE WHITE

2007 Pietro Nera Chiavennasca Bianco IGT La Novella, Lombardia $12
Italy’s explosion of refreshing, off-the-wall, virtually undiscovered white wines continues with this bottling of, yes, the black Nebbiolo grape from a historic producer in the Valtellina. The wine is rather subdued, yet offers surprising complexity: zesty lemon cream, yellow apple, and white grapes, with a touch of nut skin, white pepper, and dusty earth. Crisp acidity balances a wine that just might have a touch of residual sugar. Perfect aperitif! www.neravini.com .

HIGH-END WHITE

2003 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos, Tokaj $35 (500 ml)
A brilliant, ponderous wine for either savory middle courses or sweets, or as a liquid dessert completely on its own. It’s amber in color, with a nose of manuka honey (from the botrytris), dried apricots, golden raisins, heather, and crushed flowers, continuing on and on and on in the mouth. Just this side of unctuous, but with a relatively high perception of acidity for much-needed balance. A stunner. Importer: Wilson Daniels Ltd., www.wilsondaniels.com. www.wilsondaniels.com .

VALUE RED

2004 Cims de Porrera Solanes, Priorat $23
A fascinating blend from Spain’s hugely successful “new classic” red-wine region. The lack of required varietal percentages in this area results in a seemingly odd mix of old-vine Cariñena, Garnacha, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot that works fantastically nonetheless. Leather, cedar, white peppercorn, kicked-up dirt, and violets coexist with deep, warming, brandied cherries and red raisins. Considering the moderately high tannins, a food with some binding fat is a necessity for pairing. Importer: Folio Fine Wine Partners, www.foliowine.com .

HIGH-END RED

2006 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Seven Springs Vineyard, Willamette Valley $42
With the description “Old World style” increasingly valued in wines from the New World, this wine offers immense appeal for today’s diner. It’s a veritable ode to Burgundy, complete with hints of stems and dried porcinis, but with an obvious ripeness of cherry and raspberry fruit, moderate toasty oak, and a weight indicative of a warmer vintage in Oregon. An up-front, more “obvious” style of delicious Pinot. www.stinnocentwine.com .

Shayn Bjornholm, MS
Wine Education Director
Washington Wine Commission

VALUE WHITE

Emilio Lustau Puerto Fino Sherry Solera Reserva, Jerez $15
Sherry continues to offer exceptional value as both a wonderful aperitif and an excellent match with all kinds of food, and this is one of my favorites. It is assertive, firm, and dry, with surprising weight and concentration for a Fino style. Despite its forward character, it retains the classical elegance that marks Lustau as a great producer. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com. www.skurnikwines.com .

HIGH-END WHITE

2007 Tapanappa Chardonnay Tiers Vineyard, Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills $50
The Tiers Vineyard is the flagship white wine of Brian Croser, the first producer to recognize the potential for Chardonnay in this cool part of South Australia. The wine is crisp, minerally, and tightly wound, with toasty oak coming to the fore at present. More understated in style than most Aussie Chardonnays, it has a lovely persistence and intensity of flavor. One to keep. Importer: Palm Bay International, www.palmbay.com .

VALUE RED

2005 Norton Privada, Mendoza $19
Perhaps the most consistently reliable Bordeaux blend in Argentina, this delicious wine shows why it pays to venture beyond pure Malbec. A 50/50 mixture with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot enlivens Argentina’s signature grape, creating a whole that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Importer: TGIC Importers, Inc., www.tgicimporters.com .

HIGH-END RED

2005 Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Cellar Reserve, Barossa Valley $220
The Cellar Reserve wines are some of Penfolds’ best—not always priced at the top end, but available only in small quantities. This Cabernet is made from old, ungrafted vines that produce an intense, spicy, mentholated, rich wine of great complexity and balance. Extremely classy. Importer: PWG Vintners USA, Inc., Monterey, Calif.

Beverley Blanning, MW
Contributing Editor
Sommelier Journal