Jul 2009 issue

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PAGES (7-14) July 2009

NOTEBOOK, CALENDAR, HOT PICKS

Notebook

NEW CRU BOURGEOIS REGULATION

A three-fourths majority of the Alliance Cru Bourgeois has voted in favor of adopting a new Cru Bourgeois classification system to replace the previous once-a-decade system, which was annulled by legal action in 2007. Under the new format, any château owning a minimum of 7 hectares (17.3 acres) in the Médoc and Haut-Médoc appellations or at least 4.5 hectares (11.1 acres) in a communal appellation, including Pauillac, St. Julien, and St. Estèphe, may apply on a yearly basis to claim Cru Bourgeois status. The Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Exceptionnel classifications will no longer be recognized.

The first classifications will be determined in early 2010 for the 2008 vintage. Participating châteaux must first pass a property inspection and then a blind tasting conducted by an independent agency. “Being annual, the Cru Bourgeois reconnaissance will stimulate the quality among the growths present in the Médoc, recognize a quality for one vintage instead of the average of the quality produced during various years, and ease the access for any property at any time when they get ready with proper quality,” said Etienne Priou, director of Château Beaumont.

“I was very much in favor of adopting the new system,” added Hélène Gallier-Morgan of Château Reynats. “The new Cru Bourgeois recognition, delivered on a yearly basis, encourages each producer to set standards higher than ever before for the greatest benefit to consumers. And blind tasting has unquestionably some merit.”

FILL IT UP AT THE WINE PUMP

Customers can pump their own wine at the Wine Garage in Calistoga, Calif. Using a stainless-steel, gas-station-style nozzle, the buyer can fill up a half-gallon jug with either a Rhône or a Bordeaux blend for $30. The Rhône blend consists of Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah, sourced from Sonoma, Lake, and Napa counties; the Bordeaux blend comprises Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Merlot, and Petit Verdot from Sonoma, Lake, Napa, and Solano counties.

“The idea for the jugs came when I remembered how cool it was to go to the local wine co-op in Tuscany and fill up whatever vessel you chose with decent table wine,” said Todd Miller, who founded the store in 2003. “I wanted to do that in Napa Valley.” According to Miller, while there is room for only two pumps in the store, he would be willing to change the available blends based on customer preference. “The response has been very positive,” he said. “We have also been selling these blends to restaurants in 5-gallon kegs for by-the-glass programs, and I have the capability to make custom blends for specific restaurants.”

WEINBERG'S WINE TECH

Wine tastes best when it is properly aerated—not too much and not too little. Maintaining that balance while pleasing customers and staying within budget can be a problem for today’s quality- and cost-conscious wine directors. The Soirée bottle-top wine aerator, created by sommelier Andrew Lazorchak, is a sleek and clever way to deal with the problem of under-aeration.

This stylish glass unit, which looks like a piece of modern art, comes with two airtight gaskets to fit securely over any standard-size bottle, creating a controlled area in which the wine is infused with oxygen before pouring. Although it can eliminate much of the staff time and effort spent on traditional decanting, the unit can also be used to pour wine into a decanter for, in effect, double-decanting of young, tannic wines and hearty reds.

The user places the rubber gasket over the mouth of the bottle, securely fastening it in place and allowing the wine to be passively decanted with minimal oxygen contact. Because of the slightly reduced bottle opening, the air and wine make a gurgling sound as they swirl together in the Soirée mixing bulb. But the unit truly shines when the bottle is fully inverted. I was impressed to see wine cascading around the inside of the glass bulb, showing me how thoroughly it was being mixed with the air in the chamber—essentially giving the wine a massage while exposing it to oxygen. As the pour is finished and the bottle is turned right-side-up, the remainder of the aerated wine flows back into the bottle, creating a more vibrant product ready for the next pour.

One unit costs $25; a fifth Soirée is supplied free with the purchase of every four units. A set of two replacement gaskets costs $1.

—Benjamin T. Weinberg

FRANCE MOURNS TWO ICONS

Famed Alsatian producer Jean Hugel of Hugel & Fils died June 9 at 84. “Johnny” Hugel oversaw the family estate, along with brothers Georges and André, from 1948 to 1997. “Mr. Jean Hugel, agroengineer and enologist, worked during his whole career for Alsace viticulture,” said Jean-Louis Vézien, managing director of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace. “He made much research concerning the vegetal materials and the growing of vines, and he was also responsible in different general sections of Alsace viticulture. But the greatest of his works during his career concerned the sweet wines of Alsace, with the definition and recognition by the decree dated 1984 for the mentions vendanges tardives and sélection de grains nobles .” Hugel wrote the text regulating the production of these wines and was president of the Vendanges Tardives/Sélection de Grains Nobles Committee from 1984 to 1999. In 1974, the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine appointed him chairman of a new commission to define the limits of grand cru vineyards in Alsace. After three years, however, Hugel was removed by the region’s growers due to the strict limitations he demanded. Although the Hugel estate includes vineyards in two of Riquewihr’s grand cru sites—Schoenenbourg and Sporen—Hugel decided not to label any of his wines with the designation because he believed it was not a sufficient guarantee of quality. He is survived by his wife Simone, daughters Dominique and Judith, and four grandchildren.

Paul Avril, head of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s legendary Clos des Papes, died June 13 of cancer. He was 72. Avril ran the estate from 1963 through 1987 before turning it over to his son Vincent. An advocate of late harvesting to produce riper fruit, Avril was a staunch promoter of his region, serving as the regional representative to the INAO and chairing the local growers’ syndicate. He is survived by his three children.

SOMMELIER'S BOOKSHELF

Anything but Chardonnay: A Guide to the Other Grapes
Laura Holmes Haddad
Haddad introduces budding enophiles to a wide spectrum of lesser-known grapes in the red, white, bubbly, and dessert categories. From Albariño and Tempranillo to Müller-Thurgau and Moscato d’Asti, each overview includes information on where the grape is grown, what it tastes like, who produces it, and what the consumer can expect to pay. Accompanying recipes are included, along with dinner-party trivia facts and basic information such as how to read a wine label, what type of glass to choose, and what to look for when ordering wine in a restaurant. (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2008, $19.95)

Pioneering American Wine: Writings of Nicholas Herbemont
Edited by David S. Shields
Master viticulturist Nicholas Herbemont (1771-1839) grew more than 300 grape varieties at his plantation in Columbia, S.C. In this book, Shields compiles 31 of Herbemont’s articles on grape growing and winemaking, as well as essays on his agrarian philosophy and two of his major treatises on viticulture. An advocate for such practices as crop rotation and soil replenishment, Herbemont personifies the South’s importance in American winemaking. (The University of Georgia Press, 2009, $29.95)

The Vineyard Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes and Wine Pairings Inspired by America’s Vineyards
Barbara Scott-Goodman
Scott-Goodman features more than 32 American vineyards in her cookbook, which simplifies food-and-wine matching through easy-to-follow recipes and general pairing guidelines. The 60 recipes, including such dishes as pan-seared duck with red wine and oranges, ginger-soy chicken wings, and risotto with broccoli rabe and parmesan, are accompanied by wine suggestions from the vintners themselves. Vignettes on each winery and notes on the most popular wines are included, along with more than 100 photos. (Welcome Books, 2009, $24.95)

Riesling Rules: Second Edition
Pacific Rim Winemakers
After a positive response to the book’s first edition, Pacific Rim has released the second version of its easy-to-read, tongue-in-cheek, 40-page booklet on Riesling. Updated with contributions from the Riesling Rules blog, sections include information on the grape’s origins and versatility, German terminology and designations, and growing regions around the world. Also provided are quirky factoids such as “How to Sound Like a Riesling Geek,” “Top 10 Cities to Enjoy a Bottle of Riesling,” and recipes for Riesling cocktails. To request a copy, visit www.rieslingrules.com .(Pacific Rim Winery, 2008, free)

Pacific Pinot Noir
John Winthrop Haeger
This is an update of North American Pinot Noir (2004), which Haeger retitled because he could not find Pinot Noirs of significance outside Oregon and California. Detailed information on history, vineyard sources, vinification techniques, and clonal and rootstock selection is organized by producer, accompanied by tasting notes on specific bottlings and vintages. A valuable resource for the sommelier and restaurant wine buyer. (University of California Press, 2008, $21.95)

COMINGS AND GOINGS

French brasserie Le Saint Amour has opened in Culver City, Calif., with chef Bruno Herve-Commereuc’s French regional dishes accompanied by a French wine list overseen by Florence Herve-Commereuc. Executive chef Scott Howard’s Five is open in the Hotel Shattuck Plaza in Berkeley, Calif., featuring local and organic ingredients and a list of 100 California and Pacific Northwest wines developed by Ryan Heis; the chef de cuisine is Bob Simontacchi. In Redwood City, Calif., at executive chef Donato Scotti’s new Donato Enoteca , wine director Eric Lecours is building a list of about 60 bottles—primarily Italian, but about 30% French and Californian—plus a 50-label reserve list and 15-20 grappas. Chef de cuisine Matt Accarrino and pastry chef Catherine Schimenti have left Craft Los Angeles ; Shannon Swindle is the new pastry chef. Jeffrey Harris is the new executive chef at Craft Dallas , while former executive chef Anthony Zappola has moved on to Craft Los Angeles. Also in Dallas, the new, revolving Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck, named for its 560-foot elevation above the city, features more than 400 wines and nearly a dozen brands of sake paired with Asian cuisine from executive chef Sara Johannes. John Tesar, former executive chef at The Mansion Restaurant at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, will open Tesar’s Modern Steak & Sustainable Seafood in Houston in August; the produce, meats, and seafood will be 100% organically grown and fed. In New York, Nick Anderer has left his executive sous chef position at Gramercy Tavern to become executive chef at Danny Meyer’s new restaurant in the Gramercy Park Hotel. Shea Gallante, executive chef at Cru for five years, has moved back to Bouley , where he was once chef de cuisine, to become executive chef and corporate chef for David Bouley’s restaurants. Now open in the city is The Standard Grill , owned by André Balaz, with chef Dan Silverman, formerly of Lever House. Eos, meaning “new dawn” in Greek, has been launched in Miami by restaurateur Donatella Arpaia and chef Michael Psilakis, with a menu influenced by South American, Spanish, Italian, and Greek cuisine; Sergio Caceres is the wine director. Nightwood , from Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds, has opened in Chicago under chef de cuisine Jason Vincent, featuring a 130-bottle wine list. John des Rosiers, formerly with Charlie Trotter’s, is opening Inovasi in Chicago. Also in the city, Mark Hannon has left his executive chef position at Quince , to be replaced by Pete Balodimas. Sommelier Journal Contributing Editor Catherine Fallis has earned the Advanced Certified Wine Professional title from the Culinary Institute of America, becoming the first person in the world to hold both the ACWP and MS titles. Peter Mondavi Sr. of Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, Calif.; winemaker Zelma Long; and viticulture professor Vincent Petrucci were awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards at the California State Fair for their wine-industry leadership and contributions to California enology and viticulture.

Hot Picks

VALUE WHITE

2008 Terredora di Paolo Falanghina, Campania $15
From one of the great families in Campania, this southern Italian is exotic and floral, with notes of orange blossom and white flowers. It has all the aromatic pleasure of a great Northern Rhône white, but with a spine of crisp acidity. I have enjoyed it lately with pesce crudo , with shellfish and pasta, and while just sitting on the patio. To make it even more attractive, it’s priced for everyday drinking or for use as an exciting wine by the glass. Importer: Vias Imports, Ltd., www.viaswine.com .

HIGH-END WHITE

2007 Failla Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast $42
I know a lot of you might be saying, “Why would he pick a California Chardonnay?” Hey, I have to call ’em as I see ’em. This is a full-blown Chardonnay with citrusy acidity and a touch of minerality to balance its oak treatment. God forbid we might compare it to the wine of one specific postal code in central France known for this varietal. www.faillawines.com .

VALUE ROSE

2008 Castello di Ama Rosato, Chianti $14
It’s finally summertime, and we see another wave of winemakers dipping their toes into the rosé pool, some with success and some missing the mark. Castello di Ama is a favorite of mine for this rosé of Sangiovese—dry and crisp, with warm, summery red fruits and brisk acidity. A savory herbal edge makes it perfect for a platter of salumi, tuna conserva , or other antipasti. Importer: The Sorting Table, www.thesortingtable.com .

HIGH-END RED

2005 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba Superiore, Barolo $40
Grown and produced in one of the highest sites in the commune of Barolo, near the village of Vergne, this distinctive Barbera is more elegant than those from lower elevations. Full, rich, and brooding, it offers typical round-but-tart fruit, with another gear of aromatics and finesse that we don’t always see from such a fruit-driven varietal. I like it with a leaner protein, when the guest wants a full-blown red, but the dish doesn’t have the fat to support more tannins. Importer: Adonna Imports, Waltham, Mass.

BOBBY STUCKEY, MS
Co-Owner/Wine Director
Frasca Food and Wine
Boulder, Colo.

VALUE WHITE

2008 Ecker Grüner Veltliner, Wagram (1 liter) $13
Talk about bang for your buck: this easy-drinker from Austria is one of the summer’s great wine deals. It comes in a 1-liter bottle (read: 33% more wine), proudly enclosed with a screwcap. The Ecker family has been making wine for more than 300 years just outside Austria’s top-quality zones of Kremstal, Kamptal, and Wachau, where the loess soils are perfectly suited for the indigenous Grüner Veltliner. This wine has a clean nose of citrus and herbs, with aromas of lime zest, white flowers, spices, and wet rocks. The palate is bright and crisp, making it a terrific quaff for the summer heat and to pair with all kinds of raw foods from the sea. Drink up! Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .

HIGH-END WHITE

2003 Benanti Etna Bianco Superiore Pietramarina, Sicily $50
One of my most unusual white-wine finds of the last few months was this Sicilian treasure from the foot of Mount Etna, made from the obscure Carricante grape. In 1991, after a three-year study of nearly lost and forgotten Etnean varietals, the Benanti family started making wines from these ancient grapes, saving many of them from extinction and bringing renewed interest from local and international producers. Pietramarina is aged in tanks for at least one year, followed by five months in bottle. The 2003 version offers aromas of pear, white flowers, and fennel. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, with flavors of intense lemon peel, hazelnut, yellow apple, and volcanic minerality. Importer: Vino Bravo, www.vinobravo.com .

VALUE RED

2007 Don Pascual Tannat Reserve, Canelones, Uruguay $13
Like Malbec in Argentina, Tannat has found a happy home in the coastal climate and clay soils of Uruguay. In 1979, the Deicas family purchased the Establecimiento Juanicó estate and invested heavily to move it into the 21st century. This tasty wine is a tribute to Don Pascual Harriague, the Basque settler who brought Tannat to Uruguay from southwest France in 1870. Showing the softer side of the grape, although still fairly full-bodied, it offers aromas of fig, black cherry, chocolate, and violets along with its well-rounded tannins. It’s great with simple barbecued or grilled meats and vegetables. Importer: VOS Selections, www.vosselections.com .

HIGH-END RED

2007 Rockpile Zinfandel Rockpile Ridge Vineyard, Rockpile $35
The Mauritsons have been farming in Dry Creek County and surrounding areas since 1868, but for more than a century, they sold most of their grapes to some of the top Zinfandel producers in the United States. Clay Mauritson, the sixth generation, felt the time was finally right to put the family name on a bottle in 1998. In the rugged, recently approved Rockpile American Viticultural Area, the Mauritsons hold 34 acres, a majority planted to Zinfandel, along with some Petite Sirah, Touriga Nacional, and Syrah. This example is a powerful, juicy, earth-driven style of Zinfandel offering flavors of juicy red berries, black pepper, vanilla, and soft, supple tannins. It could definitely benefit from decanting. www.mauritsonwines.com .

FRED DEXHEIMER, MS
Juiceman Consulting
New York

VALUE VODKA

Sobieski Vodka, Poland $11
Launched by the importers behind Belvedere at half the price of premium vodkas, rye-based Sobieski reached the 200,000-case sales mark faster than any other brand in U.S. history. A “truth in vodka” marketing campaign emphasizing the integrity of the liquid over the bottle design stands up in the glass. This well-distilled, light-to-medium-bodied spirit sends up aromas of water chestnut, Cheerios, and toasted bread crust. The bready notes follow through on the palate, fading into a lingering, clean finish. Chill thoroughly and serve with caviar—at this price, you can afford it. Importer: Imperial Brands Inc., www.ibrandsinc.com .

HIGH-END VODKA

Karlsson’s Gold Vodka, Sweden $40
In 2001, potato farmers from Sweden’s Bjäre peninsula met with neighbor Peter Ekelund, who helped build Absolut, to discuss the idea of using their crop to make vodka. Their potatoes already had a cult following among gourmands, and Ekelund saw merit in the project. He brought former Absolut master blender Börje Karlsson out of retirement to figure out how to distill a spirit capturing the essence of the potatoes. The result is a star-bright spirit with a nose of vanilla, peppermint, and shortbread. On the palate, this vodka is unctuous and full-bodied, finishing with a hint of black pepper. Pair with potato pancakes or gravlax, or serve chilled over a large block of ice. Importer: Private Brands Inc., N.Y.

VALUE RED

2007 De Forville Nebbiolo Langhe, Piedmont $21
In 1907, Paolo Anfosso married into the De Forville family and took over its wine production. After years of selling bulk wine to restaurants and retailers, the domaine bottled its first vintage in 1940; it now bottles most of its production, including a highly regarded Barbaresco, on the estate. This Nebbiolo is garnet-hued all the way to the watery rim. Stewed raspberries, fresh-cut strawberries, and wet grass emanate from the glass. Star anise, Meadowsweet, and green pepper dance across the medium-bodied palate. The wine has balanced acidity and none of the excess alcohol that tends to plague Nebbiolo-based wines in warm vintages. Pair it with marinated peppers, pork, chicken, or cured meats such as mortadella or prosciutto di Parma. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchant, www.madrose.com .

HIGH-END RED

1999 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Santo Stefano di Perno, Piedmont $59
This traditional-style Barolo was harvested from a small vineyard replanted in the late ’70s by Giuseppe Mascarello’s son Mauro, who took over production in 1967. Mauro ages his wines in Slovenian oak botti purchased by his father in the 1950s. The benefits of a great vintage show in this wine, which displays a brick-red center that fades from red rose to copper at the rim. Closed at first, it eventually yields wet leaves, leather, black licorice, and tar on the nose. Mouth-drying tannins and bright acidity tend to obscure the cherry fruit and earthy, vegetal notes on the palate. Pair with bresaola, speck, duck, or venison, or save it for another day. Importer: The Rare Wine Co., www.rarewineco.com .

JIM MEEHAN
Contributing Editor
Sommelier Journal