Sep 2009 issue

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PAGES (7-14) September 2009

NOTEBOOK, CALENDAR, HOT PICKS

Notebook

SOMMELIERS' AWARD LUNCH

In a “People’s Choice Awards” for wine-service professionals, the SF Chefs. Food. Wine. event honored Larry Stone, MS, of Rubicon Estate with its Master Sommelier Mentor Award ceremony at Restaurant Michael Mina in August. The Saturday lunch, presented by Gourmet magazine, was one of a handful of premium offerings during the inaugural festival held in and around Union Square in San Francisco.

As guests climbed the short staircase to the restaurant, they were greeted by a black-and-white blowup of Stone’s face and a blackboard labeled “The Six Degrees of Larry Stone,” to which attendees were encouraged to add their names and connections. Francis Ford Coppola, Charlie Trotter, and many others were direct connections. The stenciled names soon filled the board with connected lines in a diagram reminiscent of a football coach’s play chart.

Stone’s partner for 14 years, Drew Nieporent, flew in from New York to present the award. He complimented Stone for “giving great dignity to this industry.” After receiving his own award, Stone went on to honor others, most of whom he had trained or mentored. “The most gratifying part is that it wasn’t just about the recipient,” said Stone; “it was about all the people I have worked with.” He was particularly proud to recognize Rajat Parr, sommelier of Restaurant Michael Mina. When he first met Parr, Stone said, “he was really begging for a job,” and now he’s “one of the most famous sommeliers in the world.” On being both host of the event and recipient of the Restaurateur award, Parr commented, “To honor him, and then he gives me an award, it’s awesome.”

Other award recipients included Shelley Lindgren of A16 and SPQR as Educator; Debbie Zachareas of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant as Entrepreneur; Emily Wines, MS, of Kimpton Hotels and Fifth Floor Restaurant and Lounge as Hotelier; and Sara Floyd of Fine Estates from Spain and Swirl Wine Brokers/Bacchant Wines as Ambassador.
—Ben Narasin

WEINBERG'S WINE TECH

A good sommelier knows plenty of tricks to keep wine fresh after the cork has been pulled. But all the magic in the world won’t help if the wine has seen too much air. Of several restaurant-quality preservation units on the market, one of the top performers is n2Vin, a precision sealed-inert-gas system.

The company offers three models: the standard n2Vin manual-tap system; the n2-e (electronic-portioning) system, equipped with isolation valves that eliminate any metal contact in the wine loop; and the n2-c, a pressurized sparkling-wine system. Each is sold in a modular format that can grow as the wine program builds. Installation of the basic n2Vin system, with four modules configured to individually dispense 20 wines, takes only about two hours. The small footprint of each module (20 inches wide, 15 inches deep) allows it to fit virtually anywhere, and the unit easily accommodates client logos on a backlit panel above the bottles.

According to company statistics, a typical restaurant will see an increase in the number of glass pours of around 35% within 30 days after installation. Subsequently, there will be a slower, incremental increase in the median value of glasses sold as customers venture up the scale of offered wines.

A proprietary customer card or ordinary credit card enables paid sampling of wines and will even direct guests to an appropriate bin where they can prepay for full bottles. The system kicks out either prepaid receipts or “picking tickets” to hand to staff, who can then assemble the orders. Hyperlinks can be embedded on certain point-of-sale screens to allow customer access to vintner websites. Theoretically, a suitably modified system could sit on every table in a restaurant, automatically sending by-the-glass orders to the bar.

A basic n2Vin system costs $9,996. The n2-e, which allows electronic dispensing, is an even more affordable $3,500.
—Benjamin T. Weinberg

WINE WITH OYSTERS

What wine would you pair with something that survives at the lowest level of the food chain, grazes for its existence, and survives by eating plankton and grass? Hemingway had his Muscadet, and that may have been enough for an American in Paris in the 1920s. Today, considering all we know about oysters and the wines that pair best with them, we have moved all the way to New Zealand.

Perhaps it’s only natural that an island region should take the lead in producing wines to pair with salty, briny oysters. “Seafood with wine is a big part of our diet,” said Nautilus Estate winemaker Clive Jones, referring to classic pairings like scallops with Chardonnay and abalone with Pinot Gris. Jones and John Finger of the Hog Island Oyster Company spoke on the Wines for Oysters panel at the inaugural SF Chefs. Food. Wine. event.

Vibrant fruit and acidity is what a sommelier should look for to match with oysters, and that’s what New Zealand has to offer. In fact, the pairing of oysters with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc continues to win consumer and critical acclaim, most notably in the well-regarded Old Ebbitt Grill International Wines for Oysters Competition, held each fall in Washington, D.C. In 2008, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs took two of the top three prizes out of 304 entries (Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice was grand champion and Whitehaven was second runner-up, both 2008 vintages from Marlborough).

“There is a simplicity to oysters,” Finger said—“something elemental about them.” Since oysters graze on the grasses of the sea, they have a leafy, lettuce-like flavor. The seawater that surrounds them gives them minerality, but it’s what the oysters eat that provides their complexity. It’s a nuance you wouldn’t get, by the way, if you didn’t chew the oyster, which would be like swallowing a wine without letting it linger on your palate or noticing the finish.

Jones and Finger described wine and oysters as a pairing of equals. Like grapes, oysters have seasonal and geographical variations (within a body of water, just as grapes have within a vineyard). Growers separate the fast-growing grapes and oysters from the ones that grow more slowly. Some varieties of oysters, like the Kumamoto, take more patience and experience to get right, rather like Pinot Noir. “At the end of the day,” Jones said, “whether you’re growing grapes or growing oysters, it comes down to agriculture.”
—Cathy Huyghe

LEITHABERG EARNS DAC DESIGNATION

Leithaberg has become Austria’s sixth, and Burgenland’s second, region to receive Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC) status, certifying that the wine not only fulfills the traditional requirements for a quality wine, but also displays the typical taste of a particular winegrowing region. As of Sept. 1, 2010, wines with regional typicity from Eisenstadt and its surrounding areas, including Jois and Winden, can be marketed under the Leithaberg DAC—the first region to receive the designation for both red and white wines. A Leithaberg DAC white must be produced from a single varietal or from some blend of Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, and Neuburger; reds must contain Blaufränkisch, but can also comprise as much as 15% of Zweigelt, Pinot Noir, and St. Laurent. Other DACs recognized to date include Weinviertel for Grüner Veltliner; Mittelburgenland for Blaufränkisch; and Traisental, Kremstal, and Kamptal for both Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.

SOMMELIERS RECEIVE RECOGNITION

Two wine professionals achieved Master Sommelier status at the July examinations in Cincinnati. Sommelier Journal congratulates Brett Davis, sales manager for importer and distributor Vintner Select in Mason, Ohio, and Scott Harper, CWE, of Louisville, Ky., managing partner and corporate wine and beverage director for the five Bristol Bar and Grille restaurants and general manager of the Jeffersonville, Ind., branch. “Brett and I did a lot of studying together,” said Harper. “We also went to Detroit to work with Madeline Triffon, MS, at Coach Insignia; it is always inspiring to be around her.” Passing the exam, he said, “has been a goal of mine since passing the Advanced exam in 2001. Now that I have, I want to help others in Louisville, in particular, and through the Court of Master Sommeliers programs, expand their knowledge. Giving back will be a big thrill for me.” Davis added, “Now that I am fortunate enough to have earned the title, all I can think about is how I can use those letters to put myself in the best position to help teach and propagate up-and-coming wine and service professionals.” The two join 101 other Master Sommeliers in North America.

At the 33rd annual Society of Wine Educators conference, held in Sacramento, Calif., in July, two professionals were recognized for their achievements on the Certified Wine Educator exam. Natalie Guinovart of Buenos Aires was honored with the Banfi Award for earning the highest score on the exam, while Kevin Sharkey, key account specialist for Wine Warehouse in Palm Desert, Calif., was awarded the Wine Appreciation Guild Award for receiving the second-highest score.

Eight new Masters of Wine were certified in early September. Sommelier Journal congratulates Susie Barrie, a freelance journalist, author, and radio-television presenter from Winchester, England; Michael Collier, a wine consultant in Surrey, England; Roman Horvath, managing director of Domäne Wachau in Austria; Isabelle Legeron, an educator, event organizer, and television broadcaster in London; Tim Marson, a wine buyer for Bibendum in London; Tuomas Meriluoto, managing director of WineState importers in Finland; Frank Roeder, founder and chief executive of VIT wine distributors in Saar, Germany; and Mai Tjemsland, owner of GastroConsult, a restaurant, catering company, and wine club in Oslo, Norway. The Institute of Masters of Wine now numbers 280 members.

AMERICAN BREWING NUMBERS UP

The Brewers Association (BA), a Boulder, Colo.-based trade association representing many U.S. brewing companies, reports the highest number of breweries in the United States in a century. According to the association’s midyear craft-brewing report, there were 1,525 breweries in the United States as of July 31, including 962 brewpubs, 456 microbreweries, 64 regional craft breweries, and 43 “other” breweries. “There is a cross going on from wine to craft beer and a trade-up to craft beer due to evolving tastes and palates,” said Julia Herz, BA’s craft-beer program director. In the first half of 2009, the industry showed 5% growth by volume of craft beer sold, compared to 6.5% growth in the first half of 2008. Dollar growth increased by 9%, down from the 11% recorded during the same period in 2008. While craft brewers sold an estimated 4.2 million barrels of beer in the first half of the year, up from 4 million barrels sold in the first half of 2008, overall sales were down 1.3% for U.S. beer and 9.5% for imported beer.

The BA defines a craft brewer as small (annual production of less than 2 million barrels), independent (less than 25% of the brewery owned or controlled by an alcoholic-beverage company that is not a craft brewer), and traditional (an all-malt flagship beer, or at least 50% of its volume in all-malt beers or beers that use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor). “It’s all about what’s in your glass,” Herz said. “If you look at the Slow Food movement, people are getting more in touch—what we call ‘informed consumption.’ People are into knowing the story behind the things they eat and drink, and getting to know your local beer producer is not so hard these days.”

SOMMELIERS SHARE STRENGTH

At its third annual Give Me Five: Five Chefs & Five Sommeliers dinner, held July 26, the Atlanta chapter of the nonprofit organization Share Our Strength raised $50,000 to help end childhood hunger in Georgia. Sponsored by Sonny and Mary Ann Hardman of Georgia’s Persimmon Creek Vineyards, the five-course dinner was prepared by some of the state’s top chefs, including Michael Deihl of East Lake Golf Club; Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch; Kevin Rathbun of Kevin Rathbun Steak, Rathbun’s, and Krog Bar; Jay Swift of 4th and Swift; and Kevin Walker of Cherokee Town & Country Club. Area sommeliers Michael Bryan of the Atlanta Wine School, Stephen Clark of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation, Angela Head of East Lake Golf Club, Seth Roskind of 4th and Swift, and Stevenson Rosslow of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group provided the wine pairings. The night also featured live and silent charity auctions. “We were very pleased and excited to be able to raise such a large amount of money through the gracious support of our sponsors and guests, especially in this time when the need for food assistance for families and children in Georgia is growing,” said Amy Crowell, Atlanta director of Share Our Strength. “This event has raised more and more money each year. The participating chefs and sommeliers are very eager and enthusiastic to help with a great cause.”

COMINGS AND GOINGS

Tony May and daughter Marisa are opening the Italian SD26 this month in New York, with executive chef Odette Fada, chef de cuisine Matteo Bergamini, wine director Jason Ferris, and wine consultant Stefano Milioni. Guests can use wireless, touch-screen wine lists to choose selections from the restaurant’s 10,000-bottle cellar. New York’s Ago has been reinvented as Locanda Verde . Andrew Carmellini is the executive chef and the co-owner with Robert De Niro; other partners include general manager Josh Pickard and Ken Friedman, and Josh Nadel assembled the wine list. A second A Voce location will open this month in the former Café Gray space in the Time Warner Center; Missy Robbins is the executive chef for both spots. Also opening this month in New York are restaurant and oyster bar Ed’s Chowder House , by Jeffrey Chodorow and chef Ed Brown; wine bar Ardesia ; and Travertine , by Danae Cappelletto, where Manuel Treviño will serve seasonal, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Chanterelle has closed for renovations and will reopen Oct. 2, while Oceana has moved to its new 200-seat location in Rockefeller Center, with Ben Pollinger as chef. Cedric Vongerichten, Jean-Georges’s son, is the new executive chef at New York’s Perry St . In Chicago, Browntrout has been launched by chef-owner Sean Sanders, with wine director Nadia Sanders. Chef James Porter is presenting French cuisine at the new Petite Maison in Scottsdale, Ariz. In Los Angeles, partners Chris and Mike Simms and chef Anne Conness have opened Tin Roof Bistro , featuring a New American menu; general manager Mike Simms oversees the wine list. In Hollywood, Calif., executive chef Andy Pastore and wine director Dan Davidson offer Italian specialties at the new Vinolio . Chef Jean-François Meteigner has opened La Cachette Bistro in Santa Monica, Calif., serving California-French fare. In San Francisco’s Stable Café, Saison has opened on Sundays only, with a prix fixe menu; Josh Skenes is the chef, and Mark Bright, formerly of Michael Mina and Stonehill Tavern, the sommelier. Chefs on the move in the city include Laurent Manrique, who has left Aqua , and Nate Appleman, who has departed A16 and SPQR to become a partner in Keith McNally’s Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria , set to open later this year in New York. Alice Waters, chef of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., has been awarded the French Legion of Honor. Sonoma-based Foley Family Wines, owned by Bill Foley, has bought Wattle Creek winery in Alexander Valley and Australian vodka brand Boomerang; it also recently purchased the New Zealand Wine Fund’s five-winery portfolio. French company Boisset Family Estates has bought Raymond Vineyard & Cellar in St. Helena, Calif. Gundlach Bundschu winery has earned Green Business Certification from Sonoma County.

Hot Picks

VALUE WHITE

2007 Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco, Alto Adige $14
This highly regarded co-op from the village of Terlano produces clean, mineral-driven whites and full-flavored reds from both indigenous and international grape varietals. The light and fragrant 2007 Pinot Bianco (aka Weissburgunder) shows crunchy green apple, lemon peel, and white blossoms on the nose. With more acidity than is found in most Pinot Biancos, this wine finishes clean and citrusy. Importer: Banville & Jones Wine Merchants, www.banvilleandjoneswinemerchants.com .

HIGH-END WHITE

2007 Les Crêtes Petite Arvine Vigne Champorette, Valle d’Aosta $45
Les Crêtes, located in the mountain village of Aymavilles, is regarded as one of the best private producers in the region. This 100% Petite Arvine is loaded with acacia flowers, lemon, mandarin orange, Jonathan apples, and exotic passion fruit. The palate reveals an intensely mineral core, with notes of sage, pine resin, and Alpine air. Textured yet ultra-fresh. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, www.domaineselect.com .

VALUE RED

2006 Foradori Teroldego Rotaliano, Trentino $25
Considered the world’s top producer of Teroldego, Elisabetta Foradori continues to scale greater heights with this 2006 release of her “basic” Rotaliano. The wine’s dryness and bright, focused, acidic core remind me of Sangiovese Grosso, but no pure Sangiovese could ever reflect such a deep ruby color or so many layers of ripe black fruit. After it has relaxed in the decanter for a short period, it begins to reveal anise seed, roasted rosemary, and thyme. Importer: Polaner Selections, www.polanerselections.com .

HIGH-END RED

2006 Cantina Terlan Lagrein Porphyr Riserva, Alto Adige $60
Lagrein can be produced in many styles, but the Terlan Porphyr is one of the most powerful incarnations of the scuro (“dark”) variety. The 2006, displaying a distinctive herbaceous note on top of deeply rich black plums and berries, will age for many years. Importer: Banville & Jones Wine Merchants, www.banvilleandjoneswinemerchants.com .

JESSE BECKER, MS, CWE
Sommelier
The Boiler Room
Omaha, Neb.

VALUE WHITE

2007 Castello di Rubbia Malvasia d’Istria, Venezia Giulia $35
This outstanding, deliciously exotic white wine comes from a beautiful estate in San Michele del Carso, within the province of Gorizia, that focuses on the Malvasia, Vitovska, and Terrano grapes. Natasa Cernic runs the operation with her father, aided by consultant Marco Pecchiari. The Carso soils contain an unusually high amount of iron combined with limestone—a perfect terroir for the mostly unknown wines of the area. This Malvasia offers an amazing texture for a white wine with no oak influence. The fruit flavors are pure, intense, and driven by pear, apple, and lemon custard—think Italian Chablis. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, www.domaineselect.com .

HIGH-END WHITE

2004 Nicolas Joly Savennières Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, Loire Valley $75
The Cistercian monks knew there was greatness in this vineyard, which was planted as early as the 12th century. It wasn’t until 1962, however, when the Joly family took the reins, that it began to reach its fullest expression. Coulée de Serrant is now classified as one of the great sites of the world, capable of producing white wines of profound minerality and depth from its red schist soils. Nicolas Joly’s style has been controversial, sometimes displaying bottle variation and a degree of oxidation that might not be for everyone. But if you haven’t tried these wines for awhile, check them out again; the recent vintages are better balanced, showing more freshness and an ampler core of fruit. Importer: Vintus, www.vintuswines.com .

VALUE RED

2006 Quinta do Crasto, Douro $20
This wine echoes the classic blend of Port: Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional. The 20-year-old vines, planted on the schist soils of the Douro, produce wines of complexity, depth, and great flavor. While decidedly Old World in style, the Quinta do Crasto shows a freshness and ripeness that suggest a New World edge. There is a delicious commingling of red and black fruits, with an accent of spicy herb tones that linger on the finish. Importer: Broadbent Selections, www.broadbent-wines.com .

HIGH-END RED

1999 La Castellada Rosso della Castellada, Collio $115
Nicolò Bensa is one of the great producers of the Oslavia subzone, but one of the smallest in terms of production. He owns some 40 different parcels on steep, terraced vineyards in the hills of Collio, planted on a unique, marl-based soil called ponca . Bensa’s Rosso is a prime example of how Merlot can achieve greatness in this tiny region, with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon used to accent its lush, polished, plummy tone. This wine is less expensive than the classic Merlot-based wines of the world; it’s also a perfectly clean and beautiful expression of Italian terroir. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, www.domaineselect.com .

BRETT ZIMMERMAN, MS
Mountain and Desert Regional Manager
Domaine Select Wine Estates
Boulder, Colo.

VALUE WHITE

2007 Cristom Pinot Gris Estate, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon $20
Cristom has consistently produced excellent Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley for many years, but its Pinot Gris from the Emilia estate vineyard is a sleeper. More Alsatian than Oregonian in style, this dry, medium-to-full-bodied white features enticing pear, mandarin orange, and lilac aromas, coupled with bright acidity and surprising depth. www.cristomwines.com .

HIGH-END WHITE

2008 Schloss Gobelsburg Grüner Veltliner Kammerner Renner, Kamptal $41
The historic Schloss Gobelsburg in Austria’s Kamptal region dates back to the 1780s. This winery has firmly reestablished itself with its entire lineup from the 2008 vintage, one that shows the unique character of the property as much as that of the grape. The Renner vineyard rests in the shadow of the Gaisberg and, in 2008, displays all the hallmarks of outstanding Grüner Veltliner: acidity, minerality, and spiciness. This wine will age gracefully. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, www.skurnikwines.com .

VALUE RED

2007 Perrin Côtes du Rhône Réserve $12
With so many lovely 2007s coming from the Southern Rhône, it’s not surprising to find an outstanding wine in this price range from the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel. Definitely a candidate for house red wine in any operation, it contains 60% Grenache, with Syrah and Mourvèdre making up the rest of the blend. Gracious, ripe dark and red fruits are combined with a medium body and an unexpected complexity. Importer: Vineyard Brands, www.vineyardbrands.com .

HIGH-END RED

2007 Morgan Winery Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands $48
Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni planted this 50-acre vineyard in 1997, virtually in the center of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation of Monterey County. They now sell grapes to more than a dozen different wineries, resulting in a wide variety of stylistic interpretations. The 2007 Morgan bottling tilts toward the less-ripe end of the spectrum, but is noteworthy for its pure black-cherry and pomegranate fruit and overall balance. Although this wine will age, it is absolutely lovely now. www.morganwinery.com .

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