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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine


Eat, Drink, Run


The lottery for the NYC Half-Marathon opened yesterday, so I logged on to the New York Road Runners’ web site to sign up. In addition to asking for my estimated finish time, I was asked if I'd be interested in the following: a beer and barbecue bash, a wine and food festival, and wine tastings. Of course I said yes to all three, and then called NYRR to find out more. Ann Crandall, NYRR's senior vice president of business development and marketing, told me, "Most people don't just run. They run and go out for a beer with friends," says Crandall. "We're looking to form partnerships with local restaurants or chefs and create food-driven post-race events." I can't think of a better reason to run.


Rocks in Your Mouth


A group of geologists in Oregon have a few skeptical things to say about the notion of "minerality" in wine, the Southern Oregon Mail Tribute reports. They've got a good point or two—that the amount of actual minerals in wine is below the threshold of human taste and smell, for instance—though they're a bit wobbly on what the French term terroir actually means, which is not just the soil, but the totality of the influence of a specific place on a wine's character.

Terroir takes into account human influence, too, according to Rhône winemaker Michel Chapoutier, who stopped by our office for a quick tasting a few days ago. Chapoutier also made a nice distinction between what he sees as the two broad types of wine in the world: taste-driven wines (where the producer assesses what consumers want, finds appropriate grape sources, and markets a wine that satisfies that demand) and wines of terroir (where the nature of a specific vineyard determines the character of the wine, the winemaker intervenes as little as possible in order to preserve that character, and then the owner hopes that people will buy it). 


Black Tea Vodka


Absolut Vodka Blackberry

© Courtesy of Absolut Vodka
Absolut Boston Blackberry

When angry colonists threw tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, they had no idea that their rebellion would eventually lead to the American Revolutionary War in 1775, or that it would inspire the creation of another kind of beverage in 2009: Absolut Vodka Boston, a limited-edition vodka infused with black tea and elderflower.

Recently, mixologist Jamie Gordon hosted an Absolut Vodka Boston Tea Party at Food & Wine's New York City office. He gave the editorial staff a taste of some fantastic cocktails he created with the spirit, such as the juicy and aromatic Absolut Boston Blackberry.

Makes 1 Drink

4 large blackberries
1 ounce agave nectar
4 ounces Absolut Boston
1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
4 dashes rhubarb bitters

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 2 of the blackberries with the agave nectar. Add the Absolut Boston, lemon juice, bitters and ice. Shake well and double strain into a chilled large martini glass. Garnish with the remaining 2 blackberries.

Wines Above $40

NYC Wine & Food Festival: Beaucastel Tasting


Over the weekend I had the good fortune to introduce (and then sit on a panel with) Marc Perrin of Château Beaucastel, as eighty or so equally fortunate people got to taste through a vertical of Château Beaucastel going back to 1988. The wines showed gorgeously and reaffirmed—not that there's much doubt about it—Beaucastel's place in the top ranks of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape heirarchy.

Perrin was adamant about the benefits of organic viticulture, though in an effortlessly charming way: "When my grandfather decided to use organic viticulture in 1950, people thought he was crazy. But we think it is absolutely the only way to go to make wines that express a sense of place," he stated, adding later, "Industrial yeasts are good for industrial wine. But when you are talking about the identity of a terroir, natural yeast is the only option." 

Beaucastel bottles

Of the vintages we tasted through ('07, '06, '98, '94, '90, '89, & '88), these were my highlights:

2007 Chateau de Beaucastel, a powerful wine with creamy black raspberry and licorice notes, hints of toast and berry skin, and lots of fine-grained but substantial tannins—though still extremely young, it promises to be fantastic over time. This hasn't been released yet, but will be soon; it would be an outstanding cellar purchase.

2000 Château de Beaucastel, which had shifted toward more secondary characteristics of earth and loam under its dark cherry fruit, with a touch of tobacco on the end and a velvety texture. Perrin said it reminded him of "when you go into a forest after it rains," which struck me as just right.

1990 Château de Beaucastel, an extraordinary CdP with lots of life left in it; the aroma was all exotic spice, a hint of bandaid box (i.e. brett, which Beaucastel was known for in the past, & which did not come up during discussion) and dried herbs; the fruit suggested kirsch and raspberry liqueur. Stunning wine. Wish I had a case of it, rather than just a memory.

There was plenty of debate—as there has been over time—about the '89 vs. the '90. Both were terrific—or somewhere beyond terrific, actually. Perrin preferred the '89 this time, which was rounder and more generous, with more dark chocolate than spice notes. I went for the '90.

He also said this about Grenache in general: "For me a great Grenache wine, a big part of the experience, is the texture. It's like eating a cherry—that juicy, fleshy character of a ripe cherry."

Thirsty now?

Wines Above $40

Revisiting a Classic Chianti


In my October column on 50 of the classic wines of the world, I singled out Castello di Monsanto's renowned Il Poggio bottling as a defining example of Chianti. So it was good fortune, or weird coincidence, or something, that Monsanto's Laura Bianchi happened to swing through town today to do a short retrospective tasting of three decades of Il Poggio.

I'll give her the prefatory remark: "What's important is that the style of the wine does not change. We believe in what my father started forty years ago, and we always try to improve the quality but not change the style."

That seems to me a good approach, if you've got a wine in your portfolio that is as exemplary as Il Poggio. It comes from a single five-and-a-half hectare vineyard on the Monsanto property, and is a blend of 90% Sangiovese with roughly equal parts Colorino and Canaiolo, aged for 18 months in new and one-year-old French oak. And, as this tasting proved (yet again; I've tasted this wine a lot over the years) it ages beautifully.

We tasted five vintages—2004, 2003, 1997, 1982, and 1977—and all of them were in admirable shape, with the '04 and the '82 the standouts of the group. 1997 and 2003 were both hot years, and that showed in both wines' black cherry fruit (more dried black cherries in the '97, and shading to plum paste in the '03) and a dark-roast coffee character in the '97 as well. Yet, even in vintages like these, it's worth noting that superripe for Chianti would still be considered somewhat astringent and austere in, say, Napa or Barossa. That's one lovely thing about good Chianti—even from a hot year it retains a cracked-twig crispness to its tannins and general character that makes it a fantastic partner for food.

The '82 was vividly aromatic, full of floral, leather and black tea. In the mouth it showed game and truffle along with sweet dried raspberry and cherry, and, as it opened up, distinctly fresh mint notes. If you can find this anywhere, and it's been stored carefully, buy it. It's drinking beautifully, and should continue to do so for some time.

The '04 is the current release (it's the one I wrote up for my column) and it's a great vintage of this wine. Dark cherry and raspberry aromas with a slight caramel hint from oak, lightly gamy and intense, loads of black cherry fruit, tea leaf suggested both in the taste and in the tactile tannins, an alluring note of violets... It's young, but after about two hours open it was terrific, and if you're hunting for a top-notch Chianti to cellar for—well, pretty much as long as you'd want to cellar it—this is a great choice.




Wine Week, Part Three


Obviously, last Wednesday was an epic day (as evidenced by the fact that it's taken me three days to blog about all of its goings on). The day began with New Zealand Riesling and Pinot Gris, shaded into Sauternes and then was pleasantly capped off with a tasting with Tuscan winemaker Duccio Corsini of Principe Corsini.

Corsini was a great surprise at the end of the long day. He's supremely laid back and a terrific storyteller. His account of his time as an exchange student in Utah during high school—in which he seemingly did nothing but ski—was quite funny. And his lineage, which includes a saint and a pope, provided good fodder, too. Not only were his wines good but he kept me entirely enthralled for well over an hour talking about his olive oil production, his picturesque properties in Tuscany and even his love for hunting wild boar at his Maremma estate. Another amazing thing he told me about was how he puts the olive pits from making his oil to good, sustainable use by burning them to heat his entire Chianti estate.

Now about those wines: Corsini's family has two properties in Tuscany. Le Corti, in Chianti Classico, produces Sangiovese-based wines, and the Marsiliana estate turns out reds blended from Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. He also uses the Marsiliana property for testing out other varietals like Petit Verdot, which apparently does particularly well on the property, and Syrah, which Corsini said unfortunately produced bizarrely generic juice. A few highlights from our tasting:

2006 Le Corti Chianti Classio ($21, find this wine) This earthy, tart cherry-flavored Chianti is from Corsini's Le Corti Estate just outside Florence. The wine sees no oak, but rather is aged in cement and concrete.

2005 Cortevecchia Chianti Classico Reserva ($35, find this wine) Also from the Le Corti Estate, this Reserva bottling is smooth with silky tannins and juicy black cherry notes.

2004 Marsiliana ($54, find this wine) This blend comes from Corsini's estate in the coastal Maremma region of Tuscany. The wine is bold with spice and cassis flavors, but is mellowed by well-integrated oak.


Balvenie’s New Limited-Edition Whiskey


When a friend invited me to a five-course, whiskey-paired dinner at Eleven Madison Park last Wednesday, I hesitated before accepting. I’ve been to plenty of wine- and beer-paired dinners, but sipping whiskey through a meal sounded a little intense. If anyone could pull it off, though, it would certainly be genius chef Daniel Humm. And the whiskeys around which he created the menu weren’t just any whiskeys. We were being treated to six limited-edition Balvenie 17-year-old single-malt scotch whiskeys, including the 2001 Balvenie Islay Cask and the super-rare 2006 Balvenie New Wood. The pairing of the night: The 2007 Balvenie Sherry Cask matched with Humm’s black angus tenderloin with roasted summer beans. Most of these scotches are nearly impossible to find, but the newest limited-edition release, the Balvenie Madeira Cask, will be in stores in early October. This extraordinarily rich scotch, matured in oak and finished in casks that were used to make fortified Madeira, was the nightcap to our feast, with sweet vanilla-oak notes that gave way to spices and dried fruit and a seemingly never-ending finish.   


© William Grant & Sons
The Balvenie Madeira Cask 17-Year-Old


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