Last week, Grub Street invited readers to decide whether Per Se’s new series of wine dinners—"The American Table at Per Se”—was a deal or a way to make dining at the pricey Michelin-three-star restaurant even more expensive. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve got $325 (not including tax) to throw around, a good way to spend it is at the inaugural event tonight, with Wells Guthrie of Copain Wines. Not only does Guthrie make exceptional Pinot Noirs and Syrahs (F&W called him a food and wine visionary in 2008), he’ll also pour selections from some of his French influences, like superstar Jean-Louis Chave. Although Guthrie will be too busy pouring wine to cook, he probably
I had the good fortune yesterday to attend a substantial retrospective of gran reserva Riojas from some of the top producers in the region. I've long been a Rioja fan, and have for just about as long been convinced that traditionally styled Riojas are some of the best wines to cellar if you're interested in drinking older wines—they age wonderfully, especially from great years, and, relative to similarly long-lived reds, are distinctly underpriced.
First, though, I should give a shout-out to my fave affordable Rioja from the big tasting that followed the retrospective, which was the 2004 Bodegas Luis Canas Crianza, a juicy, cherry-filled, appealingly streamlined red that sells for under $15. Good juice.
Of the older wines, the winner of the day for me was the 1982 Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904, pale red in hue, utterly classic with its aromas of dried cherries, leather, black tea leaf, and resinous spices. On the palate it added a coffee note to that mix of characteristics, and a silky texture and presence that was just gorgeous—drinking it was like a psychic transportation to Rioja. Which is pretty impressive, for fermented grape juice in a bottle...
The two oldest wines in the lineup were fascinating as well. The 1964 Marqués de Riscal Gran Reserva (a blend of 75% Tempranillo with 25% Cabernet) was intensely luscious and deep to start with, full of sweet rich cherry and mocha notes, lush tannins, and a lightly resinous funky note—which, unfortunately, intensified as the wine opened and eventually left it pretty odd and stinky. Such are the risks of old bottles. On the other hand, the 1964 Faustino I Gran Reserva, which started out somewhat nondescript and a bit thin, opened up into a beautiful old Rioja, elegant in a noble way, with cool sweet berry notes, layers of herbal nuances, a hint of dark chocolate, and a really graceful structure. So, such are the benefits of old bottles...
None of those wines is really findable except, possibly, at auction (or in Spain). The 2001 Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial ($54), though, should be around and about, and was the star of the younger wines in the retrospective—cherry fruit with notes of licorice and forest floor, ripe and dense but not heavy, and a leathery-gamey hint on the end. All the richness of the '01 vintage in a classically styled wine, in a sense. I wish I had a case so I could see how it will be, forty years down the line. —R.I.
Last week, I attended a dinner at Bouley, where winemaker Axel Heinz presented four vintages of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s Masseto (the highly acclaimed Merlot-based Super Tuscan), including the not-yet-released 2006 as well as the 2005, 2001 and 1997. Heinz invited everyone who attended to bring a bottle—one they felt was iconic in some way, from a producer who had “stood the test of time.” Unfortunately, I have no cellar to pull such a wine from, so instead I opted for the 1998 López de Heredia Viña Gravonia ($28, find this wine), a white Rioja from a traditional producer who holds wines at the estate for years—even decades, for its top wines—before releasing them. (1998 is the current vintage of this wine.)
As the sommelier poured me some 1988 Dom Pérignon, he set my bottle down next to a 1970 Château Margaux and a 1990 Ridge Geyersville, which made me feel more than a little sheepish. Thankfully, my humble bottle—one that at eleven years old tastes fresh and, in some ways, even too young to drink—provoked a great discussion about López de Heredia’s iconic status. I said I chose the wine because I admired the producer for sticking to its traditional-winemaking guns. In Rioja, many producers have embraced a more international style of wine: The whites are aged in stainless steel (instead of old oak barrels) and are often crisp but unmemorable. The reds are highly extracted and aged in new oak barrels for a richer, more polished style. Everyone agreed that López—with its elegant reds that age wonderfully and its extraordinary whites that often last even longer—has become an icon, but some people at the table wondered if it's simply because the López is the "last man standing" in a sea of producers who have modernized. Whatever the answer, I was happy it that it paired beautifully with Bouley’s porcini “flan,” an egg white–thickened dashi broth studded with meaty chunks of Dungeness crab. Better than the '06 Masseto, I must say.
And what about the Massetos? I found it fascinating to taste how all of the vintages had a distinctive (and wonderful) combination of mouth-filling fruit, terrific structure and a luxuriously long finish. The 2006 was much more opulent than the 2005, which was a tougher year in Tuscany; the ’05 seemed a bit closed. The sexy 2001 and 1997 were both noticeably silkier, thanks to their softening tannins, but had little in terms of secondary notes; I imagine more will start to develop as they continue to age. These wines have a lot of extraction, yes, but their balance across the board was impressive. In summary, the wines were correct—impeccable, even. It was hard to find a flaw. But does being flawless make something inspiring? Does flawlessness make a wine an icon? Perhaps. But is it worth paying upwards of $250 for that?
I'm not so sure. But I'm grateful to have tried them, and if you ever get the chance to taste Masseto, I would say definitely do. —Kristin Donnelly
Marchese Piero della Rocchetta of Italy's famed Sassicaia recently moonlighted as a sommelier at New York City’s A Voce. “It was almost like playing on an NBA basketball team," he said. "Everyone on staff was so in tune with each other.”
What was the biggest challenge of the night?
"Keeping up with wine director Olivier Flosse."
What was the highlight of the night?
"The opening of a magnum of 1988 Sassicaia and a double magnum of Sassicaia from 1996."
Would you consider making the transition to sommelier?
"I'd absolutely do it again. Just like in basketball it comes down to teamwork and following a great leader, Olivier. "
Every spring, I wait for that transcendent moment when everything comes together and the season hits its most refreshing, jubilant, birds a-chirping note and there's no looking back to the bleak days of winter. That moment finally arrived last night over a couple of pizzas on the patio of Franny's in Brooklyn. I was with my dear friend John, we could see the Big Dipper, the pies were expertly wood-fired and I discovered the absolutely most perfect pizza wine ever in a glass of Bonarda from Italy's Lombardia region. The 2007 Castello di Luzzano Oltrepò Pavese ($16, find this wine) is deep red and lightly frizzante with lively cherry fruit and a kick of juicy mandarin orange flavor that was incredible with the tangy tomato sauce on our buffalo mozzarella pizza. Served chilled, it's similar to a Lambrusco but not as dark and frothy, just bright and clean. And to think this is only the beginning of patio-Bonarda-star-gazing weather. —Megan Krigbaum
The next time you dine at A Voce in New York City, you may want to pay extra attention to the person walking you through the wine list. The restaurant, now helmed by incredibly talented executive chef Missy Robbins, is bringing in rock stars of the wine world and challenging them to assume the duties of a sommelier for a night. Axel Heinz of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masseto and Marchese Piero della Rochetta of Sassicaia have already moonlighted as sommeliers. Michael Mondavi will be walking guests through the wine list and pouring on June 12, and Lamberto and Ferdinando Frescobaldi will be working the floor in September. The guest-sommelier program, which is the brainchild of A Voce's wine director Olivier Flosse, will continue at the second A Voce location at the Time Warner Center when it opens this fall.
© Ray Isle
Ziggy, the Wine Wonder Dog!
If you've read through our just-released June issue you may know that I spent some time a little while back engaged in a cork-taint sniff-off with a Labrador named Ziggy. A fun story to write—but I didn't get to run a picture of Ziggy along with it, so I'm rectifying that now. Cute, isn't she? And don't ever try to get a TCA-tainted barrel stave past her.
The other thing I didn't have room to write about in the story were the wines of Sojourn Cellars, a partnership between Craig Haserot, Ziggy's owner, and winemaker Erich Bradley. That's a shame, because they're well worth writing about. Sojourn makes a number of Pinot Noirs and Cabernets from various Sonoma vineyards, and is open for salon-style tastings (by appointment) in the small white house off the main square in Sonoma where I had my showdown with Ziggy.
The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($36) is a blend from four different vineyards, pale ruby in hue, with appealing sweet strawberry and cherry cola notes and a hint of rhubarb. It has an impressively silky mouthfeel, which jibes with Haserot's comment as I was tasting: "From a philosophical standpoint, we are hyper-focused on mouthfeel. It has to feel good before it tastes good. So we focus a lot on tannin management."
The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Windsor Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) offered cooler fennel-herbal notes with dense, sweet berry fruit, a touch of candied raspberry, and smoky tannins on the end; lots of saturated flavor here.
My favorite of the Pinots, the 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) has impressively sustained flavors of ripe wild raspberries and spice, a note of grapefruit peel in its acidity, and, overall, just exceptional balance and poise. The section of Sangiacomo that Haserot sources grapes from is, he says, "a nice cool spot right at the base of Sonoma Mountain, with a lot of marine influence; essentially the northern end of the Petaluma Gap."
Of the Cabernets, I thought the 2006 Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($39) was a steal for the quality it offers. The vineyard's called Home Ranch because it's essentially Haserot's backyard; the wine itself is luscious and rich, with mocha and black currant flavors and a touch of minty eucalyptus—a big, robust, embraceable Cabernet. Thinking about it makes me want to go out and grill a bunch of steaks right now.
On a different note, the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) is powerful and dark—much more a classic mountain-fruit Cabernet—with blackberry and black-currant fruit that's wrapped up in gripping but ripe tannins. The wine comes from the best seven barrels off Sojourn's Mountain Terraces vineyard; it's drinking very well now, and it should be drinking even better after four or five years in the cellar.
Sojourn's wines are available in some shops and at restaurants, but the production is fairly small, so they're easiest to find by getting in touch with the winery directly.
Despite the dreary weather here in NYC, it is Spring, so I'm going to operate under the delusion that if wine glasses are filled with lively springtime wine, then the sun will emerge, birds will chirp, fluffy clouds will drift in the cerulean sky, and all that sort of pastoral folderol will mark our days for weeks to come.
To that end, I'd suggest going out en masse and depleting stores of their stocks of the 2007 Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner ($14, find this wine). It's a bright, vibrant white, with the pea tendril-pepperiness that Grüner often has, fresh grapefruit acidity, and a briskly herbal finish. Loimer makes a variety of higher-end estate Grüners that are impressive as well, but for the cash, this one's a no-brainer. —R.I.
© Trapiche/Frederick Wildman
Finger-squeezing at Trapiche
Ever since a lunch last week, when I had the opportunity to taste a slew of single-vineyard Malbecs from Argentina's Trapiche winery, I've been trying to wrap my mind around something flabbergasting that I was told there. When we came to the last wine of the tasting, a luscious deep, dark, black cherry-flavored Malbec called Manos, Gustavo Arroyat, Trapiche's Export Manager, informed us that wine is called Manos because it's entirely handmade. Not only are the grapes hand-harvested, and the best bunches hand-selected and hand-sorted, but each and every grape is hand-pressed. Meaning, each grape is squeezed between a human finger and thumb to release its juices. Now, call me a cynic, but I've have had a hard time buying this. Foot-stomping grapes, sure, but finger-squeezing?
Well, express doubt, and ye shall receive. In response to my queries came the above photo. For obvious reasons, there's not much Manos around—only about 500 cases—and at $90 it's definitely pricey, but the inaugural 2004 vintage has loads of juicy black fruit and an elegant structure. It's a perfect match for barbecue, especially the sweet-glazed Kansas City Spareribs from Blue Smoke that I had with it that day. — Megan D. Krigbaum
Starting this time of year through the fall, New York City's eternally crowded scenester restaurant, Balthazar, goes through something like a billion cases of Sancerre a week. This minerally French Sauvignon Blanc is intensely refreshing on a hot day, but thanks to its popularity, good, cheap Sancerre is a rarity. So I was thrilled to find another, equally satisfying Sauvignon Blanc from France's Loire Valley: the gulpable 2008 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny ($15). It's got that telltale Sauvignon grassiness along with ripe yet tart apple flavors. There's a slight richness (thanks to the touch of Chardonnay in the blend) along with plenty of snappy acidity and clean minerality. In other words, tough wine not to like... — Kristin R. Donnelly