Sunday, September 2, 2012

set down on the two'th of sept

Seven Hymns to a Real Gone Goddess:
            1. Holy Days Drawn from Darker Fountains
            2. Scarlet Sabbath Commentary
            3. An Anthem for Clowns
            4. A Moderate Alchemy of Desultory Purpose
            5. Through the Mouse-Hole into Heaven
            6. No Fooling
            7. The Winds at Dawn

Monday, April 2, 2012

that Pest most pestiferous and pestilent... ~

Phylloxera Vastatrix... sounds like the stage name of a frowsy screen-starlet appearing in low-budget S&M movies. And oh, what we folks in the world of fine wine wouldn’t give if only that were the case, and this critter—also known as Daktulosphaira vitifoliae—were really a cinema-performer of indifferent talent. Phylloxera is a little beastie of the insect persuasion, a louse—and a lousy one at that. Phylloxera is in the most deadly enemy of the fine-wine grape-vine. In fact, the only food of this worldwide menace is the fine-wine grape-vine, vitis vinifera. This little pestiferous insect, greenish-yellow of hue and silent of cry, nourishes itself by sucking fluid out of the vine. And as it sucks, it injects the plant with its poisonous saliva, which results in formation of small galls on the leaves, along with nodules on the roots. The resultant swelling inhibits growth in the infested sections of rootlet, and the portion eventually dies. This, coupled with secondary damage from fungus and other insects, results in the eventual decay of the plant. The adults are quite tiny, about .04 inch long and half as wide, and thus very difficult to detect. Phylloxera has got a rather complex life-cycle: some lice feed on the roots of vines, while other lice munch in a most licentious fashion on the foliage, providing a one-two punch that is easily capable of putting fine wine production down and out.

They’re quite prolific: each female lays 400 eggs per sitting, often reproducing asexually when there’s no male available. The nymph spends the winter on the vine, awakening with warm weather and commencing to feed. They spread either by being blown around by the wind, or by crawling on their own in search of new fodder once an infested vine dies—on occasion the female lays eggs that produce offspring of both sexes, who do mate. It makes one wonder, if there is indeed anything Intelligent about the Design of things, why Nature would provide such a destructive pest with so many means of propagation and survival...

What can be done to combat the spread of phylloxera? Sandy and wet soils offer vitis vinifera a certain degree of protection from the pest, but humidity presents good grape growing with other challenges. One solution is found in the vine-nursery. Even though our American vines vitis riparia and vitis berlandiera do not produce distinguished or even satisfying wines, they possess a native resistance to the depredations of the plant louse. The trick was developed some hundred and few years ago of grafting buds from vitis vinifera vines onto rootstocks of these aforementioned hardy midwesterners.

And no matter what one’s opinion of the French as a nation might be, one surely knows that they’ve had their gallic pride sorely wounded twice in the twentieth century, when it required armed intervention on the part of the United States to save their butts from the Germans. But an even crueler joke on them guys over there is the fact that nearly all of their celebrated grape-vines in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are in fact grafted on to vine-roots whose roots (as it were) are in Ohio.

It has become by now a moot point whether the pre-phylloxera wines of Bordeaux (by which we mean those from the 1860s and earlier) were greater and more profound than those made afterward, but once upon a time there was lively debate about whether or not Bordeaux had ever entirely recovered its former glory.

In the 1860s the insect was indentified who had just begun laying waste to the vines of Bordeaux and the Rhône. It had arrived on vines brought from the eastern United States for experimental purposes. From there, it spread out indiscriminately over the European continent, munching on every vinifera rootstock it could grasp with its greedy little mandibles along the way. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had destroyed two out of every three vineyards in Europe. And for an encore, it marched westward across the Rocky Mountains, and devastated the nascent Californian viticulture in the 1880s.

Imagine the level of panic. Some positive developments resulted, like when Bordeaux’s wine-expertise moved south to Rioja in search of resistant vineyards and created a Spanish still-wine industry, the fruits of whose labor we this day savor... But the European wine industry took up until the nineteen-twenties to come close to catching up.

And more recently in the closing years of the 20th Century, the curse came home to roost once more, when it began tearing a new path through the vines of California. Rootstocks which were developed in the 1960s and 70s to combat other problems turned out to be less resistant to the bug, and have recently been replaced at colossal expense—another factor which has contributed to price increases for the fine wines of Napa and Sonoma.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

una sorpresa en sonoma was thwarted in fulfilling my duty to taste an American Grüner Veltliner, because my favourite watering-hole in Santa Rosa—Petite Syrah—no longer had it on by the glass; but was rewarded with a lovely surprise.
first things first—I grew up and spent much adulthood (different from adultery, although I tried that a couple times as well) driving French-door Lincoln Continentals and fuselage Imperials (and a beloved black 1965 Chrysler Newport). I have always demonstrated an uncanny ability to whip any size automobile into any sized parking-space… but now the clever Sons of the Mysterious East have designed a new compact—the Mazda 3, which is by no means a piece of crap—where the driver cannot see the end of the hood or the end of the trunk (neither boot nor bonnet). And since my eye-surgery I am no longer blind as a bat, so perhaps have resultantly lost the proverbial sonar that went with feeling my way through life for so long. Sliding into a mooring in front of my favourite watering hole in Santa Rosa, I actually kissed the back bumper of the rice-burner parked in front of mine… True confessington.
out of respect for a bit of a cold I skipped cocktails, and since there was no American GV by the glass on a wine-list that was more up-to-date than the one on their website, I ordered a glass of the Kistler Chardonnay. Les Noisetiers—and I do love the Dylan/Band classic ‘Hazel’ from their album Planet Waves...
...never understood the fuss, never bought bottles, but have certainly tasted Kistler on numerous occasions. And the glass-pour came like it ought in a Burgundy balloon—just fine... I took one taste and summoned the server. I had ordered a half-dozen oysters au naturel, and said to the nice lady—out of respect for what are likely fine oysters, I’d better have a glass of that-there Albariño you’ve got with them. I always try to drink domestic and preferably local, but an oyster is an oyster, and deserves better than to end up in the bludgeon-like grasp of a monster CA chardonnay—which btw was just grand with a concoction of Squid and Chorizo which was so Portuguese it made me realise that I’d just left Newark yesterday…
imagine my astonishment when I later re-perused the wine-list to select a glass of red, only to learn that the really fine Albariño, which had gone perfectly with the Miyagi oysters, was not from Galicia, but from Napa Valley. ¡Holy Shirt! —hairshirt that is, to wear for the penance that I am due to do… Abrente is the name of the estate, and this stuff was really yummy. 2010 Abrente Stuart Ranch Albariño. Live and let learn. Peppery and citric, floral, mineral-laden—or so it would seem... nice length and grip—a great domestic buddy for the modern bivalve.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Just Enough Gruener to Get You Grinning ~ a sort of an introduction...

those who started with wine since the mid-nineties haven’t had to cope with the emotional strain of adding this variety to their mental wine-lists; it was part of the picture into which they themselves were painted. 
...but for the older generation, it proved somewhat of a challenge to hear that the top white grapes Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc had an additional companion—perceived by many as a competitor—to round out the handful: Austria’s national treasure, the Grüner Veltliner. For some, this proved to be an insurmountable inconvenience; they spun out on the learning-curve and pretended it didn’t exist.
and recently a normally quite reliable scribe put forth the hypothesis that it was the ä that made people shy away from the grape Blaufränkisch—although from my vantage point selling the stuff, it doesn’t look like anybody has shied very far away. So as far as the ü goes, if your keyboard doesn’t come equipped with a ü key, or you can’t find the Option key on your iMac, or have forgetten the ascii code on your PC, relief is in sight! The spelling Gruener is quite acceptable in the most observantly grammatical German-language circles, and will help get folks away from saying anything groanworthy like grooner. The first vowel is halfway between Groon the old King Crimson instrumental number (the b-side of their seminal single Cat Food, with departing bassist Greg Lake on lead vocals) and the grin that you grin where and when the wine goes in—halfway between u and sometimes-y.
...and that’s not just an empty toddle down musical Memory Lane, but it occurs to me just now that if one were obliged to eat cat food, Gruener Veltliner would probably go with it just fine. It’s a wine that excels in situations where others fear to venture. Couple exceptions: to cope with the edible extremity of the Scoville scale, or with fresh tomatoes, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc is in fact better. But GV works wonders with layered flavors, with Asian (con)Fusion, hot hams from sty-town and all sorts of wriggly critters who once called the water home. And it absolutely shines alongside steak tartare. Go fish go fig... (yes, figs are good companions as well, ‘specially in the company of prosciutto and gorgonzola ‘longside a heavyweight GV)
GV is an actor with many masks. At the basic level, when Gruener Veltliner comes out of the spigot in a tavern in Vienna’s picturesque district Grinzing, it’s like Pinot Grigio with an imagination. At the top end, from the best sites in the Wachau region, let’s say, it can scare the bejabbers out of grand cru white Burgundy. In between he offers a seemingly inexhaustible variety of textures and nuances available, which have more or less to do with the type of dirt the grape was grown in, and the weather during the growing season. It doesn’t show the effects of terroir quite so avidly and vividly as does that noblest of white varieties, the Riesling, but it’s easier about it, somewhere in the running with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. In the top sites of the Wachau, however, the combination of GV with decomposed granite can be so striking that I once had a hard time telling a Josef Högl GV apart from a Högl Riesling.
did we say that GV is uniquely Austrian? At least in heritage it is, along with belonging to neighboring Moravia, Slovakia and the Czech republic. It has recently expanded to places like the USA, Germany, New Zealand and Oz near Adelaide, with results waiting to be determined. Writing from early-morning-foggy Sonoma, I am anticipating drinking my first CA Gruner Veltliner (sic) within hours of belaboring this revision.
DNA research has indicated that one parent of the GV was Traminer, and the other seems to have been an old unique and unknown vine discovered in Burgenland, in Sankt Georgen, now called St Georgener, which is being cultivated on an experimental basis. In one of the more bizarre current events in the world of wine, vandals—for reasons best understood by themselves alone—attacked this 500 year old vine last winter and chopped it to pieces. I was very relieved when back in May I climbed the hill in St G with Hans Moser, and was able to verify for myself that the old fellow had survived, was still alive and sprouting new shoots.
and the taste of GV? This covers quite a wide spectrum. One of its identifying flavor-characteristics is the white-pepper snap—called Pfefferl in Austrian—which tingles throughout the finish. For starters, on the leaner end of things, the fresh and bright GVs tend to offer citrus aromas and flavors, ripening toward green apples and apricots. When GV puts on more weight, that's when the bananas blossom and the pineapples explode into a panoply of tropical topics, like mango and kiwi—some of these flavor profiles become quite exotic. Acidity is not quite so pronounced as with Riesling or Chenin Blanc, but will vary according to the individual vintage.
although Gruener Veltliner has been known to survive encounters with 225-litre French barriques, it shows best when elaborated in old neutral wood - 3000L - or in super-stainless steel tanks. And we are glad to report that nearly everybody has given up the oh-so-2004 practice of starting fermentation using cultured aromatic yeasts...
and to make the poster on the postoffice wall complete, Mr GV is also known by the following aliases:
Bielospicak, Dreimänner, Falkensteiner, Fehérhegyü, Grüner Muskateller, Nemes Veltelini, Manhardsrebe, Manhartsrebe, Mouhardsrebe, Ryvola Bila, Tarant Bily, Valteliner, Veltlini, Veltlinske Zelené, Weißgipfler, Weißreifler, Weißmuskateller, Yesil Veltliner, Zeleny Muskatel, Zleni Veltinac, Zöld Muskotaly und Zöld Veltelini.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

a quick look at some NYC lists for the folks at Winemonger Imports —

when I was a windy boy and a bit...

that’s the start of a famous poem by Dylan Thomas, but having been myself at one point a windy boy, I am reminded in reading this of a time in my career when I set about to learn all that I might about matters of interest spread out far and wide—

which led the spread of course to include food and wine.

I remember the first time I made a terrific mess of a match. I was just learning my way around the vineyards of France, and learning the intricate routes and branches of my own gradschool kitchen.

one night I had favorite nonhorizontal girlfriend Jane-Emily over for dinner in my digs in Boston. I had recently learned about ginger, which to this day is one of the signature elements that sails forth from my wok or sauté pan (often with a bit of garlic on its breath)...

and I was learning about what goes with ginger; one of these things is honey. And I hadn’t become as shy of commercial chicken at that point as I am now, so was quite pleased to concoct a concoction of chicken breasts with ginger and limejuice and honey, and not much else except rice and lima beans, steamed both.

I had also just discovered Sauvignon Blanc. And along with this came the realization that the best SBs come from lands laid out along a little lazy waterway called the Loire... in a far-off winegrowing region, name of France.

and so I served a really nice bottle of Pouilly-Fumé from Baron de Ladoucette—

alongside the dish that would coldbloodedly murder it.

imagine the smoky and tart, bracing character of the sauvignon being turned to bitter and angry—the ginger was not at fault, but rather the bee-product and the lime. Ouch! One too sweet, the other too tart... caught in the pincers’s grippington...

My dinner guest was gracious and patient with me; the friendship survived, and I am proud to say that I have never had such a hazardously wasted wine experience since then—although my career of trial and error still involves much error.

but... here are a few fine matches, from the wine lists and menus of some of NYC's most distinctive restaurants:

Gramercy Tavern

I've been going here since shortly after they opened, returning to the scene of several crimes, frinstance the place where I first had really fine Grüner Veltliner in the USA—Nigl Kremser Freiheit paired with crab and uni... But at the moment we're deep into the winter tasting menu, and nothing presents so signature a pairing as Blaufränkisch with their Roasted Loin of Venison served with Chestnuts, Beets and Pear. Wine director Juliette Pope has cut a good swath through our supply of the Moric Blaufränkish Reserve 2007. Just a little off-center for Moric; grower Roland Velich had to add a few barrels to his cellar on this occasion, so there's an atypical hint of new wood along with the black cherry and redcurrant fruit-tones. A classical case of deer in the highlights.


The thing I love best about Craft is that many of the dishes seem so simple that you could almost do it at home... But of course you can't; the actual preparations are deeply involved. My favorite is the Short Ribs of Beef with Root Vegetables, and the typical sides I typically order are Polenta and the Brussels Sprouts (cooked Bavarian style with bacon). Goodness knows what time those short ribs had to get up in the morning to make their date with the pressure-cooker... Running matured Barbaresco a close race for “nothing better” alongside this textural extravaganza is the St Laurent Zagersdorf 2007 from Rosi Schuster. This is like pinot noir's kinky cousin tuned up to an exhilarating level, the limestony soils accenting earthy underpinnings to the wild cherry and cassis tones of the wine, kicks the beef in the ribs and makes the flavors giddyup and go...


...oh my favorite by far among the fare is Wolfgang's Pochiertes Ei, a magickal marriage of maitake mushrooms, lobster, the poached egg in the title and last week's pumpernickel bread. With one tender and slender strand of cilantro, which arrives at different points of the proceeding on each separate occasion... One of the most demanding dishes to match, however—I’ve had it shrug off white Burgundies, and remain indifferent to Grüner Veltliner, and even turn its back on Riesling Sekt. The answer? Pinot Noir! And that's maybe because of the mushrooms... I've had a Bourgogne Passetoutgrains do quite well, and my friend Lingenfelder’s most excellent Ganymed, a Spätburgunder from the Pfalz, is fine, but the wine that takes the prize is the Stift Goettweig Messwein Pinot Noir Rosé 2009; long on pinot and pure pleasure, short on tannin, just manages to add a spot of refreshment that the darker pinots don't master.

Trestle on Tenth

Owner/Chef/Wine Director Ralf Kuettel has successfully synthesized Modern American with his Swiss roots—and one of the things that the Europeans do quite well is steak tartare. Ralf’s comes as an appetizer with toasts—although I tend to order it as a lunchtime entree hold the toasts, with a big bowl of fries. And what do I drink with it? It's a very traditional style, generous with the Worcestershire sauce, and I learned long ago from an unknown sommelier in a foreign language (it was in a brasserie in Orléans, actually, not in the wine country, and he made me drink a pinot gris from Alsace) that one drinks a white wine with tartare. Why? because it's not the meat, it's the lotion... the flavors of the condiments, aforementioned English sauce plus mustard and shallots and capers and Wachtelei, will do violence to most any red wine. And there's nothing that goes along with such a riot of spicy stuff as Grüner Veltliner does. Joseph Högl Ried Schön Federspiel has held pride of place as the choice for quite some time now. Just turning the corner between the apricot orchard and the pineapple patch, Schön means beautiful and the wine knows it.

The Red Cat

And across the avenue from Trestle, there is a bastion of American comfort food, raised to an exalted level—Jimmy Bradley’s Red Cat. One need go no further than my favorite nibble to become acquainted with the level of imagination at work here: tempura’d green beans. Simple and memorable, teasing and enticing. And what do we drink with them? Well, we drink Grüner Veltliner here, as well, although not quite as refined as on the other side of 10th... here’s the Elite Liter—Ebner- Ebenauer Grüner Veltliner from the Weinviertel town of Poysdorf. There's a delightful kitchen-garden aspect to the lighter and brighter GVs, wines that tend to favor the citric side rather than the tropical, and this delightful libation from Marion and Manfred most handily measures the mustard, then takes the bean by the string and teaches it to sing.