January 2012

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Grape 67: Gamay

Wine Importing Fantasies
Amateurs might fantasize about opening their own importing company, one where they enjoy a life of tasting amazing wines (for free!), traveling to all the best vineyards and bringing exciting new products to the market that eagerly awaits the next big thing in the wine world.

Few Importer Fanboys
Sadly, I get the sense that the day-to-day of wine importing is far from the fantasy. Not knowing any industry insiders, this is all speculation but have a look at the “List of Wine Personalities.” Zero wine importers listed for the US, and only one wine importer listed anywhere (Englishman Pat Simon, RIP). Fame and fortune? Maybe fortune, not fame.

Importing the Right Way
And yet, wine importers deserve respect and sometimes even receive it. Last year, the wine importer Joe Dressner (of Louis/Dressner) passed away and the outpouring of grief came from some of my favorite names in the wine industry: see here and here (and how he rocked my world with Vouvray). He was apparently a pretty atypical guy who cared enormously about the quality of his wines and cared a great deal about putting his name on wines, which is really what every importer should be striving for.

Stentor Lynch
Typically though, importers have their name in tiny font on the back label, underneath anything else that people will actually read. Surgeon general warning, alcohol content, long and boring description of the wine – oh, there’s the importer, right after all that. But then there’s Kermit Lynch. He’s an importer who’s not afraid to throw his name front and center on the FRONT of the bottle and announce with stentorian charm that “This bottle is approved by Kermit Lynch.” Kermit Lynch is a name worth paying attention to, not just because bloggers loved Kermit, but because he shows surprising, sometimes shocking wines.

Kermit Lynch Approved this Wine
Beaujolais is the wine of the day, and I’m convinced it will take years before I’ve mastered the art of spelling it correctly. Beaujolais is also a wine that Kermit approves, at least the kind of Beaujolais wine made by Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Files (Dupeuble Wine Estate, Father and Sons).

Light body, almost no tannins to annoy, round cherry taste, fun and fruity without being too sweet, slightly spicy on the end.

Detail Up!
2009 Beaujolais Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils from Beaujolais, France

Random Googles:
* Gamay’s full name is “Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc,” which means “Black Gamay with White Juice.” Surprising to no one, the grape is black and the juice it produces is white.
* Sparkling Gamay exists and is just as polarizing as the regular Gamay (h/t Beaujolais Nouveau hatred).
* Dukes are allowed to just flat-out ban grapes for being “a very bad and disloyal plant.” Imagine what they would do to disloyal duchesses.

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Wino Confession Time
Ordering wine at a restaurant is awful. Just awful. And the thicker the book, the more awful the decision. Hundreds of choices, maybe thousands, and you’re the one who’s going to choose what people are drinking for the meal. Spicy shrimp for the lady, pear salad for the other lady, and t-bone steak for the gentleman. Now, what wine will we be having tonight?

Ambient Wine
Plus, in all likelihood you’re going to have a 10 second conversation with the waiter about the wine, maybe the waiter has tried them, maybe they just want to sell you something and move on. And honestly, we all want to move on. We’re not dwelling on the wine. We want the wine to be there like we want ambient music, in the background, maybe triggering a memory, but not overpowering the real business of the night – talking over each other.

Yet another reason that couples should date
But, confession time – it’s amazing when you’re at a restaurant with your loved one and you can actually read the wine menu. When you have time to parse through it like summer fiction, unhurried and enjoying every word. You can talk about certain wines you know (possibly 1 out of 100), get excited when there’s a new grape or a new region, or just something funky on the menu, and actually enjoy the process of looking through the wine list without the pressure of executive decision-making ticking off the seconds in your head. It’s letting the inner geek out for a run in the park and knowing that however long it takes, it’s fine. You’ve got all the time in the world.

Strange Grape
Such was the date night on a recent frigid weekend when Chica and I went to Uvarara for the first time. Uvarara (translated “strange grape?”) sits out in the car-friendly part of Queens, which means the next time we’re going is when we next rent a vehicle. They’re all about strange, Italian grapes and had all kinds of regional grapes on their short but fascinating wine list.

Bottle Doubles
Perricone is the grape we chose and when the owner brought over the bottle for inspection, it became immediately clear that we both recognized the label. Not one week before we had bought a wine by that same producer because it was a new grape and was under $10 (an exciting, rare fine) and we had the bottle sitting at home, still untouched. Now this thing NEVER happens to us. We don’t have a ton of wine and we usually know what we have so surprises at restaurants don’t occur at the moment the bottle shows up at the table.

Feeling Old
But in that instant, I knew the quizzical look on Chica’s face, knew what it meant and thought the same thing. It felt old. Like octogenarian, front porch, married people old. Like how old is supposed to feel when you know someone for an extremely long time and have all kinds of shared experiences from living together for so many decades. So, Perricone became the old people, long memory wine even before the first sip.

And the first sip lived up to the hype, I’m happy to report. Dusty, medium body, blackberry, plum, non-spicy, long non-fruity finish with more dust on the end. Nothing offensive to it – mild, smooth, subtle wine, little violet too. Great value for $9 retail.

Detail Up!
Colle del Mandorlo 2010 Perricone by Feudo Montoni from Sicily, Italy

Random Googles:
* Perricone might be related to Barbera (or even the same thing – DNA test pending), another light-medium Italian grape that crafted really positive family memories with Sister Consueldo in the past. In a parking lot.
* Perricone is really bitter to eat as a grape and not that popular for growing, even on Sicily where it’s one of the Top 11 indigenous red grapes. Not sure how it shows up in NYC for sub-$10 but buy it if you see it.
* There’s a Dr. Perricone (no relation to the grape) who has been hyping the benefits of certain foods for several decades. Wine’s on his list in the pro-heart category and his best interview is this Wine Library interview from a couple years back.

Shakespearean Mischief
Puck was always my favorite character in Shakespeare. Something about his making mischief in a good-hearted way (usually) made him stand out from all the serious characters enmeshed in global intrigue, family vengeance and overly-dramatic love sequences. Puck has none of that – he wants to create mischief and maybe mess with the protagonists a bit.

Iberian Puck
Now if Puck were drinking wine, it’s pretty clear to me that he’d be drinking Iberian wine. One specific grape from the Iberian peninsula, to be precise. This is the grape that seems to go by every name on the planet and manages to blend in with its surroundings impressively. Spain, Portugal, California – this grape of mystery is the spy that infiltrated them all, always under an assumed name.

Bottom’s Up
Aragones is the name on the bottle of this blend (with Trincadeira and Castelao – two Portuguese grapes that were once thought to be the same). But wikipedia lists out dozens of synonyms so expect to be tricked many times. I sure have. And I’m pleased to be tricked, time and again, just so long as Nick Bottom isn’t my eventual life-partner.

Puckish Wine FTW
So, for the second time, this grape has tricked me. Well played, Puck/ Aragones/ Cencibel/ Tempranillo. Your name will not be forgotten (but we probably won’t learn all the synonyms either).

Opinion divided at this wino’s household. Nobody loved it exactly and nobody hated it, but 3/7 of the home disliked it and found it too dry. A slight majority liked it for its black fruit and thought it better with food than on its own. It’s on the lighter side with spice of the Midwestern variety (i.e. black pepper), not the Thai/Indian/Mexican inferno that also goes by “spice.” Smooth and holds together really well without a super long finish. At $9, we’re talking a pretty great value for everyday wine. But try it first – you might be part of that 3/7th.

Detail Up!
Herdade do Esporão Portugal Red 2009 “Monte Velho Red” from Alentejo (halfway down from Lisbon), Portugal

Random Googles:
* Castelão, one of the two new grapes, has a pretty amazing synonym – Periquita. It means “parakeet” in Portuguese and nobody’s exactly sure why.
* Castelão and Trincadeira (aka Tinta Amarela), today’s new grapes, are both from Portugal, in areas south of Lisbon. Like many grapes in Portugal, they’re permitted in Port wine. Don’t try and name all 82 port wine grapes – you’ll fail and someone else will have finished the bottle.
* Trincadeira took home an award in the value wine arena. Surprisingly, the bottle was from Australia.

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Top 10 Dessert Wines
Time for a break, a year-end break from the countdown to 1,000. Because 2011 already has lots of Top 10 lists but doesn’t have a single one devoted to Dessert Wines. Because even the 12 days of Christmas need a break (Five GOLDEN rings!!!) before we get really excited about that partridge in the pear tree end of the song. Because 2011 had a snowstorm in October. And because this year, the year of the 2011, there is much to celebrate. Yankees losing to the Tigers in the Playoffs, dictators out of much of the Islamic world (hint hint Bashar), the expansion of the Peruvian food empire into New York City and lots of family visits and visiting family. Yup, a pretty good recap of the year… except:

Dessert Wines – simply the best
We haven’t even touched dessert wines yet. And dessert wines are really the pinnacle of wines. The wine that comes after the wine. The wine that led alpha men and kings to war, got them killed and then left all the beta men to mate with the hot-blooded Helens of Troy and Bernices left behind. Realistically though, dessert wine has created more widows than Samuel L. Jackson.

So, for 2011’s Top 10 List of Dessert Wines please see below. Note that these are dessert wines tasted in 2011, by participants alive in 2011 and that none of these wines were created in 2011. Many were harvested years or even decades ago, and some of the craftsmen may no longer be with us. Their memory lives on however, and we pour out a (minute) splash for them in memory of their contribution to the dessert wine culture of the world.

#10) Bethany Old Quarry Fronti (Barossa, Australia)
All kinds of conradictions come up in this sweet White Port. Starting right there, “White Port” doesn’t really resonate. Port is this thick, dark wine from Portugal that comes at the end of the night with fat-cat cigars or strinky blue cheese. It’s not from Australia and not clear. Most certainly it’s not white. And yet, this White Port from Barossa, Australia shines as an excellent type of the kind of lighter style White Port that can sometimes be found. Granted it’s the minority of the Ports that are out there and the Portuguese will be squawking that it’s not a true Port because the Aussies crafted it outside Portugal but for memorable sips of sweet oranges, this is an extremely reliable reminder to try new styles.

#9) Late Harvest Riesling – Josef Vineyard 2009 by Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard (Finger Lakes, New York)
Parents usually lose the ability to create memories for their children sometime around the time they purchase their kids that first 10-speed bike. And what parent doesn’t crave those halcyon, pre-teen days? Fortunately, there’s a memory bottle parents can purchase for their children. This potion comes in a long green bottle filled with sweet citrus, green apples and fresh summer days. Best enjoyed on a summer afternoon in the Finger Lakes in the company of said memory-generating parents, it’s also available in most NYC wine stores. Even Fresh Direct has a non-dessert version of the wine.

#8) Ferrari Carano Eldorado Noir 2010 Russian River Valley Black Muscat (Sonoma, California)
When in a cellar, the rule is: avoid being surprised. But for every Cask-of-Amontillado-esque rule, there’s an exception, and Eldorado Noir happens to be that cellar exception. Only available at the Ferrari Carano cellar since it’s made from one rare type of Muscat grape and the cellar people drink most of it, this is a wine that makes you rethink Muscat wine. Sure, it’s fizzy in Moscato d’Asti and smells like all kinds of grapes in Muscat d’Alexandria but this Muscat is that ugly duckling come to swan. Nothing golden nor shiny in this one – it’s black on black. Black color on black raspberry, that is. But when the ugly duckling comes sliding down the glass and you pop a chocolate covered blueberry into your mouth, you’re in heaven. In that moment, no Muscat, nay – no wine, can compare with the decadence of swimming around the duckling lagoon in Boston with a blueberry in one’s mouth and a sweet song in one’s Black Eldorado Heart.

#7) Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine – 2006 (Niagara, Canada)
When you grow up in the frozen northern regions, you’re used to the cold. You do stupid things like winter camping – outdoors, with no tent, on the ground with a good sleeping bag and a tarp to keep you dry and allow you to melt the snow into a coccoon of warmth. At least, that’s the theory. You walk out onto Lake Michigan during the frozen months, you wear t-shirts when the weather gets above zero degrees celsius and you generally try to catch pneumonia as often as possible. But out of all those stupid, really cold months come some true moments of bliss. The sun blinds you through a million icicles all refracting light into tiny rainbows on the snow, adn you catch flashes of green and purple in between the snow that tells you spring is coming even before the first robin shows up. In between all those stupid, snowy moments, there are people out in those temperatures with frozen fingers and frost-bitten noses who are harvesting and pressing grapes to mash into ethereal golden droplets. This million icicle wine is Ice Wine and nobody does it better and more consistently than Inniskillin.

#6) Lustau Península Palo Cortado Sherry (Jerez, Spain)
There’s no forgetting that first love. The one who you watched stars with or drove around in the pickup with for hours because the mall wasn’t really calling to either of you. Even when she’s more memory than flesh, more forgotten lyric than stable chorus, she remains your first love. Because she’s the one who taught you how to kiss and not tell, how to try out new things that you just plain hated, and what to say when nothing else made sense. Because that’s sherry, or at least my experience with it. Awful in many regards, and just plain icky in many others, but then there’s that one that doesn’t have cooties and smiles at you and you actually enjoy it. Palo Cortado from Lustau became that first love this year. Full of nuts, pecans and a bit of citric fun – this is a standout wine (not just Sherry, a standout wine). And that’s not because of the fascinating chemistry of Palo Cortado. And that’s not because of the unbeatable pairing of Palo Cortado and Old Amsterdam cheese, which must be my favorite pairing of 2011, hands down. This is because Sherry became something more than a cooties-infecting beverage, and you never forget your first Sherry.

#5) Commandaria Keo St. John (Troodos Mountains, Cyprus)
The discovery that Cyprus makes wine shocked me a bit this year. So, I bought a bottle and was shocked again when their wine turned out to be really delicious and have huge flavors of raisins. Combine that with intriguing historical anecdotes and it’s a dessert wine that deserves its status among the Top 10 of the year. Still haven’t tried other wines from Cyprus but am quite excited to see if they match this first one.

#4) Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Tawny Port (Douro Valley, Portugal)
All brothers should visit Portugal. Because when brothers visit Portugal, they discover Oporto, a beautiful city in the north of the country that sits on both sides of the Douro River. And when brothers discover Oporto, they discover one side of that Douro River that has nothing but port lodges on one side. And in those port lodges, enormous tanks full of sweet, ancient port reside so someday a brother can buy a bottle for their brother, making him exceedingly happy. This Taylor 10 Year Port was the welcome-home bottle that we opened because it was his favorite of the trip. Silky and long-lasting was how I remembered the wine but sometimes evenings and wines blend together so much it’s hard to say whether one’s truly objective. Taylor 10 Year is etched forever as the Brother Timmy Welcome Wine. Drank on the day of the October Blizzard with ice cream and nothing but ice cream for dinner.

#3) Madeira Blandy’s 5 Year Malmsey (Madeira, Portugal)
Everyday bottles of wine are extraordinarily difficult to find. It’s not like you just grab a cold beer from the fridge and 12 ounces later, the bottle’s empty. With wine, it’s 750ml so you better have a friend or two to assist on that bottle. If you cook for one, you’re looking at maybe one bottle a week. And committing to one bottle for a week causes commitment-phobes moderate angst. So, there’s the Bota Box method that works for long-term delivery. And there’s the Madeira method. Madeira, fortunately, doesn’t go bad. Ever. Wines will change after even a few days and even ports will start changing after a week, a month, who knows – but point being, they start to go bad too. Madeira just never does, and this Malmsey Madeira is my go-to Madeira. It’s sweet, cuts through chocolate cake like an acidic buzz saw and you can enjoy a glass on any day of the year. In a year of becoming slightly more obsessed with madeira, this staple in the cabinet is a Top 10 Dessert Wine.

#2) Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos “Red Label,” Royal Tokaji – 2007 (Tokaj, Hungary)
James Joyce once narcissistically stated that if Dublin disappeared from the face of the earth, it could be recreated just based on the description from his novels. One taste of this rightfully-famous dessert wine from Hungary, and you’re already recreating an apricot in your mind, you’re wishing you could sail away in a flying apricot next to James and his Giant Peach because you know that your Giant Apricot is rocking the melody and James and his Giant Peach are the harmonizing vocals on this dessert wine.

#1) Madeira Rare Wine Company Charleston Sercial (Madeira, Portugal)
Madeira is fast turning into an obsession, even though I’ve only started scratching the surface of the incredible elixir known as Madeira. So when there was the chance to try the Sercial style of Madeira (the driest and lightest of the four typical styles), I jumped. What was supposed to be an afternoon of watching Buster Keaton with my brother became an afternoon of trying out numerous wines, the most built-up of which was the Sercial Madeira. Fortunately, the Sercial Madeira is a Taj Mahal of wines. By that I mean (borrowing poorly from Rushdie), that despite all the hype and the stories and the build-up of Sercial Madeira, the actual, physical “thing-in-itself” exceeds the mythology and the liquid in the glass is itself a transfixing, memorable experience. Share that type of experience with a brother visiting from Minnesota at the beginning of a long day of creating stories for future decades, and Sercial develops a new layer of mythology for future generations.

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