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Bubbles and the Beast: Bollinger “Special Cuvee” and the Cuisine of Animal

24 Feb

My good friend Jaclyn came to visit LA a few days ago.  It was lovely to have her.  Our friend Jeff and I shared some good meals with her, including a much-anticipated tour to that bastion of snout-to-tail eating, Animal.

The prospect of a nearly-exclusive animal-based meal got me to wondering what to select as the alcoholic accompaniment.  I could have safely selected a Burgundy, or a Beaujolais, but instead I went for another B: a Bollinger “Special Cuvee” Brut Champagne.


Many commentators have noted that Champagne and other sparkling wines are rather underutilized pairing partners for food.  This is a shame, as a brut (not sweet) Champagne is perhaps one of the most versatile wines: the mineral notes in a good Champagne can serve as a perfect complement to oysters, for instance, while the effervescence can enliven the palate after a rich bite of ribeye.  

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Life is Full of Second Chances: the 2007 Gérard Raphet Clos Vougeot Grand Cru

30 Dec



It’s not every day one gets to drink a grand cru Burgundy.  Then again, it’s not every day that one is in Berkeley.  I decided to take a short trip up to Berkeley for New Year’s, though I don’t know anyone here anymore (a fact driven home by the fact that I had a solitary–though excellent–meal at the fantastic Trattoria Corso on North Shattuck, which will be the subject of another post), to get out of LA and recharge my batteries for the full onslaught of 2013.

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Wine and Jazz Friday: the 2009 Robert Craig “Affinity” Cabernet Sauvignon

15 Sep

I don’t usually like jazz covers of pop songs.  To me, they’re the epitome of elevator muzak.  But now, on my second glass of 2009 Robert Craig “Affinity” Cabernet Sauvignon (approx. $45), this version of “Yesterday” by Lee Morgan is sounding pretty nice.

That doesn’t do Lee Morgan justice.  Great bop trumpeter, much better at his chosen profession than I’ll ever be at anything I do, probably!

ImageAs for the juice: a “Bordeaux blend” that is more California than France, consisting of 86% Cab Sauv, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Cab Franc.  Wow, when was the last time you had a Bordeaux blend from Bordeaux that had Malbec?

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The Court of Master Sommeliers’ Introductory Course: or, Learning to Blow Blind Tastings with Style

4 Jul

Greetings from the site of the Boston Tea Party, the first stirrings of the craft brew movement, and putative home of cream pies and baked beans.  I am sipping a cold-brewed iced coffee in the really excellent Render Coffee Bar in South End, waiting for my three o’clock BoltBus to take me back down to New York.  Though I spent only three days in this city, and most of those three days was spent in class, sleeping, or eating ridiculously-sized calzones, I can say that this city is absolutely awesome!

I came to Boston to take the Introductory Course offered through the Court of Master Sommeliers.  This course is the first in a series of four “levels”, which increase exponentially in difficulty.  To call oneself a “certified sommelier”, one must pass the the second level, the Certified Sommelier Examination.  One may decide to get additional certifications, but attaining these become absurdly hard.  For instance, the passage rate for the Master Sommelier examination is a bone-dry 5-10%.  By comparison, the July 2011 California Bar Examination’s passage rate was 54.8%.

That being said, my good friend Alex very generously invested in my scheme, which allowed me to enroll in the Introductory Course in mid-June.  I received an e-mail with the course manual in PDF format, and over the next few weeks I looked through the manual and made a few flash cards.  There is a lot of material to cover, including the major wine regions and their appellations, varietals, and classifications (such as AOC/AOP, DOC, and premier cru, grand cru, etc.).  There is also a bit of information on beer, spirits, and sake, as well as on food pairings and service.

The course spanned two days, starting at 8 am and going until around 5:30 pm.  Most of the course is in lecture format.  Three Master Sommeliers ran the show, delivering the lectures and running the blind tastings.  The Hyatt Harborside, our venue, very generously provided coffee, tea, and pastries during the morning and breaks, as well as delicious lunches during the middle of the day.  The Hyatt also provided a very nice outdoor seating area with a very nice view:

Although the lectures and manual were very helpful, they were intended as surveys.  For the course, we did not have to identify key vintages and, with a few exceptions, did not have to know individual vineyards or producers.  (We did have to know a few of the Medoc first and second growths, as well as a random vineyard in the Mosel, but the instructors generally hint at the ones you will need to know.)  On the other hand, I now know much more about Australia and New Zealand than I once knew!

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A Friday Impulse Buy: the 2007 Christophe Buisson Bourgogne

8 Jun

I just registered to take the introductory sommelier course through the Court of Master Sommeliers, and after reading about Burgundy in my course manual late yesterday evening I couldn’t wait to drink some delicious Pinot.  Thus, after doing a bit of work at Black Brick Coffee today, I stopped by at Bottle Shoppe and picked up a bottle of the 2007 Christophe Buisson Bourgogne.


A Kermit Lynch selection, I figured that this basic-level Burgundy would make for simple, decent drinking. I was going to drink it with dinner this weekend, but my roommate Amit had just received some great news–his company, Bitponics, had just reached its $20,000 funding goal–and I decided that wine was called for. The first sip confirmed this belief: a bit tight, with sour cherries and a vivacious acidity.  The finish was green stemmy, and I thought that some time in a decanter would improve it.

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Talking Vines and Drinking Wine with Stangeland Winery

2 May

I am a proud Californian.  My favorite author is John Steinbeck, my favorite flower is the California poppy, and I love Mexican food.  However, I can’t get behind everything Californian, especially when that thing is Pinot Noir.

There are great examples of California Pinot Noir–for instance, the illustrious Sea Smoke and the much more affordable Belle Glos “Meiomi”–but I have found that too many are high-alcohol, big-bodied wines that hurt my palate.  I mean, of all wines Pinot freakin’ Noir is supposed to be easy to drink, right?

Enter, stage north, Oregonian Pinot Noir to steal the show and save the day.

As a general rule, Oregon winemakers subscribe to Old World virtues such as restraint and elegance.  Their Pinot Gris is more Alsatian in character than Italian, and their Pinot Noir is positively Burgundian.

Part of this has to do with Oregon’s cooler, wetter climate, which lends itself to the more classical French style of winemaking.  But much of this also has to do with the winemakers’ philosophies on what wine should be.

I had the chance to taste some of this philosophy in action at a tasting of Stangeland Vineyards & Winery, held at Planet Wine.  Also at the tasting was Larry Miller, the president and winemaker at Stangeland.

Stangeland is a pioneer of Oregon wine, having planted a vineyard at the current Eola-Amity Hills AVA in 1978.  Eola-Amity Hills, which is contained entirely within the larger Willamette Valley AVA, is a very new AVA, having been designated in 2006.  Stangeland focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris.  I tried a number of the winery’s Pinot Noirs, in addition to one of their Chards and a Pinot Gris.

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I Passed!

18 Nov

Diapers Aren’t Just for Kids (or Adults) Anymore: The Wine Diaper

3 Aug

The skies aren’t as friendly as they used to be.

I remember one time when I was flying home to Los Angeles to Berkeley right after the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) instituted its rather draconian “3-1-1 Rule.”  This was sometime in 2006, and I was still in college.  I was trying to bring a nice bottle of wine with me to share with the family, but when I got to the ticket counter the woman working the counter informed me that my bottle would be a problem.

Basically, the 3-1-1 Rule provides that you may not carry onto an airplane any container of liquid or gel with more than three ounces of whatever in it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a twenty-ounce bottle of soda with only three ounces left; if it’s marked with a volume of anything greater than three ounces, it’s out.

The only way to save your beloved fluid from the trash is to check it (this option wasn’t available to this poor man).  But that is a rather risky proposition.  I am loathe to transport glass bottles of highly staining liquid in a suitcase with my clothes and other knick-knacks, especially if said suitcase is going through the travails of baggage handling.

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Power to the People! The DC Wine Buyers Collective

26 Jul

You’ve been to a Costco, right?

If you’ve ever been to a Costco and purchased two industrial-sized jugs of mayonnaise, or a hundred pack of tacquitos, or ten pounds of boneless chicken breast, you’ve experienced first-hand the advantage of buying in bulk. It is a truism that you will save money by buying bulk quantities of nearly anything.

Just as it’s true for condiments and delicious Mexican finger foods, it’s true for wine.

Nearly every wine retailer offers case discounts. For instance, if you were to purchase one bottle of wine, that bottle could cost $50. If, however, you were to buy a case of that same wine, most retailers would give you a 10-15% discount off the whole case. At a 10% discount a case of wine would be $540 (versus $600), or $45 per bottle. Unfortunately, most people don’t have $540 to drop on a case of wine, even if it is a discounted rate. Even if they did, most of those people wouldn’t be able to get through twelve bottles, or would not have the proper storage facilities.

Hence, the power of a wine collective.

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