Last Wine in DC: 2006 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” Châteauneuf-du-Pape

10 May

Hello from Bittersweet in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.  That’s an apt name given the subject of this post.  After nearly four years in DC and Virginia, I have decided to move to New York to try and pursue professional and creative opportunities.  Some of those opportunities are in the legal industry; others are in the wine industry.

I’ve been in New York for about nine days now.  I’m already writing a wine column for a local Brooklyn neighborhood blog, and I’ve surveyed the local cafes, bars, and restaurants.  There is so much hustle and bustle here.  I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Virginia with its clean streets, quiet neighborhoods, and familiar haunts.  But there is an energy here that I love, something in the atmosphere that not only inspires people, but makes people receptive to new ideas no matter how crazy.

I had a wonderful wine dinner with friends at Founding Farmers the Friday before I left DC.  We had a number of good bottles, including the 2009 Stangeland Pinot Gris2008 Stangeland “Miller’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir2008 Margerum “ÜBER” Syrah, and the 2008 Domaine de la Fontainerie “Coteau la Fontainerie” Vouvray Doux.  The Stangeland Pinot Gris was fruity and tasted sweet, prompting one of the guests to say that this was not a “Joon wine” (I like sweet/fruity wines!).  The Pinot Noir was my favorite of the evening, with nice red fruits and a savory aspect.  I had tasted this wine previously, and it showed even better during the dinner.  The Syrah was good but did not show as well as it had previously, and the Vouvray was super sweet but had great elegance, structure, and weight.

For my last bottle of wine, however, I wanted something special.  Mary Kate and I were having Thai delivery for dinner, and I would never recommend this pairing to anyone, but I had one more nice bottle squirreled away that needed to be drunk: the 2006 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

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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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Rewarding Patience: the 1997 Louis Jadot Nuits-St. George “Les Damodes” 1er Cru

16 Apr

I know, I know: it’s been nearly six months since my last post.  Forgive me, those few of you who read this blog.  It’s been a helluva year, but despite that I have been extremely lucky.  I have wonderful friends and have been able to drink some really great wines.  These next few months will see me posting more regularly–or at least until the next huge life event derails my publishing schedule!

To fill you in a bit about what’s been going on, I’ve been living in the tiny Alexandria, VA neighborhood of Del Ray, which with its small Craftsman-style homes and tree-lined streets reminds me a great deal of my native South Pasadena.  It has everything one might want for good living, including a great barbecue restaurant and bar, independent coffee shop, and a kick-ass wine shop.

The name of this kick-ass wine shop is Planet Wine, and I’ve whiled away many an afternoon there browsing its very carefully curated selection of bottles.  I’m salivating over a bottle of 2003 Loire Valley Chenin Blanc I’ve laid down in my basement, and I’ve tried a fair percentage of the shop’s inventory.  As I’ve told the manager, Tim, this is exactly the type of shop I would open if I had my druthers.

On a recent occasion I had opportunity to purchase and open a Burgundy from 1997, the 1997 Louis Jadot Nuits-St. Georges “Les Damodes” 1er cru ($45, on markdown first from $65 and then from$ 52 at Planet Wine).  The vineyard is named after a triad of Druid goddesses who were believed to control harvests, and is a limestone-rich mix of clay and silt.

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I Passed!

18 Nov

A Very Refined Evening

13 Nov

It’s nice to be back on an actual college campus.

I am typing this from Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street in Princeton Township, NJ, where I am visiting my former roommate Alex who is now making a name for himself at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.  All around me are people who are younger than me and much older than me: young students with nary a care in the world and gray-haired professor types.  They’re nursing coffees and perhaps hangovers caused from Princeton football’s drubbing at the hands of the Yale Bulldogs yesterday.  As I’m a Cal alumnus, this is a feeling I know all too well, but unlike the people keeping me company I at least am not suffering from a hangover despite sharing two excellent bottles of wine with Alex.

Those few of you who have kept up with my blog know I love Ridge Vineyards to an absurd degree.  To me Ridge represents the best of California winemaking, and its wines are never disappointing.  I might disagree with a few of them, but much more often I love them.

Ridge is well-known for its Zinfandel, but it made its mark on the wine world by making the legendary “Monte Bello” Cabernet.  Monte Bello was selected as one of the California Cabs to go head-to-head with Bordeaux in the now-legendary Judgment of Paris of 1976.  Their 1971 Monte Bello came in fifth and was the second-highest rated California Cabernet in the tasting, not bad for a wine made only nine years after the start of the winery.  More tellingly, however, a re-enactment of the tasting was conducted in 2006, and the 1971 Monte Bello came in first, beating out all other California and French wines!

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Champagne Day at Weygandt Wines (and a Whole Lot More)

7 Nov

I had the opportunity to go to a media night at Weygandt Wines last Friday, on the occasion of International Champagne Day.  This was Weygandt’s first effort to reach out specifically to DC food and wine bloggers, and from what I can tell it was a great success.

Weygandt Wines, located in Cleveland Park, reminds me a lot of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.  That venerable Berkeley institution is one of my can’t miss shops whenever I visit my alma mater, and for good reason: the wines I buy from the store are perhaps the freshest, most vibrant wines I’ve ever found.  KLWM is sort of like a farmers’ market for wine.  If that is the case, then Weygandt Wines is sort of like the Eastern Market of wines.

The namesake of the shop, Peter Weygandt, and his wife Maria (née Metzler) have been importing boutique French wines since 1987.  He has recently expanded his portfolio to include wines from Italy, Germany, Austria, Australia, and Spain.  He imports some killer Beaujolais and Burgundy, and has an excellent Rhône selection.  In all, they import around 70,000 cases of wine from over 100 producers.

The Weygandts were not at the media event, but the event was run by the store’s general manager, Tim O’Rourke.  Tim has an interesting history, having started out as a chef.  He graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland in 2000, did tours at Café Atlántico, Ristorante Tosca, and Citronelle, and has cooked with such celebrity chefs as Daniel Boulud and Michel Richard.  Being the general manager of a wine store probably has its own set of stresses, but I can imagine that it might also be very relaxed in comparison to working in some high-profile kitchens!

I had been to Weygandt only once before, and recently: I picked up a bottle of Cabernet France for an ongoing dinner with friends at Dino (which is right across the street).  The store was technically closed but I sneaked in and asked who I found out later to be Tim whether he could recommend a good Cab Franc, which he did.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember which bottle he selected, but it was good, and I appreciated being able to pick up a bottle after closing time (and at a substantial discount to boot!).

The event started out with a flight of six sparkling wines–one Crémant de Bourgogne and five Champagnes.

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A Judgment of Paris: How the Sparkling Wines of Schramsberg Stacked Up Against Champagne

26 Oct

Considering sparkling wine is like considering heaven and hell.  On the one hand, you have sparklers that barely qualify as wine–Andre and Cook’s come to mind–while on the other hand you have Champagnes that will take you to the sky (related to price).  I haven’t had too much sparkling wine in my life, which is a shame because they are fun, well-made, and, as many are coming to realize, are absolutely terrific with food.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a trade tasting of the sparkling wines of Schramsberg Vineyards, a venerable California sparkling wine institution located in Napa Valley, at Marcel’s in DC.  I had had their wines once or twice before, but was never in a condition to remember too much about them.  With this tasting I was in luck, however, because not only would I try a number of Schramsberg’s wines but would also participate in a blind tasting of Schramsberg wines and the finest French têtes de cuvée (prestige cuvée) wines.

Yikes!  A blind tasting at a trade event?  I felt outclassed, but I decided I would drink more than I spoke. I rolled up (on foot) to the tasting in my black suit (featured in my previous post) and heavy black backpack (at least it matched my suit!) and was greeted with a glass of Schramsberg’s Brut Rosé, which had pretty strawberry and peach aromas that were mirrored on the palate.

We were then led to long tables, where I sat next to David (the proprietor of the excellent Pearson’s Wine & Spirits in Glover Park) and the wine director of the Ritz-Carlton.  The phalanx of glasses reproduced above awaited us, as well as scoring sheets:

Hugh Davies, son of the founders of Schramsberg Vineyards, gave excellent commentary and production notes throughout the whole tasting.

For the first flight, which was the blind tasting of the Schramsberg sparkling wines and the Champagnes, the idea was that we were supposed to rank the wines from first to seventh and determine if we could which were blanc de blancs and which contained Pinot Noir, and which were the Californian wines. These are my transcribed notes from A to G:

  • A | aromas reminiscent of white Burgundy–hazelnut and lanolin.  A long finish but a noticeable burn.  | MY RANK: 6
  • B | thin bodied and high acid, with notes of green apple.  | MY RANK: 7
  • C | wow!   Clover honey and bread, tart but rich.  Really freaking good.  I thought this could be the oldest wine in the lineup, and could contain Pinot.  | MY RANK: 2
  • D | some aroma I couldn’t place… more of the Burgundy, maybe… really evocative and old-smelling.  Well-balanced, with tangerine notes.  | MY RANK: 1
  • E | gentle floral aroma, with lemon curd.  | MY RANK: 5
  • F | a rich color which made me wonder if this was an older vintage.  Burgundian aromas, with a round, full taste evocative of papaya and tropical fruits.  I thought this might contain Pinot.  | MY RANK: 3
  • G | pineapple on the nose, less fruit-driven and more hazelnut on the palate.  | MY RANK: 4
So how did I do on the blind tasting?

Virginia is for Wine Lovers: DC Wine Week’s “Virginia Wine Versus the World”

20 Oct

I often felt dislocated when I lived in LA after college.  I had grown up there and my family is there, but I felt that I was lacking a community.  I had left Berkeley after just having started to meet people who were interested in writing poetry.  My efforts to revive some semblance of the poetry community often resulted in less-than-satisfactory results.  In a similar manner, when I decided to start writing Vinicultured, I found that the LA wine blog community was fragmented.  This is not to say that it doesn’t exist: it probably does.  However, finding and relating to other writers/wine aficionados was a difficult proposition for a young fledgling wine blogger.

It was only when I got to DC that I started to find some semblance of a wine community.  Some of my law school friends and I started the DC Wine Appreciation Society, which was basically an excuse for us to get together and drink good wine to the point of excess.  I made contacts at local wine stores (like Patrick Deaner at the now-defunct Wine Specialist, Jeremy Silva at Potenza, and Phil Bernstein over at the excellent MacArthur Beverages).  Working at Ansonia Wines was and continues to be an excellent and insightful experience.  And starting the DC Wine Buyers Collective was a great way for me to start to get a feel for what members of the 25-35-year-old demographic wanted to drink.

With my decision to stay in DC after graduating from law school, I have had more incentive to get out there and network.  Fortunately, many networking opportunities have come up, especially this past week.  I was invited to a comparative tasting of Schramsberg Vineyards‘s excellent sparkling wines, which I attended yesterday afternoon, and will be first volunteering at and then covering the DC Wine Riot tomorrow and Saturday.  I was also invited to DC Wine Week‘s “Washington Wine Academy Tasting Class” (a.k.a. “Virginia Wine Versus the World”), which featured Virginia wineries.

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Embracing the Funk: 2006 Francisco Alfonso Pedralonga DoUmia

19 Oct

While I’m not as dogmatic as Miles from Sideways, I do tend to stick to what I know when it comes to wine.  When I go to a restaurant and have to order among white wines I don’t know, I stick to Sauvignon Blanc or dry Riesling.  When I go to parties with tables covered by anonymous bottles, I choose Côtes du Rhône.  At home, I really like to drink my Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and White Burgundy (when I have the money!).  With wines costing what they do, it can be difficult to commit to a bottle of wine I know nothing about (which is why doing reconnaisance is so important whenever it is possible).

I should be willing to take chances more often.

I had a bottle of the 2006 Francisco Alfonso Pedralonga DoUmia ($24) squirreled away from the January 25th deal of the DC Wine Buyers Collective.  It had survived a lot longer than the other wines I acquired from that deal.  I don’t know why… maybe it’s because I simply didn’t know what to expect from this wine.  What if I opened it and it was undrinkable with the pot roast with which I was trying to pair it?

This wine is from the Rias Baixas region of Spain.  This is a coastal region that is famous for its seafood and for a wine that pairs exceptionally well with seafood: Albariño.  Such is the supremacy of Albariño that most people, myself included, don’t know that this region also produces red wine (apparently red wine only makes up 1% of the total wine production in Rias Baixas).  This particular wine is composed of 70% Mencía, 20% Caiño, and 10% Espadeiro.  I’ve never even heard of the Caiño or Espadeiro varietals!

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A Study of Opposites: 2007 Antoine Arena “Carco” Patrimonio and the 2006 Gourt de Mautens Rasteau

11 Oct

I have been drinking wine for a very long time now.  For the last seven of those years, I have approached wine not merely as something to drink, but something to think about, something that could elicit sheer joy or wonderment, calm or even fear.*  I come across as pedantic or stuffy sometimes, I guess, but for me it’s far more satisfying to really delve into what each and every wine has to offer.**

A few weeks ago I was invited to a dinner with Jillian and David at Chez Kate et Rahul.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s been hard for me to quench my thirst for interesting wines lately.  So, in addition to being pleased to be able to see my good friends Kate ‘n’ Rahul and Jillian ‘n’ David, I was pleased to have an excuse to bring a bottle of Chenin Blanc recommended to me by Phil over at MacArthur Beverages (at left):

  

The Saumur appellation is located in the Loire Valley of France.  The Loire Valley–especially the region of Vouvray and to a lesser extent Montlouis-sur-Loire–is known for its Chenin Blanc.  I think Chenin Blanc is one of the underrated great grapes of the world.***  The best examples of Chenin Blanc have great acidity and taste of honey, almonds, and flowers.  Like Riesling and Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc can be aged to great effect.  I’ve had Chenin Blanc from 1983 and 1989, and when aged these wines take on low, nutty, waxy notes that are just incredible.  Best of all, just like old Rioja blanco, aged Chenin Blanc can be relatively affordable.

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