Certain People – Paired with Merlot by Keri Jackson Kunzle

April 27th, 2012

Certain People is a Swedish film about a small group of friends – upper class, art world bohemians in their 30’s – who gather at Katinka’s summer house to celebrate her birthday. Katinka’s brother arrives with Linda, a game show hostess whose brusque and liberated manners are entertaining and fresh – at first.  During the evening Linda stretches the group’s social rules of hospitality.  Contempt starts to grow and hidden prejudices flare up.

Merlot.  We’ll just put it out there. This is almost certainly not the wine you order the most.  Might you have just a wee bit of prejudice against this grape?

What do people not like about Merlot, other than they have been told it is not chic, not cool, not in fashion?  Kind of amazing that a movie – Sideways, released in 2004 – could have so great an affect on the US market for a grape varietal!  Pinot Noir took off after this movie, and Merlot suffered greatly.

We will give you that Merlot can be ‘over-cropped’ – yields are too high, which can result in insipid wines that are not exactly full of character.  In some ways, Merlot was perhaps a victim of its own success.  This is a grape that can make easy drinking wines with pleasurable red fruits, ones without an overtly tannic structure, wines that are not terribly hard to understand.  It was considered a good introduction to those who did not drink a lot of wine. It became popular reasonably quickly and more vintners, especially on the West Coast, started producing it. This resulted in some winemakers overdoing the quantities and hence the ‘over cropped’ insipid wines.

These were what Miles, in Sideways, turned up his nose at. Almost overnight, people stopped ordering Merlot, and it became decidedly out of fashion.  This is just now beginning to turn around, 8 years after the movie, and even so, there are far less sales of Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

But before you completely ignore Merlot, or refuse to open a bottle a house-guest brings you, consider that it is the most grown grape in Bordeaux.  Yes, you say, but that is so that it can be blended – not drunk on its own. Yes, that is true and that is perhaps where it shines.  It is one of the 5 major grape varietals in Bordeaux, and is grown on the Left and Right Banks.  In Right Bank wines it appears in higher percentages.  Those softer tannins combine with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc very nicely indeed thank you. The red fruits, hints of cocoa powder, chocolate, plums, along with its plush texture, can produce incredible wines.

Merlot dominates the blend in some pretty opulent wines.  Petrus:  95% Merlot (along with Cabernet Franc). How about Chateau Le Pin?  92% Merlot. Both of these wines sell for thousands of dollars a bottle. Oooh, now what to do with those Merlot prejudices?  Maybe a brusque introduction to some great wines made from this grape will liberate you from your bias.  Of course you could be uncomfortable having to confront your discrimination against poor Merlot.  Take the challenge.  Join us on Thursday April 27th to taste a few Merlots and decide for yourself.  Then go watch the movie and challenge your own social more’s.  We’ll taste 4 Merlots: Hanging Vine 2010 ($12), Shafer Vineyards Merlot 2009 ($52),  Terra Burdigala Roc de Jean Lys 2008 ($18), and New York’s own Bloomer Creek White Horse Red 2007 ($21).

Celebrating Tribeca

April 27th, 2012

We’re celebrating Tribeca this month. We love this neighborhood. The people, the old buildings, the cobblestone streets, (some of) the new buildings, the restaurants, the wine bars, the famous movie stars, the artists, the Tribeca Film Festival. Tribeca is full of wonderful stories, wonderful people, and amazing creativity.

We’re embarking on something a little different this month and pairing wines in honor of some special people in Tribeca, as well as films from the Tribeca Film Festival. We’ll look at the stories behind the wines, which are always important to us, and look for things that we think match personalities of people and films. Or maybe are thought provoking when put together. A challenging exercise to be sure, but a fun one. One that involves some research. Talking to people in the ‘hood. Reading about films from this year’s festival. Tasting. Not a bad way to spend one’s time.

March Madness: Passion in the Wine Business by Keri Jackson Kunzle

March 8th, 2012

People ask me with reasonable frequency why I left technology to go into the wine business. Sometimes the decision to have left a good job and open a wine shop does seem mad. I spent the majority of my technology career working on Fixed Income Derivatives and Foreign Exchange systems at various banks, including Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, and Bank of America. The people were interesting, the work was challenging (in a good way), and I learned so much. I was even paid well.

Why then did I leave? Although various factors played into it, the only real explanation is passion. I didn’t want to come home and read about technology, but now, even after several years in the wine business, I come home and still want to read about wine (and bringing work home in the form of tasting is definitely a big perk of the job).

The wine business is also challenging, in a very different way than the tech world. I have learned a huge amount here, too, which is one of the things I love so much about wine – that there is always more to learn.

The people I have met over the last few years are linked by one very important thing: yes, you guessed it – passion. Whether they work for a distributor, an exporter, or they are growers/producers/proprietors, people are generally not in this business to make a lot of money. But what they do have is a genuine love of wine; an excitement about great wine, the fun of finding an inexpensive but still great wine, the sheer joy of wines that are full of terroir. That ability to be transported to a place in the world by what is in a glass is something very dear. And that, in a nutsell, is why I went into the wine business.

One of the joys of having a wine shop is bringing wines that inspire us to our customers. There are some producers who seem to exude passion for their wines and their vineyards from every pore. They know the vines intimately, they are involved in every step of the process, and go to tremendous lengths to make sure their wines are not just some of the finest wines available, but are terroir-driven, complex, nuanced, and full of character.

This month at Maslow 6, we are focusing on winemakers and producers who seem to stand out even amongst a small set of amazing producers, and are noted for their passion.
We’ll write about them, sing their praises, and open up their wines for people to taste all month long. Join us for our March Madness and discover where your true wine passions lie.

Celebrate the Oscars with a Wine for each Best Picture Nomination by Keri Jackson Kunzle

February 24th, 2012

We’re celebrating the Oscars all weekend long at Maslow 6 Wine Shop. This year the Best Picture nominees all have ties to the U.S. or France, so we’re taking the opportunity to spotlight some of our favorite wines and introduce some new discoveries from both countries. We’ve chosen one wine for each film nominated for Best Picture, from Champagne to minerally whites to earthy reds to biodynamic wines, each representing the spirit of one of the films.

Stop by and try some of these incredible wines – a rotating selection will be open for tasting throughout the weekend. Then take home a bottle to enjoy during the ceremony.

Or call us to deliver a selection: www.maslow6.com

War Horse - Cousin-Leduc Vieilles Vignes VdT – Loire Valley, France ($28)
olivierHorse2War Horse celebrates the majestic beauty and dignity of horses, which are an important part of Olivier Cousin’s work. In his vineyards, he has eschewed tractors for three horses to help him cultivate the land and this bottle’s label depicts him with one of them. Of course, War Horse is also about surviving conflict and Cousin has been enmeshed in a very serious dispute with French authorities over the Appellation system and how he designates his wines. We and the New York wine community continue to support him in this fight, which has quite serious financial consequences. The wines, however, are the opposite of bureaucratic interference – grapes grown biodynamically, no added sulfites, no anything. This is 100% Cabernet Franc all about fruit and floral notes: Roses, plums, cedar, raspberry, cherries, and currants on the nose and the palate. The vines are 65 years old, which explains the complexity achieved in this wine.

The Descendants – St. Innocent Freedom Hill Chardonnay 2009 – Willamette Valley, Oregon ($26)

Family revelations and loss of innocence are the focus of this film, which made us think of this richly textured Chardonnay reminiscent of white Burgundies. Located in the foothills of the coastal range 10 miles southwest of Salem, Oregon, Freedom Hill Vineyard sits at an elevation of 425 feet above sea level. The St. Innocent Chardonnay portion is planted with the French ‘Dijon’ clones that are used in Burgundy. Evoking some characteristics of Meursault (stony minerality but with a sumptuous texture), and some characteristics of Chablis (ripe fruit and a bit of roundness from ageing on the lees, but balanced with zesty minerality), it would be a perfect wine to sip on a warm Hawaiian evening.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Wolffer Estate Chardonnay 2009 – Long Island, New York ($18)
The vibrancy of today’s Tribeca is a far cry from the days after 9/11 and we have chosen a vivacious Long Island jewel to pair with this story of a curious child searching for clues left by his father on that fateful day. Wolffer Estate is a gorgeous vineyard with sustainable practices set on the South Fork of Long Island. Sharing some characteristics with Bordeaux including closeness to the Atlantic ocean, Wolffer’s goal is to show the Long Island terroir and at the same time produce elegant wines. This Chardonnay is not an over-oaked, over-blown version, but one with lively acidity and minerality. Pears, apricots, and citrus result in a vibrant very food-friendly chardonnay.

The Help – A Tribute to Grace 2009 – Santa Barbara, California ($50)graceLabel
For a film that celebrates the fortitude of women, we couldn’t think of a better wine than this biodynamic Grenache from Santa Barbara County. Winemaker Angela Osborne is from New Zealand and moved to California in 2006. Her “vineyard” which is really 3 rows she leases at the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, sits at 3200 feet above sea level and is quite barren: sand, brush, exposed rock. Arid and blazing hot in summertime, snow-laden and sleepy in the wintertime. The wine is named after her grandmother and Angela’s intention is to capture the spirit of grace in the wine too, which to her means staying as close to nature as humanly possible. Half the grapes are fermented with whole clusters, which are tread by foot twice a day(!) The remaining portion is de-stemmed and also receives the “gracedance”. A small portion is aged in new wood; most is neutral. It spends 16 months in barrel. The entire production is 2,244 bottles.

The Artist - Marcel Deiss Estate 2009 – Alsace, France ($20)
The artistry behind the Marcel Deiss Estate blend perfectly complements this unique black and white Oscar frontrunner. Jean-Michel Deiss believes that ‘terroir trumps grape’ given the right circumstances and this year a silent throwback might trump modern technology. Deiss’ philosophy is to let the terroir express itself via a range of varieties that are all grown together. Unusually, Deiss also harvests and vinifies them together too. The vines need to be old to really express what is there because time allows them to dig further and further into the soil. The soil needs to be deep enough too, which it is on the slopes where these vines are planted. This blend is seamless, focused and elegant – just like the world of this silent film.

Hugo – Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups Clos de Venise 2010 ($40)
cheninGrapesJackyBlotThis richly textured Martin Scorsese film matches well with Loire Valley star Jacky Blot of Domaine de la Taille aux Loups. Like Scorsese, Jacky is a preservationist and a bit of a throwback to simpler times. A wine broker previously, Jacky acquired about 8 hectares of 50 – 75 year old vines in 1989. These prized parcels belonged to families that could no longer cultivate the vines and so were entrusted them to Blot and his team. Yields are kept low, and he ploughs now instead of treating chemically, allowing the roots to descend deep into the limestone bedrock. Harvest is done by hand, and as late as possible. Beautiful minerality, richly textured, yet chalky, dry and a bit austere with flavors of lemon and honey. Gorgeous balance. We look forward to hosting Jacky at a special tasting for our Wine Club members on March 19 – call or email us if you would like to attend!

Midnight in Paris – Gérard Loriot Champagne NV – Champagne, France ($51)
When we thought of what we’d like to drink at midnight, or really anytime in Paris, we thought of Champagne! We couldn’t have said it better than John Gilman from View from the Cellar had: “I have become a very big fan of the non-vintage Brut bottling from Gérard Loriot, as its 100% pinot meunier cépage is fairly unique and the quality has been consistently excellent. The bouquet is young and very classy, as it jumps from the glass in a blend of tart orange, a beautiful base of soil, bread dough and a smoky top note. On the palate the wine is deep, full bodied, complex and still a bit bound up in its structure, with very refined mousse, superb focus and a very, very long and classy finish.” We’re sure Woody would approve.

Moneyball – Robert Foley ‘The Griffin’ 2009 – California ($35)
In this film, a scrappy baseball team with limited resources fields a team of undervalued players that stands up to the biggest spenders. Rich and concentrated, The Griffin drinks like a more expensive big California cult wine, but at a price that is still accessible. The blend is 50% Petite Syrah, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot. Lots of fruit on the nose and palate, with blackberries, creme de cassis, leading the way. Kicking in next are the mocha notes, the violets, with a sensuous texture. Underneath these are the notes that give it an amazing structure as well as being upfront pretty: lead pencil, river stones, and just a hint of tar. It’s a winner!

Tree of Life – Sinskey ‘Aries’ Pinot Noir 2009 – Carneros, California ($28)sinskeyAriesWEB
The complications of the modern world and loss are the focus of this ambitious though very human film. One incredible sequence depicts our world forming, reminding us of both our place in the universe and the need to appreciate our planet. Nothing shows that appreciation more than organic and biodynamic practices, such as those practiced by Robert Sinskey. A native Californian, Robert has been practicing organic and biodynamic farming since 1991. He and his team hold the strongest beliefs that artisanal winemaking begins with the care of the land – they source 75% of their energy from solar power. The 2009 ‘Aries’ Pinot Noir from Los Carneros is a bright, juicy, earthy, and very special wine. Cherries and plums jump out on the nose leaving subtle spice and silky texture and find balance in mouthwatering acidity and tannins. Berry, cherry and spice aromas beckon. Woven in are raspberry and black cherry fruit accented by clove, vanilla and cinnamon.

A Passion for Burgundy

November 21st, 2011

Last Sunday, November 13th, Maslow 6 kicked off its Sunday Sommelier series with Kristie Petrullo, Chef Sommelier of Jean-Georges.  Kristie’s passion is Burgundy (and Champagne!), and she brought her passion with her to Maslow 6 to share it with us – along with a few choice bottles to illustrate why she loves this region so much.  It’s interesting how a Staten Island native with Sicilian heritage found the ancient French wine region of Burgundy to be her favorite, but it has happened.  The progression from Staten Island to Burgundy probably began with years spend working at Daniel Boulud’s restaurants, Restaurant Daniel and Cafe Boulud.  From there, Kristie worked with Tom Colicchio at Craft, and is currently running the wine program at Jean-Georges restaurant.  With these wine lists to work with, it’s no small wonder why Kristie found Burgundy to be so intriguing.  The lists are rich with vintages of the best producers and vineyards and Kristie has had a chance to taste most of them. Not only that, but she spent four months living and working a harvest in Burgundy.

Living in Burgundy was a bit of a change for New York City born Kristie. One morning, she woke early and headed to the kitchen for coffee only to find sheep roaming around the living room.  ”I’m from Staten Island!  I had no idea if sheep were friendly, if they might bite, if they were supposed to be in there!  They had nudged the door open and come on in.”  Maybe not a typical morning in Burgundy, but memorable, and provides a great story for telling over and over again.

Kristie spent a bit of time telling us about the history of Burgundy and how the names of the villages came to be as they are now.  In 1847, the town of Gevrey appealed to have the name of their best vineyard added to the name of the town, and it has been known as Gevrey-Chambertin since.  Other villages with famous Grand Cru vineyards followed suit, and now they all have their best vineyard sites incorporated into the name of the village.

We started the tasting with a bit of Cremant de Bourgogne – a sparkling wine made just like Champagne, but sourced in Burgundy.  These wines can be incredible values, and they’re made just like Champagne – even the same grapes.  The Roger Luquet Cremant de Bourgogne Brut NV, which we served as everyone arrived at the shop, is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, so is much like a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.

Next, we moved into a series of white wines, ranging from Chablis to Chassagne-Montrachet.  The Chablis was from Thierry Laffay.  This Chablis had some nice fruit *(usually, it’s all mineral), which Kristie mentioned due to the warm 2009 harvest.  This vintage was a great vintage in many wine regions, and Burgundy was no exception!  The fruitiness of the 2009 vintage is a testament to the great weather, allowing a long, slow ripening to occur.  This slow ripening is perfect for the development of complex flavors in the grapes.

From the Chablis, we moved into Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet.  Olivier Leflaive’s Puligny-Montrachet 2009 is a textbook example of the appellation, displaying the structure and nervosity of this village.  Domaine de la Maltroye’s Chassagne-Montrachet 2007 was a bit disappointing. While this wine is normally a stunning example of not only the winemaking at Maltroye but also the Chassagne-Montrachet village, this particular bottle (bottles – we opened two) had suffered from bad storage somewhere along the way.  Never fear, this wine is normally worth every penny, but this particular bottling was a bit problematic. We moved on from this wine to Meo Camuzet’s Hautes Cotes de Nuits ‘Clos St. Philibert’, another wine that always over delivers!

From this, we moved on to red wines, starting with Chateau de la Maltroye’s Chassagne Montrachet la Boudriotte 1er Cru Chasssagne Montrachet 09.  This really picked up where the white left off – it was GREAT!!  What a value from this producer.  The red wines of Chassagne, according to Kristie, offer instant joy, as you can pop them open and drink them now!  Freddie Mugnier’s Clos de la Marechale 1er Cru 08 was another great red.  This single parcel came back into Freddie’s grasp in time for the 2004 vintage – his first release from this vineyard after the land came back into his holdings (it had been leased for a really, really long time!).  Elegant and structured, this wine is the epitome of Burgundy.

Alain Burguet’s Mes Favorites was next in the line-up, and it is a big one!  Burguet makes rich, intense wines from Gevrey Chambertin, and he’s one of Kristie’s favorites.  But, the Volnay really is where her heart is at – it’s her favorite appellation due to the sexiness of it.  Soft, dusty tannins, subtle fruit, refreshing acidity – and all from an area that is known for white wines – Meursault!  As Kristie explained, red wines from Meursault are called Volnay, and it’s a name to get to know.  We tried Darviot Perrin’s Les Santenots 2006 – a great example of the appellation and a great wine in its own right.

We closed the evening in awe of Kristie’s knowledge and experience, but also with a new friend!  Kristie is as friendly and endearing as she is passionate and experienced – go visit her at Jean-Georges and find out.  And, come back to Maslow 6 for our second Sunday Sommelier seminar with Chris Baggetta, of Eleven Madison Park. Chris is amazing and talented, and will teach you all the tricks of tasting wines like a pro.  Sunday, December 11th – come join us at 4 pm for an evening of blind tasting – don’t be afraid – it’s totally fun!!!

See you Sundays at Maslow 6.

Becoming a Master Sommelier – Part 2

October 30th, 2011

Becoming a Master Sommelier is something that I have not yet accomplished.  It is a goal that requires a great amount of time and dedication, support from family, friends, and your employer,  and a clear and directed path of study.  There are probably as many ways to achieve this goal as there are people trying to achieve it – and there are quite a few people working to become Master Sommeliers.  One thing that most aspiring MS’s will agree on is a structured study plan for theory, a regular tasting group, and practical experience.

Most students will take some form of wine class, whether through the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) or the ASA (American Sommelier Association) or a local culinary school.  To become a Master Sommelier, a student must sit through a series of exams administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, beginning with an introductory course and Sommlier Exam, then progressing on to the Certified Sommelier, Advanced Sommelier, and finishing with the Master  Sommelier exam.  I did not sit through the Introductory course, so cannot comment on it, but I’ve sat through the rest of the levels.

Studying for the exams is largely on the student, with the guidance of a mentor.  This relationship is as good as you make it.  Mentors can guide you to the most relevant books and sources for information for the theory section of the exam, as well as help you with study techniques for remembering this vast array of information.  My personal advice here would be to start with the classic wine growing regions of the old and new world, concentrate on Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne.  Work your way out from there.  Tom Stevenson is publishing a new edition of his New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia – get it.  Also use the Compendium on the GuildSomm website to guide your studies.

Studying for theory is an ongoing process – tackle the classics first and go from there.  Tasting is an ongoing process as well.  the most important thing you can do is to find or form a regular tasting group.  Begin with tastings that are open – taste a range of wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon for instance, including those from Bordeaux, Italy, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and the USA.  Discuss the differences in these wines and how these differences were achieved – and how you would identify that in a blind tasting.  Then taste blind.  Pair off and do flights of six wines – each person gets 25 minutes and six wines and gets “graded” by one of their peers.  This is humbling and so very necessary.  There is a “grid” for tasting that is on the Court of Master Sommeliers website that you can refer to, or you can customize your own.  Find a system for getting through the grid every time in the time allotted, hitting every point each time, and correctly identifying the wines each time – in 25 minutes.

Mastering tasting and theory is a matter of practice and repitition.   Preparing for the practical, or Service portion of the exam, is largely gaining some practical experience.  The best way to do this is to work as a sommelier or wine director of a restaurant with a large wine list, preferably featuring International wines.  This is not to say that all Master Sommeliers must have had practical restaurant experience – but it is helpful.  For those with little to no restaurant experience, practicing service at home and in front of a group of other aspiring MS’s is the only way to gain experience and confidence. Read books on food and wine pairing, cocktails, the varied wine regions of the world, figuring profits and costs of wines and cocktails, and service details.  Nothing can replace experience, though, so practice Champange service, decanting, banquet service, and food and wine pairing every day if you can.

Theory, blind tasting, and service are the three portions of the Master Sommelier exam that candidates must prepare for.  Each student will choose an individual path, and not all will achieve their goal.  Hopefully at some time in the near future, this author will have achieved her goal!

Becoming a Master Sommelier – Part 1

October 7th, 2011

I wish I had enough fingers and toes to count all the times that people asked me what a Master Sommelier is and what they do, and most often, how do you become one?  Explaining what they do is much easier than becoming one, so I’ll start there.  Master Sommeliers can be found in almost every aspect of the wine business:  working in restaurants/hotels running beverage programs, running a retail wine program, educating future sommeliers about wine, making wine, writing about wine, marketing and promoting wine, importing and distributing wine, and much, much more.  The wine business is as varied as any other, and Master Sommeliers are working in all areas of the wine and beverage business.

Wine AND beverage….what does that mean?  Well, Master Sommeliers don’t stop their education with wine.  To become a Master Sommelier, you have to know about spirits, cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages, beer, and sake.  And, that’s not all, but it often means that Sommeliers aren’t just dealing with wine, they work with the bartenders or mixologists to create a cocktail list (or lists), they think about the type of water you drink, what types of teas, coffees, juices, non-alcoholic cocktails, and even soft drinks!  Really good Sommeliers and beverage directors have thought of the entire program, and it shows. Take Rouge Tomate, for instance. Pascaline Lepeltier, an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers studying for her Masters, runs a complete beverage program.  Complete because she obsesses over each cocktail, each juice, each non-alcoholic concoction, and even the teas that you drink with your meal, and it shows.  If you haven’t tried a cocktail or checked out the wine list or stopped in for a to-go juice cocktail at Rouge Tomate, then go.  NOW.  Pascaline is one of a growing handful of Sommeliers that thinks about her entire beverage program, and it makes for a more exciting time choosing your libation.

So, Master Sommeliers need to know about beverages only?  Oh, if it were only so easy.  Any beverage program costs money, and the Sommelier is often the person who is in charge of making sure that their program is a profitable one. Master Sommeliers know how to create a program that is profitable AND exciting.  Easy to say, harder to do.  How do they learn this?  Often this part of a Sommelier’s job is learned from a mentor or learned on the job.  Restaurant hospitality programs may offer classes in restaurant costing, but Sommeliers don’t always attend hospitality management courses. Sommeliers often come to the job with a background in something entirely different, like philosophy, or medicine, or investment banking, or law. So, they learn about costing on the job, from a mentor.  Sure, you can buy books on the subject and utilize software packages to help with this, but at the end of the day, you will have to answer questions during the Master Sommelier exam about costing and profitability, without a handy software package or a book to guide your answers!

Beverages and profitability, that’s easy, what else?  Well, there’s food.  Most people don’t drink beverages by themselves all the time. Sure, there are occasions for heading to the bar for a refreshing drink, or even just slaking your thirst with a cold beverage, but most often, people drink AND eat.  So that means that Sommeliers need to know about food, too, and how it’s prepared, and how the interaction of food and beverage will affect the flavors of both.  This is one aspect that is really fun and exciting (and sometimes frustrating!).  For the past two days, I’ve been watching Sommeliers duke it out in the International Chef’s Congress (Star Chefs) Somm Slam.  A large part of what they are being judged on is their ability to pair food and wine and to sell it to the customer.  11 contestants and 11 different pairings with the same exact dish.   All the Sommeliers were able to deftly pair a trio of cheeses with a variety of wines, and to describe it to a roomful of judges.  Only 6 went into day 2, where they competed again, pairing a smoked quail egg with crispy chicken cracklings, duck bacon, onion flowers, and dehydrated corn silk with wine.  That wasn’t all, they also had to pair braised green peanuts (braised in maple and sorghum and chili spices), liquid cornbread with smoked paprika and rabbit bacon.  Once again, all 6 Sommeliers made great matches and had to sell them to the judges.  2 winners were chosen to compete on day three, which is today!

Food, wine, sake, spirits, cocktails, juices, sodas, teas, coffees, and waters.  A day in the life of a Master Sommelier (or a Master Sommlier to be!) includes spending a portion of each day learning something new.  MS’s to be spend a large portion of their time studying these subjects outside of work.  Yes, Sommeliers take their work home with them, practicing food and wine pairing, taking classes, getting together to study as a group, or studying alone.  Traveling to wine regions is a favorite pastime of Sommeliers and a great way to learn about where your wine comes from. Part 2 of this blog post will outline more steps necessary for becoming a Master Sommelier, so stay tuned for more!

Shochu, the new vodka?-T.Carney

September 26th, 2011


The last I heard of Shochu was back in 1999, when I managed a sushi/sake bar in San Francisco. Okay, I’ll admit, it was also an Oxygen bar. Sort of a fad amongst fad businesses during the dot com boom, a time when people were showing up to work so casually, sometimes in a wetsuit, to a “dot-com” based on speculation and overeager venture capitalists. Tradition was out, thinking “outside the box” was becoming prerequisite to living inside of this bubble.

Enter, the Oxygen bar. We had eight oxygen stations where people could sit on one of many futuristic looking chaise lounges and get hooked up (tube up the nose) with their choice of aromatherapy for 10 – 25 minutes, while they inhaled away their hangover, stress, and fatigue via 5 liter of almost pure oxygen. We were booked, almost nightly, with dot-com companies just throwing away their money for lavish parties to keep up with the fierce competition amongst the other dot coms to be the best and most fun company to work for.

Enter 2000, POP! We had no business, why the hell would you pay for oxygen?  After receiving our wine and beer license we decided to add the Sushi and Sake to our eclectic list of offerings on our trippy, oxygen filled list. We discovered Shochu as a great alternative to vodka and expanded our list with Shochu cocktails. It was a hit, as it almost tastes like vodka (nothing) and was almost half the alcohol at 23%.

Shochu is making a debut in NYC very slowly, but when it does hit your local bar or restaurant list, I thought it would be a good idea to find out exactly, what is Shochu?

The word “sake” in Japan can actually refer to all alcoholic beverages in general, although it most often refers to the wine-like rice brew associated with that word overseas. But in some parts of Japan, most notably the far western and southern regions, the word sake is understood to refer to a totally different alcoholic beverage, also indigenous to Japan, but distilled and not brewed: shochu.

Shochu developed as an expression of the warmer climates and cuisines of  Japan. Perhaps the factor most affecting the development of shochu is the weather. 
Brewing sake calls for relatively lower temperatures, but shochu can be distilled in these warmer regions. Also, the higher alcohol content and drier feel is more appealing to many in milder climates. Shochu is made from one of several raw materials which can include, sweet potato, rice, soba, barley, and not so common is from brown sugar and chestnuts.  Each of these raw materials gives a distinct flavor and aroma profile to the final sake. These profiles run the gamut from smooth and light (rice) to peaty, earthy and strong (potato).

Shochu has taken a turn from being an old-fashioned drink to becoming very popular with the younger crowds and nightlife in Japan. People think it a more healthy alternative with less sugars and calories, compared to higher alcohol spirits such as vodka or whisky. Shigechiyo Izumi, a legendary Japanese man who lived to be 105 years old, claimed he drank the spirit every day and that  it alone is the reason for his longevity.  So drink up, live long, and if you ever have the chance to try some oxygen from a tank…. You only live once.


Sherry: The New Food Wine by Bill Bendelow

September 9th, 2011

Beautifully refurbished NYC brownstone mansion
beautiful hardwood floors, 12ft ceilings, central a/c, fireplaces on each floor, professional kitchen, decked out with one-of-a-kind art

You’d at least be interested to know where this is, right?

Now this is a wine blog, so we’ll talk about wine here. The above “real estate offer” is bogus and a dream. The equivalent in the wine world, however, is most certainly not.

What if we told you that you could buy a wine that was a blend of at least the last 150 vintages yet was a light straw color with the slightest hints of gold, was fresh and lively and paired exquisitely well with seafood…. Had the unmistakeable signature of one of the world’s most unique and famous terriors…. Had a brisk palate with a rich array of flavors not unlike champagne, and with a similar chalky-tinged tangy finish…. Came from a single vineyard….And cost only $ 28?vinesAlbarizia

What if we told you the same amazing value came in a style that was a tawny amber walnut color, had an incredibly dazzling aroma of dried apricots, hazlenuts and antique woody notes, was a blend of every vintage going back into the 1770s, was a favorite of the Duke of Wellington when he defeated Napoleon, went extremely well with any kind of slow-roasted meats, and could be kept after opening for at least a full year….. and cost only $45?

You’d be at least interested in tasting the wines, right?

The fact is these wines have been available in the New York market for quite some time, but it is only lately that enough attention has been drawn to them. These wines have been admired by wine professionals all over the country for their elegance, uniqueness, uncanny food-pairing ability and their undeniable value…..

The problem has been this: The wines we’re talking about are Sherries. Sherry. What you thought only your Grandmother drank.

But you’re smarter than that, aren’t you? You know a great value when you see it. You’re not willing to let old stereotypes dictate what you think you can and can’t drink, right?

partiallyFilledBarrelLet’s start from here:  “Sherry” is in fact a mispronunciation of Jerez, which is the greater region that these wines come from.  Jerez (and its subdistrict of Sancluar de Barrameda) lies at the western end of Andalucia, in southern Spain (south of Sevilla, facing west towards the Atlantic).  Sherish was the name used by Moorish occupiers, Sherry was what the Brits used.

We can go for a long time writing about the dramatic history of this region and the various players/events that molded it into what it is today, but most important for this blog is HOW these extremely unique wines are made.

The Jerez region itself is indeed quite warm for winemaking purposes.  Summer is undeniably hot there, with sun that parches the ground.  It basically does not rain at all from June until the end of October.  So how do they make delicate wines that go so well with seafood?

The grape grown here is Palomino Fino, which honestly for all intents and purposes is one of the least interesting grapes on earth.  However, it does grow very well in this hot climate, and showcases the soil the region is famous for (a powdery, fine sand-like version of chalk called Albariza) quite well, much like Chardonnay does for the chalk in the Champagne region.

soleraIn the case of the first wine that we spoke of above, that went so well with seafood, the grapes are pressed and a base wine is made.  This very simple, low alcohol (typically11.5%) wine is then introduced into a series of barrels called a Solera. A Solera consists of barrels that have multiple vintages blended into them.  The barrels at the beginning of the Solera have the youngest wine introduced into them, and wine is pulled from those barrels and put into the next series of barrels after room is made in those barrels by emptying them partially into the next series of barrels.  Think of it like filling a tilted ice-cube tray – water spilling down into one ice cube well from the previous one, until all are filled from the top (and water spills all over your counter).   The differences here are that the barrels are carefully filled and emptied by hand, and (most importantly) the barrels are never filled all the way, nor emptied all the way…

This is done for two big reasons:One, this way the older vintages are never fully lost.  While fresh new wine is entered into the Solera from one end, since no barrel ever is emptied completely, what gets bottled out of the last barrel is a blend of every vintage that has ever been put in the Solera system (of course, the oldest vintages are there in very tiny quantities, but there nonetheless).  This is how the simple, boring Palomino grape is made into a complex and intriguing wine.

Second reason for this practice is so that a natural phenomenon unique to Jerez and Sanlucar can occur — the development of flor.  Flor is a yeast film that covers the wine’s surface inside the barrel and protects it from oxygen while feeding off the sugars in the young wine and naturally filtering out any impurities (great, huh?).  This protection from oxygen is what keeps a white wine blended from 150 vintages looking sosherryBeachyoung (maybe we should try it?).  In the particular case of the subregion of Sanlucar de Barrameda the flor exists in the cellars year-round, thanks to the proximity to the Guadalquivir river that runs thru Sevilla, passes off the west-facing beach of Sanlucar (not a bad beach by the way) and empties into the Atlantic.  The lower part of the river by the town is an estuary, and across from the town is one of Europe’s largest nature preserves.  The confluence of the river, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean currents coming from the nearby Straight of Gibraltar, along with the large nature preserve make for some of the most delicious and fresh seafood you will ever have in your life if you find the time to go there….. spiny lobsters that taste as fresh as the sea, have a rich meaty but incredibly delicate flavor that makes you consume mass quantities of them…. all perfectly washed down with the local Manzanilla wine, which is the local liquid specialty…..

So enough technojargon and dreaming of beaches and seafood.  These wines are delicious, totally unique and unlike anything else you’ve ever had, are incredible values, and will be poured in the store on Thursday, September 15th.  RSVP to Sherry Tasting


Hidalgo-La Gitana Manzanilla Pasada “Pastrana” (the first wine described above, that goes so well with seafood)

Hidalgo-La Gitana Jerez Cortado “Wellington” (the second wine described above, that goes so well with roasted meats)

Hidalgo-La Gitana Cream “Alameda” (simply an outstanding desert wine that we guarantee you’ll love even if you think you don’t like sweet wine….trust us)

Bodegas Toro Albala Pedro Ximenez Gran Reserva “Don PX” 1982 (yes, 1982; that is the current release….this is made from ripe grapes that are dried outside until they are turned into raisins, then the resulting wine made is aged in cask a minimum of 25 years… this is an explosion of nutty toffee, coffe, licorice and dark maple chocolate notes with a hint of balsamic-like tang….. come get some!)

The Cowboys and Bulls of the Camargue

August 19th, 2011

The family vacation in France continues… we are spending a week in Provence, and I’ve managed to fit in a couple day trips to the Rhône Valley. I went to Crozes Hermitage and Cornas in the Northern Rhône (I do not really recommend these as day trips from Provence – although meeting Guillaume Gilles in Cornas was worth the drive!). Chateauneuf-du-Pape however is very doable as a day trip. But more on that in another blog.

We are staying in a lovely farmhouse located between the two small towns of Mausanne-les-Alpilles and Mouries. One of the highlights of our stay was watching the ‘running of the bulls’ in Mausanne. These are the wild bulls from the Camargue area, just to the south of Provence. They hang out in the marshes there are and are herded by the cowboys (or ‘gardians’) on their small, white, native horses of the Camargue. There aren’t many wild horses anymore, and they are often inter-bred with Arabian or Barb horses, as the cowboys are not as small as they used to be (along with the rest of us!) and they need their horses to be a little bigger.

bullsWild2We weren’t quite sure what to expect – my daughter and I had seen the bulls quite close up when we took a horse ride in the Camargue. They are very respectful of the horses and as long as you are on horseback you can get close – we were within a few feet of a herd of 20 or so. The younger ones are not too imposing, but they and their horns get bigger after a couple years. Unlike in Spain, the sport is not fatal to the bulls; here it is a ‘game’. One of the games is apparently having them run up and down the street herded by cowboys on horseback.

We got to the town around 6:00 PM and they were just finishing putting up fences/barricades along the street. They were high enough that you couldn’t climb over them, but the bars were wide enough that people could slip through, which a lot of kids and adults were doing, putting them on the same side as the bulls would be.


A lone cowboy rode up and down the street a few times and then he was joined by a few more ‘gardians’ who galloped up and down the street on their Camargue horses. People were now paying more attention but didn’t seem to feel the need to get completely off the street and that continued through the evening – the horses would come galloping through and people would jump aside at the last minute. After the first few times, the bulls were amongst the horses. They went quite fast and it was hard to see much beyond the bulls hind ends once they were past and heading away from us. From time to time a group of teenage boys would run after them, attempting to catch them. One or two would grab hold of the bull’s shoulder and horns, and another would pull its tail. Although this was definitely more dangerous for the boys than the bulls, we were secretly rooting for the bulls.

bullHeadOnAt one point my mother and I walked down to try to get a dinner reservation and got a little bit better view than we had bargained for. When the horses and bulls raced past us, we took cover behind a stone gatepost – they were much too close! We also saw the cattle car that they herd the bulls into – right up a ramp into the truck. Going out, the horses and gardians form a line in front of the ramp, with the horses tightly against each other. There were about 5 in front, with 2 or so on either side, so the bull or bulls could run in the midst of them without escaping. Hopefully anyway – apparently one year, a bull did escape and ran into a house, destroying everything! Once the horses were in formation two men would lift a door, and the bulls would race down the ramp. The horses would then gallop off, and the cowboys would keep the bulls where they were supposed to be. Sometimes they only run up and down a handful of times, but I think they made at least 15 trips – tiring out the boys but not necessarily the bulls! Exhilarating to watch and the horses definitely enjoy their job.