Archive for May 2011

Another Nixonian Dilemma   1 comment


"Holy crap, Leonid! It's a good thing you're only drinking that cheap New York 'champagne'."

 As a wine lover, I believe that one of the great enjoyments of wine is the simple act of sharing it with people who are like-minded.  But what if your guests like their wine plentiful, cheap and out of a big ole jug?  Is it acceptable to serve your invited guests a different wine than the one you have reserved for yourself?  The answer seems obvious and yet this does happen.

A famous example of this was relayed by Eric Asimov in the NY Times Diner’s Journal:

“Nonetheless, secretly reserving a wine for oneself while serving something else to the guests violates numerous rules of etiquette. Not that it’s uncommon. The most famous such anecdote comes from “The Final Days’’ by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in which Richard Nixon is depicted entertaining Congressmen on the Presidential yacht Sequoia, serving them a modest Bordeaux with their dinner of tenderloin while the stewards poured Nixon Margaux 1966, the bottle wrapped in a napkin to conceal the label. Tricky, Dick!”

Imagine the potential embarrassment and the look on his face if that napkin covered ’66 Chateau Margaux had been corked.   You know he’s not drinking the plonk being served to the Congressmen.  What is a Nixon to do? (Please select from the following choices.)

a. Intimately whispers into the ear of his server: “I don’t want to drink that other crap, is there  another bottle of this out back?” 

b. Sits silently sober

c. Drinks the tainted bottle

d. Ask for the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman as a diversionary tactic while a new bottle is ushered in. 

And what if there had been a mix-up with the covered bottles?  Could Dick have known the difference?  And if he thought there was a mix up, how would he even broach that subject?

Assuming the wine was good and we have no reason to believe it was not good, and assuming there was no mix up with the bottles, imagine delighting in the presence, the majesty, the power, the finesse of a ’66 Margaux and not being able to discuss it with anyone.  It is possible to be completely alone in a room full of people.  This sort of self-imposed vinous exile smacks of hubris and speaks volumes about a person’s character, personality, sense of entitlement, etc.  

There is one other thing that I need to mention here.  Nixon resigned from office in 1974.  If Woodward and Bernstein were correct in their reporting, that means he was drinking what could have been a fantastic, age-worthy bottle of Margaux within 8 years of the vintage date!  I would have thought that the leader of the free world should be able to score a well aged bottle of fine bordeaux.  My money is on the fact that the “modest bordeaux” being served to the other guests was actually drinking better than the Margaux (at least I really want to believe that).  Which begs the question, how much did he really know about wine?   

This two-tiered wine service is rife with potential landmines. 

Let face it– there are people who don’t “get” the wine thing.  For them it is just another way to ingest alcohol– and maybe we should have a six-pack of Bud on hand just for them IF THEY ARE INTERESTED IN THAT SORT OF THING.  And there are those who on principle, decline to pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine.  But to put out a different wine for them than the one I’m drinking is just bad manners and if history is any teacher, you will be found out.  Even Tricky Dick eventually received the painful lesson that accompanies the discovery of a deception.  I have found that many of my friends who are not fluent in the culture of wine are actually intrigued enough to pursue better bottles once they have been introduced to higher caliber wines and realize what goes into and comes out of a decent bottle of wine.  And even if they don’t take to it as passionately as I do, friendships are made and strengthened over good wine, or at least what people may think is good wine.

Drink the value wines right along with the larger crowd.  Best to save the good stuff for a smaller crowd of 2-4 people or in Nixon’s case, party of 1 in a darkened Oval Office.  And if you’re thinking of recording conversations with friends, colleagues, drinking buddies?  Best to avoid that altogether, Dick.

Posted May 8, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Wine Etiquette

When is it OK to put ice in your wine?   4 comments


Ice in Sangria?  De Rigueur and the only time I will do it.

White Wine Spritzer?  Never OK for so many reasons.

Wine on the rocks?  Hell no!!

We have a friend, a certain Ms. L, who drinks primarily (OK exclusively) whites.  She insists on the ice thing.  Reason?  She likes the clinking in her glass.  Reminds her of a party, I guess. 

Recently, she joined us with some other friends for a visit to one of the cathedrals of Italian wine and food excellence, Eataly in NYC.  After ordering a nice bottle of white, she proceeds to dump several ice cubes into her glass.  One of my other friends, Mr. M (a native of Piemonte) was about to have a seizure upon witnessing this.  I quickly shot him a look and whispered, “I know; just look away.”  But Ms. L, it seems is not alone. 

Is this behavior limited to people who are not wine professionals/critics/lovers?  Apparently not.  During a trip to Sonoma a few days ago, I saw a Dry Creek Valley winemaker do the same thing!  His explanation?  Gives him an opportunity to drink more without getting hammered.  Here’s an idea: DRINK MORE WATER.  Personally, I like Ms. L’s explanation better.

So why should this bother me?  It doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the wine I happen to be drinking.  Or does it?  How much of a snob am I?  (Note to reader: these are rhetorical questions that I do not expect any of you to answer.)

Speaking of snobbery, is this any different from pouring a lesser wine when the people drinking it are not truly appreciative of, or willing to make an effort to appreciate, what’s in the glass?  Do you pour Petrus for the masses?  Hell, bad example, I don’t pour Petrus for myself.  But you get the idea.  People will tell you that they are not wine drinkers, until they find out that you’re pouring from a special bottle.  Then it turns out the unruly hoard is lining up for their allocation… usually a nice tall glass of the stuff.  “Fill it to the brim please.”  They are so polite.  They are also the first to say the wine is too dry and that they wished it was, you know, sweeter.  Ugh! 

But I digress.

So how do we solve the ice problem with Ms. L?  Even though I don’t care for ice in the wine, Ms. L is a good time and sure to keep the party lively.  Surely, that’s worth putting up with an ice-cube or two?  I keep some low-cost yet quality white wines in the house.  This way when it’s “bombs away” into the wine glass, I don’t feel as bad.  And I can drink the same thing.  And when she says, this is so much better than Santa Margherita!  I can respond, “And at half the price!”  All of a sudden, that ice problem just melts away…

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Posted May 7, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love, Wine Etiquette

Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend   2 comments


View of Lake Sonoma from the Vineyards at D.H. Gustafson

The Set up: Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend: 46 of DCV’s wineries poured their wines with food pairings and entertainment for 5 ½ hours this Saturday and Sunday.  This is the third year that Ms. R and I have made the pilgrimage. 

Saturday April 30, 2011:   

Kokomo Winery.  Winemaker, Erik Miller and best friend-Assistant Winemaker, Josh Bartels, have begun carving a path to exceptional wines.  Recently, his 2008 Peter’s Vineyard Pinot Noir garnered a 93 rating from the Wine Enthusiast.  Here’s what I like about Erik: he could sit back and repeat the formula that yielded that rating.  This he refuses to do—being in operation since 2004—he recognizes that there’s still a lot of learning to do.  Here’s another reason to like Erik: he cares to hear the positive and negative feedback about his wines.  Early on I made a negative comment about his 2006 Malbec: lack of presence, overpriced, etc.  He called me to try to make good on it by offering a bottle of something else—45 minutes into the conversation, I knew that he was the kind of winemaker I want to follow.  I never accepted a replacement for that “bad” bottle and when I opened a second bottle of the 2006 Malbec from the same vintage last year, I have to admit that I was impressed.  It had settled down: I guess it just needed a little more time.  This is why I continue to go along for the ride.  This Indiana raised surfer dude knows his juice and he’s works hard to get the best from it while letting the grapes speak for themselves.  You want artisanal?  Go to Kokomo.  You want predictable, then buy Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio or better yet Coca Cola.

So enough of the history lesson.  What about the Kokomo wines today? 

2010 Grenache Rosé: Now this may not be the greatest Rosé ever, but with its floral components combined with hints of strawberry, etc., etc., here’s the bottom line: if a woman could Jizz in Her Pants over a wine, then this would be the one for Ms. R.  Rated ** but she would say that I’m being reserved with this review.  Ok—any wine that can spark a great evening deserves another half point just for the Jizz factor.  Re-rated ** 1/2  

2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Peter’s Vineyard Winemakers Reserve: This one keeps getting better and better each year.  I think that Erik’s partnership with Randy Peters is providing him access to great fruit and it shows.  The acid is pronounced but not overwhelming.  Typical for Kokomo—but the red fruits shine through along with other flavors and aromas.  A few years in the bottle and I will be the one doing the jizzing!  Rated ***

2008 DCV Zinfandel, Timber Crest Vineyard Winemakers Reserve: Nice cherry flavors combine with an herbal component that is reminiscent of eucalyptus with an herbal overlay (thyme?).  I confess, I liked this better at the winery than I did at home in Connecticut a few days after receiving a recent shipment.  Given the Malbec experience, I’m thinking that the stress of shipment must be affecting the wines when they travel cross country (a topic for another post), so I’m going to let this these rest longer before pulling corks.  Still, I don’t find this to be as strong as the Mounts Zinfandel that Erik puts out as well.  That’s the one I am looking forward to drinking.  Rated ** ½

Talty Vineyards and WineryA nice selection of Zins for all tastes.  Ms. R and I completely disagreed on our favorites.  We did agree on two things though: first that the Cherry Chipotle Lamb Taco went with every wine we tasted; second that we would have been happy to drink our least favorite of the Talty wines with each other.  We will visit again next year.

Martorana Family Winery.  Each time we visit Martorana we come away with two impressions.  First, the property appears to be situated in a warmer micro-climate than some of the other DCV wineries.  Second, the Italian hospitality can’t be beat—endless servings of brick oven pizza.  This year, we came away with a third impression: during our first two trips, the wines seemed over-priced given the quality.  Not that they were bad, but they did not seem on par with their neighbors’ wines from a value perspective.  This year we found what appeared to be better value especially in the chardonnay and merlot releases.  Two standouts: the estate 2009 Chardonnay and 2005 Merlot.  Both rated ** ½

Dutcher Crossing.  But it wasn’t ALL GOOD– what fun would that be.  The disappointment of the day was at the Dutcher Crossing Vineyards and Winery.  This is one of those places that other people seem to like—perhaps it is because they have been around for a while and have an established brand.  However, the winery has been under new ownership since March 2007 and the wines that I tasted back in 2009 and again this year did not impress.  Food pairings—if you can call it that—were insipid and uninspired.  How about a flavorless coconut shrimp or this: some sort of fruit on cream cheese spread on a piece of stale bread.  Are you kidding me?  Naaaaassty!  Unimpressive pedestrian wines, uninspired food, and need I say more?  Somebody please explain to me what I’m missing here.  Then again, never mind.  I will revisit them in a few years time to see if they have figured it out.

Wilson Family Winery.  The end of Day 1.  Picture if you will this recipe.  A good blues band driving the party bus.  Add grilled tri-tip.  Toss in some free-form stumbling-bumbling that some people thought passed for dancing.  Put in a crowd of 200+ people who have been adequately marinated at other wineries  who have shown up to consume copious amounts of the highly extracted, high alcohol Wilson wines.  Imagine, an awesome Sunday morning hangover.  Imagine 200+ Sunday morning hangovers!  We could be in Australia—also known for bad dancing, strong wines and horrific hangovers.  But no, we were at the after-Passport party at Wilson Family wineries.  Passport ends at most wineries at around 4:30.  This is not Wilson’s philosophy.  As a former Wilson Wine Club member, I can say that they do have some nice wines, but the real draw for me these days is the great people-watching on the deck overlooking the Wilson vineyards. 

Sunday May 1, 2011:

Kachina Vineyards.  We survived the Wilson test and awoke on Sunday morning sans hangovers.  After a suitably large breakfast (the most important meal of the day on Passport weekend), we headed out and found ourselves at Kachina Vineyards.  Friendly, family owned and small.  They are worth watching.  Of particular note:

2009 Russian River Chardonnay:  Can you say “ohr-GAH-hom!”  This wine was matched beautifully with a simple poached shrimp on a salted tortilla chip with…was that a mango sliver and a cilantro dressing?  Can you say the word “orgasm” with a mouth full of this pairing?  There is no need to try, but you know Ms. R can!  Rated ** ½ add another ½ for the pairing if you must.  But I’ll stick with a rating of ** 1/2

2009 Charbono (this is not the time for a cheap Sonny & Cher crack) is a varietal otherwise known as bonarda.  Typically, this is a blending grape, but here, it produces a strongly colored wine that exhibits surprisingly approachable fruit without the expected tannins that normally accompany a wine that looks like this.  Rated **

2005 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Port: nice ruby color with an elegant mouth-coating of plum-like fruit balanced by good acidic structure.  Even Ms. R, a person who despises dessert wines, liked this one.  Perhaps it was the chocolate truffle pairing.  Go ahead, say it– ohr-GAH-hom!  Rated ***

Michel-Schlumberger.  We’re fans—period.  Most interesting wine poured was a 1991 (not a misprint) cabernet sauvignon.  It seemed to be little bit past its prime at 20 years.  But made for interesting drink.  Most creative dish was the popcorn flavored ice cream drizzled with olive oil and with a sprinkle of sea salt.  Sounds bizarre, I know, but trust us it was the most memorable, unusual and delicious thing we had to eat.   Oh yes, they also served those Pinot Blanc sno-cones.  Whoa.

D.H. Gustafson Family Vineyards.  Surprise of the weekend!  For our money and our preferences, these guys can’t seem to make any bad wines.  Why did it take us so long to get there?  Because, literally, it took us a long time to get there—this winery is tucked away on Skaggs Spring Road which is a 10-15 minute drive from the nearest DCV winery on Dry Creek Road.  Ms. R, who served as chauffeur for most of the weekend, bitched and moaned the whole way there.  Thankfully the wines made her shut her mouth.  Oh look, another Rosé made it to our favorites list:

2010 Estate Rosé of Syrah.  This one reminded me of some of the Burgundian Rosés I’ve had in the past.  This baby qualifies for the LPR award (Liquid Pants Remover)!  Ms. R agrees.  Rated ** ½

As for the other Gustafson wines, I hope that we are not wrong in our assessment.  Since I have ordered some, I will find out soon enough!

Cheers y Salud!

Posted May 6, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love

Why wine? Why Food? Why Love? Why Not?!   Leave a comment

Just what the world needs!  A new wine/food/love blog.  So maybe I need it more than the world does. 

As for the subject: I have passion for each of them.  I will write about each as the mood strikes me.  Often, I will write about all of them at once.  Oh, and the little guy on the left, here, that would be me in an earlier life (self-satisfied expression and all).  He’s got the wines.  He’s got the babes checking him out.  What, no food?  Wait a minute.  Is that a baguette– I don’t think so…

So if you are passionate about these topics– post.  If you like what I have to say, great.  If not, better still.  Just be polite about it, or not. 

Having just returned home to a rainy/cold Connecticut from a long sun-filled weekend in Sonoma, I can report that I am more convinced than ever that I have succumbed to the siren call of California Wine Country. But here’s the hitch, it’s like the introduction to Green Acres, it’s the place for me, but New York/Connecticut is where she’d rather stay. I will have to wear down Ms. R’s resistance to the notion of west coast wine country living.

During our whirlwind visit to CWC, we made a quick stop in Napa on the way to Sonoma.

First we had lunch at Auberge du Soleil. What, you’ve never been? Go!–
Check out their less formal dining experience in the Bistro & Bar. A light lunch of Duck Confit Pizza and Soy Glazed Short Ribs accompanied by a carafe of Romililly Russian River Pinot Noir. Now the duck pizza on its own was a little heavy-handed on the salt. But boy it made the Romililly squeal with delight– then again maybe that was Ms. R. Never mind.

After that we went to the Corison winery and were treated to some nice cabs. We were happy to also taste a nice 2007 Alexander Valley Gewurztraminer marketed under the Corazon label. It showed a nice depth of fruit and a Beyoncè-like roundness on the back end supported by good acidity. At $30 a bottle, it was not exactly a steal, but it is a well constructed wine and worth it. We rated it ** 1/2 out of 4 stars.

We went to Napa just to buy an Alexander Valley wine??– not exactly. I also scored a 2006 Corison Kronos vineyard Cab at considerably more than $30 a bottle for the cellar. It has more complexity than a Rubik’s Cube. Drinkable now? If you ask Ms. R, she’ll say “Hell to the Yes!” But we’re gonna sit on this baby for a while… I hope. Rated *** 1/2.

So on our way out of Corison we met a local boutique winery owner by the name of David Johndrow. Fun guy who also passed on a bottle of his Johndrow Vineyards Reserve Cab– gratis. Honestly, we haven’t had time to taste it. But will report on that one soon.

As for the rest of the trip, that will also have to wait till my next post.

Posted May 5, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in Food-Wine-Love