Monthly Archives: May 2010

H is for Haraszthy, Agoston

Agoston Haraszthy 1812-69

Many fallacies are associated with this man: he was the first to show the possibilities of grape growing in California, he was the first to introduce superior grape varietals into the state and he was the first to plant the Zinfandel vine (this last point is still unresolved).  He’s even been wrongly dubbed the “father of California wine”. 

Agoston was born into a noble Hungarian family and left for the United States in 1840, arriving in New York and making his way along the Hudson River to the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, eventually settling in Wisconsin.  He was a busy man there; he built homes and mills, planted corn, grains and grapes, raised sheep, pigs and horses, owned and operated a steamboat, dug wine cellars (the current site of Wollersheim Winery) and became a legendary hunter, even killing a wolf with his bare hands. 

Intrigued by the gold rush, he captained a train of wagons along the Santa Fe trail, arriving in San Diego in 1849.  Here he planted fruit orchards, operated a livery stable, opened a butcher shop, planted a vineyard, was elected the sheriff of San Diego County, served as a city marshal and in his role as a contractor, built a jail for the city. 

Agoston served for a few years on the California State Assembly and began to purchase land around San Francisco, planting European vines near Crystal Springs (now part of San Mateo County).  During this time, he started a refinery and when the first U.S. Mint opened in San Francisco in 1854, Agoston was the first assayer.  In 1857 he was charged with embezzlement ($151,550 in gold), but he was exonerated by 1861.

While he was under investigation, he moved to Sonoma and started the Buena Vista Winery, eventually holding over 5,000 acres of land. In 1861, as part of the state commission on viticulture, Agoston traveled to Europe and sent back thousands of vine cuttings of over 350 varietals.  He wrote about his experiences on the trip and as a wine grower in California (Grape Culture, Wines and Wine-Making) in 1862.   This book helped California gain recognition for its grape growing and is considered by some to be Agoston’s main claim to importance in America’s wine history. 

Things started to go downhill from there.  Agoston had borrowed large sums of money to expand his vineyards and his vines became infested with phylloxera, putting a damper on production.  Shareholders forced him out in 1867 and he declared bankruptcy. 

The next year he moved to Nicaragua and began developing a sugar plantation, with the idea of making rum and selling it to American markets.  In July of 1869 he disappeared in a river on his property, never to be seen again.  It was never established if his body washed out to sea or if he was devoured by an alligator.

I could not make this stuff up.



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Vinyl Wine coming soon

My buddy Mike is opening a wine store uptown, on the east side of Lexington between 99th and 100th streets.   He’ll feature about 100 selections from all over the world, most falling in the $10-20 range.   All have been tasted and I’ve had the chance to throw in my two cents.  He’s hoping to open within the next two weeks, but in the meantime, you can find the store on Facebook.  Shots of the inside (including a picture of Elton John in a white leisure suit drinking rosé) coming soon!


Filed under What my friends are up to, Wine

Tasting at Food & Wine Mag

At Ray Isle's tasting table.

Earlier this week a small group of us went to taste with Ray Isle, the Wine Editor for Food & Wine.  I’d like to say I get invited all the time, but rather this was an auction item I bid on last year for Share our Strength.

The cabinets, counters and racks in "the office" were overflowing with bottles of wine. I felt right at home.

I won’t divulge the wines we tasted quite yet, as I’m hoping part of our tasting will be featured in the magazine within the next few months.  Just to give you an idea, though, we tasted some white wines made from red grapes (more off-the-beaten-path than Blanc de Noirs Champagne) and we also gave Ray our opinions on which reds would work well with which burgers for his upcoming event in Aspen

One of the wines had strong reductive odors (think sulfur and canned veggies), so Dave tried to expedite the aeration process using the blender. Oh, a man and his toys.

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In the cooler months we featured a French cider from Domaine Dupont.  Wanting to move through the remnants and make it more seasonally appropriate, Marcella had the genius idea to mix it with spiced rum and she dubbed it the Rum-sicle.

This cocktail tastes like an adult creamsicle.

2 oz. Sailor Jerry’s
2 oz. Etienne Dupont cider
1.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
3 dashes salt
3 dash cinnamon

Combine all & shake with ice; garnish with orange peel. 

As per our usual collaborative efforts, Marcella had a few folks around school taste it.  

The initial version didn’t have cinnamon and upon first sip Nils felt something was missing, and damn if he wasn’t right.  We used ground cinnamon, but you could also make a cinnamon simple syrup or grate cinnamon atop the finished cocktail.   I happen to like the pretty flecks we get with our current recipe.

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More love for the white dog

Josh Ozersky penned “White Dog Rising: Moonshine’s Moment” for Time yesterday.

Some highlights:

“Why is moonshine making a comeback? For the same reason absinthe did a few years ago. Because it’s delicious. Because it’s illegal. And because it’s cool.”

“None of the luxury-tinged language that surrounds its grown-up siblings, like bourbon or scotch, applies to the dog. There are no 12 years of ‘mellowing,’ no ‘complex vanilla notes.'”

“Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace (one of the oldest and most admired distillers in the U.S.) makes White Dog, Wisconsin’s Death’s Door Spirits has White Whisky and even New York’s tiny Finger Lakes Distilling sells Glen Thunder, named after the Watkins Glen racetrack. I had a flight of all three at Tipsy Parson, in New York City, and expected them to be uniformly vile. I’m no enthusiast of this sort of thing, and even the most acclaimed and expensive grappa tends to make me cough and gag. But there was no question that the three products all tasted different, and not unpleasing: they’re neither blankly insipid, like vodka, nor gasoline-y, the way so many clear spirits are. Obviously, a lot of care went into them.”


Filed under Noteworthy articles, Spirits

This is what we do every weekend…

…cigars, stoles, boas, really tall chicks in old-school stewardess get-ups.

Not really, but Ultimat vodka did have one of the cooler exhibits at the Gala kickoff of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic this past Friday.  For the full gallery of our shenanigans, click here.


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Why use a torchon when you can use a plate?

Lettie Teague shares a bizarre wine experience this week in her WSJ blog.


Filed under Alcohol in the News, Wine

Berlin Tasting comes to New York

This past Monday, over 75 wine buyers, writers and sommeliers gathered to participate in a remake of the 1976 Judgment of Paris, dubbed the Berlin Tasting.  The Judgment of Paris was a wine competition organized by a British wine merchant named Steven Spurrier, designed to pit top-quality French and American Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons against one another.  At the time, Spurrier only sold French wine.

The Paris tasting prompted these follow-up tastings: The San Francisco Tasting of 1978, The French Culinary Institute Tasting of 1986, The Wine Spectator Tasting of 1986 and The 30th Anniversary Paris Judgment Tasting, which took place simultaneously in both Napa and London.

Each time, American wines came out on top.  Back in 1976, this upset made the cover of Time magazine (the reporter, George M. Taber, was there Monday, too), while being ignored by the French press.  The 2008 movie, Bottle Shock, was inspired by this tasting as well.  Regardless of your opinion on subjectivity of taste and statistical interpretation, these events were a boon for new world wines.

Eduardo Chadwick, the President of Viña Errazuriz, wanted to see if this could work for Chilean wines and with the help of Spurrier, organized a tasting in Berlin in 2004, pitting his wine against top French and Italian wine.  These tastings were repeated year after year, from Brazil to Tokyo to Toronto to Copenhagen, finally arriving in New York this week.

The views from the ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental aren't shabby. The panel sitting at the front includes Eduardo Chadwick, Steven Spurrier, Francisco Baettig (chief winemaker for Errazuriz) and the founder of Vintus, their American importer.

We were given 10 wines to taste blind, and asked to pick our top 3.

My notes. We knew there were French, American, Italian and Chilean wines and that they were all from the 2006 vintage. On a separate sheet of paper, we simply noted our top 3 selections. Our first pick was worth 3 points, our second worth 2 points and our third worth 1 point. The results were tallied while we were all still there.

The results from the group:

1. Kai by Errazuriz (87% Carmenère, 9% Petit Verdot, 4% Shiraz)
2. Opus One
3. Château Haut-Brion
4. Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve by Errazuriz (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Shiraz)
5. Château Lafite Rothschild
6. La Cumbre by Errazuriz (97% Shiraz, 3% Petit Verdot)
7. Seña by Errazuriz (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot, 10% Carmenère, 6% Cabernet Franc)
8. Stag’s Leap SLV
9. there was a tie here: Sassicaia and Viñedo Chadwick by Errazuriz (100% Cabernet Sauvignon)

My top pick was also the Kai.  My #2 was the Stag’s Leap and my #3 was the Seña.  Spurrier’s top pick was the Chadwick and his #2 was the Kai. 

Were some of these wines not ready to drink yet?  Sure.  You might also think to yourself, with 5 out of the 10 wines from Chile (from the same producer), how badly could they fare? 

All that being said, had you asked anyone on the way in, I highly doubt he or she would have anticipated that a Carmenère-based wine from Chile would beat out heavy-hitters from around the world.

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To hold you over

I have some posts in the works, including a nod to the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris, but until I can get it together, I thought this might hold you over.

One of my dear friends has been traveling in Central America – primarily Costa Rica – since January (I’m not jealous) and she started a blog.  She’s written a few posts about beverage, but my favorite is titled, “It’s not wine, it’s Clos“.


Filed under What my friends are up to

This pear is always in season

Pear Sidecar: 2 oz. pear brandy, 1 oz. Cointreau, 1 oz. fresh lemon juice, 1 1/4 oz. simple syrup and a dash of salt.

The Bartletts won’t be out until July, but FLD just released a pear brandy that will make drinks for all seasons. 

The sidecar above was created with the help of my friend Gene.  I had originally made a sidecar with Calvados, thinking the apple/pear combo would be tasty, but it was much too heavy for a spring drink. 

This pear brandy reminds me of just-baked cobbler, so for my next drink, I went to Tuaca (vanilla) and Velvet Falernum (clove and almond).

Pear Falernum? Pear Cobbler?

2 oz. pear brandy
1 oz. Tuaca
1 oz. Velvet Falernum
1/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
dash of salt

Combine all ingredients over ice and shake.  Strain into chilled highball glass with fresh ice and top with ginger ale and a cherry.

The ginger ale adds the necessary spice to round out the sweet pear and vanilla notes.  The cherry looks cool in the bottom of the glass and also corresponds to the cobbler theme.  Easy to make and even easier to drink.

I’m thrilled for this beautiful weather, but this pear brandy will provide fall/winter solace when mixed with quince, spiced rum, walnut liqueur, Oloroso Sherry and chocolate (not all at the same time, of course).  A smoky or salty rim would be a nice touch, too – think prosciutto or Parma ham.

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