Monthly Archives: January 2011

Cru Beaujolais

I went to my second tasting group meeting last night.  Thanks to a lack of planning on my part, my camera battery died early in the evening, but here we go:

To keep us hydrated during set-up, we had Beaujolais Blanc from Chateau du Chatelard. Round, with apple, pear and toasty notes, some of the Chardonnay vines are over 95 years old. It was killer with the Montasio (aged cow's milk from Northern Italy) I brought.

Chris and Tif prepping the bottles. You'll note we have quite a bit more wine this time around. It makes a difference when the average retail price is around $20!

We put all the wine into brown bags and we each opened bottles we had not brought, removing the cork and foil and taping the top of the bag. I picked up the bags on the way over and the bodega owner gave me 12 for $1, wondering why I didn't buy any Chateau Diana to put in them.

We broke our 12 wines into 3 flights of 4. One of our members was stuck in the country because of the snow, so we had 6 out of the 10 Crus represented.

Most of the wines had this electric magenta color. Some other commonalities we found: high acid, minerality, plenty of evidence of carbon maceration. Most of our bottles were current releases - 2009 - though we had a 2006, a 2008 and a 2002.

My favorites of the evening, in no particular order:

1. Domaine de la Chapelle des Bois Fleurie 2009.  Cherry poprocks, ruby grapefruit, orange peel, noticeable oak (in a good way).

2. Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Moulin-a-Vent 2009.  This won’t be a surprise to any Gamay fans out there.  Perfumed, purple flowers, dark cherries, lipstick (strange, but true, and not unpleasant).

3. Clos de la Roilette Fleurie 2009.  We also had the “late harvest” version of this wine, which my companions preferred.  Structured, reminded me of eating prosciutto and figs.

4. Château du Bois de la Salle “Le Vieux Bourg” Moulin-a-Vent 2009.  Spicy cherries with cinnamon.

Interestingly enough, I brought numbers 1 and 4.  We have them on our wine list at L’Ecole.  Guess I know what I like.

I don’t have any food porn shots, but Chris came through, as usual.  Charcuterie course, seared pork tenderloin with roasted potatoes (crisped up in some fat from the pâté), pineapple crêpes with rum.

Overall, we weren’t blown away by any of the wines during the blind tasting section of the evening.  Most of the wines showed better when we brought out the charcuterie.  That said, these are value-priced wines, made with craftsmanship that show off their unique terroir.

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And you thought they just produced Shiraz

Today I attended the Landmark Australia Master Class, featuring an impressive line-up of Australian Riesling and Pinot Noir.  It was an invite-only tasting and I heard about it through the Sommelier Immersion Program I’m currently enrolled in, through Wine Australia (more about this later).

After skiing, the best thing to do on a snowy, wintry day - cuddle up with 25 wines.

Four presenters led the tasting: Tom Carson, chief winemaker at Yabby Lake; Jon Troutman, senior editor of Cork’d; Michael Hill Smith, owner of Shaw and Smith winery and Suzanne Barros, East Coast Market Development Manager for Wine Australia (and our instructor for the Immersion program).

These folks are really smart.  They are putting exciting wines in front of sommeliers, retailers, educators, writers, restauranteurs, importers, and distributors, and it’s working. 

My ideas about Australian wine have completely changed over the last few months, and I’m not alone.  Sure, the country has inexpensive, mass-produced wines on one end of the spectrum and expensive, overly-extracted wines on the other, but they also have cool-climate varietals that deserve a place at the dinner table (and on thoughtful wine lists). 

Some highlights/fun facts:

*The 6 2010 Rieslings we sampled were dry, elegant, sometimes fruity, sometimes floral and had, as Paul Grieco called it, “a bone-crushing acidity”.  Michael said to drink these wines now would be “vinocide” and he’s right.  You can see their potential, but some of them won’t even be released to the marketplace for another 5 years.  My favorite was the 2010 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling from Clare Valley – concentrated, yet delicate with lots of kaffir lime.

*The “spiritual home” of Riesling in Australia is South Australia, particularly in Clare and Eden Valleys.  Eden is slightly cooler than Clare, so the Eden Rieslings tend to be a little tigher, with higher acidity and more rose and floral notes, while the Clare Rieslings have more lime and citrus.

*Several panel members poo-pooed the petrol character that some aged Rieslings develop, attributing these aromas to overexposed fruit or water-stressed vines. 

*An attendee asked whether some residual sugar in the Rieslings would make them more approachable in their youth.  Tom commented that if you have r.s. at the get-go, the wines will get more sweet with age and won’t gain as much complexity as a dry wine.  I bet there are plenty of Germans out there who would disagree.  Michael noted that the grapes can get ripe enough in Australia to be fermented dry, and create a balanced wine.

*The aged Rieslings we sampled – one each from 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 – took on toasted honey and fig characteristics.  My favorite was the 2004 Peter Lehman Wigan Riesling from Eden Valley – toasty and honeyed notes, but still had incredible freshness.

*Pinot Noir accounts for about 2% of Australia’s production (Riesling is not much more). 

*MV6 is the most widely-planted clone.  MV stands for “mother vine” and it came from one of James Busby’s cuttings in 1831 from Clos Vougeot.

*The panel indicated that quality Pinot Noir in Burgundy needs the following things: continental climate, limestone-based soils, cold climate, northerly latitude, old vines (>50 years) and selection massale.  Where they may be missing some of these factors in Australia, they do have these: high altitude vineyards, southerly latitude, continental climate (in terms of diurnal temperature shifts), and a maritime influence. 

*Michael remarked that “Pinot Noir needs tension on the palate” and most of the reds we tried were nervy, indeed.  My favorite current vintage was the 2008 Wines by Farr Sangreal Vineyard from Geelong, Victoria – black fruits, red fruits, earthy spice and some carbonic maceration qualities.  The older wine winner for most of the group was the 2000 Yering Station Reserve from Yarra Valley (mine was oxidized).

*Michael likened Pinot Noir in Australia to rock n’roll – it’s exciting, and being embraced and supported by their local market.  It’s probably a welcome relief for folks who are used to drinking jammy, 15%++ alcohol wines.

*Tom closed by reminding us that Australia hasn’t yet hit its Pinot Noir potential, indicating that Burgundy has already made their best wines and that their challenge is to keep it up.  He imagined it was quite a bit of pressure to make a La Tâche every year. 

I look forward to following these producers, as they get closer to finding their stride.

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Frommer’s visits the Finger Lakes

Brian and Thomas at the distillery. Photo courtesy of Amy Zavatto.

Amy Zavatto, one of the writers for Frommer’s Community Blog, Between Bites, recently wrote a piece titled, “Sipping Whiskey in the Finger Lakes“. 

On assignment for a wine job, she stumbled upon Finger Lakes Distilling on her way out of town. 

She got a tour and did a tasting and reports that her favorites were the Seneca Drums Gin, the Cherry Liqueur and the McKenzie Rye.

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Sommelier Journal

Over the summer, I agreed to help the Sommelier Journal with their ad campaign.  For those of you in the industry who don’t subscribe to it yet, it’s worth checking out.  This just ran in the December 2010 issue:

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How to get filthy rich, part 2

As you may know, in addition to being a blog about beverages, A Thirsty Spirit has occasional posts on how to get rich, like this one from last spring, focusing on an ill-conceived plan for the pursuit of tycoon-ship through winery ownership. 
Well, here’s another.  According to a recent study published in Bloomberg today, wealthier Americans are more likely to binge drink than their not-so-wealthy neighbors.  Ergo, binge drinking must make you rich.  The study also shows that (surprisingly) binge drinking is more common with 18-24 year olds. 
Sounds like it keeps you young, too!

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Earl’s Beer & Cheese

Mike is at it again, poised to become the mayor of East Harlem.  Earl’s opened just over a week ago and here are some shots from this past weekend.

The logo, also a print hanging just inside the entrance, was designed by our friend, Chad.

Two deep at the bar, many folks from the neighborhood.

Sad to be back from vacation, but happy to see our buddy's young bar so busy. It has a great, neighborhood feel, reminiscent of Marshall Stack.

It's worth the trip for the food alone. I tried the tomato soup and the grilled cheese with pork belly and kimchi. I heard the pot pie is killer.


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Happy New Year!

We’ve just gotten back from a trip to Thailand.  Two weeks without checking work email or turning my cell phone on has made me feel pretty amazing.  I’m recharged and thirsty for all of the adventures 2011 will bring.  Some photos for your amusement.

We landed in Bangkok at 8 am on Christmas Day and after checking in to our hotel, we headed straight to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, where they sold everything from electronics, to furniture, to baby squirrels (as pets!). This is our first cockail, a Singapore Sling.

An unfortunate name for this white spirit, made from grain.

For New Year's, we headed to Koh Phi Phi Don Island and this was a sign we found on one of the main streets. We got close to plenty of fish on the trip, but we didn't kiss any.

Red Bull style beverage with a beach-worthy name. Tastes pretty much identical.

Heineken was everywhere. I especially like the name of the drinking water.

Two "James Bond Martinis" at the Vertigo Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel. You can see the entire city from 59 floors up.

Our last night included a meal at Bo.lan. This was one of their signature cocktails - Thai whiskey, ginger, lemongrass. Tasty stuff. Tried looking for the recipe on their website, but no luck. Inventive tasting menu worth checking out.

Other beverage notes: Carnation makes street coffee delicious; lots of canned coffee beverages, particularly from Nescaféand Birdy; the Coke Light tastes better than our Diet Coke. 

I returned very thirsty for wine, as it was hard to find and (relatively) expensive.  Apparently, there’s a 100% tax on it and a hotel manager told us most folks probably wouldn’t bother to carry it, except that most tourists are expecting it to be available.  Some wine is being made in Thailand, though I only saw it on one wine list and it was out of stock when I tried to order it.  We purchased a bottle at the airport, but because of increased security at the Dubai airport on one of our legs back, we had to give it up.


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