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10 Tips for Facing That Daunting Wine List

March 13th, 2017

10 Tips for Facing That Daunting Wine List

I enjoyed the challenge this month of studying in detail the wine tomes at several top restaurants in Paris. Though it is always so stimulating for me to discover what wines are available in which vintages and at what price I appreciate this is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact many find the whole experience rather intimidating. Therefore I hope it might be helpful to provide 10 tips for you when approaching these wine lists not only in Paris but most larger cities.

1. Ask the Sommelier – This is usually a smart decision because often the sommelier has had input on the wine selections and possibly had the opportunity to try recently a specific wine on their list. Moreover they are likely to be interested in discussing their list and providing you with guidance in your choice. Just make sure you let the sommelier know the style of wine you generally prefer drinking and a comfortable price range.

2. Aperitif – Most restaurants will first thing ask you if you desire an aperitif (a drink to stimulate your appetite) or cocktail. This is the spot to enquire whether there is Champagne (or other sparkling) by the glass. On this trip many exciting alternatives were offered and tried including: delicious 2005 Jacquesson Avize at Epicure Le Bristol, classy Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes De Vrigny” Premier Cru for Le Gabriel at La Reserve, and rich Philipponat Cuvee 1552 Grand Cru in magnum at Apicius.

3. Champagne Throughout the Meal – This can often be a wise choice. I particularly follow this guideline when the menu is going to be a number of surprise courses. Worked well at Pierre Gagnaire for a lunch of many different tastes with a bottle of dependable NV Gosset Grand Reserve Brut. Dining recently in San Sebastian I found Champagne (or Cava) paired superbly with the many flavourful pinchos, pintxox, and tapas – particularly when you have had enough sherry.

4. Wines Already Chosen for you All-Inclusive with the Menu – This is an easy often successful wine choice solution. It is one I seldom take as I prefer to try something specific off their list. Last time I did this at Noma in Copenhagen was served mostly natural wines and was disappointed with their pairings. Make sure to check carefully the choices suggested and make sure you want to drink those wines.

5. Choosing the Cheapest or Second Cheapest Bottle on the List: Popular idea by many diners but not a wise one. These wines usually have high mark-ups and aren’t really giving you the good value the price suggests.

6. Wines by the Glass or Half Bottles: Sometimes find this useful. Depending on the restaurant and how wide the wine choices by the glass are there may be something you would like to try. Half bottles are usually listed separately and can be just the right amount for a lighter lunch or dinner. On this trip at Apicius found a half bottle left of 2011 Savigny-les-Beaune Dominode Domaine Pavelot to pair with our order of a full bottle of the same wine from 2012 for an interesting vintage comparison (both young high quality showing excellent potential but 2012 has more fruit).

7. Something Difficult to Find at Retail wine shops – Often use this factor as my overriding one. Even on this latest trip was frequently ordering Vincent Dauvissat or Francois Raveneau Chablis because I love Chablis and find it difficult to acquire bottles from these producers. 2008 La Forest Premier Cru by Vincent Dauvissat (105 euros) was a complex first white to match the outstanding fish course at lunch Le Grand Restaurant of Jean-Francois Piege.

8. Highly Respected Producers: I often am prepared to pay more for highly respected producers that I admire and that consistently deliver the goods. Domaine Roulot in Meursault is such an example for me. I seek them out and order them as they always show so well. At Michel Rostang had a fabulous bottle of their classic 2010 Les Tessons – Clos de Mon Plaisir (155 euros) and it was so outstanding that we ordered another bottle. At Epicure Le Bristol ordered the Domaine Roulot 2002 Les Luchets village Meursault that was brilliant showing fresh hazelnut minerals with complex maturity. A WOW wine! However this time rather than ordering a second bottle we changed to compare another 2002 Meursault Clos de La Barre Domaine Lafon and were disappointed because the bottle was cloudy (unfiltered unfined) and showed too much age with caramel maderization.

9. Riesling – Don’t forget about Riesling! This can be a very good value and comes in such versatile styles from so many regions ranging from very dry to very sweet and everything in between. Especially good and refreshing on warmer summer days – as can be Rose!.

10. Gamay –  This usually is a good buy especially from the current ripe vintages of Cru Beaujolais. Slightly chilled it too is quite versatile going with almost everything including vegetables, seafood, and meats.


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4 ways Émile Peynaud changed the way we drink wine

March 11th, 2017

Émile Peynaud wine influence

By Joseph Temple

As perhaps the most influential enologist of the twentieth century, the legacy of Dr. Émile Peynaud is with us every time we take a sip of wine. Writing shortly after his death in 2004, Eric Asimov of The New York Times states, “More than any other individual, Dr. Peynaud helped to bring winemakers into the modern world. As a researcher and consultant, he applied rigorous scientific methods to a field bound more often by haphazard custom, guesswork and superstition.”

Born in Bordeaux in 1912, Peynaud’s revolutionary approach to winemaking, exemplified in his two best known books, Knowing and Making Wine and The Taste of Wine, made him highly sought after as a consultant in both his native France and across the world. By changing winemaking from an art to a science, here are just four ways that Peynaud ushered in the modern era that we all enjoy today.


Emile Peynaud grape picking

In 2017, it is assumed that estates only pick their grapes when ripe. But before Peynaud arrived, in a good year, it was customary to start picking long before the autumn harvest in order to ensure a sizable crop, no matter how ripe the grapes were. The only time they were left on the vines for a fall picking was during the bad years, explains Oz Clarke in describing the impact of Peynaud. “In the vineyard he [Peynaud] insisted that rotten grapes be discarded—they hadn’t been before—and that growers should relentlessly assess the ripening of the grapes, and only pick when ripe.”

 

Emile Peynaud cleanliess

If oenophiles could travel back in a time machine, they would be appalled to see the condition of many wineries throughout France, who usually made their product in vats and barrels immersed in bacteria. The idea of working in a sanitary environment was clearly a foreign concept as Peynaud shockingly discovered while visiting the numerous estates. “Cleanliness is a basic condition for quality. The whole of enological science would be to no avail if the work itself were done in places that were dirty,” wrote Peynaud who strongly advocated for stainless steel vats and new oak barrels as replacements. Given the price tag, it was a change that many fought against, but in the end accepted as a necessary cost in making a superior vintage.

 

wine cellar and vat tempreature Emile Peynaud

In addition to being spotless, Peynaud also lobbied for temperature controlled tanks to be complimented by cool cellars. Influenced by France’s dairy farmers who could vary the temperature in a stainless steel tank, he demanded that winemakers do the same. Before these two elements became industry staples, unmanageable fermentation and spoilage was commonplace, causing many vintages to turn into vinegar. And since bacteria multiplies faster in warmer conditions, the need for cool cellars with a consistent temperature became a must.

 

Emile Peynaud malolactic fermentation

Arguably the greatest contribution of “Peynaudism” is an exact science he perfected known as malolactic fermentation—a secondary fermentation which turns malic acid into soft lactic acid. In layman’s terms, what this does is that it softens the wine, giving red Bordeaux a much smoother taste. In the pre-Peynaud era, winemakers suspected that an additional fermentation was taking place in the vats and bottles, but had no idea how to control it. It was only after Peynaud identified this crucial step (along with all of his other recommendations) that Bordeaux was brought to a whole new level!


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Ask Sid: Cloying?

March 8th, 2017
Ask your question here

What is cloying wine tasting
By Craig Hatfield [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: During a recent wine tasting one of our group commented that a Vidal Icewine was quite “cloying”. What does that word actually mean?

Answer: Generally it means that the wine is excessively sweet. How high residual sugar will show on the palate in sweet wines is influenced so much by the level of acidity that is present. Where the acidity is lower the wines will taste much sweeter and where it is higher the same residual sugar can seem less sweet. A firm backbone of acidity will give sweet wine more lift, vibrancy and structure so that it is balanced and does not appear to be cloying.


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CheckMate Artisanal Winery 2013 Chardonnays First Releases Impress Top Sommeliers in Paris

March 6th, 2017

Checkmates wines BC

CheckMate Artisanal Winery (www.checkmatewinery.com) in the Okanagan Valley British Columbia Canada is getting global exposure plus admiring respect for their quality chardonnays. It is an exciting new project by the Von Mandl family led by winemaker & GM Phil Mcgahan (Queensland Australia lawyer turned intellectual winemaker ex-Williams Selyem in Sonoma). Their focus is on micro-blocks of 7 acres from 3 family owned Estate vineyards (40+ year old vines from gravelly alluvial Heritage Vineyard on Golden Mile Bench; porous soils low yielding Barn Vineyard on Black Sage Bench planted 1999; and Border Vista Vineyard on Osoyoos East Bench right at the USA border with Dijon grape clones planted in 1997 on warm sandy soils that nonetheless maintain best acidity) with the first vintage 2013 resulting in 5 small production chardonnays ranging from just 1 oval barrel to 17 barrels.

There is a Grand Master Set of these 5 bottles from 2013 selling for $520 on the website which includes:

1. Queen Taken $125 – Heritage Vineyard SW Oliver 40 year vines on Golden Mile shows good aromatics with toasty floral stone fruits plus full complex flavours on the finish
2. Attack $115 – Barn Vineyard Black Sage Bench with vibrant balanced acidity for the creamy textures
3. Little Pawn $110 – Barn Vineyard here shows rich powerful more spicy notes
4. Capture $90 – Border Vista Vineyard Osoyoos has citrus notes but peachy soft showing lots of oak
5. Fool’s Mate $80 – Blend of the 3 vineyards easy drinking with yeasty nutty oaky styling

The first buzz resulted from their initial successful release now over a year ago in New York showing the wine trade there that world climate change was raising the pH of the grapes and lowering natural acidity presenting a new opportunity for other wine regions to make top class chardonnays.

Your scribe had a chance on February 2, 2017 to visit the winery (no tasting room) with the winemaker Phil and was very impressed with the careful attention to detail of separate lots in the cellar and the potential shown of the many barrel samples tasted including the amazing texture of Capture 2015 and open aromatics of Queen Taken 2015 both from early harvests of the warmest year ever. Watch for these 2014, 2015, and 2016 in the pipeline!

The just concluded 39th Vancouver International Wine Festival presented the Queen Taken Chardonnay 2013 at 2 seminars where it showed very well:

February 15: BC: Diversity & Purity

February 17: Okanagan Estate Collection –  Excellent trade seminar featured 2 outstanding wines from each of 4 of their wineries: Mission Hill (winemaker Darryl Brooker, Cedar Creek (winemaker Taylor Whelan), CheckMate (Phil Mcgahan), and about to open this April Martin’s Lane (winemaker Shane Munn) – watch for sensational 2014 pinot noir Naramata Bench! Queen Taken showed even better here with better glasses and perfect service temperature. Phil advised of their double curtain procedure in the vineyard so the top of the canopy gets sun and more golden colour while underneath provides clean fresher grapes. Looks for more malic acids to change later into tartaric. 2013 used 50% wild yeast & 50% inoculated for a cold ferment at 8-9 C. 17 months in cask on the lees with careful stirring and bottled unfined & unfiltered. 14.3 alcohol with 6.37 g/l total acidity.

March 1: An opportunity arose for me while in Paris this month to show off this 5 bottle Grand Master Set of 2013 to several top restaurant sommeliers. The main event took place at the exciting newish 2 star Michelin restaurant Le Gabriel @ La Reserve (www.lareserve-paris.com). This is a leading hotel in the 8th and part of Michel Reybier Hospitality (connection with Domaine Prats) and accordingly a wide choice of 18 vintages back to 1967 of Chateau Cos d’Estournel St Estephe and other treasures. Sommelier Jaimee Anderson is so enthusiastic about fine wine and she has done a remarkable job in a short period of time in assembling an ever improving great wine list. I liked her openness to these New World wines and a true appreciation of their quality. The packaging including the bottle shape and unique labels was admired. Most everyone seemed to prefer the single vineyard concept rather than the blend and they generally felt the wines presently showed a little bit too much oak for the impressive balanced fruit. We all know that less can be more! Sommelier Baptiste at the 3 star Michelin Epicure at Le Bristol (arguably currently the best restaurant in Paris) is interested in the elegance of Queen Taken. All in all a very good export exposure for BC wines. Some may say this is like bringing “coals to Newcastle” but these wines certainly do have merit and expect even more complexity from the subsequent vintages. Hopefully in the near future we will see a CheckMate Chardonnay or some other rapidly improving quality Canadian wine on one of these prestigious restaurant wine lists in Paris.


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Bridge Over Fine Wine

March 4th, 2017

wine storage underneath the Brooklyn Bridge NYC

By Joseph Temple

When a colossal steel-wire suspension bridge connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn (described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”) debuted in the spring of 1883, the future of New York changed forever. Known today as the Brooklyn Bridge, its two massive towers dominated the city skyline, and for years remained the tallest structure in the Western hemisphere. However, the real value lay in its practicality as originally envisioned by its designers, John and Washington Roebling. Historian David McCullough, in explaining the massive benefits of the bridge, writes, “Manufacturers would have closer ties to the markets … The mail would move faster … Most appealing of all for the Brooklyn people who went to New York to earn a living every day was the prospect of a safe, reliable alternative to the East River ferries.”

But beyond the obvious advantages of a structure that is crossed by 120,000 vehicles and 4,000 pedestrians nearly every single day is another benefit unknown to many: the Brooklyn Bridge also served as a massive wine cellar.

Reported earlier this year by National Public Radio, wine storage became an offshoot for the bridge’s designers due to several reasons. The first was economical; with a massive price tag of $15 million dollars (more than $300 million today) to build the bridge, the Roeblings needed to find other sources of revenue to allay the growing costs. Secondly, when construction began, two merchants on opposite sides of the East River, Rackey’s Wine Company and Luyties & Co. were suddenly uprooted. Therefore, what better way to bring them—as well as other businesses—back into the fold by carving out vaults underneath the ramps leading up to the giant anchorages? Most importantly, because the vault’s temperature barely changed throughout the course of the year, it became the perfect spot for storing wine.

Open for business seven years before the Brooklyn Bridge debuted on May 24, 1883, the cellars today are no longer used to house the finest Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Sadly inaccessible to the general public for security reasons, what we know about them is sure to impress. On the Manhattan side, a statue of the Virgin Mary stands at the entrance way along with Old World frescoes and the phrase, “Who Loveth Not Wine, Women, and Song, He Remaineth a Fool His Whole Long Life.”

According to Nicole Jankowski of NPR, over time the walls were painted with designs of provincial Europe along with street names such as Avenue Les Deux Oefs and Avenue Des Chateaux Haut Brion. One author in a book published in 1894 writes, “Years of time and a small fortune in money have been spent in fitting up these vaults for their purpose, and they now constitute a magnificent wine-cellar, perhaps equal to the finest to be found in Europe.”

With the start of the Second World War, the cellars were closed down permanently, with only a few select government employees having access to a site rich in historical artifacts. But as more people become aware of this hidden history, perhaps New York can initiate a new form of wine tourism? After all, the suspension is killing us!

Sources:

Greenberg, Stanley. Invisible New York: The Hidden Infrastructure of the City. Baltimore: JHU Press, 1998.
Hymowitz, Kay S. The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
McCullough, David. The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007.
Morris, Charles. Makers of New York: An Historical Work, Giving Portraits and Sketches of the Most Eminent Citizens of New York. New York: L.R. Hamersly & Company, 1894.


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