Thursday, January 31, 2008

Solaria Shines Over Brunellovillle

Funny how nuts people get over Brunello. I went to "Benvenuto Brunello," the industry tasting held at grand Gotham Hall on Jan. 29 by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, and it was packed. Worse than the Bordeaux tasting the week before. Elbow to elbow and the crowd simply never thinned. Perhaps the tons of yummy Tuscan-style food kept people rooted to some extent, and there certainly were lots of beautiful Italian women and dashing Italian men to look at, but I just think folks wanted to keep knocking back that juicy Sangiovese clone from Montalcino.

I like Brunello all right, though I not convinced that all of it deserved honor simply because it bears that name and the right zip code. Plus the prices invite criticism. And, many of the makers being of recent vintage, I think of lot of the wine apes the super-fruity, big international style. I know a number of the wines I drank on Tuesday were awarded in my notebook with the simple notation "Int" (for International, duh). A lot of smoothness, a lot of easy drinking. A lot of, you know, whoring around.

Of course, there were a gajillion wines there, so some stand-outs and trend-buckers came through. The Costanti was impressively individual in its character. The color itself was unusual. In a sea of deep ruby, it was a muted magenta; matte instead of glossy finish. It was an elegant glass, full, fruity, but also earthy and more understated. Just a class wine. The epitome of the traditional style.

The guy pouring out the Poggio Antico's two Brunellos sure thought a lot of himself, or the wine, or both, but I won't hold that against him. Both the Altero and regular Brunello were big and lovely, showing more maturity than their neighbors due to, from what I gathered, additional aging in both barrel and bottle.

Palazzo was pouring both a 2003 (what everyone else was serving) and a 2001. Both were excellent, dusty and resplendent of cherry, well-structured and balanced. Bingo! Barbi's every offering was impressive, juicy but structured, and the Vigne del Fiore possessed an intriguing coffee-scented nose. Next to Barbi, Banfi—well, Banfi had about a hundred people manning its table. Jeez, they're huge!

But the thing that will stay with me the most from the tasting—other than the bottles of Grappa di Brunello, which I turned to for a change of pace and nearly flamed out my nasal passages—is the wine from Solaria. This is a small, artisinal winery run by Patrizia Cencioni, who tends to her 50 hectares personally and only puts out a wine when she feels it measures up. The 2003 is only her second vintage.

The Solaria wines were easily the most elegant and dignified I tasted. The fruit was strong but understated. Everything was in harmony. It was almost Burgundy-like. You could taste the care that had gone into the wine.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bad Experiment

Saw a bottle of Reed's cherry ginger beer in the store and got an idea to experiment with the old Moscow Mule recipe.

So I made up a regular Moscow Mule, with vodka and lime juice, only substituted the cherry ginger beer for regular ginger bear. I guess you'd call it a Red Moscow Mule (which makes sense, politically). Anyway, it was like a Moscow Mule, only a lot sweeter and frankly pretty sacharine and dumbed down. I tasted like a lot of the sugary vodka atrocities you see in the trendy bars theses days, and I felt guilty for having made it at all, and wanted to take a shower.

So there it is. Don't try it at home.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Calling All Brandy Old Fashioneds!

No post I've made to this blog in the year it's been operating has received the frequent and sustained hits as has my Oct. 8 analysis of that Wisconsin phenomenon, the Brandy Old-Fashioned. Nearly every other day, it tops the list of my most popular pages. Obviously, there's an ongoing and nagging interest in this cocktail, which is not found outside the borders of the Badger State.

This gave me an idea. Sooner of later I'm gonna be back in the land of Colby and bratwurst. I've sipped only a few Brandy Old Fashioned in my time, having looked down my nose at them until just recently. I'd like a few tips on where to head for the best BOF that Wisconsin has to offer.

So, readers, I ask you for your secrets. Who makes 'em right? Who's made 'em longest? What sort of brandy is preferable (Korbel or another)? What sort of fruit and how much of it? What kind of glass? Send in your favorite BOF bars, taverns, pubs, restaurant, fish fry joints, etc. They can be situated in any part of the stage, from Superior to Beloit, Washington Island to the Mississippi. (Though I would appreciate a few candidates from the Milwaukee area, since that's the place I usually end up in.)

I'll wait a month for replies to trickle in and them post my findings.

Read more about Brandy Old Fashioneds here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pinot Goes Kosher

I was sent an intriguing bottle of Pinot Noir the other day. It's by Baron Herzog, the well-known, and well-distributed, kosher label out of California.

What was interesting is this is the first time Herzog has tried Pinot, which makes them a little late to hop on the bandwagon, the varietal being all the rage in Cali for some years now, not to mention Oregon and Washington.

Some may turn up their noses at kosher anything, but I know Herzog to make some good juice when they put their mind to it; some of the high-end reserves are quite impressive. Herzog culls is Pinot grapes from Edna Valley, which lies halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The resultant wine is not in keeping with the rich, powerful Pinots of Sonoma, which, it can be argued, is something to applaud. Though north country Pinots are typically over the top. The oak here is not overbearing, showing that it spent equal time in new and neutral French barrels.

This is a light-bodied wine, which a floral nose and and delicate tannin. It's closer to the Burgundy style than the California style, but, at this point, without the depth or sense of terroir (or aging potential) of the French wines. One's tempted to call it a bit inconsequential. But, then, this is a first try, and a decent one at that. Certainly, the wine is an easy companion with food.

At $32, it's a bit overpriced. But, then, so are all Cali Pinots.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Savoring Publication

An interview I did with David Wondrich, the author of the wonderful new cocktail biography/cocktail history/cocktail recipebook/Jerry Thomas tribute "Imbibe!" is on the front page of today—my Saveur debut, I'm proud to say.

How it got there is an interesting and amusing story. (Actually, also aggravating, but that's entirely on my end; hopefully it will be amusing to outside observers.) The interview was originally commissioned by another publication that begins with an "S." But in between the original assignment and my turning in the copy, there was a change of editor. An editorial switch is ever the bane of free-lance writers, because new bosses usually make their mark by brinfing in a new crop of writers and sweeping out the scribes associated with the old regime. Additionally, new editors like to assert their new-found power primarily by saying "no" a lot.

And so, the interview I turned in was rejected as not being of interest to a nationwide audience—to which this publication was beholding. (Local, bad; national, good.) This was surprising to me, since Wondrich's book has been written up and hailed by papers, magazines and websites throughout the country. It was on the front page of the New York Times Dining Section, for God's sake! It even landed the author on the Conan O'Brien show!

I appealed the decision, but I soon knew my cause was sunk. The editor, while considering themselves an eager and interesting cocktail person, referred to Jerry Thomas as a little-known bartender on no interest to common folk (which may be true in certain respects—certainly he's not a household name—but in the cocktail world, he's kind of a secret god and saying he wouldn't be of interest to drinking readers is sort of like saying Thomas Edison would be a bore to light-bulb buffs). What's more, they didn't know what a Sazerac was! CHRISTMAS ON A CRACKER! WTF! This person is in charge of drink coverage!

So we'll leave this person to their Appletini and applaud Saveur for its educated save. Here it is:

A Spirited Fellow
by Robert Simonson

Certain names take on meaning only when spoken in context. Shout the name Jerry Thomas in a subway car or a crowded movie house, and you'll be paid back in blank stares. But say it at the Pegu Club in Manhattan, the Zig Zag Café in Seattle, or the Swizzle Stick in New Orleans—any deep-thinking cocktail emporium, actually, where cocktailians gather to knock back drinks and knock around mixology concepts—and eyes will brighten. Moisten, even.

Thomas, a 19th-century American bartender and man about town, is a kind of Shakespeare of the cocktail world: the details of his life are sketchy, but the importance of the work he left behind demands that we study him. That work is found primarily in his 1862 tome How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant's Companion, the world's first compendium of mixed drinks. Before Thomas, no one had bothered to write down drink instructions on cocktail napkins, let alone in book form. These days, though, anyone who's serious about cocktails eventually works his way back to this Old Testament of tippling.

One such aficionado is the cocktail scholar David Wondrich, who has written extensively about spirits for Esquire and other publications. In his new book, Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar (Perigee, 2007), Wondrich takes the Jerry Thomas pilgrimage ten steps beyond what your average tippler would, beginning wiith fleshing out the life story of the libation wizard and then dissecting and interpreting many of the recipes he left behind. Along the way, Wondrich leads readers down many a beguiling side path, expounding on various histories and mysteries central to the barman's trade. It's no wonder that Thomas is still shaking things up.

How do you go about researching the life of a little-known 19th-century figure like the bartender Jerry Thomas? There can't be that much information out there.

No, there's not. They didn't have diaries. There aren't memoirs about them by their kids; just a lot of newspaper stuff and city directories. What I did is I built a chronology and kept revising it as I got new information until I got a framework that was solid. Once I had that, I read travel accounts of the places he was, to fill in the background. Doing that, you read hints that you didn't first recognize as hints. You realize, Oh, that's why he was there. This is what was going on. It's a complicated process, and in the end you don't have that much. But at least I got a full picture of his life.

Did you make any breakthroughs?

Yeah, I found a few really good things. Just by chance, I was looking through a trade journal from the 1870s for the liquor trade, and they had a long article on his bar and his liquor cellar. It talked about how popular his bar was and how important and how much money he was making. That told me the kind of things that he was mixing into his drinks. Also, I found an interview with him toward the end of his days, from the 1880s. And there were a lot of obituaries.

Obviously, he was well enough known to command all those death notices.

Oh, he was very famous, but not famous with the general public. He was famous with the sporting fraternities, as they called themselves: the club men, boxers, baseball teams.

How much experimentation went into putting together the book?

I tested every drink. Some of them repeatedly. Most of them repeatedly. This is over the course of years, and some of them I'd been testing and working up over time. Others, I found new recipes and sorted them out and tried to get them to be balanced drinks.

Did you test them at home?

At home, yes. I have a house full of booze. There was a whole section of Thomas's book that I had to remove because it was far too long: punch bowl drinks. Those I tested for large groups of people, frequently in backyards, at weddings and press events. The polling process was very informal. My friends are a fairly sporting group and willing to try punch. I made 40 different kinds of punch at least. But the cocktails I'd also try out on people at the drop of the hat.

Jerry Thomas boasted that he invented various drinks, like the tom and jerry and the blue blazer. But basically you debunk his claims one by one. Did he invent any cocktails?

(Laughs) He must have. In the last interview I have with him, he made this very astute comment that made me think he wasn't a total bullshit artist. He said, "I've invented lots and lots of drinks. The hardest part is finding a name for them, and that's the most important thing for a drink." And he's completely right. It's easy to mix a couple thises and that's, but to make an actual drink out of it that people will drink and pass around, it has to have a little backstory or a handle. He clearly had some experience with it. I just think people would ask him, and what was he going to say? "No, I didn't invent it"? It's not good for his PR. And he wrote the book! He put it down. He probably believed he had as much claim to the drinks as anybody.

That's the story in your field, isn't it? Disputations on everything: who invented the martini and where the term cocktail came from. Is that frustrating to you that you can't get to the bottom of so many major questions?

It used to be. Now I've come to accept it as being the nature of the field and sort of the beauty of it. There's an endless historical game. I'll never find the origin of the martini. It was not recorded in the journals of the time. People didn't get interested in the histories of these drinks until the 1890s.

Some people say the sazerac was the first cocktail, but in your book you refute that completely.

No! It wasn't. It's not possible. It's absolutely not possible. Myth is so powerful with this stuff. I've been yelling my fool head off about the manhattan's being invented by Lady Jennie Jerome [Winston Churchill's mother] for at least five or six years. There's a story that the manhattan was invented by her. It appears in the New York Times from time to time. Totally wrong. Easily disprovable. But people get into it. They like the stories. I think there are better stories out there, unrecorded, that are also actually true.

What's your favorite story?

My favorite story I came across in researching the book was in the New York Herald. It concerns the contest of cocktails held at the New York Hotel sometime in the 1860s, where an Irish peer met a Mr. Tracy from Buffalo at the bar, and they were both large men who liked to drink. They got into a disputation about their capacities and said, "All right. Tomorrow we'll have a contest." Panama Joe Fernandez was the bartender, and he made whiskey cocktails for them. He made them two at a time; they drank neck and neck until Mr. Tracy finally retired. The accounts are disputed. It was either 35 or 45 cocktails per person. Afterward they sat down to dinner, had a bottle of champagne and a little bit of port, and went to bed. Mr. Tracy was not seen again for two days. The Irish lord went on his merry way.

In the Cellar With Four Seasons've interviewed enough sommeliers and wine directors by this time that I'm rarely intimidated by the prospect of meeting them. But I had a rare case of butterflies before meeting Julian Niccolini, the longtime co-owner and wine man at the legendary Four Season. The majesty of the restaurant's landmarked interior is enough to cow anybody but the Pool Room regulars. And the suave, beautifully tailored, Italian-born Niccolini's taste and palate is celebrated.

Turns out, I worried for nothing. Niccolini was one of the most relaxed and open interview subjects I've encountered in the wine world. He did not censor or overly think out his responses. He said what he thought, and he laughed often. He also displayed a healthy sense of humor for the haughty and high-powered world he polices.

A little side story that I did not include in the interview: toward the end of our talk Niccolini leaped up to greet a friend who had just climbed up the stairs. It was restauranteur Jonathan Waxman, whose Barbuto had receive a good review in the New York Times that very day. The two took a seat at the bar and Niccolini opened up a bottle of Krug to toast the happy news. Julian was considerate enough to send a flute of the bubbly stuff my way. I was happy to toast Waxman's good fortune, particularly since it meant a glass of free top-flight Champagne sipped in the empty, peaceful environs if mid-afternoon Four Seasons.

My interview with him, in the , is below:

Supply & Demand
In The Cellar

There is no question as to the provenance of any of the wines to be found on the list at the Four Seasons restaurant. At the top of every page, in italics, is a proclamation that reads, for example, "Julian Niccolini's Selection of American Wines." Mr. Niccolini is co-owner of what may be Manhattan's most awe-invoking restaurant (architecturally, culinarily, and monetarily); the wine list there has been an intimate concern of his since he developed his palate at the elbow of his late mentor, Paul Kovi, who co-owned the restaurant for more than two decades.

Ask Mr. Niccolini about his role as cellar tastemaker, however, and he strikes a modest, even self-deprecating, note. "It's entirely up to me," he said, waving his hands grandly during a recent interview at the restaurant. "If I have a customer who likes one particular wine and comes in all the time, I make absolutely sure he has this particular wine."

Thus, while Mr. Niccolini may be in charge, it's the appetites and the wallets of the celebrated clientele at the Four Seasons that call the tune. "You want a wine list that's selling on a daily basis, not a cemetery," he said.

This reasoning dictates many of Mr. Niccolini's decisions. For instance, the 49-year-old restaurant — its list was, in early days, dominated by the classic French wines — used to buy Bordeaux futures. But no more. They have become too expensive, Mr. Niccolini said, as collectors troll the auction houses, causing prices to spike. Furthermore, you have sit on the bottles for years before they can be drunk.

Another example: Spanish wines are very hot right now, but they're not to be found in the restaurant's Pool Room dining area. "The wine list today is basically 30% California wines, 30% French wine, 30% Italian wine, 10% of the rest," he said. "We still don't have any Spanish wine on the list yet. When we have more customers request Spanish wines, we'll bring it in."

It's all very pragmatic. But wait! What about that 30% of Italian wine? Could it be that Italy is so well represented because Mr. Niccolini was born in Lucca, in northern Tuscany, and has a soft spot for that country's wines? He says patriotism doesn't enter into it: "Sure, I'm Italian. But, in the 1980s, there was a tremendous request for Italian wine, for Barolo, for Barbaresco, for Brunello."

If he is unsentimental about his native country's wines, he is even less so about those of his buttoned-down, Swiss-born business partner, Alex Von Bidder. (The two men bought the restaurant in 1995.) When questioned about whether there might be room on the list for one little Chasselas — the obscure varietal that Switzerland has made it own — Mr. Niccolini laughs so hard one wonders if he is going to stop."We tried a couple times to have Swiss wine on the list," he said, noting that the Swiss are producing some fine Cabernet Franc and Merlot. "But there's never been any requests."

And Mr. Niccolini is not about to give his customers a wine they don't want. He has great faith in the taste of the diners he serves. "We believe the customers should make up their own minds when it comes to wine," he said. "We think the customer is smart enough. Not to be a snob, but when they go to a restaurant like Daniel or Four Seasons, I'm assuming they know what they're doing."

He'll back his customers to the end, even if they drink Taittinger Comtes de Champagne on ice, as one customer has been doing for 30 years. "It is fine with me," Mr. Niccolini said. (As for the late architect, Philip Johnson, who designed the landmark and had his own table for many years, he was a vodka drinker.)

It may seem odd for the majordomo at such a high-flown, power-lunch see-and-be-seen place as the Four Seasons to be so unpretentious about wine. But, then, Mr. Niccolini is of humble origins, being the son of the owners of a small osteria that served food and wine to local families. Furthermore, he has seen a lot of oenophilic bubbles burst in his time. The Four Seasons, after all, was among the first New York restaurants to begin carrying fine California wines in the early 1970s, when most restaurateurs and winemakers looked down their noses at the Golden State's output. And Mr. Niccolini was present the fateful night in April 1989 when a New York retailer sought to impress the owners of the old Bordeaux house Chateau Margaux by showing off a bottle of Margaux reputed to be from Jefferson's collection — only to watch in horror as a waiter's elbow sent the vessel crashing to the floor. The Jefferson bottles have since fallen under suspicion as likely frauds, a circumstance that further fuels Mr. Niccolini's mirth as he recalls the incident. "I tasted it," he said. "It tasted like mud."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fame Is Fleeting

Some months ago, I profiled the Brooklyn restaurant Tommaso in my "In the Cellar" column in the New York Sun. After touring the cellar and talking extensively to owner Tommaso Verdillo, my wife and I sat down to a fine meal. My wife enjoyed that dinner and low-key atmosphere—not to mention Verdillo's hospitality—so much, she insisted we return for our wedding anniversary. It was a promise I was happy to make. I liked the food as well, and was anxious to return to Tommaso to raid the wine cellar, which holds many fine Italian bottles as reasonable prices.

I was a bit nervous making the reservation recently, however. I had not heard back from Verdillo after the article came out, and wondered it he had been somehow upset with it. What's more, he took my reservation with a certain curtness. But my wife wanted to go, so we went.

It was a Tuesday night when we went and the place was sparsely populated. To the right of the entrance, I saw my Sun article nicely framed and hung. OK, so he had obviously approved of the feature. The food was again good, particularly the Brasato di Manzo (Brasied beef in Barbera wine). Tom passed by a few times, always uttering a few friendly words. But soon enough, it became clear why he had been so cool on the phone; Verdillo didn't know us from Adam and Eve. No recollection at all. Ah, such is the anonymity of the reporter's life. You're a critical personage one day, forgotten the next. So we wouldn't be fawned over. At least, we could enjoy our anniversary in peace.

Anyway, on to the wine. If I had possessed the moolah, I would have splurged on a Giacosa or Conterno Barolo. This was not possible. But I did have the $65 to own a 1996 bottle of
Produttori Barbaresco Rabaja. The Produttori of a cooperative of several small vineyards and vineyard makers. It's considered the model of coop production. Wine is aged 36 months in oak barrels and 8 months in bottles. In great vintages, nine single-vineyard Barbarescos are produced from nine classic premium sites within the Barbaresco village boundaries: Asili, Rabaja, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Paj, Montefico, Moccagatta and Rio Sordo.

Our bottle was mighty fine. It was impressive from the first sip, and got better over the ensuing two hours. The fruit (plum, cherry) was understated but rich. Behind it were notes of tobacco, dried leaves, tar, mushroom and rose. The structure was sound. The tannins were pronounced and still fairly tight. Though 11 years old, it was yet young. Still, it drank beautifully, particularly with the beef.

Monday, January 14, 2008

More on Death & Co.

In response to my recent item about the cocktail haven Death & Co., which cited The Villager as saying the bar was in danger of losing its liquor license, a helpful reader pointed me in the direction of new news at New York Magazine's Grub Street. It this latest edition of D&C's sage, owner David Kaplan meticulously explains the tavern's situation. Here it is in full:

In an article in The Villager this week, State Liquor Authority spokesman Bill Crowley claims that Death & Co. has lost its license to serve and could be closed for “illegally trafficking alcohol.” But partner David Kaplan disputes the story.

Kaplan tells us that he agreed to a $10,000 settlement with the SLA with the understanding that it would lead to a renewed liquor license. But the authority decided not to renew for the very reasons Kaplan was fined in the first place — namely, he was slow to let the SLA know that he had assumed principal ownership of the restaurant Raga (which was granted the liquor license) and was changing the name to Death & Co. But the law allows a venue to continue serving alcohol while the license is being disputed and, indeed, Kaplan said Crowley admitted after the Villager article was published that Death & Co. has the right to serve. “We have submitted a reconsideration to the SLA,” Kaplan writes us. “We anticipate they will grant this. If they deny the reconsideration we will then move to an Article 78 proceeding in a New York court of law.”

Documents filed to the SLA and reprinted here exclusively include the usual accounts of undercover visits to the bar (one visit found it operating about 30 minutes past its SLA-mandated bedtime of 2 a.m. on weekends), but the stuff that really shows the lengths to which operators have to go these days is found in the later pages. Remember accusations that the bar’s name and look invoked Nazism? A letter from a Jewish organization of which Kaplan is a board member assures the SLA, “David has traveled to Israel to meet Israeli families whose members were displaced due to the Holocaust.”

And then there’s a letter from chef Jacques Godin. We can only imagine his exasperation at allegations that Death is a bar and not a restaurant when he writes, “I do not understand what the polemic is about. D&C is a restaurant with a chef, a sous-chef, a line cook, a preparation clerc, a runner and dishwasher/busboy clerc. I don’t know about you but it seems a lot of people in the kitchen for a bar.” Oh snap!

OK, then. To repeat what I've stated before, I wish Death & Co. the best. It's a great place and I hope its lives to pour another day. I would only add to Godin's statements that the reason people probably continue to think of Death & Co. as a bar and not as a restaurant is because, quite frankly, the good food notwithstanding, its patrons go there primarily for the fantastic cocktails. I know I do

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Chateauneuf-du-Pape at Felidia

The focus of the January meeting of the Wine Media Guild—a group I'm in the process of joining—was Chateauneuf-du-Pape, both red and white. Terry Robards organized the tasting and spoke on and off about the wines during the delicious lunch. (It's always a tasty repast at Felidia, but I'm thinking so much about the wines that I can never remember what I ate afterwards. I know there was a salad with frisse and Pecorino and nuts.)

Now, me, I'm Mr. Underdog, always singing the hymn of the underpraised wine. So, naturally, I'm a fan of the Chateauneuf Blancs, which are really interesting, fullsome wines with lots of character and depth and personality, full of fruit and zest. Also, very food friendly. "A white that thinks it's a red," as someone said. They're still pretty obscure. Many people don't know they exist at all. The grapes allowed in the whites are Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picopoul and Picardin. I was happy to see that there were others around me who liked them. The new sommelier at The Modern—a guest at the lunch—had good words for the whites. And Anita Mizner, who sat to my right, said Chateauneuf Blanc was her favorite wine. (Imagine that.)

Terry said the whites make up only 7 percent of Chateauneuf production, so it was quite amazing that we had nearly as many whites to drink as we did reds. Represented in both colors were La Nerthe, Rayas, Beaucastel, Paul Autard, Bouran and others. (Vieux Telegraphe, sadly, was not on hand.)

A lot of people were murmuring about the Rayas—understandably, given the estate's vaunted reputation. I liked their bottles, but I wasn't sure I they were murmur-worthy. The Rayas red is made entirely of Grenache, the winemakers eschewing all 12 of the other grapes they're allowed to use. The Modern sommelier whispered that this make Rayas something of "a freak" in the Southern Rhone world.

It may seem boring and bourgeoise, but I have to say my favorite in both the red and white categories was the the most famous of the estates represented: Beaucastal. What can I say? They were both just excellent. The white was full, multi-dimensional and yeasty. The red had depth and flavor and finish for miles. As opposed to the single-varietal Rayas, I thought the Beaucastel really benefited from using all 13 grapes. Terry caused a little ripple of surprise when he said he thought the Beaucastel style represented that day was a bit off and strange. Most of the folks at my table agreed with me that the wines were clearly the best in the room. Ah well, critics. When they all agree on something, that's when the world will come to an end.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Whither Death & Co.

Death & Co, the swanky East Village faux-speakeasy, which has had its fair share of trouble with the locals and the Stage Liquor Authority, may be in its final days, reports The Villager.

The Greenwich Village paper said that on Dec. 21, "the State Liquor Authority notified the bar’s owners that it would not renew the place’s liquor license." (Nice Christmas present, huh?)

Some neighborhood folks have never really forgiven the place for originally representing itself as a restaurant that would close early. But it would be a sad thing if the joint closed down. It does what it does so well, and the bartenders are friendly and informative. I've never noticed a big hubbub outside the place, the way you do at other bars, and the patrons inside have always conducted themselves in a respectable fashion. (Of course, I've never been there past midnight. Who knows what goes on after that.)

I hope they'll be around at least a little while longer. I still haven't gotten my bowl of punch!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

You Can't Go Home Again

Some friends and I dropped by Home, the Greenwich Village restaurant, the other night for a casual dinner. I've always had a soft spot for the cozy Cornelia Street place, not just because of the comfort foot and snug atmosphere, but because of the eatery's special connection to the wine world. It was founded in 1993 by David Page and Barbara Shinn, the people who own the fantastic Shinn Estate Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island. Because of that, they've always carried a nice array of New York State wines, taking the localism trend in restaurants to its natural end.

So I was surprised when, asking for the wine list, we were handed a dinky thing with about 10 bottles on it, none of them by Shinn. I had been looking forward to a nice Shinn Merlot. "Where's the Shinn?" I asked the waitress. She said they were out. Out? How is that possible? She then elaborated. The Shinn family was getting out of the restaurant business. The commute had become to much and they sold out to their longtime partners. Today, in fact, was to be their last day.

The waitress said they'd still carry Shinn wines in the future. Still, the news saddened me. Home just didn't seem so special anymore. That said, my pork chop and quince-apple pie were yummy.

As for the wine, we opted for a Raphael "La Fontana," which was described as a Bordeaux blend. It was good, dry and medium-bodies, but the back label said it was made of 85% Merlet, with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Call me a fanatic, but in my book there's some Cab Sauv in a Bordeaux blend. That is, unless you think a drink without gin can be called a Martini.

Every Wineseller Must Be a Winemaker

Every wine person, these days, is becoming more and more serious about their trade. Waiters are going from their sommelier degrees. Bartender must be drink inventors, not just drink servers. And wine store owners are started to bottle their own stuff.

Well, not everybody. But the trend is spreading. Scotto's, a humble local place in my Brooklyn neighborhood, has begun carrying its own Court Street Red, made for them by a winery in California. It's big and juicy, if you like that sort of thing. And recently I saw that Red, White & Bubbly, a store in Park Slope, has its own line of vino. It goes under the brand of the Brooklyn Wine Co., and there are several kinds. Haven't had any of them, so I can't vouch for the stuff. Don't know about the label. The Brooklyn Bridge just doesn't say wine to me.

News Flash!

People drink a lot on New Year's Eve!

Or they think a lot about drinking, anyway. This fact of life was reinforced to me when my number of page views skyrocketing on Dec. 31 for absolutely no reason whatsoever. I hadn't posted anything in four days, so what other reason could there be? People were just trolling the internet looking for drinking ideas.

Mostly readers honed in on my recent post about Tom & Jerrys, a holiday drink if there ever was one. Also popular was my thesis from a few months back about that wonderful old Wisconsin tradition, the Brandy Old Fashioned. Go figure.

Me? I spent a quite New Year's with friends. As is my tradition, I bought a half bottle of Billecart-Salmon Rose Champagne. It was sublime as usual