Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Coldest Wine Store in New York

I stumbled upon the Moore Brothers Wine Shop on E. 20th Street yesterday. It's been there for a year, but I never noticed it. (It's a small storefront and looks vaguely corporate from the outside.)

This is a wine store with a lot of differences. One is immediately clear: it's damn cold inside. About 56 degrees. The brothers are very big on keeping their wines at the same temperature from the time they're shipped to the time they reached the store. No need for them to shoot up to 70 degrees upon hitting the shelf, they say.

Knowing there are lots of neurotic New Yorkers who will fear catching a bug by staying in such a store for five minutes, there's a coat rack at the entrance hung with five or sick fleece jackets. And knowing there are lots of wine loves who have to cart kids around, they have a little play area equipped with toys, books and crayons.

The shop concentrates on France, Germany and Italy mostly. Very little California or other New World locales. One drawback about the place is they deal with only one importer: Fleet Street. Apparently, the owner of the Fleet Street is an old pal of the brothers.

Still, there are a lot of good wines to find. I lucked out on the daily tasting. They were pouring a 1990 Vouvray from Prince Poniatowski. The Prince is best known for owning the Clos Baudoin plot. They have that wine in stock, but weren't pouring it. The featured wine was his Aigle Blanc, a mix of grapes grown elsewhere. But, hey, it was a 1990, and had aged beautifully, with plenty of character, and a good balance between the acidity and residual sugar. There's nothing like an old Chenin Blanc. And they're selling it for $25 a bottle! They've got lots. Go get it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cocktail Incompentency: 2A

Another report from the field.

I know I shouldn't get all bent out of shape about this stuff, but bartenders should know how to make a drink. Right? I write for a living. If I used bad grammar or only know how to use a small section of the English language, I wouldn't be employed for long.

So I went into 2A, a popular bar that has been at the corner of Avenue A and 2nd Street for 15 years of so, surviving many changes in the East Village. Must be a good place, right? I admit, I'd never ventured in before. But I had decent expectations due to the joint's longish history.

OK, here we go. Miss Bartendress was about 22, blonde and kind of uninterested in things in general. (She manned the above bar.) I started with my usual drill: could she make a Sazerac? I pretty much expect people to fail this one and she did. So I thought Manhattan; did she have Rye behind the bar. No she didn't. At this point she said something like, "Wow, you're making this really hard." Hm.

How about a bourbon Manhattan, even though I don't like those. No, they don't stock bourbon.

Let me repeat that: they don't stock bourbon.

I'm desperate and depressed now, so I ask for a Gibson. "OK," she says, "except we don't have those little onions." Sigh. A Martini it is, straight up, very dry, with a twist.

I got the drink a few minutes later. It had a twist. A lime twist. A Martini can be many things. A Gin & Tonic it is not.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

(Almost) Completely Off Topic

This has nothing to do with wine or spirits or anything alcoholic, except possibly that the subject at hand does go excellent well with a beer.

But you can't expect a Wisconsinite to sit idly by without commented on the death of the creator of Johnsonville Brats, can you?

I love Johnsonville bratwurst. They are the finest, tastiest, tangiest, juiciest mass-produced brats on the market, in my opinion. Trust me: I've eaten a lot of brats over the years. The flavor is incomparably satisfying.

Growing up in Milwaukee, people had brat loyalty. They stuck by their brand. Usinger's was the class bratwurst. If you fancied yourself a toff, you bought Usinger's, preferably from the old world shop located in downtown Milwaukee. Johnsonville was more populist, and probably a better seller. The product is forever etched in the minds of Wisconsinites by the classic local commercial which ends with the line "Charlie Murphy's cooking Johnsonville brats!"

Reading the New York Times obit was interesting. Ralph F. Stayer came from Minnesota (gasp!). He bought a butcher shop in 1945, and decided to produce a quality bratwurst to attract business, using an old family recipe. It's a multi-million-dollar company now, and still run by the Stayer family. I was mighty relieved recently when I discovered that the brats were carried by Fairway.

Can't say it goes with a Rob Roy or a Burgundy. But try one with any beer you care to mention. Or just try one.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Procecco at Shake Shack

A publicist tells me that Danny Meyer's insanely popular Madison Park eater Shake Shake has started stocking Mionetto “IL” Prosecco as its first sparkling wine.

Hey, there are worse places to start. I love Prosecco, and Mionetto, while a huge business, puts out a decent product. It's great for summer, and while I've never had it with a hamburger, I'm willing to believe it might be a good match.

Shake Shack will offer half bottles at $15. Hey. Forget the burger. That's a good price. Just buy the bottle, sit back and enjoy the park.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In the Cellar With Eleven Madison Park

My June "In the Cellar" column in the New York Sun focused on Danny Meyer's Eleven Madison Park and its youthful, handsome and prim sommelier John Ragan, a Kansas City boy made good. He made for a very polite and generous interview, letting me sit in on one of his weekly blind wine tastings with his staff. That staff was one of the most efficient I'd ever seen in New York. After the interview, I settle into the bar area with a glass of Huet Vouvray and watch the green-and-black clad soldiers troop in single file in and out of the kitchen, carting bottle of Billecart-Salmon Rose Champagne, as often as not.

Here's the full text of the piece:

Staying on His Toes
In the Cellar


On a recent evening at Eleven Madison Park, Danny Meyer's French restaurant in the flatiron district, wine director John Ragan was trying in vain to please a table of Frenchmen.

"We talked a bit and we weren't getting too far as to the wine," Mr. Ragan, 33, recalled. "They wanted to drink only California things because they'd never been to America before, but they definitely wanted to keep the wines in a Burgundian style. Finally, the guy stopped me and said, ‘Do you know the Coche-Dury wines?' I said ‘Absolutely, those of some of the greatest white Burgundies out there.' He said, "Well, this is Mssr. Coche-Dury."

The lesson for Mr. Ragan: Better have your game on if you're going to work the wines at a top Manhattan dining destination. "It keeps you on your toes," he said. "In New York, more than any other city, you never know who's coming in that night, whether it be Hugh Johnson or whoever." The influential British wine critic dined at the restaurant one day last year. Mr. Ragan amused him by suggesting a 2004 Albert Boxler chasselas from Alsace.

Mr. Ragan is part of a West Coast double act that has put Eleven Madison Park in good graces with the critics lately. He worked for three years with the restaurant's chef, Daniel Humm, at Campton Place in San Francisco. Mr. Meyer tapped Mr. Humm for Eleven Madison Park, a 135-seat restaurant set in a spacious former meeting room in the art deco MetLife Building, in early 2006. Mr. Ragan, as he put it, "just tagged along."

"I think I just insisted on it," he joked. "We had a lot of fun in San Francisco. I think the whole ideas of food and wine are pretty inextricably tied. That's my one gripe about some restaurants: You look at the menu and look at the wine list and they don't necessarily have anything to do with each other."

You wouldn't know it from his smart suits and crisp manners, but Mr. Ragan's first wine tasting was a distinctly humble affair. As a teenage busboy working in an Italian restaurant in his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., he would down the dregs of bottles left behind by customers, just to see what they tasted like. "That's when I got the bug. I ended up leaving one restaurant to go to another." Better pay? Higher position? "They had more wine. I was still bussing tables." A wine geek was born.

He took a degree in urban planning at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and promptly discovered he detested his chosen field. Yearning to escape, he used an airline ticket that was a graduation gift to visit his sister in San Francisco. "I went to wine country," he recalled. "It was a amazing." He never returned to Missouri.

He won his job as Campton Place in 2003. So, how do San Francisco and New York oenophiles stack up? "I think that both cities are adventurous when it comes to wine. New York clientele is much more steeped in the classics, yet they're adventurous. San Francisco people tend to order California wines. It's the default. It's a comfort zone."

Mr. Ragan would rather diners not fall back into that zone. The wine menu at Eleven Madison Park — a much more international affair than the predominantly French list the restaurant boasted 18 months ago — is arranged not by country, but varietal. It's a setup he used at Campton Place to shake people out of their ruts. Pinot noir lovers who drink exclusively Burgundy cannot just flip to the French section, but also must learn that the grape produces good wine in Oregon and New Zealand, too.

Mr. Ragan said he also wants drinkers to form a fresh perspective on wines they think they already know — such as Champagne. "It's quite easy to have a nice list of expensive Champagnes," he said. "But by the glass, it's overlooked. Usually, there's only one. I think of that as the equivalent of having one red wine by the glass; no one would go for that. We have five Champagnes by the glass. With the first half hour of dinner, it is really crucial for people to unwind. I think with a glass of Champagne and some hors d'oeuvres, you're well on your way."

Mr. Ragan is also aware that a diner's biases are not the only impediments to a wider wine experience. "Quite often the restaurateurs are the ones holding the restaurant-goers back," Mr. Ragan said. "They don't have the right selections, they don't have the right things available. It's a matter of having the right things and getting the guests' permission to drink it."

Of course, you can't always teach an old dog new tricks. Mssr. Coche-Dury drank a number of California wines during his evening at Eleven Madison Park. "But in the end," Mr. Ragan said, "the last bottles were Burgundies."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Merrily, Merrily

I've been holding on to a bottle of Merry Edwards' 2005 Sauvignon Blanc for about six months, waiting for the right opportunity to drink it. Edwards' bottles aren't exactly readily available at your corner liquor store—I picked this one up at the Edwards office itself in Sonoma County—so it was hard for me to uncork it.

Still, it didn't seem to make too much sense to wait any longer. The wine was made for summer and though it probably could age, was more than ready to drink when it was made. It's not mandatory you age it, unlike the wines Edwards is best known for, the pinot noirs. I decided Father's Day was a good enough excuse and had it the other night.

It's very much a California SV, in that it's high in alcohol (14.1%!), fairly full-bodied and fruit trumped the mineral notes on the palate. There's also significant vanilla in evidence and not for no reason: all of the wine is barrel-fermented, including eighteen percent new French oak. This would all be too much, too ripe and overdone, if it weren't for the fact that the grapes come from 30-year-old vines, adding considerable depth and character to the mix. There's plenty of honeydew melon, honey, lemon and white flower notes to slosh around your mouth. It's a big SV, an gregarious SV, but still a very good SV, friendly and fulfilling and giving.

Wish I had another, but glad to have the one.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tough Choices

I'll be attending the "Tales of the Cocktail" spirits convention in New Orleans again this year. It's the fifth year for the event, and they've certainly bulked up on the seminars. Many are quite interesting and I'm having a tough time decided between panels that are running simultaneously in different rooms at the wonderful old Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street.

For instance, Ted Haigh's class on "Lost Ingredients" and how to recreate them (Falernum, Creme de Violette, Absinthe) is running at the same time as Charlotte Voisey's "Spirited Women Past and Present," about the roll of women in cocktails history.

But the hardest choice of all comes on Saturday, July 21, when "American Rye Whiskey" with Allan Katz runs neck and neck with "Cocktails and the Blogosphere," with Paul Clarke ("The Cocktails Chronicle" blog), Darcy O'Neil ("The Art of Drink") and Rick Stutz ("Kaiser Penguin"). I'm very interested in rye, as well as cocktail blogging. If I could clone myself, I would do it for the two hours when these two events take place. As it is, I may have to run back and forth between the Riverview Room and the La Nouvelle East Room. Or leave a running tape recorder in one of them.

Best Damn Rosé Ever?

Guess I forgot to write about this a month back, when I dined at Chanterelle in preparation for writing my column "In the Cellar" for the New York Sun. But I had the most fantastic rosé when I was there. The sommelier Roger Dagorn suggested it. He was at the time (probably still is) justifiably proud of the new Greek additions to his wine list.

The wine was a Mantinia Tselepos 2004, made from the Moschofilero grape. Don't know how I didn't write about it earlier, because it was fantastic—one of the most balanced, lively, deep and enjoyable rosés I've ever had. A wonderful array of floral notes. That said, it's most astounding aspect may be its color. Rosés can bear a wide range of hues, from pink to salmon to ruby to light red. Depends on the grape and the amount of exposure to the skins. But this was tangerine color. I swear, tangerine. Absolutely stunning shade of light orange. I had never seen it before.

It went beautifully with my marinated loin of lamb with Mount Athos olives and mini falafel balls. I haven't been able to find the wine since. If you see it in New York anywhere, let me know.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Calling Out for Decent Wine Bar in South Brooklyn

I've been hoping a good wine bar would open in the Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens area—where I live—for some time now. I'm still hoping.

It's almost stupifying to me how this growing residential area, teeming with yuppies, has not yet produced a first-class wine bar, particularly given the presence of "restaurant row" Smith Street. Fort Greene has a good one (Stonehome Wine Bar), as does Boerum Hill (Donna de Vine) and Williamsburg (D.O.C. wine bar). What gives? But so it is. There are bars galore, where people go for beers and dirty martinis, but none specialize in wine. Savoia, a fine Naples-style pizza place, has a adjoining bar with a decent selection of Italian wines. But it feels secondary to the restaurant.

I had high hopes for Bocco Lupa, the place that opened on Henry and Warren a few months back. They have a fairly extensive Italian wine list to go with their menu of panini, tramezzini, bruscetta and crostini (many of which are delicious). But upon inspection, the wine selection, while servicable, proves a bit shallow and obvious. Many big producers and plenty of Pinot Grigio. I mean, I love Sella & Mosca's Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva. But I want that to be one of the most recognizable selections on a wine bar list, not one of the most obscure, as it is at Bocco Lupa.

Another sign that these are more food people than wine people: wine goblets. Everything's served in them, and you don't have the choice of a stemmed glass, because they don't stock them. Goblets are a trendy choice, but not a smart one if you plan to be dealing with serious oenophiles.

Perhaps they will overhaul the list sometime soon. In the meantime, we wait.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

To Take the Heat or Not

I find myself agreeing a lot lately with many of the opinions Eric Asimov expresses in his New York Times blog "The Pour," which exhibits a writing style more appealingly breezy that what you sometimes read in the pages of the New York Times proper.

A few weeks back, Eric had some smart things to say about the virtues of white wine over the oft-preferred red. More recently, he offered a cogent response to a recent column by The Wine Spectator's James Laube. Laube was making the case for high alcohol in some of the new wines. Asimov countered with his reasons for seeking a less-hot wine. Both made decent points, and it makes for a sane pair or arguments and good reading.

As for myself, I have to say I side with Asimov's contention that big-alcohol wines "are overbearing. Too much flavor. Too jammy. Too sweet-tasting. Too powerful. Too plush. They taste the same and they don’t go with food." I like a wine alone, especially if it's a great one of fascinating complexity. But most times, I want a wine to go with something I'm eating. If it demolishes the meal with its power, I think the winemaker has missed a good half of the wine's reason for existing.

Take a look at the articles. You have to be a subscriber to access the Laube article on the web, but it's in the current WS issue, the one about Green winemakers.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Gin Blossom in Brooklyn

I was passing by LeNell's, the idiosyncratic and well-worth-visiting wine and liquor store in Red Hook, the other day when I was accosted by a man in wool pants, white shirt, suspenders and wool cap, beckoning to me in a put-on English accent to come in and try some Hendrick's Gin. The pitch was hokey, to say say the least, and not at all the sort of style one associates with LeNell's, which is a reserved, fairly serious shop. But, I thought, what the hey: free Gin.

Inside, serving up two different Hendrick's based cocktails, was none other than Charlotte Voisey, the famous (in her circle), award-winning London bartendress who recently move to New York and now represents a variety of name liquors including Glenfiddich, Milagro Tequila and Henrick's. Depsite her many achievements, it is perhaps fair to say that, in addition to her mixology skills, Voisey is also well known for being extremely pretty. LeNell's advertised the event as being hosted by the "gorgeous Charlotte Voisey" and the hawker outside the shop said "come in and meet the beautiful Charlotte Voisey." What can you say? She is attractive. But she is also unfailingly polite and just plain nice, making her quite approachable. And she knows her drinks, no question.

Both drinks she mixed up were good, but the more memorable was the Cucumber Collins, a take on a Tom Collins which brought out the cucumber flavorings in Hendrick's.

Voisey will be hosting several events at the upcoming Tales of the Cocktail spirits convention in New Orleans this July, including one in which she will be joined on the dais by the southern-born, tough-talking Tonya "LeNell" Smothers. Two more different women I can not imagine. Should make for a fun panel. I look forward to attending.

LeNell's own Red Hook Rye is back in stock, by the way. I missed it last time around, but intend to buy a bottle this year, if I can scrape up the necessary jack. Small batch spirits do not come cheap.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The Search for Rosé

I love Rosé. Everybody loves Rosé. Particularly in the summer, when it lends refreshment, zip and a dash of color to every occasion.

So why is it so hard to find a decent one? Few things fill me with as much a sense a fun as an errand to buy a bottle Rosé, but once I get to the wine shop and face the row of pink wines, I'm filled with dread and trepidation. Rosé's recent rise in popularity has led to a wider selection of wines, but not much of a rise in quality. Too many Rosés are mediocre and without distinction, regardless of what grape is used (and, these days, it seems every grape is used, from Pinot Noir to Grenache to Tempranillo). It's as if the winemakers think that once they get the red grapes into their brief contact with their skins, the job is over. The result is a lot of anonymously brisk wines, with a rather sharp edge of tannin, and all tasting of strawberry.

It was a happy day, then, when I drank Domaine Tempier's 2006 Rosé. The Bandol maker is well known for the quality of its wines, and they don't fall down with their pink brew. Here is a Rosé that is balanced, all its elements—acidity, fruit and tannin—integrated. It's a joy from first sip to final swallow. It has length and character, and tastes of roses, white raspberries and a touche of cream. It's fun and enjoyable without being airheaded. The grape, or course, is Mourvedre, so the wine is fairly alcoholic and strong. Probably will do well with any dish.

Only drawback is the price: $35. People like to get their Rosé for a song (and so do I). Still, it's worth a splurge once or twice a summer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Monkey Gland Commercially Sold

I was seized the other night by the desire to have someone other than myself serve me up a Monkey Gland, the 100-year-old cocktail that is currently my favorite drink. So I headed to the Pegu Club on Houston Street, where I knew they would be honor-bound to create one.

I was right. The bartender was new to the job. And, true, he had to look up the recipe. But he made it—gin, orange juice, grenadine, dash of Pernod—mixed it up nice and served it in a handsome, egg-cup-like Martini glass with an orange twist. It was delicious.

The bartender, who was English, was flabbergasted by my odd request. "How do you guys come up with these drinks?," he asked in sincere curiosity. I merely replied that all you had to do was thumb through an old cocktail book and do some trial and error, throwing out the drinks that don't appeal, keeping the lost treasures that do.

For added proof that a Monkey Gland can be bought for ready money in Manhattan I present the bill below. $13 too much for a Monkey Gland? Well, yes. Too much for any drink in my book. But the experience was priceless.

Monday, June 4, 2007

White Nebbiolo

Yes, you heard me right. The other night I enjoyed a white wine made from the grape that is at the base of all Barolos and Barbarescos. OK, OK, the Nebbiolo made up only five percent of the mix; the other 95 percent was Chardonnay. But still, it's unusual, particularly since the Nebbiolo was vinified without contact with the skins, and thus didn't render the resulting potion a rose.

The wine, called Solea, came from the respected Piedmont producer Roagna. I can't always afford their Barbarescos, so when I saw this Roagna priced reasonably at $19, I couldn't resist. What also made the wine interesting, and more of a bargain, was the vintage: 2000. Solea is held back for three years before release. What this bottle was doing the other four, I don't know, but Chamber Street Wines had just gotten it in when I tried it.

How to describe it? Well, it's unusual and doesn't really win you over at first. It packs a wallop, like a white red. It's medium-full bodied. There's little fruit. Minerality and petrol dominate. After a glass or two, though, it really impresses, the way an old white Rioja does. It has great presence. I haven't figured out what food it would go well with, but that's OK. It's quite fine on its own.

Nice Try

Here's a nice item on It's urging us to save New York's bartenders from their life of boredom by ordering complex drinks. It reads in part:

For just pennies a day you could save a bartender from a horrible life of boredom. Everyday in bars, just like the ones in your backyard, bartenders are forced to make vodka sodas - one after another - with little or no break for creativity. Long gone are the days where people ordered Rusty Nails, Harvey Wallbangers and other cocktails with personality. Where the thin layer of frost, amassed on the body of the cocktail shaker, indicated the flavorful, mouth-watering elixir was ready to drink. We have become a culture of ____ and tonic.

Nice try. If only bartenders were actually waiting anxiously for drinkers with challenging orders. But such ain't the case. They're rather stay bored. Trust me.

Here's a more interesting exercise: let's sneak into bars, steal all the vodka and see how long it takes before the bartenders become jibbering idiots.