Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Derby Winner

It annoyed me the other night when, at Death & Co., I gave the bartender leave to name my next drink, and, when he whipped up a Brown Derby for me, I didn't know what the hell the thing was. All I knew was, the drink he put before me in a champagne glass tasted yummy.

So I looked up the cocktail and made myself one. Two onces bourbon, one once grapefruit juice, half ounce honey, shaken. It tasted just as good the second time around, a deceptively light concoction, the honey and grapefruit juice sweetly masking the power of the bourbon.

The drink was invented at the Vendome Club in Hollywood in the 1930s. No word on who came up with it. Strangely, it wasn't created at the famous Brown Derby restaurant. That celebrity chow house came up with another libation, something called the Honeymoon Cocktail.

The Vendome was founded by Hollywood Reporter publisher William R. Wilkerson. It sat at 6666 Sunset Boulevard (how's that for an address). He also owned the Cafe Trocadero and Ciro's.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Death in the Early Evening

I finally made my way to Death & Co., the cocktail emporium on East 6th Street in the East Village. I almost got lost on my way there, however, as Death belongs to that precious group of cocktail dens that adores obscurity. The bar's facade is dim and not clearly marked, unless you look down at your feet and seen the name of the place on the sidewalk in front of the door. Why must all the new cocktail places breathlessly ape the aura of the speakeasy? Would it be so awful to advertise to the general public that you make good drinks?

The interior was dim, a long bar to the right, booths to the left. Deathheads could be spied in the decor if you looked for them. I took a seat at the far end of the bar, near the wall and began perusing the menu. An intriguing list, with ornate riffs on the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Moscow Mule and Kir Royale. Specific liquors were identified. And there was a corner of the menu featuring cocktails created by "friends" such as Gary Regan, David Wondrich, James Meehan—the usual gang.

I can't say enough about the bartender (though, for the life of me, I can't remember his name; it was exotic and I was drinking). He was knowledgable, approachable, straightforward and friendly. We had edifying exchanges about Sazeracs, St. Germain, and more. I started with my usual: the Sazerac. Rittenhouse rye was chosen. The bartender took his time, stirring it plenty, and it came out well-integrated and rich and not too sweet. He said he "loved" the drink. Good man.

The girl sitting next to me had never heard of a Sazerac, so I let her have a taste. Oh, yes: there were two girls sitting next to me, two young girls, and they had been sitting there since 7 PM. They loved the joint and visited regularly, fascinated by the science of mixology. They had been drinking Pink Ladies pretty steadily and were on their sixth round. One later had a Ramos Giz Fizz, getting a head start on breakfast, I guess. They kept saying the current round would be the last, but then they'd go out for a smoke and return for another. "Sex and the City" was a favorite show of theirs. They could have been extras!

I turned to gin for my next round, trying the Elder Fashion, because I love St. Germain, one of its ingredients. It was a refreshing change of pace, what with the grapefruit twist and the huge freakin' piece of ice in the glass. I wanted to take it easy for my third and final drink, so I asked the barkeep to be my guide. He came back with a "riff" on a Brown Derby. Never would have thought of that one. But it did the trick, the smooth bourbon, grapefruit juice and honey keeping things easy.

I came away with wholly positive impression of the place. I plan to return around the holidays to partake of a bowl of genuine Fish House Punch and feel like a character in a Charles Dickens novel.

Westward Ho!

I've got plenty of pretty little biases against certain types of wine, and one of them is a general tendency to believe the worst about Australian bottles. Too big, too fruity, pandering to the hoi polloi, lotsa oak, silly cartoon labels, all of that. But I try not to get hidebound in these beliefs, so I leave the door ajar to the possibility that I might be convinced otherwise.

And so, I accepted an invitation to a tasting of vintners from Western Australia. What could it hurt? Beside, I've always liked that Margaret River stuff. More restrained, less fruit and alcohol obsessed.

I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had the chance to taste the excellent Leeuwin Estate line-up of Chardonnays, including the Art Series and Prelude lines, which are wonderfully chalky, mineral and ageworthy, and which Wine Spectator recently singled out.

I was also surprised by the all-around excellence of the Thompson Estate line-up. Full, smooth whites (Chard, Semillon/Sauv Blanc) and light, elegant reds (Cab/Merlot, straight Cab and Pinot Noir). I also learned, by drinking all the Houghton wines, what your average West Australian drinks on a steady basis. Not bad stuff, drinkable. Apparently, the Aussie versions of these wines are more alcoholic.

To keep the drinkers sober, the winemakers offered a big, brimming bowl of crayfish. But nobody knew how to eat the damn things, so the tasters left them lonely and focused on the cheese tables. Everyone knows how to eat cheese.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ratifying the Ratafia

Inspired by a recent New York Times article by Pete Wells about ratafias, the homemade fruit liqueurs, I decided to try to make one myself. The recipe was easy enough, after all: wine, vodka, fresh fruit, vanilla bean and sugar.

To be honest, I had never heard of ratafia before I read the article, though the drinks have apparently been around for centuries. To my mind, they seem to be in the same family as sangria.

Red or white wine can be used. I went with a cheap Chilean Sauvignon Blanc I like as being suitably anonymous, yet flavorful enough as a base. For the quarter cup vodka, I used Stoli, simply because it was the only vodka I had in the house. I was going to make the ratafia solely with nectarines, but my wife ate one of the fruits I intended to use, so I came up short of the necessary cup of chopped fruit. I used a stray apple to fill out the balance.

After three weeks, I took the mixture out of the fridge and gave it a try. It was a lovely pale shade of peach and smelled heavily of the vanilla bean. I'd say the vanilla dominates the potion a tad too much, but otherwise it's a delightful, light and refreshing concoction. Perfect for summer. I think a stronger fruit would better challenge the bean, so I've just bought ripe mangoes for my next batch. I'm also going to try a cucumber version to use as a mixer in Pimm's Cups. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In the Cellar at Tribeca Grill

The months New York Sun "In the Cellar" column focused on Tribeca Grill, that often overlooked quasi-institution that helped get that downtown neighborhood up and running back in the early '90s. I must confess, they don't have my kind of wine list. They like their big reds (Zinfandel is featured) and prestige wines (a list of Wine Spectator's wines of the year for the past 20 years). Whites get short shrift, and places like Germany, Austria and Greece barely a nod. But I did like the openness and unpretentious air of the wine director, David Gordon. He's make a fine drinking companion, I'm certain.

Here's the full text of the article:

Dave's List

By Robert Simonson

The wine director at Tribeca Grill, David Gordon, sips what he sells.

The restaurant's list purports to have more Châteauneuf-du-Pape — roughly 300 bottles — than not only any restaurant in New York City, but any restaurant in the world, including those in the southern Rhône Valley, from whence the wine hails. ( Mr. Gordon admits that this boast is anecdotal — not scientific.)

When asked what he drinks at home, however, Mr. Gordon does not reply "riesling," as many sommeliers who manage red-heavy lists often do. He says " Châteauneuf du Pape," without any hesitation. "I really like those wines."

Mr. Gordon is the only wine director Tribeca Grill has ever known; he began his tenure when fellow Cornell University graduate Drew Nieporent and actor Robert De Niro opened the eatery in 1990. Since then, he has found myriad ways to keep himself interested in his job.

After a few years hawking a selection of about 60 wines, he itched to expand the list. Waiters began handing diners a supplementary "all-American reserve list," which proved a hit; tables were ordering $100 bottles rather than $40 bottles. It got Mr. Gordon thinking. "In our group, Drew owns Montrachetand Rubicon. These were two wine destinations. Why can't we be a wine destination? Maybe Tribeca Grill is a big place and it's more casual, but there's no reason why we can't have great wine."

And so he started buying. Did Mr. Nieporent approve of the new expenditures? "Oh," said Mr. Gordon, not missing a beat, "we didn't tell him." Tribeca Grill now has 1,800 wine selections.

In contrast to many wine directors, who often ooze self-conscious refinement, Mr. Gordon comes off as a man of the people. He has the straightforward, unaffected demeanor of a garrulous garment district sweater manufacturer. The Tribeca Grill list begins, after all, with a populist-spirited page called "Dave's Picks." It's unlikely you'd find a similarly named feature at, say, Le Bernardin.

"For the customer who comes in and doesn't care about wine, or doesn't care that much, he can go to the first page and see we recommend 30 or 40 whites and reds," Mr. Gordon said.

Mr. Gordon has a touch of P.T. Barnum in him. The Tribeca Grill wine list didn't grow in a simple, linear fashion. Instead, it began to sport what could be called "added attractions." In addition to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape cache and the "Dave's Picks" page, Mr. Gordon began spotlighting zinfandels and — in a sentimental move — vintages from 1990, the year Tribeca Grill was born. (By a nice coincidence, the vintage proved to have been a good one in many parts of the world.)

"I don't want to have just a laundry list of wine, page after page after page," Mr. Gordon explained. "It's kind of boring. So I tried to make certain categories. I was just trying to find ways to differentiate this list from other lists."

Among his first such special sections were pages of 1994 and 1997 California cabernets. Those wines have since been exhausted, so the pages are gone. But the 1990s hang on. "They're higher-priced," he said. "We keep trying to find them but we're looking for bargains. The market is very high. It's not a time to buy."

Toward the end of the Tribeca list is yet another notable invention of Mr. Gordon's — a tallying of all the bottles Wine Spectator magazine has named "Wine of the Year" from 1988 to the present.

Mr. Gordon already had some Spectator wines in stock when he hatched the idea, and soon after started looking for the others. Of course, when the Wine Spectator crowns a product "Wine of the Year," its readers — who tend to view the magazine as a gospel of vino — quickly buy up that wine. "It becomes very hard to find the wine all of a sudden," he said. "The price increases, everyone wants it."

The wine Mr. Gordon has had the hardest time keeping in the cellar on a regular basis is not any of the rare and pricey reds from Bordeaux or Napa, but the once-plentiful Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 1994. "No one's putting it away to collect," he said. "It's white. It's being drunk. Even Beringer doesn't have any of it. But I'm still finding some."

Another white wine Mr. Gordon makes a point to always have on the list is the Hermitage Blanc by the renowned Rhône wine producer Jean-Louis Chave. It's not a Wine Spectator wine, or a Dave's Pick. It just happens to be one of Robert De Niro's favorites. And so a case arrives like clockwork every year. "He likes whites," Mr. Gordon said. "He likes what he likes. He's not a snob."

The two men must get along well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Some Folks Deserve to Be Conned

I recently finished Patrick Radden Keefe's fascinating article in The New Yorker about the fantastic German wine fraud Hardy Rodenstock, who has most probably duped half the wine world into buying what they thought were priceless old and rare bottles or wondrous wine—stuff he very likely cooked up himself in a laboratory somewhere—and American tycoon Bill Koch's (one of those Hardy tricked) attempt to wreck legal revenge on him.

Koch's the kind of collector who buys expensive wine because it's fun and he has the wherewithal to do so. He packs his cellars with more wine than he can possibly drink in a lifetime and then goes after more. His primary beef with Rodenstock is he was the guy who provided Christie's with a stock of bottles purported to have belonged to Thomas-freakin'-Jefferson. Koch bought some of that vino. And now he's mad because it's been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the stuff is fake.

My main reaction to this article is: Oh my God! What utter boobs! What pompous, greedy, self-deluded, capitalist lemmings. They deserve to be conned.

It's easy to get mad at Rodenstock. He's a charlatan of mammoth proportions and has forever tainted the market for fine wine. But he couldn't have operated to the extent that he did if the current worldwide wine frenzy hadn't bred such a race of status-hungry suckers. He looked out the window and saw auction houses swarming with money monkeys dying to get their hands of the most prestigious wines from the most prestigious years, so they could brag to their equally gullible friends that they had bagged the Big One. Koch, for example, chased down vintages of Chateau d'Yquem from every year of the past one hundred, just because he wanted to, just to say he did it. Why? Because he loves the wine? More likely, he loved the chase. And after that, should he be surprised is maybe some of those bottles are frauds?

My mouth dropped open at nearly every passage of the article. It was all so see-through. How could anyone have fallen for Hardy's game? Are rich people really that dumb? I would have ceased taking the Jefferson bottles seriously the moment I heard the German refused to reveal the address of the Paris building where they were found. Red light! Bogus, bogus, bogus! Of course, he wouldn't give the address! That could be checked against records of where Jefferson lived when in Paris.

Michael Broadbent of Christie's sampled a few bottles from the Jefferson stock and declared them authentic and perfect. Based on what? What does he know of how 1787 French wines should taste after 200-plus years? What does anyone know? And, honestly, what are the chances that a wine that old is still drinking well? Very small, I should say.

Rodenstock's many great wine finds were often preposterous. He said, while in Russia, he found the Csar's lost cache of wine. Just like that! Everyone else had missed it for a century. But he found it. And it was in great condition! Wanna buy? WTF?! Why would anyone fall for this? Two second of common sense removed any doubt from my mind that such a claim was fishy.

But today's collected are, I'm afraid, vulgar dummies. There's no way around it. They hear a few names—Latour, Petrus—and go after them like dogs after a mechanical rabbit. Koch owns two magnums of Lafleur 1947. Great. Problem is, only five were made. And 19 have been sold since 1998. As one wine expert said, "What's the chance of him having two out of five?" A little research could have prevented that stupid sale. Or a little less covetousness.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Great Scott!

How many wines can a guy try in five hours? Well, not as many as Martin Scott Wines laid out on the two levels of the New York State Theatre lobby on Sept. 10. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, talk about your wine lakes. There was one at Lincoln Center this week.

But folks were eager to drink, let me tell you. I got that exactly when the event was due to commence and it was already packed. It never stopped being mobbed. Many of my choices were dictated by which tables had no wait. (These included the table of Tuscan Volpaia wines and one of my favorite Muscadets, the Domaine de la Louvetrie, which was pouring a 2006 and a 2004. Foolish imbibers! You missed it!)

Also relatively uncrowded was a string of organic Zinfandels from California. Now, I'm not a Zin man; the grape is often rendered too powerfully for my tastes, and I don't like to be bullied by my wines. But these makers turned me around. I tried Porter-Bass, Wild Hog (also made by Porter Bass), Klinker Brick, a grower-turned-winemaker (who was also pouring a second label, Old Ghost) and four examples by Carol Shelton, who was there in person. My eyes were opened. These were balanced wines with depth and authenticity. Not just fruit, but a dozen other aspects. All were from frightfully old vines that stretch back from 70 to 120 years. The alcohol was high on each, but the acidity and fruit was such that they didn't feel like sledgehammers at all.

The first wines I zoned in on were my dearly beloved Schiopettos from Friuli. They did not disappoint. A group of California cabs, including Howell Mountain, Snowden, Janzen and Oakville East Exposure were being loved by all around me, but the tannic, fruity bombs just made we want to lie down somewhere and surrender.

A scion of the Sepp Moser Austrian winemaking family was very gracious and accomodating, but I have to say I wasn't overly impressed with his weakish line of Gruners and Riesling. That is until he passed around a sweet wine derived from Chardonnay which was quite unlike any other dessert wine I'd ever had. Light, more floral, slyly invited. Nice job. A sweet wine called Schiltwein was also good.

Another surprise was the Iona Sauvignon Blanc from coolish Elgin, South Africa. A fine, clean, mineral version of this variety which showed immediate potential for aging. Quite impressive. Pure and intense. The dignified owner Andrew Gunn himself did the pouring.

I finished with a visit to the fortified wine, spirits and liqueur sections, tasted through some Bodegas Dios Baco sherries that has been abandoned by their keeper, and then visited the Etter table of Liqueur. All were good, refined stuff, but my favorite was the mind-blowing, mouth-coating flavorfest of the Creme de Cassis. Unctuousness never tasted so good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sherry-Lehmann's Walk to the Park

After three months of chasing the folks as Sherry-Lehmann for an interview about their move from their old Madison Avenue digs to Park Avenue, the wine lords finally grants me an audience last Friday—a week and a half after the store opened. It was worth the wait to get a look at the place.

The story appears today on the front page of the New York Sun. Here is the text in full:

New Light for a Venerable Shop


The chairman of Sherry-Lehmann, Michael Aaron, looked through the long, curving window of his new second-floor office onto a stately expanse of Park Avenue. "I know the inside of every single store here — every corner on Park Avenue I looked at," Mr. Aaron, the proprietor of what is arguably the swankiest and most famous wine shop in New York, said.

But it was the northeast nook at 59th Street that would become the new home of Mr. Aaron's family business, started in 1934 by his father, Jack, a onetime bootlegger who supplied speakeasies, including the "21" Club, with booze.

The new space does not have the cozy cellar-like feeling of the storefront at 679 Madison Ave., which had been home to Sherry-Lehmann since 1948. But it does have an additional 3,000 square feet, plenty of room for a burgeoning staff, a wine cellar equipped with 2,200 holding bins, and a sweeping gold-black-and-glass, Art Deco façade that pours sunshine into the shop. "Wine is an intimidating subject," the executive vice president of Sherry-Lehmann, Chris Adams, observed. "Part of the advantage of this store is it is more light and open; it is less dark and foreboding."

The new locale, just one block from a busy stop on the Lexington Avenue subway line, also boasts more foot traffic than the sleepy locale on Madison Avenue at 61st Street ever did. "We didn't realize how busy this area is," Mr. Aaron said, noting that, in the Madison Avenue space, the store would often be open for an hour and a half before the first customer would come in.

When the Park Avenue store opened on August 28, there were customers from the moment the doors opened, recalled Mr. Aaron, resplendent in a dark pin-striped suit and pink tie, his gun-metal gray hair standing on end in various tufts. "We did a quarter million dollars worth of business the first day," he said. "We normally would have done $100,000."

The store has even pushed back its closing time from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. to accommodate the extra business.

Michael Aaron had been contemplating a move for several years before he made the short leap from Manhattan's ritziest avenue to Manhattan's ritziest boulevard. "When I was 8, we moved to 679 Madison and the store seemed mammoth at the time," he recalled, noting that the illusion dissolved with the years. "I'd been stretching the walls for so long. Meanwhile, our staff is growing, volume is unbelievable, and customer counts keep growing."

In 2000, he began the search for a larger space for his veritable temple of Bordeaux and Burgundy. "I looked at close to 100 different places," he said. "I was pulled by brokers as far north as 80th Street. I entertained the Time Warner building for a time."

But nothing seemed right.

Mr. Aaron was lucky enough to own the building that housed his Madison Avenue store, and one day in 2006, the rising real estate market delivered him an offer he couldn't refuse. He sold 679 Madison for an undisclosed amount to Vornado Realty Trust, with the proviso that Sherry-Lehmann be given the cushion of a five-year lease. He then redoubled his efforts to find new digs and struck pay dirt in less than a year, signing a lease at 505 Park Ave.

Now, all he had to do was move.

Mr. Aaron and Mr. Adams smile a lot, but they can't hide the fatigue of the last few months. "Somebody said today, What was your summer like?,'" Mr. Aaron, cracking a bitter smile, said.

He decided to execute the transition over a single weekend, so as not to lose any sales or continuity. And so he did — but it came at a price. "We were on a schedule of 17, 18 hours a day with little sleep," he said. Added Mr. Adams: "Those 72 hours when we moved were just a nightmare."

Due to ongoing construction, the only part of the new store that could be stocked prior to the shuttering of 679 Madison was the cellar. So the staff created a system wherein 505 Park Avenue was getting a truck delivery every two hours for nearly four weeks. Each vehicle contained 25 cases of wine — the most that can be fit in the store's new freight elevator.

One of the main jobs assigned to Mr. Aaron was of a more personal nature. Sherry-Lehmann patrons may recall the shop's haphazard décor of old bottles and wine paraphernalia. Mr. Aaron and his wife, an interior decorator, collected all those mementos and hung them carefully from the rafters of the new sales floor. "We spent 15 hours taking them down, and 10 hours putting them up," Mr. Aaron said.

There are more antiques on display upstairs, where Mr. Aaron plans to install a wine school in a year's time. There are empty vessels from the 1830s that once held Tokai, an ancient bottle of Old Overholt Rye, and an antique Pernod fountain. Of course, they didn't keep everything. One item left behind was a papier-mache figurine of The Sherry-Lehmann Man — a longstanding company mascot, which Mr. Aaron, now 67, crafted many years ago, when he was 7. "I thought it was the greatest sculpture ever made," he said. "But I took one look at it and said, ‘It's so ugly, let's leave it here.'"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Broooklyn Social Sazerac

At Off the Presses, the Sazerac Watch never sleeps. Last sighting of this tasty cocktail: Brooklyn Social, a popular retro haunt on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. The bartender—a whimsical, floppy-haired scamp who never answered a question straight (he said he was "not there" at one point)—didn't know how to make it off the back; he had to consult a book. But he was game. Plus, he had all the ingredients. And, finally, the drink was entirely satisfactory.

The bar, by the way, was carved out of a former Sicilian social club and has kept much of that old world appeal. It's dark and clandestine, with a speakeasy feel to it. There are old pictures on the wall and a old ice box behind the bar. The drink menu appears to indicate that the bartenders are schooled in other classic drinks. (That's a ginger Old Fashioned in the photo above.)

So, so far that's a place to get a good Sazerac in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook now, as well as the Lower East Side, Tribeca, Greenwich Village and Soho in Manhattan. At this rate, I may have to take this drink off the NYC endangered list soon.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Museum Cocktails

I was recently near Madison Avenue in the 30s and needed a place to lunch, so I thought I'd try the Dining Room in the Morgan Library for a hoot. I hadn't seen the museum since its renovation and that moment I somehow relished the idea of a quiet, stuffy afternoon dining with some Ladies Who Lunch.

What I did not expect was the fantastic cocktail menu that was handed me. Someone at the Morgan obviously cares about cocktails, for, though the list was short, it was choice. A Pimm's Cup was on offer. So was Death in the Afternoon, made with real absinthe, and a favorite classic of mine: the Aviation Cocktail (gin, maraschino liqueur, fresh lemon). You have to admire a bar that contains Pimm's, absinthe and maraschino liqueur. After each item, the cocktail's ingredients were listed, as well as a one-sentence history of the drink and an estimated year of birth.

I ordered the Aviation and it was superlative. I was nearly dancing in my chair. My joy increased when I saw they Brander, one of my favorite Californian Sauvignon Blancs, by the glass. And to top it all off, the Pierpont Salad (Smoked Chicken, Romaine, Crispy Pancetta, White Beans, Sweet Tomatoes, Vermont Cheddar, Mustard Vinaigrette) was fantastic.

So, if you're on Madison and thirsty, go. The Morgan is a sanctum of civility.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Prosecco Raboso, Yeah!

It was a cocktail summer this year. As the warm weeks passed, my interest in wines seemed to fade a bit as I mixed new cocktail after new cocktail most every evening. I blame the fervent advocates at the "Tales of the Cocktail" convention for this. They sent me home with so many recipes and ideas. Their mania was contagious.

I had begun to wonder if wine would ever reclaim its former place at the top of my heart. But I shouldn't have worried. As Sept. 5's Frederick Wildman and Sons tasting at Avery Fisher Hall showed, all I needed was one good dive into a sea of great grape to revive my taste buds.

I sipped plenty of wonderful Brunellos, Riesling and Austrian and German wines while there (having only a couple hours to spend, I sort of cherry picked, zoning in on my favorites) and got to meet a scion of the great Austrian Stadlmann wine family, makers of superior Zierfandler and Rotgipfler. I had him all to myself. My fellow sippers did not seem to know what they were missing. And a couple tables were laden with liquid gold, all from Germany. Rieslings from Dr. H. Thanisch, Dr. Fischer, Studert Pruem, Anheuser, Langwerth von Simmern, Franz Karl Schmitt, Seebrich and Graf van Schoenborn. Out of a dozen and a half bottles, I didn't taste one bad brew. The Fischer "Classic" was particularly dry and bracing. And Thanisch, always downgrading Spatlese and Auslese grapes to make their Kabinetts and Spatleses more succulent, can do not wrong. Beautiful stuff.

But perhaps the find of the day came at the end, at the Astoria Vini table. A Prosecco rose, if you can believe it. This is new this year, and, as far as the rep from the table knew, it was the only one of the market. (That will likely change in 2008.) The native grape Raboso ("It's not good for much by itself") is used to give the Prosecco its pink tone and cherry bite. It's as refreshing as hell, and I cursed my luck that I had found the potion at the very end of summer. It's made for the season.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

An Apology, and An Explanation

I've been a bit missing-in-action the past two weeks. I apologize to what few steady readers I have who were frustrated at seeing the same damn item I posted back on Aug. 17 day after day after tedious day.

I have excuses ready. I had a guest-blogging gig at a fairly big website the week of Aug. 20-24 that ran me ragged (can't say which, since I worked under a pseudonym, for reasons I am going to be mysterious about). And last week I was attending a three-day, intensive seminar on Sake—a beverage of which I was largely, but am no longer, ignorant. More on that in a later post. So, I'm alive, and will try to post most regularly now that fall is here and wine and spirits are increasingly need to keep the winter chill off.

"A Good Shabbat Wine"

That's what my wife crowned the 2005 Psagot Edom red table wine the other night after we had enjoyed a few glasses. Having been to a number of Shabbat meals, and knowing what is usually poured there, I had to agree.

Finding a good kosher wine that stands up as simply a good wine, period, is always a challenge (though not as hard now as it's been in the past). So I always sit up straight when I stumble across one. Bordeaux blends are a dime a dozen in the kosher world, and most are unimpressive, either too fruity or too raw. But this Psagot, which is 75% Cab Sauv and 25% Merlot, is representative of what should be commonplace in this category.

It's medium-bodied at 13.5% alcohol, and has all the usual notes of stewed dark fruit and spice, but all expressed evenly and well. The tannins are sturdy but tempered. It's aged in American and French oak for 14 months, so the vanilla is there, but it's well-integrated and doesn't overpower. The bottle is simply well-balanced in every way.

At $30, it's pricy for a kosher. But worth it, I'd say, for the coming High Holy Days.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Bad Day for Connousuers of Drink

Two titans of specialty imbibing died this past week: Michael Jackson and Alfred Peet. Jackson almost single-handedly ushered in a new appreciation for well-crafted beers in the 1970s, when every was content ignorantly gulping down insipid pilsner. And Peet's obsession with fine coffee began American's love affair with artisinal brew.

(These guys were not wine and spirits expects, I know, but to my mind they were fighting the same fight and contributed greatly to the refined drinking tastes now in evidence in the 50 states.)

Jackson died Aug. 30 in London. During his career, he turned the world on to Belgian's luscious beers and inspired hundreds of microbrewers. Every brew pub you see is part of his legacy.

Peet lent him name to Peet's Coffee, the famed shop he started in Berkeley in the late '60s, around the time Alice Waters was started Chez Panisse. He refused to accept the vile swill Americans then drank as being coffee. He knew all about beans, roasting, brewing, everything, and introduced as many people as he could to his idea of java, including the founders of Starbuck's, who basically stole his ideas and ran with them. Peet's would expand into a chain, too, but never at the rate Starbuck's would.

We owe them both a lot.