When I was in MB, otherwise known as Millesime Bio, Frederik Kolderup, the energetic Norwegian wine importer, coffee fanatic who travels with his own grinder, and lover of the more nat'l the better, ordered me to check an American making albarino in Rias Biaxis.
Hell, you know me, good 'ole skeptic.
But it was Frederik, so I did.
What I found was Albarino that wasn't: 1) sweet 2) tropical 3) sauvignon blancish 3) creamy.
Not only that but the winemaker and part owner of
Benito Santos--Todd Blomberg-- an American who fell in love with a Galician and has lived there for a decade--is working naturally, with a brain that keeps on ticking. He's intent on eliminating S02 usage. His method involved a butter churner.
Blomberg only makes albarino and is working on single vineyards. Two elements that drew me to his wines were: a lovely bitterness and a fresh, attention grabbing acidity. You see, acidity is something that I've found lacking in albarino of late as trying to appeal to a mass palate, too many winemakers are deacidifying, capturing sweetness in the wine, and basically reconfiguring nature, reasons I stopped drinking the stuff.
According to Todd, the Benito Santos vines have never used chemicals and the wines had never been yeasted or whatevered.
Impressed, I contacted Todd and asked him when I was in town to be on a panel about wine homogenization, could I visit? He in turn offered to take me around. An offer I could not refuse.
Todd in his oldest vines, behind the winery.
The day started with a lunch at Chez Casamir near the Gard du Nord. I was meeting with Jean Paul Gene, columnist with Le Monde magazine (out the last Friday in February). My publisher Jean Paul Rocher was joining, he was under the weather, with a cold. Never the less, the three of us knocked off two 2008s; Dard & Ribo Crozes blanc and Overnoy Plouss. Made the interview cheerier. Actually the interview was stimulating and it started with a joke ( I think.) "So, Alice, people might ask you if you've saved the world yet, but what we really want to know is if you've found love yet." I blushed, stammered and was relieved this was not captured on film. But I thought about that moment, as my spoon was in the vegetable soup, for days. I wasn't obsessing about the reality or my answer, but about the cultural differences between Americans and the French and I'm glad that love is still on their minds. The last question he asked was another that sat in my brain. 'You wrote that it is easier to have friends with different politics than different tastes about wine. Why?" I realized that wine is my political platform, and as it is also emotional. My closest friends can understand my taste, as they can also understand me. Connection is about being seen, is it not? As if a cloak has been removed and one stops being invisible? But politics? That needs diplomacy, it is rationale, a dear friend is a right wing republican. I know it's all about her father. But the fact that she and I share similar tastes (for wine and really flavors of all kind) make our friendship possible. I don't think we would share the same communal space if our connection was about belief and party line. After the two bottles I was a little loopy, had to rush to get dressed and get to Lieu Commun interview with Gault Millaut. Bert Celce (Wineterroirs.com) was taking the photos and was kind enough to give me some of them. When my publisher told me who was pouring at the event, I paced back and forth for about 30 minutes crying. I hoped I could keep from tearing up at night. In the privacy of my own apartment, sure. In France? It would have been too much information. At 6pm, pouring their wines at the signing were three of the book's heroes: Philippe Pacalet pouring the AOC 2007 Gevrey, Catherine Roussel, pouring '08 Gamay and Sauvignon #5 (showed gorgeously), and Pierre et Sophie (Larmandier-Bernier) with Terre de Vertus and the Blanc de Blanc. Marc Fèvre and I are laughing about something or other. The fact that they showed up for me and this, who cared about anything else? Flanking me was a friend I hadn't seen in 25 years, Honey-Sugar's ex-sister-in-law, Philippe Pacalet and his wife, Monica. That night we were back at Casamir. I was too fagged out to even speak but I squeaked out a pathetic and inadequate thank you. Two days later, wishing I had gone back to the newest bar a vin naturel in Paris, in the Passage des Panoramas, Coinstot Vino, but was plenty happy with a farewell lunch at Verre Vole with Jean Paul Rocher and his daughter Marie (I do love that place) I was off to Spain.
The tech sheet included full discloser of oak staves and micro ox. I can't say I got to taste what Egypt terroir is really like. Rather funny was in a google search I came across notes for the perfume Jardin du Nil 'Jardin du Nil opens with aldehydic floral notes and an odd “stinky” accord that's been described as 'dirty socks,' or 'locker room.' This could have worked for the wine as well! I can't say I really enjoyed this but it wasn't that bad either. I do think that a cement elevage might be a smarter choice. For more on this wine, it seems as if Christian Callec did the leg work for me.
I Clivi made gorgeous, if somewhat technical Fruilano wines. About the amphora craze Mario said, "Too much trouble keeping the green gunk out of them." Of particular joy were the 1999 Galea, honey and oxidation. In all no dogs. Try reading what Strappo has to say.
Erbaluna! I tasted these years ago and thought, in time these winemakers will come around. And did they. The barolos were gorgeous. The 2006 Vigna Rocche, yes, it had 14% alcohol but seemed fresh and infused with old-fashioned tannins and licorise. 2005, had a profound nose. Deep. Made me nostalgic and happy.
The chateau was gorgeous, the grounds breathtaking, the collection of winemakers inside promised to rock the place's foundation.
At this point the tasting Chateau de Breze is legendary.
Imagine this magnificence in the ice age.
What a way for the Dive Bouteille to return to its roots, not as part of Omnivore in some god forsaken town up north but back in the heart of the Loire. Linda, Pascaline and Frederik, the coffee obsessed wine importer from Denmark , ( got to love him. He brings his own equipment, including beans and grinder on the TGV) drove up and enthusiastically stormed the gates. It was about 11am and already human icicles were greeting us at the door.
I've been in Poland in February but never in my life have I had tasting conditions on the Tundra.
But yet, we dove in, starting with Champagne (Larmandier-Bernier) to get into the mood. By the time I hit the Beaujolais and Marcel Lapierre's table, it was over for me. I was done. My hands were quaking, my toes were dead fish floating under the ice. I was done. But Marcel's wife was very complimentary about my book but she warned me something on the back cover was cliche, but reading the book made up for it. I am dying to know what was cliche. No writer wants to hear of such things when they can't fix it. But when she told me Marcel loved the book so much he bought thirty-five copies, I cheered up. I was having a very pleasant moment, even though my bones were on the rinse cycle. That's when a vigneron in a home boy cap approached me.
By my searching eyes, I'm sure he realized that my French wasn't good enough to catch all of the well slung insults. He was kind, he switched to English to make sure I grasped his full meaning and I didn't even ask.
By the time he was finished with me,my brain was shaking as much as my teeth. He yelled, his body hunched into the words as if he could forcefully sling them at me.
I could smell his breakfast tartine. "Do you see what you've done to me. How could you judge my wine on one taste. My wine is not vinegar."
Well, I didn't exactly call his wine vinegar. But it was in the New York Times. This was not a critique of his wine, it was my experience of the bottle. This was back in my early sans soufre education (and probably his as well) and I believe I wrote that the wine was given to me with great confidence but on the plane where I was drinking the VitRiol, (the wine, not the emotion) had practically turned to vinegar. He also didn't know I've been continually tasting his wine ever since Pierre Jancou introduced me to them, and he did not remember that I had just spent a half-hour with him at La Remise, with some positive words about his Pet Nat and nature, but no, his wines are at the top of my list. They just don't have the 'it,' for me.
The whole business of a critic makes me uncomfortable. I know I am critical but I do hate being seen as a critic and even more, I hate to hurt people. Oh, I can when the behavior is out of control and needs some. I can call out a company? Oh that's fare game. An industry? Sure. A symbol? Why not. But a person? That's a tough one There are writers behind the play, there are people behind the wines. I too had to get used to having my heart and soul used as a rag for the slop. Sometimes just someone's opinion for better or worse, and sometimes grossly unfair, especially when people take swipes at my character and personality without having met me or read me carefully enough. This is something, a few years back, Joe Dressner told me to buck up about when I flinched at bad Alice press. "If you put yourself out there, you'll get it." (I think what he really said is, "You're now a public person, get used to it."
However this all brings into question, why does my opinion or anyone elses matter? Because I (just for example) have a record of being able to find wines that my readers also like? Because I have a platform, I have to think this ( and I ) serve some sort of purpose, as a guide or an advisor. But this vinegar story, I am not sure I did anything else but tell the story and the wine was not that far from vinegar.
And so, Pierre, I want to say to you that I feel quite sad and shaken that I made you so unhappy you needed to vent about something written years back. Please know, I never said you weren't a good winemaker, but that I had a bad experience with one of your wines and I am glad to see that what I wrote did not damage your reputation.
After a talk with Dressner and the crew, Lou Amdur, Jenny Lefcourt, we looked for Frederik with no luck, we mourned that we would miss the rest of the tasting and went back to the Renaissance. Later Frederik turned up still blue in the lips at the party in Angers. And eventually I danced away the bad feelings and tried to turn it all to good.
After freezing our blood at the Dive tasting (coming up) and taking refuge at the Renaissance tasting in Angers, we headed to a party put together by Pat (of Domaine Griottes) where a woman was belly dancing up a storm. Blissfully grabbing recalcitrant winemakers to their feet.
Annaick pulled the camera from my hands and trained it on me as Pascaline & Linda and I drank Clos Fantine at the time and tried to ham it up, failing miserably.
This time it's scotch. I think I deserve something better than Ardmore 30 (wish it was Arbeg) to bolster my courage for the Paris book signing on Thursday, but it will get me through--the flight. Tomorrow night should work though, @ Racines.
Before the organic wine tasting in Montpelier, I was headed to La Remise, a tasting which had a reputation as one of those wild and wooly bad boy tastings with mostly were unhealthy advertisements for unsulfured wine. If that had once been true, the tasting has matured.
But don't worry, it hasn't matured that much.
When La Gramiere Amy and I arrived, people were milking sea rocks--otherwise known as slurping back those mammoth Utah Beach oysters. We scrounged like rodents and came across the worlds most delicious short and dense cookies. Then off to work.
Herve Souhaut's 2009.
Truly gorgeous vintage for him.
I don't need tastings notes. It doesn't matter. But all around, the wines have a lushness worthy of lushes and those who are amongst the 'anti-flavor elite.' Nothing artificial in these flavors for sure.
Podere Le Boncie
Chianti with freshness
Dressner scarfed this one up ( I think more accurately Kevin McKenna). My first sip was that this was Anthony Wilson wine. And the winemaker gets extra cute score as well.
Conversation of the day:
Had with Andrea Calek, who showed up with a new hacked at haircut and a twinkle in his eye and some killer 2009s. When asked how he manages to make a wine that doesn't have that 'typical' carbonic maceration quality (fruit and maybe a little high note of cinnamon) he said, "Sometimes I think."
This includes a partial form of carbonic. The grapes are in vat. He closes it up and then daily drains off the liquid into another vat where normal fermentation continues. This provides an interesting mix of wine that has total skin and stem contact until the grapes are pressed off, and the first days where there is just very pure juice. Am waiting for more details from the winemaker.
Find of the day:
Nicolas Carmarans, previous owner of the wine bar, Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie, showed some lovely wines from Mansois and Fer Servadou. I don't believe they have an importer yet.
Meeting of the day
I spent about half-an- hour tasting with Pierre Beauger, a winemaker who is loved by many. One other taster asked him about his level of volatility and residual, " If I send the wines out for analysis, I'll lose a bottle, and I can't afford that," was his response. And last month I did say some nice things about his Pet Nat, no?
While I wasn't that sold on the wines, others were waxing enthusiastically. My note here was "Nice guy who spoke French slowly for me." Remember this for future post regarding the confrontation at the Dive.
There's hardly any good food in my hood, so when I passed The Village Tart on Kenmare and Mulberry I was curious. It sits oddly on the corner--crossroads of Soho, Nolita, Chinatown and Little Italy on the way to the Holland Tunnel.
It was night, and the cafe glowed golden and siren-like. Inside, kind of cafe, kind of take out, kind of lunch spot, kind of wine bar, kind of romantic dinner hang. You know the kind of place you always want to happen upon? It occurred to me this fit the agenda--for tourist or for me, a neighbor.
Unable to resist, I bought a piece of orange marmalade cake. I ate it for breakfast. Wondered why it was so delicious. The next day I went back and Pichet Ong walked in. Mystery solved. Full disclosure. I've been a long time fan of Pichet ever since my friend Melissa Clark wrote about his Kabocha squash pieand then hung out with him at a conference in Madrid. His palate suits mine. He likes clean, simple and is not afraid of heat and bitter. A rare chef who can do sweet and savory.
Went back the next day.
Carrot cake with a dulce de leche icing? Latte was tasty, if a little too warm. But they're barely up and running. The whole caboodle was Pretty damned yummy.
Went back to dinner.
It's actually ultra-cute, Balthazar meets art nouveau southern Italy. Given its location the clientele is the culture mix, who will be the regulars: that's hard to peg. There were a few Jersey wives in minks (in for their coffee--and) and some refugees from Fashion week who happened to stumble in. At the winebar there was a group who at 10pm had been there since 2pm. The lack of liquor license should save itself from a velvet-rope fate.
Those just slurping the coffee are missing out. The menu is Pichet's idea of comfort with nods to Italy; Sicilian inspired salads and Tuscan purity.Yes, there's a cannoli and then Pichet doing his own thing--always blending in a little bitter to the sweet.
Amongst the big hits: halibut poached in a buttermilk --a delicate hint of dill, alongside spicy-hot spinach. Blood orange salad with crispy pistachios. 'Kashi,' salad, of perfectly pop to crunch grains, flecks of sweet caramelized onion and feta, and the salad of arugula with meyer lemon vinaigrette were favorites. Damn, missed the pizzette.
Pichet sent out two unbidden desserts, couldn't resist. Apple galette resists being sweet. Sophisticated flavor.
Ate like a pig and no food hangover.
That's the thing about Pichet's food. He is so confident in his ingredient and nuance that he doesn't have to muck around with reliance on cheap tricks like fat to carry flavors. If you haven't noticed, this is rare in NYC kitchens these days.
Wine? Assembled by Jerri Banks and it will soon have extensive beer list. They're looking to have several open by the glass. When I was there the list was limited, but the Lafarge Passetoutgrain ($13 btg) hit the spot.
80 Mulberry Street
Salad & Soups $8-$10
Sides $7& $8
Wine BTG $8-$19
The next day, I headed south and stayed the night with Matt Kling and Amy Lillard of
La Gramiere, ex-pats who became accidental vigneron, because as Amy said, "We do everything on impulse."
Amy laughed a particular kind of laugh, a good-natured, self-effacing laugh that seems to say, "The joke is on me!"
Earlier that evening, close to sunset, she picked me up in a near by town next to the church. This being Sunday, the town was silent, except for the cats. At the cafe adjacent to the church a man stood in the window, picking his nose without apology.
She arrive with husband Matt. Dogs barking in the car. Quick, to the vines before night fell.
This is Lauzette, her favorite, "It makes such gorgeous grenache," she said.
Then, onto their farmhouse in St. Quentin la Poterie where
Matt stuffed the ravioli .
Meanwhile, excellent hostess, she fetched a Cyril Bouchard Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs. She took that first sip with such glee I swear she was saying, "Oh goodie!"
The champagne deserved the enthusiasm and Amy deserved applause for such graciousness. The wine is all pinot noir, not dosed up, sky meets earth. Too hard to talk and sip at the same time, I left for my bedroom to retrieve my notebook. Mounting the stairs, I heard the dog bark at the wind.
I flicked the light and there on the wall, over past the bed but in jumping distance to it, I saw something dark. It was an odd shape, like an embryo with a cleft palate.
When I snuck up on the critter to investigate I saw a smaller version of this:
I knew it wasn't my mother. She was safely on the other side of the Atlantic.
"Uh, Amy?" I called down, knowing I was interrupting her bubbly. "Could you, um, come here?"
The moral of the story is if it looks like a scorpion and it's not your mother who is a Scorpio, then it is a scorpion.
Yes, it is the Rhone and there are scorpions but hell, it was January!
She claims she is not living a Peter Mayle fantasy but I think its possible she protests too much.
The next day, after a tasting of her 2009s
Amy and I went off to La Remise, a tasting of the hyper naturals.
I'm hunting the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world. I want them natural and most of all, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue. With this messiah thing going on, I'm trying to swell the ranks of those who crave the differences in each vintage, celebrate nuance and desire wines that make them think, laugh, and feel. Welcome.
And, if you'd like a signed copy, feel free to contact me directly.