Yikes this is a hot one!
A producer sent a letter to another producer that scored wine critics in a manner that is similar to how they score wine and it is both illuminating and incendiary. Somehow the letter got leaked and Don Kavanagh wrote an article for Winesercher.com about it, find it here. With thirty seconds of internet sleuthing, the offending letter is found in original french. Check it out here in low resolution (Ouch!).
I must admit, I have never been a wine critic follower. There are some wine writers I really appreciate, but more for their stories about wine regions and history of producers than the notes they give on actual wine flavors and then scoring them. I have my own method of evaluating a wine based on it’s region and grape typicité.
Unfortunately for very expensive, hard to get wines a wine critics notes may be the only way to determine if a wine should be purchased for aging or for selling in a restaurant or retail shop. This is a sad reality. There are some wine critics who I vaguely pay attention to when I have no other option, but I am careful to judge the ratings with a major dose of suspect. I trust my own palates experience with a producers and that producers history more than most critics. However, if I hear of a producers style changing or a new winemaker or viticulturist, I look further into things to see if there could be problems.
This is a great article and worth reading.
Just saw this article from the NY Times about recipes for Asparagus and thought of the issues some foods create for pairing with wine. Asparagus is notorious for such. The asparagusic acidity in the vegetable is what creates that problem in pairing. This acidity along with the intensity of chlorophyl can make wines taste metallic and astringent. Wine is full of it’s own types of acidity and these can either pair or clash with certain styles of cuisine. Shellfish and Cabernet Sauvignon is notorious as is almost any wine with artichokes.
I happen to love asparagus and almost always drink a glass of wine with dinner, so creating a manner to make that paring more acceptable was a priority. One of the times that I was forced to consider how to pair asparagus and wine was for a wine dinner I did with Freemark Abbey when my friend Joseph Carr was working with them.
The key to creating a great pairing is balancing out the flavors and as acidity is one of the most prevalent flavor components in both wine and food, that is where to focus the efforts. Oak and alcohol can be stumbling blocks, so careful with wines heavy in those two areas. If you need to drink a wine with higher alcohol or heavy in oak or both then the dish must be adjusted somehow to allow such a pairing. How I did this with Freemark Abbey Chardonnay and Asparagus was to grill the vegetable after drizzling with olive oil, then dress with diced grilled pancetta and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. All of these little tweaks balance the acidic flavors of Asparagus so wine won’t clash. The same technique and theories can be applied to any food that has problems with high acidity and pairing with wine.
Artichokes, Chocolate, Hummus, Mexican Cuisine, Salad Dressing, Tomatoes and Blue Cheese are some of the tougher pairings. Some you adjust the dish or cooking process others, you make interesting wine selections and others you look to the country or region that the cuisine comes from and pair how the locals do.
I stole that name from a New York Rangers Hockey Blog, it was the nickname of JT Miller, a young player that the coach always benched for little mistakes. All the while letting other players make massive mistakes and continue playing plenty of minutes.
After being in the wine business for many years, I have discovered that I am indeed the Hated One when it comes to wine sales people. Apparently when I work hard to find great wines that fit one of my clients needs, tastes very good for the category and makes the client money, I am an asshole. Due to being a consultant, I take my responsibilities seriously in finding the right wine with the right profitability and the right competitive pricing. This means that that if the wine fits my clients needs and current budget, I will buy it. If the wine fits a sales organizations goals and needs and not mine… sorry. I work for the restaurant or retail store that pays me. Though some days the wine industry feels like what it might have been like just before and after Prohibition ended, it is not the proper way and is not good for the consumer. But there are laws in the wine industry prohibiting graft and payola. In New York, the State Liquor Authority oversees the industry an gives fines, suspends licenses ect. for violations. But some of the biggest Wine & Spirit Companies have teams of attorney’s with contacts or history with the legislators sooo….
So my view on graft and payola is that it hurts the consumer. If a company is giving cash for placements on shelves or bar or wine lists, this money is not reflected in the price of the product for the consumer. The consumer is getting an inferior product for the price of something that should be better due to the costs. As a former restaurant owner, I worry about the consumer… why? Because if they are not satisfied they go somewhere else and the restaurant or store looses business. Wine drinkers like restaurants and stores that give them value and knowledgeable guidance.
Wine has become very competitive and some companies use payola and graft to get an edge.
So due to my concern for my customers (clients) and their customers (diners & retail consumers), I am hated by many sales people. But some sales professionals understand, they taste me on things that I want. If some of those wines meet my needs and standards… done. If a sales professional need a sale of something to satisfy a supplier, company executive or manager, ask me. If I can help, I will.
When I first joined the “tribe” of street wine peddlers, one of the first places I called on was a little store in Southampton, NY that had just been bought by a new owner. Judy and Charlie were new to the business and I knew how the liquor and wine sales teams would pounce, selling them cases of stuff like Campari or other such that a store would only need a bottle or two of. You know, someone trying to fill a quota in a simple, one shot way.
As I was working for a small wine company (American Estates, small division of Lauber Imports) and was a former wine buyer for restaurants, I offered a touch of guidance on things that might wait on their purchasing and what products might be priorities. That tiny bit of guidance turned into a twenty year friendship that includes my family visiting them at their winter hiatus spot in Lake Tahoe and skiing together. Charlie is the greatest Senior Skier I have ever skied with, he and I have had some wonderful days struggling through the steeps and deeps with my son in tow.
Given their gracious hosting of us and participation in our skiing adventures, my wife and I would always put together a collection of wines to bring from our cellar to enjoy with them. Always we’d bring more than needed and leave the rest. The bounty always included things my wife and I thought were special from Burgundy, Bordeaux to Napa, Sonoma, Willamette and Santa Barbara. Things like 1978 Beychevelle, 1986 Lynch-Bages 1992 Staglin, 1995 Clos de la Roche from Dujac, Foxen Pinot Noir, Forman Cabernet Sauvignon and others. Judy and Charlie always complained about the largesse of it but what a great time. We’d cook and drink after a long day of skiing or take some wines to a local restaurant and pay the corkage.
Soooo… on to last nights wine adventure. We were asked to join them for dinner at their house near Sag Harbor, NY. My wife was told the menu would include braised lamb, so we wanted to bring something nice with us. I chose a 1998 Fanti Brunello di Montalcino and a Luna Vineyards Canto (a sangiovese blend from Napa Valley). Things we thought would be a nice compliment to braised lamb. When we arrived they greeted us at the door we explained our wines, then Judy carefully put a white bottle box in my hands and asked that I (again carefully) look inside. What I found was this:
A tattered labeled bottle of 1945 Leoville Las Cases. The bottle was in the store when Judy and Charlie took over and at the time they thought this and the Petrus (which became a donation) and others of the ilk were over-priced in the purchase and inventory of their deal for the store (1994 ish). Those in the industry understand what has happened to such wine values since!
The bottle stayed in a dark corner of the stores basement wine storage since they took over and likely was there many years before. Judy checked the provenance at some point in the past and it passed her litmus test. The only reason she didn’t use it for a donation to a worthy cause (hospital benefit or the like) was due to the rather rough look of the label.
Surprising for me was the way the cork came out of this 67 year-old wine. I was worried, because I didn’t have an ah-so corkscrew (can it be a corkscrew if it doesn’t screw). But with a double hinged corkscrew I was able to remove 98% of the cork before a tiny piece refused to follow along.
5 Course Wine Dinner & Cellar Tasting March 8th 2013
These events were started last year and patrons have been asking for their return. Instead of the same-old Wine Dinner which have become quite “done”, I have opted for a tasting seminar that I lead in our historic wine cellar. We taste a group of six wines that I give background on the wines, locations, grapes and any producer specific information and this is paired with hors d’oeuvres.
After this 30-45 minute tasting, the guest are seated for a pre-fixe tasting menu that they can choose which wines they would like to pair with each course. With the help of our Sommelier, Henri Santarem of course.
2010 Chablis “Fourchaume” 1er Cru, Domaine Jolly et Fils
2009 Chardonnay “Hanzell Vineyard” Zepaltas, Sonoma Valley
2002 Clos-Saint-Denis Grand Cru, Guy Castagnier, Côte de Nuits
2008 Pinot Noir “La Neblina”, Radio-Coteau, Sonoma Coast
2009 Reserve Red, Beau Pere, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
2007 Château Cordeillan-Bages, Pauillac, Bordeaux
First Course: Juniper cured gravlax with citronette & herb chiffonade
Second Course: Veal carpaccio on lemon marinated artichokes, truffle aioli and caperberries
Third Course: Cardamom blackened codfish filet, lardons and a creamy shallot puree
Fourth Course: Boeuf ourguignon with rosemary dusted potato puree
Fifth Course: Tarte Tatin
Call the restaurant for more information at 631.324.5006