When I was in Chicago a few months ago, I met up with Alpana Singh at her new restaurant, The Boarding House. Alpna has reinvented herself, stepping down as host of “Check, please!” and from a corporate job at Lettuce Entertain You to open her own restaurant. Stretched vertically over three public floors, the main floor bar area at The Boarding House serves wine and pizzas made to pair with wines under the arttistic installation of 9,000+ wineglasses (only takes about 36 person hours to clean!). Although I didn’t eat there, I checked the availability of a table for two in the vaulted dining room: they were booking 10 weeks out. I think that officially makes it a hot spot.
She told me about how she got into wine, what she’s doing to resolve the dearth of sommelier jobs, wither Chicago wine is restaurant-driven or shop-driven, and which wines make people say “wow.” Oh, and which is the greatest country in the world to be in as a wine consumer. Check out my interview with her over on wine-searcher.com.
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Croatia is set to become the 28th member state of the EU on July 1. Yet the membership has hit a vinous snag: the EU requires that winemakers drop the local wine name “Prosek” since it sounds too much like Prosecco from Italy. Yet the two wines are different since Prosek is sweet, still and centuries-old while Prosecco is (mostly) dry, fizzy and a more recent creation.
“I can’t even think what would happen if our Prosek disappears,” a leading maker of the wine told the AP. He continued, “Every house here has been making Prosek. Taking Prosek away from Dalmatia would be like taking away the sea.”
What do you think–a travesty or necessary? Either way, I’m sure the “Champay” producers of red sweet wine from Turkey are reconsidering their EU support.
This Saturday, 80 wines and a swirl of NYC’s leading sommeliers will be on hand at Le Du’s wines for a benefit tasting. The proceeds go to Wheeling Forward, Yannick Benjamin’s non-profit that, in his words, “aids those that are disabled to get back to everyday life.” Yannick was profiled in the WSJ a few weeks ago.
And on next Saturday (May 11): forget “the one percent” from last year’s election–there’s a tasting in Healdsburg focusing on “seven percent.” No, this isn’t an Occupy Healdsburg event. It’s actually a celebration of wines made from obscure grape varieties–the many that dwell in the shadow of the 93% of the top eight well-known ones.
Drink like a California hipster with wines from these wineries being poured: Arnot Roberts, Bedrock Wine Co., Broc Cellars, Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery, Forlorn Hope, Idlewild Wines, Jolie-Laide, Leo Steen , Massican, Matthiasson, RPM, Ryme Cellars, Stark Wine, The Scholium Project, Two Shepherds, Unti Vineyards and Wind Gap.
Bob and Elinor Travers bought Mayacamas Vineyards in 1968 when they were just 30 years old. Bob made the wines from the vineyards high above the floor of the Napa Valley ever since. John Gilman lauds Mayacamas for not succumbing to the “tides of fashion,” calling it “one of the greatest cabernet sauvignon producers in the history of California.”
So it is big news today that the Travers have sold the property. The new owners are Charles Banks and Jay Schottenstein and his son Joey. While the Schottenstein family fortune come from retailing, such as American Eagle and DSW, Charles Banks heads Terroir Selections, a group focused on acquiring vineyards around the world. Banks was a former co-owner of Screaming Eagle.
With investments Sandhi and Wind Gap, in particular but also Fable in South Africa, Banks has become a major underwriter of restraint and balance in the wine world. Asked via Twitter who will be making the wines at Mayacamas, Banks replied, “Andy Erickson in the winery and Annie Favia in the vineyards. me making sure we keep the style and respect Bob Travers legacy.”
In an article about their new Favia wines in 2010, the SF Chronicle wrote “It’s hard to imagine a more formidable wine duo than Andy Erickson and Annie Favia.” And as to the big buzzword of the day, Favia said in the story that “the goal is balance, balance in your wines and balance in your life.”
President Francois Hollande has many notale differences from his predecessor. But the one that most concerns us: he actually likes wine.
So it may come as somewhat of a surprise that he is trimming the presidential wine cellar, putting 1,200 bottles–about 10 percent of the stash–on the block. But at least it’s for a good cause since the sale at the end of May will go toward a cellar rehab.
The cellar has some gems, as you might expect, including 1990 Petrus. But all the wines have the patina of the state functions. Virginie Routis, chef sommelière of the Palace, made the selections about which wines to put on the block. Kapandji Morhange will start the sale on May 30.
Thanks to a 2012 posting on La Feuille de Vigne, we have some intel on who liked what at the Elysée:
* Charles De Gaulle created the wine cellar
* Madame Chirac had a weak spot for Pauillac wines, which explains why they are overrepresented.
* St. Estephe? The site credits these selections to Mitterrand.
* Burghound? That was Valérie Giscard d’Estaing who was a member of the Chevalier du Tastevin.
The Senate is likely to pass a measure to have retailers collect sales tax for orders shipped out of state. The issue has been a hot-button issue since many big-box retailers perceive that online-only retailers have an unfair advantage and they have brought their largesses behind this tax equalization issue at the federal level. How would the Marketplace Fairness Act affect wine sales?
The answer is: probably not much.
Although wine e-commerce (hello, 1990s term!) has been growing, it is still hamstrung by regulations. Wineries can only ship to 36 states while retailers, who have much broader and more compelling offerings, can only legally ship to 12 states.
The other factor is shipping. If you buy a few bottles on the way home, you pay sales tax. But if you poke around online and throw some items in your virtual cart, you have to pay shipping even if you don’t have to pay sales tax currently. Let’s say the store charges $20 a case shipping, which is customary in the northeast for in-region shipments. If you’re buying $10/bottle wine, shipping is 16%, so it is almost prohibitive (unless the deal is extraordinary). If you order more than $300 worth of wine to have the shipping be less than the sales tax (assuming 7% sales tax). (Still, the online price may well be a lot cheaper than the in-store price, a phenomenon we have discussed before so it could be worth it.) If you’re ordering $300+ cases of wine, paying 7% sales tax is probably not a deal-breaker.
Such a law would therefore stand to impact wines north of $25/bottle and stores in New Jersey. Why sotres in New Jersey? Because if you do an online search for a wine, one from the Garden State usually is one of the cheapest available. Maybe there would be more shipping discounts in the wake of sales tax collection? But some of the lowest-price retailers are already extremely lean margins.
What do you think–how would the proposed sales tax bill affect your wine purchases? Or the wine industry writ large?
In a talk, the renowned innovator and leading protagonist of molecular gastronomy laid out what’s happening at the new El Bulli Foundation, the successor to the famed restaurant. The sprawling project includes a museum at the site of the El Bulli restaurant outside of Barcelona, a center in the city (“El Bulli DNA”) which will host 20 chefs as interns, and an online knowledge base known as “El Bullipedia.” It’s set to open March 15, 2015.
For one fleeting month of the year, the center in Barcelona will provide dining experiences (they will not take reservations). Half the seats will be to students and others as a form of social work. The other half will be allocated to members, with membership capped at about 200. “The first who have the chance to become members will be those who have helped us through the auctions in New York and Hong Kong,” Adria told the group in the large hall on the seventh floor at Sotheby’s. Members will also be able to spend a day with the creative team.
Along with Adria were two sommeliers from the restaurant who continue to work with the foundation. I asked them about the challenge of pairing wine with such unusual dishes. David Seijas said it was a “nightmare” pairing wines with the food since, among other factors, diners were presented with 50 (!) courses in a meal during the last year of the restaurant. Aside from the sheer number of dishes, he said a challenge was to follow the unconventional ordering which could zigzag from vegetables to seafood to game and back again with diners never knowing when a sweet course was coming or even if it would be the end. “There is no order,” he said, “there is only Ferran’s order! He loves surprises.”
Ferran Centelles, the other sommelier, agreed that it was impossible to pair wines with every dish and that they suggested a “classical” approach that was heavy on “versatile” wines, particularly champagne, Riesling, and Albraino. David noted that in the battle of food or wine supremacy, “we lost the war.” He said that diners would typically order multiple bottles.
David noted that they liked to serve the wines as their winemakers had made them and not try to zap vanilla beans with lasers into wine glasses or other such fanfare.
I chatted with David a bit more about the shocking decline of wine consumption among younger drinkers in Spain. He said his father, work worked in the front-of-house at restaurants, introduced him to wines at an early age and he loved it. By contrast, Ferran’s parents drank Coke and have shown little interest in wine even after he rose to the heights of wine service. They agreed that many younger people in Spain have switched to beer because it’s simpler and less intimidating. They say that craft beer is popular in Catalunya now, where there are dozens of local brewers.
So they are hedging themselves: along with Ferran Adria and local brewer Estrella Damm, they have made a beer called “Inedit” in the style of a Belgian witbier. Perhaps as a bridge to wine, it comes in a big bottle and is meant to be served with food.
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Tis the season to pre-buy Bordeaux. The chateaux have decided to price their wine lower on the whole, with Mouton and Margaux reducing prices by about 30% from the 2011 vintage this week. That’s generally prudent since the vintage is considered of lesser quality and it’s against the backdrop of a soft economy.
Yet perhaps the most notable item about the en primeur pricing so far is that the prices have been released before the Wine Advocate scores (due out any day) have been published. It could signal an end of an era–one US trade buyer told me that the chateau were consciously trying to break away from having prices intertwined with the Wine Advocate scores. But it also could be that some other properties are trying to get a jump on what may be bad news. Which explanation do you favor? Either way, it will be interesting to see what happens to the price of those that have been released after the Wine Advocate scores are released tomorrow.
Bucking the trend of lowering prices, two right bank producers, Pavie and Angélus, have raised their prices by 30%. Both the properties were promoted to “Grand Cru Classé A” in the reclassifcation of St. Emilion wines last year. Apparently, there have been crickets for these wines as James Molesworth tweeted “And I’m hearing after their prices increases Pavie and Angélus are moving about as much of their ’12s as Latour did… #getit?”
Chateau Latour stopped selling their wines as futures last year.