SIPPED: Jancis Robinson argues in favor of the “classics” over wines from obscure grapes just for the sense of obscurity. Twitter fight ensues.
SPIT: the legislative efforts to mandate warehousing wine in NY for 24 hours prior to end delivery have regained some momentum, unfortunately. The NY Post argues it would add $2 to a bottle of wine. Some distributors and producers have bonded together so create a web site where NY consumers can send their legislators a note of protest. #stopthecorktax
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Game time: see if you can correctly identify the photo of an official state wine cellar with the correct country, US, UK, and France.
Okay, okay, it’s photographic hyperbole — but the White House really doesn’t have a wine cellar to speak of. Downing Street (top) buys the wines on release and stores them for official occasions. Buckingham Palace has some terrific wines too as you may recall that when Obama went there on a state visit, the Queen uncorked some DRC and ’63 port. The Elysée Palace (middle) has an impressive cellar, as you might expect. The White House, by contrast, procures wines for state functions on-demand so rarely serves wines with much age on them.
The relative paucity of the White House wine cellar has its roots in our country’s love/hate relationship with alcohol: loved it so much that it became a political issue leading to Prohibition. While the shadow of Prohibition looms over the industry in the form of restrictions interstate shipments (among other things), the fact is that Americans are into wine now, as witnessed by instagram feeds or the fact that per capita consumption has increased for 20 consecutive years. So a big chunk of America would probably take pride in having some decent American wines slumbering in the White House basement.
How likely is that to happen? When pigs fly. The UK and France have both reduced their wine collections recently in the name of austerity. China introduced a ban on expensive alcohol at state banquets in the last quarter of 2011. And with an economy that’s not exactly firing on all cylinders here, there’s no way the White House would engender criticism for that kind of expenditure. Still, an American wine lover can but dream. Maybe, as a matter of national pride, Bill Koch could endow the White House with a starter collection of well-vetted wines from his cellar?
Breaking from tradition, the White House announced the wines to be served at tonight’s state dinner honoring President Francois Hollande and Madame–oh nevermind. So instead of engaging in subterfuge or speculation, we have the list. Here they are:
Morlet “La Proportion Doree” 2011 — Napa Valley, California (find this wine)
Chester-Kidder Red Blend 2009 — Columbia Valley, Washington (find this wine)
Thibaut-Jannison “Blanc de Chardonnay” — Monticello, Virginia (find this wine)
Uh, come again? These are odd wines to serve at a state dinner. First, they are modest but after getting blowback from actually serving some expensive wines, the Obama White House seems to have made a conscious choice to bring down the price of the wines. This is unfortunate: given the White House policy of only serving American wines, they really should showcase the best of what America is making, irrespective of price. Sure, State Dinners are expensive, but has anyone taken a look at the Department of Defense budget and procurement lately? Fine wine at a state dinner is the equivalent of a few toilet seats and wrenches at the DoD.
Further, the French connections here seem modest at best. Sure, Obama and Hollande went to Monticello yesterday so why not pile that on again and play the French vintner card (oh, and White House Usher Dan Shanks seems to LOVE LOVE LOVE that wine since he serves it with great regularity). A French director of winemaking at Allen Shoup’s Long Shadows project that made the Chester Kidder? Yikes, seems like grasping at straws. Why not one of the delicious wines from Domaine Drouhin in Oregon if you wanted the French vintner/Northwest angle? Or, since it is being served with beef, how about Dominus, made in Napa under the watchful eye of Christian Moueix. The 1991 is drinking beautifully and, ya know, is fit for a Président.
And the Morlet sweet white “La Proportion Doree“? Really, their “Coup de Coeur” might be their best wine to pour for President Hollande! But the French vintner thing is kind of played out by this point. Why not pour something from new wave California, inspired by France made by Americans, such as a trousseau? There are so many ways to play this other than the foursquare approach that Shanks chose.
At any rate, hats off to Michelle Obama for serving the greens and pickled vegetables from the White House garden. And, also in contrast to previous state dinners, the kitchen is using Twitter and Instagram to distribute photos of the foods. Menu after the jump.
At the dinner, guests will first enter the White House and proceed through a receiving line to be greeted inside the oval-shaped Blue Room by Obama and his wife, before exiting and boarding an old-fashioned trolley for a ride to the tent for dinner and Blige’s high-octane musical performance.
The first course will feature American Osetra caviar, farmed from the estuaries of Illinois, paired with quail eggs from Pennsylvania and a dozen varieties of potatoes from farms in New York, Idaho and California.
That will be followed by a salad of petite radishes and baby carrots on a bed of lettuce and splashed with red-wine vinaigrette made using honey from the beehive on the South Lawn. The salad will be served in a clear, glass bowl and resemble a terrarium.
The main course, dry-aged rib eye beef from a farm in Greeley, Colo., will be served with blue cheese, charred shallots, oyster mushrooms and braised chard.
Dessert is chocolate malted cake, described as a modern version of a layer cake made with bittersweet chocolate from Obama’s native Hawaii, Florida tangerines and served with vanilla ice cream from Pennsylvania. After dinner, guests can dip into a serving dish made entirely of sugar to sample fudge made of Vermont maple syrup, shortbread cookies made with lavender from Mrs. Obama’s garden and cotton candy dusted with orange zest. via AP
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When fear of wine counterfeits remains high in the wine wine auction market, bidders will pay a premium for wines with superlative provenance. Such was the case with the Burgundies from the H. B. Harris collection, which fetched $7.5 million over the weekend in Chicago at Hart Davis Hart.
Harris, a real estate developer known to his friends and family as “Bubba,” got into wine in his twenties. He amassed a trove of fine wine that he kept initially in an apartment that he had customized into a wine cellar but then switched to professional storage in 1994. He died last year at the age of 78.
The 986 lots at the Hart Davis Hart auction all sold and the total of the auction exceeded the $4 – $6 million estimate. HDH printed some of the original receipts in the catalogue. I liked the fact that Mr. Harris bought the ’85 Jayer Cros Parantoux for $68.99 a bottle or $828/case back in the day. Six of those bottles ended up selling for $101,575 on Saturday.
Wine enthusiasts know that where grape vines grow can contribute to the flavors of the resulting wine. But Pedro Parra has decided to dig a little deeper: the “terroir consultant” has excavated over 20,000 holes to study vineyard soils.
Based in Chile but trained in Paris, the Chilean has more views about soil than your average wine consumer. For one, he tries to drink only wines from a certain soil type, rather than amorphous blends. And even there, not even all soils pass the sniff test: clay soils produce wines that are too fruity and sweet for him, with sensations in the front of the mouth that he admits have broad appeal, though just not for him. He’s more of a schist, granite or limestone man.
To illustrate the flavor profiles of each type of soil, Parra led a tasting in New York City last week in a midday tasting at Hearth restaurant. Paul Grieco, a partner in the restaurant as well as the Terroir wine bars who was also chosen as the second most influential person in NYC wine, invited Parra to lead the tasting of 19 red wines, including several wines from his Chilean project, the Clos des Fous.
“When you have a chance to taste a lot of wine by rock, you will start to organize wines by rock,” Parra told the small group of people from the wine trade.
He offered us this primer:
* Limestone: you feel it first in the tongue and is more lateral.
* Schist: is powerful and lateral.
* Granite: always a little dry with a sensation more in the back of the mouth, almost in the jawbone.
* Gravel: wine is always more alcoholic and can have a burn on the nose.
* Basalt: similar to schist.
Armed with these generalities, we dove into the first flight. As they hailed from Barolo to Burgundy, there were so many factors to account for in the glass that it was hard to focus on the soil type alone. I decided that I liked limestone the best. Except for when the granite really came through. Gah–is this all a pile of schist? In the end, the most important variable was often the hand of the winemaker. That said, Parra argues there are often fundamental characteristics of certain vineyards that can’t be airbrushed out; he even told a vineyard owner frustrated at not being able to reduce the tannins in a wine that he should give up on that site and go to another soil type that would more easily produce the sort of wine he was looking to make.
Does the site actually transfer minerals from the dirt to the glass? Parra says that the discussion has lamentably been dominated by scientists. “It’s not minerals from the soil. It’s the sensation in the mouth – natural acidity or fake acidity.”
Paul Grieco, who sired the Summer of Riesling, told the group that he’s fine-tuning his winespeak: “I used to use the word minerality a shit ton; I’m trying to use different words and be more specific now.”
Soil type often leads vintners in the new world to new vineyard sites. Josh Jensen worked in Burgundy and then came back to California, looked for limestone and planted the vineyards for Calera. More recently, Keven Harvey and the team at Rhys have scouted sites scrupulously. Parra indicated that while other factors such as weather were involved, with a good site, “you start with a 50% chance of doing it better than the other guys.”
Asked about any up-and-coming areas based purely on geology, Parra surprised the room by declaring Canada as one to watch, specifically in the Okanagan Valley. He also added Armenia and Georgia, as well as a remote southern part of Chile.
In the end, there was a consensus at my table that the tasting left us with a lot of unanswered questions. That’s not a bad thing since the answers will be found in further tasting. And I’ll keep an eye out for soil types mapped on wines I’m tasting. Getting down and dirty, if you will.
I love a good documentary. I just saw “Blackfish,” about the treatment of killer whales at Sea World and thought it was effective in taking an issue that I hadn’t really thought about, making me interested in it, and giving me some basis for forming an opinion about the issue (free the whales!). “The Cove” was similar in presenting the capture and brutal killing of dolphins in Japan; that documentary was gorgeously shot had a dramatic tension as the camera crew inserted themselves into the narrative. In that vein, Morgan Spurlock’s stunt of eating McDonald’s for 30 days in “Super Size Me” was a good way of getting at the broader issue of the health and fast food. More recently, my kids and I enjoyed the “The Short Game,” a Netflix original about competitive golfing among seven and eight year olds. Again, we don’t even golf but it had good arc and did raise the issue of how much is too much competition for such young kids as well as what it takes to succeed at an early age.
This is all a long-winded background to the fact that Decanter reports that a documentary entitled “Sour Grapes” is in the works about the Rudy Kurniawan wine counterfeiting story. They say that the film is being made by a British team with the full cooperation of Laurent Ponsot and will be completed by the end of this year.
While I look forward to seeing the documentary, I’m not sure a documentary is the best treatment for the material. The Rudy saga is terrific and it definitely has the ability to draw the interest of the casual viewer not really into wine. But to me it is a character-driven story that speaks to the larger themes of hubris, duplicity, gullibility and more. In other words, the stuff of Shakespeare more than policy issues, such as dolphin hunting, orca abuse, or nutrition gone off the rails. So I hope that this documentary treatment doesn’t crowd out what I see as the huge possibility of a fictionalized movie version, in the vein of “Catch Me If You Can,” which was based on a true story of check forgery and grossed almost $200 million. However, I’m not exactly sure who is working on such a treatment of the story so I guess we as wine enthusiasts will take what we can get in terms of further exposure to the story and the wine world.
Because having a blockbuster movie about wine might just be the best way for the Rudy saga to end, assuming it gets more people into wine generally and not just into ’45 DRC RC. Look where that got some people!
We’re closing in on the start of my next wine class at NYU! Now in its eighth year. It’s open to all adult learners and, don’t worry, there aren’t any grades and the only homework is tasting wine.
In classes running for six consecutive Wednesdays, we explore the fundamentals of tasting, lap up history and geography, and delve into hot-button issues of the day. Join us–it will be fun! Starts next week.
Going, going, gone: GoVino, the “#1 best seller” in wine glasses on Amazon, has been sold. Pat Stotesbery, owner of Ladera Vineyards in Napa, has bought the developer and designer of polymer (aka “plastic”) extremely practical glasses for an undisclosed sum. He told North Bay Business Journal that the possibilities for the glasses are “endless” and he will take them to the “next level.”
SPIT: bile. Robert Parker’s most recent comments get a public airing. Drink every time you hear “extremists” or “elitists”!
SIPPING UNABATED: John Boehner says he wouldn’t give up wine (and smokes) in order to become presidents. The wine color? Red, natch.
SIPPED, not chugged. Cambridge spends $5 million a year on wine. Should we infer that they do barrel stands there instead of the more plebeian keg stands? [Telegraph]
CROWNED: NYU Stern and Yale Law will represent the US at the Bordeaux Cup in June. [winespectator]
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I think I mentioned previously my regular space over at foodandwine.com called “Dr. Vino’s Verdict.” In the series of short posts, I render judgement on pressing issues of the wine world. I can’t promise the wisdom of Solomon with my verdicts, but I do aim for more than Judge Judy.
Anyhoo, in my post over there this week, I strongly urge you to cut through the marketing clutter that suggests a different glass for each grape variety. Instead, reach for one glass–the Zalto Universal–to elevate your wine drinking experience.
Don’t you think varietal stemware is just a tad overkill?
In related news, not from The Onion, Riedel announced a $20 glass for Coca-Cola this week. But will it work for Diet Coke?
Sorry to drone on about this…but in this video some dehydrated people performing rigorous après ski in the Alps were rescued–by a drone carrying a Champagne bottle.
Without the drone, it’s hard to know where they could have ever gotten a bottle of champagne to slake their thirst. What’s that Jimmy? They’re at a bar/ski lodge not in a snow drift? Well, I guess this is is FYOB — fly your own bottle.
Bernard Magrez, owner of 40 chateaus/wineries around the world, has floated a first for Bordeaux: unmanned drone surveillance.
Vitisphere reports that he has purchased a €50,000 octocopter with a camera to surveil his own vines at the rate of 25 acres an hour. That compares with a rate of about ten for a team of eight humans. Maybe the drone will spy on workers to see if zey are ze nap in ze vineyards??
Domaine de la Romanée Conti topped the charts at Sotheby’s last year. The auction house (and wine retailer) sold $57.9 million of wine in 2013 and DRC accounted for $7.2 million of that. Almost three quarters of the DRC was sold in Hong Kong. Lafite was second at $5.2 million and Pétrus and Haut Brion tied for third with $4.6 million of each falling under the hammer.
Asked at a press conference at Sotheby’s in New York City yesterday if DRC would continue as the top wine for 2014, Jamie Ritchie pointed to the tiny production of the wine, lots of demand and the that fact that people do actually drink it, uncorking it everyday somewhere (I want to meet these people). Ritchie is the President and CEO of Sotheby’s Wine Americas and Asia.
The house doubled sales between 2009 and 2010 as sales jumped from $41.8 million to $88 million. They have declined since that high-water mark as mainland China’s thirst for wine has slowed. Even with that slowdown, several observers at the event concurred that when traveling in China’s wine circles today, there are opportunities to drink abundant amounts of fine wine every evening. Asian buyers purchased 62% of wine at their auctions around the globe.
Even if the data are, in part, driven by what they procured (e.g. their large Opus One sale), it’s good to see Sotheby’s opening up their sales data. I wish other auction houses would do the same. Charts and other stats follow after the jump.
The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at Sotheby’s: $310,700 for a jeroboam of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1945 (sold in February 2007 in New York).
The most expensive 750-ml bottle ever sold at Sotheby’s: $232,692 for a Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1869 (October 2010 in Hong Kong).
The most expensive wine auction lot ever sold at Sotheby’s: $1,051,600 for 50 cases of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1982 (sold November 2006 in New York).
Related: “Romanee-Conti’s Burgundy Gets Top Prices at Wine Auctions” [Bloomberg]
The SF Chronicle has a piece on the next generation of Napa Valley vintners. Here’s a snippet of what they’re up to:
Young, ambitious and eco-friendly, with hobbies like deer hunting and Porsche racing, the next generation of California’s wine heirs is coming of age…
Ah, yes, eco-friendly Porsche racing! Funny, with this lot, you think they’d be Scions. Anyway, there’s more:
[Loren] Trefethen had been watching TED talks and attending Summit Series events, invite-only weekend escapes at a private ski resort, and he decided to host his own event series. The Trefethen Table, as he calls it, is a dinner series curated by Trefethen and Hebb. Guests – like Gary Friedman, the CEO of Restoration Hardware, and Ido Leffler, the founder of SayYes – sit around an enormous tabletop and discuss previously arranged topics, like the art of conversation, the ocean, health and “the paradox of density.”
And now he wants to make a reality TV show out of these talks.
Janet Viader: “We get together once a month, and there’s some laughing and joking. Every now and then it’s a bitch-fest about working with family.”
“Alex Kongsgaard works for his family’s winery and on the side makes a line of wines he calls Skeletons vs. Robots (an Albarino and a Zinfandel). He draws the labels himself with a Sharpie.”
“Will Harlan came home to Napa after trying his hand at a price comparison startup. In October, he debuted Mascot, a cheaper version of his family’s high-end wine (Harlan wines can go for $750 to wine club members; the Mascot costs $75).”
So much win! Check out the full article for an inside look at this rare breed.
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Should a grape grower who practices organic viticulture be forced to spray pesticide? In the face of a bacterial malady hitting vineyards in France, the Ministry of Agriculture has decided the answer is yes.
And the New York Times editorial page is on it. Well, on it four days ago when I was under a snow bank.
INRA, the French state research institute for agriculture, has a very good page (en anglais) on the “highly contagious” and “incurable” bacterial disease called flavescence dorée (aka FD or yellowing disease). Transmitted by the leafhopper (Scaphoideus titanus), it has been affecting vines in France (and elsewhere) since the 1950s. The leaves yellow, the grapes shrivel, and the crop for that plant is lost. Forever. It can be difficult to detect, hence the directive that requires the spraying of Pyrevert, a pyrethrin pesticide.
Emmanuel Giboulot, an organic grower in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, is facing a 30,000 euro fine and six months in jail if he doesn’t spray his vines that so far haven’t shown any signs of FD. A Facebook support page for Giboulot popped up appeared and now has almost 35,000 likes.
The Times argues that “The law requiring such use in Burgundy is not only bad policy, it is terrible publicity for French wine.” While the policy question is a tough one, there’s no denying that it is horrible PR for French wine. Certainly other countries have FD and may mandate spraying as well but they have not been put under the spotlight. Probably because their authorities haven’t threatened to lock up the dissenters.