What to do for Thanksgiving?
by Chad H. Arnold
We have three choices: (1) drink a lot while we cook; (2) cry like a baby; or (3) go with the Thanksgiving flow and open a few wines at a time. While not completely denying the second option, I think the third is the most fun.
Opening a number of wines at the same time will give you and your guests lots of options for mixing and matching the wines and foods, which will happily mimic the ebb and flow of the undoubtedly lively conversation. And no matter what great and dusty bottles you haul up from the cellar, it's the company and conversation that matter most.
Start by opening a few multi-vintage Champagnes - something crisp and bright to waken the palate. Try Pierre Peters ($35) or Agrapart ($27) - they are both outstanding. But if you want something with a bit more body and zip, try the amazing 1995 L'Avizoise single-vintage bottling from Agrapart. At $53, it's a bargain. What else could we open? How about a lighter-style white Burgundy, like the 2001 Petit Chablis from Hervé Azo ($13.99) or Emile Juillot's Mercurey Blanc ($23), to swing from bubbles to Burgundy?
No sensible Thanksgiving would be complete without a few bottles of great German riesling. A Kabinett or Spätlese would be perfect. Try Josef Leitz's 2002 Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Spätlese ($20) or Kerpen's 2002 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett ($19). Incredible turkey wines, both.
All of the above would be perfect wines to pass around before leaping into the splendors of pinot noir. Try something from Domaine Heresztyn, say his2000 Chambolle-Musigny ($39) or 2000 Gevrey-Chambertin 'Vieilles Vignes' ($32). Both are wickedly silky and rich, while maintaining an elegance you get with pinot noir. In addition to the marshmallow-medley and the in-laws, the good news is that none of these wines will break the piggy's back, which is nice.
Note: We stock plenty of other great Thanksgiving wines, including pinot noirs starting at $16 and Alsatian and German whites starting at $13.99. As always, we're here to help you select the best wines for your menu and budget. We'll be open from 9:00 until 8:00 on the day before Thanksgiving, closed on Thanksgiving day, and open 10:00 until 6:00 the day after.
Fun with Bubbles
by Mark Middlebrook
The most famous form of bubbles, of course, is Champagne itself - sparkling wine grown and produced in the Champagne region of France, just east of Paris. Champagne is wine made from some combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes and subjected to a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It's that fermentation - a winemaking method called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle - that gives Champagne its bubbles as well as its yeasty, brioche-y richness. But what really distinguishes Champagne from other sparkling wines is the cool, northern climate and the chalky soil in which the grapes are grown. These qualities produce tart, minerally grapes that give Champagne its unparalleled raciness and verve.
The Champagnes we drink most often are non-vintage Bruts - wines blended from grapes harvested in different years and fermented to less than 1.5% residual sugar (that is, very dry). As Chad has written elsewhere in this newsletter, Pierre Peters ($35) and Agrapart ($27, or $57 in magnum) make two of our favorite non-vintage Brut Champagnes. Both are blanc de blancs - in other words, 100% Chardonnay - which is the raciest, most high-toned style of Champagne. If you want a wine with more Pinot earthiness and body, try any of the Champagnes from Henri Billiot - non-vintage Brut ($38), non-vintage Brut rosé ($38), or 1996 Brut ($50). Other great Champagnes that we carry include the wines from Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, and Krug, so stop in and ask us for a run-down.
Plenty of places other than Champagne make delicious bubbles. Crémant is wine made in France by the same method as Champagne (i.e., secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle), but outside the Champagne region. Our favorite budget, Champagne-like wines come from Limoux, a town in the southern Languedoc near the Pyrenees mountains. We carry two Crémants de Limoux by Laurens: non-vintage Brut ($11.99) and 1998 Brut ($16). The Jura region, east of Burgundy, also makes Champagne-like wines, and we recently started carrying the best from the region: André & Mireille Tissot Crémant du Jura ($18).
Northern Italy also makes some pretty captivating bubbles. Prosecco is the name of a grape and a sparkling wine made from that grape in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. Prosecco is a little more rustic than Champagne and a little fruitier - think ripe pears. It's the perfect wine for a brunch or casual dinner. We typically stock Prosecchi from Ruggeri and Sorelle Bronca ($12.99 each) and often carry special bottlings from these producers.
Champagne, Crémant, and Prosecco by no means exhaust the bubbly possibilities at Paul Marcus Wines. For you fans of the unjustly obscure, we carry Montlouis Brut (sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire), Spumante Piemontese (sparkling Pinot Noir from northwestern Italy), and Sekt (sparkling Riesling from Germany). We also stock California sparkling wine and Cava from Spain.
While the holiday season always invites us to break out the bubbles, the other ten months of the year offer many equally good opportunities to enjoy sparkling wines. "Champagne is wine!" serves as one of our mantras at Paul Marcus Wines. In other words, bubbles of all kinds are delicious, food-friendly beverages that deserve a year-round place at your table. We kick off just about every dinner party with some bubbles, and frequently work them into the initial courses. Champagne is a splendid match with rich cheeses (for example, Explorateur) and most fish - especially oysters and smoked fish. It's also an excellent partner to many main courses, including pork, chicken, and game birds. And finally, demi-sec Champagne makes an elegant partner to lots of desserts.
So, yes, we're eager to help you choose some great sparkling wines for your holiday parties. But we also aim to welcome you into the ranks of the "Champagne is wine!" enthusiasts. The next time you're planning a dinner party, come in and ask us to help you include some bubbles in the fun.
Note: Our December 2003 newsletter will include an in-depth article on Champagne by PMW's certified Champagne nut Erik d'Azevedo. If you're eager to learn more now, check out Chad's take in Champagne - the region and the wine - in our December 2002 newsletter.
In the Spirit of Dialogue
by Chad H. Arnold
A good tasting note is as vivid as the sated snake I imagined - and can be accurate or outrageous - but it must, at least, define the limb it's out on. But sometimes wines, like books, are hard to read. Images aren't always easy to come by. That's when the finer points are illuminated by discussion. Many of the students in Mrs. Fink's biology class were able to deepen their understanding by simply telling me how ridiculous I sounded.
Writing tasting notes is like having a discussion with your palate. You have to force yourself to connect the sensations in your mind with those in your mouth. You have to use language to codify the development of your palate, but how? Make things up. Really, just begin - dare to eat the peach - chances are you'll find you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for.
I remember tasting a wine a few months ago that confused me more than usual. I didn't know where to begin. But I had to start somewhere, so I wrote fruity then sipped again, adding black. I was on my way! I wrote Tar, black raspberries & Bing cherries, adding ripe for some measure - then, my beloved; brooding. In a final frenetic flurry I wrote Doc Holliday playing Chopin's first Nocturne! I looked down at my note and said 'what the hell do I mean by that?' After a few minutes, I parsed it out. Here was a wine with playful elegance (Chopin) and a hardened world view (Doc Holliday) all at once. It was emotionally and aesthetically discordant, all over the map really, but thankfully, tasting notes allow such fickle natures to express themselves.
In the end, whatever ends up on the page will increase your understanding of the wine and get you closer to it than everything you left out. Tasting notes are extremely helpful even if you don't agree or fully understand them. And even if they're as vague or as wacky as Doc Holliday banging out a Nocturne, there is, at least, some there there.
After many years of seriously thinking and drinking, talking and listening, and reading and writing, I am thankful that there will always be another wine to open and another class to repeat. It frees me up to ask the really important questions, like 'What wine goes best with snake farcie?' I'll call Mrs. Fink in the morning.
by Mark Middlebrook
In the 1970s, producers began experimenting in two different directions - incorporating international grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot into the blend or making an unblended, 100% Sangiovese wine. At the time, Italian wine law didn't allow these untraditional wines to be labeled "Chianti", so producers created so-called "fantasy names" for these special bottlings, which came to be known as Super-Tuscan wines. Tignanello is the original Sangiovese-plus-Cabernet Super-Tuscan blend, while Cepparello and Fontalloro are two of the best 100% Sangiovese Super-Tuscans. (Yet another strain of Super-Tuscan wine is made entirely or mostly from Cabernet and/or Merlot. Many of these wines have fantasy names ending in "aia" - for example, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and Lupicaia.)
In 1984, Italian wine law caught up with the less extreme forms of Super-Tuscan practice. Since then, wine labeled Chianti must be at least 75% Sangiovese, but can include up to 10% each of Canaiolo, Tuscan white wine grapes, and international varietals. Alternatively, Chianti can be 100% Sangiovese. The original Super-Tuscans have retained their fantasy names, but when you drink Chianti these days, it might be pure Sangiovese, Sangiovese blended according to Barone Ricasoli's original recipe, or Sangiovese blended with Cabernet or Merlot.
At Paul Marcus Wines, our experience is that wine made entirely from Sangiovese, perhaps with a small amount of Canaiolo, is usually the best, most vivid, and most authentic Tuscan Chianti. Canaiolo doesn't seem to alter the flavor profile of Sangiovese significantly. Some producers include it simply because of tradition, while others claim that it helps deepen the color of Chianti. The Bordeaux varietals, on the other hand, do change Sangiovese, even in small amounts. Merlot softens and rounds out that signature Sangiovese cragginess. Used judiciously, a little Merlot results in a slightly plusher, fruitier Chianti but doesn't mask its essential Sangiovese-ness. Cabernet Sauvignon is a lot more aggressive and does tend to veil Sangiovese's more subtle character.
Many Chianti producers make two levels of wine: A normale Chianti and a special riserva bottling. In Chianti Classico, a normale wine must be aged for at least a year before it's released for sale, while a riserva requires at least two years of aging by the producer. Conscientious producers, in addition to complying with the aging requirement, make riserve wines only from their best grapes and only in vintages of sufficient quality. As a result, a good Chiantiriserva will be more full-bodied, complex, and ageable than a corresponding normale.
Brunello and Vino Nobile
he best traditional Tuscan wines, besides the top Chianti Classici, come from the regions surrounding two towns south of Chianti: Montalcino and Montepulciano. These wines are called Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, respectively. The best examples achieve astonishing concentration and complexity, but they usually need at least several years of bottle age before they're ready to drink and can take a decade or more to reach their peak.
Montalcino enjoys a warmer, drier climate than Chianti, and its soils are in general a bit sandier and rockier. In addition, the vines here produce a larger-berried, thicker-skinned grape variety called Sangiovese Grosso, which is known locally as Brunello - hence the name of the wine: Brunello grapes from (di) Montalcino. The result of these differences is a more tannic, structured, and long-lived wine. By law, Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese Grosso - no blending allowed - and must be aged by the producer for at least four years for normale or five years for riserva.
These long aging requirements allow the wine's complexity to start to develop and the tannins to soften somewhat before the bottle reaches retailers and restaurants. All Brunello repays additional bottle aging after release, but fortunately for us impatient Brunello drinkers, the recently released 1998s come from a more open, younger-drinking vintage. Thus, many of the wines are worth opening right now. We also stock vintages going back to 1995, so whether the wine is destined for the cellar or tonight's table, we can help you pick out a suitable bottle.
The other great Sangiovese-based wine of Tuscany is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, often called "Vino Nobile" for short. The village of Montepulciano lies east of Montalcino, practically a stone's throw from Umbria. The blending requirements for Vino Nobile are similar to those in Chianti: most or all Sangiovese, with the option of including Canaiolo and some Tuscan white grapes (no Bordeaux varietals allowed, though). Producers must age Vino Nobile normale for at least two years and riservaat least three years before release.
The best Vini Nobili triangulate between Chianti Classico's aromatic elegance and Brunello's power. Vino Nobile tends to be softer and broader on the palate, which makes it a great introduction to Tuscan Sangiovese for people who are used to riper, New World wines. There are fewer great producers in Montepulciano than in Montalcino and Chianti Classico, in part because larger producers have dominated in Montepulciano. But things are changing as a group of smaller, more quality-conscious producers sets up shop there.
Note that Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is not the same thing as another Italian wine called Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is Sangiovese from near the town of Montepulciano in the region of Tuscany. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is wine made from a grape called Montepulciano grown in the region of Abruzzo, east of Rome. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo can be a satisfying, hearty wine, but it tastes quite different from and usually lacks the finesse of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Tuscan Sangiovese and Food
Tuscan Sangiovese is the tomato sauce wine par excellence. Whereas many wines taste flabby against the acidity in tomatoes, the Sangiovese grape's naturally high acidity keeps the wine bright and vivid. Pizza, pasta, and most other dishes featuring fresh or cooked tomatoes taste better with Tuscan Sangiovese - and vice versa: these wines really come alive with food. Just writing this makes me want to cook up a big bowl of penne all'arrabbiata or spaghetti alla puttanesca and pop open a bottle of Chianti. (If you don't already have your own recipes for these indispensable dishes, Guliano Hazan's The Classic Pasta Cookbook will remedy the deficiency.) Sangiovese is also a natural partner to sage - the herb really leaps to life in the presence of those forest floor aromas. If you want to make someone you love very, very happy, prepare a dinner of saltimbocca (veal stuffed with sage, topped with prosciutto, sautéed in butter, and braised in white wine) and accompany it with an elegant Chianti.
The heartier wines - Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and some Chianti Classici - are wonderful companions to red meat. If you're grilling a nice piece of grass-fed steak from Enzo's, you could pay it no greater compliment than to drink it with a great Brunello, Vino Nobile, or Chianti Classico riserva.
Our favorite inexpensive wines include the bargain-priced yet good-enough-for-company 2001 Paolo Masi Sangiovese ($6.99) and darker, more complex 2001 Bruni Sangiovese Capalbio 'Moresco' ($10.99). For true Chianti Classico, try the supple, fruit-full 1999 Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico ($15.00) and 2000 Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico ($22.00), whose dense, berry-ish fruit and full body make it a perennial favorite. And when you're ready for Tuscany's finest, consider the deeply satisfying 1999 Casa Emma Chianti Classico Riserva ($30) and gorgeously perfumed 1998 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino ($51).
These are just a few of our dozens of Tuscan wines. Come in and ask us to show you our selection and help you choose a bottle for your next plate of pasta or grilled steak.
Double Duck Dinner at Baywolf Restaurant
by Chad H. Arnold
The staff at Paul Marcus Wines always goes to Bay Wolf for our semi-annual dinners. The protocol is that everyone brings at least one bottle of wine and shares it. That's five glasses each, but we weren't counting. The vinous highlights were few compared with the food. Of particular interest, however, were a 1990 Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Meursault Les Genevrieres. This thirteen-year-old chardonnay paired perfectly with the few grilled scallops I lifted from my friend Joel's plate. Other highpoints included two wines from 1993: a Corton Les Regnets from Bernard Ambroise and a Barolo from Eraldo Viberti. Both wines were decanted and were grand accompaniments to the Slow Cooked Duck entrées.
Some years ago, one of the chefs, Louis Le Gassic, once said to me while working at Enzo's, the butcher shop next to our wine shop, "only thirty more years of this and I can retire." It is clear that he has not, nor will not; say this to the intensely laid back and brilliant owner of Bay Wolf, Michael Wild. It's a good gig. And if how good you are at what you do is any indication of how much you like doing what you do, then diners for years to come are in for continual treats. It's a damn fine place to eat lunch or dinner.
Evaluating a restaurant with stars or numbers - though some editors would have it that way - is to endorse reductionism and hierarchical simplicities. Such equivalences for overall food quality, table service, wine selection, and ambiance are abstract at best. And although ambiance may be perceived as merely fancy sconces and shiny forks, ambiance hits closer to the mark because it hints at the persona of the whole restaurant. A restaurant's persona is the most important quality to engage, with body and mind, when you go out for a meal.
Robert Irwin, the Los Angeles artist, once remarked that "art is not what is in the museum; it is what one takes out." This does not mean we should rush out and steal paintings and pots from museums at will. Rather, it suggests we should think about the food and wine when we go out to eat, just as we think about what's in the museum and what we 'take with us.' It stands to reason that the better the restaurant, the more we take with us, aside from the meal itself.
The Bay Wolf persona owes its genesis to the talents and compassion of Michael Wild. More importantly by far is that this persona has been successfully passed on to the cooks and servers; the busboys and hosts - even the accountant! For the staff of Paul Marcus Wines the feeling we took with us went far beyond the majestic harmonies of grilled duck neck sausage with pistachios. In the final analysis, great aesthetic experiences make us better people. And by the way, everything else - the food, the wine list, and the service - were all stars.
2001 Michel Colin-Deléger St.-Aubin Premier Cru 'Les Champlots' ($25): This wine demonstrates once again that the St.-Aubin appellation is the source of some tremendous values in Côte de Beaune white Burgundies. (See our August 2003 newsletter for more information about St.-Aubin and the Côte de Beaune.) Michel Colin-Deléger always makes classy wines, and this one is true to form. The nose says "Premier Cru breed", as does the balanced, elegant palate. Here's a stylish companion to shrimp, crab, and anything else that cries out for Chardonnay.
1999 Camus-Bruchon Savigny-lès-Beaune 'Les Lavières' ($56 in magnum): What could be more convenient - or more fun - on your Thanksgiving table than a magnum of Pinot Noir? The bottle may look big (that's part of the fun), but as Chad always advises, "there are only 10 glasses of wine in a magnum." These 10 glasses will beguile your guests with that trademark Savigny floral-and-fruit perfume and go just great with turkey and all the trimmings. We opened one of these big guys at Chad's unforgettable large format bottle party last weekend, and the next day a goodly number of the PMW stuff grabbed bottles for our own Thanksgiving dinners.
Wine Goings-On in Berkeley
Edmunds St. John holds its 12th annual Post-Harvest, Pre-Holiday Celebration on Sunday December 7th, noon until 5:00 PM at Audubon Cellars, 600 Addison Street in Berkeley. You can taste the full range of Edmunds St. John wines (which we sell, of course), eat some delicious food, and participate in the Berkeley Public Education Foundation raffle. For more information, see http://edmundsstjohn.com/2003Shindig.html. Don't forget to RSVP: (510) 981-1510.