Ossian verdejo 2009 (Rueda, Spain)
This is a unique verdejo made from century+ old, pre-phylloxera (ungrafted) vines in Rueda, Spain. The grapes were organically farmed in sandy soils at very high elevations (3000ft) then fermented on their wild yeasts in French oak barrels. This wine is the brainchild of Javier Zaccagnini and his consultant Pierre Millemann; the idea was to make a Burgundian expression of verdejo.
Especially with the influence of several French wine consultants, there has been an increased use of new French oak in Spain over the last decade or so-- a trend that is lamented by some and championed by others. Some see the new investments as a revival of lost wine regions; others see it as a bastardization of classic Spanish wines.
In this wine, I think the oak works quite nicely; it made me think about verdejo in an entirely new light.
As I think about my 2014 resolutions, I thought it would be fun to review-- in pictures-- the amazing whirlwind that 2013 has been! I only hope that 2014 will be just as exciting!
2013 was the year of the cortado. Milkier than a macchiato, but not quite a cappuccino... just the right amount of espresso with frothy milk. Love this drink- the best way to start any day or New Year!
Then it was off to the Weinborse in Germany for an incredible week of riesling chasing:
Went to high school best friend's wedding at an old house along the Delaware River and found a bottle of riesling from the 1800s!
Then the annual trek to Ocracoke Island...
From above, Waiheke Island looks like an amoeba. It's winding and curvy coast line must have been a perfect place to ships to anchor a century ago. As far back as the 1700s, Captain James Cook took anchor here and saw potential for the tall, straight lumber from Waiheke to use for ship masts.
Today, the only Man O' War you'll find around Waiheke is the winery that's named after the island's heritage. The 'Dreadnought' syrah is termed after a popular sailor's phrase about one of the first battleships released by the Royal Navy, "Fear God, and dread nought."
There are upwards of 27 wineries on the island, and Man O' War is one of the larger wineries, comparatively though, as 'large' on Waiheke Island translates to about 150 acres of vineyards.
This Man O' War 'Dreadnought' syrah is planted down steep inclines with clay soils. The Hauraki Gulf that surrounds Waiheke moderates the temperatures on the island, and so diurinal temperatures are not as extreme. Varieties like syrah have a longer and slower ripening period, and a unique acidity.
2009 was an interesting year on Waiheke Island. 2008 and 2010 were great vintages, but 2009 was marked by a cool blast from Antarctica which disrupted the vines several months before harvesting in February. Weather returned to normal after the blast and the harvest went well, but this vintage carries with it a unique mark of this weather phenomenon.
Man O' War winery vinifies this syrah with wild yeasts. They punch down frequently, macerate for about a month, and then rack the wine into barrels for natural malolactic fermentation that occurs when the winery warms up in the spring. The wine rests in tanks for about 3 months before the bottle it under screw cap.
Man O' War 'Dreadnought' syrah 2009 (Waiheke Island)
The aromas are of rich, dark fruits with a smokiness and pepperiness. As the wine decants over several hours a really lovely meatiness emerges that reminds me of bacon. This wine is medium+ bodied for what syrah can be. The finish is taut and spicy, and there is a nice, brooding acidity that can stand up to heavy proteins.
Equipo Navazos 'La Bota de Palo Cortado' No. 41 (Jerez, Spain)
Founded in 2005, Equipo Navazos hunts for special casks throughout Jerez and neighboring regions, and bottles them in a numbered series. The name? Their first release was titled 'La Bota de Amontillado Navazos,' a fanciful nod to Edgar Allan Poe's famous 'Cask of the Amontillado.'
The idea of numbering the series is practical, and reminds me of the recent push for labeling Champagnes with disgorgement dates. When you number a solera product, you can reference the bottling date and accurately track bottle evolution.
This Palo Cortado from Sanlúcar de Barrameda was bottled in February 2013 by
Gaspar Florido / Pedro Romero. Pedro Romero bodega dates back to 1860 and is currently run by 6th generation family members. They recently absorbed a few other bodegas, including Gaspar Florido.
The wine is the color of light coffee, highly complex nose, aromatics of coffee, caramel, underbrush. Tart and bright on the palate. Really an interesting sherry.
Most times when you walk into a river-side restaurant in Oporto and see expensive bottles of wines sitting out in the open, standing up behind the booth where the diners are sitting in 80 degree weather you will probably be better off ordering beer. In fact, I was traveling with a group of sommeliers and we all brought our own bottles to dinner.
But after enough sardines and some sleuthing, Sur Lucero found this bottle stored in the coolest corner of the restaurant, in the dark underneath the booths, and we all took the gamble!
In fact, we took just as much of a chance as Fernando Nicolau de Almeida did when he first conceived of this wine. Almeida first made this dry red wine to showcase the possibilities of dry, non-port-style wines from the Douro region. With his experiments, he re-cast what Douro wines could be in the eyes of export markets, and his son, João Nicolau de Almeida (winemaker at Ramos Pintos), continues his work with dry reds today. It's a historic label that has helped reshape the current production of the Douro.
So-- given the environmentals-- the bottle was a roll of the dice for us, and sometimes, you rake in the winnings. We all gathered around the decanter in anticipation; we decanted the bottle over someone's iphone flashlight...... and we were in luck! The bottle was singing, and it was so special to drink this on the banks of the Douro. In fact, I'll never forget it: while we were drinking it, someone paid an accordionist to perform by our table. We all expected to be lulled by a magical Amelie-like waltz as we drank this lovely wine, but instead, we got a 15 minute long rendition of accordion Macarena! Yet even that couldn't tear our noses from the glass. In a way, it seemed right: iphone flashlights and historic wine, the Macarena from an accordion, the past and the future colliding in such a way that tradition and modernity are obscured, and this bottling-- once revolutionary and a signal of a new era-- is now an historic marker of a new tradition on the Douro's ever changing timeline.
Thinking about it now, I'm curious to compare Barca Velha pre-Sogrape and post-Sogrape; to compare Fernando's vision of Barca Velha with Luis'. An old wives tale states that Fernando knew it would be a Barca Velha vintage when he'd bring home a shiner to his wife-- if they finished the bottle before dinner was over, he knew it was good enough to be Barca Velha!
Barca Velha is only made in certain vintages. This is what I could piece together about which winemaker participated in the individual Barca Velha vintages:
1952- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida
1954- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida
1964- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida
1965- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida
1966- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida
1978- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida*José Maria Soares Franco joins Ferreira in 1979
1981- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, with José Maria Soares Franco participating
1982- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, with José Maria Soares Franco participating
1983- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, with José Maria Soares Franco participating
1985- Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, with José Maria Soares Franco participating
*the family sold the winery to Sogrape in 1987
*Luís Sottomayor joins the company in 1989
1991- José Maria Soares Franco / Luís Sottomayor
1995- José Maria Soares Franco / Luís Sottomayor
1999- Luís Sottomayor
2000- Luís Sottomayor
2004- Luís Sottomayor
2009- Luís Sottomayor
This is a Trouxas-de-Ovos, a sweet dessert popular in Portugal around harvest time. It's a rolled wrap made from sweetened egg yolks. The plentiful yolks are a byproduct of the wine business-- wineries use lots of the whites for fining the wines, so when left with bucketloads of yolks, they make this dessert. Find a recipe here.
It's interesting to see how the ins and outs of winemaking have helped to drive regional cuisine. This is just one example of many-- egg yolks feature prominently in Portuguese pastries.
What a joyously fruity and happy frappato this is! Just like the New Year.
This bottling comes from Lamoresca, a decade-old polycultural farm bursting with biodynamic olive trees, fruit trees, grain fields, and vines. In the past, most vineyards thrived on farms that produced other products. But in the last century, in the wake of industrialism and as the financial kickbacks from wine outgrew other products like grains and fruits, the winery paradigm moved toward more monocultural philosophies. In the last few decades there has been a revival of winery-farms that produce many products, and it's great to see this (Ngeringa, Millton, etc.). With a focus on a diversity of plants, pollination is often easier, and these types of farms attract unique communities of microorganisms, insects, and animals that can enhance the growing environment.
Frappato's genetic parentage is likely Sangiovese X Unknown (Di Vecchi Staraz et al. 2007:514-524; Harding et al. 2012:365). It doesn't remind me much of sangiovese, though. This is one of the juiciest and fruitiest wines I've had in a long time-- like biting into a ripe and fresh, sun-warmed black cherry. It's farmed pesticide-free, no sulphur is used in the vinification, macerated at least 3 weeks, and aged in large, neutral barrels. The name 'nerocapitano' is a hail to one of frappato's synonyms. Frappato is plentiful in Sicily, and is usually used as a blending grape with heartier varieties. The grape variety dates back to at least 1760, when the first known record of it occurred (Harding 2012:365).
It's such a my me how wine can taste so fresh and juicy years after it was produced...
Di Vecchi Staraz, Manuel, Patrice This, Jean-Michel Boursiquot, Valerie Laucou, Thierry Lacombe, Roberto Bandinelli, Didier Vares, and Maurizio Boselli. (2007) 'Genetic Structuring and parentage analysis for evolutionary studies in grapevine: kingroup and origin of cv. Sangiovese revealed.' Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science. 132, 4: 514-524.
Harding, Julia, Jancis Robinson, Jose Vouillamoz. (2012) Wine Grapes. New York: Harper Collins.
The word sommelier has come to us byway of an interesting etymological journey. A somier (Old French for 'pack animal'), was watched over by a sommerier. A sommerier's responsibility included the animals and their cargo. Sommerier mutated into soumelier, and the meaning slightly shifted-- a soumelier (a Middle French word) was responsible for transporting supplies. The spelling and meaning slightly shifted again-- a sommelier was someone in charge of a specific type of cargo. Now, this term refers exclusively to beverages, and sometimes cigars (Parr & Mackay 2010:4).
During the 1300s in England, the royal butler would source wines for the king. We can reasonably concur that many butlers in wealthy households also procured wine for their households. In the butler's records from this time we can see interesting trends: Some years, just before harvest (in late summer) there would be a shortage of wine-- the previous year's wine having been consumed. The price of wine would rise sharply, then fall again when the new vintage became available. The butler would buy heavy in poor years for the household's table wine, but in good years the butler would buy larger quantities of the best wines for the king's personal consumption, and less bulk purchases for household consumption (James 1971:6-7). In a way, the sommeliers in most restaurants today echo similar rhythms and trends: we try to concentrate our higher end bottle selections in the finest vintages, and look for good declassified wines in less-acclaimed vintages for the house pours.
The modern day sommelier emerged alongside the modern day restaurant. Public dining used to happen in a tavern-like form: diners would eat whatever stew, pie, or meal the tavern owner had made that day. The phenomenon of the a la carte menu didn't occur until during the French Revolution. The word restaurant comes from a French root word that means "to restore," and these first dining venues were seen as places to eat restorative food during the trying times of the Revolution. By 1782, two of the first a la carte restaurant menus at Antoine Beauvilliers 'Beauvilliers' and 'Boulanger' offered made-to-order dishes in France (Bakas 2011). Another early restaurant, Boeuf a la Mode (1792-1936), also helped cement this new genre of eating establishment into a form with an assured future. André Jammet, formerly an owner of the NYC restaurant La Caravelle and a descendant from a family with centuries of French restaurant experience, notes that the chef profession was once a patronized job funded by the European aristocracy. After the French Revolution-- with the aristocratic class wiped out-- many chefs found themselves without a job and began to open up small shops cooking for the public. This was the impetus for these early 18th century restaurants.
These venues began to require beverage professionals, and the first sommeliers laid the foundations of our current discipline. Early wine stewards were usually rejected cooks, kicked out of the kitchen and sent to the basement, usually with a chip on their shoulder (Steinberger 2008). But early sommeliers had much different jobs than we do today; they dealt with negociants and barrels, and a few bottles here and there. Estate bottling only became the standard format for transporting wine in the mid-1900s.
During the Fin de Siecle, most Americans visiting Paris were suspicious of sommeliers and weren't shy about publishing their concerns in the New York Times, citing high wine prices and Champagne selections as the main concerns (Anonymous 1887; Parr & Mackay 2010:4). In Manhattan, the careers of two of NYC's earliest sommeliers launched at The Algonquin Hotel in 1930s and 1940s. Here, Elizabeth Bird and Francois waited on the famous Round Table club of writers. Francois & Elizabeth's careers coincided with one of the most exciting times in wine: the era when wineries began to estate bottle and ship corked glass bottles with labels on them. This shift in format paradigm changed what a restaurant wine list could be. Browse through the pages of the Lutece 1962 wine list-- a list that was cutting edge 50 years ago. Then browse through the current wine lists at Daniel or Eleven Madison Park-- huge tomes that hold a hundred times more than the Lutece list-- made possible by the change in wine trade format. With wine packaging easily accessible in one-meal portions, suddenly restaurants could collect many more varieties of bottles in their cellars than previously had been possible. Bottles could be aged differently, and provenance was more trustworthy knowing the wine had been bottled at the estate and not at a negociant's warehouse.
With these growing restaurant wine lists, growing wine cellars, and a consumer demand for variety and knowledgable service, came the demand for the sommelier profession. The lively and popular sommelier profession as we know it today is a recent development made possible by the challenges and changes of the 20th century. Tremendous growth in the sommelier industry carries with it just a few decades of recent history.
But how does the present day sommelier differ from a sommelier in the mid-1900s?
A Second Career, and the Renaissance of Interdisciplinary Exchange
Many US sommeliers I meet were once on a career path for something completely different, but through often tumultuous circumstances, found wine. I hear this same story again and again, and even lived it myself. Browse through a few of Levi Dalton's sommelier interviews on the I'll Drink to That podcast, and you will see how many sommeliers came to restaurants after a different career. Pascaline Lepeltier? She was studying philosophy. Jeff Porter? High school teacher. Thomas Pastuszak? A pianist. Matt Stinton? An actor.
I'll posit that most of us come to being sommeliers after a first career because the legal drinking age in the US is 21, and most people graduate college and set their career paths long before they have exposure to inspiring wine. Then in our 20s, after setting the course, we become entranced by wine and are confronted with a crossroads: break away from the chosen career path and commit to the restaurant lifestyle, or stay the course and be a wine enthusiast on the sidelines. There are exceptions. Grant Reynolds discovered wine in a study abroad program to Piedmonte. Roger Dagorn was incubated in a sommelier household. And in other countries, an early connection with wine is more easily forged.
But despite the lucky few who found their callings early in life, the plethora of people coming to wine from different careers has had a profound effect on the industry. In just about any area of study, when an infusion of interdisciplinary ideas merge, there is usually a renaissance of some kind. In the Manhattan market, I've been amazed by this phenomenon. When people come to restaurants from a science background the operational data of the restaurants are enhanced. I worked once with an MIT guy who instated some of the most incredible spreadsheets I've ever seen for tracking wine. The spreadsheets help go through the motions of wine ordering and inventory evaluation much faster, and the sheets have since been passed around from restaurant to restaurant. Now the entire restaurant industry is better because of this simple way of seeing things from an engineer's perspective. When people come to restaurants from an acting or theater perspective, the dining experience can be enhanced for the guests-- many former actors find correlations between service and acting and have taught the tools of entertainment to their FOH colleagues. When people come to restaurants from a dancing career, the movement in the dining room can be almost like choreography. Per Se famously brings in ballet dancers to teach their staff how to move with grace. When people come to wine from a teaching career, their tableside manner and philosophies on staff education can be revolutionary. When people come to wine from a writing background, the quality of tasting notes and the day-to-day verbal jargon becomes enhanced with more meaningful vocabulary. When former cooks come to being sommeliers, they bring with them an enhanced depth of food and beverage pairing that can inspire the entire industry. When different disciplines collide, new genres and ways of doing things emerge, and this incredible, culture-rich phenomenon is happening right now in the sommelier community.
The modern-day sommelier emerged from the violence of the French Revolution, but the future of the profession is blossoming into a beautiful web where snippets of wisdom from all walks of life come together and express the multi-dimensional magic of wine.
Anonymous (1887) "The Bill at Bignon's" New York Times. 10 April 1887.
Bakas, Rick (2011) "The History of Restaurants & Dining." Wine Country Eating.
James, Margery Kirkbride. (1971) Studies in the Medieval Wine Trade. Oxford: Clarendon.
Jammet, André. (2013) Personal Communication at a wine event in NYC. December 30.
Parr, Rajat and Jordan Mackay. (2010) Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World's Top Professionals. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Steinberger, Michael. (2008) "A Turn of the Corkscrew." Slate. 2008 January 2
I’m Erin, and I’m thirsty for drinks and the secrets they hold. Wine is my main game, but I’ve been known to love a cocktail here and there, and who doesn’t like a good beer on the regular? This blog is for wine/spirits/beer geeks. No beverage will be left unsipped!