Friday, May 4, 2012

Wine Store Power Rankings!

First of all, Wines Over Somerville is now on Instagram (we're worth at least $4 of that billion).  Check us out @wines_over_somerville

So, remember last time (a mere month ago), when I lamented that it had been so long since I'd last written, and that I was going to definitely, for sure, absolutely write more?  Well that didn't quite happen.  As has become a theme here at Wines Over Somerville, I planned to write during a vacation, and instead spent that vacation doing something else (in this case 9 rounds of golf in 9 days, but I digress).

My Blog Enrichment Guru (that's his official job title), has helped me brainstorm a series of recurring segments that will both motivate me to write and will be useful to you, my fives of tens (on a good day) of readers.

Today brings the first of these segments, something I like to call "Wine Store Power Rankings."  It's based off the numerous power ranking polls on such as this one.  They're modeled off the AP Top 25 poll (and coaches poll, and Harris poll, and my favorite, the dubious NY Times poll) that are ubiquitous within college sports.  The reason I modeled this after the power rankings, is it doesn't require voting from other people.  Wines Over Somerville is a one man operation (except for my Blog Enrichment Guru), so I wanted complete control over the rankings.

So, without further ado, the first weekly (biweekly? monthly?) Wines Over Somerville Wine Store Power Rankings:

Explanation: These are stores that I have shopped at.  Some I shop at frequently.  Others I visit occasionally or rarely.  They have made the list either due to sheer selection and price or because of something unique about them that sets them apart from the competition.  I have tried, and largely failed, to spread these out geographically so as to make them of as much interest as possible to my readers, however, as I have been based in Brighton/Cambridge/Somerville for my three years since college, they are somewhat centered around those areas.  I look forward to suggestions from my readers for shops I should visit.

This is a dynamic list, meaning it will be updated whenever something changes about it, perhaps weekly, perhaps monthly.  I shop at different wine stores at different times of year depending on what I drink at that time.  For instance, Winestone, BLM, and Cambridge Wine & Sprits all have amazing selections of Rose, which is what I crave in the summer.  Marty’s often has great deals on American syrah, which I crave in the fall, and etc. 

Much like the power rankings of sports teams on ESPN, or the top-25 polls in college sports, these are merely opinions.  I hope that as the rankings evolve, I can get more “voters” and actually make this a list devised by a group rather than just myself. 

The top 3 in this list are very close, and depending on mood, any of them could be in the top spot.  I have included an “also receiving votes” section to highlight stores that I shop at that didn’t quite make the cut.  These are stores usually that I am just discovering, or who may have one great strength but lack the across the board selection to make the top ten list.

Strengths: American Craft Beer, Belgian Beer, Old World Wine, Greek Wine, Sweet Wine, Spirits.   
Weaknesses: New World Wine, Low-End Bottlings.   
X-Factor: Succeeds in a very difficult location.  Somerville is not the affluent, wine-buying community that I sometimes portray it to be!

2.     Winestone  
Strengths: USA Wine especially east coast producers, Italy, Loire Valley, Germany/Austria/Luxembourg/Switzerland.   
Weaknesses: Spirits/Beer/Sweet Wine, Size.  
X-Factor: Selection is impeccably curated, staff is unbelievably helpful.  Winestone makes up for being by far the smallest store on this list by having absolutely no "throwaway" selections.  Looking for a magnum of Yellowtail Shiraz/Cabernet?  Don't come here.  Looking for 15 bottles under $13 from Italy alone?  Do come here.

3.     Marty’s 
Strengths: USA, Burgundy, Loire, Rhone, Italy, Spain, Sparkling Wine, BEER (easily the best beer selection in the area), spirits.   
Weaknesses: Atmosphere (feels big and brusque), Germany, New World, East Coast.   
X-factor: huge amount of discounted wine, incl 50% off rack (this rack is legendary), deli attached

Strengths: USA, Loire, Bordeaux, Rose, Sprits, Beer.   
Weaknesses: Italy, Spain, Portugal, Foreign Beer, Local Beer (for a store that has such a large beer selection, they have few of the local up and coming breweries stocked).  
 X-Factor: On my commute, rarely crowded, huge volume

5.     Trader Joe’s 
This one could be a controversial selection, so I'll abandon my strengths/weaknesses/x-factor format and give a concise explanation of why I like shopping for wine at TJ's.  Trader Joe's offers an unparalleled selection of wines for $10 and under, and an absurd selection at the $7 or less price point.  These are prices that will land you sheer crap in a big store (yellowtail/woodbridge/little penguin/etc.) but they manage to deliver some drinkable wines.  Now--before we get ahead of ourselves--there is A LOT of shitty wine at TJ's (overly confected red wines are a problem), but there is some really good wines, especially foreign whites.  My main concern with TJ's is that once a wine is discovered as excellent, the production usually ramps up in the next vintage and it turns into a shit wine (see Gypsy, Chariot). 

6.     Vinnin Sq. Liquors 
Strengths: USA chardonnay and cab, New World wine, spirits, USA and foreign beer.   
Weaknesses: France, Italy, Spain. 
X-Factor: Price (often several dollars cheaper than the best alternative), location (the north shore isn't exactly hopping with competitors)

7.     Brookline Liquor Mart 
Strengths: Old World wines, natural wines, closeouts, tastings.  
Weaknesses: Beer, current vintages (The often over-order wines and then try to foist them off on people who don't know any better.  For example, there are still some 2004-2005 rose sitting around...which is disgusting)
X-Factor: The location is great and they have parking available.  Their staff is incredibly knowledgeable...BUT they aren't that helpful unless you prove you know what you're talking about.  Or as we call it, good old fashioned Yankee service.

8.     Blanchard’s 
Strengths: Old world wine, New world wine.  
Weaknesses: Beer.   
X-factor: Located in West Roxbury, which needs a place like this.  I am just becoming acquainted with this store, so look for it to move higher on the list as I become more familiar and comfortable with it's selections.

9.     Wine Cask 
Strengths: France, Spain, Italy, Spirits, Sweet wine.   
Weaknesses: new world wine.   
X-factor: cheese/meat/coffee

Strengths: Beer, Beer, Beer, solid wine selection.   
Weaknesses: Crowded, small inventory.   
X-factor: punches way above its weight.  There is no way a small, stereotypical packie should be able to find its way on this list.  But the selection is solidly curated, especially the beer selection (they were one of the first to pick up local brewer Slumbrew) and it's damned convenient, right in the porter square mall.

There you have it.  I hope this helps.  Sorry for the lack of pictures/other visual stimuli, but this post didn't really lend itself to them.  Check out our new instagram account at @wines_over_somerville

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

WOS Live-Blogs the NCAA Championship Game

First Off: an apology--it's been too long since I've written.  C'est la vie.

So, I once said I wasn't going to become the Bill Simmons of wineblogging, but I'm doing exactly that with this post.  Some background: I've been a Kentucky fan for as long as I can remember.  My mom's family is from Louisville (via the Hardinsburg area), and I grew up watching UK games with my grandmother when we visited.  As everyone knows, when you're indoctrinated that early, it's hard to shake.  So last night, on the advice of my blog consultant guru, I live-blogged the event.

I got home closer to tip-off than I expected, because I was at Winestone picking out wine to go with my mom's easter dinner on Sunday.  I settled on a Szigeti Sparkling Gruner Veltliner to start off, a 2009 Raffault Chinon "Les Galuches" to go with the main course of grilled butterflied leg of lamb, cheese grits, and other delicious stuff.  To finish off, a 2010 Michele Chiarolo Moscato d'Asti "Nivole" with the dessert of ricotta pie.  There was collateral damage, as there nearly always is at Winestone, and I'll write about those wines soon enough.

On to the live blog:

8:30 - 53 minutes to tipoff, and I'm watching "Live from the Masters" on ESPN.  Lack of actual pregame coverage is a huge mistake by CBS.  That being said, the Masters is one of my 5 favorite sporting moments every year, and I'd probably be watching this anyway.  (Wimbledon, Super Bowl, NCAA champ., Masters, KY Derby, thanks for asking).  This is an enormous matchup tonight.  Kentucky and Kansas, UK and KU, the two winningest programs in college basketball history, Anthony Davis vs. a giant white guy, two of the best recruiters in the game, the storylines are never ending, just like Anthony Davis' eyebrow.  I'm a die-hard Kentucky fan.  I was raised watching UK games at my grandmother's house in Louisville (she was class of '55 at UK), and used to throw shit at the TV with her as she yelled "Reeeebound that basketball."  My first sentient college basketball memory is the Laettner shot (thanks UPS for reviving that.  Don't know whether the Buckner clip or that one is worse to watch), and I was spoiled by the Pitino championship in '96, and the championship Tubby won with Pitino's recruits in '98.  I lived through the Billy Gillispie era.  This is my favorite Kentucky team to watch since the '04-'05 team with Rajon Rondo feeding Randolph Morris.  Yep, better than the Wall/Bledsoe/Patterson/Cousins/Random 5th guy team from '09-'10.  So, I'm a little nervous.

8:39 - What am I drinking tonight?  Well, right now a Victory HopDevil IPA which is a generously hopped India Pale Ale.  Really enjoying this one.  Good tropical fruit bitterness from the hops, but a solid malty core that balances it nicely.  What will I be drinking for the game? Probably some Racer 5 IPA, some Great Divide Colette Saison, and some Victory Prima Pils.  And if Kentucky opens up a huge lead and things look good, then I'll be popping a 2010 The Forager Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast or a Mystic Brewery Descendent Suffolk Dark Ale aged in Bourbon Barrels.  And if Kentucky get crushed?  I'll be drinking a shitload of Brooklyn Summer Ale and feeling much like I did after the Super Bowl (i.e. not pretty).

8:52 - Just ordered Thai food.  Getting more and more nervous about the Davis/Withey matchup.  I don't like Davis going up against someone taller than him.  That said, you could be 13 feet tall and not block Davis' turn around jump hook.  This just in: IPAs are awesome with thai food.  For the same reason that reislings and gewurztraminers are--awesome fruity characteristics play well with the spicy sweet combo of most Asian foods.

8:53 - That being said, after a close victory over Rick Pitino's hair, John Calipari's hair is a CLEAR favorite over Bill Self's hair.

8:55 - In case you were wondering, here are my 5 picks for the Masters not named Tiger/Phil/Rory: 1) Keegan Bradley (can bomb it, has won a major),  2) Hunter Mahan (won the match play and last weekend, can go really low), 3) Adam Scott (Steve Williams knows this course really, really well), 4) Bill Haas (no holes in his game), and 5) Sang-Moon Bae (My sleeper pick.  This kid can flat out play)

9:01 - CBS has kicked off coverage with a Kansas/Kentucky montage to "We are Young" by Fun.. (yep, intentional double period...the band's name is "Fun.")  Steve Kerr, Jim Nantz, and Clark Kellogg are sitting just a litttttle too close, perched on 3 tiny stools.  Can't someone just get these guys a broadcast booth to do pregame?

9:04 - CBS steals my thunder by highlighting Darius Miller's importance to the Wildcats.  If I'm Cal, I bring Miller on as soon as I can in place of Lamb, hell I might even start him.  This guy played through the Billy Gillispie era.  Think this is going to scare him? When I imagine the Gillispie era, it's just a continuous loop of a manic Gillispie drunkenly yelling at this players during practice that they'll never be as good as Acie Law.

9:09 - Charles Barkley's delivery has more hitches than his golf swing.

9:10 - According to Seth Davis, Kentucky's offense is good.  Go figure.

9:11 - Is anyone doing more to revamp their reputation than John Calipari has done with his interviews during this tournament?  He is coming across as not only genuinely likable, but as someone who really cares about his kids.  Meanwhile, Bill Self is a horrible motivational speaker.  

9:15 - 3/4 of the talking heads pick Kentucky.  The only prediction that makes me happy is Barkley saying it won't be close.  I love blowouts.  I hate close games.

9:18 - This has to be one of the worst, if not the worst, national anthem ever.  Bill Self looks so confused by it.  Also, notice that this marks the only time tonight that there will be 4 white guys on the court from the same team.  Congratulations, The Fray, you're whiter than Kansas.

9:27 - I'm so nervous I can barely watch the tip off.  I'll check in at the media timeouts.

9:36 - How do they not even look at that foul on MK-G? Looked flagrant-1 to me, but then again I'd rather they let them play in the finals.  Davis looked a little bit overawed at the start but is bringing the intensity on the defensive end. Like Cal bringing on Miller for Jones.  Teague looks awesome. Cal is super animated on the sideline. Like the early look of this.  The early pace of the game has to favor Kentucky.  How did Self let his kids come out and run a track meet.  There is NO way Kansas can keep up with Kentucky if this turns into a running game.  Don't like how dominant Thomas Robinson has been against Jones in the early going though.  Troubling.

9:46 - Love the intensity from the Wildcats.  UK survived the first time Davis had to sit down.  Wiltjer is going to be beloved by Big Blue Nation by the time his career is over.  Not since Patrick Sparks has the UK faithful had a solid white guy to cheer for, and we all know how much they secretly love that.  Thomas Robinson is playing scared on the defensive end, and Kentucky needs to take as much advantage of that as they can before the end of the first half.  MK-G is an absolute beast.  There's a 35% chance he's not even human.  We know Davis isn't a human, but I never thought until today that the same thing might be true of MK-G.  Watch for Men in Black IV starring Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist in place of Jones and Smith.  Marquis Teague can play the talking dog.

9:58 - I'm happy, I can't lie.  But I'm about as unconfident as it's possible to be with Kentucky sitting on a 12 point lead.  Why is that? UK has had to play really well to get out to this lead, and Kansas has looked sloppy.  Don't think that's going to last all night.  That said, Robinson has been ineffective against the Jones/Davis double team in the low post, which is a good sign.  I've moved on to Racer 5 IPA which is the prototypical West Coast IPA, which means it has been hopped, and hopped, and hopped some more.  This is playing more to the bitter flavors than the HopDevil was, and I like it.  Different applications require different beers.

10:08 - Refs starting to audition for NBA jobs.  Is there any other sport with more comically bad officiating than basketball?  They should just show a graphic that says "this game is required to be within 15 points at all times" before the tip, it would erase a lot of confusion.  Kentucky needs to not realize that they're absolutely dominating Kansas right now.  If they realize that, the game's back in Kansas' hands.  If it stays this way, we have about 20 minutes of game time until Coach Cal starts to have '08 flashbacks.  Wait, '08 never happened.  Right, nevermind.

10:18 - Halftime--Really bad sequence there for UK to end the half.  Davis gets his 2nd foul, plus a couple wasted possessions on offense.  That being said, I'd have taken a 14 point lead at halftime if you'd offered it to me, so I can't really complain about this one.  Kentucky seems to be going through one of their "bored" spells.  This is a team that thrives on being tested, and when they're not being tested they think they're a little better than they actually are.  Hubris kills.  I'm optimistic for the 2nd half, and one of the reasons is Davis hasn't even scored yet.  UK is up by 14 with no offensive help from one of its best offensive players.  If Davis can get some cheap putbacks or tip ins, this game could be over.

10:44 - 2 ugly blown out of bounds calls by the officials against UK to start the 2nd half.  Gotta keep this one close boys.

10:45 - Not even going to mention that sequence

10:48 - Kentucky would really benefit from getting Withey in foul trouble.  43-30 with 15 and change left.  If Kentucky can get to 65, I think they have this game won.  Need to keep pushing the pace and forcing Kansas to run with them.  Scary moment for Kansas--Teague goes out with 2 fouls and he and Cal are joking on the bench as he sits down.  This UK team is calm and playing older than it is.  There can't be anyone outside of Big Blue Nation that likes the sight of that right now.

10:51 - CBS is just as excited about the Masters as I am!

10:52 - Davis off the mark.  And despite Kansas' best stretch of basketball in the game, they're down by just as much as they were at halftime.

10:53 - Davis picks Robinson's pocket and Jones finishes emphatically.  Might be almost, almost, time to break out the bourbon barrel dark ale.  I can hear my grandmother all the way in Louisville cheering as she drinks her O'Douls.

10:54 - Wow, Tom Cruise, everyone knew your career had stalled, but you didn't need to come out and admit it like that.

10:56 - I'm really enjoying CBS' coverage of this game today.  Think both the in game crew and the halftime/pregame crew have done an excellent job throughout.

10:59 - Why, why, why, does this have to be close?

11:01 - I'm so miserable. Kentucky by 10.  Just blow it out.  How many chances do you need?  Is it that difficult?
11:03 - and Cue the UPS Christian Laettner commercial.  I almost can't take this. I might need to go to bed and just hope for the best. I've switched to Strongbow cider.  It's both happy and sad tasting, and so very appropriate.  Also, it comes in tallboys. 

11:06 - Would it be weird if I adopted Doron Lamb?  Because I want to.  His actions make me happy.

11:09 - I just want Kentucky to step on their throats.  Put it away boys, don't let them scratch their way back.  Right now Kansas is like 2 and a Half Men in the Ashton Kutcher era.  (Nice CBS reference, huh?)

11:12 - Under 8 timeout, UK 56-44 KU.  KU has tried everything it can to get the momentum back, but have been stopped every time by big shots from Kentucky (namely Doron Lamb, my son).  Kentucky is getting away from running at Kansas and has effectively said "well run out the clock, try to beat us." This might be the stupidest tactic ever.  Kentucky's a running team and they look hugely out of sync setting up in the half-court offense every time.  UK needs buckets in transition.  Badly.  Kansas has missed 11 layups and 2 dunks.  Anthony Davis is in their heads.

11:19 - Davis with a baseline jumper.  That's a pivotal shot.  The last thing Kansas needed was for Davis to wake up for the last 5 minutes of the game offensively.

11:21 - Seriously fuck my life.

11:22 - Under 4 timeout UK 59-50 KU.  9 point lead, under 4 minutes to play.  Sound familiar? I don't know if I can stomach this ending.  This feels like the 2007 super bowl except worse, and yet we're still winning.  I hope this entry makes the least sense when read afterward.

11:26 - see you at the end.

11:30 - Just kidding.  This is agonizing.  Marquis Teague with a huge (lucky) iso three at the end of the shot clock is immediately answered by Johnson for Kansas.  Teague throws up another crappy three, and misses, Thomas Robinson makes 2 free throws for Kansas, and Davis makes one of two for UK.  1:11 remaining. UK 63-57 KU.

11:32 - MICHAEL FUCKING KIDD-FUCKING-GILCHRIST.  Screw Lamb I'm adopting MK-G. Sorry bro.

11:34 - Fuck it I'm adopting the whole team and coach cal.  I love Marquis Teague and his moustache.  He and Johnson Wagner should hang out.

11:36 - I'm drinking cider so hard right now. My liver hurts. I have to pee incredibly badly, but can't miss this. To avoid cliches, I watched the last UK championship in the den in my mom's old Charlestown house.  14 years is a long time when you're 25, so this feels very special.  Well as special as a Kentucky victory can be for a UK fan who was born and raised in Boston.  HUGE up and down call on Johnson there.  Saw Davis rushing out and stalled in mid-air.  That should just about cement this.

11:40 - Final, UK 67-59 KU.  Makes me think of family.  Love the shot of Joe B. Hall sitting next to Denny Crum at the end.  Would love to think Denny was rooting for UK there, just as I know Rupp/Hall/Tubby would have rooted for UofL in the same situation.

11:41 - I have a problem with Schadenfreude...I want one of the Kansas players to trip on the streamers on the way out.  Good night people, time to get to sleep.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On the Impending Sale of Likely Counterfeit Wines (plus the best sub $10 wine in the world)

Two orders of business today:

1) Talk about the wine that is, in my not so humble opinion, the best sub-$10 wine in the world.
2) Talk about a current firestorm in the world of fine-wine collecting (seriously, this is messy).

One of my favorite categories of wine is the <$10 range.  This is for two reasons.  First, the quality available in this price range has absolutely exploded in the last five years or so.  As wine from increasingly far-reaching places has become mainstream, this price range has become not only drinkable, but occasionally exciting.  In my mind there are several regions that offer extremely good value in this price range:
  • The Rhone Valley in France (specifically basic Cotes du Rhone wines, both white and red)
  • The Languedoc/Rousillon region in France (tons of cheap, well made reds, specifically from Corbieres and Minervois, and roses from Provence)
  • Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) from anywhere in Spain.
  • German Riesling
  • Portuguese Red wines, specifically from the Douro Valley
 Today's wine hits on our second bullet point, though it does so somewhat obliquely.

The 2005 Earl Domaine de la Patience Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Pont du Gard Merlot is both extremely delicious and has a completely inscrutable and intimidating name.  As we've talked about on WOS before, the French wine system is broken down into tiers of increasing quality.  There's Vin de Table, which is the lowest, and the AOC system, which is the highest.  Each of these categories has different levels of governmental regulation.  The AOC system regulates both where a wine comes from and which grape varieties are permitted.  The Vin de Table system merely insists that what is in the bottle is wine that was grown and produced in France.  Somewhere between those two is the VdP, or Vin de Pays, or Country Wine classification.  Basically, this classification allows for wines that are grown outside the geographic boundaries of the AOC system, or which are made with different grape varieties.

This wine is made within the boundaries of the AOC Languedoc in the south of France near Montpellier and Carcassonne.  However, it is made from Merlot, which is not among the varieties permitted in wines to be labeled with the various AOCs of the Languedoc.  Therefore, it must label itself as VdP.  Anyway, enough mindless pontification, let's talk about the wine.

Merlot, as I have mentioned many times previous, is pretty unpopular among those who consider themselves educated about wine.  Basically, overpriced, overoaked, overextracted Cali Merlot from the 90s made it super uncool to drink it.  But, most people forgot that many of the world's most expensive wines are made primarily from Merlot.

This wine punches so far above its $10 price point, it's not even funny.  The nose is completely old-world with plums, leather, and blackberry.  There's an herbal, or garrigue, component of lavender and sage that I often find in wines from the Languedoc.  This is a wine that is good on its own, but is even better with red meat.  Screw buying a $20 cabernet to go with your next steak, seek this one out.  Every time I buy this I wish I had bought a case.  It's one of the only wines that I buy repeatedly.  For those in the area, it's available at Brookline Liquor Mart, and I have no idea where else.  But seriously, drink this wine.  It also benefits from having 7 years of age on it, of which at least 5 have been in bottle.  The tannins are nicely integrated, but the wine is still alive and very much in its prime.

On to the second order of business: major wine fraud about to go down in London.

Recently there has been increasing unrest in the world of fine wine collecting over wine fraud and counterfeiting of bottles.  While this might seem silly, just imagine that some bottles (like a magnum of 1961 Chateau Petrus, for example) can sell for upwards of $50,000 per bottle, and it starts to make some sense.  One of the most documented accounts of this is given in the book The Billionaire's Vinegar which recounts the sale of the world's most expensive bottle of wine (1787 Chateau Lafite allegedly belonging to Thomas Jefferson that sold for $156,000) that turned out to be a fake.  This all traced back to a guy named Hardy Rodenstock who had either made, or sold many bottles of counterfeit wine at auction, duping many leading critics along the way.

So, it was with interest that I've watched this thread develop on WineBerserkers.  Don Cornwell, a Burgundy expert was examining the catalog of an upcoming Auction in London which included many lots of extremely rare vintages of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.  For frame of reference, we're talking wines that carry price tags north of $10,000 per bottle.  He noticed some discrepancies in the minute details of the labels (for instance, the typeface on a single 4 being wrong) and quickly contacted the auction house to let them know.  He learned that the consignor behind the wines was acting as an agent for a man named Rudy Kurniawan.  Kurniawan had a history of passing counterfeit wines at auction (most notably lots of Ponsot burgundy that purported to come from vintages that Ponsot never produced).  Long story short, even when confronted with all of this, the auction house has refused to stop the sale.  They have pulled some of the most egregious lots, but it's my opinion that once the provenance of one of these lots is called into question, any lots from this consignor must be removed.  Most likely, the auction house paid a substantial advance to the consignor and now has to recoup money from the auction in order to pay off creditors.  Regardless, it will be interesting to watch this develop, as the sale is today.

Happy drinking!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On "Natural" Wine

In my attempt to not become the "Bill Simmons of Wine", I thought I'd actually talk about wine today.

I had planned to write a post today on "Natural" wines and the processes or lack of processes that make them "natural."  Then Eric Asimov went and stole my thunder.  No matter, Eric is a writer I have a ton of respect for (honestly, NYT wine critic and nephew of esteemed author Isaac Asimov?) and I often agree with his viewpoints.  It just so happens that we've been in sync the last two weeks (first Canary Islands, now natural wine). 

Natural wine has been one of the big buzzwords or trends in the wine-geek community for the last few years, and nearly everyone has an opinion of some sort, whether actively positive, actively negative, or actively neutral.  In order to not conceal my biases, I'll just get my opinion out in the open.  I think that people should make wine however the fuck they want to, and that if people like said wine, they should drink it.  As I've said before, wine is too often mythologized into some sort of elite, ephemeral luxury good that should only be enjoyed on special occasions, when in fact it's just a food.  There, I said it.  There's nothing special about wine other than the fact that it tastes really good.  If my opinion on natural wine doesn't make sense to you yet (it shouldn't because I gave my opinion before I explained what natural wine is) then keep reading and it'll become illuminated (not in the way that a manuscript is illuminated though, unless you're reading this while tripping on acid, in which case, go be outside and enjoy yourself).

Natural wine is problematic mostly because it doesn't have an official set of regulations or even a distinct theme other than the desire to make wine with as little intervention as possible.  For some natural winemakers, this means using biodynamic practices (a load of hogwash IMHO) or organic practices in their winegrowing, then adhering to more traditional winemaking practices.  For others this means using fertilizers and pesticides in their vineyards, but then only using native yeasts (yeasts already found on the grapes) for fermentation.  For others, this means using as little sulfur dioxide in the winemaking process as possible (or in some cases, no sulfur at all).  So, when referring to a natural wine, it's clear that the customer is not exactly sure what made the wine "natural" in the first place.

Natural wine has also come under fire from those who do not adhere to any of the principles of the movement.  They assert that when these winemakers refer to their wines as "natural" they are, by implication, referring to all other wines as "unnatural."  To that I say grow up and stop whining.  If a winemaker makes good wine, people will drink it, it's as simple as that.

So, why did I choose today to talk about natural wine?  Because I enjoyed a fantastic bottle of an extremely "natural" wine over the last two nights.  The wine in question was a 2003 Cousin-Leduc Anjou pur Breton.  This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc from the Anjou AOC.  I scored this bottle on deep discount, something like $5 marked down from $25, because it is on the older side for a wine like this.  Most natural wines, and especially those that have extremely limited sulfur dioxide, are meant for immediate consumption.  The reason being that the sulfur dioxide acts as an antibiotic agent, preventing bacterial spoilage.  Regardless, I took the plunge, and I am so glad that I did.

Upon opening the nose showed a lot of, well, funk.  There was pure cherry fruit and some balsamic notes, but there was also a lot of barnyard and leather aromas.  These might daunt many drinkers, but they usually aren't something to be afraid of.  I poured a little bit into my biggest glass, and swirled it aggressively.  The funk subsided a bit and the wine started showing more earthy, herbal (rosemary, lavender) characteristics.  The palate was full of sweet cranberry and cherry fruit with some of the same herbal notes I found on the palate.  Was it the most profound wine I have ever had?  No.  But it carried an unmistakable sense of the place it was grown, and of the person who made it--which brings me to my next talking point.

This wine was made by Olivier Cousin, a man who exemplifies the natural wine movement.  He still plows his vineyards with horses and his vineyards are certified biodynamic.  He uses only native yeasts, and does not use sulfur at all.  His wines, therefore, are incredibly unique from vintage to vintage.  He has run into a bit of trouble recently because a few years ago he withdrew from the AOC system in France.  He found the rules imposed too restrictive, and was annoyed by some of the inherent hypocrisies of the system.  The board that controls all wines from the Loire has recently imposed huge fines on him for some of his creative labeling, which you can read about in the link above (also, sign the petition).  The wine I sampled was made when he was still working within the system, so it still bears the "Appelation Anjou Controlee" designation on the label.  After leaving the system, he kept the name of this wine the same, but removed the AOC designation on the bottom of the label.  This did not sit well with the authorities though because in the name of the wine, "Anjou Pur Breton" there are two additional problems.  Anjou is the name of an AOC, and Breton is the local name for the Cabernet Franc grape.  Wines, like Cousin's, that are labeled as "Vin de Table" (the lowest level of the pyramid) are not allowed to specify place name or grape varieties used in the production. While France currently has no sense of humor about this, winemakers have a long history of spurning governmental regulations in the quest to make better wine (see Toscana IGT in Italy).  For me, and this goes back to my original opinion about natural wine, I don't care what the label says as long as the wine inside is delicious and speaks of its place.  Hell, I'll usually even settle for just delicious.

So, what's the moral of this story?  Go forth and try a couple natural wines.  Unless you have a high tolerance for weirdness, I'd save Cousin's wines for a subsequent trial, but I can highly recommend the wines of Arianna Occhipinti from Sicily (she does dirty, dirty things with Frappato and Nero d'Avola).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Boston Wine Expo, Some Random Notes, and the Ghost of Myra Kraft

This weekend sure did not want for excitement.  The two cornerstone events--the Wine Expo and the AFC Championship game--were both on Sunday, leaving a Saturday sized black hole in my schedule and causing me a little bit of unease.  However, I somehow persevered.  I'd like to first talk about the football game.  In a weekend full of wine tasting and borderline over-consumption, watching the Patriots game, while drinking only water, was the most damaging activity to my health.

I've covered my love for the Patriots before, so I won't go into the history.  Suffice it to say, I was pumped for this game.  I wasn't as confident in victory as so many were, but I thought the Pats had the edge.  Then again I thought the pats had the edge in 2009 too, but it only took one 83 yard Ray Rice dagger to prove me wrong. Many others have exhaustively covered the events of yesterday's game, so I'll only touch on a couple highlights/key moments.
  1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis scoring on an 8 yard run, then pointing to the MHK patch on his jersey. (I knew I shouldn't have been cutting onions during the game)
  2. Brady going over the top on 4th and goal then nearly being cut in two by Ray Lewis.  I'm surprised more hasn't been said about this.  Lewis (an obvious first ballot HOFer) has made his name by playing juuuuust this side of dirty, and this was a perfect example.  He knew Brady was in, but took the shot anyway.  
  3. Brandon Spikes' awesome INT, followed by perhaps the single worst play call (and execution) of the Patriots' season.  How do you follow up a death blow like that by calling a deep pass to your #5 WR? For a second I thought it was Bill O'Brien that had died the previous night.
  4. Bernard Pollard.  Honestly, what an asshole.  Takes out Brady in '08, Welker in '09, and now maybe takes Gronk out of the Super Bowl. On my list of hated athletes, he is firmly #2 behind this guy.
  5. Billy Cundiff is probably resting on the bottom of the Chesapeake right now.  At the risk of sounding cheesy, I'm with Jerod Mayo in saying Myra may have had something to do with both Cundiff's yanked kick and Sterling Moore's sudden ability to play football.
A short footnote on Myra Kraft (MHK).  By now everyone knows the story, Myra died this summer as Robert Kraft was working to end the lockout.  She was a tireless philanthropist and just an overall good person.  In my first year of teaching, one of her granddaughters was in my class, and meeting her on Grandparents' day was wonderful.  A genuinely nice person.  Feels right that the Pats will get to wear their MHK patches one more time.

So--the wine.  I shared some delicious wines with friends on Thursday night which I want to talk briefly about here.  First up was the 2006 Buronfosse Cotes du Jura "les Ammonites" that I bought on Thursday.  I simply couldn't wait to open this up.  It showed just as beautifully as I expected.  It was slightly less oxidative than my previous Jura experience and that, I believe, was to its benefit.  Beautiful lemon and subtle pear fruit mixed with a delicious almond and peanut skin characteristic that made it really fascinating.  This wine was showing very little at refrigerator temperature, but when it was a little warmer, the full spectrum of flavors and aromas was present.  I'd recommend serving this a little warmer than most of your whites. (Side diatribe--almost everyone, restaurants included, serves white wines WAYYY too cold and red wines WAYYY too warm.  I like to let my whites warm up slightly from fridge temp before serving, and I like to chill my reds in the fridge for about 15 minutes before serving.)  I served this Jura wine with Comte cheese, a gruyere made in the Jura region.  The pairing, as one would expect, did not suck at all.

Next up was the 2009 Château de Mayragues Gaillac.  I bought this wine down at Chambers St. in NYC this fall.  I buy nearly every Gaillac I see, because they are so rare and, to me, so delicious.  I have uncles that live in Montauban, France just north of Toulouse and just outside the boundaries of the Gaillac AOC.  While there, I completely fell in love with the wines.  They use local, obscure grapes like Duras and Fer mixed in with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.  This wine was 60% Duras and 40% Syrah.  I find wines made from Duras to be incredibly unique.  The nose on this wine was almost overpowering in its spiciness.  It was like walking into a Penzey's store.  It also showed some dark fruits like plums and blackberries.  The palate was filled with the same dark fruits as well as cumin and white pepper.  This was a very well executed blend.  I find that too often winemakers mix international varieties with local varieties in an attempt to overpower the local varieties.  Here, the Syrah played well with the Duras.  It was still present (white pepper), but let the Duras do most of the talking.  A wine worth seeking out, as are any wines from Gaillac.  They certainly will not be run of the mill.

Lastly I want to talk about the Boston Wine Expo.  My mother lovingly gave me two tickets for Sunday's event, so a friend of mine and I set off to the World Trade Center yesterday to taste some delicious wines.  I had looked at the list of exhibitors before hand and had narrowed the list down to those I was interested in.  At a big tasting like this, it's easy to be overwhelmed, but I figured out 3 priorities and we stuck to them pretty well.  First was to get a broad sense of new regions.  Second was to taste any local wineries that were pouring.  Third was to visit small, domestic wineries that we were already fans of.

We spent a great time tasting at the table of Finger Lakes, NY wines.  Quality has skyrocketed in this region, and with some increased distribution, this should be mainstream sooner rather than later.  They are capable of producing bracingly dry rieslings, delicious pinot noir, and some of the best Cab Franc in the country.  This is an area to watch.  Wines I particularly enjoyed from this area included:
  • 2009 Fox Run Dry Riesling
  • 2008 Fox Run Cabernet Franc
  • 2008 Fox Run Cabernet Franc & Lemberger (Blaufrankisch) blend
  • 2009 Ravines Riesling
  • 2010 Ravines Rose of Pinot Noir
  • 2008 Ravines Cabernet Franc
  • 2008 Ravines Meritage (Cabernet Franc and Merlot)
  • 2008 Dr. Konstantin Frank Pinot Noir
  • 2009 Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli
Next up we spent a great deal of time at the Hellas Imports table featuring the wines of Greece.  I've made it my goal in the coming year to learn more about the wines of Greece.  They are delicious and completely underpriced due to limited recognition as well as the complete inscrutability of most of the labels and grape varieties.  Excuse the lack of vintages on these.  They're all the current vintage available in stores though.  I loved:
We also stopped at the table for Laureate imports which specializes in Slovenian Wine.  I was hoping for some oddball stuff along the lines of Alex Kristancic, but settled for some moderately priced Pinot Grigio that didn't suck, and the Traviata Ribolla Gialla which was decent as well.

Next we focused on two California wineries that we both love: Truchard Vineyards and Inman Family Wines.  It's worth noting that JoAnn and Tony Truchard were pouring the wines at the Truchard table, and Kathleen Inman was pouring the wines at the Inman Family table.  Can't get much closer to the action than that. These are wines that you should buy if you see them.  Between these two tables the standouts (and the standouts were incredible) were:
  • 2010 Truchard Rousanne
  • 2010 Truchard Chardonnay
  • 2008 Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Truchard Syrah
  • 2010 Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Gris
  • 2010 Inman Family Chardonnay
  • 2007 and 2008 Inman Family Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Vineyard. (I preferred the 07 to the 08, as did Kathleen.  It's a leaner, lighter wine with more structure)
  • 2007 and 2008 Inman Family Pinot Noir Thorn Ridge Ranch Vineyard. (Again, I preferred the 07)
  • 2009 Inman Family Brut Rose Nature "Endless Crush" (a ridiculously good, sans-dosage sparkler)
Lastly, before we headed out, we stopped by Turtle Creek winery located in Lincoln, MA.  I've been singing the praises (to anyone who will listen) of their "Conservation Hill" Cab Franc and Chard made entirely of MA fruit.  They were only showing their CA wines (including a rocking barrel sample of 2010 Pinot Noir), but those were also excellent.  I also learned that there's a connection between the winery and my school, which makes me like it even more.

So, there you have it.  A not-shitty weekend.  Thanks for reading and enjoy your week filled with Billy Cundiff/Scott Norwood jokes.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Some Great Wine Shopping and the End of an Era

Yesterday afternoon/evening was historic for many reasons.  First of all, my basketball team put a serious hurting on the Applewild School in a 24-6 victory.  The game was especially fun to coach because it gave me the opportunity to make sure that my beginning players got shots.  I made it the mission of my more experienced players to put the ball in the hands of the beginners in places they could succeed.  There's nothing better as a coach than seeing a kid who thinks they suck at basketball nail a 12 foot jumper and break out in an enormous smile.  It was almost worth the 2 hour round trip to Fitchburg.

On my way home to Somerville, I decided to stop in at one of my favorite wine stores in the area (and my favorite in Somerville) Ball Square Fine Wines.  Some of you may remember a post from a month or so back entitled "Drinking, Off the Beaten Path" in which I extol the virtues of drinking obscure wines and mention my desire to try a wine from the Canary Islands.  I figured I'd have to wait until I made it down to NYC and Chambers St. Wines, so I kinda shelved the idea in my brain and forgot about it.  Then the New York Times "wines of the times" column yesterday was about, wait for it, wines of the Canary Islands.  Immediately the idea became un-shelved and I spent the majority of my morning stealthily figuring out ways I could locate one.  I checked the Ball sq. website because they, unlike many sites, actually list their full inventory online, and lo and behold, they had a wine from the Canary Island of Tenerife.  Moreover, it was the wine that placed #2 in the NYT tasting.  And best of all, it wasn't hugely expensive.  So--long story short--I decided to do some shopping last night.

This brings me to part one of this post: the excellent shopping I have done in the past week.  Using three of my favorite local retailers: Ball Sq. Fine Wines, Winestone, and Brookline Liquor Mart, I've scored about a case of obscure and excellently priced beauties.  So let's look at the 6 most interesting.

Everybody Smile!
 These are 6 wines that because of geography, scarcity in the local market, or geek factor, were really interesting finds for me.  A note on pricing: I am usually uncomfortable paying more than $15 for a basic wine, I tend to up that to about $25 if it's something I'm really seeking out, or an obscure variety/region.  I'll break them down now 2 by 2:

2010 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso: Let's just start with the coolness factor: this wine comes from vineyards cultivated on the slopes of an ACTIVE VOLCANO.  Seriously, this thing erupts.  Grown on Mt. Etna in Sicily, the volcanic soils provide a solid mineral structure.  The grape variety here is Nerello Mascalese, which is not terribly common, as you can discern from the linked Wikipedia article.  Wines from Mt. Etna have been rapidly improving, and I have been increasingly seeking them out, but have been unwilling to pay the $35 tariff.  Finding this beauty for $20 at Winestone made me a very happy camper.

2006 Buronfosse Cotes du Jura "Les Ammonites": since I can't read French terribly well, I can basically discern that this wine is made from 100% chardonnay and has excellent mineral quality.  This will be my 2nd wine from the Jura, and I have been on the lookout for more ever since I had my first wine from the Jura just before Christmas.  I don't know if this will have the same oxidative qualities that the last one had, but I'm excited to find out.  Now I just need to find some Comte cheese to have on hand.  Jura wines are easy to find in NYC but have proven incredibly difficult for me to source here in Boston.  So, while picking up my Canary wine last night, I grabbed this for a cool $22 from Ball Sq. 

2004 Puzelat/Bonhomme Touraine "In Cot We Trust": Cot is the grape variety here, and is the Loire name for malbec.  Malbec has surged in popularity in recent years due to thousands of incredibly drinkable and affordable examples from Argentina.  However, Malbec has its roots in France.  It is one of the 6 grapes allowed in Red Bordeaux (the others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere), but its presence in Bordeaux has plummeted.  It is also found as the primary grape in the Southwest France AOC of Cahors.  I find Malbec to be most interesting, however when It's grown in the Loire Valley.  The cool climate doesn't produce the type of fruit that producers feel the need to smother in oak.  Instead it is vinified as a lighter bodied, savory wine with plum notes.  I'm very excited to try this example as it has 8 years of age on it.  It could be completely shot, or it could be wonderful.  Half the intrigue is in the not knowing.  Even better, it was on double discount at BLM for $6.

2009 Domaine des Terres Dorees Morgon: The winemaker here is Jean-Paul Brun, one of the masters of Beaujolais.  Morgon is one of the "Crus" of Beaujolais, meaning it makes a wine of distinctive terroir that grants it the ability to put its name on the bottle rather than simply putting "Beaujolais" or "Beaujolais-Villages."  Beaujolais (or Bojo) gets a bad rap due to the sickening influx of Beaujolais Nouveau that arrives every November.  Cru Beaujolais is so not that stuff.  It's made from Gamay and is a light bodied, low alcohol wine with bright fruit and herbal characteristics.  This is definitely going to be delicious. A steal at $19.

2008 Monje Tacoronte-Acentejo Tradicional Tinto: From the island of Tenerife, this was my holy grail find yesterday.  I can't explain why I'm so interested in this wine other than to say this-- While the Canaries are part of Spain in a legal sense, in a geographic and geologic sense, they are part of Africa.  How can I not be fascinated to taste wine made on islands off the western coast of Morocco?!?  I have no idea what this is going to taste like, but you can be sure there will be a post on it!

2007 Rene Favre & Fils Dole: This is a Pinot Noir and Gamay blend from the Valais region of Switzerland.  Switzerland produces a ton of wine but very little of it gets exported.  Most of what gets exported is white wine made from the Chasselas (aka Fendant) grape.  While I enjoy those wines, they do little for me at the price point.  I have never seen a red wine from Switzerland until yesterday when I spied this at Ball Sq.  Much like the wine above, I have zero idea what to expect here, hence my excitement!

All in all a great week of wine shopping.  I seem to be streaky when it comes to buying wine, often going through spells where I'm uninspired and can't seem to find anything interesting, followed by weeks like this one where there seem to be surprises at every turn.

I'd be remiss if I didn't close this column out by acknowledging the fact that after 13 years and 252 matches without a loss, Trinity College squash was defeated 5-4 by Yale last night.  Yep, you read that right, 13 years.  While this is a historic streak in many ways, I'm going to put it into the context of what it means in my life.  I started playing squash in November of 1997.  Trinity's last loss came on February 22, 1998.  Essentially, for my entire squash career, Trinity hasn't lost.  We used to play against them while I was at Bates and it was incredible how good they were.  As a fellow NESCAC school we looked up to them and rooted for them for breaking up the stranglehold that the Ivy Leagues have historically had on squash.  While we only ever got as high as #9 in the country, they inspired us.  Congrats to Yale, but also congrats to Trinity and Coach Assaiante on an amazing accomplishment.

Until next time...

Monday, January 16, 2012

On the Restoration of Order in the AFC (Up With Brady, Down With Tebow)

Having spent my entire life in the Boston area (minus an 8 year stint in NH then ME for school), I've grown rather fond of the New England Patriots.  There is little reason for this to have happened, since for the majority of my childhood they were absolute crap.  When your childhood idol is Drew Bledsoe, you're likely not going to experience many championship thrills.  The pinnacle of my love for them was when they reached the '96/'97 Super Bowl.  Being a naive 9 year old, I, and my entire 4th grade class, believed that we'd clearly beat the Packers and win a championship.  Those of us born in 1987 had to deal with the existential crisis that we may have been the cause for the city's collective championship drought since 1986.  I was convinced that the 96 Pats would prove that wrong.  Instead, they were stomped by Desmond Howard.  Repeatedly.  It wasn't until 2001, when Bledsoe was mercifully injured by Mo Lewis, that things really got good for us in NE.

This has all been a long way of saying that this weekend was about one thing, and one thing only: Pats/Broncos.  The game was full of intriguing storylines, but Tebow/Brady had been the most hyped.  For people outside of Boston, this was apparently an actual discussion with actual people believing both sides of the issue.  For me, Tebow is a cute little phenomenon, but much like Tickle Me Elmo, or Tamagotchis, his shelf life is inherently limited.  The only thing making this game interesting to those of us from Boston was the increasingly porous nature of the New England pass defense.  If there was a defense in the NFL (or even in NFL Europe, or the CFL) that Tebow could pass on, it was this one.

To celebrate this game, ladies and gentlemen gathered in Somerville to imbibe and to eat a delicious steak and blue cheese salad.  Accompanying this bounty was a veritable fridgeful of beer (no, actually). I cannot divulge the number of people that were counted upon to make a dent in this array of beverages, but I can assure you (at the risk of earning myself a one way trip to an episode of Intervention) that it is fewer than you're estimating.  Luckily there are many leftovers.

Some of the highlights were:

And there were also growlers of some now forgotten Berkshire Brewing Company beers.  However, this all paled in comparison to the piece de resistance:

A 30 pack of Genesee Beer.  Don't be fooled by the amazingly low score that Beer Advocate gave them. They don't want you to buy it so they can have it all for themselves.  This is a tremendous beer.  Much like the Schlitz that accompanied my Rose Bowl watching, this Genesee was a perfect match for football.  It's like a Bud Light that doesn't suck.  

Genesee is the beer that Rob Gronkowski would have invented if he were a brewer.  Also, new bucket list item: drink beer with Rob Gronkowski.

Hope you all enjoyed your weekend.  I'll be back in a couple days with some more wine-centric posts.  I haven't forgotten, I just haven't had anything inspiring recently.  There's nothing less exciting than writing a blog post on a mediocre wine.  Happy MLK day everyone from Wines Over Somerville.