Sunday, February 24, 2008

2006 Burgundy preview

Above Pierre Damoy looks up the word "Charming" to describe his $625 Clos de Beze V.V.

"This is old school burgundy, a little brett, a little horse saddle," "That's why I'm here," I say and carefully navigate the teams of twenty-four year olds in their $500 suits, clamoring to write something insightful about every one's first peek at the 2006 Burgundies. I am not in a suit, and I know that pleasure needs no insight. Instead I'm wearing a pair of jeans that hopefully don't make me look fat and a sweater over a crisp white shirt. I am somewhat aware that I carry with me the stink of provincialism, coming as I do from New London. The alcohol washes away this feeling, as does the realization that they are all much shorter than me. I resume drinking, and for the next two hours speak to no one, except winemakers.

I had done a little reading before going to this show. Only a little as I think wine criticism tends to poison the mind. The consensus was that 2006 had been a challenging vintage, with hail and rain. People made great wine but, not everybody, and generally speaking white was better than red. I love white Burgundy, I practically bathe in the stuff, so this was fine by me. As it turned out Chassagne, Puligny, even Corton Charlemagne, all disappointed. I started to think it was me. I had been smoking like a second job the night before, and was it four or five double whiskies at the Oasis?

Frustrated, I decided to go right to the money shot, and started drinking Clos Vougeot from every producer that had one. And the scales fell from my eyes or palate. My notes from Domaine Meo-Camuzet 2006 Clos de Vougeot, "predictably fantastic, if a little heavy on the new oak, assiduously defended by a matronly french woman." Notes from Domaine Jacques Prieur 2006 Clos de Vougeot, "Perhaps the perfect Pinot Noir, like a tenor note from Pavarotti, full yet balanced, with the whole spectrum of Burgundy within."

At the Domaine des Perdix table I approached a very attractive and well dressed man (is that vintage Yves St. Laurent ?), and began consuming quantities of his 2006 Echezeaux. This was to become, for me the best wine in the room, and I told him as much in conspiratorial tones. "I can not say such a thing," he says, "but I am glad that you have." My Notes, "best wine in room, smoky soil, raspberry, tobacco, earth, perfect level of expression, perfect volume."

You have to remember that at an event like this, when you walk up to a winemaker, you are just another schmuck with a glass, in a room full of schmucks with glasses. Salespeople, Brand managers, journalists and fake journalists. And the fact that these guys are farmers makes this metropolitan setting hopelessly trite. These people are artists who work the land to create something ephemeral yet timeless. What is more fleeting and haunting than a sniff of Grand Cru Burgundy? Yet the vineyards themselves are hundreds of years old, and these people are stewards of a tradition that spans generations. I can't help feeling that my love for them, pouring across the table is not being returned. To remedy this I resort to shameless drunken flattery seldom seen outside a Prom limo.

I lumber up to Alain Burguet, and speak to a woman I assume to be his wife. "Tell him he is a genius, and he has made me very happy" I say about his 2006 Chambertin Clos de Beze. She translates and he says thank you. Not the effect I was looking for. "Tell him that to drink his wine, is to drink the finest Burgundy has to offer, the finest France has to offer" She translates and this gets his attention, and I see it, pride. He stops what he's doing and shakes my hand. "Tell him that when I drink his wine I feel as if I am a small child, stripped bare of all pretense and expectation, tell him I stand naked before him." She translates, and it's obvious I've overstayed my welcome.

On to Domaine Pierre Damoy where I drink Gevery-Charbertin "Clos Tamiset," a monopole, Chapelle-Chambertin and Chambertin Clos de Beze , three very well made wines. I start to rewrite in my mind, perhaps these are the best wines in the room, among the best I've ever had. Then I realize that I'm far to drunk to make such declarations, besides what does it matter. The wines are simply perfect, superlatives seem redundant. I try a different tact to get to the heart of the matter. How did you make this wine?
Pierre goes on to tell me that 2006 was a hard vintage in that there was serious hail in July causing extensive vine damage. In many cases 80%-90% of the yield was lost to hail. This was followed in August by rain, the enemy of good wine. Vines being plants, they suck up the water and the fruit becomes diluted. Then there are the issues of rot and fungus, both serious threats in 2006. September however was dry with persistent wind, drying out the vines and fruit. "It was a good year for those who waited," and he waited until October 9Th to harvest a small quantity of well ripened fruit. "Enormous Tirage" that is to say, severe sorting and careful selection of fruit. So that very little fruit was turned into even less wine, but that wine was extremely well made, with intense care. At this point I realize that I have accomplished what I came here to do, drink Grand Cru Burgundy and understand the 2006 vintage. Feeling a sense of accomplishment, I leave and go to a restaurant to consume ducks.

A quick post script, I had purposely avoided any mention of filthy lucre, feeling it a violation of a sacrosanct, essentially religious experience. It wasn't until a few days later that I took a look. Meo-Camuzet Clos de Vougeot $275, Domaine Perdrix Echezeaux $255, Pierre Damoy Chambertin "Clos de Beze" $625.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Beauty and Truth

"it's not so much about beauty as it is about truth" - Dave Anderson

Dave was of course referring to music. Specifically, he was making a point in our on going discussion of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, which turns out is a Rorschach test for your personality. I won't bore you with the details of that conversation, but his point got me thinking about wine and women, completing the trinity.
Big California wines are like large breasted actresses with injected lips. Their fame and flash draw you in, but the experience is ultimately uninteresting. Sweet overripe fruit, vanilla and sloppy behavior, that sums up the majority of my experience with California wine, and actresses.
I prefer wines of terroir, wines that have a culture and history behind them. I want wines with gaped teeth and crooked noses, that describe a place where they were born. Wines of expression, and seeming contradiction. Wines that keep you guessing, wines that are with you the next morning when you wake, and haunt you all the next day.
I would rather drink an inexpensive Cheverny, than a Napa Cabernet. There is nothing Caymus can tell me about wine or Napa, and ordering it at a restaurant to impress my friends is like bringing Pamela Anderson to my cousin's wedding.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pet Your Food

"On the slaughterhouse floor at Quality Pork Processors Inc. is an area known as the "head table," but not because it is the place of honor. It is where workers cut up pigs' heads and then shoot compressed air into the skulls until the brains come spilling out. Over eight months from last December through July, 11 workers at the Minnesota plant - all of them employed at the head table - developed numbness, tingling or other neurological symptoms, and some scientists suspect inhaled airborne brain matter may have somehow triggered the illnesses.Scientists have yet to figure out if there is something in the brain matter that could be causing the symptoms. Quality Pork has not said what it does with the pork brains"- Dow Jones Newswires.

It was this story last year that was the last straw for me. Not since Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, had the written word so changed my very intimate relationship with food. Then, as now, I was forced to look at each piece of meat with suspicion. Quality Pork processes pork for Hormel Chili, it doesn't take much imagination to figure out where the pig brains are going, (what did you think was in it?). I'm not big on Hormel Chili or Dinty Moore Stew, or Civil War Era canned horse meat, so I could probably avoid this issue altogether. But after thinking about the head table, having in turn up in my dreams, giving me pause every time I ate something I didn't make myself, I realized that gastronomic elitism wasn't going to save me. I had to face the fact the our food system has been corrupted on a major scale.
I set out to compress the distance between me and my food. Vegetables are fairly easy. There are plenty of local produce stands and farmer's markets in New london county. In the winter I just suck it up and go to the Supermarket, I figure a bag of carrots from Stop and Shop probably has a minimum of swine brains in it. It's the meat that's the hard part, coming as it does, all wrapped in plastic from who knows where.
So I went to Beaver Brook farm where they make sheep. I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, but I figured that if they looked happy and healthy, I would eat one. I approached the barn and was greeted by the guard sheep, and it was adorable. I rubbed his little head and introduced myself. He smelled like sheep, that is to say, food. Gamey, musky, earthy, like all my favorite wines, cheeses and parts of the human body. I walked into the barn and dozens of sheeps were there, basking in the low hanging afternoon sun. They stood collectively, and stared with the blankest of stares. Their ears stick straight out, their eyes are on opposite sides of their heads, pointing in different directions. It reminded me of that scene in The Birds, when Tippi Hedren is in the attic, surounded by birds, harmless birds, but hundreds waiting to attack. I leaned over the fence to get a good look at my dinner, and a sheep mooed right at me. But it wasn't a moo, it was more a Bhaaa! Then they all started doing it, hundreds of sheep moos. So I left before there was any real trouble.
I bought some cheese, lamb and frozen lamb stew, all of which was delicious. When I go to a restaurant, I like to be able to see the kitchen, and when I buy meat, I like to be able to see the barn.


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Casimiro Maule

I had dinner last week with Casimiro Maule, who must, by all accounts be considered one of the great winemakers of the world. The man has just completed 37 vintages at Nino Negri, and received a mind boggling 10 consecutive Tre Bicchieri from the Gambero Rosso. For those of you who do not know the Gambero Rosso, they provide the most consistent and object wine criticism in the business. Born of the Slow Food Movement, these people appreciate good wine and are able to understand it within it's historical, regional context. Not like that advertising slut of Shanken's, who will open her pages for just any old body, but I digress.
Casimiro is the wine maker at Nino Negri in the Valtalina in Lombardy Italy, just inland from Piedmonte. The entire Valtalina produces a whopping 3,000,000 bottles or just 250,000 cases. To get an idea of how low the yields are and how land intensive the wine is, the Sfursat 5 Stella requires the fruit of three vines to produce one bottle. Or put another way, each vine yields only one third of a bottle worth of fruit.The talk of yields always gets me a little excited, its like the foreplay to the consummating act.
The wines had all of the concentration you would expect from such low yields, and all the depth you would expect reflected from such harsh terroir. What makes Casimiro a great winemaker however, is his seemingly paradoxical ability to produce wine so supple and approachable in it's youth, yet possessed of an agelessness. To produce a wine so pleasurable when young yet capable of great maturation, puts you on a short list of winemakers. Angelo Gaja is on that list, Michele Rolland is not.
Of course the man didn't speak a word of English. He sat there in humble dignity, slightly embarrassed, I think, to be the center of so much attention.These whirlwind tours of the states, with a cadre of handlers, must be tough for a man used to the quiet life in the country. Still, he weathered the 20 drunken Americans with the air of a Diplomat ,and seemed genuinely touched when people, myself included, asked to have our photos taken with him.

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