Storrs 2001 “BXR” (San Francisco Bay) – Plum soup, dark chocolate, and green tannin. There’s good length and palate presence, but the wine’s too thick for its own good, and then there’s that irritating underripe shade to the structure. I have never cared for this wine, in any vintage. (9/08)
Storrs 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (San Lucas) – Light, yet with a certain intensity of grapey fruit, plus melon. Nice balance. Tasty. (9/08)
Storrs 2007 Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Fig, peach, and ripe, velvet-textured apple. Very structured, with a long finish. There’s a little zing of alcohol and bit of oak, but this is the most balanced chardonnay I’ve yet tasted from Storrs, who often seems to craft much thicker versions of this variety. (9/08)
Storrs 2006 Chardonnay Christie (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Honeyed peach candy and thick butterscotch, long and huge. A wine of vivid neon. Huge. Let me say that again: HUGE. There are some nods to balance, but this is a stew rather than a broth; those who prefer that sort of texture will love it, others will most definitely not. Stylistic issues aside, it’s a very impressive wine. Personally, I could drink about a thimbleful of it. (9/08)
Storrs 2006 Pinot Noir (Santa Cruz Mountains) – Strawberry, red cherry, and plenty of heat (it’s 15.2% alcohol, which may theoretically be supportable in a much better-endowed pinot, but just doesn’t work here; excess heat has been a problem with many of the Storrs pinot noirs). There’s some crispness that makes an attempt at lightening, but overall the wine’s just too hot to enjoy. (9/08)
Storrs 2005 Two Creek (Santa Clara County) – Grenache, syrah, and grand noir, 14.4%. Smoke liqueur and red licorice with apple rind and a significant haze of heat. Eh. (9/08)
Storrs 2005 Zinfandel Rusty Ridge (Santa Clara County) – 15.2%. Plum, heather, lavender, plus the twists and tangles of wild vines. Chewy, with good acidity. Balanced. The finish is supple. Quite good. (9/08)
Storrs 2001 “BXR” (San Francisco Bay) – Plum soup, dark chocolate, and green tannin. There’s good length and palate presence, but the wine’s too thick for its own good, and then there’s that irritating underripe shade to the structure. I have never cared for this wine, in any vintage. (9/08)
Storrs 2006 Gewürztraminer Viento (Monterey) – Lychee soap, crystalline pear, honeydew melon, and plenty of acidity with just an edge of skin bitterness. Turns more floral as it lingers. Really nice. Balanced, with both tension and length. A return to the gewürztraminers I used to like so much from this producer, after a few weaker efforts. (9/08)
Storrs is a winery I visit anytime I’m in the area, and there’s always something good. The problem is that it’s rarely the same wine as it was the last time. Stylistically, I think that they’ve let alcohol levels get a little bit away from them; it’s one thing in zinfandel, a very different thing in a pinot noir or chardonnay.
Marketing. It’s really not my thing. I’m mostly immune to it, and though I am as frequently awed by its most adept practitioners as I am repelled by their best work, I’ve no discernable skill at it.
So it’s somewhat amusing to me how often I get asked, by those who make and sell wine, for an opinion on how they might a better impression on the market. Usually, but not always, it’s a foreign concern wishing to sell more – or at all – in the States. In fact, I just got back from South Africa, where this question was much on the minds of many of the winemakers with whom I swirled and spat.
While I was traveling, Thad over at Beyond the Bottle invited my comment on a piece he’d written, itself a follow-up to a winemaker’s thoughts on how to market a decidedly non-foreign wine region: Oregon. Since this is a place I’ve actually been, and a state that produces a rather larger number of wines that I like than is the norm for other domestic sources, I took a special interest in the topic. Herewith, then, a few thoughts from a someone who knows nothing about marketing. And what could be more valuable than that?
The contrast between the two essays to which I’ve linked is interesting, even though they cover some of the same ground. On one hand, we have a winemaker talking about wine as a niche (some would argue luxury) product and how to market that product to a knowledgeable audience. His idea is to find the hook, the mnemonic, the attention-grabbing uniqueness that will move his state’s wines into the public consciousness. And he suggests their fundamental “Oregon-ness” as that hook.
Thad Westhusing, on the other hand, takes a broader view, examining everything from wine tourism to price points in an effort to wrestle the problem to the ground. But neither he nor Hatcher really question the latter’s assertion that Oregon and the associations to be made with that place are the path to sales glory.
That may be, and I find thoughts with which to agree from both, but I think they’re missing the key point. The problem is pinot noir.
Oregon, for better or worse, has hitched its wine fortunes to this supremely expressive but finicky and expensive grape. Though there’s pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot blanc, a little sparkling wine (question: why not more?), and the occasional outlier variety, the consumer is, first and foremost, presented with a range of pinot noirs as the representatives of Brand Oregon. It’s a sort of marketing monoculture, and while it’s taken for granted in the Old World and frequently codified in Europe’s stringent appellation laws, it’s somewhat of a rarity in the anything-goes New. Most New World regions plant a diverse range of varieties (many of them, alas, painfully unsuitable for the terroir) and then let the shifting winds of popular taste do the marketing…or, when necessary, the winnowing.
The problem with doing it the other way – the Oregon way – is that success or failure are entirely subject to the public appetite for one specific product. Now, it happens that we’re still in the boom years for pinot noir, and whether one identifies it as a continuing post-Sideways effect or something else, the fact is the public loves its pinot. However, it must be noted for the record: not nearly as much as it loves its chardonnay or pinot gris/grigio.
Given that, shouldn’t Oregon be going gangbusters, since they’ve got pinot noir to sell and an allegedly avid market to sell it to? Maybe, but…well, see, there’s a problem. Oregon’s not the only modern monoculture in town. There’s the Central Coast of California, which has been around for a while but which has really exploded into the public wine-drinking consciousness over the past few years (and that is attributable, in large measure, to the aforementioned movie). There’s the Central Otago in New Zealand…and in that same country, Martinborough and the Waipara/Canterbury region.
So what’s the calling card of the Central Otago? Pinot noir. The Central Coast? Pinot noir. Martinborough? Pinot noir. The Waipara? Pinot noir (and riesling). What’s previously-monocultural Marlborough, widely known for it’s sauvignon blanc, planting a lot of these days? Pinot noir. How about Germany, the still-beating heart of rieslingdom? They’re making a big name for themselves these days among a subset of the wine geek set with their spätburgunder…a/k/a pinot noir. Meanwhile, the Russian River Valley, long a source for succulent pinot noir, hasn’t gone away. Nor has the Anderson Valley. And there’s still that other place…what’s it called?…oh, yeah. Burgundy. They make just a bit of pinot noir there, still, and despite centuries of fame and reverence, many commentators think it’s only getting better.
But why should pinot noir be a special problem? It’s not like people have any trouble selling chardonnay from pretty much every grape-growing region in the world, right? Didn’t I just say that there was an ever-escalating demand for pinot?
Sure, but the grape carries some baggage. It’s notoriously fickle on the vine, and when it does grow well, it requires careful shepherding and lowish yields to show its quality. That means that wines made from it are almost always going to be expensive versus other varieties. Cheap pinot noir is, with very, very rare exceptions, either dismal or – pumped up by the steroidal winemaking much-employed by the industrial set, and yet the primary source of cheap pinot – grossly unrepresentative of the variety and its qualities.
Moreover, its nearly unparalleled (among red grapes, with only nebbiolo as a serious contender) ability to reflect site-specificity results – as it always has in Burgundy – in a small blizzard of single-vineyard bottlings, regular and reserve bottlings, and/or differently-named blends. In other words, where cabernet might be responsible for a wine or two at a given winery, pinot noir can sometimes fill a case. Without duplication.
So where does that leave the pinot noir producer? Holding a dozen fairly expensive wines, each produced in relatively small quantities, and having to convince an already-saturated market of their quality when they’ve got similarly-priced options of quality from all over the globe, plus a few centuries of wine culture nagging that for the same amount of money they could be drinking “the real thing”: Burgundy.
In Oregon, or in fact anywhere the grape is grown, I suspect the urge to “buy local” trumps other factors (and the ability to visit and taste before purchase helps this along). Certainly that’s what they do in Burgundy, as well as all the other regions I mentioned earlier. But selling the wine at home…that’s not the marketing challenge, is it? The challenge is selling the wine elsewhere.
For example, consider Boston, this author’s current hometown. It’s a very Europhile market, as I’ve noted before, and a lot of very good New World producers have unsuccessfully beaten their skulls against the seemingly closed door of our avid wine culture. But even for those local consumers who are willing to explore beyond their beloved Burgundy, the available options quickly move beyond staggering to merely bewildering. Felton Road or Belle Pente? August Kesseler or Arcadian? Ata Rangi or Patricia Green? Not to mention the fact that there’s always the “…or d’Angerville?” option lurking in the background. They’re all pretty much the same price here, after all, and while they all have enticing qualities, only the truly pinot-obsessed will want to fully explore the full range on a regular enough basis to qualify as a reliable source of sales. That subgroup, repeated across hundreds of communities, may be enough to escalate a few wineries’ sales, but it’s not enough to accommodate all of them.
So what’s the solution for Oregon? I don’t know (remember: Marketing ’R’ Not Us). I don’t think that grubbing up pinot noir and planting…I don’t know, lagrein…is the answer. Because the wines are quite good, or at least they can be in capable hands, and if they think selling pinot is hard…. I’m not sure that selling “Oregon-ness” is the answer either. New Zealand tried that with their “the riches of a clean, green land” campaign, and I don’t know that it made much of a difference in their wine sales (though it has helped tourism, by all accounts…and it would probably help more were New Zealand not a zillion miles from everywhere). Further, I’m not sure this is the differentiator some might want it to be. Vermont – much closer to my market – is full of crunchy earth-mother environmental goodness and beauty, not to mention a wealth of fine agricultural products, but it doesn’t make me want to drink their wines, and I don’t think the stuff they are really good at (e.g. cheese) is pushing Vacherin Mont d’Or off, say, New York shelves; it remains a niche product for a niche, local market that knows and has regular access to that product.
Also, I’m not sure tourism is the answer. Wine regions everywhere point at Napa and ask, “why can’t we have that?” Well, first, I think much of Napa would very much enjoy it if someone else would take the tourists for a while. But the obvious thing is that Napa benefits almost immeasurably from its proximity to San Francisco, just as the newer California tourist hotspot of the Central Coast benefits from its proximity to Los Angeles. Portland is a nice city, but it’s certainly no San Francisco or L.A.
The best thing a wine region can do – and this is the advice I’ve always given, when asked – is to get into the desired market and really work it. That means sending the best and brightest to whatever places have been targeted and keeping them there for a while, or at least promising they’ll be back every few months. Work the retailers and the restaurants, and maybe even the press (most of the non-national wine press doesn’t really move much wine, but sometimes every little bit helps). Do some public dinners, which I think are absolutely critical in creating demand and name recognition. Plant representatives at stores’ regular wine tastings. Do the big wine fairs, and while there do tutored tastings.
And make it about more than just the individual producers. Yes, by all means, sell the names on the labels. But everyone who makes wines from its grapes benefits if some critical mass of people who know how to pronounce “Willamette” correctly is reached, and for that to happen everyone – or at least a large enough subset of everyone – has to work together to push all the categories that need pushing: pinot noir, Brand Oregon, whatever appellations are involved, and individual wineries’ products.
This is all marketing 101, I’d think, and yet it’s surprising how hard it is to get people to leave their wineries and saturate their target market. The farmer mentality, maybe, and non-corporate winemaking doesn’t leave a lot of down time for travel. What helps is government money, but in its absence wineries – many of which make much less money than the average consumer might think – have to do it themselves. If that means voluntarily pooling resources, then that’s what it means.
Otherwise, I see little hope. Major critics have been giving perfectly fine ratings to Oregon wines for years, and yet not enough has happened. There’s going to be no Sideways 2: Wasted Weeks in the Willamette. California – hopefully – isn’t going to tip its vines into the ocean and make beachfront out of Fresno, nor are New Zealand (and Germany, and Burgundy) going away. Words, print ads, flashy handouts…they aren’t going to get it done. The wines need to be under the noses and in the mouths of potential consumers.
Oregon needs a hook, yes. But the hook it needs is the one in a hotel room, on which its best winemakers and marketing gurus hang their jackets as they make their case to a new market, customer by customer.
(The original version, with many more photos (including pictorial essays on La Boqueria and the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia), is here.)
16 October 2006 – Barcelona, Spain
La Rambla – This busy, heavily-touristed pedestrian avenue is filled with rolling street carts selling everything from cheap, logoed tchotchkes to live chickens and bunnies. No, really: bunnies. Does one walk around the rest of Barcelona with a freshly-purchased chicken tucked beneath one arm? Do tourists stuff a few in their carry-on luggage for later consumption? Or is this the land-based equivalent of a “catch-your-own” fish restaurant?
La Boqueria – Food markets just don’t get much more famous than this. Perhaps the Rialto in Venice, or (going back a few years) Les Halles in Paris. In more modern, organized terms, San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza might come to mind. But when a shed full of food vendors becomes a destination for even non-foodie tourists, labeled in every guide book as a “must-see” sight, it’s clear that critical mindshare mass has been reached.
Viewed objectively, the market isn’t all that much different than major markets anywhere else. There’s produce, fish, meat, cheese, bread, wine, oil, some specialists…the usual array of products, tilted (as one would expect) towards local specialties. The only real differentiator is the striking ubiquity of ham. It’s mostly Ibérico, of course, with Serrano taking a strong second place, and then a handful of alternate appellations filling in the corners. What registers and overwhelms, however, is the amazing variation within each category…different cuts, different producers, different preparations…that makes it a little difficult to decide where to start. And given the staggering price of Ibérico, some guidance would be welcome. I curse my unusual unpreparedness, but anticipate the taste of last-minute cramming as I collect several pricey parcels of porcine pleasure.
Aside from ham, the majority of vendors seem to sell produce, which is itself strongly dominated by fruit in lieu of vegetables. There are a few exotics which we resolve to acquire tomorrow, on our way out of the city, but little that’s completely out of the ordinary for a food-focused traveler. Fish vendors exhibit their usual regional specialization, and though we won’t have the opportunity to buy any, we spend a long time studying the options, comparing and contrasting them with other Mediterranean markets we’ve visited. Meat in its muscular form is equaled in quantity by what some euphemistically label “variety meats,” though here the “variety” is rather larger than what we’re used to. Clearly, these are people who love their “parts” an offal lot. (Sorry.) Cheesemongers, on the other hand, seem to sell as much foreign product as domestic, which is a little dismaying (and since we’ve had most of the domestic products on offer, we’re fairly disappointed in the options), but the massive range of domestic oils is proportionally exciting.
Inevitably, staring at food for an hour or so makes us ravenously hungry. Many vendors offer various snacks and tastes, and those on a tight budget could probably assemble a fine graze from these nibbles, but there are tapas bars within the market that are neither pricey nor ill-thought of. Several of the recommended options are already closed for the day (and many vendors have shuttered as well; we’re here pretty close to the local lunch hour), but one bustling counter is still open, and we grab seats the moment they’re available.
Kiosko Universal – There’s an odd sort of Africa-in-Florida, “Livingstone, I presume” theme park style to the signage here, which is a little strange. But the food is authentic enough…fresh, as intensely-flavored as it is simply-prepared, and served with frank rapidity…and the price can hardly be beat. We sample flawless squid with potato “fries” (not crisp, but – like the tentacle segments – drenched in zippy olive oil), fried artichokes dusted with a vivid, complex sea salt, and a stunning row of baby clams bathed in even more oil. But the “killer app,” as such, is octopus gallego in its spicy sauce (though it is, once more, soaked in oil…not a bad thing in any of these three cases, but a little repetitive); the texture and taste are truly definitive. I wash it down with three glasses of a crisp, light, refreshing wine (probably a Penedès, but I don’t ask and they don’t tell), and feel absolutely exhilarated at the end. We’ve done the adventurous, and tonight we’ll do the higher-end, but here’s yet another important side to the ravenous Barcelona food culture. In a way, it just might be our favorite of the three.
We continue our stroll down La Rambla all the way to the broad expanse of the waterfront. It’s a beautiful day, and we pass some time on a short cruise of the harbor; a fairly boring procession of passenger and cargo ships, with only the rise of Montjuïc and the distant ridge of Tibidabo breaking the industrial scenery. At least we get to sit for a while.
Barri Gòtic – From the waterfront, the entrance to Barcelona’s oldest district is a little forbidding, with tiny, dark alleys featuring neither businesses nor signage. It’s a little like Venice without the water (or the lulling quiet). But soon enough, we emerge into brighter areas: sun-lit golden-brown plazas milling with visitors, and narrow passageways lit up by the glow of commerce and enlivened by the bustling noise of passersby.
The city’s principal cathedral, Santa Eulàlia is oddly situated, hemmed in on all sides by auxiliary and connected buildings, and without a truly grand façade in most directions. Its one ornate face – the front – is masked by scaffolding. Inside, things are grander, with the usual soaring architecture and lovely cloisters (in the middle of which are fenced a rather chatty gaggle of geese, for reasons that remain unclear to me; perhaps they’re guarding the fountain). The nearby Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar is darker, quieter, and much more ethereal, like something out of a distant time. Every whisper and foot shuffle is amplified and echoed (the church is renowned for its acoustics), and the contrast between the two houses of worship is striking and wonderful.
Gaig – The entrance to this luxurious and much-praised establishment immediately throws one into a trichromatic otherworld of white, black, and blood red. But what it lacks is any sort of food whatsoever. That’s because it’s a hotel lobby…stark, spare and highly designed (like so much else in this strikingly visual city). When we arrive, it’s empty. We hesitate, uncertain. Are we in the right place?
As if on cue, a hostess descends the lobby’s grand staircase, escorting us upstairs to the restaurant’s crescent-shaped dining room, itself a dark wonderland of red and white (but mostly red). It’s not ornate, exactly, but rather fashionable in the vaguely minimalist, modernistic vein of our two previous evenings’ restaurants; what differs is that the color is overtly “aggressive” to an extent I’m not sure many restaurants would venture. I picture a bull, a matador, a cape. I feel the warm onrush of freshly-slaughtered livestock. I smell the intense fruit of a vivid red wine. It’s rather captivating, and the mood is instantaneously rendered. It’s invigorating, enlivening, exciting.
Unfortunately, imaginary wine isn’t all we smell.
Moments after being seated, a table just across the narrow room – a hirsute older man and two female companions, both of whom look rather dramatically younger than him – seems to be finishing off the last of their meal. The women light cigarettes…no real problem, and it’s hardly uncommon here, though one young lady goes through eleven of them while carrying on a 90-minute conversation on her mobile…and the man lights a cigar.
At first, it’s only a mild irritant. It does fill the room with its intense, overpowering aroma, but we assume it will be over soon – who chain-smokes cigars? – and concentrate on our menu. Amuses arrive in the form of breadsticks with a saline anchovy “dip,” which we nibble to great satisfaction as an accompaniment to apéritifs of flowery cava and shockingly good Manzanilla (the identities of which I do not acquire, unfortunately).
More amuses follow: peanut crisps, little balls of cod, other small bites and tastes…each a focused statement of purity and flavor. We’re given menus, but less than a minute later, a waitress arrives to take our order. She seems highly put out that we’re not yet ready. Do they actually hope to turn our table this evening? In any case, and somewhat inevitably, we choose a tasting menu, a wine from the extravagant (albeit adventurously-priced) list, and settle back to await our meal. And to wonder if we’re going to be battling cigar smoke all night.
The early service issues don’t immediately abate, however. We sit…nursing the dregs of our apéritifs, shoveling the crumbs of our amuses to and fro, waiting for our first course. Or for someone to take our wine order. Either would be welcome, at this stage.
Twenty-five lonely minutes pass.
The mildest possible blood sausage is the first course to (finally) arrive – just a morsel, and as refined as one could imagine from this thoroughly rustic ingredient – with quail egg and a creamy sauce that provides delicious contrast to the frank sanguinity of the sausage.
Muga 1998 Rioja “Prado Enea Gran Reserva” (Center-North) – What I actually order is the ’96, but they bring this without apology, only explaining that they’re out of the earlier vintage after I inquire (which, in halting Spanish, is not rapid enough to stop them from opening the wine). I’d actually prefer to make another selection in this case; however, the retrieval of this wine – which doesn’t arrive until after we’ve completed our first course – takes long enough that I shrug and let it go, figuring I’d rather have a wine on the table than wait any longer. Unfortunately, my original instincts prove well-founded. This is tight, tannic and oak-laden, with obvious fruit (that only emerged after extended aeration) and spiky acidity. By the end of the night, there’s a little more spice to the fruit. Of course this is a wine meant to age, but right now it’s obvious and more than a little clumsy, and had I known that the ’96 was unavailable, I’d have ordered something a little more advanced.
Then: a pretty but simple course of scallops and artichokes that, with the excellence of its ingredients, manages to very nearly define both elements. But the next course, a shockingly good filet of sea bass with basil oil, is even better, and once again a cream sauce provides counterpoint.
By now, the cigar smell is actively irritating. My eyes hurt, my throat is dry, and I’m beginning to lose the aroma of both food and wine. Which is a shame, because the fourth course – a bit of a signature here – is pure decadence: cannelloni stuffed with some sort of rillettes-like meat-based substance, with a black truffle cream sauce. It’s ecstasy in every bite, a culinary climax on a plate. If there’s a niggle, it’s that it’s the third course of the last four to feature a cream-based sauce.
…and we have now reached the limits of our tolerance, as señor lights his fourth consecutive postprandial cigar. Isn’t this sort of like shotgunning Cognac? I feel nauseous, and Theresa’s eyes looks like they’ve been through a funeral. Desperate, we ask if there’s any way to move farther away from the offending table…a request which they quickly oblige, but that only helps a little bit; cigar smoke is hard to escape. Still, a little respite is better than none at all, and there’s not much the restaurant can do about it in any case.
Foie gras is next, and it may be the best I’ve ever eaten. (Do they make it locally, I wonder?) It’s served with a neon-red fig that tastes of strawberry (which works) and a sugary, mint-flavored candy (which doesn’t). This is followed by a loaf of rich suckling pig…soft on the inside, crispy on the outside…served not in a cream sauce, but with a sort of apple cider/applesauce purée. However, to nitpick once more, the texture of the pig is highly reminiscent of the cannelloni stuffing.
Desserts commence with a “deconstructed” crema catalana presented as custard with a foamy center – and only token caramelization – served in a martini glass. I don’t really see the point. What follows is a little orgy of chocolate: bitter, intense mousse and a clean, direct stack presented in puff pastry. Honestly, both desserts are disappointingly timid, and – other than the quality of the chocolate – a letdown at the end of such a grand meal.
As is my custom, and determined not to let the smoke “win,” I ask them to surprise me with something interesting from their selection of liquid desserts. They come up with a wine I could swear I’ve tasted before.
Mas Estela Garnatxa de l’Empordà “Estela Solera” (Cataluña) – Sweet roasted nuts and caramelized orange with toffee, burnt coffee, and a thick, heated edge. The finish is watery, and the overall effect is decidedly average. And one more thing: the wine – from a newly-opened bottle – is almost opaque with sediment, which would seem to be a minor service flaw, though of course it has no appreciable effect on the taste.
So, the verdict. It has been, in most important ways, a terrific meal…excellent by most standards. And yet. And yet…
The service has been off all night. The early timing problems eventually settle themselves into an efficient routine, and our move to another table is carried out with aplomb, but in any case the meal is far too quick; less than two hours for seven courses, and that with nearly a half-hour delay at the beginning…it all adds up to about ten minutes per course, which is unacceptably accelerated for a meal of this magnitude. Other meals in Barcelona have been quick, to be sure, but given the expense and richness of this food, one hopes for something more respectful of the cuisine. This bothers us more in the aftermath than in the midst, but that is almost solely a function of the oppressive cigar smoke, for which the restaurant is not responsible; the meal would have been just as speedy were the cigar-mainlining patron not in attendance.
Beverages have also been a problem. In addition to the wine-related service issues, water has been rather grudgingly supplied, and then sloppily sloshed about the table when served. It seems there’s a sort of schizophrenia at work, wherein some elements of the restaurant are as comforting, luxurious and elegant as one could want, and others are haphazard and indifferent.
But the food…oh, the food. Apart from the most minor complaints about textural repetition, it is exquisite. In France, perhaps, we’d adore this meal for its adventurousness, but here in Cataluña we question its reluctance…fair or unfair though that contextualization might be. Separated from those expectations, however, there’s no denying either the quality of the ingredients or the skill in the kitchen, and it’s important to remember that the rejection of tradition is not, in itself, an inherent virtue. The restaurant is, in the main, truly excellent. Still, it must be said: of our three meals so far, I prefer both Cinc Sentits, and especially Hisop, to this establishment.
One excellent espresso later, we stagger out into the cool Barcelona night. Smoke clings to our clothes, our hair and our lungs. Thankfully, the next time I’ll need my nice jacket is two full weeks away; by then, the smell might have diminished. But upstairs, through the hotel’s prodigious windows, we can see our puffing tormenter, lighting up yet another stogie (perhaps his sixth or seventh). From a distance, at least, one has to admire his stamina.
8 – This bar, on our hotel’s roof deck but featuring almost no view whatsoever (aside from the dark Barcelona sky), is open until…well, that very much depends. On a busy night, with the hotel fully booked with a nightlife-oriented crowd, it might stay open until the very wee hours it advertises. But now, in the off-season, our bartender clearly prefers to make an early night of it (“early” being defined, Barcelona-style, as somewhere around 2:30 a.m.). I share quiet poolside recliners and the near-silence of the late-night Eixample with a small table of young French tourists, sipping the overly sweet succulence of some local brandy and almost blindly scribbling in my journal. It’s a peaceful way to end the evening. And – blessedly – smoke-free.
(The original version, with more photos, is here.)
30 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California
A relaxing morning picnic in the shadow of El Capitan (no wine; there’ll be plenty later) followed by some lazy strolling around Yosemite Village and a long peruse at the Ansel Adams store and gallery, fill what is another beautiful morning in Yosemite. This is, truly, one of the very few places we’ve been that can match New Zealand for raw natural beauty, and it’s a little difficult to leave.
120 West is closed (rockslides, sinkholes, or some other natural feature of the California paradise), and so we’re forced onto a precipitous mountain crossing on our way out of the park. It’s a beautiful, if nail-biting, road that empties into towns right out of the mythic Old West, then continues into a verdant, ranch-covered stretch of the Central Valley. Modesto is…unfortunate…but the rest is a very pleasant drive.
Sheraton Gateway SFO – A serviceable hotel with a view of the San Mateo Bridge and the San Francisco Bay – which is not, especially from this position, one of the world’s great vistas – but that is, for us, no more than a bed proximate to the airport. We’ve got social plans, and stay no longer than it takes to chill some wine in the minibar.
Redwood City, California
Bill Futornick’s house – Bill’s gatherings feature terrific food and wine, but even better conversation. Of course, precious little of it is printable, which will surprise no one who knows him.
Jacquesson 1996 Champagne Avize “Grand Cru” (Champagne) – Dusty dried yeast and desiccated lemon zest. Clean and gorgeous, with a silky, enticing perfume. Complex and beautiful.
Soucherie 1995 Savennières Clos des Perrières (Loire) – Botrytis? Light wet chalk and fennel pollen mark a dry, but also dried-out wine that seems like it has given itself over to mold. Stick a fork in it, because it’s done.
Baumard 1995 Savennières Clos du Papillon (Loire) – White asparagus soup studded with cauliflower. There’s a strong, musty minerality underneath, and something that seems like low-level botrytis, but a grapefruity acidity adds zip to a long, interesting finish. Very good. It’s in no danger of falling apart, but if I had any more, I’d probably drink it soon; the balance of elements seems pretty appealing at this stage.
Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat peach syrup, earth and pectin with almonds on the finish. Chunky. I suspect this wine’s greatest flaw is its company at this moment…higher-acid, leaner wines that make this seem heavier than it is.
Amido 2004 Tavel Les Amandines (Rhône) – Smooth orange, rose petal and strawberry leaf. Despite Tavel’s fame, I’m rarely much of a fan; ponderousness and/or obviousness are the flaws shared by most of what I’ve tasted, and then there’s the prevailing alcohol issue with southern French rosés. But none of those problems are in evidence here. Quite nice.
Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2002 Touraine Gamay (Loire) – Herb-infused earth and white pepper with a powdery texture. This wine reminds me of the same producer’s sauvignon in its dominance of terroir over variety, but it’s a little more varietally recognizable than the sauvignon; the gamay shows through with bright, red-fruited acidity. There’s good aging potential here, and I think the wine would benefit from more of it.
Lafarge 1998 Volnay “Vendanges Sélectionnées” (Burgundy) – Tannic, with red cherry and walnut peeking from beneath the iron maiden. There’s potential, perhaps, but wow is this tight, and I wonder if it will ever fully resolve.
Hudelot-Noellat 1999 Vougeot Les Petits Vougeot “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Tight but gorgeous, with crisp balance and a lovely finish of surpassing length. There’s not much “fruit” as such, at least not at the moment, but one can almost feel it lurking in the background. Stay tuned.
Boutin “Château La Roque” 1995 Pic Saint-Loup “Cupa Numismae” (Languedoc) – Horse sweat and mustiness. Tight, tough and very, very hard. I’d hoped that after eleven years, this would be a little more engaging, but no such luck. Is it still closed, or dying? I’m at a loss.
Terrabianca 1990 “Campaccio” (Tuscany) – Red and green bell peppers, thick, dark cherries and herbs. The wood isn’t at all apparent, and this appears to be resolving towards something reminiscent of an urban Saumur-Champigny, though the finish is a bit more acrid than one would like. Still, for a super-anything, it’s fairly unspoofulated.
(The original version, with more photos – and since it’s Yosemite, they’re quite worthwhile – is here.)
27 April 2006 – San Francisco, California
Taylor’s Automatic Refresher – Loaded up with overpriced but high-quality groceries from the Ferry Building Marketplace, we’re completely ready for our trip to Yosemite. Well, that’s not quite true…we’ve got food for later, but we could use some food for now. And so, it’s one more trip to this upmarket burger joint for a perfect bacon cheeseburger, sinful garlic fries, and a decidedly average “black and white” shake.
27 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park – Anyone with the slightest bit of awareness has seen innumerable pictures of this place, and yet they still don’t replicate the jaw-dropping experience of one’s first glimpse of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome, and the various waterfalls that surround the valley. “Breathtaking” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Photos come closer, but even then….
Yosemite West – We’ve rented a self-catering apartment, in a little cluster of houses between the valley and Wawona, and technically outside the park itself (though the only way out, other than on foot, is through the park). It’s dark and in need of updating, but it’s clean, quiet, and comfortable…if a little bit harder to find than it should be. Theresa whips up a dinner of sturgeon with thyme and Meyer lemon, red leaf greens with crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese, and burrata for dessert.
Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Sweaty and full-bodied, showing sultry decayed flower petals and dark stone fruit; the sun beats down on this wine, but it’s a dark, eclipsed sun. It’s rich and a bit heavy, but quite tasty nonetheless.
Dönnhoff 1999 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese 19 99 (Nahe) – From 375 ml. Long crystalline quartz, pulsing with energy and intensity. There’s candied tangerine rind, needle-sharp acidity, and massive yet well-integrated sweetness, but what’s most unbelievable about this wine is the length. Stunning, awe-inspiring wine.
24 April 2006 – San Francisco, California
Quince – One of the more difficult reservations to make in San Francisco quickly becomes one of the most difficult to keep, as our group stands around the restaurant’s cramped front section, generally feeling as if we’re intruding on everyone’s dinner, for a full thirty-five minutes after our scheduled time. The blame can’t be laid entirely at Quince’s doorstep – if a table won’t leave, it won’t leave, and there’s no call for Manhattan-style deadlines on what should be a leisurely dining experience – but a little more consideration and, at the very least, apologizing would be nice. We receive little of either.
Once seated, we set to the dual tasks of deciding which of the many wines we’ve brought should be opened, and what to eat with them. Quince sets a two-bottle limit on BYO, which is stringent but obviously works to the benefit of their excellent wine list, and their $25 per bottle corkage seems fair given the overall setting. Choosing the food, however, is more difficult, because for a small restaurant there are almost too many enticing options.
A first course of fried fish with favas and an herbal sauce is fine, as are small pieces of halibut on toast, but a pasta course with razor clams is more of a mixed blessing; tart and delicious in its crisply acidic sauce, but featuring slightly overcooked pasta that too-closely mimics the texture of the clams. My main dish of salt-encrusted pigeon is flawless and brilliant (though the squeamish will want to quickly dispense with the head, which is included in the presentation), but its accompaniment of peas is, like the pasta, somewhat overcooked…or maybe Quince is trying for an English approach to the vegetable. I eschew dessert, but an evening-capping coffee is simply world-class.
Once we’re finally seated, our service – and especially our wine service – is excellent.
Boxler 2002 Gewurztraminer “L60P” (Alsace) – I forget precisely what the “P” stands for, but it’s a site designation…though not a grand cru. The wine shows – big surprise – intense aromatics, featuring lychee and spiced white plum. It’s full and rich, yet somehow carries a delicate balance through its long, persistent finish. Gorgeous wine, though unquestionably on the very sweet side.
Bründlmayer 2004 Grüner Veltliner Langenloiser Berg Vogelsang (Kamptal) – Celery root and ripe Meyer lemon with good, grapefruit-like acidity. Perhaps the dominating crispness attenuates this wine a bit, but the finish feels shorter than it should. This probably suffers from following the Boxler, though plenty of palate cleansing and food interruption does little to change the impression.
Gaja 1985 Barbaresco Costa Russi (Piedmont) – Murky, silky and sultry all at the same time, with spiced dried fruit, spicy plum, red cherry and strawberry seed over a steaming bed of hay…a strange wine, seemingly dominated by its spice (from which one makes inevitable deductions about wood), with a lot going for it, but not a lot of coherence. However, after an hour everything has snapped into focus, with exotic floral notes and a rich complexity coming fully to the fore. The first version of the wine is good but odd, the second is inspired. I recommend drinking the second.
Aldo Conterno 1985 Barolo Bricco Bussia Vigna Cicala (Piedmont) – Sexy, but a bit rough, showing S&M strawberries and a succulent, balanced finish. As with the whites, this may suffer in comparison to the bigger, richer and more “worked” Gaja…but it also definitely improves with time and distance from its regional counterpart. This is a wine that deserves a little more quiet contemplation that it probably receives here.
(The original version, with nicer formatting and more photos, is here.)
26 April 2006 –San Francisco, California
Taylor’s Automatic Refresher – On a gorgeous, pure blue day on the Embarcadero, an outdoor table is too much to resist, and I end up here rather than back for another (expensive) bout with a few dozen oysters. The Wisconsin sourdough burger is, like all Taylor’s products, pure, drippy decadence. Not cheap, but worth it…especially when partaking of the burger joint’s clever little wine list. I cart a half bottle to my outdoor picnic table and feel completely decadent. (Also, later: sunburned.)
Storybrook Mountain 2003 Zinfandel Mayacamas Range (Napa Valley) – Fat and woody, with spiced cedar and huge blackberry fruit. There’s good acid though, and this really works best as simple, sun-drenched fun.
bacar – Packed, which renders service a little slow, and yet it’s good to see this excellent wine bar in fine economic health despite its slightly difficult location. My only complaint – and it’s a minor one – is that, for several years now, the enticing wine list has been rather dominated by blowsy 2003s. I suppose they have to sell through their stock, but I’m looking forward to being able to order Austrian, German, and other higher-acid whites with more confidence that I’m going to enjoy the results.
Nigl 2004 Grüner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit (Kremstal) – This wine undergoes a fascinating transformation from nose to finish. It starts out very salty, while showing classic celery and green, grassy acidity. From there, it proceeds to sweeter melon rind, green kiwifruit and floral aspects. Finally, it finishes almost fat, with orange blossoms, raw cashew oil and hazelnut. Such a procession from light and nervy to full and flavorful is one of the delightful surprises of good grüner, though it’s not usually experienced quite to this extent. It would be nice if the nose were a little more enticing, but I suspect that will come in time, as its center of gravity shifts forward.
Bründlmayer 2004 Grüner Veltliner Kamptaler Terassen (Kamptal) – White pepper, ripe apple blossom and white rice-encrusted apple and green plum form a ripe, vivid whip-snap, albeit one encased in silk. Skin bitterness adds structure and counterbalance to the fruitier aspects, which edges very slightly towards being a bit warmer (that is, more alcoholic) than ideal. That’s nitpicking, though, for this is a very good wine.
Donabaum 2003 Grüner Veltliner Atzberg Smaragd (Wachau) – A ripe, fat nose of rum-soaked banana skin doesn’t improve much on the palate, where alcohol adds a harsh burn. Things are a little better once one becomes accustomed to the heat, and creamy celery and cauliflower with ripe white asparagus steer the wine towards the silkier, more dairy-like aspects of high-test grüner. Still, as the wine fades, one is once more left with that buzzing, numbing alcoholic fire.
Hirsch 2003 Grüner Veltliner Heiligenstein (Kamptal) – A smoky nose full of mineral dust, ripe celery and heavy red cherries precedes a smooth, balanced palate and long finish that provide more of the same. Unfortunately, the wine also carries a throbbing, fiery burn from out-of-balance alcohol.
Revelette 2004 Côteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé (Provence) – Salty canned fish (not, as it might seem, an inherently bad thing, though it is unusual) and heavy, molten lead with dead, softening wood rotting away in the background. OK, scratch the equivocation about the salted fish; this is pretty much the opposite of “fresh,” which I do believe is a virtual requisite for Provençal rosé. Worse yet: even with all the weirdness, the wine is boring.
Corbières du Boncaillou 1999 Corbières (Languedoc) – Gorgeous aromatics of dried flowers and spice with rustic undertones…but probe deeper, and there’s a smooth granite base with strong, complex striations. There’s a hint of something that tastes very slightly modern, but I’m not sure it’s possible to render Corbières all that urbane without leaving scars. No wounds here.
Send me a cable
25 April 2006 –San Francisco, California
Ocean Pearl (781 Broadway) – This is a dive in every imaginable way, with tilting tables and leaking teacups (not that it much matters, because the tea is lousy). Potstickers are constructed and served like spring rolls – a new experience for me, and one I don’t think is to their gustatory benefit – and salt & pepper squid have good flavor but are overly doughy. On the other hand, a plate of spicy jellyfish is simple and tasty. Everything here is dirt-cheap, and I suppose you get what you pay for. English is barely spoken, and not well-understood either.
VinoVenue – A “concept” that seems to have spread to a lot of places, wherein one buys a sort of debit card and inserts it into machines that dispense tastes of wine. They’re tiny tastes, and something about this whole venture strikes me as profoundly antisocial, but there is an actual bar at one end, with seats and a real live bartender. Plus, proximity to the Moscone Center can’t hurt business.
The wines – several dozen of them – are categorized, albeit haphazardly, into general substations based on color, region, variety, obscurity, and price. And the per-taste prices are just uneven enough that one will inevitably be left with insufficient funds at the end of a tasting session…which is no doubt designed to encourage “recharging” of one’s debit card.
Cullen 2003 “Ephraim Clarke” (Margaret River) – A sauvignon blanc/semillon blend. There’s sweat-covered grass and good acid up front – this attack is being led almost exclusively by the semillon – and a thick, long finish that’s full and luscious in a highly floral way. If there’s a criticism, it’s that everything ends on the goopy side. But it’s a pretty good wine nonetheless.
Coyne 2002 Grenache “Old Vines” (Lodi) – Confected bubblegum, dill-infused blueberry syrup, and toast with wood-flavored jam. Blech.
Stonecutter 2003 Pinot Noir (Martinborough) – Soft plum, tomato (perhaps tamarillo would be more accurate, though there’s no citrus), and golden beet with good acidity and a long, spicy finish that, eventually, turns vegetal and sour. This is just an odd wine.
Hochar 1995 Musar (Bekaa Valley) – Well-spiced earth of terrific complexity, paired with mixed peppercorns and a stunning black truffle core. Delicious, elegant, and certainly ready to drink…though I don’t think holding it will do any damage either.
Havens 2002 “Black & Blue” (Napa Valley) – A cabernet sauvignon/syrah blend, and dreadfully, painfully corked.
It’s this final wine that assures I will never return to VinoVenue. That the wine is corked is immediately obvious…the fruit isn’t just obscured, it’s buried in a thick, moldy reek. I bring my glass to the clerk at the front desk, who shrugs and directs me to one of the bartenders. I hand him my glass.
The white tower
“I think this is corked.”
He waves the glass in the general direction of his nose for far less than a second. “Nope.”
I frown. “I’m sure it is. It smells like it, and there’s absolutely no other aromas.”
He shakes his head.
This is getting nowhere. So, I attempt a bargain. “Look, the wine’s almost empty at the dispenser. Open another one, we’ll compare the two, and if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. If I’m right, though, I think you should credit the taste.”
He simply turns away. No further conversation is invited.
A few minutes later, as I’m pondering whether or not to escalate my complaint, the bartender reappears, a toothy grin that looks like more of a skull’s grimace pasted on his face. He’s carrying a glass. “This is what a corked wine smells like,” he says, presenting the liquid.
I sniff. He’s not wrong. But the Havens is far more deadened than this wine. At this point, I’m irritated, and say so. “It is corked. But it’s not as corked as the Havens. I do know how to identify corked wines. So are you going to replace it, or not?” For the second time, he just turns away. Apparently, non-confrontation is the service standard here.
Not that I’ll ever find out. Because I won’t be back.
Slanted Door – In need of a restorative (or perhaps purgative) wine experience, but with limited time before dinner, I power walk to the Embarcadero, in search of a wine bar that I know won’t ever let me down. And it doesn’t, as a grab the last seat in a restaurant that’s already getting very, very busy with early diners.
Prudhon 2001 St-Aubin “1er Cru” “Sur le Sentier du Clou” (Burgundy) – Lovely and elegant, with earth-flecked loam and lurking raspberry. The wine’s a bit of a structural chameleon, with good acid and tannin up front, a quick, sun-drenched brightening, then the emergence of a deeper, basso undertone, before finally softening once more on the finish. Air tightens the wine. It’s good now, but after a disappointing stage as it closes down it’s likely to be very pretty at full maturity.
Where’s the prazhoot?
Delfina – It’s time to try another of San Francisco’s small Cal-Ital meccas (is that a horribly cross-cultural descriptor, or what?), and the Mission’s Delfina is next on my list. It’s absolutely packed, and the sort of “scene” that just screams SF, with same-sex and mixed-sex couples making out all around us, then sort of making out with their food. Wine flows like a river. We squeeze into the bar and order a few glasses to start.
Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene (Veneto) – Fun citrus and sweet flower nectar with grapefruit and ripe melon. Aromatic and succulent. Terrific prosecco.
Unti 2003 Syrah (Dry Creek Valley) – Heavy, dark and thick fruit fighting through thick wood and thick (though ripe) tannin. Did I mention something about thickness? There are good raw materials here, and I suspect long ageability is a given, but the sludge is so heavy that it’s a chore to drink.
The food is fabulous…at least, most of the time. Artichokes done in the Jewish-Roman style with mint and lemon, a straight-from-the-sea salt cod dish, and a stunning, pure essence of cauliflower soup are the standouts from the first course, a giant platter of Tuscan pork ribs is carnivorous heaven, and gnocchi are absolutely flawless in their pillowy chew. The only letdown among the savory courses is a wan Dungeness crab salad, though it’s still better than dessert: a misguided buttermilk panna cotta with candied kumquats, which lacks both harmony and any appealing tastes.
Anselma 1993 Barolo (Piedmont) – Bitter tannin overwhelms fully-resolved fruit, leaving some dried rose petals and rough, sun-baked red cherries in its wake. Hanging on, but only just, and not that interesting of a wine.
Theresa opts for an oolong tea that arrives grossly oversteeped, while I delve into the stranger side of the dessert wine list.
Contini 1996 Vernaccia di Oristano Riserva (Sardinia) – Like dry oloroso Sherry, flat and austere with dark molasses residue. Very, very different. I’m initially repelled, but by the last sip it starts to grow on me.
(The original version, with more photos and better formatting, is here.)
24 April 2006 –San Francisco, California
Hog Island Oyster Co. – Is it pigging out when a single person devours three dozen oysters? Oh, who cares…they’re terrific, especially the succulent Effingham Inlet oysters from British Columbia, which are so enticing on this day that my third dozen is 100% Effingham. And kudos to Hog Island for continuing to present a thoughtfully-conceived short list of oyster-friendly wine, beer and sake.
Uvaggio 2005 Vermentino (Lodi) – California vermentino? From Lodi? Well, sure, I’ll try anything once. Or twice, as it turns out, because this is eminently pleasant, alive with intense green fruit and flowers bolstered by reasonably fair acidity. Somehow, it reminds me more of sauvignon blanc than any Sardinian or Corsican vermentino I’ve tasted, but the flavors are just different enough to set it apart. It’s no Tayerle, but it’s a clean, juicy accompaniment to briny oysters.
Caffè Greco – Yes, that’s the accenting they use. This busy North Beach café serves up one of the biggest lattes I’ve ever seen, though I’m not sure as to the value of such a size, as the end of the drink is considerably cooler than most people prefer their coffee. As for the contents themselves: the weight is right, but they’re texturally gritty and very slightly overroasted (not to the typical Starbucks extreme, though). Plus, the milk could be a bit fresher. Despite the great location and authentic ambiance, this is a bit of a downer.
San Francisco Brewing Company – We join some of Theresa’s conference-mates (and, though most with us are unaware, her soon-to-be employer) at this sticky…anyone ever heard of cleaning fluid?…pub/restaurant with tons of slightly dodgy atmosphere. It’s trying for the perfect English pub feel, but it’s not quite spot on. There’s food, but we’re meeting friends later, so we stick to the brewed offerings.
San Francisco Brewing Company Shanghai IPA – Sweet and hoppy, with a coriander-scented froth. It’s long and properly biter, but a little odd; what’s with the sweetness?
San Francisco Brewing Company Andromeda Wheat – Seriously, what is with the sweetness? This is light, with particulate wheat grain and a soft finish. But the sugar stands out, and can’t even be knocked back with lemon. (On the bar’s menu board, this is listed as Andromeda Hefeweizen.)
A16 – In the wealthy Marina District, and packed to the gills from stem to stern and opening to closing, there’s little reason to expect continued high quality here…and yet, the quality remains, even with changes in the kitchen. The most common food-related complaint is that the pizza isn’t perfectly crispy, but the restaurant counters that the thin, fully-crispy crust people expect is Roman, not authentically Neapolitan…and that it’s the latter style that the restaurant is trying to emulate. In any case, their signature pizzas are excellent, with simply-presented toppings that feature both themselves and their foundation.
But there’s a lot more to this menu than pizza. An appetizer of tuna and artichoke is perfect in its simplicity and the interplay between the diffident greenness of the artichokes and the oily brine of the tuna, with the fishy elements of both binding the dish together. Asparagus with a walnut crema is deepened by a faint truffle note, and again works together to bring out the quality of the individual ingredients. And grilled calamari with ceci beans, tomato and fennel tastes as if it had been flung directly from the sea to the fire. Moving on to bigger plates, a heavenly, light-but-heavy gnocchi dish with peas and chili flakes sneaks up on the palate with its simple and pure appeal.
The only complaint I have about A16 is the din, which rises to conversation-obscuring levels for most of any dining period. But since this phenomenon is hardly uncommon in the restaurant world, it’s probably not worth complaining about.
A16’s wine list is very, very heavy on Southern Italian offerings, which means the majority of it will be completely opaque to Americans, who are rarely familiar with anything south of Tuscany. I have no problem identifying a few dozen wines I know and like, but on a list of this breadth I like to expand my horizons…and thus I enlist the help of Skye LaTorre, one of the three young wine specialists that assist A16’s wine director, Shelley Lindgren. (Of that quartet, three are women, which is both unusual and commendable in the often-conservative world of restaurant wine.) I give her my criteria: acid required, lighter on the wood, no goopy 2003-style wines, unusual is just fine, and anything earthy or mineral-driven is a plus. She literally hops with excitement, and scurries away to find something intriguing.
Dettori “Badde Nigolosu” 2004 Romangia Bianco (Sardinia) – 100% vermentino from a noted sub-region of the island, and Skye has definitely taken my encouragement towards the unusual literally. This wine is slightly cloudy, showing fat, spicy white melon and a powdery complexity on the palate that turns silky on the long finish. Like many Old World wines, it rises and falls in intensity proportional to the demands placed upon it by the accompanying food. Really, really interesting.
Marcassin 2002 Chardonnay Zio Tony Ranch (Russian River Valley) – Needless to say, this is not one of Skye’s suggestions, but rather a kind gift from a nearby table who notes the extent to which we’re geeking out over the wines. It’s extremely thick, showing wave upon wave of yellow fig – it’s more than a little monotonal – with a hint of peach, plenty of syrupy wood, and absolutely no finish. I suspect that people who like this style of
oil wine would greet this with adoration, but I do not number among those people.
Viticoltori de Concillis 2003 Paestum “Naima” (Campania) – Also a gift from a neighboring table, and 100% aglianico. Dense, thick, and slightly woody, showing slow-braised blackberry, boysenberry and blackberry that turn to chocolate-covered jam on the finish. Again, probably yummy to some, but it tastes like a caricature to me. And where’s the aglianico? For that matter, where’s the Campania?
Argiolas 2002 Isola dei Nuraghi “Korem” (Sardinia) – A wine I know fairly well…but while Skye offers to exchange it for something else, no one else at the table is familiar with it, so we forge ahead. A blend of bovale sardo, carignano (carignane) and cannonau (grenache), showing roasted walnuts, roasted berries, red cherry and some earthy/loamy undertones. The wine is unquestionably thick, but balanced and nicely softened on the finish. It’s a bit internationalized, to be sure, but not in an offputting way.
Gaetano Pichierre “Vinicola Savese” 1994 Primitivo di Manduria (Apulia) – Bizarrely authentic and untouched by modern convention, this is dark red cherry and strawberry syrup with a gorgeous Mediterranean sweat character (better than it sounds, I suppose). It’s sweet, alcoholic and thick, with a short finish, but is fascinating enough in its uniqueness that other faults can be overlooked. Or not; it’s not particularly popular among my dining companions.