Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Great Moments in Retail v1.08: How Busy is Too Busy?

Sometimes this job really sucks.

Dad called me last night to let me know that a former colleague and old family friend died the other day. They both started their career with the same company 50 years ago and both moved their families to Dallas in the early sixties and the two families have been close ever since. The last time I saw John was at my mother's funeral in September. John's funeral was today and Dad was asked to be a pallbearer. I decided to go to represent the rest of our family.

But Christmas madness was in high form this morning and by the time I thought about the funeral it was one o'clock. I guess I could have walked out if I had remembered, but it would have left a number of customers and the store high and dry.

So now I'm angry as hell and feel sad and terrible. And sometimes this job really sucks.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Pie Fight

It was the last card on a long day. Naps were over, dishes were done. Time for a last piece of pie. Oh... maybe a thin slice of that Pecan.

Oh, and for a last nip to close the evening. Whatllyahave? The early thought was Zaya aged rum, but that seemed too safe and easy and then the decision was Rye or Bourbon and why the hell not, bring out the George T Stagg. And the battle was on!

A little background.

A hundred and fifty years ago legendary Kentucky distiller E.H. Taylor partnered with distiller/financial wizard George T Stagg to build the state-of-the-art distillery of its day, known for many years as the George T Stagg distillery. It was one of only a handful to survive Prohibition and is known today as Buffalo Trace. Every year Buffalo Trace chooses a handful of old barrels of the most powerful aged bourbon they can find and bottle it uncut and release it under the George T Stagg label as part of their "Antique Collection."

Up until a few years ago these bottles sat in dusty lockboxes with other rare old whiskies and waited for the rare collector to show up and claim their prize. Today they are fought over tooth and nail. At the store, we have over a hundred names on the waiting lists for the meager allocation of bottles we will receive. More customers are hurt and angry than are made happy. The sad thing is that there are more great American whiskies on the shelf than ever before, but no one wants to buy goods off the rack.

But come on, it's not about the whisky it's about the coup. Pappy Van Winkle. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection for the new cognoscenti. Jeez, Amerika! Are we drinking whisky or collecting baseball cards?

Ok. Deep breath. Rant over. Eat pie, Drink whiskey. Calm down.

The pie is delicious. Rich, sweet and nutty, Susan adds a layer of broken pecan pieces which float to rest just under the decorative top layer of arranged Fancy Jumbo Halves for extra pecan nuttiness.

However, as delicious as the pie may be, the first sips of the Stagg blow the pie clean off the palate like a flamethrower with its hot, stinging breath of alcohol (70.9%) and massive flavors. But curiously, as I eat more of the pie, it offers more and more resistance to the whiskey. Creamy layers of dark, nutty candy coat the tongue until finally balance is achieved and the flavors merge with the sweet cinnamon tobacco richness of the whiskey in some form of Southern Nirvana.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 2, 2012

BT 10: Absolutely!

It was a smaller group that gathered for our double blind tasting session at Suze on a late October evening. None of us really felt sorry for Sepi. We knew full well that he was enjoying some killer wines out in San Francisco. (He always does.) How # 4 made it, I don't know. He had emailed his 'full-time Dad' schedule of birthdays, hockey games, football games and somehow had already fitted in a tasting session before joining us. But he wasn't too late. He even claims he went to work.

There were no preliminaries tonight. We ordered some starters and went right to work. Scott brought the first wine. "White!" we exclaimed. Got that right. The rich amber hue (it was tough to see in the dim light) told us that the wine had some age. Notes of baked pear, burnt orange, butter scotch and toasted marshmallow finished with a touch of acid lift on the finish. We were hesitant to call Napa Chardonnay, because we remembered the old Sauvignon Blancs Scott had brought to the last tasting. Finally Dave went on a rant on the similarity to some old Patz & Hall Chardonnays and called the wine a 2007 Carneros Chardonnay from a high altitude vineyard like Hyde or Hudson. "No, the label said Napa," corrected Scott. Well, it could have been from the Napa section of Carneros, but it was a 2007 from Yountville. A tiny plot of the Gemstone vineyard planted with Meursault clones, a two barrel production by Phillipe Melka, Facets Estate Chardonnay, 2007.

John pulled out the second wine, ruby red with hints of orange around the edges, with a thick glistening rim between the glass and the edge of the color. Ripe but delicate flavors of raspberries, dried cherries and a hint of mint intertwined with silky tannins kissed by lush vanilla on the finish. Brad was quick, Napa Cabernet, 1996. We guessed producers until John pulled the bottle out of the bag. Altamura 1996. Lovely.

Next Brad poured a dark purple wine out of the bagged bottle. No bricking here (that we could see). Pools of black fruit were buried in the skeins of cedar and sage of the dark wine. It had the vibrance of youth with the elegance of age. Napa Cabernet for sure, but we guessed 2001 or 2002. No it was the 1996 Whitehall Lane Reserve, tasting like a youngster.

At this point we're remembering other 1996 wines the group has tasted: Cinq Cepages, Montelena and several Bordeaux. Some great wines!

By now the lamb is on the table and Dave brings out a massive wine. Opulent black fruits with dark hints of espresso and flowers. Fat black fruits and rich textures coat the palate in layers. There is enough acid to keep the wine from being too heavy and give elegance to the power. John immediate goes to Spain, then Italy. The elegance is very European, so it has to be South American. The smoky notes point to Malbec and Argentina. It's a Cabernet/Malbec blend, Cheval Blanc's Argentine project, Cheval des Andes, 2007.

Scott pours another dark wine with silky black fruit with hints of mocha. John has an obsession with this grape, it's Syrah, though this expression misses some of the characeristic peppery notes. It's fine-grained and elegant and does not overwhelm. The wine fights everything you think about syrah, yet it can't be anything else. Not a wine you see everyday, Araujo Eisele Vineyard Syrah, 2005.

One more. Are you kidding me? There's only four of us, but Brad brings out one more. The darn thing's open after all. More deep, rich dark fruit, lush yet light with a kiss of spicy tannin. (Oh please, just kill me like this, OK?)  Napa? Yes. Cabernet? NO. Dave ponders for just a moment then calls it, "Paloma Merlot, 2004 or 2005." BOOM! Brad turns, stares and shakes its head. One of the quickest calls since John nailed the poor guy's Massetto a while back. He spent a lot to stump the group, we've never seen him since! The wine was delicious, by the way, as were all the wines this evening.

We ordered some desserts and "No, you didn't." "Yes, I did" A small bottle of dessert wine makes its appearance. Amber in color, the wine is redolent with honey and caramel, but with a drying almost salty finish. After a moments silence, John (or was it Brad) called out "South African Chenin Blanc." Half-right. 2003 Domaine Jo Pithon Coteaux Layon St. Lambert. (Too bad the kitchen was out of cajeta for the crepes, they would have been perfect!)

And that was it. Another great evening with great food in a wine friendly restaurant. Chef Gilbert Garza came over and sat down with us we visited and revisited the wines with him. The room was empty when he walked us to the door. THANKS!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Great Moments in Retail v1.07: Or Maybe Not...

RIP Mustang Beverages.

For as long as I have worked at Sigel's Greenville Avenue, across the street a small, independent liquor store eked out their share of the market. I'm sure they stocked products we didn't, maybe their prices were a little lower on some items, for sure they didn't style themselves as an 'Elite' store as we did, not only in the new name of the store, but in our high-priced wines and whiskies, tile floors and big screens HD televisions and satellite radio. To quote from their one review on 'Yelp:'
Mustang Beverages is a lot smaller than your normal liquor store and reminds one of a Astoria or Williamsburg bodega.  Though their space is limited, they've done the most with their area and have a large selection of different liquors of all sizes. You won't find much wine or craft beer here, but what you will find are friendly employees that will chat about soccer or basketball and will always remember your name.
We coexisted. Until this week. After an 'inventory reduction' sale, they closed their doors, and one by one, we are meeting their customers. Why did they close?

Because the big dogs have come to town. Total Wines sells most major brands below cost. Other big stores are responding by lowering prices. Survival depends on having good business on other brands which can be sold at a profitable price. The change in the wet/dry lines opening up the city for beer/wine sales changed the game in a big way. Now the grocery and big-box discount stores led by Tom Thumb (Safeway) and Sam's offer an expanded selection of major brand wines at highly discounted prices. It's tough!

Total's MO is to lose large money for a year or more on their new stores. Their goal is to drive 40-50% of the independent stores out of business. And then they'll raise their prices on the major brands. Of course their major goal is to drive customers to their own private labels which have more than enough margin to offset the discounting.

So keep a watch on the little independents stores that populate the city. Support them when you can. Notice when they're gone. Remember that a capitalist economy depends on profit to exist. You don't get somethin' for nothin'!

RIP Mustang.

Great Moments of Retail v1.06: You Can't Have It!

As an industry we do some really dumb things.  For instance....

Whenever a spectacular vintage of a particular wine is released several things are likely to happen. The action/reactions follow a similar pattern usually depending on who owns the wine. It's classic supply and demand. Those who have it want to hold on to it, raise the price and save it for themselves or for customers with insider connections. Those who don't have it want to purchase the wine and those who have favored or insider connections will be able to purchase some.

The great thing is that this model works on all levels where the wine changes hands. From supplier to wholesaler, from wholesaler to retailer, from retailer to customer. The bad thing is that the average customer never sees the wine. All that's left for him is the lesser quality bottlings that still carry the same high price tag. On those special occasions when the customer buys one of these lesser quality bottlings, he is invariably disappointed.

What a great model!

Who would train a dog like this???

Friday, August 31, 2012

BT #9. Number 9. Really?

Blind Tasting # 9. Core group at Cafe Urbano, 5 guys, 11 wines (most tasted double blind) at Mitch Kaufman's fabulous ode to BYOB tucked in behind Jimmy's Italian Deli in deepest Old East Dallas. Find it if you're able.

We paid homage to Jimmy's great selection of Italian wines with a bottle of Prosecco. Nino Franco Rustico. Crisp flavors, bone dry, this is prosecco to get excited about rather than the readily available slightly sweet, frothy concoctions that dominate the market place. (Major cloying brands, you know who you are!)

With appetizers of caprese 'smores and bacon wrapped figs, we moved onto the first wine of the evening. The color was deep gold. (Funny how details like color in the glass are admired with the first wines of the evening...) The rich wine was showing smoky oak, butterscotch, caramel, and rich tropical fruits. Grilled pineapple and cajeta added complexity.

"Must be chardonnay, but, but old!" The group was definite as to varietal, but split as to origin.

"Not quite enough acid, must be domestic!"

The consensus was in, but no, it was not chardonnay. It was a white Bordeaux. 2003 Ch. Monbousquet Blanc. WOW! Most of us were not aware the Monbousquet even made white wine. The extreme heat of the 2003 vintage accounted for the pronounced tropical fruits and lower acid levels.

Scott also brought the second wine, and it was another white, even older, even a darker burnished gold than the first. "Darker than a pilsener!" Bradley exclaimed! However it was fresher, less sunken, with less buttercotch than the first, with a definite waxy feel. Must be Graves, with a lot of Semillon, suggested Sepi. John came in late, took one smell, one taste and declared, "Nice Chard!" The wine reacted quite differently to the food on the table.It head-butted the risotto balls with their slightly spicy sauce but was an extension of the bacon wrapped figs. "You know, Sigel's used to carry wines from Kalin who aged white wines forever before releasing them," Dave remembered. And that was it. 1997 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve from Kalin Cellars. I just checked. The 1997 is the CURRENT RELEASE.

Both wines were out-there selections. Much discussion of the slippery slope of aged wines ensued. Both wines showed significant levels of oxidation especially when compared to the current standards of fresh, crisp wines produced by cold fermentation and limited exposure to oxygen. Kalin's website has an interesting discussion of umami and wine. Oh to be a student of aesthetics!

Brad brought out the first Red of the evening. "Wow, that's Kosta Brown!" Sepi exclaimed, before everyone had even poured a glass. And correct he was.2006 Kosta Brown Russian River Pinot Noir. Everyone agreed. That was the fastest ID the group has seen. Faster even than John's Massetto call back in BT #3. Sepi's point was taken. The Kosta Brown does not jump out of the glass like most Pinot Noirs. It just sinks. But sinks with lightness, not heaviness.

Brad also brought the second red. Obviously Pinot Noir, but totally different from the Kosta Brown. Intense red mystery fruit, driven by acids, the wine was elusive and powerful. To get that much power and liveliness it had to come from the Santa Rita Hills. Scott nailed it. Sea Smoke 2005 Botella. The mystery fruit was rhubarb.

At this point in the evening we were somewhat in awe of the power of the wines we had experienced as we realized we were under wine's "Cone of Magic" that descends over a group of good friends enjoying good food and good wine.We all could pinpoint times when the magic of wine made its impact on our lives.

John brought wine number 5. Ripe cherries and neutral tobacco were the initial notes, followed by darker fruit flavors and an earthy note of gorund expresso. Raspberries morphing into blackberries. Shiraz? No, the black pepper signature was missing entirely. The wine was in a lush, new world style, but the acids and red fruits were not Californian. "Chile?" ventured Dave. "Yes." "Carmenere?" "A high percentage." "Clos Apalta?" "Yes, 2005. The Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year." Awesome. New World extraction in an Old World framework.

Sepi brought out wine #6. Earthy mushrooms with a beautiful perfumed violet aromas and delicate kisses of cassis poking though the edges, this red could only come from Bordeaux. "I didn't want to bring this because I new Dave would just nail it," said Sepi. Pichon Lalande? Almost. Pichon Baron. 1995.

By now I had a filet on a bed of mushroom risotto. Life was looking pretty good!

And Sepi brought out #7. Brad was ecstatic. "Rounded out like a natural breast that fills the hand. No silicone. I could drink this every day." Silky floral perfumes, sweet caramelized oak. Ripe, balanced fruit. Napa Cabernet, no question. 2001, a great vintage coming together perfectly. Spottswoode.

And that's the end of my notes. I won't mention the under-performing 2008 Flor de Pingus. It didn't seem to be corked, but the color was bricked and flavors were underwhelming. Most of us had had the wine before and this bottle was definitely way off its peak.

Dessert followed, along with more wines tasted non-blind. The half bottle of Krug was brilliant, with its rich honeyed notes of toast points and baked apples as was the half bottle of 2007 Petite Giraud Sauternes. No one drank it because none of us drink sweet wine. Or white wine for that matter. Right.

Thanks again to Mitch Kaufman and his wonderful staff at Cafe Urbano for a relaxed evening. It is a real treat to be able to be so relaxed, eat such great food and drink our own wine.

While we leaving, Mitch was talking about terroir of beef. He did a dinner last week with Uruguayan beef producers. "Local is relative," he said. He'd love to do a dinner showcasing beef from different sources.

As we were getting into the car, he was pushing a garbage cart across the street. "Local is seeing the restaurant owner taking out the garbage," I said.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thanks Julia. Sunday Dinner with Mom

Three weeks ago my mother learned that her lung cancer has returned and that the new tumors are inoperable and in her weakened condition, untreatable. Sixty plus years of determined tobacco use are taking their toll. Two weeks ago, she enrolled in hospice and the direction of her thinking is starting to change. Susan and I went by to fix dinner Sunday night.

Comfort food in our family has always revolved around rice. When my or my sisters were sick as children, Mom would fix us a perfectly broiled ground beef patty with just enough jus to color the bottom grains of the buttered rice. Grandine might bring an covered enamel ware pot with her legendary chicken and dumplings. (It was Atlanta, after all.)

When our children were sick, Susan and I fed them tender chicken breasts and, you got it, buttered rice. Every so often when we celebrated I would fix butter poached chicken breasts with aromatic vegetables and what the recipe called Risotto, but it was closer to a Pilaf. But it was good, so that is what we took to fix for my Mother.

When we arrived, the question was whether she would leave the tranquil, leafy quiet of her bedroom and come into the dining room, but after the aromas started filling the apartment, the question was answered.

She and Susan were sitting at the table and Dad and I were bringing out the plates when I asked who wanted wine. Then it came to me. I brought out glasses for all and served everyone a glass. "I'm sorry," I said in my best Claude Rains, "But I'm afraid I must insist!"

And I proposed a toast to Julia Child in honor of her 100th birthday.

Because someone gave Susan a copy of Julia Child's The French Chef Cookbook when we got married. This was the first recipe I tried back in the summer of 1976 and have used it countless times since. Supremes de Volaille a l'Ecossaise with Risotto and Buttered Summer Vegetables.

"Serve the supremes with a chilled White Burgundy," Julia directed and I did.

The 2009 Bourgogne Blanc made by the young Christophe Cordier.

Everything was delicious.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tasting on a Sunday

Every year the Texas Package Store Association holds its annual convention and on Sunday, they have a tasting. Wines, liquors, beer, mixers, software systems; anything that has anything to do with a liquor store is there. This year it was held at the Sheraton in downtown Dallas. I always go with the intention of tasting a few products, but mainly seeing people I know that I don't see everyday. I always seem to taste a few more items than I planned. Here's the list from this year in the rough order of tasting.

Prichard's Double Barreled Bourbon
Prichard's Crystal Rum
Prichard's Private Stock Rum
An organic reposado Mezcal that was quite delicious and reasonably priced.
Armand d'Brignac 'Ace of Spades' Champagne
Brennan Texas Viognier
Lone Oak Texas Syrah
MacPherson Texas La Herencia Rhone blend
MacPherson Sangiovese
Duchman Family Texas Vermentino
Duchman Family Texas Viognier
Duchman Family Texas Montepulciano
Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais
Carpano Antica
Templeton Rye
Carpano Antica mixed with Templeton Rye
Bergstrom Pinot Noir
Buccella Cabernet
Paul Hobbs Cabernet
Brunello Ciacci Piccolomini
Orin Swift The Prisoner
Orin Swift Papillon
Orin Swift Abstract
High West Double Rye
High West Son of Bourye
High West Campfire
High West Vodka 7000' Peach
Brunello Bondi-Santi
MacPhail's 8 yr Tamdhu
MacPhail's 8 yr Highland Park
MacPhail's 8 yr Bunnahabhain
Gordon MacPhail 15 yr Mortlach
Gordon MacPhail 11 yr Scapa
Gordon MacPhail 10 yr Glenburgie 
Gordon MacPhail Smith's 21 yr Glenlivet
Speymalt 2002 Macallan
Speymalt 1990 Macallan
Gordon MacPhail 21 yr Old Pulteney
MacPhail's 30 yr Glenrothes
Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
Del Maguey Tobala Mezcal
Clement Rhum Agricole VSOP
Clement Rhum Agricole Cuvee Honore
Clement Rhum Agricole XO Rhum
Clement Creole Shrubb
Clement Rhum Agricole Sirop de Canne

I think that's it! The tasting took about 3 1/2 hours and much more liquid went into trash baskets and spit buckets than was swallowed. Some of the Scotches and Rums blend together, but the best products stand out. The Tasmanian Single Malts came highly recommended, but they remained elusive.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Tasting at the End of Vacation

On his travels this summer my son Travis discovered an unsold cache of Ardbeg's legendary Airigh Nam Beistie. The 'beastie' was a blend of barrels of old Ardbeg whisky distilled in 1990 before the distillery was mothballed. The first release in 2006 was followed by bottlings which were produced and released in 2007 and 2008. Sadly, there is no more whisky to be released. So when Travis found some for sale, it was the latest, the 2008 release. And he bought. At least one.

Back in Dallas, I had the remains of a bottle of the 2007 release and one of the goals of the last couple weeks of vacation has been to do a serious comparative tasting. And tonight we finally did.

The evening started with a couple of beers and hamburgers as we watched the packaged Olympics. Even though we knew the result, the watching was better then the Texas Rangers baseball game. The Rangers were down 4-0 to the Angels and Jarod Weaver was pictching. So the results were known there as well.

One of the beers was BRUX, a limited release collaboration between the renowned Russian River Brewing and the well known Sierra Nevada. It was a "domesticated Wild Ale. A dry and complex Belgian style ale refermented in the bottle with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis." 'Brett' is considered by many to be a flaw in table wines, as it imparts an earthy, barnyard flavor. The beer was reminiscent a of red Scotch Ale, but had the perfumed aromatics of the Belgian yeast. The gaminess of the 'Brett' was subdued and in the background, though that could change if the beer is aged as recommended by the brewers.

For a nightcap we turned to whisky. 2007 and 2008 Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beistie, to be precise.

Initially the two whiskies seemed quite different. The 2008 was yeasty, peaty, tarry and smokey with grace notes of honey, with a long dry finish. The 2007 was much more waxy and floral, with much louder notes of spicy, rich honey and a sweeter finish. The complex smokiness of the peat was a common bond between the two whiskies.

Both bottles of Ardbeg had yeasty floral notes similar to the beer. Which makes sense. The Ardbeg stills are  famous for their low, fat columns which let the flavor of the fermented beer come through the distillation process. They both had a salty, mineral flavor that spoke of  bog myrtle, pounded for centuries by the Atlantic Ocean.

Next I pulled out a bottle of Lagavullin. It was the 12 year old limited release bottled in 2009. My memory of it had been of the peat and honey, similar to the 2007 Beastie, but the younger whisky was characterized by white pepper and yeasty floral notes of freshly cut aloe. The honey seemed sweeter than the Ardbegs  and floated on top of the dark peaty flavors which were there in ample supply.

The Lagavulin made the Ardbeg whiskies taste more similar, althought all three bottles were easily differentiated in the glass.

The combination of white pepper, smoke and honey led me to throw a couple of bottles of Mezcal into the tasting arena. First was El Senorio Reposado. My wife had sourced from a bookseller in Oaxaca who bought it from a friend who produced it. While it had the flavors I was looking for, it was much too smooth and refined to join the conversation.

So next I brought out a bottle of Del Maguey Minero Mezcal. Minero is an artisanal mezcal produced in a small village high up in the mountains outside of Oaxaca. The wild, indigneous, local agave is smoked by hot stones in dugout pits, crushed by giant milling stones pulled by donkeys and fermented in clay pots with bamboo piping.

Amazingly complex and powerful, here was a spirit that could converse with the Scotch whiskies. Except that where the Scotch spoke English, the Mezcal spoke a completely foreign language. The Mezcal was complex and smoky with vague suggestions of agave, the salty minerality spoke of sweat and dirt, where the whiskies spoke of peat bogs. The Mezcal spoke of desert sands, the Scotch spoke of the ocean.

Yet, in many ways they were very, very similar.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Meeting With the Ministry of Rhum

For the last several years Ed Hamilton has run a website called The Ministry of Rhum, which is an exhaustive compilation of information, product review, recipes and all things Rhum. In addition, he is an importer of several labels of Rhum Agricole, that is to say rhum distilled from fresh sugar cane juice from the French islands in the West Indies. But mainly he just knows everything there is know about rum

Ed conducted a staff training session this morning and cleared up a number of myths and misunderstandings.

Ed started his life designing and selling mechanical actuators for bombs until he realized that what he really wanted to do was live on a sailboat in the Caribbean. So he quit his job, worked his way around the world a couple of times and wound up on a 38 foot sailboat in the Caribbean. Since the longest distance between any island is about 80 miles, that was all he needed. He soon discovered that every island had their own rum and that prices varied widely and soon he was bootlegging good cheap rum to islands with bad expensive rum. Then he started asking questions and found that when he said he was writing a book, companies would just give him free rum, so that's what he did. And now he makes money because he knows just about everything there is to know about rum.

Which is a lot to know, because rum is "the most diverse of all distilled spirits." That's because it's different on every island and there is no governing body with strict regulations. We see some labelling standardization because of Federal laws and regulations. Except for the French islands, where production of Rhum Agricole is strictly regulated. There are lots of websites to go into all that. But it gives me tiredhead.

Several times Ed discussed methods of consumption and this interested me as we've been hitting three-digits on the themometer the last few days and cold rum drinks can be delicious and refreshing. And what I learned is this: 2 parts Rum, light or aged, 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lime. Repeat that several times until you can remember it.

  • Daiquiri:  Combine in a shaker with ice, shake and strain straight up into a cocktail glass. Light or aged rum.
  • Mojito:  Muddle 6 mint leaves with lime juice and syrup. Add white rum and ice, shake and pour in a highball glass, Top with 2 parts club soda.
  • Rum Punch: Combine in a shaker with ice. Add dash of Angostura bitters, pinch of nutmeg. Shake and serve in a high ball glass. Use aged rum.

See how they are just variations? It's easy! Now Ed kept referring to Ti Punch all morning. You'll see why. It has nothing to do with tea.

  • Ti Punch:  Short for petit. Proportions vary to taste. Speed is of the essence. Frequently used as a morning pick-me-up.  2 ounces Rhum Agricole Blanc, 1 lime wedge, 1/2 tsp sugarcane syrup. Squeeze lime into a tall glass, Add rhum and syrup. Stir vigorously, Ice as you like, enough to chill, but not dilute. Drink, don't sip.

Memories of Flavor 1.0

The other day a customer was telling me about his memories of his first bottles of great wine. As it happened, they were Bordeaux. So were mine. In a different time, in a different economy.  Acquisition was based on knowledge rather than economic status. But I don't want to gripe about prices, I'm interested in memories.

What was driving my customer was his memory of the experience. That memory is there whenever he opens a bottle of wine. Flavor is part of the equation, but so it's mainly a kind of magic, a kind of time-travel if you will. I'm told Proust wrote a long book about it.

Memories like my customers drive me as well.

A number of years ago I was in the Bay area with my wife and one of my sons. We were driving through Berkeley when we passed Chez Panisse and on a whim we stopped to see about lunch and a little later we were seated next to an open window. We ordered plates to share. Some I can't recall, but I remember the depth of the salmon served with a fresh relish of corn and multicolored pepper. I remember this toasty discs of goat cheese on the mixed green and I remember the fresh flinty aromatics of the Pouilly-Fume that tied the meal together.

Many's the time I've created versions of that meal. Sometimes I get close.

Last Sunday was the most recent. I tossed corn cut from cob with red bell pepper, green onion,  tomato, fresh oregano from the backyard and dressed it with lemon juice and olive oil. I grilled a salmon fillet and we had a bottle of Chateau de Sancerre Cuvee Connetable, a barrel aged Sauvignon Blanc. Chez Panisse? No, but pretty damn good!

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Day of Tasting: Loire Valley to Peavy Road

Hi, my name is Dave. I sell alcohol. All types. In order to do this I consume and taste alcoholic beverages. All types.

Even on my day off.

I spent last Monday in an all-day Tequila seminar conducted by the CRT (the governmental agency which controls Tequila production) which culminated in a tasting featuring the Casa Dragones. See other postings about this fabulous tequila.

Today I put on a clean shirt and headed downtown to the Mansion on Turtle Creek for a seminar and tasting of wines from the Loire Valley. Let me start by saying that warm late spring days are perfect for Loire Valley wines. As a whole, they are clean, crisp and driven by minerally acids. Nuanced flavors differ by appellation. The wines can best be described by what food they go best with and that would be shellfish and goat cheese.

The tasting was a little disappointing in breadth. It was sponsored by the Loire Valley Wine Bureau and promised to feature wines that were locally available. Too often, these trade association tastings feature a vast selection of wines that will never be available through local wholesalers. So today we saw the limited variety of what is available in the wholesale market. Their literature lists 46 Loire Valley appellations. The tasting had wines from 7 appellationsfrom 7 different suppliers, most of whom showed a Sancerre, a Vouvray, and a Muscadet. We have wines from 10 appellations in our store.

Sancerre was represented by 7 producers, Pouilly-Fume by 3 producers. All selections were lean, a couple were flat and grassy. My favorite was the  Pouilly-Fume Selection Silex by Domaine Vincent Vatan. Brilliant flashes of citrus were embedded in the flinty aromatics of the silex.

Muscadet was represented by 5 producers. All were sur-lies (aged on the yeast cells) which gives the always surprising hints of richness to these clean citurs, mineral driven wines. A few are great, almost all are serviceable, they should never be expensive.

Vouvray is always a mystery. Is it sweet or is it dry? Sometimes demi-sec bottlings are labeled, but not always. Ask your salesman or waiter before you order. Both versions can be delicious. Domaine Pichot is not labelled demi-sec, maybe it should be labeled demi-demi-sec. A hint of sweetness barely cuts the dry edge of the wine. The demi-sec Chateau de Montfort provides a richness that would be fabulous with spicy Asian dishes.

There was just one lone red wine, Chinon Marie de Beauregard from Saget et perriere was textbook Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, bright red cherries with a hint of darkness and tobacco leaf. But light and clean with no overwhelming oakiness.

And that was it: no Cremant, no Savenierres, no dessert wines, no lines of Sauvignons from Touraine lined up like infantry. But it was a great reminder of how delicous these wines are and how valuable they can be in the months ahead. They are wines best drunk cold when the weather is hot.

And then I went to Goodfriend on Peavy Road in way East Dallas for a burger and a couple of beers. The amber Avery Karma was perfect with the meaty burger and best waffle fries ever. The Karma was rich and precise beyond everything our local favor amber bock ever dreamed it could be. Stone Imperial Russian Stout was its infinitely deep dark self that just got deeper and darker as the day ground to a halt.

Then home for the daily meds, maybe a small glass of Amaro and that's it 'til the next one.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

BT #8: A Gathering of Eagles

Well, this tasting was so long in the scheduling, it needed an impressive title.

Five of us gathered a week ago in a back room at Urbano's to enjoy an evening of blind tasting. And enjoy we did. 

Bradley went to the cooler at Jimmy's deli next door for a bottle of Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp and cold, grassy with a kiss of citrus, it was the perfect beginning. 

d1:  We decided to order some appetizers to start with and get the evening underway.  I brought a white wine, so I pulled the cork and we poured away and were met by a wall of citrus aromas, smokey notes of rich tropical fruit and a creamy wall of acid and mineral. "Wow, full malolactic, but young." "It's really not a question of what it is but what appellation." I assumed that everyone else assumed it was white burgundy of a significant order. Puligny? Chassagne? No, Meursault. Domaine Guy Fichet, Tesson, 2008. Fichet is a young vigneron. Instead of blending less than premier cru into a 'village' wine, he makes wine from single parcels that have blinding precision.

The wine was terrific with our appetizers: Mussels in a tomato sauce, Caprese Smores, Risotto balls. 

sepi1:  Roses, cherries and hints of tar and acid wafted from the glass. Everyone wanted to go Italian and I thought it had to be Nebbiolo until I tasted the wine and was floored by the lack of tannins. That left Burgundy and that's what it was. The wild cherries and berries took my memory back to Gevrey Chambertin and that's what it was. Harmand-Geoffroy Gevrey Chambergin Vielles Vignes 2003. Pure, focused and delicious. "Gee, I thought I knew Burgundy..." lamented Scott. (BT's are a humbling thang!)

As Bradley pulled out the next wine, he announced that he had shown serious restraint and had only brought one wine. 

"What, you brought another wine?" he said when I announced that I had brought another bottle. 

"White wines don't count," I said.

b1:  Bradley's wine exploded from the glass with cherries, fresh tobacco and blackberries, cut with cedar and vanilla. Then John launched into a rhapsody about 'boozeberries.' A Thanksgiving treat made by soaking cranberries in sugar and cognac and then popping them in a microwave. As we sat in awe of the wine in our glasses, we entreated Bradley just to unveil the damned thing. "I don't want to think about it," I said. "I just want to drink it. Kapcsandy 2006 Estate Cuvee. State Lane Vineyard. Napa. 

As our first entrees of the Beef Tenderloin and a special request of a Mushroom Risotto were being delivered, I explained my problem. I was concerned about the viability of the wine I had opened. It had been totally brown and devoid of any notion of red fruit. It did not taste flawed, but just very dried out, thin and oxidized. I didn't expect much, but wanted their input before opening another bottle. 

d2:  As I poured and everyone examined the wine, it was evident that my fears were unfounded. The silky rich flavors danced between dried fruit and fresh fruit and the tannins and structure were firmly in place creating space for the aromas and perfumes. Not unlike stained glass in a cathedral. The wine did not provide much challenge for blind tasters. Old Bordeaux? No doubt. 1990 Pape-Clement. 

41:  John's bottle announces itself: it's a hefty piece of glass. And a magnificent wine, intense black fruits with a kiss of smoke that just goes on forever. There has to be a mountain of tannin somewhere in this wine to keep it going, but it never makes itself evident. The group is confused trying to place the wine. New world? Old World? Certainly not California or Australia. Too ripe for Italy or France and where in Spain would this wine come from? NCZ, I ventured quietly. John nodded. Parker said it was like Lafite in a good year. 2004 Catena Zapata, the flagship Malbec/Cabernet blend from Nicolas Catena. 

Our second round of entrees arrive (we were passing them family style) another order of Tenderloin (duh!) another mushroom risotto and a seared duck breast. Oh. And more wine.

Sepi2: (I wasn't the only one to bring two) Another big glass bottle, another big massive wine. Distinctive notes of tomato leaves and tomato jam float over the dense mass of black fruit, big oak and truffle. Oh my. It's Napa all the way. 2005 Bucella Merlot. "Vinyl rocks and poly-phenols, it's just singing!" Sepi says with a big smile. Hmm. Might be starting to get a little late thinks I.

But wait, Scott has a bottle too! And it's not Pinot!

Scott1:  "Cali Cab, 06 or 07" announces Brad, on the basis of second hand aromas revealed when Scott pulls the cork. The wine in our glasses correllates his astute evaluation. Wow, what extraction. Wow, what integration. It's too dark in the restaurant for photography, but it's not too dark to see the the rich colors dancing on our white napkins. It's even better to taste: screaming blackberry cream with dark bing cherries in the background eventually culminating in a mouthful of tannins. #4 declares emphatically, "I'm a sucker for oak and fruit. I will stand and salute you!!!" And he did. And we did. Araujo 2006 Eisele.

And did we have something chocolate for dessert? Seems like. We did pull out cell-phones and everyone committed to a date for the next event. Like in a month or two instead of a year or two.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Petite Sirahs Back to Back

Two Thursday meetings with Petite Sirah to close each meeting. For wine guys, it's a high water morning when the waves of fruit are followed by tannic saturation at 8:45 in the morning. (For professionals only. Do NOT try at home.)

First up was Carver-Sutro, tiny production from the ancient Palisades vineyard in the northeast corner of Napa Valley. The first vines were planted by the Dominico Barberis family who settled here in 1902 after moving from Italy. He and his family farmed the vineyards for 90 years, Denis Sutro and Anne Carver are the current custodians.

The Petite Sirah is textbook. Rich and dark, with blue-black fruits leading to a massively meaty mouthful of wine. The flavors brood dark on the palate. As the fruits begin to fade the substantial tannins keep them alive through the long finish. Exciting wine, and very limited. Available in New York, California and Sigel's. We received just 4 cases of the 2007 vintage.

Then we met with Jesse Inman who now makes the wine at August Briggs. In years past the Briggs Petite Sirah was sourced from the Black Rock Vineyard in Lake County where the fruit was ripened by the heat from the black obsidian in the volcanic soil. The next release will be from the Frediani vineyard, also found the the northern corner of Napa Valley. The Frediani family holds some of the Calistoga areas great treasures: old-vine Zinfandel, Charbono that used to go the old Inglenook Charbono's of yesteryear and the Petite Sirah that goes to August Briggs. The old vines still speak through the elegant, polished style of the Briggs wines, simultaneously silky smooth and gnarly tannic with rich layers of dark fruits and berries.
Previously available only through the Briggs tasting room or the wine club. We just have a few cases to sell.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Single Oak Redux

You knew there might be more of these...

Joined up this evening with the Reverend Doctor to share tastes of the third release of Buffalo Trace's Single Oak Project. And while we were at it, we revisited a couple of other releases along with Eagle Rare 10 and 17 (Buffalo Trace Rye Recipe) and a recent release of Pappy Van Winkle's 12 year Lot B. I think I was able to keep it all straight.

We started with the Eagle Rare 10 yr old to gear the senses for the upcoming onslaught of strong spirits. And it was quite nice. Spicy cinnamon and burnt oranges, honey and caramel, round, smooth and spicy, with a lot of earthy vanilla. All typical notes for rye recipe bourbon.

As it turns out, it set a strong pattern for three of the Single Oak bourbons. Bottles 3, 8 and 67 were all rye, with 125 entry proof. They were all very similar. In fact they showed the same flavor descriptors as the Eagle 10 with nuanced differences between the three. But the quality was much higher than the 10. The texture was totally different and the brilliant flavors shifted like a kaleidoscope as the thick luxurious liquid rolled around the tongue. 

To the differences. Barrels 3 and 67 were very similar flavors, 3 was lighter, 67 was buttery. Barrel 8 was very similiar, but had a distinct earthiness. When I compare the facts on the Single Oak website, all three bourbons are virtually identical, distilled on the same day from the same recipe. Barrels 2 and 3 were made with wood from the tops of the tree with a slight variation in tightness of grain. Both were aged on the 7th floor of the same concrete floored warehouse. Barrel 8  was made from the bottom of the tree and was aged on the 3rd floor of a wooden warehouse.  Yikes, a difference in barrel and a difference in flavor. Was one better? I think it's up to the taster.

On the Single Oak website, there's a video shot in the Ozark forest as these trees were being felled. It's fascinating to hear Ronnie Eddins talk about how the sugar level is affected by grain, growth rate of the tree, and whether the tree was grown on the top of a hill, in a valley, or on a hillside. Of course the sugar level of the wood affects the caramelization of the barrel and thus the terroir of the barrel has great affect on the final whiskey.

Barrel 104 on the other hand was totally different. And the only difference was the recipe. The flavoring grain was wheat. The whiskey was dry and elegant with notes of grass, honey and smoke and a hint of anise. I have also tasted Barrel 36 which is wheated. My notes show a sweeter whiskey with more vanilla and hints of fruit. Again, the bourbons are identical in DNA except that 104 was aged in a concrete floor warehouse and the 36 was in wood.

Now to the ringers. The Pappy 12 year has slightly darker color and definitely has a sweeter finish and more burnished citrus fruits than the 104.  But it is definitely finished with wheat and not rye, and it is 4  years older than the 8 year old Single Oaks.

The age of the Eagle Rare 17 is a definite trump. Oh, my it's silky. Big wood sits down with a thump of vanilla. And then the same rye flavors begin creaping out around the edges and hanging on through the long finish.

I'm exhausted. That was a lot of really good whiskey to keep track of, and the similarity of most of whiskeys made it even more difficult. Overall, there were differences were age and recipe. Wheat vs rye. 8 vs 10 vs 12 vs 17. Nuanced differences based on warehousing and grain. The most notable difference of all was between the Eagle 10 and every other whiskey. They were just on a different level of quality.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dreamcrusher Double Rye IPA

Anticipation has been high for the second custom bottling from the fledgling Deep Ellum Brewery and  the Dreamcrusher Double Rye IPA does not disappoint. Aromas of bright citrus, pine resin, orange peel and coriander are in your face the moment you pour the Dreamcrusher into a glass. The pine yields to rich citrus as the beer opens up in the glass, revealing warm rich flavors of broiled grapefruit. The bitter hoppiness forms a protective arch through the long, rich creamy finish while the rye gives a crisp dryness which keeps Dreamcrusher light on its feet.  The balance is quite remarkable and surprisingly smooth for such a big boy. Dreamcrusher clocks in at 9.7% ABV and packs 100+ IBU’s. In two words, powerful and delicious!
At this point Deep Ellum does not have a bottling line. All beer goes into kegs and is sold at local brew pubs. Dreamcrusher is their second custom 'hand' bottling and will be available exclusively at Sigel's Texas Fest, Saturday March 9 at Sigel's Elite at the intersection of Cole and Fitzhugh in the Uptown neighborhood.