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Posted by on Aug 18, 2019 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

A Wine Story

 

How is our memory for taste?

This was put to the ultimate test today when I opened a spectacular bottle of wine. I’d like to share my story with you.

Sometime around 1995 I first became seriously interested in wines. While living in Washington, DC, Marieta and I took two ten-week wine courses back-to-back, presented by a master sommelier who wrote for Wine Spectator. To say those classes were life-changing would be an understatement.

However, given we’re on a budget, I’ve never been able to afford super expensive wines. So, my wine knowledge pretty much is non-existent at any price point above $100. My daily price cap is more like $15.

I distinctly remember about five key wine moments in my life. One of the most memorable of those took place in 1998.

Marieta and I were staying at the Two Trees Inn at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. We were attending a poker event. A friend, who sadly I lost contact with named Nick Partenope (who I believe is/was an NYC MD) presented Marieta and me with a bottle of Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon. I distinctly remember opening the bottle of Arrowood in the hotel room. It blew us away. It was spectacular, and at the time, the best wine I’d ever tasted. Back then, the price was considerably higher and Arrowood was hard to find where we lived. Hence, we haven’t had a bottle since then in 21 years.

Until today and now.

A few nights ago, we went to a local wine dinner and to our surprise received a bottle of wine from the host. We didn’t even look at the label, expecting it to be some run-of-the-mill bottle that was nice, but hardly in a class of its own.

Today, we looked at the bottle. It was Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon! Instantly, we remember Nick Partenope and our encounter with this splendid old friend two decades earlier. Make that two old friends.

We don’t drink many reds during the summer, but this baby couldn’t possibly wait. We wondered aloud: Would this wine be as memorable as all those years ago? Arrowood has changed and we’ve changed, too. Our expectations were ridiculously high, perhaps even unreasonable.

And so, the cork was popped and the verdict was immediate.

The best way to describe the Arrowood was it was as tasty as blood to a vampire. It was ass-kicking incredible! I do mean a blast of fruit that bombs the taste buds. Fucking WOW!

I didn’t expect this. I’ve had most of the fruit bombs and usually don’t find them to be nearly as sophisticated as my taste for the classic Rhones and Bourdeuxs and wines from Burgandy and Loire. If you’d have bet money that I’d be partial to a California wine above my classic traditional favorites, I’d have wagered any amount of money. Well, I would have lost my wager.

This Arrowood is quite possibly the best wine I’ve ever tasted, certainly for the money. Clocking in at $29 per bottle and a 14.5 alc. content, it’s a dangerous and tempting beast.

And so, 21 years after falling in love with a wine, an old flame had been reunited.

I cannot possibly recommend Arrowood more highly. It’s truly THAT amazing, and then some. Dr. Nick Partenope, if you are out there reading, thank you for the memories — then and now.

Note: Marieta had an identical reaction.

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Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Travel | 0 comments

Champagne is for All Seasons

 

 

Next time, skip the Dom Perignon and Cristal, grossly overrated, mass-produced, factory-manufactured, overhyped, big-name brands which leverage decades of clever corporate-driven global marketing and hype. 

Instead, try a smaller-scale, hand-made, family-produced Grand Cru Champagne from a single vineyard — which offers far more distinctive taste and unique character, often at less than half the price.

 

It’s time for Americans to demystify Champagne.

We tend to view Champagne as a once-a-year luxury.  We drink champagne mostly on special occasions — like New Year’s Eve and at weddings.

In this country, Champagne is largely associated with celebration.  Order champagne in a restaurant sometime, and the first question you’re likely to be asked is, “what are you celebrating.”

Actually, Champagne is a treat for all occasions.  In fact, Champagne deserves to be experienced year round.  It should be enjoyed by everyone.  Champagne and its close cousin sparking wine are both accessible and affordable to drinkers on all budgets.

Unfortunately, Champagne is widely perceived as expensive.  Indeed, some rare vintages can cost thousands of dollars.  But there are also some wonderfully drinkable and affordably-priced Champagnes worth trying which are indistinguishable to everyone except those with the most sophisticated palates.  Of special note is sparkling wine, deserving far closer attention than they’ve been given.

Don’t be fooled by the distinction between the classic “Champagne” versus “sparkling wine.”  The only difference lies in geography.  The grapes are mostly the same.  Sparkling wine uses identical production techniques as Champagne.  While the world’s supreme bottles tend to be from France, far more economical options are readily available from Spain, Italy, California, and other regions of the wine-making world.

Fact is, I’m a budget-conscious drinker.  I’ve enjoyed plenty of delicious sparkling wines costing under $10 a bottle.  I like to get the most taste bang for my buck.

Here are two very affordable recommendations which are widely available just about everywhere:

Rondel — This is a Spanish-made Cava offered in Brut, Semi Seco, Rosé, Gold and Platinum styles.  It’s a fantastic buy for the money, typically about $8 a bottle.  It’s a perfect Summer refreshment.

Segura Viudas — Here’s another Spanish Cava with a much wider range of price points.  However, the simple $9 bottle (Brut) is every bubble as enjoyable as the costlier options.

When it comes to bona fide Champagne, which is always made exclusively from grapes produced in the region of France with the same name, we’ve largely been fooled.  We’ve been led astray.  We fell for the hype.  So now, let’s clear up some gross misperceptions and try and set the record straight.

Ask most Americans to pick the best Champagne, and Dom Perignon or Cristal always are the odds on favorites.  They’re certainly the best-known brands in the U.S. and throughout the world.  Truth is, however, Dom Perignon and Cristal are grossly overrated, mass-produced, factory-manufactured, overhyped big-name brands which leverage decades of clever corporate-driven global marketing.  They are coasting purely on reputation.

In other words, you’re forking over big bucks for the label, paying a premium price just for the popular name.  Please, quit buying the hype.  Stop it.  Quit being a sucker for overpriced Champagne.

Dom Perignon, manufactured by Moet Chandon, produces about 5 million bottles annually.  Five million.  Hence, there’s nothing exclusive about it.  Grapes are grown in multiple vineyards (most not even on the Moet Chandon estate) and processed inside a mass factory.  All production is automated.  The first time most of these expensive bottles have been touched by any human hand is the time you open it.  Each bottle of Dom has about as much independent character and personality as a can of  Coke.

Cristal, the other well-known premium Champagne, is made by Louis Roederer.  Production levels run about one-million bottles per year.  One million bottles.  That’s not exclusive.  That’s Pepsi with a cork.  Cristal was originally the favorite drink of Russian royalty during the mid-19th Century.  More recently, it’s become associated with Hip Hop culture.  It’s the “go to” beverage at bottle service in nightclubs.  Ordering a bottle of Cristal is a calling card announcing that you’ve made it big.  Actually, it shows you’re a chump who knows next to nothing about Champagne.

It’s all hype, folks.

Admittedly, Dom Perignon and Cristal do buy the very best grapes grown by growers in the Champagne region.  Their standards are exceedingly high.  Accordingly, these Champagnes are always outstanding.  But they’re also way too pricey.  The average bottle runs about $150 to $250 — double that figure in fine restaurants and then quadruple the retail price at nightclubs.  They’re a rip-off.  Let me put it even more bluntly — if you’re ordering Dom Perignon or Cristal, you have more money than brains and are demonstrating zero Champagne appreciation.

Here’s my suggested alternative.

Instead, try a smaller-scale Grand Cru Champagne that’s hand-made from a single vineyard — which is far more distinctive, usually at less than half the price.  You’ll also be supporting a private, independent grower.  So many are marvelous!

There are dozens of phenomenal Champagnes priced at less than $100 a bottle.  Some are much cheaper, scanning at around $30 to $50.  Many of these tasty Champagnes are family-run businesses dating back more than a century.  Each bottle in the vineyard is stored away and hand-turned.  Grapevines are decades old and cultivated with great care.  Each and every bottle is different.

A few weeks ago, I tasted the very best bottle of Champagne in my life.  I’d like to share this moment of pure bliss.  My epiphany took place at a special tasting consisting here in Las Vegas consisting of eight Grand Cru Champagnes.  All of them were absolutely wonderful.  This one particular vintage was off the charts.

Pertois Moriset Camille is a golden, honey-sweet single vintage Blanc de Blanc Champagne made with 100 percent Grand Cru Chardonnay grapes.  It’s from a small scale vineyard with a limited production of only about 5,000 bottles annually.  Five thousand bottles.  Not five million.  Now, that’s what I call — exclusive.

Regarding the taste, this is a slightly darker, richer, fuller body than we’re customarily used to experiencing with most Champagne.  One can even taste the yeast in the bubbly.  You can almost chew it.  It’s fabulous.  Breathtaking for the money and a steal of a buy.

Price:  $62 per bottle.

I can’t stress enough how much better, how much more interesting, how much more enjoyable a tasting experience the Pertois Moriset Camille was versus the more popular Dom Perignon and Kristal, which were 3-times and 4-times the price of the smaller, more exclusive production.  To me, the Pertois Moriset Camille — hand grown, produced by a family, made individually, and far rarer — should command the $200 per bottle price.  The Dom and Kristal should be $50 a pop.  Our perceptions of Champagne are upside down and inside out, turned on its collective ass by mass marketers and pop culture.

One more reason to buy the smaller production labels:  Most of these vineyards are co-ops.  They grow their own grapes and share the facilities of production.  Meanwhile, Dom and Kristal are multi-national corporations.  You tell me which bottle likely has more character.

So, here’s my final plea:  Stop ordering the Dom and Kristal.  Next time you want to celebrate a special occasion or have to pay for the big wedding, go the far more creative route.  Superior taste and great stories rest within frosty bottles from Pertois Moriset Camille and all the small independent producers of Champagne.  And please — pour me a glass!

Cheers!

 

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Posted by on Nov 23, 2017 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays | 0 comments

These are a Few of My Favorite Wines….

 

 

[Sung to the melody of the timeless holiday classic from “The Sound of Music”]

Zinfandels and Cabernets,

Chenin Blancs and Burgandy….

Syrah and Shiraz,

Carmenere and Chianti….

Bourdeaux and Gamay, sign o’ the times,

These are a few of my favorite wines.

 

What if I were to plan a five-course meal for the holidays?  Of the many thousands of choices on the market from wineries all over the world, which wines would I chose to serve?

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