Saturday, August 25, 2012

What Goes Around Comes Around

When I first joined the "tribe" of street wine peddlers, one of the first places I called on was a little store in Southampton, NY that had just been bought by a new owner. Judy and Charlie were new to the business and I knew how the liquor and wine sales teams would pounce, selling them cases of stuff like Campari or other such that a store would only need a bottle or two of.  You know, someone trying to fill a quota in a simple, one shot way.

As I was working for a small wine company (American Estates, a small division of Lauber Imports) and was a former wine buyer for restaurants, I offered a touch of guidance on things that might wait on their purchasing and what products might be priorities. That tiny bit of guidance turned into a twenty year friendship that includes my family visiting them at their winter hiatus spot in Lake Tahoe and skiing together. Charlie is the greatest Senior Skier I have ever skied with, he and I have had some wonderful days struggling through the steeps and deeps with my son in tow.

Given their gracious hosting of us and participation in our skiing adventures, my wife and I would always put together a collection of wines to bring from our cellar to enjoy with them. Always we'd bring more than needed and leave the rest. The bounty always included things my wife and I thought were special from Burgundy, Bordeaux to Napa, Sonoma, Willamette and Santa Barbara. Things like 1978 Beychevelle, 1986 Lynch-Bages 1992 Staglin, 1995 Clos de la Roche from Dujac, Foxen Pinot Noir, Forman Cabernet Sauvignon and others. Judy and Charlie always complained about the largesse of it but what a great time. We'd cook and drink after a long day of skiing or take some wines to a local restaurant and pay the corkage.

Soooo... on to last nights wine adventure. We were asked to join them for dinner at their house near Sag Harbor, NY. My wife was told the menu would include braised lamb, so we wanted to bring something nice with us. I chose a 1998 Fanti Brunello di Montalcino and a Luna Vineyards Canto (a sangiovese blend from Napa Valley). Things we thought would be a nice compliment to braised lamb. When we arrived they greeted us at the door we explained our wines, then Judy carefully put a white bottle box in my hands and asked that I (again carefully) look inside. What I found was this:
A tattered labeled bottle of 1945 Leoville Las Cases. The bottle was in the store when Judy and Charlie took over and at the time they thought this and the Petrus (which became a donation) and others of the ilk were over-priced in the purchase and inventory of their deal for the store (1994 ish). Those in the industry understand what has happened to such wine values since!

The bottle stayed in a dark corner of the stores basement wine storage since they took over and likely was there many years before. Judy checked the provenance at some point in the past and it passed her litmus test. The only reason she didn't use it for a donation to a worthy cause (hospital benefit or the like) was due to the rather rough look of the label.

Surprising for me was the way the cork came out of this 67 year-old wine. I was worried, because I didn't have an ah-so corkscrew (can it be a corkscrew if it doesn't screw). But with a double hinged corkscrew I was able to remove 98% of the cork before a tiny piece refused to follow along.

I was able to get that little tiny piece out without it dropping in the bottle, yep I still got it Fred ;)

Naturally with such an old wine, you just never know if it's hosed. So with a some trepidation I sniffed at the bottles opening. The wine seemed to be in decent if not a touch tired shape. I decided we shouldn't wait too long to taste it as I wasn't certain how long the wine would be in such shape once opened. I kept the bottle horizontal the whole time so that the sediments weren't disturbed (Fred) and poured out glasses for each of us. There was a hint of mature Bordeaux mingling with a hint of spice and madeira, it was that hint of madeira that worried me about the staying power of this elderly girl. But I was totally wrong, five minutes later all of us found the wine evolving and changing in the glass and the wine still had some grippy tannins. And this just continued... the wine kept evolving a bit every few minutes, and then about an hour later it was gone and I had to open that bottle of Fanti '98. Charlie commented on the incredible youth of the fourteen year old Brunello, and while it was still fairly youthful, our palates might have been a touch influenced by the previous elder citizen.

But... the Brunello was indeed a fine match with the lamb... it was just up against it with a perfectly aged world-class Saint-Julien so naturally we'd think it was young. And after looking at the ratings from Spectator 89, I think we got an exceptional wine in the 67 year old Leoville Las Cases. Parker didn't rate it and Clive (my favorite wine writer) gave the wine an excellent written review in his Grand Cru book.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How I got the name McSnobblier

Back in the early part of the century (2003 maybe) I wrote an article for a magazine called the Improper Hamptonian about the local wine industry. I don't have a link to the original but I reposted the response article on my website.

The original article that got me the name McSnobbelier was a shot across the bow of the Long Island Wine Industry as I wondered why they put all their focus on producing Chardonnay and Merlot and virtually ignored Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. My premise was that to make the greatest Chardonnay or Merlot a new wine region had to compete against the marketing, history and quality of some of the world's greatest wines. Why not use the soil and climate advantage that Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc have on Long Island and the weakness of the marketplace those two grapes used to have as well. This of course has changed since 2003 or 2004 when I originally made that comment.

When the original article was published I was very upset with my editor as she had made changes to the article that changed the tone and meaning. I came across as far more critical of Long Island Wine Industry than I liked due to editing. But when I got the letter, I realized that sometimes being controversial works... a la Steve Cuozzo of NY Post writing about snobbish wine lists.

I got a bit of backlash from associates that owned vineyards and wineries in my backyard and from the founding member of the industry Louisa Hargrave. Along with the winery owners that disliked this theory, I also got a letter to editor saying that I shouldn't call myself an Advanced Sommelier rather I was a Master Snobelier. So I embraced the moniker, though changed it a bit.

Above is the original letter, here is it in print with my Editors response:

Hello Improper,
I’ve been enjoying your magazine since its “Hamptonian” days. I usually look for the wine articles in the local magazines. 1 Found the November “WINE OBSERVER” to be a little offensive to our local wine industry. Chris Miller was reviewing a wine tasting at the new Stony Brook Center for Wine, Food and Culture With Kevin Zraly. Now everyone is entitled to their opinions, but...if Chris is going to list his top 3 choices per flight, then LIST THEM! I wasn't there so I don’t know exactly which wineries and vintages were tasted, but I understand that there were wines from: France, Germany and California in addition to Upstate NY, and Long Island. What caught my attention and raised my ire was the last paragraph of his Blind Flight article. Chris can be as bored as he wants to be with Chardonnay (A.B.C.), but to “DIS” both local Chardonnay and Cab Franc so badly as to not bothering to rank them, OR any of the other wines in those 2 flights??? Worse yet is to say that he doesn’t think Long Island is suitable For Chardonnay (Hello? how many acres and awards) and Cab Franc isn’t showing up to potential (Jamesport CF. 2001 recently voted “Best Red “fine in NYS"). To me this means one thing, Chris may be an Advanced Sommelier, but I think he is more a candidate for “Master
Enjoyer of Local Wines, John Graeb, Cutchoguc
Thanks for your letter John, but don’t be too hard on Chris, be is all subject to editing-—-which in this case is the culprit for any snobbery. What is represented in his final paragraph is merely Chris’ opinion of the Cab Franc present that day. As Chardonnay, now that’s a matter of taste, which he did not have that day as he did not attend the Chard tasting.