I was living in Burgundy in 2003. Working in the clay heavy vineyards of Nuits St Georges.The harvest that year was a month early due to the heat-wave that swept across Europe.We finished picking grapes in mid-August and I found myself with a pocketful of minimum wage and lots of unexpected free time. I had heard about this cool bike travel company called Butterfield & Robinson from my friend Jaime Dutton who had worked for them for a few years. She told me of how she guided bike tours to these incredible wine regions throughout France. Regions like, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loire Valley, Provence, The Dordogne, Corsica, Alsace, Champagne, etc. She told me of how the work was difficult but the experience priceless. I rode my bike to the Butterfield and Robinson HQ in Beaune the next day following the harvest and convinced myself that I was going to work for them and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
I guided 5 trips that season.I eventually moved back to New York at the end of the year.I loved the experience and every subsequent June, like clockwork, I’d feel an itch to move back to France and get on a bicycle to guide again.I couldn’t resist the itch a few years later in 2007 and moved back to do another season with B&R.This time I guided in Sweden, The Netherlands, Rioja, Provence, Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Dordogne. After that season I moved back to New York and began working for as a sommelier for Daniel Boulud.
Today I still work for Chef Daniel and I still get the itch. This June I’ll get my relief by guiding one trip for Butterfield & Robinson.It will be a Wine Journey Bike Trip to Alsace, Champagne and the Mosel. It will be June 1st through June 9th.We’ll visit some of my favorite producers.More info is below:
So happy I was able to get a healthy glass of this. Many thanks to RB for pulling me aside during the whirlwind dinner service at Stephen Bitterolf’s Rielsingfeier at Rouge Tomate last February to hook me up with a proper taste.From my point of view, it was the wine of the dinner and there were a boatload of contenders.I love the way the sugar integrates with aged Riesling. The ‘71 Prum took on a lemonade-like quality where the citrus flavors, acid and sugar integrated to become a creamy and smoky masterpiece. It was worth the 40 plus year wait.
We had heard about a restaurant in midtown that had ’88 Gentaz on the list for $300.5 of us planned a lunch to see if this was true. It miraculously was not a lie.We drank the last two bottles of it and the feeling was thrilling. Like we had just cut class to smoke cigarettes in the parking lot and got away with it. The wine was epic but in typical ’88 Gentaz fashion, really tight.We asked the sommelier to decant each of them and we sipped them slowly, trying to give the wine room to take in air and become itself. The last glass was the best glass and at the end of the bottle we still were thirsty. We asked for the wine list again and starting looking. The list was funny. The choices were mostly forgettable but it had a handful of diamonds scattershot throughout the pages. We found some old Groffier Amoureuses as well as some Alain Graillot from the early 90s.Both priced well.After some discussion we decided on the Alain Graillot and just as we were about to order, I randomly flipped to a page and saw something that I originally missed on first inspection:the mega rare, non-sulfur bottling of Thierry Allemand’s CornasAKA “Sans Souffre” .None of us at the table had tasted the wine before let alone even seen a bottle of it in person. It’s said that Thierry Allemand bottles his best vines in the Sans Souffre cuvee and being familiar with the genius of his sulfured bottling, we were all eager to try it. This wine was the polar opposite to the ’88 Gentaz.It was open and gregarious.It was a clear, cloudless sky. It was cool air blowing in our faces and whisking our hair back. It was an open channel of communication between us and the terroir of Cornas.No translator was needed.
“…the demise of Michel Ferraton’s domaine ranks as the biggest loss of my career.” Neal Rosenthal said that in an email response to me after I went bananas and wrote him in all caps of how great this bottle was. I had bought a single, solitary bottle of ’90 Ferraton Hermitage at auction a year back and it never sold. I had it priced on my Northern Rhone page at Boulud Sud pretty sharply, too.There it stood, collecting dust in the back row of the “showcase” next to ’00 Chave and numerous vintages of Thierry Allemand Cornas for 12 plus months before it made it to a table. Part of that was my fault. I had never tasted the ‘90 before so I shied away from recommending it.I didn’t know what to expect and my current tasting notes for the post-sale-to-Chapoutier wines were damned with faint praise.I had heard whispers of the old school greatness of Ferraton, up there with those of Chave and Bernard Faurie but had never experienced it. Then one night it happened.A guest who I knew to have an openness to things unexpected came in for dinner on a Tuesday night in October. It was 4 people total who all knew wine fairly well. With tables like these I never give them a wine list.There’s no point.There’s a spirit of mutual respect and trust and the choice of wine is ultimately a collaboration. I rattled off to the table which Northern Rhone wines I’d tasted recently and which were on-point.I told them of the ’04 Allemand Chaillot which was smoking and of the ’02 Verset, Cornas that over performs for the piss-poor vintage.I also mentioned the ’90 Ferraton and told them that I’ve never tasted it but had a sneaking feeling it could be up there with the giants.The guy’s at the table were so great, they said “if you’ve never tried it, let’s open the ’90 Ferraton and we can try it for the first time together.” I live for tables like these.I got the bottle from the showcase and presented it to the table.The capsule spun and the fill was impeccable. The label had a few nicks and scrapes but overall it was a pristine specimen.I took it to my station along with a wine glass and a decanter. Pulled the cork and smelled it.Not a hint of TCA. Poured a little in my glass and tasted it.It was perfect.Charred meat, black pepper and pine needles. It was so savory and gave me a primal desire for red meat.I imagined the Brontosaurus ribs that flipped over Fred Flintsone’s car. My eyes lit up and I decanted the wine and made my way to the table to pour.I poured everyone at the table at taste all at once. Everyone nodded in agreement.
Isent Neal Rosenthal an email 10 minutes after opening the bottle because he was one of the few people who swore by Ferraton.Neal was the importer of the wines to the US for many years until the domaine was sold to Michel Chapoutier. I wanted him to know his words rang true and the spirit of the old domaine Ferraton lit up the dining room this evening.
I was in Italy for my younger brother’s wedding.Actually, my entire extended family was also there. The wedding itself was in Otranto on the Adriatic side of Southern Puglia. We stayed there for about a week then picked up the tent and took a Griswald Family type road trip of Southern Italy. We had 5 Fiats full of Madrigale family members caravanning from Otranto to Positano to Rome.It was great.It was terrible. It was hilarious. On our way to Positano, we passed a few exits for the famed town of Avellino. Well, famed to me at least.I had just discovered the wines of Campania over the past couple years and had fallen in love with the region’s whites: Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, etc. As I drove passed by the town while on the Autostrada A3, I mentioned to my wife and my father who was in the car with me, that at one point during our trip I’d like to return to Avellino and visit a few wine producers. They both unenthusiastically said “Yeah, ok” then told me to stop driving so fast.
We made it to our destination in Positano a few hours later. By the way, DO NOT DRIVE HERE. The two lane roads are not only extremely narrow where smacking side-view mirrors of oncoming cars is a matter of course, it is also incredibly steep. In addition,being that it’s Southern Italy there aren’t any safety rails to protect you from falling into the Mediterranean. A few weeks earlier this actually happened to a bus full of people. Eventually we made it to our hotel. I drank ¾ of a bottle of Marsala to calm my nerves and we went to bed.The next morning the sun shone through the windows something beautiful.You could see the Mediterranean from our room shimmering like diamonds and the pull was too much to bear so we ended up at the beach before we even ate breakfast. It was the most beautiful day I can remember.Days that remind you of your childhood. We swam, sunned, kayaked, sipped on Peronis and loafed out real nice. It was perfect. After a few hours of it however I started to get an itch that I wanted to go visit Avellino. I’ve become enamored with the wines of Pietracupa over the last few years and thought of visiting him.From my beach chair, I emailed my sales rep in NYC who represents Pietracupa and he gave me the owner, Sabino Loffredo’s phone number and said he’d be expecting my call.I phoned him immediately and told him who I was and that I was sitting on the beach in Positano and would love to pay him a visit to taste his wines. He asked me point blank if I was crazy. He told me about how rainy and cold the spring/ early summer has been so far and that today was so fantastic that I should spend it at the beach.I told him today was the only chance I had to visit him and that I wanted to come.He said ok and would wait for me.He also said that his winery was extremely difficult to find and told me to call him once I made it to Avellino and he’d pick me up. I jumped up from my beach chair and got dressed. I asked if anyone wanted to join me for a 2 hour ride to Avellino and they all practically laughed in my face.Off I went.
I made it to Avellino in about 2 hours.Sabino had told me to call him once I arrived so he could meet me. I parked my Fiat in front of the train station and gave him a ring.He picked up right away and told me to drive about a kilometer down the road until I saw a very large red building. I did as he said and parked in front of a large industrial red building that looked like a dog food factory.I waited for a few minutes and then saw someone driving an old Kawasaki motorcycle waving at me. It was Sabino. I got out of my car, introduced myself and shook his hand. He told me to follow him and I did.After a few minutes driving along the main road we made a left turn where a sign said “Montefredane”.It was a steep hill and I almost stalled out as I didn’t step of the gas hard enough off of the clutch. We came upon a few vineyards and Sabino was shouting from his motorcycle.I heard him say “Greco” over his puttering engine and figured that was his vineyard of Greco di Tufo.The vineyards were really steep which is practically always a marker for quality.We turned off the vineyard road and made it to his winery.We immediately went into the cellar.He turned the lights on and made his way towards a few empty wine barrels. One of which had an espresso machine sitting on top of it.He turned it on and asked me if I wanted one.Usually I try to avoid drinking coffee before a tasting because I’m afraid to burn my tongue but could not refuse this time.I started laughing and thought to myself “only in Italy”.We finished our espresso shots and went down a level to the stainless steel tanks where Sabino ferments his whites.We chatted as we tasted.He was funny and answered my questions honestly.I liked him immediately. The subject of ageability came up and he stopped in mid-conversation and told me to follow him.We went into a small room with cases of wine strewn everywhere.I saw boxes upon boxes of his wine intercut with cases of Special Club Champagne, Chablis, and Alsatian Riesling among others. He ripped open a case here, a case there and grabbed a bottle from each of them.We left the room and made it to the barrel room where he ages his reds. He popped the corks of a 03 Fiano and an 03 Greco to show me an example of ageability. 2003 was one of the hottest years on record and universally panned for its lard-ass heaviness. Sabino’s 03’s however were fresh and precise and starting to show high amounts of that BBQ-like smokiness that I’ve grown to love in the whites of Avellino. Very impressive.
Then he started opening bottles of his Taurasi which I had never had before. I liked them right off the bat. Very different from the blocky, tannic versions I’ve had from other producers. His Taurasi’s had energy and elegance. There were gripping tannins but it played more a background role rather than the leading man. We then moved over to a large oak barrel and Sabino said told me of how this is the greatest red he’s ever made even though it was still in the barrel and hadn’t become its fully formed self quite yet. It was a 2010 Taurasi and at this point it’s been in barrel for nearly 3 years.I tasted it and was floored by the wine.It had high toned red fruit like pomegranate and cranberry with tannins as silky as Musigny. “WOW!” I said, it’s like Red Burgundy.He smiled and said “That’s exactly what I think”. I don’t know when this wine will be released but I’m buying it.
2011 Stephane Tissot, Arbois “Singulier” (Trousseau), Jura, France
A dazzling wine.Multifaceted aromatics of dried red fruit, spices and sweet flowers. Succulent and so open and easy to drink. No reduction, fizziness or stank road-blocking you to pleasure’s path.Average Retail Price $28
2010 Camerlengo, Aglianico de Vulture “Antelio” Basilicata, Italy
Tasted this at the RASPIPAV wine event in Montreal.A few friends who run Oenopole up there introduced me to the owner/winemaker, Antonio Cascarano who is a force of nature and a madman in the best possible sense. He makes wines in minimalist style, low sulfur, bio-dynamic, etc and you can taste that his first priority is to make something delicious rather than adhering to noninterventionist dogma. It’s got the black fruit. It’s got the savoriness. It’s got the fine grained tannins. It’s got the funk. It’s my kind of natural wine. Average Retail Price $18
2011 Franck Balthazar, Cotes du Rhone, Northern Rhone, France
This is the one of the best Cotes du Rhones I’ve ever tasted.But then again it’s not really Cotes du Rhone. It’s actually young vines Cornas that Franck didn’t feel was ready to be blended into his Cuvee Casimir so he decided to make a Cotes du Rhone for one vintage only in 2011. If you are addicted to Syrah like I am, this is the best fix you can find for the price. Average Retail Price $22
2011 Pierre Gonon, VDP de l’Ardeche “Les Iles Feray” Northern Rhone, FR
Here is another incredibly priced Syrah for those with the affliction. I’m not sure if there is a better overall producer in the Northern Rhone at this moment than the Gonon brothers. This is a grapey, lip-smacking style of Syrah that I could drink every day ‘til kingdom come. Average Retail Price $19
There is a lot of wine for the price right here. When guests would come in and ask for Red Burgundy at lower price range I’d suggest this instead. Regnie is one of the lesser known crus in Beaujolais and Charly’s vines average about 80 years old. This is a wine that I will buy every vintage. Respect to Eduardo Porto Carreiro for turning me on to this. Average Retail Price $25
Campania! Pumping out great wines since before the time of Pliny the Elder. Unknown to many, this region has become my go-to when I want a wine that cost about same as a pack of Newports. Grown on the remnants of volcanic ash, which give the wine a smoky, salty and lemony flavor profile.Belongs on the table with something from the sea.Average Retail Price $11
NV Marco Di Bartoli, Metodo Classico “Terzavia” Sicily, Italy
This sparkler hit my brain like a lightning bolt when I first tasted it.It was at DeBartoli’s estate in Marsala. My wife and I had just flown in from Rome and Allitalia lost all of our baggage which we didn’t recover until 5 days later. I stupidly scheduled the visit 30 minutes from the time we landed at Trapani Airport and we had to rush to get there on time.We got so lost that I had to ask a few local Sicilian toughs for directions. One of them tried to explain to me how to get there and he could tell that I didn’t understand a word he was saying. He threw up his hands and said a few Italian curse words and motioned for me to follow him in his Fiat. We did and arrived 5 minutes later. I tried to give him 20 euro to say thanks and he cursed a few Italian words again and demonstrably refused.Welcome to Sicily. Gippy DeBartoli took us around the estate and brought us to the tasting room.Poured us a glass of the Terzavia sparkling wine and it floored me.Made from Grillo grown on the estate it was zippy and crisp with real complex favors and no residual sweetness nor heaviness.Who knew you could make sparkling wine in Sicily?! Average Retail Price $30
2011 Herbert Zillinger, Gruner Veltliner “Radikal” Wienviertel, Austria
This bottle made me pay attention. I’ve mostly ghettoized myself to drinking Gruner Veltliners from the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal as that’s what I know. Ive never tasted a one from the Wienviertel this good.Rich and peppery without being fat which I find is many Gruner Veltliners’ dirty little secret. Bravo Herbert! Average Retail Price $30
2011 Domaine Roche Bleu, Jasnieres, Loire Valley, France
I could drink a case of this wine at one sitting.It’s just so goddamn appetizing. Fleshy, stony and peppery with that cool breezy, horseradish flavor that I love from Loire Chenin. Average Retail Price $22
Wake up wine people! Santorini is terroir.Volcanic soil flavors scream through this wine. Lemons, peaches, ample and taut at the same time. It’s intense like Michael Dukakis’ eyebrows. Get in there! Average Retail Price $18
I opened this bottle the night I proposed marriage to my girlfriend now wife. I had made a special meal for her because she was flying out to Bogota to visit her family the following morning. She’d be away for a week or so and this was our last night together. It was time and I had my plan of attack ready. I wanted to propose in the comfort of our home. No getting on my knee at Tavern On The Green. No Yankee Stadium Kiss Cam. I was in my socks and we we’re listening to Depeche Mode. It was simple and beautiful. She had no idea it was coming.
I don’t like to cook. Actually, let me rephrase that: I don’t like cooking in my apartment. I have no counter space and the oven is 3 feet from the toilet. My sink has a holding capacity of a coffee cup and a spoon before it hits maximum density. When I do decide to cook I have to commandeer the top of my trash can as cutting board. In spite of all of this, I wanted to cook a meal for this big night in my life. I had it all planned out, 3 courses. Salad, pasta, fish. For the salad I wanted to keep it down home. Arugula and Parmigiano Reggiano. As simple and perfect as salads get. Next would be the pasta. Here I was beginning to get out of my element and had enlist the help of Damian the head chef at Bar Boulud. That day he had made allla chitarra pasta and skimmed off a few strands for me. He dusted them with flour and wrapped them lengthwise in wax paper for me to carry home. I didn’t want to make sauce for the pasta and I also didn’t want to cheese out and buy a jar of Ragu so I asked Damian to call his dealer, erm, supplier of white truffles to pay a visit. He made it over to Bar Boulud within the hour. All 3 of us of went into the office and he laid out his wares for us to examine. I chose a gum ball sized one that stunk more than the others. “Good choice” he said. I gave him his $100 and he left speaking on his cellphone en route to the next appointment.
Next was securing a fish for the main course. I’ve always loved the way the chefs here would prepare a whole fish in a salt crust. It is the most beautiful presentation. You whip a bunch of egg whites, fold in Kosher salt and cover the fish in this sand like concoction. It hardens up in the oven and creates a airtight shell which steams the fish perfectly. Then you take the fish out of the oven and present it to the table and crack the shell with a spoon. The steam rises out and everyone smiles. This was my plan to do at home. I bought a beautiful 2 pound Dorade from Chef Damian. He also gave me some string to tie the fish, some sprigs of rosemary to stuff in its mouth and some written instructions to help with execution. I was ready.
I finished service that evening around 10:30. I grabbed my fish, my pasta and wrapped the white truffle in a paper towel and put it in my pocket. I grabbed the A train at Columbus Circle and made my way home. On the train ride I was thinking of which wine I should choose to pair with everything. Aged white Burgundy seemed to be the logical choice. I had just bought a few bottles of ‘89 Meursault Luchets, Roulot from my friend G. I have been a fan of the wines of Roulot since my first taste of white Burgundy 12 years ago. The wines are laser precise and clean with a stony quality that make them really a refreshing drink. As they age they get richer in texture and take on hazelnut/white truffle flavors. It was all coming together.
I walked though the door, kissed my girlfriend, changed clothes and immediately started cooking. Within minutes my apartment looked like a condemned toxic waste spill. Pots, pans, plates, fish gills, flour, egg shells were everywhere. My girlfriend started to freak. “What the hell are you doing?? You’re making such a mess!!” I had to soothe her and tell her not to worry and promised that I’d clean it up when I was finished. She had no idea I was going to propose. She just thought—as usual—that I was crazy. Things seemed to be ready. I plated the Arugula salad and served it to Norma. Since our apartment size doesn’t allow us the luxury of a conventional dinner table we were saddled up at the coffee table and sitting Indian-style. We smiled at one another as we munched on the salad and washed it down with the ‘89 Roulot. Delicious. I got up to clear the plates as my boiling water for the pasta was ready. I dropped in the pasta and waited for a minute or so as Damian’s instructions told me. It was ready. I poured the pasta and boiling water into a colander and watched it drip dry. I then scooped them onto a plate and began shaving the mini white truffle extra see-thru thin. Their kinky aromas started to fill the whole apartment. I also added some fleur de sel for good measure. I grabbed the plates and did a sock slide on the hardwood floor to the coffee table to serve. I sat down and we smiled at each other. We began eating this delectable pasta and took sips of the Meursault. It was so delicious. We both let out groans of joy while we ate it. There’s something primal about the flavors of white truffle that make them so appealing. The aged flavors of the Meursault mirrored the truffle flavor perfectly.
"Ding!!" Was the sound that came from the timer telling me the fish was ready. It reminded me of the sound to announce the start of the final round of a boxing match. This was my final round as well. The final round of the dinner and as well as my bachelorhood. I was going to propose to Norma as soon as I served her the fish. I pulled it from the oven to let it sit and ran into the bedroom. I found my one of my cats and grabbed her collar and slid the ring over it and fastened it to her neck. My idea was to have one of our cats approach my girlfriend with the engagement ring around her neck. I wanted to catch her totally off guard and make it a huge surprise. Of my two cats I decided to choose Lola, all she wants to do is eat and I figured as soon as she smelled the fish we were eating, she’d head for Norma like a heat seeking missile. I closed the bedroom door with Lola in there. She was locked and loaded. The fish was ready. I presented it to Norma and ceremoniously began cracking the golden and hardened egg white shell with the back of a table spoon. Steam rose up from the fractures and the fish appeared to be perfectly cooked. I returned to the kitchen and filleted that sucker. They looked beautiful. I had a little white truffle left and shaved the remains over top of the fillets. This was it. The bell was tolling. I gave Norma her plate and ran to the bedroom to open the door. Lola darted out and ran to Norma guided by the powerful aroma of the Dorade. Norma started to laugh as Lola began having a conniption trying to get to her fish. The cat usually doesn’t wear a collar and Norma noticed immediately that she was wearing one but unfortunately she didn’t see the ring. I had to think fast before Norma swatted her away and started to eat. Ding! It came to me. "Check her collar, I think I put it on too tight" I said. With that, Norma held Lola and turned her to get to the fasten of her collar. She saw the ring. She looked directly at me and began to cry. I went over and hugged her. Then she started to laugh. Then we both started laughing. Her answer was yes.
As great as this wine was to drink the greater thing about it was the place that it took us. We were in Burgundy for the weekend of the Hospices de Beaune. There were auctions, dinners and grandiose tastings every second of the 3 days that we were there. We attended most of the events and were on the go the entire time. In between a lunch and a dinner we had a few hours to kill so we went back to our hotel lobby to pop this. We found a nice comfortable couch positioned just in front of the crackling fireplace. I asked the hotel manager for 2 glasses and a bottle of Badoit and we went to it. I always love the ritual of opening a great bottle of wine. There’s the exposition where we know about the great domaine of DRC, the great vineyard of Richebourg and the tremendous reputation of the ‘64 vintage. The rising action of tension as we peel away the corroded foil of the bottle and insert the corkscrew into the time weathered cork. Suspense is held as we smell the cork and its released as we learn that it isn’t tainted with any bacterial flaws. Then climax as the glasses are poured and the first sip is taken when we discover the wine is so incredibly delicious.
Wines like these seem to provoke conversation. Not necessarily about wine itself, but more of deeper things like life, marriage, etc. It’s like jazz improvisation. The wine is the background instrument driving the backbeat that allows the lead players to riff on conversation and follow where the groove takes them. Our wine groove took us to college football, marriage, family, Europe, death, accomplishments, failures and more. The wine flowed into our mouths and words flowed out. It was almost involuntary. We kept on this groove until the bottle emptied. Then we got up to head back to our rooms to get ready for dinner. Left better then when we began.
The chance to taste this wine has always been a dream of mine. 1979 Krug Clos du Mesnil’s face is on the Mount Rushmore of wine. The more I drink aged Champagne the more I realize its all I really want to drink. We had this in Nantucket with my wife (then fiancee) and my good friend with his family. We were celebrating my upcoming marriage and life all together. We went to swank little restaurant on the island and popped this bottle with canapes and oysters. There were 6 of us at the table and my friend and I had caught the sommelier’s eye and motioned to him to go a little heavier in our glasses while the others weren’t paying attention. I am confessing this now. Hope you’re not pissed, guys. Anyway, this wine had a reputation preceding it. Some say its the greatest (and first) vintage of Clos du Mesnil ever produced. Some even say it’s the greatest Champagne ever made. I must say it wore its expectations well, like a precisely cut British suit. The greatness of the wine was immediately evident from the first sip. My wife’s eyes grew large as she tasted it. She knew it too. I bet if you handed a glass of this wine to man who lived among wolves his entire life and had never tasted wine before, let alone even know what wine is, he’d say, “Woof Woof” and lap the stuff up. Great wines like this are universal. You do not need classes nor curriculum to understand it. It’s all there in the double helix of its DNA. Its intuitive. I remember as I tasted the wine it rose in my mouth like air. It was like a weightless nimbus cloud that simply levitated for minutes on end. Clean, precise and weightless. Magic.