Monday, December 14, 2009

Absolutely Fabulous Champagne Refrigerator

BBC AbFab Image

It is what some consider to be Champagne season and what others feel should be the season at all times. I have to confess that I fall in to the latter category and love to drink champagne any time for no reason at all. The vibrant and awful characters, Patsy and Edina, of BBC television’s Absolutely Fabulous take my tendency to a new level unrivalled by any real humans I know. The characters’ objectives are to be “generally awful” and the two aging fashionistas with no fashion sense do it in a way that is so horrible that one cannot, at least I can’t, help but love them. Not even the deepest recesses of my id, super id or super ego wishes I could behave like them and get away with it, but there is one thing I do envy them: their absolutely fabulous champagne refrigerator.

This refrigerator was installed in the remodel that was necessary after Patsy burned Eddy’s kitchen out by falling asleep with a cigarette in her mouth. It is the hallmark of the entire basement living area with one side containing NV Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut from Reims and the other containing NV Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut from Ay. Both of these Non Vintage champagnes are the entry-level offerings of grand houses in Champagne, each of them solid and consistent in their taste from year to year. The most important feature of this refrigerator, however, is that when a bottle is taken from it, another is put in its place by a mechanical device so that no gaps are perceived in the refrigerator by any who behold it.

I have experienced the Veuve Clicquot, but never the Bollinger or, as Patsy would call it, “Bolly.” Often during the course of the series the question, “Bolly, Eddy?” is uttered from Patsy’s snarled lips. I bought a bottle this season just so I could say those words to my sister who is also my champagne drinking partner in crime. One consolation that I have for myself in my longing to possess the ever full Absolutely Fabulous Champagne refrigerator is that these characters who will never be satisfied or filled by anything need to create this illusion for themselves. So as we find ourselves in the widely recognized Champagne season I have this wish for you: may your refrigerator be as full of champagne as you need or wish it to be.

Cheers sincerely and fully,

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cellar Tracker

For those of you who may not have found this tool on the web I would like to point it out to you. Cellar Tracker is a site that was created by Eric Levine when he was on sabbatical from Microsoft. His burgeoning interest in wines and his growing collection lead him to see if he might create a program that would enable him to catalog and track his bottles. Feeling he was onto something, but desiring some feedback from his peers, he shared what he had developed with a very receptive audience. This audience grew and became a note sharing community. When Eric reached the end of his eight week sabbatical he was in a position to support himself with what he had invented and he did not return to Microsoft. 

For a monthly subscription, you can have access to Levine's cellar tracking software. I have not reached the point where I feel that I need to document and track everything I have in my makeshift crawl space "cellar," but I have found the Cellar Tracker website to be useful nonetheless. The search engine provides free access to any wine that any member has ever written a note about and I would challenge anybody to try to query a wine that is not in the database. If you do find one, well fine, but the wonderful thing about finding a wine that you are interested in is that you have the opportunity to see what other wine drinkers have to say about it. Of course all of the posts must be taken with a grain of salt as each person has their own taste, but the notes can be used in a number of ways. Perhaps you were wondering if you would like to invest in a certain wine, or you heard that a particular wine might be just the special thing you were looking for for a special occasion, but you are not sure if you want to spend the money; well, on Cellar Tracker you would have the opportunity to read the tasting notes of however many people may have written about that particular wine and perhaps come to a concensus based on the multiple opinions that you had the chance to read. Another way to use the notes is to maybe come to a decision as to whether or not a bottle is ready to drink or if you should hold it a little longer. Also, a useful tool that can be accessed through the search engine is a wine shopping tool called Wine Searcher ; under each tasting note is a link that connects you to a long list of places that are offering the wine in question sorted from the least expensive to the most expensive. 

I am sure that there are a myriad of ways that this site could be used that I have not even begun to tap into; take a look yourself and see how you might be able to use it. Cheers to Eric Levine for finding a way to make a living at what he loves.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wine Meets Fashion II

In an earlier post I made mention of a wine meets fashion feat that was pulled off beautifully by the Champagne house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin and Louis Vuitton; the city traveller that is sold to house a full 750 ml bottle with two flutes or smaller versions that are designed to hold a 375 bottle of the non-vintage brut in the classic VCP yellow or the non-vintage brut rose in pink. The insulation can be pulled out so that the carriers can be used as handbags  and their firm structure makes for a tidy package to tuck neatly under your arm. 

VCP has teamed up with another fashion icon to house one of their vintage champagnes as well. Not only is the 1996 La Grande Dame bottle decorated by the House of Emilio Pucci in the classic swirling style of Pucci, but there is a decorative neoprene jacket that zips neatly over the bottle to hold in the cool. It does not end there; there is a satin bag printed with more of the iconic Pucci print that fits loosely around the neoprened bottle and all of this comes in a box that clamshells open to reveal the layers of prizes.

I have not had the pleasure of experiencing this bottle first hand, but if my ship ever comes in, this item is on my list of bottles to acquire and I will drink it with my fashion blogging sister.

While we are on the subject of Veuve Clicquot I should mention a wine read that may appeal to history buffs: The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It. Madame Clicquot was an amazing business woman who knew how to make calculated risks that moved her enterprise forward. One of the things that makes her story all the more notable is that, man or woman, her business practices were remarkable, but the fact that she was able to pull off the feats that she did when she did was incredible. Her cellars survived the Napoleonic Wars despite the fact that Reims was a town that was occupied by the enemy on more than one occasion. The author, Tilar J. Mazzeo, created a biography based on extensive research that has been enhanced and filled out with plausible storyline that connects her timeline landmarks. Champagne is often thought of as a feminine drink and this has to do with The Widow who was instrumental in modernizing the process of making champagne and how it was marketed.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Not to be categorized as a light read, the documentary Mondovino does not hand its message over easily, but it does speak loud and clear to those who are willing to listen. I have stated that I have no intention of politicizing this blog, but Mondovino makes it oh so apparent how political wine is. Jonathan Nossiter has painted a vivid picture of how globalized wine is becoming to the point that “everybody is making the same wine.” The biggest villains, according to Nossiter’s presentation, are a wine consultant, Michel Rolland, and wine critic, Robert Parker, Jr., and as the movie progresses one is given the impression that these two are not only in bed with each other, but that the Robert Mondavi dynasty and Wine Spectator join them in their romps as well.


Robert Parker has gained such an ironclad reputation as a critic over the years that many winemakers fear that their wine sales will fail if they do not make wines that he likes. He favors heavily extracted fruit forward wines that are easy to drink upon release. Winemakers around the world have fallen into this trap; even those who have generations of tradition and local character that they could be celebrating have dismissed their ways of winemaking in the hopes that he will give them a nod. This phenomenon is known as Parkerization. Rolland consults with over 400 winemaking clients around the world and coaches them as to how they can make their wines a “success” by modernizing their techniques. He tells them all to micro-oxegenate, it is his mantra. My impression is that this is the element that takes the furry edges off of the tannins prematurely and speed ages them so that they do not have to be cellared for enjoyment later. I believe that this process prevents the wines from being age worthy if I understand what was being stated correctly.


The argument made by the anti-globalization proponents in the movie is that most people in our high speed stress laden world barely have time to enjoy pleasurable things such as eating, good company, and loving so, unfortunately, why would they want to take the time to wait for a bottle of wine to age beautifully? I would love for that question to become this statement: In a world that has become so fast paced, enjoying a bottle of wine that has been allowed to age beautifully parallels the most pleasurable things in life that time must be taken to enjoy-good food, good company and love. 


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fish Wine

Fish on the Funnel, Katmai National Park by Ben Knight

The fishing season is upon us. Whether you are a sportsman or you fish commercially, it is that feverish time of year. Even if you are less likely to go out and get the fish yourself, chances are that you are hearing about seasonal or migratory fish from friends who enjoy the sport, the local grocer or fish market, or, if you are a gourmand, your favorite gourmet magazine or restaurant. The fish that is at the top of my list is salmon, more specifically the King also known as Chinook. There is a marketing phenomenon that has made the King Salmon from one specific river system quite popular indeed. I am speaking of Copper River King Salmon in Prince William Sound and it has gained a following world wide. I remember getting a sense of how popular it had become when I was living in NYC. A shopkeeper next to the shop that I worked at, upon realizing that I was from Alaska, shared with me that she had experienced Copper River King at a friend’s apartment the night before. This was back in 1999 and I was amazed at how widespread the knowledge of this particular fish had become.

Marketing salmon by river seems akin to how wines are marketed by appellation or sometimes even more specifically by vineyard. When I worked on the North Slope of Alaska I had a friend who, in another life prior to his North Slope career, had been a salmon broker and had the privilege of buying fish from all over the state to market in Japan. He shared characteristics about salmon that varied depending upon river of origin for each salmon type. Some examples were how bright and beautiful salmon were from this river or how this river had particularly homely kings, but their flavor was the most sought after and the list went on. Although I am steeped in certain areas of salmon knowledge because I have participated in the commercial setnetting fishery in the Naknek River district of Bristol Bay, my knowledge of salmon in other river systems is fairly limited. To this point I know of no marketing ploys that are employed in the US that advantageously use the river/appellation tactic other than the Copper River branding that has worked so effectively. I would love to see salmon and wine marketed side by side exploiting the parallels between the phenomena of place that is associated with these two fruits of the earth. This notion sort of tips the scales back in favor of the concept of terroir that I have mentioned in earlier posts.

Up until a few years ago my brain was shackled to the concept of red meat-red wine and fish-white wine. Now this is a good broad rule of thumb, but there are some reds that go wonderfully with the full bodied and rich flavors of King Salmon. A big cab would be going too far, but a red burgundy or an American Pinot Noir would work wonderfully. My 40th birthday was spent in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and I had the opportunity to sample some wines that would go quite nicely with King and I love the fact that this part of the country was once teeming with these creatures, so this combination makes sense. A wine from the Dundee District of the Willamette that is readily available, even in Alaska, is Domaine Drouhin’s Pinot Noir. It runs around $35-$40/a bottle and the smoky taste of the American oak complements the deep and oily richness of King. Some others that we were able to try while we were in the area were Domaine Serene, Soter Vineyards, Lemelson Vineyards, and Beaux Freres. I would especially recommend the Lemelson Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir. For warmer days when a lighter wine is desired, I would suggest one Chardonnay in particular. At an open house that was sponsored by the wineries of the Yamhill-Carlton district I had the privilege of tasting Dick Shea’s wines. I know that everyone was there to taste the ubiquitous Pinot Noir of that region, but my favorite ended up being Shea’s Chardonnay. It was buttery yet crisp with not a hint of a biting finish that so many poorly done Chardonnays possess. I do not have much experience with French wines, but I have had a nice Puligny-Montrachet, a white Burgundy, that I enjoyed very much and these wines were akin to each other in taste and quality. I should mention that Shea Vineyard fruit is highly sought after by many growers from that region and even Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non used to buy Dick’s fruit to make his Pinot before he decided to stop making Pinot Noir altogether. If you are interested in acquiring some of Shea's wines you can e-mail Dick and he will send you a letter for his next offering. I just received a postcard stating that he is now offering futures and that interested parties should give him a call. This is an opportunity to reserve a pre-release at a discounted price. Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra still gets fruit from Shea to help fill out the fruit from Antica Terra Vineyard as those vines are still establishing themselves. I am going to have to perform a King/Rose tasting sometime this summer. I can see the two complementing each other beautifully.

Below is my favorite way of preparing King Salmon. I think you will find the preparation amazingly simple, but so often the most enjoyable things are very simple in nature and the simplicity in this dish allows the beauty of the fish itself to shine through:

-Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

-Do not even put the fish close to the inside of that oven until it is up to temperature

-Place cleaned fillet on a foiled pan and sprinkle evenly with sea salt and onion salt

-If the flesh close to the spine is very thick, cut the fish through down to the skin and on down to the base of the belly to make portion size cuts that include the belly and back sections. This way it is more difficult for anybody to hoard the belly portion for themselves-in my opinion the richest part.

-Bake for roughly 18 minutes, but start checking around 15 minutes.

-Depending on how thick the fillet is the time will vary, but even a thick fillet should take no longer than 20 minutes if you cut into it before baking for more even cooking.

-The salmon should have turned from a rosy pink to a whitish pink

-Believe me; the fish will taste better as you eat it if you eat it flake by flake. The fish will tell you where to start flaking if you push down on it with the flat of your fork.


I have no intention of politicizing this web location, but I would like to make a statement about something that is near and dear to my heart. As mentioned earlier, I commercial fish in the summertime in Bristol Bay. I have been a part of our family operation since the age of ten and my great grandfather was still fishing with us when I began. The only seasons I have missed were because I did not time my child bearing to work in sync with the fishing season. There is a development prospect that is threatening the future of the great watershed of Bristol Bay. English and Canadian mining entities have been exploring a gold deposit that is at the headwaters of the largest drainage, the Kvichak River. This development would create jobs for the people of the area, but this work is projected to last a mere 30 years at best, and if the containment has not been breached by then, it is inevitable that a breach will happen and create toxins in the watershed that threaten to decimate the last great run of salmon in the world. Bristol Bay is projected to return over 25,000,000 salmon this summer and that all happens over the course of a few weeks. If this run were to return no longer many lives would be impacted along with the environment. This resource provides commercial, social, cultural, and subsistence sustenance that no amount of money would be able to replace. I would hate for the Kvichak’s greatness to be reduced to that of the Columbia River; a river that was once the grandest salmon stream in the world that now contains but a trickle of salmon. I love the thought of my great grandchildren participating in this fishery, but if this mine goes through a much different future will take place.

If you would like to learn more about this issue visit:


Friday, May 22, 2009

It's Alive

I love the notion of wine being a living thing. When I read about winemakers describing the life in their bottles, I think that is what compels me to want to experience their wine the most. I recently made the acquaintance of a wine friend when traveling to a career fair in Bristol Bay Alaska. When he saw that I was reading a biography about Madame Clicquot the door to wine talk was opened. He and his wife travel to Tuscany every spring so he has a pretty extensive knowledge of Italian wines. Upon telling him about a 1969 Brunello that I planned on opening to commemorate the year of my birth, he said that he would help me find as much information about it as possible. This later led us to a conversation about old wines, of which I have little experience. He mentioned a friend who liked to collect Bordeaux wines and Michael has had the privilege of sharing some wonderfully aged bottles with him. He said that his friend claims that wines do not have a straight climb that leads to a penultimate peak, but that wines go through periods of dormancy or sleep where they hide their attributes, then they wake up and their splendor comes through, they hibernate again, and the pattern continues. Although I think it would be difficult to quantify this phenomenon, I find the notion fascinating nonetheless. How wonderful it would be to help carry out an experiment to prove this occurrence to be true. Somebody should write a grant.

There is a winemaker that I began reading about this winter named Sean Thackrey. He believes that his wines present themselves differently depending upon the barometric pressure. He mentions this in an interview on Chow. It is worth watching if you have the time. He has his own winemaking practices that are drawn from ancient texts on making wine. Sean does not grow his own grapes and disputes the concept of terroir that I had mentioned in yesterday’s post. His most effective argument is that he makes a consistently well recognized Syrah called Orion out of fruit sourced from the same Rossi vineyard that Gallo makes their bulk wine from. In his hands and under his guidance the fruit is able to fulfill its greatest expression, whereas the industrialized methods of the Gallos create something altogether different. Thackrey also discusses how much his wine changes after the bottle is opened. Any of you who read ratings have read about how much the wine will change from the initial pour to perhaps two hours later, but Sean maintains that his wine will continue to present additional traits that are still enjoyable up to one and two days after opening the bottle. Until recently, I had always felt that a good bottle should be enjoyed the first day that it was opened so as not to waste its qualities before they go into their demise at the hands of oxygen. The biggest problem is to keep from drinking a bottle before one has the opportunity to experience its evolution.

If you are interested in trying Sean’s wines, visit his website that is linked above to his name and e-mail him requesting to be added to his offering list. I am saving the single varietals that I got from him, all of them named after constellations, but he also makes a non-vintage wine called Pleiades. Each of his releases of this wine bears a different number, yet different mixtures of batches with sometimes up to seven grape types. He said something to the effect that he saves his unruly batches of wines and blends them into what becomes Pleiades. His latest release costs $24/bottle-a great value for such a delicious wine-but he offers a 10% discount for cases, even mixed ones.

My Italy visiting wine friend recommended a book that upholds the wine alive notion. Passion on the Vine by Sergio Esposito contains some wonderful wine narratives with stories of the winemakers that instill the wine with the life it contains. Sergio owns a shop, which is an understatement I am sure, called Italian Wine Merchant. His goal is to represent the top 1% of a huge body of wines that are contained in the political boundaries of Italy. He relates a story of a man named Jasko Gravner who had brought forth the modernization of winemaking techniques in Italy only to walk away from all of that and return to the old way of making wines. Instead of using barrels or smaller barriques to age his wine before bottling, he began to use clay amphorae that are buried underground in his cellar to contain the wine. The temperature and the electrical field, he asserts, are perfectly maintained by the earth. In any case, the results are such that he is in Sergio’s top 1%. This is just a glimpse of the many involved stories that Sergio shared about his relationships with his winemakers. By the way, he is married to an Alaska girl.

Michael Meagher’s Vino V 2005 White Hawk Syrah was very enjoyable. It was dark, deep, and velvety with a hint of vanilla at the top. It had enough tannic structure that I think it could have aged well for a while, but it drank well now. You can get it directly from his website for $45 and if you sign up to be on the mailing list, you will get a discount.

Drink some life juice!


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Whatever Will Be, Will Be

Okay, back to Syrah, Syrah. My interest in this grape has grown as of late. In my process of digging and discovering, I have found that many acclaimed winemakers have begun to move away from the big Cabernet grape. I must say that I will never shun the opportunity to drink a full, lush and chewy cabernet, but one cannot deny the fact that because of its popularity, the market value to quality ratio has become pretty skewed. Many of the cult cabs in Napa are priced out at $300 or more. I have put myself on waiting lists for mailing lists out of curiosity and of course there is that underlying urge that I think all collectors have of putting something really special in their cellars. My name actually came up for an offering from the fabled Hundred Acre winery that is Jayson Woodbridge’s ultra premium baby. He sells the affordable line of world wines that all share the name Layer Cake. They run for about $15 a bottle, but Hundred Acre is another story. I got the offering in an e-mail and read the description for the wine Deep Time. It is a cabernet from the Kayli Morgan vineyard that was held in the production cellar longer than they normally hold their cabernet before bottling which is supposed to further intensify the flavors and deepen them. Two 750 ml bottles in a wooden crate were offered for $600. A girl has got to draw a line somewhere, as special as it was made to sound. Perhaps another time Jayson and until then I will comfort myself with the thought that Sideways Miles finds cabernets “exultant…(yet) prosaic,” this quoted by a non-poet.

All that just to get to Syrah, a grape that many producers and drinkers of late claim has more complexity, depth, degrees, and layers than one will ever find in a bottle of Cabernet. I have found enjoyment in Rhone style wines, usually with Syrah as the major component, but sometimes Grenache is included. Chataneuf du Pape goes well with lamb as a general rule, I have never had the pleasure of drinking a Cote Rotie, but then again I have a tendency not to go for French wines because I know so little about them. I do know that I have not had any success with trying Cotes du Rhone which is a shame because of their affordability. Australian Shiraz I find to have a forced quality and usually tastes of heavily extracted fruit. I am sure that when one gets into the Penfolds Grange level, this tendency would be lost. California does have a lot to offer in the way of Syrah and I like the notion that the wines are closer to home, thus creating a smaller carbon footprint in transport. JC Cellars is a branch off from the famed Fess Parker Pinot producers that is making some good Syrah that I can actually find in Alaska when I want to grab something quickly to bring to a dinner.

Tonight I will be trying something new, I’ll have to share a report with you in my next entry, a Vino V Syrah. Michael Meagher is the producer and I found out about him when researching vineyards that grow heralded Syrah fruit. He and his mentor, Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards, source grapes for their syrah from the White Hawk Vineyard. Adam produces single vineyard syrahs from various vineyards around Santa Barbara as well as his very affordable multi vineyard 2006 Syrah which goes for $22. I recently read an article about him where he vowed not to make wines to suit Robert Parker’s palate. He is moving away from the heavily extracted high alcohol content wines that have received so much acclaim in California-and in turn have influenced winemakers around the world who want to jump on that train-and is working toward creating wines that he would like to drink that have more subtlety and nuance. It’s all so interesting to read about, but I wish I could be there to taste what he means; ditto for all of the winemakers that I have read about and mention.

Maggie Harrison, the aforementioned winemaker for Antica Terra, now based out of the Willamette Valley also sources her fruit from White Hawk and has it mad dashed up to Oregon by truck so that she can produce her Lillian Syrah, named for her Grandmother. Her latest offering for her 2006 went out a couple of weeks ago. If you are interested and are too late to get an allocation, go to the Story Teller Wine Co. website and they have pre-release options listed in their Smart Bottle selection. They also offer Magnums of her 2004 Lillian Syrah.

Maggie used to make wines with another fabled winemaker, Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non. He also sources some of his fruit from the White Hawk Vineyard and just recently began growing his own vineyards of Rhone varietals. This is new for him as he has always bought fruit from growers and created his wines in an industrial space off of an alley in Ventura. I suppose the French purists would call him a garagiste, but he is proof positive that wines are not all in the terroir. It is what is done with those grapes once they are in the hands of a capable winemaker that makes a difference, not to dismiss terroir altogether, but highly acclaimed wines can be made apart from an extravagant estate. I bring up Manfred Krankl because he has worked very hard to set the standard for Rhone wines in California. He produces wines with Syrah, Grenache, Roussane, Viognier and not a drop of Cabernet. Unfortunately his prices have climbed to the level of the cult California Cabs. I have signed up to be on the waiting list of the mailing list and will be very interested in seeing how his offering prices compare with the prices for his wines out on the market.

There is one other person I should probably mention if you are Rhone curious. Randall Graham is the winemaker for Bonny Doon and is credited for beginning the California Rhone wine movement and was given the title Rhone Ranger.
His most acclaimed Rhone is Le Cigare Volant and it contains five Rhone blending grapes, grenache, mourvedre, syrah, cargnane, and cinsault. The 2005 sells for an affordable $32 on his website and if you purchase more than $60 worth of wine, the shipping is free.

I followed through on the Cabot Vineyards offering and ordered the Bacon Fat Syrah for $30/bottle. It is only available on Wine Berserkers, and only one barrel was made, so if you are interested, become a member. The Bacon Fat report will be forthcoming.

Will (it) be pretty, will (it) be rich,
Here’s what (it) said to me…

We shall see,