Attending last year's Kosher Fest, I didn't expect to see the usual tattoos and hipsters. But I was surprised to see the room packed with patrons sporting pais, yalmukes and sheitles, seeking the latest hot bottle. I joined in. Tulip? (Pass--way too fat and sloppy for me).
A new cava? (Too industrial. Pass).
Minutes later I was tasting the wines of Netofa (below).
A friend who sells for Royal Wine Company said to me, "I love them. Why can't I get anyone else to?"
He then proceded to tell me that any wine that wasn't back sweetened, rich and oaky was a hard sell.
So, that brings us to...if you read The Feiring Line, and want to avoid the dreck , what are the solutions to the kosher cunundrum? Whether for Shabbos or Passover, that is terroir and not market-driven? I mean, it's a long night. To sit there drinking seltzer would be sad.
Rule one: Don't spend big. My Los Angeles-based cousin recently sent me a picture of a Herzog $150 cabernet. Worth it, he asked?
There's no real reason to spend over $30 with rare exception. Exception! Santa Cruz's Four Gates. Benyamin Kantz, is a one guy show, works the vines, makes the wines. I profiled him in Naked Wine. He's the real deal and can use your support for his truly artisan wines from certified organic vines. He adds neutral yeast and low-ish sulfurs, but that's all. Wines range between $38-$46, from the winery direct. Check him out.
Rule two: Consider the need for mevushal. This means a wine has been flash pasteurized. Why? Because this Draconian process allows those who are not Sabbath observing to handle the bottles, open them, pour them. This is why you'll find these kind in kosher restaurants and at bar mitzvahs. It is a horrible thing to do to a wine and is only indicated if showing up to a very frum household.
For the most part, I will go out of my way to avoid, even though, with some begrudging, there are three below that are thus acursed. The best thing you can do is call your hosts and ask if mevushal is required or whether any Kosher for Passover wine will do. One day the Rabbi's will get rid of this custom and it's long overdue.
Drappier Champagne? It's a wine I enjoy in its non-kosher version. Well worth the under $50 price point or so for a real Champagne with a hechsher. This is mevushal.
2010 Chateau La Clare ($30)
The crowded Bordeaux category has potential, just because there's a lot to choose from. But be careful, you can spend $70 and over and get a dried out, poorly cared for wine. I'm tempted by the 2002 Leoville Poyferre but the chances it was poorly stored are too great. So, one option I have under $30. Ch. La Clare was a little dilute but had plenty of earthy bordeaux character (even though mevushal) Made and produced by Jean Guyon who recently bought Chateau Greysac.
Domaine Netofa ($20)
from the southern Galilee is my kosher default. Winemaker, Pierre Miodownick has made a hell of a lot of wine for the big gorilla of the kosher wine world, Royal. But this is his very own and couldn't be more different than the other recipe driven wines that litter the market. A mourvedre/syrah blend. The gamey syrah shines through. Also getting my best bet for whites is his offering of chenin blanc. It's got a nice wet wool thing on the nose with a soft, salty apple skin finish.
Domaine Ruhlmann ($18)
I don't have a clue about this Alsatian producer. The vines are grown on granite soils and the grapes are hand-harvested. What I am not crazy about a very grapey quality, which could be the ripe '09 vintage, but never the less, but yet the wine remains highly quaffable. I would buy it if only to encourage more kosher wines from Alsace and revisit in 2010. On Wine-Searcher.com I can only locate the gewurtz at about $18, also commendable.
Peraj Petita ($20-$50)
needs to be on your radar. They are my other default. Out of Monstant in Spain, so close to Priorat, the value is there for $20. The 2011 is current release but I see there are some 2008 wines. Go for it! This and its fancier sibling ($50) Flor de Primavera Perah Ha'abib do much better with age. The former, is my preference with its a mix of grenache, carignane and termpranillo.The fancy bottle has a hefty dose of cabernet and new oak. Why? I don't have a clue. But if you want a status bottle, this is the one you're after.
Finally we come to life from down -under, Hunter Valley.
Harkham Winery (Under $20)
This is historically significant as Richard Harkham is the first total natural wine enthusiast who is also shomer shabbos. When Richie says he makes wines without preservatives, he's not talking about condoms but about using no sulfur or other additives. The label above (there's also a shiraz) is mevushal, a concession to Royal, one of his American importers. As chardonnay goes it's pretty okay; gritty and refreshing. While the pasteurization has taken its toll, snuffing out some of the life, it remains untarnished by oak and manages to be pithy and have some interest, it might be a match for the hard to pair gefilte fish, and certainly would swim well with a browned up capon.
However, the Aziza wines (chardonnay and shiraz) are Richie's babies. Aziza was the name of his late Grandmom. The much adored matriarch emigrated to Israel in 1929. Nothing but the full-throttle natural stuff would justify invoking her name. For these he teamed up with another importer who agreed to treat the wines more gently and ship in cool containers. The wines have been celebrated by secular reviewers such as Jancis and Andrew Jefford and in Australia is distributed by the fab wine guy, Andrew Guard. I'll be watching Richie. He's the next step for kosher wine.
Anyway, best of luck to you and remember there is always Slivovitz. I do love the rot gut, have plenty of youthful fond memories and nothing else gives you that burn. Otherwise, you can always go really cheap with a Golan Sion Red--which is sort of the Hearty Burgundy of the Kosher wine world. It is a quaffable no-brainer, do no harm and for $11 bucks? It will do the trick. Chag semeach, and have fun making the horseradish.
Either foreswear fucking others or the affair is over. This was the ultimatum, the maddeningly improbable, wholly unforeseen ultimatum, that the mistress of fifty-two delivered in tears to her lover of sixty-four on the anniversary of an attachment that had persisted with an amazing licentiousness—and that, no less amazingly, had stayed their secret—for thirteen years. But now with hormonal infusions ebbing, with the prostate enlarging, with probably no more than another few years of semi-dependable potency still his—with perhaps not that much more life remaining—here at the approach of the end of everything, he was being charged, on pain of losing her, to turn himself inside out. --- Sabbath's Theater
I rely on Roth's work of madness about aging, failure and loss of potency, Sabbath's Theater. Along with Goodbye Columbus and Letting Go, they are the tomes I turn to when I forget how to write or feel.
But when Roth recently announced he was hanging up the keyboard, something in me snuffed. For some reason I kept on rereading that damned mission statement of mine, "I'm hunting the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world." I started to question everything. Roth declared he was done. My feel for the heart and soul of the sentence was sapped. Even rereading him didn't help. This time it felt final.
Fuck you, Philip Roth. I never knew I was that impressionable, but we seem to be linked on a much deeper level than I had ever imagined.
Of course my trauma is not his fault. I was writing before I heard the snickered name of Portnoy. My love for Roth came much later. I had already decided to gamble with my life and throw all I had into writing, I was plotting my return to New York City. But, on a disastrous trip to damp northern California with a Mickey Sabbath of my own,( a mistake) I gave Roth another chance, (I had been bored with Portnoy.) and found The Counterlife. It was as if Zuckerman found yet another doppelgänger--me-- but forgot to give me the same talent to temper the inevitability of doom.
I read all I could, elevating two of his works above all his others. And finally when in 1995 that first Foreswear all others chapter appeared in The New Yorker I waited for the book release with characteristic impatience. I was swallowed whole by the chapter and everything that followed. It was primal. It cut to the blood of all of us who have loved insanely and who know what its like to feel close to madness. There are scattered scenes of flash; the embalming scene, rendered with flesh and thistle. The yearning and loss and the stupidity in death and desire, nibbled down to the bone.
I know with modern convention, with the current love for pre-boxed structure- if I brought Roth's opening graf into my writing group as my own, they would invariably say: There's too much going on. There's too much telling. Not enough showing. Too many clauses. Too many dates. Too much volatility. Too much brett. Too much stuff I have no idea how to describe. "The character isn't likeable." Whoever says that is lying and denying the bits of failure we all carry within. The genius of Sabbath is that he is able to disappoint the reader, he, brilliant-genius-gone-wrong, goes forth and distinguishes himself in tragedy. He becomes the satyr, the aging, failed satyr he could not avoid being.
When I read the New York Magazine article on Roth I was troubled at the absence of women who stood up for short, stubby, horny- without -purpose Sabbath and his creator. The guys? They love him. After all Sabbath is their worst fear, they lose the woman they love and are reduced to masturbating on her grave. They fear they ARE Sabbath. Woman on the other hand fear that one day, they'll wake up in the morning and find themselves lying next to snoring sack like Sabbath. Another essay for another time.
No matter what my writing group feels, the character doesn't have to be likeable he or she just has to be riveting, talented and burrows into your skin. What about Gabrio Vini wines, Serragghia from Pantelleria, such as the extreme orange blossom-water-like Zibibbo Secco? Or a more kindly wine, such as Claire Naudin's Orchis? Or the wines of Georgia or of my beloved pond scum saving a wine that is so pure it's a chick with martinet posture and fat pearls who doesn't heave the breast. The most important element is to take the reader and drinker in, no matter what the person or point of view or the conventional talent.
So, Roth is coming to dinner. I fear he would love Harlan. I have no Harlan and I'm not getting him some. Nor will I get him anything like it. I don't even know if he drinks anymore, in Letting Go there was a reference to 1951 (assuming Bordeaux). And some wine connoisseurship along the way. But no. If Roth came over tonight, if he called me up and he said, pull the cork babe, I want to see why you dare invoke my name, you imbecile, I told you to give up writing, didn't I? Didn't I tell you it was a crass, vulger way to make a living and no one in the end gives a shit? Anyway now when The Atlantic Monthly is asking writers to write for free...see? Well, if he did this right now, and I had to look around, I'd give him two of the most contentious Mickey Sabbath wines I could get my hands on. Vino Ambiz, cloudy Airén sitting on my bench? Why not? And then, because I'm a glutton for punishment, I'd open a trousseau of beauty, and feel my heart sink and beg him, do not do this to me.
Happy to be part of this great festival, Tucson Festival of Books.
My seminar is on sunday in the 'culinary' tent and I will be very happy to see you!
Catching up on the stack of magazines that's preventing me from reading fiction, I bolted right up and took notice. Ray Isle had a piece on how Robert Parker's predictions have come (or not) true.
The first one caught my eye for a few reasons:
Ray Isle In 1987, you worried that “the continuing obsession with technically perfect wines is stripping wines of their identifiable and distinctive character. It seems to be the tragedy of modern winemaking that it is increasingly difficult to tell an Italian Chardonnay from one made in France or California or Australia.” You added, “Winemakers and the owners of wineries, particularly in America, must learn to take more risks and to preserve the individual character of their wines, even at the risk that some consumers may find them bizarre or unusual.” Looking at things now, did winemaking move away from that trend toward anonymity, or did it continue?
Damn, didn't that sound familiar? I could well have written it, and in fact, starting in 2001, quite a bit later I did in many ways and in some ways, never stopped. But I fist became aware of it in the year 2000 when I read the Atlantic Monthly store on Parker as an essay Robert Parker wrote in 1999 entitled The Dark Side of Wine.
It's not unusual for a writer to plagiarize themselves but not in such a public way.But the 1987 article predated the elaborate on-line publishing and not searchable. That was when the world of writing was also safe, from technology, we could recycle material, if we wanted, with little fear of being outted.
But beyond that, the point is, what was Parker really thinking? When I think of technology and sameness in wines and I'm thinking marketers, enzymes, new oak, bacteria, tannins, MOX, RO, acidulation, etc. etc. I asked a friend who was a fly on the wall in 1987, was Parker really talking about fining and filtering? My friend said, yes.
He reminded me: Remember that in 1987 he was in the thrall of Bobby Kacher and Bobby was basically selling barrel samples. Bob jumped on the bandwagon of the time about no racking, especially.
Parker's point, at the time and now, he reminded me, was actually, was about putting everything into the bottle. Back then that meant sludge, which he took as a sign of authenticity. But you know what Velcorin can do, right? People can define intervention in many ways, usually to their own ends.
For some reason Parker never viewed the use of concentrator, over-used in Bordeaux, which is a mega-filter, as filtering. He was certainly knowledgeable of the technologies but never really accepted that they were used in fine wine for the collector, the wines he focused on.
We all have our blind spots. I strive for 360 vision, but fail. I rely on my friends and readers to call me out when I miss the dark corners.
Never the less, read that Dark Side, it is very beautiful, hearfelt rant, very relevant to day in many respects, especially in light of Antonio Galloni's recent jumping of ship and the conversations of the future of wine criticism. Parker gives sage advice to those wishing to be wine critics, and I think one can extend that to wine writers:
Independence.Courage.Experience. Individual Accountability. Emphasis on Pleasure and Value. The Focus on Qualitative Issues. Candor.
Parker embodied all of the above as much as he could. In fact, if he wanted to continue with his credo, he should, perhaps, let his Chinese Singaporean investors and his new editor Lisa Perrotti-Brown keep The Wine Advocate. And do what? If he didn't sign a 'no compete' he should follow Galloni's lead, jump ship and start his own publication, again. Because as he said to me, back in 2007, “Once the bean counters take charge, it’s all over.”
In case you missed the piece I had in the New York Times on the new crop of odd and great vermouths coming out of America, give a click on the above link and check it out.
The back story was when I walked into a part in December in Stuy Town. In fact the original story started like this:
Bianca Miraglia was squished into the rear of a cramped kitchen, draining a glass of old barbaresco with her friends. The 29-year old with the open, heart-shape face was talking natural wines when she switched gears. “Want to taste vermouths?”
Defying the tipple’s sissy reputation, I eagerly thrust my glass in front of her. She had three versions, bitter, barely sweet, sophisticated. They had a dryness I never experienced in the often too syrupy drink. “Wait. You made these?” I asked.
America has been slow in warming to vermouth. Vya, the first big commercial splash in domestic vermouths came out of California in 1999. Another Californian Sutton, and Imbue from Oregon followed in a decade. By spring of 2013, nearly half of the country’s six craft producers (2.5) will be peddling their wares out of Brooklyn, threatening to turn the borough into Turin on the Hudson. And while the popular attitude is changing—especially in the hipster crowd, the drink remains much maligned. Miraglia’s seasonally themed product, Uncouth Vermouth, might be the real game changer.
But that was the blog version. Thanks to New York Times editing (might I always have Patrick whispering corrections and suggestions in my ear) it became the clickable story.
But what I wanted in the piece was Bianca's sensibility. Take a look at her mise en place.
and then there were the fabulous bottles created by artist Matthew Rose that of course had to be
So the piece comes out. I base my piece on the fact that in American you can make vermouth which means wormwood in German, and you don't have to use wormwood! (Bianca uses a close relative.) As things happen, I found out that there was one vermouth I forgot about and......unlike almost anyone else in the United States, he uses wormwood. With great apologies to Ted Seestedt of Ransom spirits, I eagerly look forward to tasting your product.
If you're looking for the original post about groupie-ism in the wine world, I've removed it, or at least I did, and now it's back up again)
The post geminated during my last visit to France. I was struck by how appealing the world of wine, and specifically, natural wine, had become. So much so that the purity I had adored, seemed to be getting tarnished because of its new rock-star-like gleam. The fact that natural wine in Paris has become chi-chi cannot be denied. It's hip. It's current. It's fresh and it's sexy. That's okay. In a few years it will be totally mainstream, and the new whatever will take its place. But, during this visit I saw the emergence of groupie-like behavior which I had not seen before.
I'm not talking about enthusiasts who go out of their way to visit and taste and talk, but people who want to mostly hang out and claim connoisseurship.
This, by the way, was a disturbingly popular post. In a matter of two hours I received 1000 visitors to my site, normally I get between 500-600 visits over 24 hours. Is it because it was sensational? Because it revved up, oh my god, did you see? Who is she talking about? Was it the gossip element in it? Was it because of the power of a New York Post like headline? Or that it was true. The possibility that the draw was for its possible sensational draw, was one of the reasons to take it down.
I also received many personal notes and even phone calls of people who knew what I was talking about. A few of them came from venerable folk in the wine world, "Spot on," was a term often used. Other messages came in from the food industries, who have witnessed this in their world for quite some time now. It's universal in any field.
I can't always be in control of how my posts are being read, or what personal history the reader brings to my words. Not wanting to be a part of what was turning destructive, I have removed the original, though I hope the conversation is not silenced.
So, three months later? I've received so many requests to repost, here it is again. Thanks as always for reading.
All one has to do is read Levi Dalton's posts to understand that some people long to work the floor. This is not limited to men. Talk to Linda Milagros Violago--sommelier to the world and presently at Geranium--who is devoted to three-star service, or the devotion to wine and hard work of Laura Maniec, or Pascaline Lepeltier who studies wine with the obsessiveness of a heart surgeon. But all of these people got into the biz before it was sexy. They got there out of pursuit of excellence in their chosen area of passion. For all of these folk, wine came first. The idea of getting into this business because of the glam or rubbing noses with vinous rockstars would have been ludicrous.
This is a post that is for sure going to get me into trouble.
When in France right after the New Year I was struck by more drunkeness than I’m used to at the tastings. Natural wine has become so trendy that I found too many people there for alcohol, for the hang, for the flirt, and the scene. At times, if standing next to the wrong people, I could have been at the Wine Experience, only with facial hair and tattoos. For sure, this is still the minority that could give this world a sheen I'd rather scrub off, but this reminds me of the times I used to do a lot of contra dancing. Then dances were given ink as a great place to get a hook up. This was true, but when people came specifically to look to score, this was the end of an era and of purity. The dance is the dance. Wine is the wine. The fact that we love it or find love through it, a different story.
In a similar gripe, let me announce that we have entered the age of the wine groupie. Wine has become so sexy a beast that more men and women want this piece of glam and fun but have no idea that the field requires study and discipline. Sharing in this equation is the wine director or enthusiast who claims best friends with cerain stars of this world.
"Frank Cornelissen is my great friend!"
"I taught Jancou all he knows!"
"Eric Texier loves me!"
Or the woman who hung on to Puzelat's coattails, ended up being invited to places when no one knows who she is. Obviously, I can't name names and in some cases, I never found out their names. Even more obnoxious is the use of a corkscrew to get to the casting couch.
The feminist in me is crushed. Of course, there are more men who are winemakers, wine directors at top restaurants and generally in control. I mean, I just don't hear men sommeliers claiming Noella Morantin as their buddy, or tackling Fanny Sabre. Oh sure, everyone is in love with the gorgeous Elisabetta Foradori, sultry Arianna O ,and adorable Francesca Padovani, but I just don't see them being groupied in the same way.
Until now, I don't remember seeing women notch their belts with winemakers. Chefs, yes. Winemakers and suited, manicured sommeliers? Not really. Is this what happens when the tastevin comes off? Here it is. Wine movers and shakers have finally acheived the sex appeal of star chefs.
Look, I'm no prude here. I'm all for a roll in the hay, a mad passionate interlude without the blessing of marriage, the pipette in every port sort of thing. The groupieness of it all, and yes, on both sides of the Atlantic and let's throw in Pacific while we're at it, made me want to scrub. Whether it's through sex or partying of another kind, what we're seeing more of is the poseur who has learned a few tricks and going for the prestige without doing their due diligence. Damn. True, the profession is fun and glamorous and the perks and parties can be alluring, but to enter this world for the stardust is the wrong intention.
As I look around at the few who have snuck under the ribbon, I realize that I was too old before I knew I could have used the heave of my breast to get ahead. I'm not saying it is bad trick to know. All women should be schooled in the art of getting what they want and using all of the tools in their quiver. But, I missed that part of my education.
While sleeping with the rock stars of the wine world can help get invitations, they can't put the details and the tastes and the terroir in your head. And so I’ll pass along this bit of advice to those who are choosing the easy route: My old editor at Interiors magazine once told me, "Alice, it's not how good you are, it is first who you know. And then, how good you are."
What do you think? Have I just been blind in the past? Has this been the way it always was and I was just too in love with the wine world to see the warts? Whether or not, a little advice to the new generation. Sure, sleep around, do a line or two with your favorites, make your connections, but don't forget to hit the books.
When the news broke that Brad and Angie were soon to debut a Chateau Miraval rosé, I was struck by the pale onion skin color, the blush of a virgin, the cuisse de nymphe. As I looked at the oversized, Hollywood-like bottle, I remembered a story about when past Meilleur Sommelier du Monde's, Olivier Poussier was asked to offer a toast to rosé. Instead he delivered an obituary. In front of his Provençal hosts he proclaimed that due to technology, true Provençal rose was a travesty, it no longer existed.
It turns out that this kind of pale pink color doesn't happen with a careful pressing of wines off of the skin (though it can) as the Provençal website would like you to believe, but most often with the help of certain additives, one of them of the clarifying agent, PPVP.
I contacted Marc Perrin, the Miraval winemaker, to find out how much the color was a concern for the product, I've not heard back. In the meantime, I approached enologue (wine consultant), Pierre Sanchez for his personal perspective on the issue.
He wrote, "Provence grapes are harvested relatively ripe and at rather high temperatures. The juices are generally quite colorful in the press but with oxidation and bacteria sometimes colored juices can turn dark or orange. Provençal winemakers therefore use large doses of PVPP (polyvinylpyrrolidone) which removes some of the color, but also much of polyphenols (oxidized or not). This is a shock treatment because it is very powerful. PVPP also removes certain aromas flavoring compounds. PVPP "corrects" bitterness of the smoothing wines. So for the color, they sacrifice some of the wine.
But there's a problem. The clarifier is not allowed by the EU organic laws as they do present some health issues. And so this sent those, wanting to keep organic certification scrambling for an alternative.
Winemakers can still use casein and decolorizing charcoal (as they did before the arrival of the PVPP) for color correction. Pierre continued to write, "They can also use proteins of vegetable origin (weight, lupine, wheat ...) that are part of the new inventions of firms producers eno. They were looking for alternatives to solutions for additives of animal origin (gelatin, albumin) for reasons of labeling (vegetarian) and allergy. "
Pierre summed up the cunundrum: Then they created a problem which never existed before; how to get a clear pink. Then the oenologist came up with an intervention, PVPP. That kind of pink became the norm. Then the Provencal AOC decided it was a pink they really needed. But then came organic. PVPP no longer allowed. "So we seek a replacement at any price (more or less effective and respectful of wine) because we do not know or do without it arises more questions. "
To the rescue is Martin Vialatte and a chemical derived from pea protein.
Think of that the next time you reach for a Provençal rosé. Hopefully, for the spring issue of The Feiring Line, I'll focus on real rosés, in all shades and hues, not definined but a creative director's idea of the color but of a vigneron's work to make a fresh wine no matter of its shade.
was the segue for the next morning's voyage to Angers. Somewhere around 10:30 we arrived in Chinon: Domaine Les Roches, and Jérôme Lenoir.
This is a property brought in to the United States by Selection Massale , and known for the very obscure yet commendable and crazy (financially insane, but for drinkers sublime) practice of releasing wines only when the wine is ready. As a result, they have a treasure trove of old vintages.
Jérôme @ work in the cave.
I used to bring these back from France, curious why no one ever imported them. Yes, sometimes the wines were eccentric, bretty, hard. But just as often they are beautiful and priced well enough to take the chance.
This was an extremely soggy winter. The rivers, from the Seine to the Cher, were swollen, and so was the soil. I stepped into a pile of mud and then walked down the tuffeau rock into the cellar, furry, weepy and ancient.
This was an emotional cellar with much history. Gaioz Sopromadze, who just a few days before was having a hard time not pinching the asses of comely women in Paris (they are just so beautiful, he explained) was overcome with sentiment, “My grandfather had 3h of vines. During the ten years after the 1917 revolution everything was taken. They divided our homes, the farmers were stripped of land and given to people who had no idea how to work the land. I hate communism.”
The revolution and the loss was that palpabale. And Jerome, to show solidarity, showed them some wine he had made in little ceramic pots that looked more like bombs than qvevri.
And then we settled in to taste. the 2012 chinon that had just finished its malo. To look for when released, the 2011, but you’ll have to wait for a while.
Their current release is 2005, which is showing beautifully. It was bottled in 2011 in two separate bottlings. About $23. Very supple, lifely and silk.
When Jerome opened up a 1989, the Georgians immediately had a reference, Perestroika, they chanted.
Takeaway: the nerve to hold on to wines until they are ready needs to be celebrated. And what's more this domaine known for their cabernet franc, makes brilliant chenin.
A lot has changed since the 2005 Dive Bouteille. But that year, it was still chilly, packed and super fun and a good reminder of a fabulous world that made history. I still love watching this piece of the past. To keep up with the future, subscribe to The Feiring Line.