Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Riesling in Paris

In Paris this weekend I met up with Lars Carlberg, who represents a number of exciting growers in Germany's Mosel Valley through his Trier-based company, Mosel Wine Merchant. Lars was in town showing some new wines to Mark Williamson of Willi's Wine Bar and Macéo (that's the two of them in this photo), and invited me to join them for a morning Rieslingfest, along with Macéo sommelier Guillaume, Drew Harre of Fish la Boissonnerie and Dany Bertin-Denis of Les Enfants Rouges.

I've been so occupied with other things this year that I haven't had the chance yet to taste a single German riesling from 2008 up until now. On Saturday, Lars opened about 20 wines from the vintage, mostly dry—I loved the St. Aldegunder Himmelreich Kabinett trocken by Ulli Stein, inspired by Vinho Verde. Stein's idea was to make a truly dry wine under 10 degrees of alcohol, and while this may not be the most profound or complex riesling in the Mosel, its crisp, summery freshness just makes you want to drink loads of it. For profundity, the Ayler Kupp Fass 6 from Peter Lauer was sophisticated in its delicate balance and keen expression of terroir, showing all of the detail and class of this top site—not all of the Kupp is up to this quality, but this wine comes from the original parcel known as Kupp prior to the expansion of 1971. In a bigger, gutsier vein, the Kabinett trocken from Clemens Busch was delicious, combining rich fruit with incisive acidity and a hint of pleasantly herbal bitterness to keep it refreshing and buoyant. It's entirely from the upper portion of the Pündericher Marienburg, but this can't be marked on the label due to the new VDP regulations (don't get me started on that). Also delicious was Steinmetz's Kestener Paulinsberg Spätlese** (two-star), which Stefan Steinmetz has made in a sort of homage to Joh. Jos. Prüm—lithe and filigreed, it of course shows a very different terroir signature to, say, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, but it's marked by the "sponti" notes of Mosel wild-yeast fermentation that made me think of this post by Brooklynguy. That might put some people off, but I think the wine is beautiful.

The wine of the day for me, though, was the 2008 Röttgen trocken by Knebel. The Uhlen, as usual, was sterner, more tightly-wound, with more overt stuffing, but in this vintage the Röttgen has such a gorgeous purity of expression, its fruit essentially existing solely to provide a platform and structure for maximum transmission of terroir character. Fruity riesling it is not, but if slate and site-specificity are your things, this is definitely a wine to seek out.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Vouette et Sorbée in 31 Days of Natural Wine

I'm contributing today to 31 Days of Natural Wine, a collaborative project conceived of and hosted by Cory Cartwright on his blog, Saignée.

My post today is on Vouette et Sorbée, the biodynamically-farmed estate of Bertrand Gautherot in the Aube. Have a look, and return to Cory's site over the next few weeks for guest posts on natural wine by some of the best wine bloggers out there.

Friday, June 26, 2009

ChampagneGuide.net in Winart

ChampagneGuide.net is featured in the July 2009 issue of Winart, Japan's leading wine magazine.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Champagne Corks and Their Alternatives

Last night, I posted a video to ChampagneGuide.net's Facebook page about champagne corks and some recently proposed attempts to replace them.

Among the latest solutions is the Maestro, the new closure by Duval-Leroy and Alcan that you can see in this photo. Duval-Leroy is releasing a portion of the new 2004 Clos des Bouveries with this closure, which is built around a crown-capsule (thus not involving any cork whatsoever), and Sandrine Logette-Jardin, chef de cave of Duval-Leroy, kindly gave me a bottle for this video.

Click here to see it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

L'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne

I am proud to tell you that last night I had the honor of being inducted as a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne. At the order's annual meeting in the sumptuous Palais de Tau in Reims, Commandeur de l'Ordre Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger of Champagne Taittinger waved his magic "pomponne" and welcomed me into the Chapitre de la Fleur de Vigne, one of the three official chapters of the organization. There were trumpets! Ceremony! Fanfare! Knights Who Say 'Ni'! (Wait, no, that was something else.)

The Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne traces its history to the 17th century, when a number of young aristocrats, most of whom were landowners in Champagne, formed a group to promote the wines of the region. According to Patrick Forbes in his outstanding book Champagne: The Wine, the Land and the People, the origin of the name dates from shortly after the coronation of Louis XIV in 1666, and can be attributed to the activities of three of the group's most prominent members, all renowned for their loyal devotion to the finest things vinous and gastronomic: the Marquis de Saint-Evremond, the Comte d'Olonne and the Marquis de Bois-Dauphin. Forbes writes:
Soon after the coronation they dined with the Bishop of Le Mans, and so horrified the old man with their fastidiousness in matters of food and wine that he went about Paris afterwards saying: "These gentlemen, in seeking refinement in everything, go to extremes: they can only eat Normandy veal; their partridges must come from Auvergne, and their rabbits from La Roche-sur-Yon; they are no less particular as regards fruit; and, as to wine, they can only drink that of the good coteaux of Aÿ, Hautvillers and Avenay." Their friends, who thought this a huge joke, started calling them the Trois Coteaux, and before long the whole group became known as the Ordre des Coteaux.

The group actually did a great deal to popularize the wines of Champagne at the time, playing an important role in the region's development, and they remained in existence until shortly before the Revolution. In 1956, a group of Champenois led by Roger Gaucher and François Taittinger revived the Ordre, and today it serves as the most visible and prestigious body of ambassadors of champagne worldwide. Prior to Pierre-Emmanuel's election as Commandeur in March of this year, Pierre Cheval of Champagne Gatinois held that office; previous Commandeurs have included such luminaries as Claude Taittinger, Bernard de Nonancourt and Christian de Billy. The Ordre also has a number of officers, including Didier Depond of Salon/Delamotte (pictured with me here), my sponsor in the order.

As a Chevalier, I am sworn to defend the cause of champagne and promote the appreciation of champagne in whatever way I can. I'm probably also expected to drink as much champagne as humanly possible. I think I can do that.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Image of Blanc de Blancs

I was speaking with Denis Velut of Champagne Jean Velut in Montgueux yesterday, and he said something that I found rather curious. We were tasting his 2000 millésime, which is 100-percent chardonnay—in the past he used to add about 20 percent of pinot noir to his vintage brut, but since 1999 he's begun making it exclusively from chardonnay, as chardonnay is rightfully the emblematic grape variety of the Montgueux area.

The label of this wine, however, still says Brut Cuvée Millésime, with no mention of blanc de blancs anywhere. When I asked him about this, he replied, "The name blanc de blancs doesn't have very good connotations. People in France associate it with crémant, and think of blanc de blancs as cheap sparkling wine."

I was quite surprised by this, as I doubt that people in export markets think of blanc de blancs that way at all. It seems to me, in fact, that it's the reverse—names such as Salon, Selosse, Larmandier-Bernier and Diebolt-Vallois have helped to give blanc de blancs a terrifically high level of prestige, even more so than other styles. Many wine lovers I know declare blanc de blancs to be their favorite style of champagne.

What do you think? Do you have a particular response one way or another to the term blanc de blancs? For those of you who are French, does blanc de blancs have any negative connotations for you?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Flowering Begins

It's been damp and dreary here in Champagne, meaning that I haven't had much motivation for going out into the vines over the past few days. I finally did so yesterday afternoon, and found... flowers! Here's a photo of some nascent chardonnay in Ambonnay.

Counting one hundred days from now puts the Champagne harvest in mid-September. Let's hope for positive conditions between now and then.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kirby Allison's Hanger Project

Too few men, alas, pay enough attention to what they wear, and even fewer pay any attention to caring for the things that they wear. It is perhaps a sign of the inexorable decline of modern society that clothing is viewed by the majority of the male population today as either an afterthought or else as something vaguely effeminate, right up there with champagne, riesling and poulsard.

For those who do realize that they way you appear to others actually matters, the world of men's dress is often a frustrating place. True style has been largely supplanted by fashion, to the point where most people are unable to distinguish between the two. The concept of proper fit has become even more elusive than the understanding of a wine's terroir. The quality of available garments is rapidly declining from mediocre to downright appalling, meaning that simply procuring a well-constructed, properly fitting article of clothing often necessitates custom tailoring. And dammit, you just can't get any good hangers anymore.

Fortunately, Mr. Kirby Allison has stepped in to address this last dilemma. I guarantee that the majority of men, even those who do think about what they wear, rarely stop to consider the seemingly innocuous object that faithfully bears the burden of supporting their clothing day in and day out. That is a grave mistake. As with wine, clothing needs to be stored properly in order to maintain its optimum condition, and nothing could be easier than hanging a suit on a properly contoured wooden hanger—ideally, one from Kirby Allison's Hanger Project. This is the Rolls-Royce of hangers.

"The whole project stemmed from the frustration of how impossible it was to find good suit hangers," says Allison. "Everything is either plastic or cheap wood. We wanted to create the best hanger for the best clothes—no compromises. Something that would make a meaningful difference in keeping jackets looking great. No more creased trousers and collapsed, limp jackets."

What makes Allison's hangers different? First of all, they're contoured rather than straight, and not just a little contoured, but radically so, adhering much more closely to the natural curve of the shoulders. Your jacket is designed to lie on the contoured outlines of your body, and unless your hanger follows similar lines, the jacket will be pulled out of shape when it is hung. "The most important characteristic of our hangers is the support they lend to the garment," says Allison. "Proper support is essential to protecting the work that went into creating a jacket. Without proper support, jackets quickly lose their shape." This photo shows the hanger from above, to show you how pronounced the shape is, as well as how generously flared the shoulders are—at a whopping 2.5 inches in depth, the shoulders are five times the size of the industry's average.

Second of all, these hangers are sized. Width is important because of how the hanger supports the shoulders of your jacket—too short and it doesn't hold up the shoulder; too wide and it extends into the sleeve, stretching and potentially damaging the jacket. Allison's hangers come in three sizes—17 inches, 18.5 inches and 20 inches—ensuring a proper fit. I'm a small guy, small enough that a size 36 coat purchased off the rack needs to be taken in. The 17-inch hanger is an unusually small size (most commercially-available hangers are between 17.5 and 19 inches in width), and it's just about the maximum width possible for my jackets.

Third, these hangers are crafted with a keen attention to detail. Made of solid, responsibly-harvested American maple wood, they are highly polished and stained with a vibrantly lustrous, bubinga-like finish—while some manufacturers boast unfinished cedar hangers, I actually don't like those at all, as they tend to be rougher in texture, potentially snagging your clothing, and they can even sometimes secrete natural oils. The finish and feel of Allison's hangers are beautiful, and even just looking at this hanger sitting here on my desk makes me want to touch it. In addition, the locking ring hook is attached with an embedded washer instead of a threaded screw as most hangers are, meaning that this hanger can support a lot more weight, and the hook will never pull out or strip. Originally, the hangers were fitted with a locking trouser bar, which is something I never use—if you actually put your trousers into those things, they will crease badly, and then you need a trouser press. (And come on, how many of us actually have one of those?) Allison had the brilliant idea of replacing this with a thick, felted trouser bar that holds trousers securely in place without creasing them at all. Why all hangers don't come equipped with one of these, I really don't know.

But yes, I hear you. This is frivolous, you say. I have neither a Savile Row suit nor a Rubinacci jacket , so why should I care how it is stored? Please. Do you store your Burgundy on top of the fridge just because it's not Romanée-Conti? I realize, unfortunately, that many men nowadays don't even wear jackets, much less suits, but if you do, and if your suits come from anywhere better than H&M, you need to at least think about caring for your garments. The first and most basic step is putting them on a good hanger. They're not even overly expensive: the suit hangers are sold in sets of three for US$74.85, making them $24.95 apiece, and they can be shipped anywhere in the world. While this may be more than the cheap, flimsy wooden hangers you buy at Target, it's a remarkably small price to pay in the relative scheme of things, especially for the superior quality of the product. As Allison says, "We’re the shoe tree of suits. If you spend $15 on a pair of shoe trees for $300 shoes, why wouldn’t you spend $25 on a hanger for an $800 suit?" Hangers are also available for shirts, trousers and jackets, and Allison's line includes hangers for women as well. Forget about that tie that Dad's never going to wear—this Father's Day, give him something different. But keep at least one of these hangers for yourself. You might never go back to those other flimsy things ever again.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why Not Sake?

I was in Paris last night visiting my friend Barbara, who recently returned from a trip to Japan. We were drinking a delicious bottle of sake that she had brought back with her, and she asked, un-rhetorically, "Why don't people drink more sake?"

Honestly, I was stumped. I naturally have an opinion about the subject—personally I think that people should drink more sake—but putting that aside and looking at it objectively, I really don't know why more people don't drink sake.

It can't be an issue of alcohol. Most sakes are between 15 and 16 percent alcohol, which is only a touch higher than many table wines these days. Is it a perception that it only goes with Japanese food? Sake is exceptionally food-friendly, and it can be argued that it's even more widely versatile at the table than wine is. I suppose the fact that all the labels are written in Japanese can be intimidating, but in the United States, back labels carry a great deal of information printed in English that's enormously helpful to the consumer. (All of you guys who complain that champagne houses don't print enough technical data on the label, check out the back label on a sake bottle sometime.)

Perhaps its simply that sake is unfamiliar. Not only is there alien terminology such as junmai and ginjo, but even the flavors and aromas of sake can often lie outside of the range of typical Western experience. But honestly, if you can say ramen and sashimi, you can say junmai.

I'm curious—do you drink sake? If so, do you drink it with non-Japanese cuisine? Do you share it with friends? If you don't drink sake, is there a reason?