Purity and delicacy are wine descriptors that do not appear often in reviews of top scoring wines. Terms like powerful, opulent and dense are the genre of pointy wines.

Poor Beaujolais seems destined to miss the mark for ratings defined by such descriptors. Youthful, fresh, lively, fruity, zesty and, the phrase that always damns a wine for the point obsessed, a "food wine", means low 90s at best.

Big points are the black holes of the wine universe. In the heart of the black hole the wines are dense and no light can escape from them, only points seem able to escape. Before all the lightness of wine is sucked away, down into the black hole itself, is the point of singularity where lightness can still exist. That's where wines like Beaujolais become relative.

If young Beaujolais finds relativity a problem, where can old Beaujolais find its place in the universe? It turns out Einstein was wrong when it comes to Beaujolais, Einstein's formula E=MC2 does not compute in this case where less mass creates more energy.

Recently I did a double take when I got a club shipment from Kermit Lynch. Côte de Brouilly? No surprise there. But wait! The vintage was not 2014, but 2006. The 2006 Côte de Brouilly Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes is indeed a singularity. It's a lacy, high strung ballerina of a wine. It was pure pleasure to let her dance through my dinner.

Black holes warp space time just as the 100 point scale warps wine time. Lightness is a concept that suffers in a universe dominated by black holes. They have indeed warped the wine universe.

I prefer to experience wines at the point of singularity.

Tosca, Ithzak and The Adams Family

They were uplifting. They challenged me and inspired me, each in their own way. A diverse range of musical performances I saw over the last two weeks made me think. Can you give a higher compliment to art? I don’t think anything engages every sense that makes us the complex beings we are more than music. 

This artistic immersion began at the top with a performance of Tosca at the incomparable Met in New York, followed by a Nathan Lane romp through The Adams Family on Broadway and  completed by the inspired clarity of Itzhak Perlman in recital in San Francisco. As with most things that inspire me these performances made me think about wine.

Tosca gives you restrained, confident power and emotion. The slightly naughty vaudeville of The Adams Family is all fun and escape. The delicacy and transparency of the Perlman piano and violin duets challenges you to focus on pure art stripped to the bone. These experiences were enjoyable each in their own way and each has their own purpose. It would be pointless to compare them, but that’s exactly what is done with wine. The exactitude of the 100 point scale only denies the beauty of each vinous performance. 

It was easy for me to see the wines I love in these three performances: Tosca would be something like Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with its restrained yet powerful and balanced concentration; The Adams Family would be my daily pleasures Côtes du Rhône Villages and Beaujolais Villages from someone like Kermit Lynch; the delicate transparency (terroir) of the Perlman recital is Burgundy and Barolo/Barbaresco - right now I have Marcarini Barolo La Serra in mind. What is important about all of these wines is not how they rank against each other, but how they fit the moment, the meal and that they make you think. Think about the flavors, aromas and life. They are about pleasure, both mental and physical. Academic ranking makes them all sterile and lifeless.

I would no more think of ranking Tosca against The Adams Family than I would scoring La Tache against a Beaujolais Villages. Each has its place and time. It is simply boring and boorish to compare and contrast such wines. They are to be enjoyed in their moment and in their proper moment each is a 100 point wine. 

There is no more important word in wine than transparency, the ability to see through each aspect of its character and personality. Opulence and power are wine’s pop music - Lady Gaga vs. Puccini. While Lady Gaga may win the popularity contest it does not make her great art. Religion too easily achieved is not very spiritual. 

“Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you.”

Treading Lightly Upon the Palate

Treading lightly upon the earth is fashionable these days, but what about treading lightly upon the palate. There is a time and place for big wines, but on a regular basis something a bit more restrained and thoughtful is good for the soul - and the dinner table. It doesn't hurt if they cost under 20 bucks either. These two gems should not be missed:200905282256.jpg

2007 Moulin-à-Vent, Cuvée Vielles Vignes, Domaine Diochon - Gloriously bright and fragrant, it's hard to think of a prettier wine. Graceful, delicate yet full flavored and incredibly long on the finish a better match for the chicken we roasted on the Weber you'll not find. Best served on the cool side to highlight the incredibly pure fruit. This is simply a wonderful wine.

2007 Valpolicella, Nanfrè, Tenuta Sant'Antonio - Like the Beaujolais above, Valpolicella is a name damaged by the ocean of mediocre wine sold under its name. It doesn't seem quite fair to pick on these place names as the majority of wines produced under more revered names like Burgundy, Bordeaux and Napa are just as mundane. In Valpolicella, like all the worl200905282255.jpgd's fine wine regions, only a small percentage of the producers make top notch wines. Tenuta Sant'Antonio is one of those producers and this bargain is something to grab by the case. Fragrant and expansive with brilliant fruit and that wonderful Italian earthiness, which makes them so perfect with food. This wine is not only delicious, but very interesting to drink.

It's worth noting that both of these wines clock in at 13% alcohol. For me that's the sweet spot for red wine as it's substantial enough have real texture and depth, but balanced and restrained enough to have more than one glass. Which, as you may not be surprised to learn, I like to do.

Pair of Fives


    pair of fives Brilliance is a word that can mean many things: luminosity, intelligence, perfectly executed and, when it comes to flavor, lively and electric. All of those things come together in these two seductive, brilliant wines that are great values to boot coming in at under $25.

    • 2005 Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, Imported by Louis/Dressner Every time I’ve served this wine each person at their first sip is taken back for a second as they ponder what has crossed their palate. Each knows that they have experienced something special. This is an extraordinary wine is that is is just so alive that it makes you take more pleasure in living. Concentrated elegance and finesse. (Buy online)

    • 2005 Bourgogne, Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Joseph Voillot. Imported by Vintage ‘59 Imports – Anybody who thinks there are no great values coming out of Burgundy be prepared to be proven wrong. This racy, bright pinot noir also comes packed with loads of flavor and complexity on its rather electric acid frame. Here’s a pinot that can both sing and dance. A short stint in your cellar of two or three years will give you quite a bottle of pinot. (Buy online)

    A pair of 5’s may seem a long shot to those that think a lot of chips are required to get great wine, but sometimes a pair is all you need. These days it’s hard to imagine such a winning hand at this price range from anywhere other than France.

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Hot Restaurants

hot wine The food was fantastic as was the wine list. There were so many interesting wines to choose from that it was difficult to order. All was in place for a great wine evening and the Riedels on the table sparkled in anticipation of delights soon to pass from their lips to ours. The evening started with the sublime Champagne, Pierre Gimmonet, Blanc de blancs 1er Cru, Cuvée Gastronome, 2002, which is creamy, toasty and complex with a finish that just won't quit. It was paired with an assortment of pristine Puget Sound oysters and it was such a magical interplay that it only sharpened our palates for the wine and food yet to come.

The impending arrival of our next courses called for red wine and the Chénas, Vieilles Vignes de 1939, Pascal Aufranc, 2005 arrived at the table and was poured only to be met with tepid enthusiasm. That tepid response was caused by the temperature of the wine, not the wine itself. Once again a restaurant that was flying all the flags of a serious wine restaurant ignored one of the most basic requirement for serving a fine wine. Our Chénas had to be almost 75 degrees. What was an elegant, beautiful wine had been turned into a mushy, cooked hot alcoholic brew. We summoned an ice bucket and actually poured our glasses back into the bottle to try to save what we could of this wine, but, while the buckets chill dramatically improved the wine after ten minutes, putting a natural wine through this kind of roller coaster will not bring out the best in a wine.

Hot restaurants serving hot red wines is a ridiculously common occurrence. They spend and spend on the accoutrements of fine wine, but then ignore one of the basics of wine service: temperature.  Proper serving temperature for most red wines is in the 60's, not the 70's, and it's better to error on the side of cooler rather than warmer.  I am amazed how many times I've had a sommelier rave about this or that obscure producer only to pour a lukewarm wine into a glass that costs more than the wine. A restaurant that does not make the effort to serve their wines at the proper temperature cannot be considered to have a serious wine program. This also applies to their wine-by-the-glass programs where half-empty bottles languish on the back bar no matter the balmy ambient temperature.

America is the country where we serve red wines too warm and white wines too cold.

Super Bowl, Super Wine, Super Food

superbowl_mainpic Having been on the run quite a bit lately, Super Bowl Sunday seemed to be a good day to stay home, get organized and pamper myself with a bit of food and wine. I decided to spend the day with one wine. That way I could really taste the difference time (both for the wine and me) and different foods would make on my perception of the wine.

Sunday morning in McMinnville Oregon is a quiet time. As I am a early riser, it is very quiet. The lone bookstore is the only outlet for The New York Times, which is a pleasure I indulge myself in for several hours every Sunday morning I can, but they don’t open until ten, which is a long time after I awake. However, that’s not a problem as they deliver the stack of papers on the sidewalk in front of the store early and all I do is slide my $5 bill though the crack in the door and slip my Times out of the stack. Then I make a quick stop at the wonderful Red Fox Bakery for an espresso (Illy), a decadently buttery pastry and a warm baguette to go. Then fortified by caffeine, sugar and butter I head for the grocery store to see what’s fresh.

Today’s plunder included a Oregon black truffle the size of a big cherry tomato, some organic eggs from a local farm and some naturally raised local lamb leg steaks from Anderson Ranches. Some wonderful things to pair with the bottle of the day: 2006 Morgon, Terres Dorées, Jean Paul Brun. Anyone who knows anything about wine knows that when you pull the cork on a bottle of Brun you are in for something special.

After three hours with my nose in newspapers and my ears on the Sunday morning political talk shows, a hunger pang sent me to the kitchen. I decided to braise the lamb, making a pasta sauce for a weekday dinner in the process. This is the recipe for the lamb:

  • 2 lamb leg steaks
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 - 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes ( I recommend Muir Glen)
  • Flour
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

Prepare the garlic, onion, carrots, celery and rosemary. Liberally salt and pepper the lamb steaks and thoroughly coat with the flour. Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan (use a pan with a cover) at medium high and when the oil is hot, brown the lamb steaks on both sides and remove to a plate. Reduce heat add all the chopped vegetables and herbs and cook, stirring often, for a few minutes. Add back the lamb and pour in the wine. Return the wine to a boil for one minute then add the canned tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for three hours, or until the meat is falling away from the bone. Reduce the sauce if too thin. Serve with a big scoop of polenta or mashed potatoes and a generous helping of sauce over each steak. Reserve remaining sauce for pasta on another night. Serves two.

That done for dinner and the Super Bowl, I addressed the hunger at hand and made lunch. The eggs, truffle and a bit of brie was all I needed to make a special omelet:

  • 3 eggs (please try to find fresh eggs with yokes that are more red/orange than yellow)
  • Several ounces ripe brie with the skin removed
  • 1 black truffle
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Whip the eggs with a fork, salt and pepper to taste. Shave the truffle into the thinnest possible pieces. In a non-stick saucepan melt two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat, when melted add the truffle slices and cook for one minute and then remove to a plate. Add the remaining butter to the pan and add the eggs, pushing back from the edges and letting the uncooked eggs run under the set eggs. While still runny, add the truffles and brie to one half of the eggs then fold the other half over the top. Let cook briefly, not letting the omelet brown too much and slide onto a plate as soon as the brie starts to melt. You want the eggs to be barely cooked, not dry. Serve immediately with a tossed salad. Serves one.

Now for the wine of the day, 2006 Morgon, Terres Dorées, Jean-Paul Brun. This is a brilliant wine, bright and fresh, but not at all simple as it is compellingly complex from start to finish. At lunch it was stunning with the truffle omelette with an elegant character that did not overwhelm the eggs, but with touches of earthy complexity under the bright fruit that brought our the best in the truffle. The truffle also brought out the best in the wine. This was a great Sunday lunch. Some six hours later, with my weekend domestic duties behind me and the rich smell of the braised lamb filling the house, at the start of the third quarter I returned to the table and the bottle of Brun Morgon. Needless to say, this was a very different food and wine combination, but the Morgon did not miss a beat. While the omelet brought out the delicacy of the wine, the lamb seemed to bring out the power. Such is the beauty of fine Beaujolais. With the lamb the backbone of refined acidity combined with the richness of the fruit flavors to elevate the whole meal. What was most interesting about the Morgon is that it did not change a bit in the course of being open the whole day. While the food changed the experience of the wine, as I could tell when I tasted it on its own before both meals, the air had not changed the wine at all. This stability means that this wine will grow and expand for years to come.

The wines of Jean-Paul Brun remain undefeated, unlike the Patriots.

Wine Notes

Every time I have a wine I like I put the bottle on my desk so I can write about it. When space runs out you get one of these “Wine Notes” posts. These are all wines that I have consumed with meals and have usually tasted over a period of several days. They are more often than not under $30 as I frequently find more expensive wines not enjoyable with my day-to-day cooking as they are not ready to drink or just too big and woody. These posts are a true picture of the wines that I choose to serve at home with my own meals. All the wines in these posts are recommended. In fact, you’ll rarely find me writing about a wine I don’t like unless I think it’s an incredible rip-off or a pretentious, over-marketed wine of questionable quality like Veuve Cliquot.

  • Prosecco, Montello d Colli Ascolani, Loredon Gasparini, NV - I’ve been gulping a glass of this charmer every night while cooking dinner lately and find it refreshing and uplifting after work treat. It is a lovely, creamy fruit-driven bubbly that is just barely off dry. At under $15 this is a pleasure that can be enjoyed often. I’ve been using a stopper and drinking over three or four days and the bubbles hang in there to the last glass.
  • Muscadet Sèvre e Maine sur lie, Cuvée Médaillée, Le “L“‘d’Or, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de la Grange, 2005 - A steely laser of a wine. Very firm and tight with that stony minerality that only Muscadet delivers. I drank this wine over a week and it just kept getting better with air. Muscadet is the clear winner when it comes to the long wine name awards. It was perfect with some pan-fried Oregon oysters. I know it will be better with age, but I just don’t have the willpower not to drink it now.
  • Müller Thurgau Dry, Phalz, Weingut Ökonomierat Rebhotz, 2005 - This is one of those wines that have so much acidity you think your glass has a static charge as it touches your lips. Crisp with a zippy lemon-lime fruit, this was a great match to some Thai spring rolls. Wines like this should be used to define the usually misused term “dry” as this one is almost jarringly dry. As you know combining electric acidity with jarring dryness means that both me and my deep fryer love this wine.
  • Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, Torre di Ceparano, Fattoria Zerbina, 2003 - I’ve been a Zerbina fan for a long time. While their top expensive “Super” wines get big points, what I actually love are their least expensive wines like Ceregio and this wine. The Torre di Ceparano is consistently a great value in sangiovese. Structured with authentic, earthy sangiovese fruit and character, there are few Chiantis that can match this wine and those that do all cost a lot more. If you can’t figure out what the big deal with sangiovese is all about try this wine with some braised lamb shanks. In my opinion, Zerbina is the best producer in Romagna.
  • Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, 2005 - An very good bargain in Piemonte nebbiolo, which is something that is getting harder and harder to find. Very classic with earthy fruit, drying tannins and distinctive aromatics. You’ll find plenty of the famed “tar and roses”, which are the defining characteristics of classic nebbiolo. It is definitely worth waiting a few years before drinking this fine wine.
  • Beaujolais Le Perreon, Nouveau, Domaine de la Madone, Jean Bererd et Fils, 2007 - Served lightly chilled with homemade pizza topped with lots of sweet onions and an egg, which made a perfect match and a very enjoyable dinner. Believe it or not, there are some very good Nouveau Beaujolais wines being produced by small estates. Good luck finding them though.
  • Dolcetto d’Alba, Pertinace, Treiso, 2006 - With so many Dolcetto wines on steroids these days (six are named in the Mitchell Report), it’s nice to find a wine that you can actually drink without going to the dentist to have your teeth cleaned. Fresh, brightly fruity, pleasantly zesty and under $15, which makes this a great wine to buy by the case for casual meals. No it’s not profound, but sometimes deliciously easy is more enjoyable than profound.
  • Cahors, Clos La Coutale, 2005 - If you ever wondered why people grow malbec after tasting yet another drab commercial grocery store wine from South America, try this rich blend of 80% malbec and 20% merlot. Robust with layers of flavors and a firm backbone that leads to a warm, earthy finish. An excellent choice for this winter’s hearty stews.
  • Bourgogne, Cuvée Sylvie, Domaine Sylvie Esmonin, 2005 - A great value in fine French pinot noir. Lately I’ve been having better luck finding good pinot in this price range than with more expensive bottles. As a Burgundy lover living in Oregon, I am always ordering bottles of Burgundy to convince locals of its superior charms. Often these wines do not present convincing arguments in support of my position. However, wines like this do. This is almost picture perfect pinot noir. No, it’s not the most complex pinot you’ll ever taste, but it is delicious and purely varietal. Rich, creamy and velvety from first sniff to the last lingering essence of the finish, this wine is pure pinot pleasure. One note, by the next day the wine had faded quite a bit. Therefore, I’d suggest drinking this wine up young and pretty.
  • Côte de Brouilly, Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Nicole Chanrion, 2005 - This is one of those rich Cru Beaujolais wines that remind you more of pinot noir than the many insipid wines that carry the name Beaujolais these days. This is a classy gamay with great depth and richness. This wine is still actually a bit closed and needs a year or two more to really strut its stuff. Mixed with the brilliant gamy fruit flavors and aromas are touches of black truffles, herbs and a touch of black pepper. This is a wine that makes you sit up and take notice.
  • Château Aney, Haut Medoc, Cru Bourgeois, 2003 - Just a few decades ago Bordeaux was my go-to wine. It dominated my cellar and my table. Those days are long gone and now I taste more Bordeaux than I drink. However, when rack of lamb appears on my table my taste buds yearn for Bordeaux, or what Bordeaux used to be anyway. Now 2003 is not my favorite vintage and I had not tasted wines from the Chateau before, but with Kermit Lynch’s name on the back label I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did. While like most 2003’s it is not the most structured Bordeaux you’ll ever taste it has enough of a tannic backbone that it reminds you it really came from the Haut Medoc. For me this wine is ready to drink now and over the next year or two and that nothing worthwhile will be gained by extended aging. It went perfectly with my lamb and cost less than $25. Now there’s a Bordeaux you can enjoy. It’s worth pointing out this wine is listed at 12.5% alcohol, that’s nice too.
  • Côtes du Rhône, Les Cailloux, Domaine Rabasse Charavin, 2004 - Here’s a big, ripe chewy wine that pulls it off. It took me a glass to adjust to it, but after that I found its ripe earthy warmth comforting and enjoyable. Having a big cheeseburger dripping with extra sharp cheddar tonight? Here’s your wine.

Two Bottles, Two Wines, Too Bad

morgon desvignes I was looking forward to the arrival of my 2005 Morgon, Javernièes, Louis Claude Desvignes from Chambers Street Wine Merchants. I knew this was going to be great stuff without even tasting it so I grabbed some of the few bottles they had available. Now I know that this wine won’t even start to be ready to drink until next year and will be better yet in two or three, but, alas, I was weak and as soon as it arrived just had to taste a bottle. After all, I had five more bottles. I pulled the cork and into a big Riedel I poured my little present to myself to serve alongside some fragrant rosemary braised lamb. I lifted the glass in giddy anticipation of the gloriously gamy gamay glamorously gussied up in its beautiful purple robe. With great skill I swirled that swirl that takes years of wine swirling to achieve and put this treasure to my nose and inhaled with practiced precision prepared to experience every aspect of this fabulous wine. All this anticipation came to a grinding halt. The wine was just ordinary. I smelled again and again in disbelief. A few tastes confirmed my nose’s bad news. There seemed to be greatness hidden somewhere, but everything was strangely muted and the wine was more dead than alive. Then I picked it up, hidden in the background was a slight mustiness: the wine was corked. Just barely, but it was corked. With a heavy heart I reached for a corkscrew and pulled the cork on another bottle of my all to limited supply, which was now down to four. This second bottle not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them. This is an extraordinary wine with depth and complexity that many a Burgundy only achieves in its dreams. It is a substantial wine with a mouth coating richness and texture. The velvety tannins remind you that you should not be drinking this wine tonight, but in three to five years. Not surprisingly, this gem is imported by Louis/Dressner.

These slightly corked bottles are an all too common problem. You taste the wine and it seems just not “right”. Often even in a group of experienced tasters, some may miss the corkiness and fault the wine instead of just the bottle before them.  Without a doubt most are consumed with the drinkers either ignoring the problem or just plain not recognizing the problem. When you get a bottle of wine that seems not quite right, give it a close second look. When your instincts tell you something is just not right, you’re probably right.

I’ve been on a bad run over the last couple of weeks getting a corked bottle every few days. Screw caps are looking better and better.