October 2007


Sorry, but I’ve been chortling all week about The Grapes of Galilee (little trademark sign), a line of wines produced in Israel’s Galilee galilee_group1.JPG region and intended for the Christian audience, though I would bet that Christians haven’t exactly been waiting around all this time to drink wine for a product that will provide “a physical connection with their spiritual homeland.” (Quoting an email press release that a thoughtful reader passed on to me.) Well, at least not the Roman Catholics and Episcopals and a few Presbyterians. And let’s not forget that at least two other major world religions claim (violently) the geography of Israel as a spiritual homeland.

The Grapes of Galilee (little trademark sign) wines are available in chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot and cost about $14.

The press release goes on: “It was at a wedding in Galilee where, 2,000 years ago, Jesus is said to have turned water into wine.” Is said to? One would think that people either believe that yes, Jesus definitely turned water into wine at the vinously-challenged Wedding at Cana or else the whole thing is urban legend. It’s not as if people are walking around Galilee today saying, “You know, my grandmother said that over there is where Jesus is said to have turned water into wine.” “Getoutahere!”

And it’s not that I’m opposed to exploiting Jesus of Nazareth to market Israeli wine to American Christians (an interesting global concept itself since most wine made in Israel is kosher and is aimed at the American Jewish market.) What is one to say of religion at all when 150 years after Nietzsche declared god dead Morgan Freeman has a franchise playing him in Hollywood movies? No, I’m a firm believer in that bumper sticker you see so frequently: “WWJD.” I mean, “What Would Jesus Drink” is a subject far too rarely addressed in the popular media.

(BTW, for reactions to using the image and idea of Jesus to sell wine, see this page on www.luxist.com, where the posts range from sanctimonious to daffy to downright scary.)

Really, then, what I object to in this press release is lousy history and manipulative language used in bad faith. The email says: “Grown by the Sea of Galilee and watered by the Jordan River, the Grapes of Galilee wines are ideal for celebrations such as wedding receptions and communions, or any festive occasions where Christians seek a physical connection with their spiritual homeland.” The implication is clear: Grapes of Galilee (little trademark sign) wines are special not because they’re particularly good — and they may be sensational for all I know — but because they originate near the sea where Jesus performed miracles and are irrigated by the river whose waters John used to baptize the prophet, according to the New Testament. The owners of the label, the American Adam Haroz and his father Pini H. Haroz, seem specifically to deprecate the truest and best use of wine, at dinner with family and friends in favor of using it only for occasions that carry religious intentions or overtones. Perhaps the garish label is too embarrassing for the domestic dinner table.

Haroz pere et fils take the concept of terroir to zany heights in this incoherent, if not hysteria-tinged, paragraph about The Grapes of Galilee (little trademark sign) from their website (www.haroz.com):

“This series of wines awakens the senses, taking you on a sensual journey from the Sea of Galilee to the slopes of Mount Tabor, characterized by the rare close proximity to chalk, volcanic and Terra Rosa soils and bubbling natural springs form the Jordan River, that supply water to the vineyard. Grown in soil deemed most-suited, each variety of grape milks the land for the best it has to offer, ripening into a dream vintage. Each sip bestows upon the palate a taste of the morning dew, the basalt firmness, the element of chalk, and the red tinted soil, creating a unique ‘taste of Israel’ mosaic of flavors.”

Please, let me taste your morning dew and basalt firmness, as the bride said on the night after her Christian wedding ceremony and joyous reception, lubricated, no doubt, by bottles of The Grapes of Galilee (little trademark sign).

AND, what fries me in addition to this meretricious nonsense, is the way that various print and online media outlets in this country blithely and blandly reproduce the release from which I have quoted and perhaps add a cute comment as if it is their responsibility merely to announce this line of wines without investigating the implications or looking beneath the surface. Business as usual in the wine press. Only Michael Y. Park, on epicurious.com mentions The Grapes of Galilee (blah blah) with a slight smirk: “Double points for anyone who can come up with a joke involving the Grapes of Galilee back office, Jesus Christ, and a garden hose dripping with tap water.” Thanks for that refreshing touch of skepticism, Michael.

As more of the largest producers in California import more labels and varieties of (too often mediocre) wines from Argentina, Chile, gascon_01.jpg South Africa, Spain and Australia, sometimes I have to wonder: “How much wine do we need?”

That question didn’t cross my mind, though, when I tasted the Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2006 from Argentina’s Mendoza region. The wine is imported by E.J. Gallo through Gascon Wines in Haywood, Ca. At $12, this is a terrific cool weather wine for hearty red meat and game dishes and a Great Bargain. There’s a complete review on this page that I put up last night at KoeppelOnWine, along with reviews for three other big-hearted, two-fisted reds in case you’re roasting large goat-like animals over an open fire on a mountainside and an unusual wine choice for Thanksgiving dinner — does the word “Niagara” mean anything to you? Ha!

For Ken & Terry.

So, finally we’re having seasonable weather in Memphis, after a horrendous August and a hotter-than-usual September. It’s a Sunday Afternoon Lunch beautiful, clear, slightly warm Sunday afternoon, and we’re still on the screened porch, reading The New York Times and watching the dogs gambol about the backyard or collapse on the grass, as if fallen from an airplane, to snooze in the sun. Maybe a little lunch would be appropriate, not really lunch, but something halfway between lunch and a snack.

So I go into the kitchen and start putting things together. When we were in New York last month, we went to Buon Italiano in Chelsea Market and stocked up on meats and cheeses (and a jar of ravishing lime blossom honey). I slice some sopressata, some speck and some coppa, slice a baguette, put some nicoise olives and roasted red pepper on the platter. Pour some olive oil — the bright, rich Prato Lungo from Long Meadow Ranch Winery in Napa Valley — in a little bowl. East Side of Our Yard, with Dog Fences

We need wine, of course, so I open a bottle of the Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2004 (about $23).

This is pretty damned perfect. That’s the east side of our backyard, seen from the porch, with three tall, pale, slender sycamore trees that we love.

The salumi are wonderful, probably the best we’ve ever had. The speck is dense, almost lush in texture, like prosciutto in flavor but darker and more intense. The sopressata is hard, nutty, spicy; it’s great on pizza. The coppa is smoky, Volpaia Chianti Classico 2004 ripely meaty and earthy.

The Volpaia Chianti Classico 2004 is indeed classic, a delicious melange of vivid black currant, black raspberry and plum flavors with spiced tea, potpourri, lively acid and grainy, chewy tannins. The wine sees no new oak or small barrels, aging 14 months in Slovenian casks for subtle wood notes and a robust structure.

Back in June, I gave LL a birdfeeder for her birthday, which I set up near the west side of our screened porch. Watching the birds come to the feeder, observing their habits and manners and colors and the playing out of status — they’re like dogs that way — have given us hours of amusement and pleasure. We have house finches, cow-birds, red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, blue jays (the court jesters), mourning doves and so on. About the third week of September, though, most of the birds vanished. What’s up with that? I mean, they’re already south. How far south do they have to go?

We still had our two pairs of cardinals, though, the brash crimson males with their black masks and conical hats, the kings of our yard, and the softer, more muted females. They are monogamous and non-migratory.

Anyway, so here we are, a brilliant Sunday afternoon, a nice snack and wine, the newspapers.

Then there’s a commotion, over to our left, in some shrubbery. Four of the dogs — Tessa, the fifth dog, has to stay in her own yard because she and the boss-dog, Grace Slick, have terrible fights — are circling around, jumping back and forth, barking. Grace Slick, queen of the dogs, with Rose, bird-killer Suddenly, LL cries, “Rosie, no!” and there’s Rose, the small black chow, running around, shaking something that looks like a limp red rag in her mouth. We rush out of the porch and run to where the dogs are watching Rose, who leaps back and forth shaking what is, of course, one of the male cardinals. Too late for the bird. I get a shovel from the garage, shoo Rose away — she doesn’t want to give up her prize — scoop up what is hardly recognizable as a bird now, and drop him in the trash bin.

Well, this is really sad. Now there’s a cardinal widow; what will she do? Somehow, considering this day, I can’t help thinking about Dutch still-life paintings from the 17th century, those intricate marvels of bountiful hedonism, overflowing with fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and seafood, carafes of wine, silver platters and goblets, heaps of flowers, unalloyed tributes to the pleasures of the body. But there’s always a tiny detail that gives us pause: A moldy lemon on the fruit tray; a fly, rendered in such exquisite detail that you can almost hear it buzz; a few wilted flowers in the bouquet, all serving to remind us that in the midst of life’s generous offerings and pleasures, decay, dissolution and death still reign supreme, that everything organic, living, material comes to the same end, including dogs, birds and us.

Still, until all the food is eaten and all the wine consumed, until all the lovely Sunday afternoons vanish, and dogs and cats and birds are forgotten, and music is silent and poems are unread, and we ourselves have vanished and are forgotten — until that day, we’ll keep on exactly as we are.

Castello di Volpaia wines are imported by Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, Ca.
The website for the olive oil is longmeadowranch.com.

A few weeks ago I posted to this blog an entry that parodied the elaborate narratives that some wineries, mainly in Australia and California, print on the back labels if their wines. As if a cute tale about musical monkeys or happy little penguins is going to morgan_01.jpg persuade an intelligent consumer to buy a bottle of wine. It wouldn’t, right?

Someone responded to that blog, quite sensibly, by asking what I would like to see on the back labels. Fair enough.

O.K., here’s the text on the back label of the Morgan Winery Cotes du Crow’s 2005, Monterey County ($20):

2006
55% syrah 45% grenache
Cotes du Crow’s
Monterey

Produced and Bottled by
Morgan Winery Salinas, California
(851) 751-7777 / www.morganwinery.com

And then the prescribed government warnings.

So, who needs anything more than that?

All right, maybe this, on the back label of the Pierre Sparr Reserve Riesling 2004 from Alsace ($12 to $16), after the statement of grape and appellation: bou271.gif

Style: Scents of lime and ripe flavors of apple and quince, with a dense texture underscored by racy acidity. Well-structured, crisp, dry with a pleasant intensity.
Food: Outstanding with seafood, shellfish, veal and pork dishes.

And then the prescribed government warming.

That’s not a bad description of the wine, though I don’t think that it has as much detail or layering as the label suggests (though it’s quite enjoyable), but these segments are, I think, helpful to the consumer as in, here’s what to expect; here’s what to drink the wine with (very generally).

The back labels of European wines tend to be more laconic than the back labels of “New World” wines. The back labels on bottles of Burgundy and Bordeaux frequently indicate nothing more than the name of the producer and importer. Europeans take the grown-up approach to wine; either you know where the wine came from and what grapes it’s made of, or you don’t, so just drink the damned thing. Perhaps Americans, not living in a comfortable wine culture, need a little more coddling or at least information.

Mostly, though, the chance to impart basic information turns into an opportunity for marketing. Take this, from the back label of the Septima Malbec 2005, from Argentina’s Mendoza Valley:

Located at the foot of the Andes cordilla, in the prestigious region of Agrelo, Bodega SEPTIMA produces fine wines of great distinction. This dramatic setting of our estate winery produces fine wines rich in flavor and color and will complement any fine meal. Our label features an artist’s rendition of the unique architecture of our winery, built with hand-stacked stones from the Andes mountains.

Aside from the shaky syntax — apparently the winery’s setting will complement any fine meal — this is primarily marketing obfuscation, i.e., the region is “prestigious,” the setting is “dramatic” — as opposed to the crummy “non-dramatic” setting of , say, Pauillac — the wines have “great distinction,” and the facility is made of “hand-stacked stone,” clearly superior, if not cooler, than stones stacked by, say, paws or magic construction elves. The text continues with “Tasting Notes” and a few sentences about “Aging.”

What tries my patience is the strenuous reaching for whimsy, as this, from the back label of the (frankly terrific blockbuster) Earthquake Petite Sirah 2004, Lodi ($22 to $28), by Michael and David Phillips:earthquakepetitesirah04.jpg

Powerful Titan, arms reaching for the sky,
Earthbound devourer, open your eyes!

Throw off your blanket, the day has begun,
Indulge yourself in warm Lodi sun.

Take what is given, the world is your own,
Enjoy your dominion, you sit on the throne.

Stand and be noticed, grape without peer,
Instruct in the others what they should fear.

Raise up your standard, proclaim your rights,
Answer to no one, conquer with might.

Hail to the victor, the king without flaw,
Salute your new master … Petite Sirah.

I did not make that up.

When we were in New York last month, it was unseasonably and oppressively hot for the first couple of days. Then, on Wednesday, it cooled off wonderfully, turning crisp and fall-like, a perfect day to tromp around Chelsea and look at art. Which we did until about 1 o’clockwhen, famished for lunch, we dropped in at Tia Pol Bar de Tapas, a narrow, deep store-front tiapol_01.jpg establishment where on this fine day that French doors to the sidewalk were flung wide open.

Chelsea may have been the center of New York’s contemporary art world for more than a decade, but it’s still tough to find a place to get a decent lunch. We have eaten at Empire Diner, right across the street from Tia Pol, many times and were heartily tired of it. Likewise Botino, the old stand-by of the Art Crowd.

So it was a great pleasure to take two stools at the corner of the marble-topped bar at Tia Pol, close to the open front of the restaurant, where we could sit and watch the world and the traffic and the walkers and their dogs go by. Turns out there’s a three-course prix fixe lunch for $16. We couldn’t pass that up! Since there were two choices for each course, we ordered everything. And glasses of sangria, red wine chilled with a few ice cubes and containing a modest amount of diced apple and lemon, so the sangria was completely not sweet and not overwhelmingly fruity. It was incredibly refreshing.

Now the $16 three-course lunch is, one understands, a simple affair. First, gazpacho or blistered gernika green peppers tossed with sea salt. Second, squid with rice in a squid ink sauce or a “po’boy” with crisp squid, aioli, tomato and lettuce. Third, a Fuji apple or a dish of ice cream. Simple, yes, but well-prepared and tasty all around, even to that fresh, crisp Fuji apple.

You can see it the top image that the gazpacho was an attractive reddish-orange color and that it was pureed almost smooth, tiapol_02.jpg except for a couple of pieces of tomato; it was delicious. The roasted and blistered peppers were hot, salty and earthy. Squid in its ink is not the most photogenic dish on earth, as you can see, but it was tasty (and fairly chewy), while the sandwich was pretty hearty and down-to-earth. The apple, the vanilla ice cream. Everything was delightful and well-worth the price.

Next time you’re doing the art tour of Chelsea — and don’t take that assignment lightly, we covered only two streets that day — treat Tia Pol as your canteen and oasis. I know that we’ll be back.

Tia Pol is at 205 10th Avenue. Lunch is noon to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; dinner is 5:30 to 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to midnight Friday, 6 to midnight Saturday and 6 to 10:30 Sunday. Call (212) 675-8805 or visit tiapol.com, where the lunch and dinner menus are displayed.

… but sometimes I think the scenario in a winery must go like this:

Setting: The staff tasting room at a winery. Gathering of senior winemaker, associate winemakers and assistants and so on, tasting the young wine of the newest vintage. Sniffing, snorting, slurping, pondering and then:

Assistant to the assistant winemaker, young guy, wearing rectangular black glasses frames, a goatee and spiky hair, a black t-shirt: “Whoa, that really sucks!”

Long silence. Unobtrusive coughs, a few discreet throat-clearings.

Associate senior winemaker: “We don’t consider ‘that sucks’ to be a reasonable comment in light of the dedication and years of experience that this venerable institution of a winery AND our senior winemaker merit.”

Assistant to the assistant winemaker: “Right, dude, sorry, I guess I forgot myself.”

Associate senior winemaker to the senior winemaker: “Sorry, chief, he forgot himself.”

Senior winemaker (everyone genuflects): “No, no, I appreciate the evaluation, youthful though it may be. I was thinking myself that perhaps this sample doesn’t quite reflect the fine heritage of our historic vineyards and institution. How many cases did we make?”

Profound silence. Much meditation, regret, remorse, misplaced hope.

Assistant to the assistant winemaker: “Uh, chief, we made approximately 548,678 cases of this wine. You know, give or take.”

Senior winemaker: “Whew, that’s a shitload of bad wine. What were we gonna sell this stuff for?”

Associate senior winemaker, snapping fingers: “Price?”

First assistant winemaker: “Um. I believe that this wine was slated for the mid-upper-premium or $15 line-up.”

Senior winemaker: “Well, hell, what’s-a-matter with you boys? Create a new label, put a retail price of $8 on it and we’ll sell the bejesus out of it. Call it, er, Clos de Firefly. You” – pointing to the assistant to the assistant winemaker – “you know anything about fireflies?”

Assistant to the assistant winemaker: “Um, well, I used to collect them in a jar when I was a kid.”

Senior winemaker: “Good enough! Write a back-story for the label. Something cute. Tap into the small-town-nostalgia-chasing-fireflies-in-summer-twilight stuff, you know, the whole Booth Tarkington-Ray Bradbury crock. We can still make a million bucks from this swill. And, hey! who made this frog-gargle anyway? It wasn’t me, was it??!! Ha-ha-ha!!!”

In other words, readers, a few hours ago, on this Sunday, I posted a “Refrigerator Door Wines” page of 12 inexpensive products at KoeppelOnWine, and while some of the wines are terrific examples of their grapes, genre and price, a few left me thinking, “How the hell did these wines get out of the producer’s door?” What were they thinking? The chief culprit? The Crane Lake Sauvignon Blanc 2005, a wine that I used to recommend for people looking for a cheap reliable white to serve at parties and receptions. Not this one, which smells and tastes like a bad blend of riesling and muscat. “Jeeze, F.K.,” you might be saying, “who cares? It’s just a bottle of $6 plonk.” Yes, but the purchaser of a bottle of $6 plonk deserves a clean, well-made, varietally true wine just as much as the person who buys a $60 cabernet.

The best wine of this dozen? The Mirabile Nero d’Avola 2005 from Sicily, at $14 a super-affordable kissing-cousin to an Amarone suited for hearty red meat entrees, like, you know, if you have a haunch of venison in the freezer or a beef brisket. Also don’t miss the Jewel Collection Firma 2004, from Lodi in California, a robust and rustic blend of barbera, sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, a real bargain at about $9.

Since former New York Times restaurant reviewer Ruth Reichl took the top editor’s job at Gourmet magazine what now seems like eons ago — the Times is on its second reviewer following her tenure — the venerable magazine for cooks and people who love food and reading about food and cooking and restaurants has evolved into a slick, glossy production that features high-concept color photography, chic typography and giddy, breathless prose for readers with short attention spans, a sort of Cigar ruth_01.jpg Aficionado for foodies. Not that the magazine doesn’t offer interesting stories and great recipes; the January 2007 issue about Italy is a definite keeper.

What bothers me is the magazine’s attitude toward its editorial content. Long gone are the knowledgeable, comprehensive and well-written restaurant reviews, mainly from New York and California, that used to grace the magazine’s front pages. And Gerald Asher, whose thoughtful essays about wine regions and grapes and styles of wine were a monthly highlight of literate good sense, has been reduced to one page of wine recommendations, good recommendations, to be sure, but a task that cannot hope to fulfill his immense talents.

More troubling, though, is the magazine’s deliberate attempt to blur the line between editorial content and advertising. Gourmet increasingly includes in each issue several “Special Advertising Sections” in which the page-formats, typography and photography closely follow the format, typography and photography of “regular” articles. Readers who miss the “Special Advertising Section” notice at the top of each page could easily mistake the ads for editorial copy. Many of the full-page color ads in Gourmet — and these are not necessarily marked “Advertisement” — could pass for the opening pages of a lavishly illustrated article.

Most egregious, however, is a direct link in the November issue — “The Restaurant Issue” — between editorial copy and advertising. Beginning on page 80 is an article titled “The Mouth That Matters,” written by Dab Barber, chef-owner of Blue Hill, the highly regarded restaurant in Manhattan. It’s an amusing account of how the kitchen and dining room staff of the three-week old restaurant dealt with the presence of William Grimes, then the chief dining critic for The New York Times, over several visits. The story is accompanied, of course, by a picture of Barber. O.K., fine.

Not so fine is that a picture of Dan Barber dominates the page on which appear in a prominent place (mid-upper-right) the words “Sustainable Excellence.” The presence of a small Moet & Chandon bottle and logo at the bottom of the page tells us that this contrivance is an advertisement. Yes, that phrase “Special Advertising Section” appears at the top, but the visual and intuitive connection between the Barber’s story and the Moet & Chandon ad is inevitable, and the story itself becomes a form of advertising, the ad an extension of the story

The traditional wall between the business side and the editorial side of journalism began being chipped away at long ago; many newspapers in this country now carry banner advertising on A1, even above the newspaper name. So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that Gourmet so easily hands its editorial integrity over to the advertising office. O.K., so I’m not surprised. Saddened, though, and disappointed.

Image of Ruth Reichl from brandoneats.typepad.com.

Yesterday — Oct. 6 — The New York Times ran this “Editor’s Note” in its Corrections area on page A2: eric-asimov2184.jpg

An article in the Dining section on Sept. 26 by Eric Asimov reported on the restaurant scene in Portland, Ore., and one of the establishments mentioned was Paley’s Place, owned by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley. Mr. Asimov said that it had “a warm and intimate dining room” and that Paley’s Place “is recognized as one of the top restaurants in the Northwest, if not the country.” He also wrote that Paley’s Place was one of several restaurants that had “served as an incubator for much of the talent that is making its mark today.”

Mr. Asimov is a friend of the Paleys, and while doing reporting for the article in Portland, he selected wines for a dinner he attended at Paley’s Place, which reported his presence in advance.

Even though Mr. Asimov was not reviewing or assessing the restaurant, he should have disclosed in the article his friendship with the owners, and he should have not created the appearance of favoritism toward them by participating in the wine dinner, for which he accepted no compensation.

Well.

This brouhaha started when journalist and blogger Kevin Allman posted to his blog Oct 1 questioning the ethics of Asimov’s favorable mentions of Paley’s Place, in the article in the Times and earlier this summer on his official blog The Pour, in light of the fact that at a wine dinner at Paley’s Place, Asimov was a featured guest and selected the wines for the event. The restaurant promoted the dinner using Asimov’s name; in the press release, the wine writer was called “our dear friend.” (In its food events listings for that week, The Portland Mercury stated: “Fancy pants New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov makes an appearance at Paley’s informal Wednesday wine tasting.”)

So it looks as if Asimov participated in a special event at a restaurant owned by his friends and then wrote favorably (extremely favorably on the blog) about the restaurant.

But are Asimov and the Paleys friends? Allman uncovered the fact that Vitaly Paley’s mother, a piano instructor at the Mannes School of Music in New York, has taught Asimov’s younger son Peter since 2000. In an email message, Asimov responded to Allman by saying that that relationship was “irrelevant” to the article, and I agree with Asimov. If the brother of my daughter’s dentist made wine in California and sent me some bottles to review, I would not recuse myself from the task, though if I wrote a negative review I would recommend that my daughter find a new dentist. Perhaps the Paleys like to think that Asimov is their good friend, or perhaps (more likely) the phrase was a touch of hyperbole, not an uncommon factor of press releases.

Nor do I agree with the “Editor’s Note” that Asimov should not have participated in the event. Critics, reviewers and commentators of all sorts are constantly asked to make presentations, serve on panel discussions, act as judges in contests and perform in other ways befitting their status as voices of opinion and authority. Would the Times require Michiko Kakutani not to speak at a convention of writers, publishers and editors or A.O. Scott not to be a juror at a competitive film festival? I imagine that diners at Paley’s Place that night in July were thrilled to meet Eric Asimov and taste wines that he selected for the dinner.

But conflict of interest is not merely about facts and real relationships but about appearance. While an aside on his blog and in the article in the Times about his son’s piano teacher being the chef’s mother would have been interesting and amusing, the necessary point that needed mentioning was Asimov’s involvement in the dinner. Chances are that the event where he was featured (“our good friend”) had nothing to do with the praise that he lavished on Paley’s Place; the fact that the event and his advertised participation were mentioned neither on his blog nor in the article is a serious lapse in judgment.

Having said that, I’ll mention that many of the responses to Allman’s blog and others that picked up the subject exude an unseemly air of schadenfreude, as if the “fancy pants” wine critic is getting his due, as if because Asimov writes for the Times and a national audience he’s automatically too big for his britches and deserves to be taken down.

Sorry, but Asimov is not being outed as a corrupt journalist; what he did is called in civilized circles “a mistake.” He got enthusiastic about a restaurant; perhaps he was swayed slightly by that peripheral relationship to his son; maybe he just had a lot of fun and thought the place was great. Is he human? Guilty as charged. Should the Times have taken note of this lapse and explained its position in the “Editor’s Note” yesterday? Of course, but pardon me if i say that this episode does not represent the downfall of journalist ethics.

By the way, Asimov lists this blog and my website, KoeppelOnWine, on the blog roll of The Pour. Gotta problem with that?

Photo credit: Brent Murray/NYTimes.com.

I tasted these wines, which offer different sorts of charms, pleasures and virtues, last week, at home with various meals. The Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2005 and the Graff Family Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2005 were particularly good with wild Coho salmon, sauteed with nothing more than salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon, but let’s start with the wine that’s an gewurz_01.jpg Incredible Bargain.

That’s the Montinore Estate Gewurztraminer 2006, Willamette Valley, Oregon, a wine that I mentioned on a page of KoeppelOnWine recently as being “one of the best gerwurztraminers I have tried from the American West Coast.” It begins with a gorgeous bouquet of rose petal, jasmine and honeysuckle, litchi, peach and apricot. Flamboyant in the nose, the wine is more spare in the mouth, with bright, precise acid and sinews of limestone. Despite those factors, the texture is silky and sensuous, the flavors almost lush with roasted lemon and lime peel. The finish pulls up a bit of the grape’s natural bitterness. A wonderful wine for the price, about $13 or $14.

Next, look at the Leth Steinagrund Gruner Veltliner 2006, from Austria’s Wagram region. This displays more body and presence than the lighter, more delicate gruner veltliner wines we often see. Scents and flavors of roasted lemon and lemon curd receive emphasis from lime and pear and touches of dried baking spice. While the wine is moderately rich in flavor and texture, it’s also notably dry and crisp, the structure and foundation lying in unmistakable stony, minerally elements. Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York. Another Bargain at about $16 or $17.

The Turnbull Sauvignon Blanc 2006, Oakville, Napa Valley, strikes the themes of spareness and elegance, yet it doesn’t neglect to weave delightful strains of lemon-lime and grapefruit, dried thyme and caraway, with something a little leafy and curranty at the turnbull.jpg core. The wine is a blend of 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 10 percent viognier and five percent semillon; it’s fermented and aged 85 percent in stainless steel and 15 percent in new French oak, lending an overlay of spice and firm structure over scintillating acid. The whole package offers lovely balance and integration. Finished with a screw-cap for easy opening, though this image doesn’t show that. Terrific quality for the price, about $16 or $17.

Bonny Doon’s Le Cigare Blanc 2005, California, in homage to the white wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is a blend of 54 percent roussanne grapes and 46 percent grenache blanc. The wine is carefully made, the grapes fermented separately first in stainless steel and then in barrel. After fermentation, the wine ages six months in neutral French oak (meaning used barrels); 25 percent of the wine goes through so-called malolactic fermentation (“so-called” because it has nothing to do with fermenting), a naturally-occurring process in which sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid is transformed to creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid. I mention these winemaking methods — and they’re legitimate techniques, not tricks — to show you how a winemaker like Randall Grahm can meticulously strive to allow wine as much as possible to have a (silent) say in how it should be made, while ensuring that the wine possesses both freshness and personality, qualities Le Cigare Blanc 2005 has in spades. It’s a clean, fresh, lovely wine, offering winsome notes of pear and roasted lemon, crystallized lemon rind and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle. In the mouth, it’s dry, crisp and spare, layering limestone, dried Provencal herbs, lime peel and grapefruit in a texture that’s appealingly soft and round but crackling with acid. Great winemaking. About $20.

The Saint-Veran 2005 from Domaine Perraud is the first serious wine from Burgundy I’ve seen closed with a screw-cap, though since Saint-Veran is as far south in the Maconnais as you can get before you hit Beaujolais, it may be a bit of a stretch to call it Burgundy, though location is, of course, everything, in marketing as well as morals. More to the point: My first note is “Whoa, what a lovely little chardonnay!” Then: “Whoa, not so little!” It’s a vibrant and resonant expression of the grape’s spare, elegant graff2_011.jpg minerally side, almost crystalline in purity and intensity, delivering lemon and grapefruit scents and flavors with a touch of baked pineapple and dried spice and, in the mouth, a walloping smack of acid. The finish is incredibly dry and austere. North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Ca. About $20.

Typical prices for the Graff Family Vineyard Pinot Blanc 2005, Chalone, Monterey County, run from $24 to $28, but I saw sites on the Internet offering it for $18 to $22. The wine shows its pedigree in French oak (fermented and aged) but modulates the woody, spicy aspects in favor of almond and almond blossom, jasmine, lemon and lime peel. In the mouth, the wine expands to include orange rind and tangerine, smoke and a hint of caramel. It handily balances moderate richness and lushness with a firm structure and crisp acid and a long mineral-laced finish. 400 cases. Drink now through 2009.

Since you asked, burgundy is so freakin’ expensive because of this equation:

Reputation + Rarity x That Damned Euro = Big Bucks! armandauxey.jpg

The issue arises because I posted Sunday on KoeppelOnWine.com reviews of 17 burgundies from 2005 and one from 2004, all rated Excellent or Exceptional and being exemplars of what great wines from Burgundy should be. It’s not just a footnote or an aside that the wines are really expensive. When “village” wines from Burgundy cost up to — I swear that I’m not making this up — $90 a bottle, that’s mind-boggling.

And here’s a brief, almost simplistic explanation of the scheme by which Burgundy operates, then we’ll get back to the Reputation, Rarity, Euro thing.

Burgundy, in the department of the Cote d’Or in eastern France, is a slender ribbon of mainly tiny villages and vineyards running dujacmorey.jpg slightly southwest for about 30 miles from the city of Dijon. A line of southeastward-facing hills and declivities runs along this same ribbon; the best vineyards tend to be found about halfway up these hillsides.

The vineyards and wines of Burgundy can be divided — and again, I’m simplifying — into four levels.

(1) The basic wines of Burgundy are labeled Bourgogne. They are made from grapes grown wherever vineyards are approved, in other words not just in somebody’s backyard. Bourgogne accounts for about 52 percent of the region’s production.

(2) The first important classification, village wines are made from officially permitted vineyards surrounding the individual villages of Burgundy. The wines take the names of the villages and occasionally the traditional name of a vineyard. If you see a label that says only Gevrey-Chambertin or Puligny-Montrachet or Volnay, it’s a village wine. The implication is that these wines fit not only by deuxmontille.jpg nomenclature but by quality into a third tier, but that’s not always the case. Some of the village wines that I reviewed recently are splendid. Village wines make up about 36 percent of Burgundy production.

(3) The next level consists of wines made from Premier Cru (“First Growth”) vineyards. Labels for these wines will have the name of the village AND the name of the vineyard, hence Gevrey-Chambertin Clos-Saint-Jacques or Puligny-Montrachet Les Caillerets. The words “Premier Cru” must also appear on the label. To tell you how complicated Burgundy can get, Gevrey-Chambertin, a village for red wine, has 26 Premier Cru vineyards, while Puligny-Montrachet, a village for white wine, has 23. Altogether, gevrey.jpg Burgundy holds 562 Premier Cru vineyards, and if you think that’s a lot, you’re right. It would be good to winnow the never-heard-from, the under-achievers, the unduly-rewarded. Premier Cru vineyards producer about 11 percent of the region’s wines.

(4) The apotheosis of Burgundy wines is found in the Grand Cru (“Great Growth”) vineyards, of which there are 31. Only the name of the Grand Cru vineyard appears on the label, as in Le Chambertin or Le Montrachet, along with the designation Grand Cru. This ultimate level accounts for about 1 percent of the region’s production.

So, first, Reputation. Let’s state the case frankly: The best chardonnay and pinot noir wines in the world come from Burgundy’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. All the wines of Burgundy don’t attain greatness, of course; there are good years and bad years, meticulous producers and careless producers. Yes pinot noir and chardonnay in some areas of California, yes pinot noir in Oregon’a Willamette Valley, yes, a hint of success for pinot noir in New Zealand, but the best chardonnay and pinot noir wines from Burgundy are simply the best anywhere.

Second, rarity. In Burgundy, a vineyard of 25 or 30 acres is considered large. Most Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards are tiny, two or three acres, five or 10 acres, so production is limited. The appellation of Volnay, for example, holds 35 Premier Cru vineyards that encompass 237.76 acres. The production from all of Volnay’s Premier Cru vineyards averages 5,800 cases annually, a figure at which most estates in Bordeaux or wineries in California would scoff. In gagnard.jpg addition, the best Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards often are owned by several or even many producers; it happens that one fine producer may own a few rows of vines in one vineyard and a few rows of vines in another vineyard and make, in an abundant year, 25 or 50 cases each of an avidly sought-after wine. The method that determines which restaurants and which collectors in Europe and America (and increasingly in China and Japan) may purchase one or two precious bottles of these fabulous wines is arcane and probably unfair, but that’s what capitalism is all about, the concatenation of fiduciary prowess. The point is, there’s not enough fine Burgundy to go around. That’s why Madame Bize-Leroy can charge $900 for a bottle of her Le Montrachet and get it.

Finally, that blasted euro is dealing dirty to our dollar. It takes $1.416 to buy one euro, or, to put it the other way around, a euro is worth a measly 71 cents. When you account for that exchange rate and consider the costs the wine accumulates as it travels from the producer in Burgundy to the broker in Paris to the importer in New York to the wholesale distributor in whatever lucky grosnuits.jpg city can get a case (or a few bottles) to the retail store, well, you’re talking about wads o’ dough. And 2005 is a superb year in Burgundy, especially for pinot noir, the best vintage, in fact, in a generation. Nobody’s exactly tempering their prices from euphoria, as in “Sacre bleu, it’s such a great year and we made such great wines, let’s lower prices for our American customers that we love so much!”

That’s not the way the world works. It’s all supply ‘n’ demand out there, and it ain’t pretty.