January 2009

We had fun with wine and learned a lot during the third and fourth weeks of February 1984.
(For readers who have not encountered my posts of “100 Wines: A Chronicle,” it’s a record of the 100 wines I learned the most from — not necessarily the best — beginning from when I first started reading about wine, tasting more wine and taking notes in 1983.)

We had been in New Orleans, visiting a former teaching colleague, and took the opportunity to go to Martin Wine Cellar, one of the great retail stores in the country. I bought bottles of Chateau Lynch-Bages 1979 and Chateau Cos d’Estournel 1979, and our friend gave me a bottle of Chateau Gruaud Larose 1979. Pretty heady stuff for the neophyte! Notice the prices: “Lunch Bags” (as the witty British fondly say) was $12.63; Cos was $14.35. I didn’t inquire about Gruaud, but it must have been right in there with the others.

Back home, in Senatobia, Miss., where we taught at a junior college, we tried Lynch Bages on Feb. 14-15, Cos d’Estournal Feb. 15-17, and Gruaud Larose Feb. 24-26.
The Left Bank communes of Bordeaux are the mother lode of cabernet sauvignon wines that serve as models for the rest of the world. These are all blends; while cabernet will dominate the wine of each chateau (to greater or lesser degree, depending on the chateau style and philosophy), merlot, cabernet franc and sometimes petit verdot find their places in the mix. The most prominent communes, north of the city of Bordeaux, are Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estèphe; down near and south of the city are Graves and Pessac-Leognan, where most estates also make white wine.

When we were at Martin Wine Cellars I deliberately chose examples from two communes, Pauillac and St.-Estèphe; that my bordeaux.jpgfriend gave us a bottle from St.-Julien was serendipitous. (The communes are indicated in red on the accompanying map). These are areas, and the chateaux I picked, that had been the reading material and the fodder of my imagination for two years. It was thrilling, then, to hold these bottles in my hand, to examine the labels familiar only in pictures, and to anticipate what the experience would be of sniffing and tasting them. This is the stuff upon which dreams of wine drinkers, collectors and writers are formed, legendary wines, three Classified Growths, promising sips not only of a vinous beverage but of the histories of people and places, of vineyards and pieces of earth.

The wines of the Left Bank were classified in 1855 in what was a frankly commercial endeavor designed to rank the chateaux for public attention, marketing and self-gratification. Sixty-one estates were selected and rated in First through Fifth Growths. When I first started reading about wine, and a guidebook would say that a chateau was a “Second Growth” or a “Fourth growth,” I had no idea what they were talking about; it was assumed that one knew. The 1855 Classification has remained in place except for one change; in 1973 (a terrible vintage) Mouton-Rothschild was elevated from Second to First Growth, where it joined its fellow Pauillac chateaux Lafite-Rothschild and Latour; Margaux from its eponymous commune; and Haut-Brion, the only estate from Graves admitted to the rankings.

The problem with the 1855 Classification is that much has changed in 150 years. Several properties have improved so drastically that they deserve elevation to the ranking above. Others have deteriorated and ought to be demoted or even eliminated. Some properties have radically altered in terms of vineyard and acreage ownership. Perhaps someday — since the estates of the other regions of Bordeaux have their own, more recent classifications — the Left Bank will re-evaluate the 1855 Classification, though one imagines that the owners of the chateaux that would be demoted are happy with things just as they are.
Of the wines I brought back from New Orleans, Gruaud Larose and Cos d’Estournel are Second Growths and Lynch-Bages is Fifth, though it has long deserved to be higher on the list.

Now 1979 was not a terrific year in Bordeaux. In The New Great Vintage Wine Book (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), the English auctioneer and wine authority Michael Broadbent gives 1979 two out of five stars and comments that when the wines were released, they were “impressively deep-coloured and uncompromisingly tannic.” The majority of the wines were not keepers, though; as he says: “For many, further ageing will just leave a lean, barren, tannic shell of a wine.”

The American wine guru Robert M. Parker Jr. disagrees, somewhat. In the fourth edition of his Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines (Simon & Schuster, 2003), Parker calls 1979 “the forgotten vintage in Bordeaux” and says that “the 1979 vintage will prove superior [to the widely praised ’78] — at least in terms of aging potential.” He does go on to assert, in his trademark adjectivally-obsessed fashion, that many ’79s “remain relatively skinny, malnourished, lean, compact wines.” Well, O.K.

So here are my notes, from feb. 1984:

Lynch-Bages: “Beautiful wine, still purple with faintly lighter rim; soft tannin and fruit, exceptional balance, great elegance, a little short on the finish. Probably will not improve further.” (How the hell did I know?)

Cos d’Estournal: “Will improve for 3-5 years, still tannic with some wood, fruity, berries and black currants on the nose and in the mouth, well-balanced, medium finish. Excellent.”

Gruaud Larose: “Years to go, maybe ten. Defines the phrase ‘deep purple.’ Woody and tannic, surprising fruit; complex, deep. dry and tannic, lots of wood, many levels of fruit hiding there. One of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.”

To reveal how diverse and various our wine experiences were in those days — it wasn’t all Bordeaux classified growths, I promise — we also drank these wines in February 1984: A jug of August Sebastiani Country Chardonnay 1982 ($5.95); a jug of Almaden Zinfandel 1980 ($5.75); a Jaboulet-Vercherre Chassy Côtes-du-Rhône 1981 ($4.19); a terrific Domaine de la Tour d’Elyssas Coteaux du Tricastin 1981 (100% syrah; $4.99); and an excellent Acacia Chardonnay 1982, Napa Valley ($12.99).

Yes, I know, the Wine of the Week last week was a chardonnay, but I wanted to offer one made in a very different style. (Last week was the Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay 2006, Sonoma Valley.)

There’s not an ounce of flab to the Capel Vale Chardonnay 2007, from the Margaret River region of Western Australia; this image.jpg chardonnay has been doing its core work! The color is pale straw-gold; the nose is clean and fresh, a wreathing of green apple, pear and baking spices with a profound limestone element, which does not keep the whole package from being winsome and attractive. In the mouth, this chardonnay delivers lovely flavors of crystallized ginger, mango and grapefruit in a texture that’s spare without being sinewy; vibrant acidity lends liveliness and resonance. Though it aged nine months in all-new French oak, the wine soaked up that wood effortlessly, turned with a “Thank you very much” and never gave it a second thought; IOW, oak here provides subtle shape and structure (and that hint of spice) and otherwise does not reveal its presence. Impressive purity and intensity; gratifying balance and harmony. The alcohol content is a sensible 13 percent. We drank this with grilled steelhead salmon, very simple, just salt and pepper and lemon juice, a perfect match. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Vintage New World, San Miguel, Ca.

This month’s array of food magazines at the newsstand focuses on one concept: Comfort, as in comfort food; braised meats; hearty soups and stews; hearth and home; returning to traditional culinary roots. One reason for this ubiquity must be the season, of course; it’s wintery in many parts of the country. I can’t help thinking that another, collective, perhaps unconscious reason is the inauguration and the brand-new, promise-filled presidency of Barack Obama, whose unprecedented ascent to the most powerful office in the world implies a tremendous sense of hope (if not virtue) in the American people.

Keeping with that theme — comfort, if not hope — I offer a dozen wines perfectly designed to match the basic satisfaction we derive from succulent braised short ribs and veal or lamb shanks; from dense meat loaf and meaty pork chops; from lentil soup, thick with earthy chunks of ham, and beef stew, its rich broth filled with tender meat and potatoes and carrots. Know what I mean? Hungry yet?

Because our theme is comfort, these red wines are hearty (or hardy) but not huge, not overwhelming with alcohol or oak or extraction. I want them to match comfort food with comfortable flavors and textures; on the other hand, there are no wimpy wines here.

Let’s start with a favorite, the Borsao 2007, a blend of 75 percent garnacha (grenache) and 25 percent tempranilllo from Spain’s borsao.jpg Campo de Borja region, which lies just to the southeast of the Rioja region and northwest of the ancient city of Zaragoza, famous in song and story as the city that Charlemagne could not conquer. As is typical of this wine, the version for ’07 is robust and rustic, bursting with black currant, black cherry and blueberry flavors packed with notes of sandalwood and cloves, foresty tannins and dark chocolate-tinged oak, all melded by the essential element of lively acidity. That’s it, but sometimes that’s all you need. Very Good. About $11, often discounted to $8 or $9.
A Jorge Ordonez Selection, imported by Star Distributors, Memphis, Tenn.

Goodnight is a second label of Firestone Vineyard, which was founded in 1972 and was the first estate winery in Santa Barbara County. The Foley Wine Group acquired Firestone in 2007. (Foley Estates, in the Santa Rita Hills, makes fine chardonnay and pinot noir wines.) I thought that the Goodnight Pinot Grigio 2007, Chardonnay ’07, Merlot ’05 and Cabernet Sauvignon ’05 were nicely done, but the Goodnight Zinfandel 2006, Central Coast, stood out because of additional detail and sense of dimension. The wine ages 18 months in a combination of French and American oak; there’s 10 percent syrah, seven percent petite sirah and 4 percent “other” in the blend. The wine is bright and spicy, delicious with vivid blackberry and cherry-berry flavors nestled into a texture that comes close to being luscious without sacrificing the seriousness of structure embedded in briary and brambly qualities wrapped up by a touch of woody austerity on the finish. Very Good, and Good Value at about $14.
If you can find the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, California, anywhere, buy it by the case. Sporting a mild but effective 13 percent alcohol, this irresistible cabernet is a lovely medium purple-magenta color. Aromas of smoke, minerals and earth, cedar, tobacco and black pepper wreathe notes of ripe and slightly roasted black currants and black cherries. The wine is dense and chewy in the mouth, with grainy tannins that permeate succulent and very spicy black currant and black cherry flavors. Aged a judicious eight months in French oak, the wine delivers a firm yet yielding structure that opens to reveal a hint of underbrush and dried porcini on the finish. There’s a lot of heart here for the price. Very Good+ and a phenomenal bargain at about $14.
Here’s a malbec that starts wild and ripe and exuberant, but quickly tames itself with sensible measures of oak and tannin. The Tiza Malbec 2006, Mendoza, slathers blackberry jam atop black currant and blueberry, this exceedingly flavorful fruit deeply imbued with earth, minerals and baking spice. A few moments in the glass bring in polished oak and chewy tannins, hints of dried flowers and dried spice, and finally, toward the back of the mouth, layers of briers, brambles and underbrush that temper (but do not intimidate) the luxurious nature of the fruit. Quite tempting. Very Good+. About $20.
The vintage on the label illustration is one year off.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
I said no wimpy wines, and the Raymond Reserve Merlot 2005, Napa Valley, with 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, certainly fits that description. It opens with a tremendously rich, ripe, spicy bouquet that seethes with smoke and minerals, black currant, black raspberry and highlights (or, I guess lowlights) of black pepper. There’s more black pepper in the mouth, sprinkled among intense and concentrated black fruit flavors, hints of dark chocolate and ancho chili and a bit of lavender. This all sounds like a parade of extravagance, but the wine is actually structured along stern lines, with multiple plies of rugged oak and grainy tannins. Wow, bring on the barbecue brisket! Drink now through 2012. Excellent. About $24.
We drank the Two Angels Divinity 2006, High Valley, Lake County, on Pizza-and-Movie Night, and our first reaction was “Yum!” Indeed, but there has to be more than the yum-factor in a wine that costs anywhere over about $15, and Divinity ’06 has its serious side, too. This blend of 52 percent syrah, 22 percent grenache and 20 percent mourvèdre is a faithful rendition of a well-made Côtes-du-Rhône, but with the addition of 6 percent petite sirah. The result is a snazzy, sapid and supple wine, deep, dark and spicy, eminently savory in its ripe, macerated black currant, black cherry, blueberry and mulberry scents and flavors tinged with mushroom-like earthiness, smoke and bacon fat. That fruit is luscious on the palate but controlled by shaggy tannins and slightly spicy/woody oak from 10 months’ aging in 70 percent French and 30 percent American barrels (35 percent new). The finish brings up some earthy and minerally austerity along with a trace of wild berry and lavender. The first release of this wine; 500 cases were made. Excellent. About $25.

So the inaugural lunch looked pretty tasty. Seafood stew en croute followed by a “brace of American birds” — duck and pheasant on a bed of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and spinach, with wild cherry chutney — and for dessert, apple cinnamon sponge cake and sweet cream glace. Looks like an appropriately festive meal and not too bad health-wise. Game birds are low in cholesterol, and serving winter vegetables without a sauce makes good sense.

Look at the children’s menu though: Hot dogs, cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, French fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, hotdog_big1.jpg cheese pizza, chocolate chip cookies with apple and orange juices. Wow, did there have to be four items with cheese? And aren’t cheeseburgers and fries exactly the foods people rail about as contributing to the expanding obesity of Americans, especially the poor, who tend to eat a great deal of fast-food? I’m surprised that the Obamas, who seem to be thoughtful parents, would approve this menu for the kids at the inauguration lunch. I’m also surprised at the assumption that such calorie-laden items are what have to be given to children because that’s all they’ll eat. Learning about healthy, nutritious food begins early, and it begins at home. Why not let the kids have a scallop and a little duck?

The wine choices for the inaugural lunch were good: Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Napa Valley; Goldeneye Pinot Noir 2005, Anderson Valley, Mendocino; Korbel Natural California Champagne, or “champagne.” (Korbel was one of the producers of sparkling wine allowed to continue using the term “champagne” on its labels despite the U.S. and E.U. trade agreement on wine terms.) Nothing wrong there, really, except that Goldeneye is owned by Duckhorn, so one producer provided two-thirds of the inaugural luncheon wine, and Korbel has provided sparkling wine for the past seven inaugurations. I think it’s time to break up that little monopoly.

And how about being geographically diverse, especially for an inauguration that celebrates this country’s great thriving diversity? Why not a pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley? Why not a sparkling wine from New Mexico? Or let’s include the East Coast with a wine from New York or Virginia. I think, in other words, that the wines choices for Tuesday’s lunch were too easy and didn’t reflect the thought and preparation that they could have.

Wine is made in every one of the contiguous 48 states; yes, some of the wine is much better than others, but, still, let’s have a White House that explores that rich heritage of grape-growing and wine-making in America.

Is it too obvious that I’m bucking for the job of White House wine steward? If nominated, I will run; if asked, I will serve. My nation needs me.

Hot dog image from blogs.trb.com.

… and I don’t mean pinot blanc. Pinot noir is the dominant red grape in Germany, and has become so popular that plantings of pinot noir (called spatburgunder) have tripled since 1980 to about 30,250 acres. Pinot noir grapes are made into a dizzying range of styles, and most of the wine stays in Germany.

Now the example I offer here is clearly not the best of the pinot noir efforts in Germany, but, on the other hand, it cost only $5 at 30220.jpg Trader Joe’s in Tucson, where we spent a couple of days last week. The wine in question is the Edition Maxmilian Pinot Noir 2006, Rheingau, from the distinguished Weingut Hans Lang. Actually, the proprietor listed on the back label is Weinhaus Hans Lang, an entity dedicated to inexpensive wines, sold under the Edition Maximilian label.

My first note on the Edition Maximilian Pinot Noir 2006 is “surprisingly good.” The wine is a medium ruby-magenta color. It’s gently spicy in the nose, with touches of mulberry and dried cherry and a hint of bubble gum. The texture is light and delicate, yet, again surprisingly for the price, almost as satiny as a grown-up pinot noir. Flavors of melon and dried cherry, permeated by baking spice and cola, are, it’s true, a little sweet, but not cloying or harsh. It’s an enjoyable wine, easy on the palate, simple but not simpleminded. There’s nothing wrong with a rating of Good+, which I offer here, especially at the price, again, about $5 at Trader Joe’s. The wine is available in other venues at prices going up to $12, so TJ’s obviously has this on deep discount.

I found very little mention (and no label art) of this wine on the Internet, but, boy, reaction to the 2005 version (the label shown here) is strikingly divided between people who consider it a pleasant little quaffer and those who loathe, despise, hate and revile it, calling it (the 2005) swill, garbage and “not really wine.” Is the ’06 rendition that much better, or does such reaction merely reflect the tastes and preferences of the responders? Frankly, I don’t know.

You might think that with 14.6 percent alcohol the Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay 2006, from the winery’s Rhinefarm Vineyard in 85682.jpg Sonoma Valley, would be awkward and unwieldy, but that’s not the case. The wine wears its alcohol as an expression of pent dynamism brilliantly balanced by crisp acidity and a profound mineral element. Yes, this chardonnay is large-framed, dense and chewy, yes, it’s ripe, spicy and full-bodied, yet perfect equilibrium keeps every aspect resolutely, though somehow delicately, in place. A restrained hand with oak helps; the wine ages only nine months in French oak, with a mere 20 percent of the barrels being new. That deftness contributes firm structure and spicy value without the over-spiced, cloyingly sweet and smoky character that mars so many chardonnays made in California. I don’t mean to praise this wine only in terms of negatives: It’s not this, it’s not that. To put the case completely in the way of the positive, let’s say this: The Gundlach Bundschu Chardonnay 2006 bursts with juicy, lively pineapple and grapefruit flavors packed with resonance and intensity, while simultaneously offering purity, grace and elegance. This was wonderful with seared and broiled salmon. Production was 1,828 cases. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $25, though I have seen it on the Internet from $19 to $28.

We had to catch a plane the next day, and of the choices 1. go out to eat, 2. go to the grocery store, or 3. see what’s in the Little open-face grilled cheese sandwiches fridge and be creative, LL elected for the last one. She heated what was left of some white bean with red and yellow peppers soup — this is a terrific Sally Schneider recipe that we’ve made many times — and made six little opened-face grilled cheese sandwiches, each with a slice of cherry tomato and a sprinkling of thyme.

I opened a bottle of the Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2006, California.

The Dancing Bull wines have redesigned labels that are a bit more subdued and elegant than the previous bright, rather garish label. The picture of the bull in question has been reduced to an insignia, and the words Rancho Zabaco — Dancing Bull is the second label of Rancho Zabaco, itself a division of E&J Gallo — are found nowhere on the front. The Dancing Bull wines tend to be interesting, if not occasionally slightly odd, blends; the wines seem intended to be soft and approachable while retaining some dancing2.jpg individual character. The blend on this Zinfandel 2006 is 88.9 percent zinfandel, 4.5 percent petite sirah, 2.4 percent tempranillo, 1.3 percent syrah and 2.9 percent mixed. Ha, I love that! As if the wine were not already pretty mixed! You have to wonder, perhaps with wild surmise, what the hell is in that “2.9 percent mixed.” Sangiovese? Alicante bouchet? Charbono?

Anyway, the Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2006 is dark and robust, directly appealing and quite tasty with spicy and juicy black currant and plum flavors buoyed by lively acidity and an undertow of oak. It’s earthy and a little rooty, with a touch of smoky sassafras, and a closing hint of mulberry and blueberry. The texture is satisfyingly dense and chewy, and while the wine is not complicated or layered, it certainly deserves a Very Good rating and is worth its suggested price of $12, though it can easily be found discounted to $9 or $8.

Actually, it’s too late to ask that question. It’s like asking, Does America need French fries?

Anyway, I received a bulletin yesterday, titled “Five Trends in Spanish Wines” — it’s that time of year — from Wines of Spain, the image003.jpg government supported agency that helps promote Spanish wines in the United States. The trends were assembled by Bruce Schoenfeld, wine editor for Travel + Leisure magazine.

Here are the proposed trends in Spanish wines for 2009 (slightly edited for length):

I. Exploring new wine regions and grape varieties

“Viticulture, even in the old world, is never a fixed photograph, but a moving picture,” said Víctor de la Serna, a journalist, longtime observer of the Spanish wine scene and wine producer with Manchuela’s Finca Sandoval. As for emerging regions to watch, de la Serna cites: Ribeira Sacra, Tierra de León, Manchuela, Liébana and Sierras de Málaga.

II. Elegance and freshness

“There’s a definite trend toward making fresher wines, wines of great expression that are more elegant than powerful,” said José Peñín, one of Spain’s most knowledgeable and influential wine critics. Spain is a sunny country and the easy ripening of so many of its grapes give it a natural advantage when it comes to elegance and freshness.

III. Old vines

“Selling wine, you say ‘old vine’ and people go crazy,” said Sara Floyd, a San Francisco-based Master Sommelier and national sales manager for importer Jorge Ordóñez’s Fine Estates from Spain.

The naturally low yields of mature vines, like those in Spain, produce the best raw material for making memorable, top-quality wines. Many Spanish vineyards were neglected because of low yields. Through the efforts of old vine pioneers, like Alvaro Palacios, René Barbier, the Eguren brothers and Mariano Garcia, the world has come to value this rare fruit.

IV. French oak

French barrels have lately come into vogue, at least among top producers. Consumers want tannins that are softer, less assertive, and allow wines to be more complex and elegant, typical of wines aged in French oak. A secondary trend is the use of second-year barrels to complete the aging process.

V. Quality white wines

Spanish white wines have traditionally been perceived as inferior cousins to the country’s bold reds. Today, Spain’s whites are on the verge of stepping up to challenge the red for dominance – though perhaps not market share, as production of the best wines is destined to be limited.

Well, who could be against freshness and elegance — remember when Spanish reds tasted like ancient, dusty church pews? — or exploring new wine regions, or moving into the production of better quality white wines, though we’ve seen that occur in the last decade, especially with the albarino grape. Old vines, sure, why not, though I wasn’t aware that people went crazy at the mention of those words; what happens if you stand up and shout “Old vines!” in a crowded theater?

The trend that I find disturbing is the use of French oak barrels to age wines before bottling. It’s a trend that’s probably unstoppable, because many winemakers of all nationalities and regions see French oak as the only path to greatness and accessibility to the world wine markets, especially in America; the “American palate” supposedly loves new oak.

We have seen what French oak barrels did in Italy since Antinori introduced Tignanello in the 1970s. Granted, that great wines are produced in Italy now, under the influence of nontraditional grapes like cabernet sauvignon and merlot aged in French oak; Tignanello, Solaia, Ornellaia and other cult wines are among the best in the world. On the other hand, the use of French oak has also dumbed down the individuality of many Italian red wines, so that tasted blind they might as well have been made in Pauillac or Napa Valley. Some producers of Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, enamored of French oak and seeing its use as progressive and “modern” (and fit for those legendary American palates), have robbed their wines of authenticity and sense of place.

Why should that happen in Spain? Think of a 10-year-old Rioja red, with the tempranillo grape’s characteristic tang of sour cherry and dried mulberry with a hint of slightly astringent allspice; why would you want to ruin those qualities with excessive oak?

I’ve been to events in the past few years at which Spanish producers proudly offered their newest wines, sleekly packaged and expensively priced, and all I could smell and taste was new oak. I don’t think that such wines are viable or necessary now. I think that American wine drinkers are sophisticated enough that they’re not searching for the latest blockbuster cult wine that could have been made anywhere.

The whole tenor of the wine world is toward smaller, more authentic, more real wines that embody a sense of their makers, their grapes and their regions. Consumers feel that way now about all sorts of products; we want to feel close to home, perhaps anybody’s home, and we want to feel as if by drinking a glass of wine we’re participating in a process that started with someone’s hands tending the vines. Oak is useful in shaping a wine, but it shouldn’t be the reason why we drink wine.

Well, this is a rousing little red wine that’s super-attractive and not only for people trying to join the Century Club of those who have tried 100 grapes in wine. The wild card or the dark horse in the Sexto 2006, from Spain’s Terra Alta region, the sexto.jpg southern-most vineyard area of Catalonia, southwest of Barcelona, is the — ready? — lledoner pelut noir grape. Sexto 2006 contains only six percent of this obscure variety, but perhaps it contributes something of the wine’s dark, wild spiciness. The rest of the blend is 33 percent grenache, 30 percent carignan, 20 percent tempranillo, six percent cabernet sauvignon and five percent syrah; the carignan and LPN come from 60-year-old vines.

So, the wine is, as I said, wild, dark and spicy, robust, rich and warm. It’s all black fruit all the time, juicy and succulent; elements of earthiness — leather, briers and brambles, mossy tea and loam with a mineral component — are evident from the first sniff and the first taste. The bouquet conveys a woody-spicy aspect, like cloves and allspice scattered in saw-dust, while in the mouth the black fruit flavors deepen with notes of dried flowers, smoke and tar. Highly individual and able to stand up to hearty fare like braised veal shanks or short ribs, beef stew or spicy pork chops. Very Good+. About $12.

Imported by Heron Wines, San Francisco.

In case you were wondering, “The Next Grain” is — ta-dah! — buckwheat!

(Let’s see if next year it’s — ta-dah! — Spanky!)

Ha-ha, just kidding, but how do I know this amazing fact? Because of Food & Wine magazine’s “Special Trend Issue,” an exercise that F&W indulges in every January, the month during which many newspaper style sections and magazines that logo.gif emphasize “lifestyle issues” make their predictions about what is going to be hip, cool and happening in the coming year. Doesn’t matter that in two months everyone will have forgotten what those trends were supposed to be and go back to their dark corners to eat what they always ate and drink what they always drank.

I mean, trends are so flawlessly trendy. For example, the movie Sideways pushed pinot noir consumption in this country to unprecedented heights, because the movie’s “hero” Miles — what a loser! — preferred pinot noir wines to all others. People who before they saw Sideways were saying, “I don’t understand pinot noir, I just don’t get it,” were drinking the stuff by the gallon. Now that the back-draft from that (deeply flawed) film has finally evaporated, everyone can go back to their dark corners and mutter, “I don’t understand pinot noir, I just don’t get it,” and leave the rest of us alone.
Anyway, right off the bat, my advice to the editors and writers of F&W is: Deep-six the term “über,” as in “über-chef Thomas Keller” and “über-restaurateur Danny Meyer.” In this Nietzschean carnival of hyperbole, I suppose Helen Turley would be an “über-winemaker” and a large blue potato would be an “über-blue-tuber.” Talk about a cold, dead slug of a cliché! (I’ll extend the hand of forgiveness if they want to write “über-blog BiggerThanYourHead.”)

You might like to know that, according to F&W, the “Menu Buzzwords” for 2009 will be Frosting Shot — “Cupcake frosting sold straight up in little paper cups”; Gibralter — ” Double espresso with frothy milk, served in a glass”; Gnocchi — “Made with whole wheat, rye, brioche, black olives, dill or bacon” (no buckwheat?); Mortadella — “On charcuterie plates; pistachio- or truffle-speckled”; Sablefish — “Flaky, buttery, sweet — and sustainable — black cod.”

Personally, I plan, for 2009, to boycott any menus that use any of those “buzzwords.” In fact, I would like the word “buzzword” not to come within 3,000 miles of my eyesight, lest I squash it like a gnat beneath my ink-well. L’oeuf du ému

Other trends I will be wary of include restaurants where “customers order from touch screens that double as game consoles” — nobody has to talk to anybody! — and egg bars in gourmet grocery stores. That’s right, selected “Whole Foods locations in the Northeast and parts of Ohio” — parts of Ohio? — will stock ostrich eggs as well as the eggs of ducks, quail, pheasant and “deep-green emu eggs.” As if it’s not difficult enough standing in the grocery store in a dither trying to choose among organic eggs, free-range eggs and Omega-3 eggs from plain old hens.

O.K., here I’ll say that I actually enjoy Food & Wine magazine — but not the wine part so much because Lettie Teague is becoming the Gael Greene of wine-writers; “my friends” this and “my friends” that, sheesh — especially for the recipes, which we often use, but gee, when you combine the tendency toward archness and whimsy and aching cuteness and the almost unseemly yearning to be hip that F&W exudes, along with Bon Appetit and Gourmet, combined with the constant blurring of the line between editorial content and advertising, it’s a relief to turn to a publication like Cook’s Illustrated, which features no advertising, no color food-porno shots and no celebrity-chef-guest-contributors. It’s just a magazine for people who want to cook better. You have to love a publication that says, “We wanted to see what brand of oatmeal is really best, so we gathered 87 brands of oatmeal, including three from Bulgaria, and prepared them under precisely the same conditions in our test kitchens,” and then they tell you what the über-oatmeal is.

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