New York

Do I have to defend the right or necessity to drink rosé wines all year around? Do I have to man the barricades, go to the wall, belly up to the bar to convince nay-sayers that a shimmering, scintillating, beautiful rosé wine — dry, vibrant, fruity, subtle: not sweet — is appropriate in every month and season? If I have to do that, then my case may be hopeless, as far as the die-hard opposition goes, but those who have followed this blog for a considerable period will require no further persuasion, gentle or not. A clean dry rosé may serve as a refreshing aperitif in December as well as June, and few wines go better with fried chicken, for example, or various terrines or the egg-based dishes that front the sideboard for big family breakfasts during the upcoming holidays. Thanksgiving dinner itself is a good test for rosé wines. No, friends, do not neglect the rosé genre, from which I offer 10 models today. The Weekend Wine Notes eschew detailed technical, historical and geographical data (which we all adore) for the sake of incisive reviews ripped, almost, from the very pages of my notebooks, though arranged in more shapely fashion. These eclectic wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
billa haut
Bila-Haut Rosé 2014, Pays d’Oc (from M. Chapoutier). NA% alc. Grenache and cinsault. Pale copper-salmon hue; orange zest, strawberries and raspberries; a pleasing heft of limestone minerality with cutting acidity; juicy and thirst-quenching, but dry as sun-baked stones; a finish delicately etched with chalk and dried thyme. Very Good+. About $14.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
blair rose
Blair Vineyards Delfina’s Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Arroyo Seco. 13.3% alc. 117 cases. Bright peach-copper color; ripe strawberries macerated with cloves, raspberries, hints of tomato skin and pomegranate; paradoxically and deftly fleshy and juicy while being quite crisp and dry and tightly tuned with limestone and flint. A superior rosé. Excellent. About $22.
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014, Central Coast. 13% alc. 35% grenache, 18% mourvedre, 16% grenache blanc, 12.5% roussanne, 8% carignane, 8% cinsault, 1.5% marsanne, 1% counoise. Very pale onion skin hue with a topaz glow; quite delicate, almost fragile; dried strawberries and raspberries with a touch of peach and hints of lavender and orange rind; gently dusty and minerally, like rain-water drying on a warm stone; a note of sage in the finish. Elegantly ravishing. Excellent. About $18.
bridge lane
Bridge Lane Rosé 2014, New York State (from Lieb Cellars). 11.9% alc. Cabernet franc 63%, merlot 21%, pinot blanc 8%, riesling 5%, gewurztraminer 3%. Ethereal pale peach-copper color; delicate notes of peach, strawberry and raspberry with a touch of watermelon and spiced pear; a hint of minerality subtle as a river-stone polished with talc; incisive acidity for liveliness; develops more floral elements as the moments pass: lavender, rose petal, violets, all beautifully knit. Excellent. About $18.
heintz rose
Charles Heintz Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Beautiful salmon scale-light copper hue; blood orange, tomato skin, strawberries and raspberries, hints of violets and lilac, a note of cloves and damp limestone; red fruit on the palate with an undertone of peach; quite dry and crisp, lithe on the palate, but with appealing red fruit character and an element of stone-fruit and chalk-flint minerality. A gorgeous rosé. Excellent. About $19.
cornerstone corallina
Cornerstone Stepping Stone Corallina Rosé 2014, Napa Valley. 13.1% alc. 100% syrah. Very pretty pink coral color; strawberries and raspberries, hint of pomegranate and a fascinating note of spiced tea and apple peel compote; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tomato aspic and red currants; full-bodied for a rose, with a texture that would be almost lush save for the bristling acidity that keeps the whole package energized. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
Crossbarn Rosé of Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast (from Paul Hobbs). 12.5% alc. Pale copper-salmon color; intriguing musky-spicy note, crossbarn roselike rose hips, camellias, pomegranate, cloves and sandalwood macerated together; strawberries and orange rind; hints of pink grapefruit and peach; lively and crisp, with a chalk and flint edge to the supple texture; gains a fleshy and florid character on the finish. Very Good+. About $18
loomis air
Loomis Family “Air” Rosé Wine 2013, Napa Valley. 12% alc. 41% grenache 36% mourvedre 13% counoise 10% syrah. 125 cases. Light copper-salmon hue; dried strawberries and raspberries, notes of lavender and red cherry; hints of watermelon and cloves; incisive acidity and limestone minerality bolster juicy red fruit flavors and an elegant and supple texture that retains a crisp chiseled character; a fillip of grapefruit rind and lemongrass provide interest on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $18.
Santa Cristina Cipresseto Rosato 2014, Toscano IGT. 11% alc. Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah. (An Antinori brand since 1946.) Light pink-peach color; delicately floral and spicy, notes of raspberries and red currants and a hint of dried thyme and heather; clean acidity and limestone minerality offer gentle ballast for tasty but spare red fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $14.
stinson rose
Stinson Vineyards Rosé 2014, Monticello, Va. 13% alc. 100% mouvèdre. 175 cases. Classic onion skin hue with a tinge of darker copper; pink grapefruit, rose petals, cloves; raspberries and strawberries delicately strung on a line of limestone minerality and bright acidity; from mid-palate back notes of cranberry, pomegranate and grapefruit rind leading to a tart finish; lovely balance and integrity. Excellent. About $19.

Here’s a scintillating pinot blanc that will shiver yer timbers. It’s the Lieb Cellars Reserve Pinot Blanc 2013, from the North Fork of Long Island.
It’s made completely in stainless steel and does not undergo malolactic fermentation, so its freshness, its fervent crispness and blazing acidity are unassailable. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of lemon zest, lychee and grapefruit are woven with notes of lemon balm, jasmine, lime peel and chalk. Is this a dry wine? Does the pope wear a funny hat? Yes, this is about as dry as they make ’em, notably limestone-chalk-and-flint dry, with a vibrant line of electrifying acidity and a crystalline structure that feels finely-hewn and faceted; citrus flavors with a bare shading of stone-fruit touch the palate fleetingly, allowing for a deft hint of sunny leafiness among the chiseled and saline mineralities. Bring on the oysters, plump and briny from the shell! 11.9 percent alcohol. Production was 1,305 cases. Winemaker for Lieb Cellars is Russell Hearn; general manager is Ami Opisso. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.

I was supposed to receive a sample of the Bedell Cellars “Taste” Rosé 2014, North Fork of Long Island, but the vintage instead was 2012. Generally, we want the most recent year of a rosé wine, for its fresh quality and immediate appeal, but I thought, “What the hell, let’s try it anyway.” Reader: It was great. For 2012 — the blend changes every year — this is an interesting combination of 70 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent cabernet sauvignon and 2 percent syrah, and it touches the authenticity points of sustainably grown estate fruit, whole cluster pressing and indigenous yeast. The color is a slightly darker than usual onion skin infused with light copper; a core of dried sage and thyme and crushed rose petals unfolds notes of slightly candied orange peel, pomander, and dried strawberries with touches of rhubarb and pomegranate. The finish is crisp, clean and savory, accented by hints of flint, grapefruit rind and sour melon. It could easily age another year or two. 11 percent alcohol. Drink with pizza, pates and terrines — rabbit and duck — or such picnic fare as fried chicken, shrimp salad and deviled eggs. Excellent. About $25.

We conclude the Twelve Days of Christmas quietly, with three examples of New World champagne method sparkling wine, one from the North Fork of Long Island, the other pair from Napa Valley’s Carneros region. My aim in this series, now in the final entry of its eighth edition, is to present an eclectic roster of the world’s sparkling wines, as well as a selection of Champagnes from that hallowed region in France, during the Yuletide season when most of the sparkling wine and Champagne is consumed. Had I my druthers, I would drink these products every day, but the market, consumer sensibilities and my wallet dictate otherwise. I hope that My Readers enjoyed this latest foray into the range of the festive and obligatory beverage and will anticipate a similar exploration next December. These sparkling wines were samples for review.

I was happy to receive a sample of the Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blancs 2010, North Fork of Long Island, because I seldom — I mean never — get wines from New York state. This appealing sparkling wine is composed of 100 percent pinot blanc grapes. The color is mild gold, and the bubbles stream to the surface in a gentle but persistent fountain; apples and spiced pears, jasmine, ginger and quince are married with delicate shading to a soft effusion of limestone and flint minerality that lends support but not austerity. In essence, a very pretty and tasty sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was $35. Very good+. About $35.
The Frank Family Wines Blanc de Blancs 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, is a blend of 80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. The color is pale gold, and the tiny bubbles foam upward in a frothing swirl. This is a ravishingly elegant sparkling wine, all steel and limestone, orange blossom and lime peel, with back-notes of almond skin, grapefruit and (faintly) fresh biscuits with honey. Gradually, like a seeping tide, the mineral elements dominate, so the finish feels chiseled and faceted, distinguished and a little aloof. Make no mistake, though, this is an eminently compelling blanc de blancs, counting all the detail and dimension. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 381 cases. Winemaker was Todd Graff. Excellent. About $45.

The Frank Family Wines Brut Rosé 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, a blend of 79 percent pinot noir and 21 percent chardonnay, offers a pale onion skin hue, like rose-gold, and floods and torrents of exuberant bubbles; it’s sleek and steely and slightly floral, with hints of jasmine, dried strawberries and raspberries, cloves and pomegranate and a hint of tart cranberry that matches well with a stream of potent acidity. Heaps of limestone and flint minerality form a crystalline framework for terrific tension and energy in a sparkling wine of great appeal and tenacity. It’s also downright lovely. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 379 cases. Excellent. About $45.

This little item in The New York Times caught my eye, and that is, the official wine of Lincoln Center, the great performing arts complex in Manhattan, is supplied by William Hill Estate Winery, in California’s Napa Valley. Wonder how many beautifully dressed and bejeweled patrons of the arts know that the wine they’re sipping at the center’s receptions and galas is made by a winery owned by E.&J. Gallo. That’s right, Gallo, the world’s second largest wine company, purchased the William Hill facility and vineyards in July 2007, another in a series of sales and acquisitions that the producer had undergone since 1992. And in other wine-related news, the booth that Lincoln Center maintained at this year’s Fashion Week in New York — begging the question of why Lincoln Center needs a booth at Fashion Week — featured a Kim Crawford wine bar. Kim Crawford is a winery in New Zealand, specializing in sauvignon blanc, riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir, that since 2006 has been owned by Constellation Brands, the world’s first largest wine company.

Who chose these wines for Lincoln Center to celebrate? What kinds of deals were made? Why does Lincoln Center align itself with giant global corporations when New York City is a vibrant hub of the wine world where every style and type and price of wine is available? Most important, why is the Official Wine of Lincoln Center not a product of New York state? What a boon it would be for the state’s neglected wine industry if the planners and PR people at Lincoln Center positioned the might of their attention and money behind Long Island and the Finger Lakes, where a multitude of excellent, delicious and accessible wines are made. On the other hand, what a boost it would be if the restaurants of New York would do more than pay lip-service to New York state’s wines by including the safe and obligatory two bottles on their wine lists, if even that many. Eat local? New York restaurants are all about that concept. Drink local? Never.

Anyway, as far as Lincoln Center is concerned, faced with the marketing power of Gallo and Constellation, the wineries of New York don’t stand a chance.

Image of Lincoln Center from

We made a quick trip to New York — up Friday morning, back Sunday afternoon — to celebrate a friend’s birthday with other friends we had not seen in three or four years. Naturally the festivities included a great deal of eating and drinking, as in a small dinner Friday, a large birthday bash dinner Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Here are notes, some brief and some not so brief, on the wines we tried.

Image of NYC skyline in the 1950s from
This was a hit. For dinner we were having a casserole of chicken and sausage and onions and fresh herbs — which was deeply flavorful and delicious — at the B’day Girl’s place, and I thought “Something Côtes du Rhône-ish is called for.” She is fortunate enough to live right around the block from Le Dû’s Wines, the store of Jean-Luc Le Dû, former sommelier for Restaurant Daniel, and we traipsed over to see what was available. She wanted to buy a mixed case of wines, and I wanted to pick up a bottle of Champagne and whatever else piqued my interest.

l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée, caught my eye. The wine is made by Chante Cigale, a noted producer of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a pedigree that reveals itself in its full-bodied, rustic savory qualities. A blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault and 10 percent syrah and made all in stainless steel, the wine sports a dark ruby-purple hue and burgeoning aromas of spiced and macerated blackberries, red and black currants and plums. Black and blue fruit flavors are potently spicy and lavish, wrapped in smoky, fleshy, meaty elements and bolstered by a lithe, muscular texture and underlying mossy, briery and graphite qualities. I mean, hell, yes! This was great with the chicken and sausage casserole. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $15-$16, representing Real Value.

Imported by David Bowler Wine, New York. (The label image is one vintage behind.)

Also at Le Dû’s Wines, I gave the nod to Domaine de Fontenille 2009, Côtes du Luberon, a blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent syrah produced by brothers Jean and Pierre Leveque. Côtes du Luberon lies east of the city of Avignon in the Southern Rhone region. This wine was a tad simpler than l’Apostrophe 2009, yet it packed the same sort of spicy, savory, meaty, fleshy wallop of macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors ensconced in the earthy loaminess and soft but firm tannins of briers and brambles and underbrush. Now that prices for Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages have edged above $20 (and $30 even), wines such as Domaine de Fontenille and l’Apostrophe offer reasonable and authentic alternatives. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $14-$15.

Imported by Peter Weygandt, Washington D.C. (The label image is many vintages laggard but it’s what I could find.)
With poached fennel-stuffed salmon, we drank the At Riesling 2009, Colli Orientale del Friuli, from Aquila dei Torre — eagle of the tower — which at two years old is as clean as a whistle, fresh and lively, and gently permeated by notes of spiced peach, pear and quince with a background of lychee, lime peel and limestone; there’s a hint of petrol or rubber eraser in the bouquet and a touch of jasmine. Made in stainless steel and spending nine months in tanks, At Riesling 09 offers crisp acidity and a texture cannily poised between ripe, talc-like softness and brisk, bracing, slightly austere spareness; the finish focuses on scintillating minerality in the limestone-slate range. The designation means “the eastern hills of Friuli.” Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.

Domenico Selections, New York.
We drank the Campo San Vito 2004, Valpolicella Classico Superiori Ripasso, with roast beef at the B’Day Girl’s Big Dinner Bash. I first reviewed the wine in July 2009; here are the notes:

For wine, I opened the Campo San Vito Valpolicella 2004, Classico Superiore Ripasso, a wine that also conveyed a sense of intensity and concentration. Ripasso is a method in which certain Valpolicella wines are “refermented,” in the March after harvest, on the lees of Amarone wines; the process lends these wines added richness and depth. The color here is almost motor-oil black, with a glowing blue/purple rim; the bouquet is minty and meaty, bursting with cassis, Damson plums, smoke, licorice and lavender and a whole boxful of dried spices. Yes, this is so exotic that it’s close to pornographic, but the wine is not too easy, on the one hand, or overbearing, on the other, because it possesses the acid and tannic structure, as well as two years in oak, to express its purposeful nature and rigorous underpinnings. Flavors of black currant and plum, with a touch of mulberry, are permeated by spice, potpourri and granite, as if all ground together in a mortar; the finish, increasingly austere, gathers more dust and minerals. Quite an experience and really good with our dinner. Limited availability in the Northeast. Excellent. About $25.

What was the wine like two years later, at the age of seven? A lovely and beguiling expression of its grapes — corvina, molinara, rondinella — still holding its dark ruby hue and all violets and rose petals, tar and black tea and lavender, stewed plums and blueberries with an almost eloquent sense of firmness, mellow, gently tucked-in tannins and vivid acidity, but after 30 or 40 minutes, it began to show signs of coming apart at the seams, with acid taking ascendancy. Drink now. Very Good+ and showing its age, but everyone should hope to do so in such graceful manner.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
And two rosé wines:

The house of Couly-Dutheil produces one of my favorite Loire Valley rosés, so it’s not surprising that I found the Couly-Dutheil “René Couly” Chinon Rosé 2010 to be very attractive. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue with a blush of copper; so damned pretty, with its notes of dried strawberries and red currants over earthy layers of damp ash and loam and a bright undertone of spiced peach, all resolving to red currant and orange rind flavors and shades of rhubarb and limestone. Dry, crisp and frankly delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Spring 2012. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Cynthia Hurley, West Newton, Mass.

Ah, but here comes what could be the best rosé wine I have tasted. O.K., not to be extreme, one of the best rosés I have ever tasted.

L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche, comes in a Big Deal heavy bottle with a deep punt (the indentation at the bottom); instead of being in a clear bottle, to show off the pretty rosé color, L’audacieuse 2010 is contained within a bottle of serious dark green glass. The producers of this prodigy, a blend of 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 20 percent cinsault, are Benoit and Florence Chazallon. The estate centers around the Chateau de la Selve, a fortified house built in the 13th Century. The grapes for L’audacieuse 2010 are grown under organic methods and fermented with natural yeasts, 1/2 in barriques and 1/2 in concrete vats; it aged six months in barriques. The color is pale but radiant onion skin or what the French call “eye of the partridge.” An enchanting yet slightly reticent bouquet of apples, lemon rind, orange zest and dried red currants wafts from the glass; in the mouth, well, the wine feels as if you were sipping liquid limestone suffused with some grapey-citrus-red fruit essence, enlivened by striking acidity and dry as a sun-bleached bone. While that description may make the wine sound formidable, especially for a rosé — and it is as audacious as its name — its real character embodies elegance and sophistication, integration and balance of all elements, but with something ineffably wild and plangent about it. This is, in a word, a great rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Production was all of 2,100 bottles and 80 magnums. Drink through Summer 2012. Excellent. About $30 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Metrowine Distribution Co., Stamford, Conn.
I bought the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé so LL and I could toast our friend Saturday evening before going to her Big B’Day Bash. The house was founded in 1818, but the Billecart family has roots in Champagne going back to the 16th Century. According to Tom Stevenson, in the revised and updated edition of World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003, and really needing another revision and updating), the blend of the Brut Rosé is 35 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 30 percent chardonnay. What can I say? This is a bountifully effervescent rosé Champagne of the utmost refinement, elegance and finesse, yet its ethereal nature is bolstered by an earthy quality that encompasses notes of limestone and shale and by a dose of subtle nuttiness and toffee, while exquisite tendrils of orange rind, roasted lemon and red currants are threaded through it; zesty acidity keeps it fresh and lively. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $78; prices around the country vary from about $75 to $90.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.

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, where the lunch and dinner menus are displayed.

Hi, readers, we’ve been in New York since Sunday night. I came up to attend the annual portfolio tasting of the giant importer and distributor Martin Scott Wines — very deep in Burgundy and California boutique wineries plus lots of Spain and Italy — and not coincidentally we’ve eaten some great meals, Sunday night me and LL at Momofuku Ssam and last night with Terry of mondosapore and his permanent pal Ken and our collective friend Julie (with whom we are staying) and the irrepressible wine merchant Gabrio Tosti we had a rather riotous dinner at the marvelous Falai with six bottles of very interesting wine. All of this I will be writing about for BTYH or KoeppelOnWine. Anyway, today we head to Chelsea to tour galleries and meet some friends for dinner at Red Cat. I just wanted you to know where I am and what we’re doing. More later — with pictures and notes.

Maybe not final final because I’m still going to be writing about many of the wines I tasted in New York on March 19, but general thoughts about the event and its implications.

First, the organizers of the event, which offered 167 wines from, I guess, every wine-making region of Italy, need to be better organized. The wines are presented in no order. From table to table, you might have a wine from Tuscany, next to a wine from Abruzzi, next to a wine from Sicily, followed by a wine from Umbria, next to a wine from Piedmont. Since that’s the case, you will find grapes of far different qualities and potential succeeding each other.

And the so-called “Tasting Notebook” doesn’t help, because it lists the wines to be tasted in order of presentation, by table number, and doesn’t mention the region. There’s no way you can scan the list and make sense of regions, grapes or types of wine. And when you have about three hours to try as many wines as possible, you need all the help you can get to be systematic. If you wanted to limit yourself, for example, to wines from Piedmont — Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera d’Asti and d’Alba, Dolcetto and so on — there’s no way you could sample all the wines except by running back and forth from room to room and table to table like a madman.

More important, though, is what this tasting of award-winning wines says about the Italian wine industry, its history and its expectations.

For instance, I tried the Galatrona 2004, a 100 percent merlot wine from Fattoria di Petrolo in Tuscany. It was solid, a little stolid, well-made but certainly emphasizing structure, even pretty damned tannic and oak-ridden; indeed, it ages 18 ganatrona.JPG months in new French oak barrels. Since merlot grapes are not indigenous or traditional to Tuscany, the wine receives a designation of Toscana I.G.T. — indicazione geografica tipica — stating exactly that fact. I asked the representative at the table what the suggested retail price of the wine was, and he blithely answered, “$85 or $90.”

I mean, really, but the principle question here is, “Why?” And then, “Who cares?” James Suckling, European correspondent for The Wine Spectator called Galatrona the “Le Pin of Tuscany,” referring to the tiny estate in Pomerol, on the Bordeaux Right Bank, that produces a highly finite amount of sumptuous and very expensive wine from merlot grapes. If some errant numbskull began producing sangiovese in Pomerol, would Suckling call it the “Il Poggione of Bordeaux”? What I mean is, great merlot (and by extension cabernet sauvignon) can be found in many of the world’s wine regions; why must Tuscan producers feel that they must compete with (especially) Bordeaux and by implication California by using Bordeaux grapes and aging techniques, that is, in small French oak barrels?

Basically, I found too much cabernet sauvignon and merlot and too much French oak at the Gambero Rosso event. Wine after wine was stiff, tannic and wooden, or velvety, voluptuous and toasty, I mean, California or the new style in Bordeaux. Read Italy’s Noble Red Wines by Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman (Macmillan, 1991, second edition) for the story about how Italian producers have gradually, since the 1970s, switched from using traditional large casks of Slavonian oak (even chestnut) to using 59-gallon French barriques. Yes, many red wines in Tuscany and Piedmont used to be aged too long, so that tannin masked the fruit in youth and wood masked the fruit in maturity, but if you think the transition to small, new French oak barrels hasn’t changed the character of many of these wines, you might believe that Anna Nicole died of whooping cough.

It’s disturbing that Slow Food, originating in Italy but now an international voice for locality, integrity and authenticity in food products and wine, is a sponsor or collaborator in Gambero Rosso’s awards and in this event. There’s not much that’s truly authentic and local about a Tuscan wine made from French grapes and aged in French oak.

For much of the wine press — and I don’t mean the machine that presses the grapes but people who write about wine — trade tastings are a way of life. Only a few writers at the top of the profession, if I may use that dignified term, don’t need to attend these mass events at which there can be the opportunity to sample, in the meager sips poured for you, tasting2_01.jpg anywhere from, as in my recent experiences in New York, 35 to 165 wines. Think about the last figure. One-hundred and sixty-five wines is a lot of wine, hence the necessity of sipping judiciously and spitting out the, as it were, used-up wine in your mouth.

When you really want to taste a lot of wines, as was the case a few years ago when VinExpo was in New York and the grand event featured a tasting of Bordeaux red wines from the legendary 2000 vintage, careful planning and a level head are required. I mean, I have seen wine writers of otherwise delicate sensibility and slight constitution throw a block that would make a line-backer quail in order to get to a table where a desirable wine was being poured.

And spitting! The typical procedure is to place buckets at either end of the table, so tasters will have ready access to them. The reality is that so many people crowd particular tables — again, where the best wines are being offered — that it’s impossible to reach the spit bucket on that table, so tasters lean over and spit in the bucket of the next table. Sometimes organizers try to solve the spitting problem by placing the buckets on small tables in the middle of the aisles between the tasting tables, but that procedure usually ends in disaster, because tasters simply step back a bit, twist around and spit from a distance. In a few minutes those tables look like Aztec altars of sacrifice. Not to mention the people who happened to be strolling between a spitter and the distant bucket. And think of what happens when the staff at the tasting, usually a ballroom or event venue, can’t keep up with emptying the spit buckets.

And you thought writing about wine was a noble endeavor!

Another problem at trade tastings lies with the people who don’t come to taste wines but to schmooze, to see and be seen, to drop names all over the place, to bestow air-kisses (mainly women) and punches on the arm (mainly men, though sometimes men give air-kisses, too, depending on the nationality). These are the people who take up a position tasting_01.jpg right in the center in front of a table and stand there forever, jawing away with a winemaker or property owner or public relations manager, gabbing about the last time they were in Rome or London or Santiago, while the rest of us are trying to elbow in, slinking and swerving, holding our glasses up beseechingly, hoping for half-an-ounce of whatever happens to be there.

Frankly, the number of people who take notes at trade tastings is alarmingly small. I mean, what’s the point, though I suppose that the real business of buying and selling doesn’t occur at the tastings but later, in a corridor, on the sidewalk, at dinner. The whole enterprise is pretty hazardous anyway. Imagine juggling a glass, now stained red, your pad and pencil, trying to extract a business card from a pocket that also holds a camera, taking a sip of water occasionally or a bite of bread and making sure that if you shake hands with someone, your fingers aren’t wet with spilled wine.

And then of course, that moment happens, when you’re being hounded and jostled, when the uproar is deafening and your pen is running out of ink and you feel a headache beginning to swell from the back of your neck and your feet and ankles are sore, and you absolutely need to find a restroom, that moment happens when you take in a sip of some wine you’ve never heard of and it hits you, the real thing, a wine with true character and tone and quality, with depth and dimension and deliciousness, and you say, probably louder than you should, though who’s going to hear, “Holy shit,” and you look at the people who poured the wine for you, and they’re grinning from ear to ear.

The image at the top is from the Gambero Rosso tasting of top Italian wines on Monday, March 19, at the Puck Building in New York.

The second image is from the Cercle Rive Droite tasting of 2006 barrel samples from the Right Bank of Bordeaux at Chanterelle in New York on Thursday, March 15.

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