Archive for May, 2013
The first thing I need to tell you is that I’m deeply grateful to ViniPortugal for having invited me to Lisbon to judge in the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge (the first time they’ve opened it up to international judging), and for the hospitality that they showed to me while I was there.
I have to tell you this first because I’m about to spend the next few hundred words sounding as if I’m undermining every word of that previous sentence, even though it happens to be the truth, truth that’s balder than Bruce Willis.
What’s also the Die-Hard-With-A-Vengeance-bald truth is that, despite the fact that I’m about to recommend a Dão producer (Quinta dos Roques / Quinta das Maias) to you, I cannot tell you diddly-squat about them. I know, we are off to a swimming start here, aren’t we? Hang on, it will get better, I promise.
Here’s the thing: the Wines of Portugal public relations folks face a daunting task in trying to herd a large amount of fiercely independent winemaking and food-crafting cats. If they ever get the PR situation to match their culinary and wine prowess, I suspect they would conquer the planet storm trooper style. Until then, though, you won’t need to stock up on any ammo, based on my recent experiences (but I still love you, Portugal!).
Exhibit A: I, along with about ten fellow newly-minted international judging alumni, spent more time on a bus traveling from Lisbon to Dão and back in one day in May than I spent (by about an hour) in a plane flying from Philly to Lisbon, all in the name of tasting the wares of a few of the best-regarded producers in Dão. The number of wines we tasted that day? About 12. The number of bottles of water or beer (or anything else) aboard the bus on that 7+ hour jaunt? Zero.
Exhibit B: We were served a fixed menu of bacalhau (traditional Portuguese salted cod, of which there are rumored to be one thousand different preparations) five times in four days, often successively for dinner and lunch on the same days (including the day of our Dão expedition). When we burst out laughing at the final dinner when we each received a serving of cod the size of my mastiff’s head, I was asked “what’s wrong, don’t you like it?” My reply: “I didn’t say that; it’s amazing food, but I don’t like anything five times in one week no matter how amazing it is… with the possible exception of sex…”
Read the rest of this stuff »
This past weekend, The Guardian (the one “over the pond” in the UK) published my recommendations of wine and food places to hit when driving from Seattle to northern California, as part of their America Uncovered series.
Like 99.9% of all of my other paying gigs, this one found me [ editor’s note: this is not how I’d recommend that you go about any type of freelancing career yourself, by the way; not going out and hustling for work is insanely stupid, and I’m beyond all reasonable standards of lucky that this stuff keeps coming my way ].
Like any publisher with an editing staff, they decided to cut 80% of the piece’s original ideas and mentions and focus instead on a handful of my suggestions, which will explain why [insert your favorite wine and/or food stop in Northern California here] wasn’t included.
What did make the cut are things that I don’t think many of you would have guessed (let’s just say I’d eat my left sneaker if anyone could have figured out the focus of this one prior to its publication). It turned into a Sonoma valentine of sorts: Chalk Hill, Claypool Cellars, and The Girl and The Fig (okay, that last one some of you would have gotten ahead of time). Once again, I’m figuring that Ross Cobb owes me some money (or at the very least, some more Pinot and Chardonnay samples)…
Read the rest of this stuff »
- 10 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Juggling lean-&-green with rich-&-toasty; isn't quite ready to show its best act. $38 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 08 Sequoia Grove Cambium (Napa Valley): Comfortably sexy & confident, probably has an awesome tattoo that it won't show you yet. $120 A- >>find this wine<<
- 11 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay (Napa Valley): Exercising enough restraint to put *just* the right amount of frosting on the cake. $26 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 11 Domaines Paul Mas Single Vineyard Collection G.S.M. (Coteaux du Languedoc): Meat, meet berries; berries, met stones; U, meet tasty. $16 B >>find this wine<<
- 11 Domaines Paul Mas Single Vineyard Collection Picpoul de Pinet (Coteaux du Languedoc): A rush of citrus – & gravel – to the head. $14 B >>find this wine<<
- 09 Casa Montes Alzamora Merlot (San Juan): Ok, so clay-stained blueberries, olives & plums drizzled in balsamic can, in fact, be sexy $24 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 09 Casa Montes Alzamora Syrah (San Juan): Lean beef, rich spiced plums on elegant dinner ware, for the price of Old Country Buffet. $24 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 10 Don Balthazar Cabernet Franc (San Juan): Green herbs on the one hand, savory fruits on the other, & a little bit of soul in between $14 B >>find this wine<<
- 11 Ampakama Intenso Malbec (San Juan): Pulls you by leather leash leash right over next to the cooking happening on the hot BBQ pit. $12 B >>find this wine<<
- 12 Ampakama Syrah (San Juan): Juiciness that runs off your cheek, down the side of your arms, and eventually gets your sleeves dusty. $9 B- >>find this wine<<
- 12 Ampakama Malbec (San Juan): Comes in for smoked meat & red plums dinner, makes interesting conversation, leaves a bit too early. $9 B- >>find this wine<<
- 12 Ampakama Viognier (San Juan): High-end hotel lobby's complimentary lemon-water meets the hotel bar's best-selling party drink. $9 B- >>find this wine<<
- 11 Hestia Chenin Blanc (Columbia Valley): Friendly with the flowers; probably too friendly, actually, but makes for energetic company. $16 B >>find this wine<<
- 09 Rocca GrigsbyVineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Dressed-up, spiced-up, pumped-up & amped-up intro to a deep & dark night. $75 A- >>find this wine<<
- 09 Rocca Collinetta Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Maybe a little too much of a chocolaty, toasty, decadent good thing. $85 B+ >>find this wine<<
One could go their entire blogging life and never be fortunate enough to use the phrase “toilet frog.” And yet… here I am, able to use the term from personal experience.
I need a moment to revel in this, people. Please, indulge me a moment, for I have met them, in person.
T-o-i-l-e-t f-r-o-g-s…. As in, frogs that live in a toilet. Yes, seriously, and for realz, as the youngins say these days.
The toilet frogs moment comes courtesy of Alto de la Ballena (literally, “height of the whale [hills]”), a relatively small producer (about 55k bottles) with a relatively small vineyard area (about 20 hectares) in a relatively small country (Uruguay) who are making relatively excellent wines that are not yet available in the U.S. (though they are working on it; it’s a situation I sincerely hope changes after this, and not just because they showed me their toilet frogs).
The story begins in the Sierra de la Ballena, a stretch of hills that begin at a whale-watching peninsula near the seaside resort town of Punta de Este, a spot where the seafaring mammals stop during their August/September migration to Patagonia. Taking their name from the whales, the Sierra de la Ballena undulate to the north, about fifteen kilometers inland to the town of Maldonado, which is where Alvaro Lorenzo and his wife Paula Pivel decided to plant their vineyards in 2000/2001.
Lorenzo and Pivel were all alone on the steep, rocky, gravel, granite, limestone, and schist hills in Maldonado.
“At the time, no one was here,” Lorenzo told me when I visited the property as a guest of Wines of Uruguay; “we took the risk.”…
Read the rest of this stuff »