A Few Thoughts on ZA

Over the past two weeks I have gotten a small glimpse into the awesomeness that is South Africa. I keep repeating “this is so beautiful, this is stunning,” but it doesn’t seem to do justice to how spectacularly mind-fuckingly beautiful this country is. From the beaches to the mountains, and even up into the expansive desert, South Africa is simply gorgeous.

Yesterday I spent the better part of the day driving from Stellenbosch to Franschoek (1 hour) to Elgin (1+ hour) back to Stellenbosch (1 hour), most of which was through rocky mountains meaning zero radio. This left plenty of time to sit and marinate in my experiences, when not white knuckling over the steep monkey ridden mountain passes at least. Let’s just pause for a minute and give a little shout out for my left side, stick, monster truck driving skills. Shout.

Here are my overall impressions of this absolutely miraculous and stupidly beautiful country:

  1. Wine is a LONG established commodity here. It is grown well, it is made well, it is sold…well, it is sold. This isn’t new terroir, these are not new varieties (really), and there is a well established tradition of winemaking. We all know vines were planted here back in the 1600s, but neglect to appreciate that even despite apartheid and a checkered past, wine has always been in the fabric of this country.
  2. There’s a new generation coming up! These guys want to do something different, something that speaks to place and climate, and speaks to the world at large. The bulk days, while still paying many of the bills, won’t sustain just on their own. Quality will reign! Now it’s an issue to do something about the leaf roll problem and insane interest rates (9.25%) so these guys have a fighting chance

    Mick Craven of Craven Wines 
  3. South Africans like to ice their whites, but don’t seem so keen on ice buckets. Strange, no?

    My silent protest of leaving the ice in the bucket, where it belongs 
  4. Along those lines, WHITE cars! Any and everywhere!

    seriously. 
  5. This is a welcoming, gracious and curious culture. Politics play a very tangible part in every single person’s life, and recent changes have inspired hope for the future. There’s a feeling of optimism – cautious optimism – with (hopefully) big and bright things on the horizon. If this recent water crisis has showed anything, it’s that this is one country who can work together. “Day Zero” was originally projected for February, yet has been pushed to July thanks to the efforts of everyone! 

If you haven’t been, go. The flight is easy -> 15 hours direct to Johannesburg followed by a quick – and again – beautiful 2 hour hopper to Cape Town. And from there it’s a spectacularly beautiful drive anywhere. Do it.

Speaking of, 17 hours to go back to NY. See you on the other side.

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The Beginning.

Airports have become my blog hub, so lucky for you, over the next few months you have a barrage of posts coming at ya. Instead of trying to catch up on an entire month, here’s a look at the last week:

Rieslingfeier. All Riesling (except 1 Sauv Blanc) with a ton of surprises! Donnhoff, Trimbach, Lauer (awesome).  I wish I had my notebook, because my favorites of the day were actually all producers I didn’t know before. 2016 is back to classic.

Highlights include ridiculous cornmeal crusted jam tart breakfast with Sarah, catching up with Abe and Ellie, and some super special pours of 70s and 80s German Rieslings.

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Abe, one of my very favorite people, is back and town. As such, let the LES feasting commence.

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After some local sashimi, a seared scallop, and a panoply of wine… prawns.

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My wine of the night, and a favorite I have enjoyed many times on this very Essex Street, Produttori del Barbaresco. Solid.

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Sunday rice. Entertaining was on my mind, but instead this deliciousity was just tossed in the freezer as I was laid up on the couch with the beginnings of a cold. A cancelled dinner and 11 hour sleep later, and….

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I met with a wine legend. Mounir Saouma started micro-negociant Lucien Le Moine a decade plus ago, and has henceforth become one of the most in demand winemakers of our time. These wines are ultra concentrated, deeply structured, and most importantly, worthy of massive cellaring. Not only were his wines incredible (HELLO Chambolle Baudes), but Mounir was a wealth of generous and illuminating knowledge.

Drink LLM.

Drink Rotem & Mounir Chateauneuf du Pape. —> especially here!! Burgundy meets Rhone, meets Rayas, meets I just want to drink you all night long.

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Megan sent us cookies!! I’m averaging 3 a day. IMG_0175

One of the greatest things about Tribeca is that it is, in fact, a neighborhood. Friday nights consisted of loft tours and ice sculptures in the park, all sponsored by the neighborhood. See me, Megan (the cookie monger) and Dapper Duanedog excited for an early spring.

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And it’s also full of lessons and inspiration. When I grow up, I’m going to have a loft. Full stop.

Off to Lisbon. Salud!

 

 

Done did, 2017 Style 

nye

The difference a year makes. Above, my last run of 2016….

My last run of 2017, a decidedly different view. Ah, Brooklyn….


As I’m going back through my old wine notebooks, scouring for examples for my pending Master of Wine exam, I’m realizing how much has happened in this seemingly very fast and short year. How is it possible it was already two months ago I was emailing Colin, who holds a PHD in yeast, about the significance of yeast choice on texture!? (#spoiler: it doesn’t!).

One full calendar back in the home of the free and brave. It doesn’t feel possible, so let’s have a wee look back at the ________ (adjective TBD) year of 2017.

Countries traveled: 4  -> Austria, France, Italy, & Lebanon

New Cities traveled:  10 -> Rust, Champagne, Piedmont, Miami,  Wintergreen, San Francisco, Bluemont, Beirut, Bekaa, Betroun

Upon looking at last year’s forecast for this year, I realize it has been a relative success, 2017 will be a year of fulfillment. My goals are clear, the deadlines are hard, and although I’m still slightly paralyzed by the massiveness of what lays ahead, I know it just takes a bunch of baby steps put together. Let the baby steps commence. Baby steps stepped, and I ended up quite pleased with the results of my first MW test.

Other 2017 achievements include a really positive year at Tribeca Wine Merchants. I landed my first $100,000+ sale, attended incredible dinners, including a black tie affair at Daniel, met a bunch of celebrities, and more than anything, totally enjoy every one of my colleagues.


Personally, I kept my running up, although a bit more tame than in years passed, saw my family often, and dated a pretty amazing man for a few months. I probably didn’t read as many books as I’d like, or do as much yoga, but you have got to keep some things to work on, hey?

GOALS 2018:

Priority numero uno: SMASH the Master of Wine Stage 2 assessments. I want to walk out feeling like I nailed 90% of the wines, had amazing knowledge and examples for all of the essays, and am able to enjoy a stress free post-test weekend with my family in Napa.

2) Amp up the running just a smidge – 3-5 mile runs up to 4-6 mile runs + 1 long per week – plus more yoga. My roommate is a yoga teacher and has amazing Tuesday / Thursday early classes, so I need to get better about getting out of bed and into warrior 1.

3) Move into my own, (semi)permanent apartment. As nice as it’s been having people to come home to, I need my own space, with my own stuff, in my own chosen location. Semi, because if #4 goes to plan, I’ll be moving into a much bigger apartment with a pool in no time.

4) Get married. Ok, maybe not in 2018, but let’s get that ball rolling…

5) There are lots of exciting things coming up at work. So here’s to all of the new initiatives starting strong.

I Eat, They Cook.

Perhaps it’s the holidays, or perhaps I just have epicurean-ly talented friends, but this week has been all about the home cooked meal.

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My new colleague Derrick (@dpaezwine) is, in fact, a chef. The next time you need to hire, I suggest you look to a chef. Not only is he super friendly, organized, and hardworking, but at least once a week he brings in some gem, like the one above. Kale crostini with walnuts, pickled onions, and a homemade chili paste from chilis brought back from Korea.

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Friday, Robin and Kaj invited me over for a dinner party catch up. They live a mere 5 or so blocks up the street from me, and have this amazing studio in a converted sugar factory. They decided a year ago to lived in various spots around New York for a month at a time, via Airbnb, before deciding on which neighborhood they ultimately wanted to live in. Although Bed Stuy wasn’t choice numero uno, once here they knew they’d found home.

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Robin was my IPO wine rep, but we became fast friends over Austrian wines and travel talk. Over the summer she and Kaj decided they wanted to get married, so they booked a flight to Norway and got hitched on the top of a mountain. And it’s been happily ever after since.

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Friday I found out girl can cook. Rosemary butter chicken, roast carrots, and a Brussels sprout potato hash, with amazing friends new and old, and delicious Voge Cornas, Isole e Olena Chianti, and various other deliciousities. IMG_7277

A 1 am evening didn’t deter my 7 am run luckily, for Saturday the feast continued on. This time at Chez Sarah.

Sarah has the apartment I want when I grow up (or this June, whichever comes first), complete with plate warmers (pictured below).
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Nick, Sarah and I began with some fino sherry and Champagne. I thought I had pulled the Bereche Tradition NV out of the fridge, but accidentally grabbed the Beaux Regards Blanc de Blancs – a 50% more expensive wine. Perhaps that’s some staying-in karma. This is now the second time I’ve served it blind, and both times everyone thought it was a Blanc de Noirs. Interesting, but also incredibly delicious, fresh if not austere, and a superb example of modern Champagne. IMG_7287

Sarah whipped up a little veal, butter shallots, mushroom and potato hash. Although not entirely successful with the veggies/butter, Dauvissat Chablis Vaillons 1er Cru 2013 was still very much enjoyed in all of its malo-y, minerally, freshness. Strangely enough, the last time I had the Bereche BdB we also had Dauvissat Chablis.

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We wrapped up with a fresh-out-of-the-oven pear tart and a spicy Vajra Barolo Chinato.

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On my way in from my snowy run this am, I remembered that Sarah had sent us each home with a piece of tart for breakfast. This is a solid move that will make you friends for life, and one I am stealing should I decide ever to host a dinner party.  But first, I need a table. #gottahavegoals

Moar Lebs: Chateau Musar

There’s a reason Chateau Musar has the greatest and furthest reaching reputation of all the wines of Lebanon; it’s great stuff.  This was our first stop on our 3 day intensive tour, and it really set the benchmark for what’s achievable in these arid soils.

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We began with a tour through the winery, which avoided any destruction in the civil war, the cellars, and finally to the tasting room where we had a really exceptional tasting to get a clear picture of how and why Musar is what it is.

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The United Nations of tasters.

We started with the whites. First an Obeidy, reminiscent of Chardonnay, Chasselas, then a Mizwah which is closer to a Semllion. Then Chateau Musar Blanc 2008,  which is a blend of these indigenous varietals Mizwah (1/3) and Obeidy (2/3). My notes read beeswax, honey, lanolin, super savory with herbal notes. Low acid, but super delicious -> built with pork ramen in mind! This is winter white. Then 1994 Blanc – amber, VA nose with honey. Higher acid, round and glycerol, complex.  Awesome.

Then we went on to have an exceptional tasting of every varietal grown here, individually vinified from the 2016 vintage, before tasting 4 vintages of Chateau Musar Rouge. All before 9 am. #winejobs

  1. Cinsault: this is the grape the winemakers have the highest hopes for in Lebanon, and the one I find the most successful overall. Jubee purple fruit, slight herbal tinge, fine grained powerful tannins
  2. Syrah: very acidic with powdery tannins- thick skins here! Floral and dense with fruit
  3. Grenache: pretty red fruit, high alc, super pleasant with loose tannins
  4. Cabernet Sauvignon: reductive, herbal thread, big chunky tannins all around the edge of the mouth
  5. Carignan: Another favorite of mine, cool. chunky tannins, purity of fruit. punchy alcohol (14%), warm and creamy – loving this

 

Chateau Musar 2003: volatile acidity lift, oxidative tomato, sweet spice and some play-doh saltiness (a hallmark of Lebanese wines for me). Concentrated and well built. 

Chateau Musar 1998: reminiscent of a Bordeaux nose with cigar box for days. Some VA, but more harmonious than 03, textured, powerful, and one to continue to age. Long. 

Chateau Musar 1974 (corked): this was weird and unclear why they served it. Perhaps to make ’64 look better?

Chateau Musar 1964: sugar, sweet spice, and light cigar box. “Wild wine.” – Serge. Beautiful, elegant, harmonious, still with a fruit core and strong tannins. A lady in body, but savage with umami and power. 

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While Marc is in New York, I’m purple teething it up with Donald and Gaston Hochar.

Lebanon 

Over a month ago I returned from my week in Lebanon, and here I am just getting around to getting any thoughts together. I supposed it’s because I have a lot of thoughts to gather.

How about we start big picture?

flying into Beirut

Lebanon is without a doubt one of the strangest places I have ever visited. The juxtaposition of wealth and absolute poverty infiltrates the landscape, yet we spent out time flittering between one state of the art palace after another.

One of the newer wineries in Betroun, Atibaia

This was a wine trip, and the focus was on the burgeoning wine scene, but it was still pretty shocking to see the massive disparity of wealth everywhere.

Ghazal (cotton candy ice-cream)

This was a Master of Wine organized trip. Hady, a stage 1er I met in Austria last January, makes wine at IXSIR in Betroun, and put this trip together for MW students. The first night he took us out to Em Sherif, which is one of Beirut’s best Lebanese restaurants. It was delicious, as was all of the food in Lebanon, and such a treat to have every meal built around vegetables, and not meat and cheese!

Above you’ll see our fairy floss ice-cream dessert, complete with rosewater and pistachios. By an large the desserts were pretty weird (see rosewater), but I’m a purist and don’t quite understand why anyone would fruit their dessert. #chocolate.

The best Lebanese dessert – SFOUF!

Hady explained a bit about the conflicts of the past 4 decades, how Lebanon is plagued with a Syrian problem (1.8 million refugees in a country of 4 million), how more Lebanese live outside of the country than in (18 million!), and how infrastructure is a huge challenge. There’s constant traffic. The lights go out once or twice a day. Those wealthy enough have generators, but for everyone else, life gets put on hold.

rebar, rebar everywhere

What wasn’t mentioned, but was flagrantly obvious, was the garbage crisis facing Lebanon. After the last conflict, all public services were privatized. So now, the wealthy areas are all well maintained, but the poor areas have mounting garbage they don’t know what to do with. Despite the fact that most of it is compostable or recyclable, most of it is burned out of necessity of space. Burning plastic is not good for anyone, my friends.

we heard gun shots (“hunting season”) from this vineyard

Lebanon has been safe, without incident, for the last 4 or so years. A fact which everyone made clear, if not with an undercurrent of surprise (perhaps that’s me projecting). As such, there’s been a land grab. Lebanese living outside the country have been buying up property, beginning to develop, and then abandoning projects so as not to pay property taxes. Driving down the highways feels like you’re in a scene from the Walking Dead. There are spikey rebar topped skeletal foundations checkering all of the hillsides. Many of which look down on the Syrian refugee camps down below.

refugee camps a mere 30 km from Syria

In a country the size of Vermont, it was fascinating to see how varied the topography is. Lebanon is all about mountains and sea. To the west you have the Mediterranean, then Mt. Lebanon, then the anti-Lebanon ranges before heading off into Syria, which we did not do (although we got within 20km). Altitude ranges from 400 to upward of 1800 m for viticulture, which puts it among the world’s highest.

up in the mountains looking seaward

But it is precisely this altitude that makes grape growing viable here. It’s warm! At the end of October it was still mid 20s and barely into the teens at night. <3. There’s good solar radiation, making for thick skinned grapes, yet also high acidity due to the swings in diurnal shift. The style of wine is most accurately described as a midpoint between old world and new. You get tons of ripeness, high alcohol, color and tannins, but the wines are wholly savory, with dust, leather, and that old world sensibility.

one of the newer wineries

Just 20 years ago there were only 3 wineries in Lebanon, Chateau Kefraya, Chateau Ksara, and Chateau Musar. Today there are 55 wineries, and new ones popping up all the time.

The whole group arriving at Domaine de Baal

Next post, we’ll talk more wine.

 

 

 

 

The End of Days: Chelsea Edition 

Sitting at the makeshift United lounge at the end of terminal xxx, after being told One Time passes won’t be honored at the convenient lounges (what’s the point United!?), I reflect on my Chelsea bucket list. Fail on all fronts.

See, today marks my last unofficial day as a Chelsea resident. For now.

Gone are the days of walking home from (fucking awesome) wine dinners in the Village. The timing is about as good as it can get though, since the weather is supposedly about to start feeling appropriate. 10 minute walks in the freezing cold are significantly less fun than 10 minute walks in the balmy 60 degree evenings of late.

More on that wine dinner. Sunday night Sarah (above) put together a gluttonous evening celebrating the wonderful wines she represents and some out of this world Italian at Barbuto. Kate has been telling me to get there for the past year, and now it finally came to deliciously glossy fruition. We began with the super taut, nervey wines of Passopisciaro. The chardonnay has long been a favorite for its laser focus and minerality, which was only exacerbated by the fabulous veal pasta (above), and cheesy pillows of gnocchi heaven we started with. Is there a more perfect food? We went on to taste the Passorosso, and two single vineyard (contrada) Nerello Mascaleses which just prove why volcano wines are so exciting. All coiled up with energy and grip, this is spectacular stuff.

After the pasta and bruschetta, we moved onto the Tuscan wines from the same, insanely talented winemaker, Andrea Franchetti. The wines of Tenuta di Trinoro are exceptional. The same thread of freshness defines these massively concentrated and fruited wines. Super alcohol, super fruit, yet not heavy at all, these were the perfect partner to steak, decadently oiled chicken, and incredibly fresh greens.

Sarah wrapped it up with some champagne and tiramisu. Get better. And then I walked my 6 blocks home so I could finish up the last bits of packing.

Peace out, Chelsea. It’s been real.