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April 2, 2009 2 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Fooled by Foley: Why Caring For Your Glassware is Paramount

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Robert Foley Vineyards 2005 Merlot

Two days ago, I uncorked a Robert Foley Vineyards 2005 Merlot from Napa Valley. To my shock and horror, the wine was not the smooth, silky, chocolaty nectar that I was anticipating—and I have come to revere this wine as a wine among wines—instead, in its place, swirling around my glass was a cantankerous, nefarious liquid, dusty and insipid with moldy carpet-like aromatics and an astringent character that might have served to disinfect all of Spanish Harlem. First, anger set in—surely I was sold bad bottles! Then, panic took over—perhaps it was my glassware, and I had ruined the $50-merlot now clustered around my kitchen sink (I had poured several bottles out into various glasses, decanted, double-decanted, dashed much of it down the drain in anger, etc, etc, etc) and was at that point confused: was the wine in fact corked or was it fine? Had my sense memory failed me? There was only one way to find out.

I had purchased six bottles from Cabrini Liquors, a retail shop situated on the corner of 181st street and Cabrini Boulevard in far-up Manhattan. The wines were shipped to me in February. The first two bottles proved to be as delectable as any sentence in The Great Gatsby. So what happened to the other bottles?

The wines lay on their side in the coolest part of my apartment—due to the lack of “wine cellar” or “wine fridge” (and I’m working on changing that). The apartment is carpeted, and I began to wonder if somehow it was all the carpet’s fault. Thinking on that I nearly tore the carpet to shreds and was prepared to curse out my landlord for not installing a temperature-controlled room in our three-room apartment. Alas!! I refrained from both tactics. After returning the wine to bottle from decanter, I stopped the bottles with rubber stoppers and sucked out any remaining air. I called Cabrini and arranged to bring the wine back on Monday evening, two days out from the whole affair.

The trip to Cabrini was a good hour-long subway ride, and in New York City the subway presents a good opportunity to catch up on reading. I brought along the last five New Yorkers. I read about the Madoff Ponzi scheme. I was angry and sympathetic twoard the people that he swindled. I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to accuse someone—of something, anything…for ruining my wine! I was prepared to accuse the good people at Cabrini of trying to put one over on me—I mean, they’re practically in the Bronx!

To my surprise, the store was an unexpected playground of rare and fine wines all priced well-below market-value, or at least, New York City market value. I was greeted by Damian, Cabrini’s “wine-director.” He led me to the “office” where dozens and dozens of bottles lay recently opened for tasting (they were planning a big event and had to “familiarize” themselves with the wines). After a brief introduction I retrieved my four bottles of remaining Foley Merlot, two unopened, two vacuum packed. We poured them into four glasses and tasted.

“These wines are not corked,” said Rami, through perfectly aligned purple-stained teeth. “Very, very tight for a California Merlot,” said Damian.

And by Jove, the bastards were right. What had happened in the course of the wine’s two day sleep-over in my refrigerator? Had they corrected themselves? I was despondent. Damian explained that wine is complex, alive, and as a small production can vary greatly in terms of bottling from barrel to barrel and bottle to bottle. The wine needed to decant, he said. Well, I had decanted it, I told him, a bit defensive.

“Where do you keep your glasses,” asked Damian.

LIGHT BULB. That was it. My glasses hung upside down in my kitchen, not far from my stove. All the days and weeks of cooking—a lot of cooking for New York—all those particle aromas, wedging themselves in the microscopic pours of my glassware, ultimately impacting the wine! The merlot showed brilliantly in Cabrini’s cared-for glassware, and as we talked more about the wine, the glasses, the cooking, I started to recall feeling similarly about a lot of wine I’ve had in recent weeks—all seemed a touch on the volatile side. Well…

Wine is indeed a living, breathing creature and reacts to its environment. So, good people, sterilize those glasses and for heaven’s sake, even if they look nice, don’t hang them upside down on a rack in your kitchen. Same goes for ordering wine at a bar—if you see them storing their glasses as such—order beer.

The silver lining: Damian graciously provided me with two new bottles, to replace the ones I had… unintentionally ruined. Like the last scene in Casablanca I thought to myself…”This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

April 2, 2009 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Bordeaux Classification of 1855

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While the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux helps consumers identify wines from the region that are essentially the best in Bordeaux, one thing is for certain: the classified growths of today are producing wines that are much different from those of 1855. The ranking is arguably not most accurate gauge of quality—this is not to say that the classified growths are not of superb quality, but rather, I suggest that because quality was indicative in 1855 of price, and wineries were classified according to the sales ledgers of négociants, the quality of todays classified growths should not be taken at face value. The only way to judge, is to taste.

For more information and to see the classified growths, visit: http://www.crus-classes.com/

April 2, 2009 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

There’s Some Claret in My Bordeaux, Monsieur

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The wine connoisseur takes great pleasure in quoting Basil Fawlty (John Cleese):

“I can certainly see you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and claret.”

This line has appeared and re-appeared in book upon book about wine, about wine.

There was a time when I myself was guilty of confusing the two. Further examination into the matter however settled the confusion: The French say “Bordeaux,” the English say “claret,” and I say let’s call the whole thing off. Turns out a bottle of Bordeaux and a bottle of claret taste strikingly similar. Then again, what is taste? Well, it is a matter of haste that we understand taste or what then shall we do with all these point systems? What use would we have for common descriptors, such as: “copius glycerin,” “succulent,” “ripe cherries,” and “gunflint.” What would we do with our “mid-palates”?

In “The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through The Wine World” Lawrence Osbourne asks,

“Do I really know what I’m drinking and why? For that matter, do I know that my own tastes are authentic?” (See page 139 for Basil Fawlty quote).

Osbourne at one point concludes that what he was searching for in his own taste may be nothing more than a voyage, “Out of childhood” and into the “unnatural tastes of perverted (but sublime) old age!” Sweet to dry, simple to complex, certain instead of ambiguous.

I admire this line of thinking, but consider this: children, when given the opportunity to put anything in their mouths tend to swirl and explore the texture, taste, sweetness, tartness, of any such object before ultimately swallowing, be it a penny, a bar of soap or a piece of gum. Therein one may conclude that we who swirl within the caves of our mouths the contents of our wine, looking for cherry, oak, and chocolate, are merely children (at heart) searching for that old familiar copper penny or fruity piece of juicy delicious gum.

A good wine, or a bad wine for that matter may therefore serve to jog memory, and like an old, familiar perfume, wine has the power to stir the nostalgia of forgotten moments, people, places and emotions. Therefore, we drink to forget and we drink to remember.

Every bottle of wine tells a story—some worth telling, some not. Let it be writ, here, that I begin my journey through the myriad books, wine-blogs, wine-publications, wine-propaganda and of course wine itself, bearing this in mind.

February 11, 2009 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Day I Met Dan Aykroyd and Tasted His Wine

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There he was. Dan Aykroyd and me. The place–Union Square Wines in NYC–was practically empty. My pal Morgan Z manned the camera while I approached Dan’s table. I mustered the nerve to speak: “So… how long have you been into wine?” (I meant to ask, “How long have you been into making wine?”) He produced a chortel and said, “Well, jeez, I’ve been drinking wine forever, but if you’re asking how long I’ve been into making wine, well, about four years. Who’s this to?”

“Jonathan,” I mumbled, already self-loathing.

“There you go,” and he proudly presented me the bottle. “Oh, and, let it sit out about 20 minutes before drinking it.”

“Sure thing,” I lied, straight through my teeth. As he was signing, I decided to never, ever, never open that bottle. I will auction it off on ebay in 20 years. Take that Aykroyd!

January 30, 2009 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Visiting Napa Valley After Serving 21-Courses in San Francisco

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In January of 2009 I traveled to Napa Valley with Michael Cirino, Andrew Rosenberg, and Brian of A Razor, A Shiny Knife.

Our first stop was in Yountville, to casually drop in on the French Laundry (ya know, just to say hi) and to meet the chefs and tour the kitchen. We were granted the audience because the night before we had re-created the Keller-Achatz 21-course meal (which was designed to celebrate the release of their respective cookbooks), for half the cost and twice as much fun at a borrowed apartment in the Mission District of San Francisco.

After the French laundry, “Fu#%ed our faces,” as Cirino was fond of saying, walked a short distance down the road to Maisonry, a square-stoned structure full of pricey antiques and one particular wine you can’t but anywhere else but for the vineyard itself—Blackbird. We were met by the Wine Director, Thys Tepp, whom I had met at Cavallo Point in Sausalito a month earlier. Thys tasted us through four flights.

We then lunched at La Coupole, he said, as if he thought suddenly he were Hemingway. [Pause]. Actually we lunched at Auberge du Soleil, photographed above—a stately meal, fit for kings, and after successfully serving 21 courses of food, we all felt a little like kings.

Back in St. Helena, we polished off the day with wine and cheese, soaking in the 65-degree weather. On the way back to San Francisco Airport, we made a pitt-stop: In & Out Burger—a first for most of us.

Seven hours later, back in New York, the scent of Napa and mustard flowers were etched into our wine-stained teeth and best pressed tweeds.

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