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February 26, 2010 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Berchtesgaden and the Caché at Eagle’s Nest

Berchtesgaden in the German Bavarian Alps

“Wine and War: The French, The Nazis & The Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure” by Don and Petie Kladstrup is a remarkable book that illuminates the untold stories surrounding the wine community in France during WWII under the Nazi occupation.

In short, the German government restricted the sale of French wine to anywhere in the world, save for Germany. The economic impact this had on winemakers was devastating. Hitler wanted for himself all of France’s wine treasures and even appointed weinführers to oversee all of Bordeaux’s production (as well as other wine producing regions) just to ensure that the Third Reich would be well stocked with the best wines France had to offer. Enter: Eagle’s Nest.

The book focuses on Berchtesgaden (berkh-tuh s-gahd-n), a town in the German Bavarian Alps where Hitler lived, and where members of the Third Reich vacationed. Absolutely picturesque in every way, its beauty is contrasted by the ugly German inhabitants with which it is associated. The Kehlsteinhaus (a.k.a. Eagle’s Nest), was a chalet-style building built by the Nazis in the mountains near Berchtesgaden as an official 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler. It was here, on May 4, 1945, that the French 5th Tactical Group along with the American 21st Army Corps discovered a caché of France’s greatest wine treasures. The French arrived on the scene first, and a twenty-three-year-old army sergeant from Champagne, was sent up the mountain to Eagle’s Nest some 6,017 feet above sea level. He was the first person to set eyes on the half million bottles of French wine, from the likes of Château Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, d’Yquem, Romanée-Conti, bottles of champagne including, Krug, Moët, Piper-Heidsieck, and Pommery, on and on.

During the war French Winemakers did what they could to keep as much of their prized wines hidden from the Nazis. They re-labeled plonk wines as the best wines, and poured their finest elixirs into plonk bottles. If ever there is confusion in counterfeit wines between the years of 1939 and 1945, it is a noble confusion, for much of what the Germans received was doctored “plonk.” These tactics did not always work, however, and many people lost their lives or were imprisoned for their efforts—the Germans certainly drank their fill of magnificent wines.

The other side of this story tells how the Resistance found shelter in the wine caves and cellars throughout France, and it was in these darkened places that the men, women, and children of France bravely stood up to the German occupation with determination and diligence even in the wake of utter collapse and ruin. If you have in your cellar any French wines from this era – especially 1945 – be sure to drink that wine with the advice in mind from Jean Hugel, a winemaker who resisted the occupation with all his might, who said, “These wines should only be tasted under the following circumstances: on their own, outside the context of a meal, with your best wine-loving friends, in a respectful atmosphere and without the slightest reference to their price. In such a way, you will do homage to the skill and honesty of the winegrower, and equally to Nature, without whom the production of such jewels would be impossible.”

“Wine and War” is available at all major book outlets and online.

“Wine & War” by Don & Petie Kladstrup

February 25, 2010 2 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot (event): Fine Wine and a Home Cooked Meal with Cathy Erway

In a room full of winos, Jonny Cigar and nobleman Paul Fawell emerge victorius (Photo By: Laura Huben)

It may be February 25th today, but let me tell you: we had an event last week, on February 16th, and it shocked the wine-world. The reverberations of our event will be felt for the next century, lingering like a wine with an infinite finish, in clandestine circles where handsomely dressed men whisper ideas of wine to beautiful, elegant women, in high heels sipping Sancerre.

Author of the recently published “The Art of Eating In,” Cathy Erway, joined us for an event we dubbed, “Fine Wine and A Home Cooked Meal.” (I really wanted to call it “The Day Your Dachshund Spoke To Me in French,” but this might have caused confusion). Erway’s book is based on her blog “Not Eating Out In New York,” and is an absolute delight, and must-read.

Cathy prepared an array of tasty bites while Damian from Cabrini, along with Ted Wilson, of Noble House Wines, helped us rock a killer set of wines:

  • Noble Rot “Cocktail” Hour served up NV Cavas Hill Oro Brut Reserva ($10)
  • Hearts of palm crostini paired with Florian Mollet 2008 Sancerre*, ($18)
  • French feta, arugula and pomegranate pitzas paired with Rosenere 2008 “Drei Dona” Blanc di Rosenere ($14)
  • Honey soy-braised pork belly and shiitake cabbage rolls paired with Tarrawarra Estate 2004 Pinot Noir ($55)
  • Chocolate-dipped fig pops with ginger paired with Noceto Michelotti 2008 Moscato d’Asti ($19)

Some background on why we chose the pairings: The Cava was bone-dry, like my humor. The hearts of palm are close in taste to asparagus and you need a wine that can match those vegetal notes–Sancere, with its green grassy notes does the trick. The Rosenere was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (which supplied more grassy notes, helping combat the arugula), Chardonnay (some oak to match the cheese) and some Malvasia for shits and giggles. Then there was the pork belly and with that we went with the Australian Pinot Noir, which had the acidic backbone to cut through the pork fat but the fruitiness and snootiness of cherry, plum, and truffle to pair well with the soy, honey, and shiitake. Hot damn! The Moscato, was simply magnificent and the right way to end this pairing extravaganza.

Hey, switching gears: just before writing this blog post, I returned from Sherry-Lehman with three bottles of Grgich Hills 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, from Napa Valley and three French wines—can’t wait to uncork ’em.

Also, I was recently privy to this article in the SF Gate: I would urge you to read it, good reader, and be sure to let Ron know to read this blog. Also, tell him his friends are…and put this lightly…out of touch (then add): with Jonny’s blog. Then say: but seriously, they don’t get blogging. Then add: the way Jonny blogs. Give it five minutes and shout: I’m sick of all these individuals who think they can write about wine! Idiots! Morons! Fools! Then add: except for Jonny, because he’s a smart as a five-dollar jig.

Below, please enjoy photos from event. A special thanks to Nick Gray and to Elizabeth Stark for hosting our noble affair at their fantastically spacious apartment in Brooklyn. And if you don’t know Cathy Erway, get to know her buy seeking out “The Art of Eating In.”

Cathy Erway and a room full of Noble Rotters (Photo By: Laura Huben)

Cathy Erway reading from her book “Not Eating Out In New York” with Jonny Cigar looking on with approval (Photo By: Laura Huben)

Stardweller played a stary couple sets (Photo By: Laura Huben)

Noble House Wines (No pun intended) distributor, Ted Wilson (SVP), sampled the pork belly as Damian from Cabrini watched in shock and awe (Photo By: Laura Huben)

Brian Quinn featured in an ad for his upcoming film “Wine Country, Not God’s Country.” (Photo By: Laura Huben)

Pomegranate and Feta and Arugula Wow Wow – Thank you Cathy Erway! (Photo By: Laura Huben)

February 1, 2010 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot (event): Covenant Winemaker, Jeff Morgan

Update: Jeff Morgan, who is featured below was the subject of a recent New York Times article by Jordan Mackay. Click here to read the article.

Covenant Cab, Red C, Covenant Lavan Chardonnay

The mere sight of a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon sends me to a happy place: an imaginary study, me seated in a plush, high-backed leather chair fit for a Senator, surrounded by dark mahogany wood and first edition books from all the greats—only one window, looking out onto a vineyard, a glass of Cab in one hand, a copy of Fitzgerald’s first edition Gatsby in the other. On the subject of magnificent and elegant California Cabernet, The Noble Rot recently hosted winemaker Jeff Morgan, whose Covenant Wines label we had the privilege of tasting, and sharing with around 50 friends, some old, some new at New York Vintners.

Morgan’s three wines we tasted were:

  • Covenant 2007 Cabernet (100% Cab Sauvignon)
  • 2007 Red C (100% Cab Sauvignon)
  • Covenant Lavan 2008 Chardonnay (100% Chardonnay)

Winemaker Jeff Morgan (Covenant Wines) – photo credit: Laura Huben

Back in August of 2009, I met Jeff at the Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley, by the pool. I was carrying a book called Noble Rot by William Echikson, and Jeff called out: “How could the author have allowed the publisher to print a picture of a glass of red wine on a book mostly about France’s most celebrated Sauternes?” Needless to say, he was right. And, we got to talking.

Morgan who was carrying two samples of his wine, destined for the palate of David Green, a friend and consultant, delivered them to Mr. Green who was taking in the hot tub at Meadowood (apparently a good place to do business if you’re in the wine industry). Green tasted and the two talked and offered me a taste as well. And what I recall thinking was: if I made a wine this delicious, I’d carry samples around too, destined for myself whenever I wanted it.

I told Jeff about The Noble Rot’s recent Chardonnay event only to discover that David Ramey, who’s Chardonnay we poured and loved, was a good friend of Jeff’s, and Ramey had, in fact, taught Morgan a great deal about winemaking.

Old and New Noble Rotters listen to Jeff Morgan talk wine!

So, I was absolutely thrilled to host Jeff at New York Vintners and we had a terrific crowd. We served up a spread of cheeses, antipasti, bread, cured meats, baba ganoush, and some tasty braised beef prepared by A Razor, A Shiny Knife. Jeff led our guests through a lecture/dialogue dubbed, “Taste Like a Pro.”

The Covenant 2008 Lavan Chardonnay was poured first, as we discussed smelling and tasting wine. Jeff recalled an experience with an experienced Frenchman who, without swirling his wine, plunged his nose – nose first – way into the glass. Surprised, Jeff wondered what good that would do, and the Frenchman explained that the nose is a powerful, capable device and he wanted to see what it detected first without any aeration of the wine. You see, good reader, swirling increases the surface area of the wine making the nose-to-wine ratio that much smaller thus creating more opportunities for your sensory receptors to pick-up on something you hadn’t, perhaps, before. Our sense of smell, Jeff explained, is really an extension of what we taste. So we tasted, and delighted in Morgan’s Burgundian style Chardonnay, balanced between oak and citrus character as well as some tropical fruit notes.

The Red C, Robert M. Parker Jr. points out, is a play on words given that Covenant happens to be a kosher wine (Red C, get it? Look again: Red Sea. Got it?) and according to Parker, the “best on planet Earth.”  Red C is a plush, velvety wine showing dark berries notes and well-integrated oak flavor, a seamless wine, through and through.

Lastly, we sampled the Covenant 2007 Cabernet. The wine is Bordeaux-in-style, and before he could finish explaining what that meant, I was getting rowdy, given my constant desire for attention. I said that the wine tasted to me like all French wine, which I explained, taste like beef chili. “That’s interesting,” said Jeff, playing along. “What other kind of chili is there?” he asked. “Vegetarian Chili,” I shouted, then accused many people in the room of being vegetarians–all in good humor. The Covenant Cab was gorgeous–more refined blackberry character, earth tones and complexity–a wine certainly meant for aging.

Beyond winemaking, Jeff regaled the audience with stories of his many careers: He played the saxophone and was the band-leader for a time at the famed Monte Carlo, then was the West-Coast editor of Wine Spectator and now winemaker and author of several fabulous cookbooks (like The Working Parents Cookbook and The Plumpjack Cookbook).

We are grateful to Jeff and his partner Leslie Rudd, who we hope will join us as well for a future event. This event was really the epitome of what The Noble Rot aims to do:: equip amateur enthusiasts with weapons of mass destruction! No, no, no…wait. That should read: enable our guests to learn how to taste and how to judge a wine by their own standards while having a damn good time doing it. Live music for the evening was provided by Ray Charles. No joke. You’ll just have to ask someone who was there for those details. Please enjoy these tasty photos below and we hope to see you at a Noble Rot event soon.

Definitely visit Jeff’s website: www.covenantwines.com

Brian Quinn and Laura Huben – photo credit: Laura Huben

Spread provided by New York Vintners – photo credit: Laura Huben

Jonny Cigar pours his heart out – photo credit: Brian Quinn

Noble Rotters from left to right: Jonathan, Catherine, Angelina and Brooke – photo credit: Laura Huben

The Noble Rot would like to thank The Daily Candy for listing us in their “What-to-do-This-Weekend” edition! And we also received a little write up on NY Barfly. We are nobly humbled.

January 25, 2010 2 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Union Square Wines and Their Wine-Tasting Extravaganzas

Jonny with Dan Aykroyd at USQ

This is an old image from 2009 of Mr. Dan Aykroyd and myself, at one of the many wine tastings held weekly at Union Square Wines (USQ) in Union Square, NYC.

At another USQ wine event, Kermit Lynch was on-site with a wide selection of his favorite wines. Lynch himself was full of witty charm and conversation. The man has done for wine what Billy Graham has done for Christianity. His book, “Adventures on the Wine Route” presents a marvelous, insightful journey into the cellars of winemakers across France’s wine regions—a must read for anyone even remotely interested in wine.

At a recent “mega-tasting,” the following wines were offered: Scholium Project, Domaine Ostertag, Robert Foley, and Shelter, as well warming reds from Hestan, Orin Swift, Charles Cimicky, Anthill Farms, Catena, and Di Majo Norante, as well as a few more.

The benefit of attending such an event is simple: try before you buy—and the tastings have been free. I recommend joining the USQ mailing list, and I hope to see you there! More info: www.unionsquarewines.com

January 15, 2010 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Why Wine and Complain?

In fact, faithful wino, opportunity knocked—or rather, it Googled.

No, there is no wine to speak of in this post, however I felt it necessary to add a post titled, “Why Wine and Complain?” for the simple fact that I’ve wanted to for some time. A quick Google search yields thrilling revelations: no one else in the entire Googlesphere has typed these words, in this order, intentionally. If you plug, with quotation marks, exactly as so into Google’s search bar: “Why Wine and Complain,” only one entry appears. See here. The good chap who wrote this blog entry was upset with his family and was nowhere near a bottle or glass of wine. He was looking for a different kind of wine. One that looks like this: whine.

Ya know, it’s funny. A lot of people want to spell my name with an “h” and I try to stop them whenever possible: the laundry mat, the bank, Western Union, the old pool hall, the OTB, the firehouse. Finally, I said to myself, “Johnny, why whine and complain?” And then I said to myself, “Jonny, wy wine and complain?” See wat I mean?

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