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June 13, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot: East Met West (St. Francis & Millbrook Winery)

Left to Right: Nissa Pierson (Ger-Nis), Katie Madigan (St. Francis), Chef David Santos (Um Segredo), Jonathan Cristaldi (aka Jonny Cigar of The Noble Rot) and Paul Gatti (Millbrook Vineyards & Winery).

On a recent Wednesday in June, The Noble Rot hosted an evening featuring two wineries separated by 3,000 miles of U.S. Terroir. A six-course meal set the stage for a pairing of three east-coast wines with east-coast inspired cuisine alternating with three west-coast wines paired with west-coast inspired food. The Ger-Nis Culinary & Herb Center, run by Nissa Pierson is a true gem in the Park Slope (4th Ave and Union Street) area. The space is a beautiful professional kitchen, outfitted for shoots or dinner parties for up to 40. Nissa hosts classes and the center is meant to evoke conversation, revelry and discovery – all the ingredients important to a successful Noble Rot affair.

Photos of the evening, courtesy of Guest of a Guest can be viewed here.

The winemakers in house were Katie Madigan of St. Francis Winery (Sonoma, California) and Paul Gatti the assistant winemaker at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery (Hudson Valley, New York State). Hit em up on TwitterLand: @millbrookwinery @stfranciswinery

Katie’s path to winemaking came from her love of science and a desire to apply her skills toward a hands-on profession, and nothing is more hands-on than winemaking! She started her wine industry career at St. Francis and has since worked her way up to winemaker. She’s particular to Burgundian style wines, and so under her direction St. Francis’s Chardonnays and being re-routed away from the typical California chardonnay we all know and love/hate. Katie’s Chardonnays are cleaner, less oaked and present a more fruit-forward style of wine. You will be surprised. I also want to say that it’s only a matter of time before we no longer can refer to Chardonnay that’s undergone malo and been given the full oak treatment as “typical” to California. Nearly every time I sit down to write about Chardonnay from California my sentences begin something like, “Straying from the typical California Chardonnay style of oak and butter…”

Then there is Gatti: Paul Gatti. No relation to the crime family, (note the spelling difference) though I pried him for information. Paul hails from Westchester where his father was making wine in the family garage – a true garagiste! Paul’s early child-hood experiences around his dad’s renegade production inspired him to pursue a professional full time career in making wine. He landed at Millbrook under the direction of John Graziano, who has been making wine at Millbrook for 27 years and is arguably the most knowledgeable person about Hudson Valley terroir and growing seasons – only second in authority to John S. Dyson, the proprietor of Millbrook.

It was a pleasure to host both Katie and Paul – both passionate professionals who have different styles and approaches to the process. Paul’s interest in the technical, factual aspects of the wine were evident as he talked about bric levels and temperature swings in harvesting whereas Katie’s science and passion blended into conversations about style and her efforts to enforce night picking (because the flavors are more concentrated in the cooler, harder evening-set grapes).

The menu was prepared by the rising alternative dining star, Chef David Santos (Um Segredo Supper Club), a former Per Se and Bouley alum. The 35 guests who attended were inspired by the marriage of wine and food and made sure to say so, loudly and with mouths full of east+west-inspired brilliance. The menu and pairings looked like this:

May 21, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Wines of Brooklyn Winery Winemaker Conor McCormack

This is all you need to know about the winemaker at Williamsburg’s very own Brooklyn Winery:

“Making wine wasn’t on my radar until I saw a craigslist posting for a harvest intern in 2003 while hunting for a job post-college. It was serendipitous, but once I got into it, there was no stopping.”

Left to right: John Stires, Conor McCormack, Brian Leventhal

That quote comes from Conor McCormack’s bio on the Brooklyn Winery website. It’s nearly a verbatim-repeat-quote of what he told a group of about 40 of us this past Thursday, the 17th of May, 2012, just before we got into a four course wine and food pairing of Conor’s latest bottlings.

Prior to making his home here in the east, his wine-country experience is fruitful and spans stints from Napa to Washington State and looks like this: Crushpad SF, Rutherford Hill Winery, Brehm Vineyards, Audubon Cellars, and White Salmon Vineyards. Pretty fabulous places.

Conor’s serendipitous rendezvous with the art of making wine, now into it’s ninth year  and laden with cellar stellar experiences establishing his “vine-street-cred” should impress you – but honestly, stop reading this blasted blog and go to Brooklyn Winery and have a few glasses of his wine. Treat yourself to a marvelous sensory experience. And since you asked my opinion so kindly I’ll give it: try the Pinot NoirAhem. The Carneros Pinot Noir. Think about this: the fruit was picked in Carneros and shipped east, fermented and aged at Brooklyn Winery. When you nose this wine, it is so distinctly Carneros that it should take everything within to remember that after enjoying a glass you are in Brooklyn and have to get on the subway to go home, not in a car to drive north to Napa or south to San Francisco. The simple fact that Conor has been able to maintain the integrity a Pinot that is so distinctly of another place from fruit shipped across the country, fermented in Brooklyn and aged in used barrels, is a testament to his winemaking skill, cleanliness and philosophy.

The Brooklyn Winery has become a hub for amateur and serious wine enthusiasts excited to be near barrels and tanks and to taste wine made on-site. It’s also become a go-to for events – lots of events – especially weddings. Lots of weddings. And lots of weddings means lots of brides. Brides asking, pleading, demanding and suggesting that the space, the physical space (where tanks and barrels and winemaking equipment resides) be arranged and rearranged to fit the perfect vision of their impending marriage. And with weddings comes the wedding train and all its glory and pomp and circumstance a.k.a. a nightmare for a winemaker. I’m not suggesting that BK Winery entertains foolish requests, or that they rearrange the crucial areas where wine is racked and fermented, but when a winery is beholden to events, it is often the winemaker who must make sacrifices – sacrifices in quality control. Whatever Conor’s urban winery fate, he has managed to maintain the quality he knows his wines deserve and as a result is producing wines worthy of some serious attention.

The evening’s food pairings by Executive Chef David Colston looked like this:

Scallop Ceviche with Cantaloupe, Chorizo, Basil and Lemon Verbena. Paired with:

BKW Riesling (two glasses: one aged in stainless steel and one in neutral oak! Yes, neutral oak!)

Spicy Seafood Risotto with Monk Fish, Lobster, Squid and Heirloom Tomatoes. Paired with:

BKW Chardonnay aged in Stainless Steel.

Long Island Duck Breast with Mini Yorkshire Puddings and SPring Vegetables. Paired with:

Paired with BKW Pinot Noir - MY FAV and the one bottle I didn't grab a shot of. That's a glass of it. Aged in 20% French and 80% Neutral Oak.

Cheesecake with New Jersey Strawberries and Rhubarb. Paired with:

BKW Rose of Zinfandel, aged in Stainless Steel.

The good and loyal readers here at Winetology know that I don’t like to give descriptors of wine. (It’s not because I don’t have a certification and am incapable of using good wine descriptors, okay?) I find it to be a foolish thing, since no two noses or palates are the same. And you don’t need me to tell you what kind of Jolly Rancher I get out of the rose either (watermellon). Decide for yourself and imagine that these photos are scratch and sniff (just don’t send me a bill when you ruin your iPad). Or better yet, head to Brooklyn Winery and say to the winetender, “Winetender! Jonny says I want a glass of Conor McCormack’s Pinot Noir!” And when he gives you the Chardonnay, don’t make that face and tell him you don’t drink Chardonnay. Drink it, be surprised, and then order the Pinot.   By then, I’ll be sitting next to you draining my cup dry.

"A Wine & Food Pairing" at the Brooklyn Winery in Williamsburg.


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:

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.