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June 30, 2014 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Tasting Notes REDUX 6.30.14

While researching Hilliard Bruce for my “Punch-Down” column for the August issue of The SOMM Journal, in which I interview John and Christine, the owners and winemakers, I was struck with an idea after reading Josh Raynolds tasting notes on their wines. Raynolds, writing for Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, gives such divine tasting notes I found myself imagining them as descriptions of characters in a noir film or stage production.

I’ve re-posted one tasting note before and then quite after my “theatrical” treatment.

2011 Hilliard Bruce Vineyards Pinot Noir Sun Sta. Rita Hills
Vivid red. Assertive aromas of raspberry, cherry-cola and candied flowers, with Asian spice and woodsmoke accents building with air. Juicy and precise on the palate, offering alluringly sweet, concentrated red fruit liqueur flavors and a hint of musky rhubarb. Shows very impressive verve and clarity on a long finish sparked by a zesty blood orange note. 93

Daisy Buchannan, a girl in her late 20s
A vivid red-head. She’s assertive and smells likes sweet aromas of raspberry perfume. Daisy drinks cherry-cola and snacks on candied flowers. She likes a little Asian spice in her sticky rice. Her apartment wafts of woodsmoke, and elegant accents mark the building’s facade, and the halls are perfumed with strawberry air forever. “Juicy” is the name of her dog, a pug, and he plants precise licks on her cheeks. Never one to turn down a salty Auntie Anne’s Pretzel, she’ll savor one on the palate, until the dough disintegrates, offering alluringly sweet, concentrated pretzel flavors, like how you might imagine a red fruit liqueur to taste if the flavors were to melt into the ice of your drink, muddled by tears and a hint of musky rhubarb–the way Tom smells after a horse-ride through fields of…rhubarb. Daisy shows well at parties and offers a very impressive verve and clarity of wit, while she rides on the coattails of a long song and will only agree to finish if her drink is sparked by a zesty blood orange soprano note. In 93 years, she’ll be dead and gone.

December 11, 2013 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Rise of the Bi-Coastal Boutique Vigneron

This article first appeared on The Bloggery at, December 11, 2013.

Michelle Reeves of David Family Wines is her own brand ambassador. Photo courtesy of David Family Wines.

Michelle Reeves of David Family Wines is her own brand ambassador. Photo courtesy of David Family Wines.

The bi-coastal vigneron: a phenomenon far from new, yet the trend of producing a boutique wine from afar is on the rise. Urban Wineries like City Winery and Brooklyn Winery have sourced fruit from vineyards in California and trucked it east to vinify it on their home turf. But for the one-family or even one-person vintner, the costs of such an endeavor (let alone where to make the wine) are completely cost-prohibitive. One solution is to join a co-op or custom crush operation situated nearby to where vines are grown (like in California), and it is within these constructs that part-time vintners are flourishing and not all are ex-bankers as you might suspect. Many are fanatics with a small savings, bitten by fruit flies, looking to make a micro-mark.

Michelle Reeves of David Family Wines arrived in New York in 2001 “ready to take on the corporate world,” she says. “Managing sponsorship deals for global sports brands like New York Yankees, PGA, and the Olympic Games, I spent 8 years traveling the world. When I moved to San Francisco in 2003 I was distracted by the California wine industry.” That distraction led to Reeves working weekends for free in a wine store “to learn more about wine.” By 2006 she was ready to give it a go. “I started DFW on my own with nothing but a ton of gumption and my savings.”

Today DFW production totals 500-600 cases per year, and the wines are sold primarily through a mailing list, though some have made it on coveted wine lists—places like Eleven Madison Park and Le Cirque. She’s also started a new side project: I Know The Winemaker, which sources uber-boutique bottles and makes a few available to those on the mailing list.

Pax Mahle (left) and Loren Grossman (right) sample the “dirty” Wilde Farm Chalone Chardonnay. Photo courtesy of Wilde Farm Wines.

Pax Mahle (left) and Loren Grossman (right) sample the “dirty” Wilde Farm Chalone Chardonnay. Photo courtesy of Wilde Farm Wines.

Then there’s Loren Grossman. His label, Wilde Farm, came about as a result of Grossman visiting vintners in the Bay Area when out on business. “I was reminded of Central Italy,” where he grew up. “I visited vintners I knew were making wines with higher acid, lower alcohol and more honest expressions of the land in which the grapes grow.” On one such excursion he met Pax Mahle of Wind Gap, a chap dedicated to a terroir-driven style of winemaking. “I really loved Pax’s wines and felt that we shared the same philosophy around wine and winemaking.” Mahle encouraged Grossman to “really think about making a wine.” The seed was planted and before long he had a deal with Mahle to produce Wilde Farm wines.

Reeves and Grossman are part of a micro-trend of vintners-turned-brand-ambassadors, who are forced to undercut the three-tier system (Producers » Distributors » Consumers) because the distributor isn’t pulling their weight. “It’s not enough to let your distributor and sales reps manage [your brand] for you,” says Reeves, “New York is a loud market and the voice for a wine brand has to be loud and it has to be genuine.”

With a myriad brands knocking down the doors at top restaurants, begging Sommeliers and Bar Managers for a coveted spot on the wine list, it’s more important than ever for a brand-ambassador to show face, show passion and convey the wine’s story to prospective buyers. Of course, getting the sale is critical, but somms and wine buyers can sniff out the numbers-driven vintners from the passion-projects and it’s impacting lists.

As more enthusiasts funnel their savings into boutique wines and the playing field levels out with more quality small-production offerings, the trend is apparent: wine lists with wines you’ve never heard of, being offered on a rotating basis year-round. It sounds the trumpets of a great day in wine consumption and we would do well to encourage the Reeves and Grossmans of the world because their tenacity provides consumers with new options, rather than the old guard of powerful brands being pushed by distributors. There’s greater potential for discovery of wines that might inspire the next micro-vintner waiting in line to dig in his heels, grin and bare a flashy wine-stained smile.




David Family Wines 2007 Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, $110
Deep ruby in color, a medium bodied smooth wine redolent of dried strawberries, red cherries, cinnamon, mocha, cedar, dried violets and dirt that’s been rained on after a hot summer day in the Catskills or if you prefer, the Central Coast.







David Family Wines 2011 Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, $70

Though four years younger, similar in ruby intensity, medium palate offering younger Pinot notes of bright berry, vanilla, oak, a bit more silky leading to a spicier finish than the ’07.






Wilde Farm Chardonnay


Wilde Farm 2012 Donnely Creek Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42

Delicate aromas of bright cherry, forest floor, vanilla, roses and lilacs opening up to a medium bodied wine, gentle on the palate giving way to sour red cherry, strawberries, graphite and earthy overtones. This wine brings me back to the farm I never grew up on.





Wilde Farm Heritage

Wilde Farm 2012 Brosseau Vineyard, Chalone, $36

Unfined and filtered the wine is slightly cloudy in appearance (mark of the non-winemaker) and evokes creamy leesy notes, like Sherbet on a stick, along with tropical character; a weighty roundness envelops the mouth and under-ripe mango coupled with cream builds to a stark mineral finish. This wine is a superb accompaniment to high acid foods like Eggplant Parmesan and salads with acidic vinaigrettes.





Wilde Farm Pinot-Noir


Wilde Farm 2012 Bedrock Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, $36

This old-world style wine wafts of blackberry preserves, pepper and subtle vanilla spice unfolding into a light, zippy wine of strawberry jam on the palate, dried violets and underbrush. I’m reminded of Italy even though my family comes from Sicily.

November 26, 2013 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Wines of the Waldorf-Astoria: 1950

When darkness settles over the bustling New York metropolis, a mustachioed scoundrel; ginger in appearance; personality of Jekyll and Hyde; gangster of Williamsburg; believer in the spirit—infused spirits, shaken, stirred and smoking spirits—bartender by vocation; journalist by education; novelist at heart; patriot of Long Island—that place where future Presidents are reared along the beaches and between grape vines—a prowler striding over the incandescent brick streets of dangerous Brooklyn neighborhoods; mixologist and resident bar impresario of The Whisk and Ladle Supper Club; late night companion and therapist at Booker & Dax who answers to the name Nicholas Bennett when called upon.

That man wrote me a letter; an old wine list from The Waldorf-Astoria accompanied the garrulous chicken scratch. To say that I was pleased by Bennett’s selflessness and willingness to give up a coveted prize in honor of his friends assured excitement speaks volumes of the man’s integrity and I fully endorse him as City Controller, should he ever run for such a position. Let this open letter to Mr. Bennett serve as a public thank you. Now to the menu itself:

I tore through the plastic wrapping that concealed this little gem and poured over its contents with the same excited astonishment of a young boy at Christmas who receives more than he had requested in his letter to Santa. My enthusiasm was pulled slightly into check by the realization that I was cooing over the “American Wines” section where the red and white wines were listed by varietal in a truly French-style: “Burgundy, Christian Brothers, $3.00; Chablis, Colcombet, $3.00” etc. While the sadness of my excitement seems sad only juxtaposed to my once-in-a-lifetime, boyhood innocence and jubilations at the sight of a new Mario Brothers video game or Lego set, the whole thing provides a sobering shap-shot of yesteryear and America’s near-disdain of it’s own fermented grape juice. Here it is, glorious to the eye:

Waldorf Wines_1 Waldorf Wines_2 Waldorf Wines_3 Waldorf Wines_4 Waldorf Wines_5 Waldorf Wines_6

Read on, dear friend! For this menu and its employment and relegation of American wines to French wines (a practicality given the year of 1950 when the idea of American wine was sure-fire joke) I am reminded of a remark by David Bova, the GM of Millbrook Winery situated in the Hudson River Region of Upstate New York, who said (and I paraphrase): Don’t ever compare upstate New York to California’s wine growing region with any kind of Napa-like hyperbole in some blatant marketing effort to entice consumers to our region. We’re unique, we make our own wines and we are proud of it.

Wine regions in the U.S. are seeing remarkable improvements in vineyard management, production, aging, pest control and the attainment of organic and biodynamic certifications, all resulting in better and better U.S. wines. Those employed by the industry are aware of the greatness of American wines, yet the general consumer of wine is lacking in this enthusiasm; and it is the mere result of a lack in education. The consumer is at fault. Thanks to Google the ability to peruse a myriad wine blogs and reviews or to read about wine regions on Wikipedia is easier than making excuses and feigning ignorance. Yet, the American consumer is intent to relish in his laziness, it seems evidenced by the continued marketing speak aimed at the novice consumer, employing that very hyperbole which Bova warned was useless and demeaning to wine regions that are not Napa, but which compare themselves to the region merely because of Napa’s celebrity status—it is the Hollywood household name of wine regions. If I say, “Name a famous actor,” you might say “Vince Vaughn” or “Julia Roberts” and if I say “Name a wine region” you say will undoubtedly reply, “Napa,” even though the Central Coast of California produces most of the wine from the state.

I found this awful cached PDF of a recent wine list from the modern-day Waldorf’s Bull & Bear steakhouse. While progress in the form of genuinely thoughtful wine lists that bare a cache of boutique producers may be infiltrating the hip restaurants of New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Burlington, VT—thanks to younger (generally) and enthusiastic, eager-seeking sommeliers and managers—there’s much ado about nothing still at the old five and dime that is the Waldorf-Astoria. On page 7 of this wine list there is an abominable, deplorable, despicable explanation of the terms “Old World” and “New World” with reference to the world of wine.


“New World wines are showy and expressive. They are fruit forward and full of ripe flavors. At times, they are more difficult to pair with food because they are so robust and strong in flavors (and even higher in alcohol on occasion.) They tend to please the American palate because they have greater fruitiness than the Old World counterparts.”

And now, here is a brief, open letter to the person responsible for this gaffe:

Dear Sir or Madam:

While your claims hold some truth in saying that New World wines are “showy” “fruit forward” and “tend to please the American palate,” your decree that Old World wines are better food companions than New World wines is outdated. Again, while there are half truths to both statements, you are doing a disservice to all Americans by employing downgraded marketing speak aimed at providing the novice with fodder for when the sommelier approaches: “We’d like a food friendly Old World wine, rather than one of those fruity New World sacks of juicy-juice …blah!”

Revolution is nigh and one day when I am dead and gone the New World will be a safe place for those who enjoy the finer wines in life. Temperatures are rising and New World wine-growing regions are rising in status and demand along with with these spikes in heat, cool, rain and drought.

Remember when a bottle of 1945 Chassagne-Montrachet was $4.25 a bottle at the Waldorf-Astoria? Well, a good Chassagne-Montrachet today fetches ten- and twenty-times that rate. Look however to the Central Coast of California or the cool climate regions of New York State and Oregon and you will find gems at prices manageable, agreeable even enjoyable.

Mr. Bennett, may I suggest that you seat yourself upon one of the many bars within the Waldorf-Astoria, there in your bustling city, and drink ‘em dry before declaring war on everything they stand for? But declare this war when sitting down, for future Presidents must maintain their composure.

September 14, 2013 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Future of the 100-Point Wine System

100 points


The 100-point scale has dominated the critical discussion of wine since it was first popularized by Robert M. Parker Jr.’s Wine Advocate in the 1970s. Previously, UC-Davis, the premier school in the United States for wine education and research, had previously introduced a 20-point scale, which was also used in Britain. But Parker saw that a system… [read more on]

November 19, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Thanksgiving Scenarios and Wines That Will Make You Shine

This, from First We Feast:

For Turkey Day wine suggestions that get to the heart of the matter, we called up our favorite wine pro, Jonathan Cristaldi, and asked him to make a pick for each of the potential scenarios one might encounter over the holiday. From his slightly insane mind—and always on-point palate—straight to you, here are the wines that will have family, in-laws, friends, and strangers crowning you king next Thursday.

And you are invited to read my scandalous scenario-recommends… read here.

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