summer 2007

The rest of summer – I neglected to mention many, many tastings, but I can’t keep up. I just drink them and everyone thinks it’s a fabulous life, drinking all these great wines. But more and more, I feel like skipping the wine if I can’t sit quietly and enjoy it. Or if I can’t muse about it with friends.

There’s an all too constant creature in wine circles that opens famed wines, takes one sip and then proclaims it the greatest wine. And instead of talking about the wine, or the place or the person who made it or grew it, the conversation inevitably hinges on if you’ve had one that was either older and rarer, or more expensive. I’m bored.

Perhaps that’s the unkindest segue for an absurdly ambitious tasting that I enjoyed, courtesy of Mark and Lynne O’Connell. I’ll say from the outset that some of the loutish behavior I’ve complained about above was in display.

But the best part was just enjoying some rare wines with a bunch of people who like to taste rare (and hopefully great) wines. For some, these wines were reason enough to consider how Burgundy has changed since World War Two, and how many fraudulent bottles there are, and how some of those frauds might still be decent drinks.

The purpose of the tasting was to celebrate one of Mark and Lynne’s friend’s birthday. 1947 was the year. Pretty auspicious year to choose for your birthday. Dave Dunlap should thank his parents profusely. I was along to open and decant wines, but as a former server, I’d rather work than sit at the table with the grownups anyway.

Three Champagnes: 1947 Pommery, 1947 Louis Roederer and 1947 Dom Perignon. The Pommery had a remarkably fresh mouth, sweet green apple and lime juice with roasted almonds and some cherry notes a half hour later.

The Roederer was acting its age; both the nose and the mouth were tired though there was some nutty, aldehydic length. The Dom started with fresh cut flowers, oranges and butterscotch. We had cured, seared and smoked salmon and the Dom lost its edge with the food. But by itself, it was soft and creamy.

Then we launched into the Burgundies. A Seguin Manuel Charmes Chambertin 1947 that had been re-corked in the 80’s. Floral notes, roses, honey, rocks, red currants and 2 hours later, it still showed rocks and roses. Fascinating. Some in the group thought it tasted more like Grenache and Syrah than Pinot Noir. I don’t agree, though I’m not completely certain what we were drinking.

The next 1947 was Chandesais a Fontaines Clos Saint Denis – this had rich, youthful red fruits and a delicate end of earth and blueberry. Blinded, I would have called it a 1982, as soft delicate as it was. It seemed acid-adjusted and most thought it had a Rhone or southern French wine adjustment as well. I think it simply must have been refreshed.

Clos des Lambrays 1947 was showing its age, red currants and raspberries were quickly overwhelmed by dirt and earth. It had a very sweet end. “Over-chaptalized”, said one (and I can see why); “real terroir” said another, and that seems optimistic at best.

1947 Nuits St Georges les Porets St Georges from Faiveley (or was it Paul Ponel?) had plum and roast nuts, honey, earth, black walnuts, red currants and roses and a peppery finish.

DRC Grands Echezeaux 1947 was slightly overripe and gamey, showing caramel, nuts and was both delicate and drying out. The mouth finished with truffles and oranges, but it’s a short distance from truffles to, umm, ass.

1947 La Romanee was very earthy and yeasty (!), with vanilla, cherry, lots of velvety texture and some tannic chunkiness too. Long cherry – orange – pepper in the almost delicate and decidedly long finish. Hmm. And I thought La Romanee was supposed to be the stepchild among the Grands Crus.

There was a general grumbling in the room that the Burgundies hadn’t shown all we had hoped and that some adulteration had been in effect as well.

Mark determinedly set off for the cellar and gave me a 1947 Beaune Greves from Mathouillet to open. It’s good to have some extra 1947’s around, you know, in case your friends drop by and ask. The nose was exciting (though not everyone shared my excitement): crushed red fruits, delicacy, spiced nuts. This was soft, delicate, liqueur-like in a way that only old wine can be. I found this to be genuine and lovely. Forty-five minutes later, it still showed cooked currants and red cherries.

Then we saw some Nebbioli. Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Riserva 1947 Monfortino had some heat and cooked strawberries, green tobacco, strawberry soda and cotton candy (sweet vanilla). The mouth was dry and clean with raisins, strawberries and earth (though cheese notes kept popping through) with old tea leaves at the finish.

Marchesi di Barolo 1947 Barolo Riserva della Castellana showed heat and caramel with cooked black cherry and plenty of overripe notes. The mouth is dusty and nutty with some dried strawberries, dirt clods and fresh asphalt. A walnut and orange note finished it later.

A few Sauternes (I would miss the Yquem, which was slated for the next day, along with a sinful group of Bordeaux), including 1947 Rayne Vigneau, Suduiraut and Coutet: the Rayne Vigneau showed intense botrytis in its crème brulee nose with cherry, orange, raisins and marzipan. The nose was wild and full of raisins; perhaps it was a bit short and warm but it had definitely retained freshness.

The Suduiraut was even more botrytised, with wildflower honey, honey-dipped nuts, dusty cherries and very sweet, high sugar middle, and a finish of lime leaf, more sugar and a brilliant filigree. The Coutet was corked. Is it the cynic in me that wonders if it was free of TCA until it was re-corked?

June 2007 – one of my summer ambitions is cleared off the checklist. I got in this morning to see Richard Serra’s fantastic show of gargantuan hulking iron beasts (Oh, I mean, sculptures) at the MOMA in New York. It may seem like I’m in New York ever other week but I wasn’t scheduled to return to New York until late September and Serra’s show closes September 10th (hope you made it).

Scupture? Yes, certainly, it’s that. But these are environments, more than sculptures, even the smallest of them could function as deconstructed or reconsidered living spaces.

BY now, you’ve probably seen the ribbon-like structures of these new Serra pieces in some magazine or other. The most likely response is to be overawed by the scale, the massive weight and ponderousness of the works

Heaven and earth, says the Voice’s Leslie Camhi, depicted as you enter the retrospective, with two massive plates. The family in front of me walk over the plate on the floor, in fact, the wife trips over it, and they all laugh as they only partly realize that was, uhm, some art…

“Guy art” she also calls it. There are a lot of gender issues in this guy’s work and that’s a large part of why this is a great show. But as she notes, a bit shocked, these sculptures are “rusting”. She’s right; they are. That’s part of why they’re beautiful; they have texture. They have time embedded in them.

Suddenly I’m humming the Art Brut song “Rusted Guns of Milan”. That song, if you don’t know it, is about impotence.

No such problem here, you say, with these massive, manly, powerful chunks of iron. Perhaps the gentleman protests too much, as Willy Shakespeare wrote.

But to view Serra as merely gender art would invite attack from many quarters, though every time a woman artists uses fabric or sewing, then term is applied without repercussions.

Still, the rest of the show, especially the older work, offers Serra at once physical and conceptual. Physical acts of sculpturing become the sculpture: rolling, folding, propping, bending, creasing, even falling. The big new works are big and even if they invite mockery for their museum-shattering egotism, they offer an endless array of responses to human issues: temporality, intimidation, destruction, power, impotence, insignificance, touch, fear and awe. Size, dammit, doesn’t matter. Much.

Good movie? Czech!

I love the Czech cinema of the 1960’s and 1970’s. But having said this, I admit that I had never seen one of the seminal movies that began the Czech Wave, The Shop on Main Street. It’s a brilliant film. The opening sequence is as powerful as Fellini’s 8½. A courtyard shot high above, from the perspective of a stork’s nest, with men in uniform dancing, rather marching, in a circle. Closer. They are soldiers, or at least wanna-be soldiers. Within seconds, the simple cutaways have established the town’s meek Jews half-hidden in doorways, and that they are watching, or more correctly, have always been watching, like the storks, part of the place. Of course the story that forms the spine of this unhappy comedy of sorts, is that they will soon no longer be watching. They will be gone.

With greed and ethnic covetousness motivating the scum, er, citizenry, the Jews are sold down the river, or at least the train tracks.

There is something that is Schweik-like to Toni Brtko, the buffoon/hero of the film. The film hasn’t aged a bit, unlike some of the films of the 70’s. Perhaps it’s forgotten now but the 60’s didn’t always suffer from a deficit of realism and a surfeit of idealism. And there’s nothing like the murder of Jews to shake the pretty hopes out of your head.

From the window of the shop on Main Street, you can hear the Jews called by family name. Name after name.

Even workaholics take vacation

For my week in Hawaii with my wife and brother and his wife, Germans were the theme. Lots of JJ, some Fritz and a bit of Hanno. I mean Zilliken. It’s ideal to be on a first name basis with the Germans, especially with the friendly ones.

We had a few other wines too, from other places.

Jardin de la Fruitiere 2004 Vin de Pays Loire Atlantique, whatever the hell that is (I thought it was Vin de Pays de Jardin de la France, which is far more evocative but, hmm, that must be where Jon-David Headrick, the man behind this and other even better wines, got the name.

Clean, showing its age in a good way. It has some depth in other words; it’s not all light and airy. The blend is Chardonnay (45%), Melon (45%), Folle Blanche (5%) and Sauvignon Gris (5%). At first all I see is the chunk of Chard noted on the label; I misread the 45% for 85%. And I am preparing to write, “despite the lack of all but a jot of Melon, it tastes more like Muscadet with extra weight. Green apple and lemon meat, other unripe fruits, unripe as in cool climate Chardonnay, while merely typical for Melon” when I spot the true percentages and, well, now you have some idea how it tastes.

We have one of those wonderful dinners at Pah Ke, the kind that owner/chef Raymond Siu can produce. The opening course is his best; I’ve had this dish before. We begin with martini glasses filled with a different kind of poke. Instead of the usual vinegary and sweet stuff, Raymond uses soy sauce and ginger, lime rind and other spices, with only mirin for sweetness. It’s completely unlike any other poke, but completely apt.

This first course is poke like no other. The marinade is dry, lime zest and diluted soy, a few ginger and garlic pieces and a sprinkle with fried udon noodles. Crisp, tangy, very clean and refreshing.

To finish he gives us each a Pire mango, a truly remarkable fruit; it turns to liquid in your mouth. It seems to contain both the absurd lush sweetness of tropical fruits and tart citrus.

As if to add insult to normal drinking habits, after I taste three unnamed Spanish reds, and a Vin de Pays Loire Atlantique or two (wherever the hell that is), I start to open a 1987 Zind Humbrecht Gewrz Turckheim when I realize that I have to head to the airport in a few hours, and I have a JJ Prum 2004 Wehlener Spatlese that probably needs drinking.

It does. Sobriety can wait. Sleep is my only ambition on the plane.