20070831

Summer is over; so too is this picnic wine: Returning the Frescobaldi Albizzia Chardonnay Toscana 2005

[This post was scheduled to appear at the outset of the Labour Day weekend rather than at its close and will soon be is now timestamped to indicate its intended publication date -- a date now irrevocably beyond reach, on the other side of summer, that place of sunshine and happiness, of distant memory, and of forgotten joy -- because on the morning of Tuesday, September 4, only the blogosphere offers an escape from a reality which seems a little too harsh and unforgiving: Pre-dating your blog entries is an attractive opportunity to live in denial and pretend that you are actually looking forward to getting up the next morning. -Ed.]
2006 albizzia chardonnay frescobaldi toscano vino 2005 oxidized wine
Like the summer whites you fold up and stow away at the back of the closet after Labour Day, some excellent picnic wines emerge from summer appearing to be past their best-before expiration date.

Unlike those eggshell clam diggers you hole up for next year, you can't hold off for next year by storing picnic wines like the one shown above. The reason why is more than the fact that they're not in season anymore. They've seen their time in the sun and then some. I mean to say that they've peaked. They're past it.

You've got to get rid of them.

In my case, when I opened this 2005 bottle I couldn't even pretend to like it and drink it -- I'm returning it to where I bought it because it's already giving off oxidative notes and tell-tale signs that this summer was the actually the autumn of its wine life.

WHY WINES SOMETIMES NEED TO BE RETURNED TO VENDOR

When perfectly good summertime wines or good old standby picnic selections fail to deliver, often no one is to blame. Not necessarily the winemaker, nor the vendor, nor the customer is in the wrong. This is the case with the Frescobaldi Albizzia Chardonnay Toscana 2005: I bought it at the start of the summer during a promotion that was obviously trying to move the old stock to make room for Frescobaldi's 2006 vintage (which is perfectly fine drinking these days, by the way). In fact, I bought several bottles and they all made a fine showing over the course of the summer, getting through many afternoon picnics and evenings sur balcon.

But this last bottle in my possession didn't make it. I recorked it with at least two-thirds of the original contents remaining in the bottle. It is going back to the SAQ and will have the oxidé [who knew it's actually spelled oxydé -- I just got back from the SAQ] oxydé box checked off on the returns and exchanges slip that goes back with it.

Tomorrow: My greatest, most wine-friendly summertime picnic recipe gets a bit of a rest too.

20070829

300th post: Looking back at the birth of a wino

lindsay and marc october 31 1998 getting sloshed on cheap plonk


I can't believe it !!
- my dad                      

The world is waiting . . .
- anonymous friend                       


Pictured here is yours truly and a friend of my good friend Cathy Champagne -- her name is Lindsay.

A wineblogger can only consider himself lucky to have a friend named after expensive French sparkling wine, but back when this photo was taken at Hallowe'en in 1998, I was still a long way from ever tasting the stuff and I think mutual friend Lindsay was too. (I know the extreme dapperness we exude in this photo might lead you to think just the opposite.)

This was the first time I had ever met Lindsay, let alone drink with her. Our costumes were so complementary -- we had independently shopped at Value Village for our duds -- we decided to go as a couple. That was the only thing I thought the two of us had in common at the time, but these days I happen to know that Lindsay has spent the summer curating her next rosé, and on really special occasions she loves savouring a good Nebbiolo.

THE WINO IN ITS INFANCY

But look at us then: coloured plastic wine glasses and crap Baby Duck-like wine from a crap line of table wine made by an unmentionable Ontario producer. Okay, I will mention these wines by name because I can see that the LCBO has mercifully discontinued their sale outright across the entire province. They were Oakridge, a forgettable range of wine branded by Andrès Wines Ltd. (I don't think that it was even CELLARED in Canada, if you know what I mean.)

I can still taste those bottom-of-the-barrel Cabernets. But hey, we all can't start with Champagne, right? So take a look at the background of the photo and how the empty bottles are lined up on my windowsill. These wines we were drinking were actually being rated. I was ranking them into an order. This was the beginning of my wine habit -- those earliest moments when my development into a full-fledged wino was becoming irreversible.

20070827

An even bigger Barbera than before: Sandhill Burrowing Owl Vineyard 2003

bc barbara sand hill winery okanogan valley canada burrow owls small lot bottle gift from joe's wine
If you're a blogger whose comments initiate intriguing, thread-twisting online conversation that often belie the topic of the post you attach them to, then you are sure to appreciate this.

Last weekend, Joe of Joe's Wine gave me with a bottle of wine. No doubt, a generous thing to do, but how many times does the gift of a bottle of wine answer the exact question you want answered?

It all started about half a year ago. Joe got things rolling with an unrelated comment on my blog post. One thing lead to another, and I was left with an unanswered question. To see what I mean, take a look at this thread of comments:

Joe said...
For the reds, they served the Borgogno Barbera and Don Antonio Nero d'Avola - the Borgogno was nice, but I will blog some better Barberas tonight/tomorrow. The Don Antonio was very cool, but pricey, and I am not yet a Nero believer. Next week is not Italy - switched to a Bouchard Pere et Fils Burgundy tasting. Cheers!
11:49 PM, March 17, 2007
Marcus said...
...As for Barbera, v. intrigued. Such an neat variety. Had Terredavino's Luna i Falo Superiore since it was on sale. Lacks balance and integration. A bit of a freakshow if you ask me. Might post about it later too.
1:43 PM, March 18, 2007
Joe said...
I have had the Luna i Falo before -a Malcolm Anderson recommendation. I'm not sure I recall 'freak show', but let's just say I haven't bought it in a while. I have actually blogged a Canadian barbera...
9:49 PM, March 18, 2007
Marcus said...
Joe beware the new 2004. It got a fair chance, decanted and given time. It's just really not good. And I'm someone who's recommended it before.
B.C. Barbera?
8:12 AM, March 19, 2007
That was the final comment on the post. Time passes. Exactly five months to the day, I meet Joe in person for the very first time and he hands me a B.C. Barbera. What a guy! For the record, it was the Sandhill Burrowing Owl Vineyard Barbera 2003.

I didn't wait long at all to open it up -- I uncorked it at the first Italian dinner that came my way. I'm glad I did.

Our plates of lamb, veal and sausage -- all strongly flavoured meats themselves -- were topped with strongly flavoured seasonal ingredients, like tomatoes and herbs in peak mouthfilling condition. Like I wrote in my Big Babs post, it's the heightened, often bursting deli-style flavours that Barbera is a natural match for.

And in classic style, that's exactly what this robust and delicious Sandhill Barbera wants. So here are the details, to the best of my note-taking abilities. (I wrote on the back of my sales receipt for a Pfaffenheim Schneckenberg Alsace Pinot Blanc 2004, which actually was a pick of another blogging friend, Bill of Wine with Bill Zacharkiw -- his selection was a seductive apricot and lime aperitif to the Italian proceedings.)

Eye: BONNES VACANCES A NOS CLIENTS (whoops that's just the receipt talking... sorry no colour notes taken!)

Nose: Ouch. Smells burnt at first. It's very, very smoky, subsiding eventually into a more friendly aroma. (Joe said it needed time so we left it uncorked for a while.)

Mouth: Wonderful Barbera acidity, and acidity in the best way -- mouthfilling and coarse with notes of chocolate on the finish. You can see what hearty, often fatty foods are a must -- this cuts right through deliciously. The smokiness turns into nice earthy licorice-y flavours. Some raspberry. Cranberry too, which suggests to me that this bottle is peaking.

Stomach: See above for food pairings. Note that this wine is perceptibly oaked but with dinner I actually prefer that to unoaked.

Online: Read the winery's PDF'ed descriptive profile (it also explains how this wine is part of Sandhill's impressive and ambitious Small Lots Program) or Joe's tasting notes.

On the bottle label: High alcohol is not translated to the glass, which means this is a tremendously successly cuvée of balance and structure. (The alcohol that does come off is integrated and enjoyable -- and I don't enjoy alcohol!)

Thanks Joe!

Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. 14.5%.

20070823

DO NOT CONSUME WITHIN 24 HOURS OF OPENING: Catedral 2003

dao red wine portugal
It was getting to the point that I thought I would never meet a 2003 Dão that I didn't like.

First, I fell in love with Casa de Santar. At under $15, I ended up buying out all LCBO stock.

Then, once those bottles were emptied, I turned to the Quinta de Cabriz in the adjoining Vintages carrel and it was just as good, if several dollars more.

I thought it was a hasty decision to venture over to Sogrape's cheapest of cheap, the 2003 Grão Vasco. For the $8 I paid, it was a-okay -- perfectly functional at a price few wines are.

I was on a roll and wasn't ready to stop. The 2003 Quinta dos Roques was next in my sights but before I located it in the racks, I came across a nouveauté in the Portuguese section, which is pictured at top (click on the image for product details).

It was the Catedral Dão 2003 and snapped it up without giving it a second thought, saving the more expensive Dão product for a special occasion. Quinta dos Roques would have to wait.

cathedral capivor 2003Funny though, there's no quinta mentioned on this Dão. Capivor is the bottler. Who knows what vineyards this stuff came from.

And those were the last thoughts that resounded in my head as of the sudden I realized that my luck had finally run out.

A caramel nose with roasted fruit is rather muted.

On the palate, there's cinnamon, tangy bramble berry and something else but it all quickly falls away into pithy, inelegant tannins in a long bitter fade.

A totally flat finish too. Maybe when the tannic punch is that green, harsh and astringent, it's considered as a blessing.

This is really unforgiving wine as there's not a single thing it seems to do well. There's about as much structure as a pile of logs in a do-it-yourself cabin builder kit. There's not many foods that will help it along either. Lighter food items only succeed in bringing out a strong burnt rubber aroma and mostly sourness. After I ruled out everything I had in my kitchen that contained salt, I decided mustardy salads managed the best.

I have to admit that on the next day this wine was much more integrated with forgiving tannins and, though overall it still is short of having any kind of an arc, it does helpfully illustrate the need to aerate harsh wines. That's the bright side.

This is one 2003 Dão I'm happy to see the back of.

Penafiel, Portugal. 12.5%.

20070821

Amaroned (p.p., adv.): Having had the sudden realization, as in a tasting, you're drinking wine with 15% alcohol and it's too late to start spitting

amorone wineLast night was a dry evening for me, which officially means I got hosed the previous day.

Some insist on the hair of the dog in such cases, but this summer I've learned not to believe old wives' tales. In June, I drank the day after annihilating a Perrin Réserve magnum at a friend's birthday and it was literally sickening. I felt pretty much the same way when I followed up an all access pass at the Wines of New Zealand by barreling headlong into a hasty decision to finish off the remaining half bottles of wine lingering in my fridge.

So this morning, after the benefit of a fully sobering Monday, I present to you Wine with Bill Zacharkiw, the reason I drank 29 bottles of Venetian red wine during a four hour tasting session on Sunday evening.

Well I didn't drink them all myself. I do want to let Bill tell the story in his upcoming Montreal Gazette column (which will be available at the web page linked above), but I should at least say there were three other tasters in addition to Bill. That was reassuring. And a lot was dumped into the spittoon -- also reassuring -- but, ultimately for me, it apparently was not nearly enough.

Bill, ever the gracious host, gave us tasters little reason to leave, bringing out Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses as well as a tray of cured meats when we had finished rating the wines. At this stage, achieving the discipline to spit that I had been searching for all evening was obviously not in the cards. I should've shown greater willpower earlier on when the wines were cheaper and the delicious food didn't beckon the vino.

Just one of many ways that this event was a learning experience for me.

I've had Valpolicellas and Ripassos before so I immediately found it gratifying to directly compare so many back to back (to back). It was a huge opportunity to decipher everyday wines without the bias of food or the kind of mood you happen to in on a given day. But it wasn't just an illuminating experience because I was exposed to two dozen bottles. Here were four winos with great expertise to guide the tasting. Personally, I found it an amazing opportunity to learn from those more experienced than myself.

We started off with a set consisting of four flights of Valpolicella. When I heard my fellow tasters murmuring something about "phenolics" and "residual sugar" -- terms that I could not use to identify a wine -- I got a bit scared. But when I found I was for the most part singling out the same Valpos as the others, I could increasingly parse the professional lingo, and even jotted down some new French terms I had never heard of.

masi costasera amarone della valpolicella classico 2003As the night went on and the set of Ripassos came and went, I not only got a real sense of the Veneto region, but also learned about the differing palates and expectations of those sitting around the table. It turned out agreement wasn't always universal, but honesty and dedication to how one tastes and perceives these reds were.

Finally out came the Amarones. I'd never had Amarone yet there I was one of five votes weighing in on the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Ugly Amarone I now know is how you feel the next morning.)

When the Amarone flights started I was tiring, in part because I was deflated I didn't have any experience in what to look for or expect like I did with the other types of wine. I felt kind of useless. But of course I didn't turn down nine different chances to taste a style of wine that in its most inexpensive expressions retails for about $30 (and up). So I dive in.

My first taste was like taking a sip of Port, a wine I am only slightly more aware of than Amarone. And so I noted it and waited for the others to launch into discussion.

"Porty," said Bill almost immediately. And instantly I thought to myself that I can't wait for the next chance to do this.

20070816

Hallowe'en wine uncorked two months too early: Cave de Saumur Lieu-dit Les Vignoles 2004

saummer champagny coop wine
Since I've been called up this weekend to taste in the big leagues with the Caveman, aka Bill Zacharkiw, newly installed Montreal Gazette wine columnist, I've decided it's time I do some red wine reviews and kick things up to high gear.

I'm not sure this post quite hits that gear. It's a tasting of polymerized spider gland secretion, with some Loire Cabernet wine mixed in.

Spiders? And caves? It's Hallowe'en all the sudden. If you're scratching your head at this point, check yesterday's post while I talk about Caveman Bill some more...

Bill writes The Caveman's Wine Blog, though between being the head sommelier at Relais-Château L'Eau à la Bouche and running Restaurant Fonduementale, it's his Gazette column that sees most of his wine writing these days.

Bill has so much knowledge of privately imported wine in Quebec, he's like his own version of the SAQ, the state-run agency in charge of selling all wine in the province.

Bill isn't fond of industrially produced international varietals; he's keen on organic, biodynamic wines from independent producers who have a real sense of place. My buddy Brooklynguy will especially appreciate his recent take on Beaujolais:

"I am a fanatic for Fleurie, and have yet to find one at the SAQ that cuts it. In the coming months, the Morgon and Fleurie from Domaine Vissoux will be available at the SAQ, and a couple of others."
Needless to say, I'm fully chuffed to meet this guy. And while Bill is an amazing supporter of fine whites and says that when given the chance he would choose to spend more money on a bottle of white wine rather than red, I wanted to get out of my summer rut of white wine reviews with this post.

The fact is that I haven't made any substantial tasting notes on red wine since the months of April and May when I was preparing to host WBW 33, and since then I haven't done much of anything.

Well, my intent was good but my execution was not. As I displayed yesterday, my tasting notes for today's bottle are potentially affected by tainted wine glasses that had near-invisible layers of cobweb across the top of the bowl.

I won't be surprised if I am turfed out of the Caveman tasting, however for sake of the exercise, I'm still publishing my notes in full! So here they are...

Cave de Saumur Lieu-dit Les Vignoles Saumur Champigny 2004

deposit left in wine bottle heavy sedimentsVENDOR'S PROFILE

Price: $15.95
Vintages #: 662585 (Joe will like to know that this is another Ontario-bought bottle)
Sugar Content: D (Who measures sugar content but the LCBO?)
Release Date: Mar 31, 2007

Description: Created in 2002, Alliance Loire includes seven Loire valley cooperatives like Cave de Saumur and comprise 700 vignerons and 3,600 hectares of vines. Of particular interest is their range of wines called Lieu-dit. Each wine in this category comes from a single vineyard, the characteristics of which are noted on the bottle label. Lieu-dit Les Vignoles Saumur Champigny, a red made from Cabernet Franc, is a particularly good example. [Paraphased excerpt from Jacqueline Friedrich's The Wines of France, 2006]

MY TASTING NOTES

Eyes: This unfiltered wine throws lots of sediment as my photo of the empty bottle demonstrates. The wine colour is a luscious dark ruby to purple.

Nose: An interesting animal nose (perhaps due to the spider) with plenty of grenadine. Gravelly tannins, vegetal green pepper profile typical to this genre.

Mouth: Leafy and dry. Nice weight on the palate though not complex. A surprising meatiness and fattiness makes this wine edgier than most Cabernet Franc I've tasted from Saumur.

Stomach: This is a really drying red dinner wine with a neat finish, perfect as a table wine. I had it with leg of lamb and vegetable couscous.

Online: www.vino2vino.com/wine/36871
On the bottle label: "Le terroir de calcaire sableux lui apporte rondeur et richesse."

St-Cyr en Bourg, Maine & Loire, France. 13%.

20070815

Post-vacation blues: Wine fridge busted, stemware glued

And, ultimately, the adoption of a Michael Pollan approach to drinking wine

memory of a working wine fridge heat-tinted photo of a long hot summerI thought the worst thing about my vacation ending would be going back to work. There'd be much less Vernaccia di San Gimignano to drink, my freedom would be reined in and all the decisions I had been making for myself, like when to get up and when to drink, would be made for me.

It turns out that the wino's fear of teetotaling lunches is minor compared to the reality that hit home when I returned from a week vacationing in New York and a couple of days in Niagara.

A few days after I got back, my hot and humid apartment finally amounted to too much for my little wine refrigerator, an appliance which claims to cool with a motor that uses about the same amount of energy as a household light bulb.

This may be a design flaw.

I've replaced a continually blown fuse several times now. The unit will not cease shorting out. Some free professional advice I got indicates that the short is happening either somewhere in the circuitry or the pea-like motor is to blame by somehow sucking up to much power, and for that, I might try inserting a more powerful fuse if I can find one that fits. A '97 Brunello, a 2000 Vintage Port and a Saint Émilion Grand Cru currently hang in the balance.

Luckily temperatures are moderating since my return home and, since I am around, I am ready and able to relocate prized bottles to my kitchen fridge as necessary in the interim. It's a drag but I can manage until I got to the bottom of it.

I turn to traditional time-tested craftsmanship when modern technology gets me down. My favourite wine glasses did a much better job welcoming me back home from my time away. They looked hale, hearty and ever bit as ready to go the distance as when I left town -- much more than I could say about my wine fridge. This was reassuring as I reached for a bottle to uncork.

spider in my wine
Now this is a fine specimen: the Spiegelau Williamsberger Cabernet glass, second only to my prized Ravenscroft Unoaked Chardonnay glass.

I had left out some glasses out on the kitchen counter when I did the dishes just prior to leaving town for my trip (I have to admit it's a rare occurrence that every glass I own is clean and not in use at any given time). As a result of having the entire stemware collection washed, several of them didn't make it into the cupboard for safekeeping -- I just don't have the cupboard space to store them all. I would have to use both of my two wine glasses caddies to store the overflow from my cupboard.

In any case, the awaiting glasses were a welcome sight upon my return. Circling in to my trusty glass, I pour myself some wine.

spiderweb on my glass
IF EVER THERE WAS A REASON TO ASSESS THE NOSE OF A WINE . . .

I was weirded out when I stuck my nose in for a sniff. Something goopy was clinging to my face and interfering with a good clean smell and assessment of the wine's nose.

Very strange. I sniffed again and it was clear I was not imagining this odd sensation. What the...?

charlotte's web redux for a wino
I recoiled, and then went in for a closer look. (Click to enlarge photos.)

my spidery friends and my speigelau ravenscroft
My stemware had been cobwebbed all along the rim of the bowl. Gross! But I concluded that, apart from not creating the ideal tasting scenario, an eight-legged visitor in your stemware collection is not such a bad thing. Spiders like wine glasses because flies like wine. The spiders are my ally in making sure my wine gets drunk by me! I will never kill a spider in my house again!

So this news that the spiders were acting to protect my wine cheered me up. It almost made up for the fact that my wine fridge was doing just the opposite for my wine, sitting there lifeless, stuffy and dank, full of expensive bottles.

And then I thought some more about the stream of wine I poured in that glass and how didn't seem to shake the spidery structure much. It was a tribute to quality workmanship and ingenuity. Surely the hallmarks of an independent producer. This is one spider with passion!

As for how the wine itself measured up, stayed tuned for tomorrow's post!

20070813

First taste of South African Sauvignon: Spier 2005

spear south african wine sauvignon blanc stellanbosh stellenbosh stellanbosch stellenboesch stellanboesch
This is my first taste of South African Sauvignon. South Africa produces Chenin Blanc of some renown, and its Chardonnay is in no short supply. But it is the less widely-available Sauvignon grape variety that I was interested in trying this summer to see how it would compare to the other refreshing everyday wines I've been drinking lately.

A disclaimer first: The SAQ liquor agency in Quebec stocks very few white South African wines -- a couple of dozen at best with only five Sauvignons in its catalog. I bought this bottle at the LCBO in Ontario, an agency that clearly has a greater focus on developing wine regions like Stellenbosch. The LCBO distributes 80-odd different bottles of South African wine white, an impressive number though unfortunately this particular one is only available in the city of Markham at the moment.

TASTING THE S.A. S.B. (SOUTH AFRICA SAUVIGNON BLANC)

Mineral aspects of this wine stand out the most, which is slightly surprising since I was expecting a fruit-flavoured onslaught. The whole thing amounts to a lovely profile that also features strong notes of fresh herb and citrus.

I am not a fan of typically big New World fruit but here the fruit, though tropical and exotic, is rendered in a pithy style comes through with a bitter finish and bracing pucker. Not exactly a fruit bomb.

This bottle might have been better in its absolute youth. The 2005 vintage in South Africa is actually going on three years in age since it is a southern hemisphere wine region and gets the jump on most other wine regions by six months. I felt that after a little while this bottle seemed to start to wither and its attack carried a syrupy impression.

For the amount I paid for it, it's a promising wine. I would definitely keeps my eye out for more of it as it is produced and leave the remaining 2005s alone. Click the bottle image at top for more information about its listing in the LCBO catalog.

Annandale Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa. 12.5%.

20070808

WBW #36 Let's Get Naked: Domaine Fichet Mâcon-Igé Château London 2005

naked wine how to wear a bottle
Without further ado, here now is my review of that Mâcon wine I mentioned in my last post -- the one I picked up last week in New York after reading Eric Asimov's New York Times column, in which he scored it the "best value" of the Mâconnais bunch (see his full Tasting Report here).

Rather than submit to WBW more or less of a rehash of what Eric said, I thought I'd at least do something that Eric couldn't do in the New York Times and drop my pants.

The idea of "Naked Chardonnay" is a suitable one for this special anniversary edition of WBW in which participants are asked strip away the extraneous and get back to basics. This month's theme is a celebration of three years of WBWs and it is hosted by none other than the prodigious Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours, the originator of Wine Blogging Wednesday, or WBW for short. Lenn himself is currently taking a step back and re-jigging some aspects of the monthly WBW event so a theme that takes a similar step back to assess a legendary grape in its most simple and essential expression (which is naked, meaning unoaked or unwooded) follows perfectly.

That's because so many Chardonnays you regularly encounter are heavily oaked these days. Wood can mask the fruit of the Chardonnay grape when not handled carefully. With some of the many cheap and industrial Chard varietals churned out, the grape variety itself is getting more and more maligned, which is unfair.

I turned to Burgundy in France for my Naked Chardonnay -- specifically to Mâcon's Domaine Fichet, which produces under the banner of one of the many localized Mâconnais appellations, Igé.

Most Mâconnais wines are vinified in stainless steel or glass-lined concrete vats for early bottling and consumption within a year or two of the vintage, writes The Oxford Companion to Wine. Furthermore, when I researched this bottle, I found a some useful PDFs on the Internet regarding Mâconnais wine and regarding Domaine Fichet, so apart from my own tasting notes below, I am borrowing liberally.

wine in the nude french chardonnay label used as a loinclothDomaine Fichet harvests grapes from Château London, just north of Mâcon and east of Cluny to produce wines that are clean and expressive. This cuvée, named after the Château London site, is produced from mature low-yielding vines on the southwest-facing limestone vineyard and is tank-fermented. It was awarded La Coupe Perraton for the best Mâcon-Villages of its vintage. Though oak is sometimes used in Fichet's line of products, it is used judiciously. (Their Vieilles Vignes cuvée comes from vines 60-to-80 years old, and is mainly tank fermented, but sees 20% barrel fermentation, giving it wonderful, intense, creamy, structured and “old-viney” characteristics.)

MY NOTES ON THE FICHET WINE

Domaine Fichet Mâcon-Igé Château London Chardonnay 2005 is exactly the kind of wine that the Oxford suggests. Moreover, big props to Eric's guest Natalie MacLean for signaling out the hazelnut note on the nose. Upon uncorking I only got a sharp but zesty nose. Over time, the nuttiness did develop nicely.

To the eye this Chardonnay had a nice translucent amber colour. (Here's hoping next time it's Naked Merlot or something a little more opaque, i.e. modest.)

To taste this is to get an immediate sense of what strong mouthfeel is in a wine. This Chardonnay is penetrating and intense, wonderfully rich, and it dominates the palate. It's all citrus building to a smooth finish, with a beginning, a middle and an end along the way: From instant refreshment upon contact to buttery and nutty tones to a hint of anise and organic matter on the finish.

Paired with a seasonal meal, its racy, tart and delicious minerality comes to the fore as food flavours invite your tastebuds to note the contrasting elements in the wine. I found that with a fresh garden vegetable pizza, a nice licorice tone was echoed. With a celery and Parmesan cheese salad, the profile was more flowery and stonier.

Overall, a stunning value as Eric claims. Even the $20 (Canadian) that I paid for it is an alright value.

Pierre-Yves & Olivier Fichet, Igé, France. 13%.

20070806

Midtown Manhattan's best picnicking (plus five more picks from New York City)

Jump to: Picnic pick | Eric Asimov's wine pick | Brooklynguy's wine pick | Alice Feiring's wine pick | Doktor Weingolb's wine pick | Special BYO resto pick

picnic served by waiter morgan library and museum cafe new york smoked deli meats marinated olives lettuce baguette whipped herb goat cheese
The plan was to blog but I stopped fighting the weak wireless signal that gave me the Internet one minute and totally disconnected me the next. So I decided to leave the laptop in my room and hit New York hard. While that made for a bit of gap in my blogging, I now have lots to say about my five-day getaway, including a few juicy tidbits about wine and food.

Consider this update as five posts in one (use the anchored links at top to navigate through it -- it's lengthy). I hope this makes up for the recent inactivity.

* * * *

First of all, as I alluded to my last post, New York City is fiery hot pit of asphalt and sweat in the summer months, especially when you are caught in Midtown or on a subway platform, or worst of all in Midtown on subway platform (Warning: Never take an uptown train from the 47th-50th Streets/Rockefeller Center station without a towel). What I discovered is that but just 10 streets down from that sauna stop on the B, C, F and V line, I discovered an oasis of refreshment and air-con at the corner of 37th Street and Madison Avenue, also known as the Morgan Library & Museum. The collection alone is well worth the price of admission, but what I went in for was its fantastic café which is at the centre of this amazing building complex.

As you can tell from the photo I posted at the top of this entry, the food is just as inviting as the cool and airy space of the café (pictured below), which the Morgan website accurately describes as "a casual dining atmosphere in the glass-enclosed central court, evoking European alfresco dining." You bet, alfresco! This is by far the greatest place for a picnic during the dog days of summer. Save Central Park for less humid weather.

renzo piano restoration and expansion pierpont morgan library and museum interior renzo piano pierpont morgan library and museum interior cafe view

The brilliant thing is that the Morgan Café emulates a real outdoor courtyard: the high ceiling is composed of a lattice of glass and steel slats, there are trees amid the small dining tables, and on exceptionally warm days like when I was there last week, the sunlight enters the space in bearable measured amounts through the help of automatically shifting shades along the glass structure (follow part of that transition in the photos below).

renzo piano pierpont morgan library and museum interior glass and steel structure renzo piano pierpont morgan library and museum interior mechanical blinds renzo piano pierpont morgan library and museum interior

As for the café menu, plenty of picnic-perfect choices but my order of a plate of cold cuts, goat's cheese and olives is an amazing deal. For only $8 you get to make a couple of your own prosciutto and salami sandwiches (just slap on the cheese and that lettuce onto the complimentary rolls they offer you!) and for $7 more, get a glass of wine. (I felt like I won the lottery the instant this $15 alfresco feast started -- surely you can do no better in Manhattan.)

I chose the Château Routas Rouvière Coteaux Varois 2006, a salmon-coloured rosé from France's Provence region. It was thirst-quenching, quite dry and very likable alongside the spicy marinaded olives and salty cured meats. It had a drinkable table-ready style that some alcohol-drenched rosés from Provence don't handle as deftly. Light and appetizing, this wine is meant for casual lunches when it's really hot out. But I don't need to tell you that. See more detailed notes on this wine.

With this kind of fuel I had energy to wine-shop...

MÂCON, MÂCON-VILLAGES, AND THE MANY RESOURCEFUL TOWNS SOUTH OF THE CÔTE D'OR

winner of wines of the times panel tasting report macon white chardonnayMy initial instinct was to take a tip from Eric Asimov and so I went for white Mâcon -- Burgundy's best summertime deal. If wine is your bag, Mr Asimov is much-respected and hard-to-miss in the blogosphere. Of all his recent recommendations, I'm finding these white Burgundies to be the most up my alley.

I love this style of Chardonnay, which is full of mineral and bright citrus flavours, though some deem it too light. I happen to value light, and not just because it often translates to light-on-the-wallet. This is Eric's point about Mâcon and its hinterland, known on the label as Mâcon-Villages.

While the results are not yet in on any specific Mâcon bottles (for that please refer to Eric's notes), I can report that New York definitely has better price-points on these wines than here in Quebec. These $12 bottles in Manhattan routinely convert to $20 bottles here in Montreal (and this is not usually the case with most French wines). Expect tasting reports for some Mâcons soon around here, most imminently for the one pictured here!

MACON, MACON & STUYVESANT, AND THE MANY GREEN STREETS OF BEDFORD-STUYVESANT

When I met the wine-wonderful Brooklynguy for lunch in TriBeCa, we discussed our common interest in wine and love for MTA buses. They are certainly cooler transportation than the subway and are routed all around the city and its four boroughs. To get to Macon Street in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighbourhood, buses are the best means of public transit and, much to the glee of Brooklynguy, I recounted how I traveled along the #43 - Franklin, the #48 - Lorimer and the #25 - Halsey.

beaujolais wine organic unfiltered vissouxWhy do us winos like buses so much? Besides being street-level and perfectly temperature-controlled (most of the time), they are wine-shopping-friendly, or to put it more precisely, they are bottle-friendly. This is because they have padded interiors and are rather spacious if you like to buy by the case. Most importantly the differential in ambient temperature between a shaded bus stop and the coach is a lot less bottle-shocking than sweltering subway platform and meat-locker train car. (Also the bus is more personable, even when you haven't got a supply of wine on you: just before getting off at Classon Avenue, a kind Bed-Stuy rider pointed out all the globs of sunscreen smudged across my face that I had missed smoothing out.)

Brooklynguy, being the generous and knowledgeable guy that he is, suggested I take advantage of a rare Beaujolais while I could and snap up the Domaine du Vissoux Pierre-Marie Chermette Beaujolais 2005. It's not that difficult to find in Manhattan. I would certainly get it again. It's an unfiltered wine and you can sense it immediately, as in I-can't-believe-it's-not-Beaujolais-cru. My uptown hosts thought it was bold, round, rich and delicious. A hit from an advised expert... check out the full review on Brooklynguy's Wine and Food Blog.

A HEAVY FAVOURITE FROM LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON

I have never met Alice Feiring, New York-based wine enthusiast of great expertise and integrity, though she has responded to my brusque queries and desperate emails. She is the one who saved New Year's Eve for us when we hadn't a clue where to take our Cervaro Castello della Sala Antinori Chardonnay for a hopping good time. Well, Alice answered that question and supplied so many more reliable suggestions, like this next wine pick, for instance.

Yes, it was a total no-brainer to instantly buy the Domaine des 2 Ânes Fontanilles 2004 when I happened past it at Astor Wines & Spirits. She wrote about it as an everyday wine with substantial value back in February so I wasn't sure it would still be in supply. Luckily it does seem to be quite well stocked. But unfortunately, it's put into one of those extra heavy bottles that sit in your bag like a stone and makes you wonder why you're schlepping around so much weight at a free jazz concert staged in Washington Square Park. My advice: Make your purchase on the way home rather than when setting out. Astor's open till 9 pm every weeknight.

gimigiano vernacia mormoriaI'D LIKE A SIX-DAY VERNACCIA IN NEW YORK

For THE best Vernaccia di San Gimignano that gets made you've got to try Mormoraia. It's a little more expensive than most Vernaccia varietals at about $16 per bottle but it does taste like the height of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a grape that gets very little respect.

Respect is something that it may not need if pure aromatic refreshment comes this easily and this cheaply. In the Mormoraia Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2006 you also get great balance, nutty depth and a profound finish for an otherwise lightweight varietal. I wish I could've brought back more of this across the border. I certainly could've afforded more. As it stands on my map, I've clearly marked down New York Wine Co. (it's 21 Warren Street near the Chambers Street subway station), the Lower Manhattan wine shop that sold me this great stuff.

WHERE TO TAKE YOUR WINE PICKS OUT TO DINNER . . .

dr weingolbAnd to save the best for last, there's Petite Crevette, the longtime fish-specialty restaurant on Hicks Street in Brooklyn. I had the pleasure of taking a friend of mine out for a birthday lunch there even though she does not eat fish. Fish lover or not, this is a cozy little nook that charms you and sates you, thanks to Neil Ganic, "a chef who has a knack for turning out satisfying, homey but refined dishes that value flavor over frills."

Here's a guy who can single-handedly chat up your table and whip up a codfish burger at the same time. That neither one comes out overdone, rushed, or inauthentic makes this restaurant a true winner. Evenings are much busier so if you like the welcoming chit-chat and attention, definitely try it for lunch. Also definitely bring you own bottle of wine. There's none of those huge corkage fees here. Perhaps a vivacious and slightly rustic Greco di Tufo dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2004 to handle the flavourful fish and mouth-watering appetizers (two words: Cremini mushrooms!) as well as all the other non-seafood plates that are served.