Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Wine and Watches

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Last month the San Francisco Wine Center sponsored a tasting at Ben Shemano Jewelry, a beautiful second-floor showroom in Union Square that specializes in antique and custom jewelry. For collectors of the finer things in life, the focus of the evening was on fine wristwatches from designers including Rolex, Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet. For the group of about 30 people we poured an array of wines from around the world and shared stories about winemaking and travel. We even learned that the late owner of Pride Mountain Vineyards in Napa Valley was a former dentist. Wonder what toothpaste he’d recommend for wine stains? He actually wasn’t a practicing dentist but a consultant who advised other dentists on how to optimize their office layouts.

From the white wine drinkers we found many Sancerre lovers and even converted some to Riesling fans. It was a warm evening in San Francisco and many opted for the cold ones. We encountered those who thought Riesling was always sweet, so we educated them on the various styles of Riesling and the labeling term used to denote ‘dry’ in German, which is ‘trocken.’

Red wine fans enjoyed classic west coast examples of Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel, plus a Chilean blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. A couple of magnums dared to impress bold palates and showed how the right amount of air can make a wine open up.

Inevitably, with an even number of wines it’s easy to find yourself comparing. 2 whites, 2 reds, 2 magnums. The Sancerre had a flowery nose and a rich palate. The Riesling had the distinct petrol nose that developed into stone fruit, followed by beautiful citrus and orange blossom on the palate. The Oregon Pinot Noir was earthy and leathery, while the Napa Petite Sirah had a flowery but smoky nose with spice, lead pencil and roses on the palate. The two magnums couldn’t be more different; the Brown Zinfandel was immediately rich, fruity and lush, while the Chilean blend was super tight, smoky and herbal at first, eventually opening up to reveal warm spice, red fruit, and an herbal forest. I found this one to be the most interesting, particularly as it evolved over the course of the evening.

Wine List

1. Gitton Sancerre 2012 – France
2. Peter Jakob Kuhn Riesling Trocken 2010 – Germany
3. Provocateur Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2003 – Oregon
4. Pride Petite Sirah Napa Valley 2003 – California
5. Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley 2006 – California (Magnum)
6. Primus The Blend Colchagua Valley 2008 – Chile (Magnum)

Bites from The City Kitchen complimented the wines and provided a wonderful appetizer to later dinner plans. For some, the jewelry was dessert.

– Melanie Solomon

Cote de Beaune Red Burgundy Class

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Last Thursday, March 11th, the San Francisco Wine Center (SFWC) crew, along with a class full of wine enthusiasts and SFWC’s members, kick started the La Paulée Burgundy celebration week with an awesome night of Burgundy Pinot Noirs. Jordan Mackay, our instructor, shared fascinating tales of Burgundy as we sipped through 9 hand-selected reds from the Cote de Beaune. Brian, the SFWC’s owner, personally hand selected those wines for the night.

We had several wines from the great 2010 vintage (known to be the last great vintage of Burgundy). We learned a Burgundy red could be “honest” – that’s how Jordan described the Paul Pernot Pommard Les Noizons 1999. We also swirled and swirled the Domain Bruno Clavelier Corton Le Rognet Grand Cru 2010 and debated “to de-stem or not to de-stem” which is often the key question among Burgundy’s legendary wine makers in a particular vintage.

We started the night with Masion Leroy Cote de Beaune 1990. The Cote de Beaune appellation covers the red wines from a smaller subset of the vineyards around Beaune than the more traditional Cote de Beane Village designation. Leave it to the legendary Leroy to make even their Cote de Beaune so special and age worthy! With aromas of red fruits and ripe cherries, it was truly a humble yet inspiring start for the night.

Then we moved to Jean-Claude Boisset Santenay Clos Rousseau 1er Cru 2006. The Santenay appellation is located to the south of the legendary Chassagne-Montrachet on the southern slopes of the Cote D’Or. The wine had silky and round tannins. Jordan told us that they let the wine macerate for 3 weeks which makes the tannins so soft and velvety.

The 3rd wine of the night was Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret Savigny-les-Beaune Les Narbantons 1er Cru 2011. The moment you smell this one, you’re enveloped in the spicy aromas of red current and earth, which are the signature of Savigny style wines. Here one of the class participants suggested going back to the first 2 wines and smelling them one after another followed by the Savigny wine. And oh it was worth it! The spicy aromas caused by not de-stemming the grapes were so dominant that I don’t think anyone in the class will ever forget the sensation.

The fourth wine that Brian selected was Paul Pernot Pommard Les Noizons 1999. This was interestingly smoky and irony. The mineral smell of the soil came through beautifully and on the palate it was robust and still alive with tannins. Jordan paused, and with a big smile on his face, called it a great example of the honest wines of Pommard and more clear evidence that even the more humble wines can age beautifully for many years.
Nicolas Rossignol Pommard Les Fremier 1er Cru 2009 was the next glass we tasted, a wine we all agreed was very well made and more the “glossy” feel of a Pommard wine.

So now behold…the next two wines deserve the drum roll please. I personally plan to order a case or two of these wines, store them, and once they age for couple of years I will pour them at a dinner party of my closest friends (only they deserve this ) and surprise them with those complex aromas that no one will expect from such light colored red wines. I guess by now you can tell that I loved the next two wines: Domain Vincent Girardin Volnay Les Santenots 1er Cru 2010 and Domaine Michel Lafarage Volnay Clos du Chateau des Ducs 1er Cru 1997. Greg our beloved storage member and wine collector suggested we try the wine with the two truffle cheeses that our dear Milena, the SFWC manager, selected for the evening. We all loved it! The next day I actually went and bought that cheese so that I could serve it with those lovely, lush Volnay wines at my dinner party.

We then wrapped up the class in style with two Grand Cru Cortons, the Domain Chandon de Briailles Corton Bressandes 2007 and Domain Bruno Clavelier Corton Le Rognet 2010. The 2007 was classic Corton but accessible and elegant, while the 2010 was traditional and expectedly tough as nails, even with time in the glass. Did you know Bruno Clavelier was a professional rugby player who then moved to the world of wine, producing highly sought after old-style red burgundy? His story is a true tale of wine fascination to which I can certainly relate. Can’t you?

Once the class was over we had the unique opportunity to taste some more amazing wines handpicked by Brian from his personal cellar as well as by our long-time Storage Members and Burgundy collectors; Greg and his lovely wife Julie. These two true burgundy experts (they were married in the Clos Vougeot!) chose several amazing wines to share from their own personal storage space at the SFWC. It was truly a night to remember. We tasted beautiful wines from 1985 and 1999 vintages. Days later, I for one could still feel the long and perfectly balanced finish of the 1985 Chambertin, if not on my palate certainly in my memories.


A Thin Line Between OW and NW

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Three weeks into our fall wine school season here at the SF Wine Center and I must say that one thing has already stood out to me. Within these first few classes we’ve done several side by side blind tastings of grape varieties in both their Old World and New World forms. Some found it relatively easy to decipher which was which while many were left giving the top of their heads a nice little scratch. So I began to wonder, why are wine styles that have historically been considered ‘night and day’ from each other nowadays blurring the lines? The answer to that is complicatedly simple. When it comes to producing wines that compare in style and quality to their Old World counterparts, these days New World producers are pinning the tail closer to the donkey’s…well, you know. They are doing so by investing more time, money, and attention into mimicking the ways of the Old World. The overall picture is based on less interference with the wines and allowing them to express their natural character and terroir. In the vineyard they are putting more focus on site selection and meticulous viticulture methods while in the winery they are investing in better equipment to create more hygienic and delicate winemaking conditions. Another key factor is that they are finding ways to less abrasively impart oak to the wines by paying the extra dollars for French oak, using more neutral oak, and sometimes skipping oak all together. Okay, okay, so now let’s have a taste of what this all means…

The first example I’ll use is a Sauvignon Blanc that we tasted. It was crisp with aromas of green apple, grapefruit, elderflower, bay laurels, and a hint of smoky minerality. Perhaps a wine from Sancerre? Nope. Instead, this refreshing wine hails from Casablanca, Chile. Example number two is a Riesling that expressed aromas of ripe pear, melon, jasmine, and developing hints of kerosene and eucalyptus. This could have very well passed for a German Trocken wine that was grown near a patch of gum trees, but naturally it is from none other than the Barossa Valley of Australia. On to example number three, this wine had soft-tannin and a masculine complexity that presented nuances of red cherry, smoked meat, leather, and forest floor. All of the right pieces were there to be on par with a Gevrey-Chambertin with a bit more backbone, but instead this Pinot Noir came from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Our last example is a deep colored Nebbiolo with high acidity and powdery tannin with flavors of black cherry, plum, rose, and earthiness. Less reflective of Barolo and more similar to a Valtellina Nebbiolo, this wine is from Paso Robles, California and is but one of many examples of Italian varietals showing some great potential here in the Golden State. So with all of these examples, we can all agree that New World producers have been stepping up their game to continue giving Old World wines a run for their money. But hey, Old World producers can’t be too upset about it… Imitation IS the best form of flattery.

-Julie Albin

Old World VS New World – And a Few Shades of Grey

Monday, August 5th, 2013

It’s no secret that people define wines by which side of the tracks they came from. Not always rightfully so, but this dividing line between wines of the Old World and wines of the New World has been an everlasting regularity for decades upon decades. This juxtapose of styles has influenced many people’s opinions to the point where wines might as well be from two different planets. So what is it that spells out Old World versus New World? Grown and produced throughout Europe, Old World wines tend to bear characteristics of fresh fruit, acidity, minerality, oak spices, and maintain a more modest austerity and alcohol level. On the other hand, New World wines typically express riper fruit, vanilla and coconut flavors, lower acidity, somewhat astringent tannin, higher viscosity, and ultimately higher levels of alcohol. Sounds easily definable right? Well, unfortunately there is often a lot of crossover which makes for many shades of grey. Food and Wine Magazine Guide to Wine author Mary Burnham recently popped into the SF Wine Center to help puzzled students put some of the pieces in the right places. Blindly tasting several sets of wines, students were put to the test to see if they could figure out which wines were Old World and New Old. Here’s a taste of what we figured out…

Let’s start with a quick comparison of two of the wines we tasted. Wine #1 was a lemon-colored and light bodied wine with zesty acidity and hints of green apple, lime juice, and flinty minerality. Wine #2 was slightly golden in color and had more weight in the mouth, a creamier texture, and notes of ripe peach, melon, and vanilla oil. So which is which? You guessed it. Wine #1 is a Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2010 exemplifying the Old World while wine #2 is a 2009 Mayacamas Chardonnay from the Napa Valley. And now that we know that, what is it that creates this often inarguable diversity between OW and NW? Climate is a rather crucial aspect as some OW regions struggle to have enough sunshine and heat to reach full ripeness while most New World regions have too much of a good thing and often end up overripe because of it. What happens in the vineyard can also affect the wine styles as many OW producers practice manual harvesting and most NW producers take advantage of mechanization. Legal matters in the vineyard can also influence the wines; an example being that irrigation is not permitted in many OW countries so the vineyards are left to fend for themselves in the pursuit of water. And certainly not least is the impact of aging methods. OW producers aging their wines in French oak barrels will impart hints of oak spices, smokiness, and leather. Many NW producers using American oak barrels will grant their wines more buttery notes alongside vanilla and coconut. So all in all, it would seem that easy to tell the difference, right? Mother Nature has other plans and is presenting them by way of global climate change which is affecting European wine regions as we speak. And as if that wasn’t adding enough confusion to the pile, more and more California producers are switching to French oak while some Tuscan producers have recently started to experiment with American oak. So what it comes down to is that all of these grey areas start to raise the question of the century– is NW and OW simply black and white or is there currently a changing of the tides?

-Julie Albin

What’s in a Vintage?

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Vintage this, vintage that. We’ve all endured countless wine critics ranting and raving about the utter success of this vintage versus the unfortunate downfall of that vintage. After a while it all just seems like numbers, right? Actually, those critics are dead on. Vintage variation is hands down one of the most controversial components of the wine industry as we know it. And while several other factors also contribute to the final product, it all comes down to what kind of curveballs Mother Nature decided to throw us this year. Each vintage is like a grand recipe composed of many different ingredients such as the four seasons, temperature, sunlight, precipitation and all the of risk factors that come with them. Each year presents a true test of cosmic forces that ultimately decides who will succeed and who will be forced to salvage the vintage with skillful winemaking. And although it can be rightfully said that some areas are more susceptible than others, no region is spared from vintage variations. To prove this concept, Jacques Devauges of Burgundy’s Domaine de l’Arlot recently paid a visit to the SF Wine Center and presented members with an incredibly rare and exclusive vertical tasting of the domaine’s Nuit-Saint-Georges Clos des Forets 1er Cru; a line-up that included vintages 2000-2002 and 2005-2009. And here’s a taste of what we learned.

Just for a bit of background info, Clos des Forets Saint-Georges is a Premier Cru climat of Nuits-Saint-Georges and all 17.5 hectares of it are exclusively owned by Domaine de l’Arlot. Moving onto the wines, in order to illustrate just how pivotal each and every year is, here are all of the vintages that we tasted described in one sentence. 2000- Rustic and smoky with featherlike tannin that should be enjoyed now. 2001- Savory earthiness with aromas of meat, white truffle, and violets held together with powdery tannin. 2002- Barnyard characteristics paired with hints of dried tarragon, licorice, and distinct minerality. 2005- Tart red fruits and tobacco with muscular yet graceful tannin. 2006- Succulent berries, all spice, fennel, and youthfully tight with grainy tannin. 2007- Young yet approachable with talc-like tannin and hints of leather, black raspberry, and plum. 2008- Closed off yet slowly unwinding with velvety tannin, floral notes, and savory spices like cumin, paprika, cardamom, and turmeric. 2009- Vivacious with red cherry, sweet spices, and bold yet incredibly silky tannin. And there you have it. Notice just how different the same wine can taste year after year. Some vintages are ready to drink at a younger stage while others stay wound up for much longer. Some vintages stay youthful and fruit driven while others fast forward straight down the rustic savory path. Each recipe of climatic influences creates its own special batch of wine that is unique to that year and only that year. So how will we know what to expect? Annual vintage reports written up by the experts are a valuable tool to help you when making purchasing decisions. So unless you find yourself scouring the planet’s wine regions and tasting everything strait from the barrel, take the critics’ word for it. When it comes to vintages, it pays to do your homework.

-Julie Albin

Brown Bagging – The Art of Blind Wine Tasting

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Sipping on booze concealed inside of a brown paper bag… sounds like something you’d catch Jay and Silent Bob partaking in while standing in front of the local convenient store. But when it comes to tasting wine, it’s time to toss out that old stigma because brown-bagging wine and tasting it blindly is serious business. Both newcomers and wine professional implement this practice as it really is the only way to form non-skewed evaluations of wine. Not judging a book by its cover is one thing. Not judging a wine based on the information printed on the label? That takes hard work and brown-bagging is the way to do it. One thing that just about all wine lovers can agree on is that it’s both exciting and entertaining to taste wine and try to guess what it is. But in reality, that isn’t what this is all about. It’s about improving your skills at fully interpreting the wine you are drinking in a completely unbiased manner. Recently Food & Wine Magazine’s Guide to Wine author Mary Burnham stopped by the SF Wine Center to help guide the blind, tasters that is, along a comprehensive tasting eight different wines; all of which were indeed veiled inside of brown bags. Wine professionals follow an incredibly intricate, perplexing, and sometimes stressful system of evaluation. But for the sake of class, we stuck with a more basic method and kept it pleasant. That being said, even this “simplified” method is still very complex by nature, but when it comes to wine that usually means you’re doing it right. So twist that brown paper around the bottle’s neck and have a blind taste of what we learned…

We’ll start with the obvious and first look at the wine’s appearance, observing its clarity and color hues. For whites this can range from lemon-green to deep amber while red wines will range from purple all the way to brown. As the wine’s color will transform with age, typically the older the wine the deeper the white or the fainter the red. Moving up into the nostrils, we first want to take a light puppy sniff of the wine and make sure it’s not faulty – aka corked, spoiled, or just plain old over the hill. Wine’s okay? Then we’re okay. Next, you want to take a few more light whiffs of your wine and think about the flagrant aromas that leap out of the glass and into your nose. Once you have them in mind, you want to categorize those aromas into primary (typically fruit), secondary (imparted by production methods such as oak barrels or yeast), and tertiary (effects of aging such as savory or earthy expressions). And now on to the palate where things can get a bit more technical. The sweetness level of the wine is quite a distinguishable facet and can range from bone-dry to luscious. Sweet or not sweet, is the level of acidity in this wine high enough to cause your mouth to pucker up or does its lack of acid leave the wine tasting syrupy on the tongue? Another unavoidable complex is tannin, which is the graininess caused by grape skins. Do the wine’s tannins feel austere and robust? Are they more restrained and elegant? Or are they a juxtapose of powerful yet velvety? After that is probably a good time to think about the wine’s body, considering the sheer weight of the wine on your tongue. Once you have done so, try repeating a similar process as you did on the nose and consider the flavor components that you notice. Again, instead of just listing every single fruit you detect, think in categories such as fruit, floral, herbal, spices, oak, minerality, and so on. Now once you’ve either spit or swallowed the wine, take a final moment to acknowledge the length. Do the flavors continue to linger causing you to remain in a state of utopian bliss? Or do they quickly fall off of a cliff, leaving your palate curiously wondering if that was all a dream?

-Julie Albin

Wine Collecting – Not Just for the Rich and Famous

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

“Wine collecting”… the term itself could indeed sound a bit posh. Many probably hear that and envision an aristocrat resembling the Monopoly guy wearing a monocle and speaking of his fine wine collection in his South London accent. Well fast-forward that skewed perception and welcome to the 21st century. Nowadays, collecting wine can be seen as both a well endeavored cultural pastime for everyday wine drinkers and also a thriving business model for savvy investors. For example, ask someone who purchased allocations of Bordeaux 30 years ago what the price point of their wines were back then and what they are selling at now; we’re talking massive amounts of ROI on those wines. Okay fine, so that is best case scenario and will certainly not be the case with all wine. But at the end of the day, there is a highly justifiable reason why wine auction houses across the globe continue to flourish. Not particularly interested in purchasing wine for investment purposes? No problem. Collecting wine goes much further than gobbling up a bunch of them just to sell them via auction many years later. There are also more humble and personal benefits to purchasing wines by the dozen. What could these benefits be? Here’s just a taste of ‘em…

As we dive into this topic there is one key element to remember in all of this. Bar the mass-produced bulk wines that are made from grapes that came from who knows where, when it comes to the rest of the wine industry, each bottle that you hold in your hands is in fact a rare item. Unlike other beverages that are made consistently with the same ingredients and recipes year after year, wine is made from a fresh fruit that is exceedingly sensitive to different factors and fluctuates substantially from region to region and year to year. Safely stated, wine is not in never-ending supply. Realistically, with each wine and each vintage, there really are only a select amount of bottles floating around out there. So as far as buying them goes, the wines that you like are more than just limited in supply, they can be strait up difficult to acquire. This is one of the main reasons why the best wines in the industry are sold as en primeur, aka “wine futures”, and a great example being that wines from Bordeaux’s top estates are completely sold well before they even make it out of the barrel. Now once you’ve decided to purchase some wine, something you may notice if you choose to buy by the case is that cost wise it typically tends to work out a better price per bottle than if you bought a single bottle alone. True, doing that once is not going to move mountains in money savings, but if that becomes habit the money you save over the years will be more than just nickels and dimes. And as an additional bonus, the next time you have a last minute dinner party to attend or run out of time to buy a gift for a special occasion, you have your collection of wines to save the day. Now with all of these benefits, you mustn’t forget how vitally important it is to make sure you are storing them properly. By storing them in a temperature and humidity controlled environment, such as a wine refrigerator in your home or a wine storage facility such as the SF Wine Center, you’ll get to fruitfully experience the full range of progression that your wines evolve into. From their bright and sparky youth all the way to their sophisticated maturity, you get to be there along for the ride. So there you have it, collecting wine is not just a snooty hobby for the culturally elite; it’s something that all of us everyday wine drinkers will benefit from. But hey, if you really want to act out the part why not slap on a monocle and fake Franz Ferdinand mustache, you know, just for kicks.

-Julie Albin

The Many Benefits of Wine Classes

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Wine class… sounds a bit like something that snobbish wine aficionados attend on a regular basis to discuss the royal snobbery that goes hand in hand with wine education. Right? Wrong. Unless you are one of the few people in this world who absolutely detest the taste of wine and anything that comes with it, you can and will greatly benefit from attending wine classes. Okay, okay, so you love drinking wine and all but why on earth would you need to take a class when you already enjoy what you’re doing? Well, the answer is simple. Not only will you open the door to more wines than you could have ever fathomed, but you will know how to enjoy them the right way. Yes, there is a right way to enjoy wine. Sipping box wine out of a red plastic cup is not a solution, for anybody. So take the snooty stigma out of the wine world and open your eyes. Think of wine as if it were Disneyland… Sure, there is some fun stuff outside the gates; balloons, cotton candy, souvenirs and all that. But why just hang around outside? Get in line, buy yourself a ticket, and come in for the real deal. Recently, students at the San Francisco Wine Center were ready to do just that. And with James Beard award-winning author Jordan Mackay taking the lead on this field trip, the students were astounded at just how many fun facets of wine there is to learn about. Here’s a taste of what some of those were….

So first things first, let’s start with holding your glass properly. Holding the glass by its stem is crucial for two reasons. One, it keeps your hand from affecting the temperature of the wine and therefore altering its characteristics. Two, it just looks a whole lot classier. And now that you have the wine in your glass, let’s talk freaky faults. Yup, wines can have them. This is where wine classes can become very helpful. Picture this, you’re at a restaurant and you order a bottle of wine from the menu. It arrives and you smell and taste it. Straight away you sense an aroma of wet cardboard muckiness. Hmm..Maybe this is just a bad producer? Nope. This wine is corked. And you should not continue to torture your palate with the retched taste of it. Understanding what faults to look for in wine and how to identify them is something that is useful to just about everybody. What’s next…let’s talk about describing wine. We all hear a lot of wine jargon being said such as, “This wine is oaky.” But what does that even mean? Well, as you will learn in wine classes, there are different types of oak used for barrels, different ages, and different lengths of time in which they are used; all of which imparts different characteristics to wine. Moving onto fruit. Yes, a lot of wines have a sense of fruitiness to them. But what kind of fruit? Citrus fruits? Green apples? Peaches? Berries? Or even tropical fruits? Once you identify the types of fruit, you then have to decide what stage these fruits are in. The fruits can seem fresh, ripe, baked, candied, or even jammed. Figuring this out can tell you a lot about the region in which the wine came from and how its maturity is progressing. In addition to that, there are a whole lot of other components of wine such as its acidity, tannin, body, complexity, and several more that can tell you a compelling story about the wine, where it came from, the people who made it, and where it is going. Therefore by taking wine classes such as “Tasting and Describing Wine” at the SF Wine Center, you come to understand much more about what you are drinking and further enhance your decision making for future wine purchases that you make. Now who doesn’t like the sound of that? So get out there and put your learning hat on. And have fun with it!

-Julie Albin

Wine List:

1. Champagne Delamotte Brut NV – Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France
2. Villa Maria Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc “Private Bin” 2011 – New Zealand
3. Stift Goettweig Gruner Veltliner Messwein 2010 – Kremstal, Austria
4. Olivier Leflaive Chassagne-Montrachet 2009 – Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, FR
5. Dr. Loosen Riesling Kabinett “Blue Slate” 2011 – Mosel Valley, Germany
6. Raptor Ridge Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 – Oregon
7. Alenza Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva 2001 – Tempranillo from Spain
8. Pio Cesare Barolo 2007 – Nebbiolo from Alba in Piedmont, Italy
9. Paul Hobbs Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 – California
10. Graham’s 10 Year Tawny Porto – Douro Valley, Portugal

The Stars of Champagne

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles.  Who doesn’t love bubbles?  Especially during this time of year, nothing beats popping open a nice bottle of Champagne to celebrate the holiday season.  San Francisco Wine Center students were ready to kick-off this year’s holiday festivities by joining Advanced Level Certified Sommelier and lead wine educator at the Culinary Institute of America Christie Dufault and spending a chilly winter evening learning about and tasting some of the true stars of Champagne.  With an extravagant lineup including legendary producers such as Taittinger, Pierre Gimonnet, Pierre Peters, and Lanson, it was the bottle of 1996 Louis Roederer Cristal that sparked a rather intriguing topic of conversation.  As we all know and have heard in countless songs by Notorious B.I.G, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, and several others, Cristal grew quite the following from the hip-hop culture throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Often referred to as “Crissy”, one could find bottles of Cristal available at nearly every major nightclub being sold for anywhere from $450 to $600, and sometimes even more.  Then suddenly all of that changed after a fateful interview with the managing director of Louis Roederer, Frederic Rouzaud. When asked if he felt that Cristal’s association with the “bling lifestyle” could be damaging to the brand, he simply replied, “That’s a good question, but what can we do?  We can’t forbid people from buying it.”  And with that, hip-hop icon Jay-Z was so offended by Rouzaud’s comment that he ultimately boycotted Cristal and pulled the wine from all of his lounges and 40/40 nightclubs.  The others soon followed.  Jay-Z spokesperson Ron Berkowitz later commented, “The hip-hop world certainly helped elevate the presence of Cristal.  At the end of the day isn’t the goal for any company to sell bottles?”  Well…not exactly.

You see, what makes wine so unique is that unlike beer and spirits which are made from fermented grains and starches, wine on the other hand is produced from fresh fruit.  This concept makes for significant fluctuations in production due to factors such as climate.  In other words, what you get each year is what you get.  So focusing back on Cristal, this high-end Champagne is not just about a crystal clear bottle, gold labels, and shiny foil wrappings.  As the very first Prestige cuvee of Champagne, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are selected from their estate’s finest vineyards.  And only in the “great” years when the ripeness levels ensure the defined balance that Cristal is known for will the wine actually be produced.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that Cristal is only produced several times each decade.  The supply of this fantastic cuvee is not endless, and therefore, neither should its consumption be.  But now that the hip-hop culture has essentially dumped Cristal in a less than amicable breakup, nightclubs have moved on to other well-known Champagne houses.  Nicknamed “Sally”, the hip-hop and club scene has begun its all-or-nothing relationship with world-famous Champagne house Salon…which incidentally is also only produced during exceptional years and typically only four times each decade.  At the end of the day, are these producers more than happy to have anyone in the world that is passionate about wine thoroughly enjoy and indulge in their Champagne?  Most certainly, it’s what they live for.  Could these wines be fully appreciated for their rarity and superior quality while being sipped on a dance floor in a jam-packed nightclub whilst the drinkers are just trying to focus on not having their glasses elbowed by the person next to them?  That part, you decide.

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus Brut NV
  2. Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut 2000
  3. Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002
  4. Pierre Gimonnet Brut Special Club 2002
  5. Pierre Peters Les Chetillons Blanc de Blancs 2004
  6. Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs 2005
  7. Louis Roederer Cristal 1996
  8. Lanson Ivory Label Demi Sec NV
  9. Lanson Extra Age Rosé NV
  10. Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut NV

Red Burgundy – Cote du Nuits

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Burgundy can be thought of as a well-bred family of children; each child possessing different appearances, different styles, and different behaviors.  Within this regal family is an undoubtedly salient set of fraternal twins, both dashing in looks and rivaling only each other in superior quality, none other than the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune.  These regions represent the teenage dream of being that set of all-star athlete fraternal twins that can’t help but excel in just about everything.  Every girl wants to date them.  Every guy wants to be them.  But just like any fraternal twins, even the nearly flawless ones, alongside the uncanny similarities come distinct differences.  James Beard award-winning author Jordan Mackay paid another visit to the San Francisco Wine Center to guide a class full of students who caught the Burgundy bug and help them uncover the deep side of Côte de Nuits.  Feasting their eyes on the impeccable wine list, the class fervently tasted a few Premier Cru wines followed by an impressive lineup of delightful Grand Cru wines from Clos Vougeot and plenty of Charmes Chambertin.  The students were more than pleased to end the class with a glass of 1985 Camus Pere & Fils Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru.  Here is a taste of what we learned.

Although both regions produce the two key Burgundian grape varietals, many would refer to the Côte de Nuits as the ‘Holy land of Pinot Noir’ while Côte de Beaune is dubbed as the ‘King of Chardonnay’.  Having been granted 24 of the 33 Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, Côte de Nuits is highly dominated by Pinot Noir at about 95%.  It is a well-known fact that Pinot Noir from this region tends to be unmistakably deeper colored, heftier, and firmer than those of Côte de Beaune.  But why is that?  Well to be fair, attempting to fully comprehend the mosaic of soils that underlie Côte de Nuits, or Burgundy in general for that matter, is not for the geologically inept.  But looking at the overall picture it can be noted that the region’s soils are composed of a limestone base topped with mixtures of chalk, marl and red clay with rich alluvial soils found in the lower altitudes.  The Côte de Nuits bears a continental climate with little to no influences from the Atlantic; receiving long cool winters, short warm summers, and an unfortunate tendency for hail storms.  Apart from general climatic similarities, this region conspicuously differs from the wet and windier conditions of Côte de Beaune.  Another perceivable difference between the regions is the much narrower size and sharply sloped terrain of Côte de Nuits in contrast to the soft rolling hills of Côte de Beaune.  All aspects combined, Côte de Nuits ends up producing significantly less amounts of wine than Côte de Beaune.  Now, that sure was a mouthful of comparing and contrasting.  But as mentioned earlier, life is such for such high-profile fraternal twins.  The bottom line, could you resist dating either?  If you even tried to answer with a ‘yes’, Burgundy drinkers would argue otherwise.

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Domaine Dujac  Morey St-Denis AC 2010
  2. Domaine Denis Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2009
  3. Clos de Tart La Forge 1er Cru 2008
  4. Dominique Laurent Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Vaucrains 1er  Cru 2001
  5. Domaine Philippe Charlopin-Parizot Clos Vougeot Grand Gru 2000
  6. Domaine Armand Rousseau Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2003
  7. Domaine Ponsot Chapelle Chambertin Grand Cru 2001
  8. Domaine Federic Magnien Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 1998
  9. Louis Jadot Le Chambertin Grand Cru 1988
  10. Camus Pere and Fils Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 1985