Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Italian Wine Merchants

Although it's only been a few (great) months and a mere 34 posts (!) I'm afraid I will soon be ending my blog "Over a Barrel" on erobertparker.com. I won't be leaving the blogosphere altogether but joining the great team at Italian Wine Merchants, where I will be the Director of Communications, effective July 27th.

I'd like to thank my wonderful friend Bob Parker, first and foremost, for allowing me - and my blog- to be part of the erobertparker family, which has been tremendous fun. I'd also like to thank his behind-the-scenes talent (thank you, Joe and Mark) for putting the nuts and bolts of this blog together.

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my posts- especially those who took the trouble to respond. I hope we can (all) connect again on the IWM site.
I look forward to keeping in touch.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Awed by Austria

I met some remarkable winemakers and tasted some truly incredible wines during my six days in Austria. In fact, the trip itself was nearly flawless save for the fact that many of the producers were incredibly hard to find. Like Rudi Pichler (See photo below for the proof that I did, in fact, finally locate him. ) It took about three passes through Rudi's tiny village in the Wachau to find his (very) tiny sign. It didn't help that there was another winemaker named Rudolf Pichler a few streets away in the same town. (No, I didn't taste his wines).

I'd always heard that Austria was a beautiful country and my little sojourn certainly confirmed that. I want to go back as soon as possible - though with a better GPS system next time. I'll be writing about my Austrian endeavors in-depth in my next "Wine Matters" column for Food & Wine so stay tuned!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Away to Austria

I'm bound for Austria this weekend so this blog may be taking a briefish Sacher Torte and Gruner Veltliner holiday (no, that is NOT a suggested food and wine pairing). If I manage to have both the time and the internet access, I'll post a few details.

I've never been to Austria before but from all that I've heard from my friends and colleagues (not to mention my Austrian neighbors) I'm really looking forward to my trip.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Where's Aldo?

One of the highlights of my weekend at the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen was the blind tasting seminar I conducted in conjunction with Aldo Sohm, the deeply knowledgeable and articulate World Champ Sommelier and Wine Director of Le Bernardin in New York (depicted above holding his winner's hardware.)

I had been inspired to put together the tasting after reading a study made by the American Association of Wine Economists that found (after many tastings over quite a bit of time) that only experts actually appreciated expensive wine.

I put together eight wines - all excellent examples- served in pairs. Aldo and I challenged the crowd to name which wines, tasted blind, they thought were cheap and which wines were expensive. "Don't say cheap," Aldo admonished me at one point. "We never say cheap at Le Bernardin." I don't doubt that.

The wines we tasted included a lively 2007 Jadot Macon Villages ($15); a richer and oakier 2006 Jadot Puligny Montrachet ($50); a deliciously bright 2007 Domaine de la Janasse Cotes du Rhone ($15) and the brooding 2006 Domaine de la Janasse Chaupin ($75); the 2006 Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato ($20) and its Aglianico-based "counterpart" the 2005 Feudi di San Gregorio Serpico ($90) as well as two Cabernets from Santa Rita winery in Chile: the 2006 Casa Real and the 2005 Medalla Real ($15 and $75 respectively). The wines all showed beautifully - in fact, the crowd was often evenly divided over their preferences in each pairing.

The conclusion? Well, it was interesting albeit quite unscientific: the crowd loved all the wines- regardless of price.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cheers to the New Champ

The Fourth Aspen Food & Wine Classic Sommelier Challenge (directed, orchestrated and adjudicated by yours truly) has just ended and two-time Defending Champion Bobby Stuckey, the wine director and owner of Frasca in Boulder has passed the tastevin to Jordan Salcito, sommelier of Gilt restaurant in New York. The lovely Salcito, who won by a show of (many) hands in the audience, bested not only the ever- personable Stuckey (who charmed the crowd with stories of his travels in Spain and his honeymoon with his beautiful wife Danette) but also the bubbly Belinda Chang, wine director of The Modern in New York and hometown favorite, Richard Betts, wine and mezcal impressario and former Wine Director of Aspen's Little Nell.

Betts actually conceeded the competition before the winner was chosen, saying that his three competitors were all far worthier than he. Betts, one of the best palates in the business,was certainly the most entertaining: during the forty five minute challenge and tasting, he managed to invoke the beauty of sangria, display a belt buckle given to him by Ernest Gallo (could that be true?) and enjoy a nip of his own mezcal.

The crowd (which included Robert Bohr, of Cru, the 2006 Aspen Champion Sommelier and husband of Jordan as well as Aldo Sohm, the reigning World Champion Sommelier and wine director of Le Bernardin) tasted five wines - under the direction of the competing sommeliers. They included the Langlois Cramant, a lovely sparkling wine from the Loire; the 2008 Giachino Altesse, a beautifully crisp white from the Savoie region of France; 2007 Les Cretes Petite Arvine - one of my favorite Italian whites- a relatively obscure wine from the Valle d'Aosta; the 2007 Bodegas del Palacio de Fefinanes - a delightful Albarino, and last but not least, the beautiful 2005 Cabrida, a powerful old vine Garanacha from Celler de Capcanes in Monstant.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tiny Type(faces)

How much time does the average person actually spend reading a wine list? Probably no more than a few minutes, unless that person is an avid wine drinker or the list is as long as that of Spruce in San Francisco or as fat as the two-volume tome at Cru in New York. But what if that wine list is just really, really hard to read?

I never gave this practical fact much thought until I was dining at the Oyster Bar last week. This Manhattan stalwart, located deep within Grand Central Terminal, has pretty good food (I love the Oysters Rockefeller) but a very good wine list. It is, however , the wine list with the smallest typeface I’ve ever (tried to) read.

Was the Oyster Bar list http://www.oysterbarny.com/ printed in six or eight point typeface, I asked general manager and wine director, Jonathan Young, when I got him on the phone. "It’s actually Arial ten-point," he replied, "It's the same typeface as most other restaurant lists but because we print out wines all one page it looks really small." Well, it is one of the most challenging wines lists I’ve ever read, I complained.

But surely I wasn't the only one. “Don’t other customers complain too?” I asked. Young admitted they did. “But it’s kind of a tradition. And we like to keep it all on one page,” he said. (The wine list is on the back of the menu- a very long sheet of white paper.)

But Young admitted he is thinking of making a few modifications- like removing sub appellations from the wine regions and maybe putting the cocktails on a seperate sheet altogether. And if that doesn’t work, "Our adertising firm said we should hand out magnifying glasses," said Young. He's accumulated a few samples and may start handing them out on an experimental basis.

In the meantime, a few great buys from list that I did manage to see: L’Hereu de Raventos I Blanc Reserva Brut Cava- an excellent value sparkling wine for $35; the 2008 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc at $42 and under “Oyster Whites” the 2008 Antinori Vermentino from Bolgheri, a beautiful companion to oysters (and other shellfish) priced at $44.

My next post will be from a much higher altitude: I’ll be in Aspen, Colorado from tomorrow through Sunday at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen, where I’ll be moderating the Sommelier Challenge for the fourth year in a row and conducting a seminar on cheap versus expensive wine (tasted blind) and tasting lots of great wine. Stay tuned.