Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sin of the Second Bottle

I had dinner with some friends at Minetta Tavern last night. According to one of them it’s “the hottest restaurant in New York” right now. Unsurprisingly, it’s a Keith McNally property - an old Italian joint reborn as a trendy McNally boite. McNally of course is the restaurant impressario responsible for Balthazar, Pastis, Morandi, Schiller’s et al.

I actually ate at the original Minetta back in its red sauce days and while I have no memory of the food, I do remember the wine that we drank: Principessa Gavi. Back then, there wasn’t much in the way of prestigious Italian white wine (actually there still isn’t) but Gavi was considered a pretty sophisticated drink. The new Minetta wine list, created by Chris Goodhart (who puts together all the McNally lists) bears no resemblance to Minetta original. (No Gavi) Which I guess is a good thing.

Except that the list is largely directed to those in the know with money to spend. For example, there’s a 2004 Clos Rougeard “Bourg” Samur Champigny for $170 that my friend Glen Vogt, the wine director of Crabtree Kittle House (who was in our group of four) declared “incredible.” Not to mention a 2002 DRC La Tache for a pretty reasonable $1,500 (“infanticide” Glen declared) and a magnum of 1989 Quilceda Creek Cab at $1,200. (“We have some of that at our restaurant,” Glen mused.)

But if you’re in the market (as I usually am) for a wine around $50, the pickings are considerably slimmer. A red wine from Corsica? A basic 2007 Bourgogne? A Central Coast Grenache? None appealed. I went with a 2006 “Cuvee de la Tour Sarrazine” Gigondas from Le Clos de Cazaux ($60). This Grenache-dominant blend was delicious – perfectly balanced, lovely ripe fruit, brilliant acidity. “This is a wine that’s hard not to keep drinking,” Glen said.

But when it was time for a second bottle (Glen was right) we couldn’t find anything as interesting in the same price range. We’d have to step up another $20 or $30 for a second wine that was on par with the first. Why is this so often the case? Why can’t there be several wines of similar quality and interest in the same price range? But it was no time for rhetorical questions- there was still half of the (terrific) Black Label burger left. Defeated and thirsty, we committed what I suppose is considered a sin among adventurous wine drinkers: we ordered a second bottle of the Gigondas.


  1. From Nancy, Kinkead Ridge Estate Winery. Lettie, I was not able to reach you through Food and Wine magazine, but this is my response to your article about Cleveland. I also wrote your friend Jeff in U.S. mail.

    The very fine national magaine, Food and Wine, published a story from Lettie Teague, a New York wine writer, who was hosted in Cleveland by her friend Jeff.

    Two of our wines have made the Top 100 Exciting Wines in the World list by British wine writer Tom Stevenson, including our Cabernet Franc. Our 2004 Cabernet Franc received a Double Gold medal at the international AWS wine competition. Our 2005 Petit Verdot was named 2007 Wine of the Year by Ann Boucher, Columbus, Serendipity, and Cutting Edge Manager.

    From Lettie's article:

    “Why do Ohio reds taste so bad?” Jeff asked... (He actually used a stronger phrase.) There were many possible reasons, I said, ticking them off: bad winemaking, the wrong grapes, the wrong soil, the wrong vineyard techniques. I was still enumerating them when Jeff stopped at Marathon gas to fill up the tank. Inside the station were bottles of Ohio ice wine, wedged between the candy and the motor oil. “I could have bought my wine here,” Jeff exclaimed."

    From Nancy:

    In the past, I have emailed Food and Wine editors, thinking they might be interested in the renaissance occurring in the wine industry in southern Ohio, a historic viticultural area; but I never heard from them.

    My response to Food and Wine was something like this:

    "I read with great dismay your article by Lettie Teague in the April issue about Cleveland. Despite the long history of winemaking in northern Ohio (which actually occurred after fungal diseases hurt the southern Ohio wine industry), something very exciting is happening in the Ohio River Valley. We grew Pinot Noir in Oregon for over 10 years. In 1999 we planted our all vinifera vineyard east of Cincinnati on a southeast facing slope draining to the Ohio River... on soil similar to St. Emilion. We have mentored five new wineries in the area, and wineries throughout Ohio are garnering gold medals in international competitions. Our Cabernet Sauvignon, Franc and Petit Verdot ripen beautifully down here, harvested as late as the end of October.

    To publish a question like "Why are Ohio reds so bad?" and not do a little investigative reporting is careless at best. Just Google "Ohio vinifera" and see what turns up."

    Look, I'm am a born and bred New Yorker. Are we dealing here with the innate prejudice that New Yorkers have, a distaste for all things non-coastal? The Wine Spectator is another magazine that in my memory has only done one "Wine Across America" issue in the last ten years. Pour our wines blind, and people are amazed. Tell them the wines are from Ohio, and the prejudice kicks in.

    Sure, there's sweet wine in Ohio. There are dry wines as well. We are producing internationally recognized, estate vinifera wines, as are some wineries up north, a special tip of the hat to Ferrante, Markko and a few others.

    All I can say is, Cleveland, Jeff, Lettie and America: WAKE UP! Not all Ohio reds are bad wines. We personally are producing wines that stand with any in the world for value and quality. (All of our wines are under $20).

    At age 61, the winegrower and I have a limited amount of time to make a difference. This is why I get so furious that people are judging Ohio wines from a limited geographical sample.

  2. Hi Nancy,
    Although your note is "off topic" as they say in the blog world (and maybe the real world too) I have to say that it's been gratifying how MANY people have responded to my F&W Wine Matters (April) Cleveland story... I've gotten about 30 letters/emails and there have even been stories in the Cleveland papers about it. The response I'm happy to say has been overwhelmingly positive as readers actually applauded my coverage of their city ("too often overlooked national magazines") and fondness for the people I found there. AND, I might add, they even noted my "lack of a New York attitude"! so to get your email about Jeff's thoughts on Ohio reds, well, I can't say anything except it was Jeff's opinion on wines that he'd had a lot more of than I have... as he is, after all, a many-generation Clevelander. I am glad you contacted im and I hope he does get a chance to try yours. Thanks for your note; I admire your passion though I do not agree with your characterization of me as prejudiced against Ohio... I am, after all, a graduate of a fine Ohio college and a proud Midwesterner.

  3. Thanks Lettie for your reply. I'll get off the soapbox! Sorry to post off topic, but I really wanted to reach you somehow.

  4. Hi Nancy-I'm glad you did. And I would love to taste your red wines sometime!

  5. Hi Lettie -

    Enjoy your writings. RE: The Second Bottle: wow, value is not part of the wine picture at that place, eh? I had the 2001 Le Bourg in Las Vegas (another wine clip joint if there ever was one) at Aureole. But, I thought their wine list had some ok values. The Le Bourg was $125 which I did not think was too bad for that vintage (assuming you could find it, it would be $75+ retail) and the wine was stored perfectly and it was delicious. I am shocked they are getting $175 for that in NYC for the 2004 - shows you that NYC is missing the mark a bit on wine pricing.


    San Francisco

  6. I, actually, think it's more a problem with Ohio attitudes than New York's to Ohio wines. I live and work in New York City and I have a vineyard and winery in Ohio, Hermes Vineyards. I see both attitudes. There are typically two types of wine drinkers in Ohio. The sweet wine drinkers who are difficult to please unless you're into making wine coolers which I'm not, and the more educated wine drinkers who, like you satirized in your Cleveland article, prefer California wines above all wines. They can be very label conscious. They also can be a difficult sell. My neighbors, coworkers and friends in New York, however, are always asking to try my wines. They seem to be curious, and also at wine-tastings, about wines from uknown regions. I find them more open, in a way, to trying my wines. And, thank God, there's no sweet wine drinkers in sight. Sorry to stay off topic but I wanted to make this point.

  7. I had the 2003 Clos Rougeard “Les Poyeux” at Grammercy Tavern three weeks ago - it was rocking. Easily the best bottle of red I've had this year.

    As for the 2004 Clos Rougeard “Bourg” for $170 - I doubt there's a better wine on the list for less dollars. (Prices have been escalating every year due to strong demand for the small quantities that are produced and imported.)