Illusione Cigars, Great Lakes Beer, Orin Swift Wine
Illusione Cigars, Great Lakes Beer, Orin Swift Wine
Tony, Craig, and Matt talk about L’Atelier, Sexual Chocolate, and Thirsty Dog
I talk to my good friends and pioneers of the wine industry Hunter Vogel, and Andrew Lerner
As Promised, Episode 2 of Vice Picks
You don’t have to be a Cicerone to enjoy artfully crafted beer, a record producer to be moved by good music, or an Executive Chef to seek out the finest grub. Experiencing the best of the best is truly one of life’s great pleasures… but perhaps only if you have meaningful friends to share it with. Having your best friends and family around can make your backyard into the rooftop bar at the Ritz, turn a frozen strip steak into Wolfgang’s mesquite cote de boeuf, or even can make a twenty-dollar bottle of culty California taste like it might cost two-hundred. Now imagine what a true $500 bottle of one of Napa Valley’s most sought after wines might be like in company of the very best of friends.
Sometimes in the hustle bustle of being a Sommelier and running a wine shop I get boggled down by ratings, pretension, and wine gobble-do-gook, What effect does unique volcanic soil of chalky white ash, a western facing slope, and 2582 degree days have on the body… what varietals should I be looking for? It gets tiresome. Sometimes the best way for me to evaluate wine and get a honest-to-goodness opinion is with my two best friends. Neither has the education or experience that I have, but they both have a discerning palate and an unaffiliated, honest perspective.
The wine was Colgin “Cariad” 2006, the cigars, Cuban Montecristo # 3’s, the food, deep-fried peanuts and whisky sticks. The music was Creedence on vinyl and the Friends, a career hippie and dental school student (Doug), a petroleum engineer hillbilly (Alex), and me… Youngstown’s resident tattooed, smoking, sommelier.
On the rolling slopes of St. Helena in Napa Valley, lies the Madrona Ranch. The distinctions here are essential in shaping the complexity of The Cariad. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot comes from this vineyard and certainly lends itself to the Bordeaux-Like structure and flavor profile. This wine has extreme terrior. While filled with earth and materiality, it completely displays the classic California fruit that you might expect from St. Helena. The Petit Verdot for the “Cariad” blend comes from Thorevilos Vineyard. Meticulous vine care and low yielding vines produce a Petit Verdot that adds the salt and pepper and the beautiful finishing notes in this outstanding wine.
Doug typically likes his wine soft and well rounded. Ripe fruits and shy tannin are much more his style so it was no surprise to see Doug a little overwhelmed by the tannin and acidity in this monster. The wine was surprisingly well balanced for its youth. Most of these Cali big dogs take 15 to 20 years to develop the balance that this wine showed. And although it had the high tannin and acid, it compensated with 15.6 degrees of alcohol and a clever rush of strawberry and blackberry so bright even Doug eventually came out of his Caymus coma and began to really enjoy the complexity and power that brings this high flyer back to Earth.
Now Alex typically likes his wine in the form of Budweiser, but has since lately been interested in learning about wine he has shown promise, as his palate is refined for not knowing it yet. As we drank and smoked he started talking about the venison, and deer jerky than he and his family had caught and made. Thinking about the venison as he talked, the gamey and roasty notes of the wine came to light and made me realize that a well prepared dish of venison or perhaps quail, or duck something gamey would be well matched with this beast.
Colgin is a wine unlike most I’ve had before, the depth and complexity are “right there” as the tannin and acid are balanced now and will last for many years to come. Although we opened the bottle earlier than it may of liked, it still showed very well. At less than 500 cases, it was surely well tended too and artistically crafted. As the night continued on full of laughter and memories, I wrote down tasting notes, Alex talked about killing the deer with a bow and arrow, and Dougs teeth became a deeper and deeper shade of purple, I realized that it really didn’t matter what we were drinking, because the wine did its job, it created a moment in my life that I will never forget, a snapshot in time that I will remember forever, and that is what it is worth all the money in the world to me.
Dom Perginon, the French monk who discovered Champagne, a man who changed the wine game for everyone forever said this, and he was absolutely right, he did not think however that people would be drinking because of labels, and as a status symbol. Unfortunately this is what Champagne has become. Lets change this attitude by exploring the different and beautiful sparkling wines out there that are not 300 bucks a bottle.
My absolute favorite season for imbibing is approaching fast, bubble season. Although I drink bubbly as often as I can, June July and August are the key seasons for it. Champagne produced in the traditional method is the most important discerning factor in deciding what to buy. Traditionally Champagne is made from three grapes Pinot Noir (red grape), Pinot Meunier (red grape), and Chardonnay (white grape). It is fermented first in stainless steel vats, and then fermented again in the bottle. The reason for the secondary fermentation in the bottle is to provide the bubbles. When yeast eats sugar two things are created alcohol, and carbon dioxide (in still wine the CO2 is usually bled off during the first fermentation). The bottles of fizzy are then turned slightly everyday until they are vertical (riddling) this is done to bring the yeast (lees) to the top of the bottle so it can be frozen, and shot out of the top (degorging). What happens to the space that is left? Some producers don’t add anything to this void hence the size of the foil on the bottle, some use either a still red wine (rose), or a sweet mixture of grape juice syrup (Le dosage) to make it a little more user friendly.
Ok enough with the technical mumbo jumbo, lets get down to the fun part. Buying Champagne. Think to yourself, how ostentatious do I have to be? You don’t! Champagne and sparkling wine is meant to be fun and enjoyed with friends and the best of company, oysters don’t hurt either. Some people think that only the most expensive and austere brands of champagne are the best and that it is only catered to the super rich, when in fact it is specifically catered to people like you and me, we just have to find the right ones. I have most of the secrets here for you
Generally speaking champagne is made in house at the winery, but from selected vineyards and growers in or around Champagne, France. Some houses use up to 70 different bottles for each bottling. These famous houses make great champagne but are not focused on terrior (sense of place), they are focused on a good consistent product that tastes the same year after year. This is fine and if you want to spend over 300 bucks a bottle for one go ahead. But out of the 19,000 growers there is a small and focused group of about 5000 grower/winemakers that are emerging out of the woodwork of France and making some killer bottles of bubble. These guys are called Recoltant-Manipulants, and the bottles they make reflect this status by having the initials RM on the label. The cool thing about grower champagne is the winemakers approach to small production artisanal wines. They are focused on bringing the truth out of the land and letting the sparkler show its true colors without manipulation; to me this is the truest form of winemaking and craftsmanship. You can pick up some of these grower champagnes most of the time for well under a hundred bucks, Pierre Peters blanc de blanc is great for about 50. Be careful though, a lot of theses bottles are released a little too early and may need some time in your cellar.
In northern Italy lies Lombardy, a region not generally known for making wine in the Country. Inside Lombardy lies Franciacorta DOCG, which produces some of the best sparkling wines in the world. Franciacorta is comprised of 85% Chardonnay, 10 % Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), and 5% Pinot Bianco (a white genetic mutation of Pinot Noir) is made in the traditional method or Metodo Classico (charmat method), and (the important part) has to be aged for 25 months after harvest and 18 months on the lees in the bottle. This is all very similar to Champagne, and the wine shows it. Very balanced and elegant in general with hints of biscuit and nice firm acidity compared to Champagne they are more round and approachable very easy to drink but sometimes lack the complexity of its Cousin in France. May I suggest La Boscaiola brut for about $40.00, has some nice dried fruit characteristics complimented by a fruit driven apricot nose.
The USA certainly does not miss the boat on production of some stellar sparkling wine either. You need to be careful here though because we do produce a lot of over-manufactured gas-injected sparklers. You can still find awesome wine at great value here at home but you have to know what you’re looking for. Luckily you have me. Obviously California is the forerunner on all things grape, and they are definitely the standard in sparkling. Try Schramsburg blanc de blanc, for about 40 bucks you can pick up a cave aged, small lot, malo-lactic, barrel fermented beauty. Vibrant and fruity this wine will do well and age for the next 5-15. After all they drink it at the White House. If your in to getting really adventuresome, go to the old west, just south of Truth and Consequences, yes Truth and Consequences, New Mexico. The vineyard was planted in 1984 by a man named Gilbert Gruet, owner of French Champagne hosue Gruet et Fils, as he was traveling through the South-West United States. As taken from their website “At 4300 ft. the vineyards are some of the highest in the United States, so regardless of how hot the days might be, the temperature at night can drop as much as thirty degrees, cooling the fruit and slowing down the maturation process on an otherwise short growing season. Sandy and loamy soil, and a lack of humidity that might contribute to rot, give us a consistency of fruit year in and year out, and allow us to produce our award winning wines without the use of pesticides.” The last time I drank this Blanc de Noir, I had trouble discerning it from some of the best Champagnes I’ve ever had from France with fresh biscuits and strawberries, plenty of finesse and raspberry cream.
Throughout time Kings, Authors, British Spies, Dictators, Presidents, Actors, and Rappers have drank Champagne and all had something to say about it. Now it is your turn to take out the people you love to your favorite restaurant or pick up a bottle at your wine shop and make an evening out of just the bottle. No special occasion necessary, just get one you’ve never had before and don’t recognize by label and enjoy it, because drinking Champagne and enjoying it is a lifestyle, and you need to live it, trust me it’ll be the best decision you’ve ever made and I would love to hear about it.