Archive for November, 2009



Today’s increasingly complex menu preparations require a committed partnership between chef and sommelier. The best interests of customers are served when the master of the kitchen and the keeper of the wine cellar work in harmony to determine the best match between food and wine. But often, food and wine professionals jealously guard their domains. The best interests of consumers are served when territorial turf wars and oversized egos are set aside. The partnership requires the sommelier to have a comprehensive understanding of the chef’s culinary creations, theoretically playing a supporting role to the chef with intimate involvement with the philosophy and ingredients that will pass through the kitchen door.

Restaurant patrons look to a wine steward for help deciphering a wine list loaded with unfamiliar labels and varietals from wine regions around the world. (Ah, for the simpler days of red- sauced Italian food and Chianti poured from straw-covered bottles.)

The exemplary partnership between thirty-year old Chef Chris Kostow and Sommelier Rom Toulon, a young transplanted Frenchman, at the Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley isthe best example of this working relationship. Chef Kostow’s contemporary French cuisine blends Napa Valley’s farm-to-table tradition into elegant culinary creations well received by patrons.  He has been awarded two Michelin stars, as well as numerous other e has received to Michelin starsHeMichelin recently awarded Kostow two starsawards, and notices in many publications.  Toulon brings his European insights and expertise to Californian and New World wines. He stays in constant touch with Kostow’s inventive a la carte, four, or nine course presentations. Each time the chef develops a new dish Toulon tastes between nine and twelve wines in consultation with his knowledgeable and well-trained wait staff before handing down a final verdict on a desirable pairing. Even after all that consideration, Toulon leaves room for savvy diners to express their personal tastes and choose from the restaurant’ extensive wine list. The remarkable undertaking between this chef and sommelier needs to be emulated in dining establishments across the country. A partnership like this is rare, but when it happens, a dining experience becomes immensely more enjoyable.


Is Cheap, Good Wine an Oxymoron?

In these frantic times of economic downturn, it might seem wise to cut all but necessities from the budget. The question is whether wine is a necessity. Wine, in moderation, especially in tough times, adds a bit of sparkle and relaxation to the everyday bad news that bombards us through the media. And let’s not forget its heart-health benefits. Wine snobs might debate the possibility to unearthing excellent wines at reasonable prices. However, it’s been my contention for years that price isn’t always an indication of excellence. Some wine consumers shell out extraordinary prices for wine thinking if it costs a lot, it must be better. A better rule of thumb is moderation when shelling out bucks.

Which is not to say to buy the very bottom of the barrel, (pardon the pun). The very lowest end of the price scale can’t compare to wines crafted with care by vintners who charge prices based on the realities of cost of production: labor, vineyard management, selection of grapes, price of barrels, and length of time wine is stored before it’s released. But too often it is the ego of the winemaker and expectations of return on the dollar that determines the cost of a bottle.  The American public is swayed by hype into accepting price as the final arbiter of quality by focusing on panache.

Bravely try new varietals from regions around the world producing good wine at reasonable prices.  Shiraz/Syrah is a rising star of the wine world, and some of the best are coming from Australia, like Rosemount Diamond Label at $12.  A host of producers from California and New Zealand produce my favorite white varietal. Sauvignon Blancs from Napa’s St. Supery at $17, Kim Crawford at $15.99, or Brancott at $10.99 are in my estimation, over-the-top excellent choices.  A Trinchero Gewurztraminer is delicious and unbelievably priced below $15. Chardonnays like Columbia Crest at $11 or Cousino-Macul at $9 suit the palate of the lovers of that varietal. Pinot Noir fanciers should look for California’s Meridian Vineyards Central Coast at $11. And there are zillion choices for just a few dollars more. Don’t knock wine off the list of necessities.  In these times of belt tightening, there are good prices around town for the cost-conscious quaffers, especially if he or she gives up the touted scores posted in wine magazines and on store shelves. Be adventuresome, be frugal, be careful, but for goodness sake, don’t give up wine!


Holiday Wines Part 1



I wonder if the Pilgrims had an idea about how that first Thanksgiving morphed into the glorious holiday Americans treasure. New information redefines the myths surrounding that celebration. Fact or fiction, Thanksgiving is embedded, even sanctified, as our premier national holiday. Wherever we came from, we all have reason to celebrate the unifying holiday.

Variations of the iconic dinner are prepared in almost every kitchen across our country. The preparation of the dinner may differ from culture to culture, from palate to palate, from one culinary preference to another, but the ubiquitous stuffed turkey is present on every table.

If wine is the beverage of choice to accompany this elaborate meal, which one to choose? Especially when the table holds so much food we become as stuffed as the poor carved bird. A light wine is the best partner for this dinner. Within the range of light wines, several include Beaujolais Nouveau which arrives on our shores in early November. The inexpensive wine, often bottled by George de Boeuf, is one step away from grape juice. It’s an easy quaff, light on the palate, yet flavorful enough to pair with this rich dinner. Beaujolais Villages, produced in several areas in the Beaujolais region, are more sophisticated and relatively inexpensive. They range from $8.99 to about $15. Another excellent choice is Pinot Noir from the Carneros region of California, or the Burgundy region in France, or Oregon. Pinot Noir can be a crowd pleaser when it is produced well. Two inexpensive, uncomplicated Pinots are French Rabbit and the Little Penguin, both at around $6. They won’t break the bank, especially if there is a large crowd at table. Want to spend a little more? Choose Rodney Strong, Duckhoren, or De Loach. If something more flavorful is your fancy, try a Zinfandel by Seghesio, Kunde, or Ravenswood.

P. S. Try the same recommendations at Christmas and Hanukah.


Holiday Wines Part 2.

Can a light wine be as enjoyable as its big, bolder brothers? Well yes, especially when our palates welcome a change from more intense wine flavors. Then it’s time to turn to Beaujolais Nouveau. Banners in wine shops announce its yearly arrival with fanfare on the third Thursday of November in the nick of time for the holiday season. This light and fruity wine, produced from the Gamay grape on granite soils in lower Burgundy, is widely available, reasonable in price. Reliable bottlers to look for are Bouchard Aîné & Fils, George Duboeuf and Louis Jadot.

Beaujolais Nouveau keeps a host from wondering whether to pour red or white for a conglomeration of guests at a holiday dinner. The wine is young and fresh, hot off the wine press, ready for immediate consumption. Best of all, these wines are a step away from grape juice, generally light in alcohol, suitable for kiddies and grandparents. Think of them as adolescents in a glass, a treat for those who prefer white wines as well as red wine quaffers. They complement a variety of foods, served in a wide range of temperatures.

Beaujolais Nouveau used to be rough on the palate, sometimes astringent, but now are generally imbued with charming, luscious grape-jelly flavors of sun-ripened fruit. (That description makes me want to run and open a bottle, this very second!)

Beaujolais Nouveau are conglomerations of wines that come from many vineyards and producers in the region. In contrast, wines designated Beaujolais Villages are produced from grapes grown in better vineyards in ten specific villages in the Beaujolais appelation.  Among them are villages of Morgon, Moulin à Vent, St. Amour and Fleurie.  Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, these wines are more costly and have a longer shelf life. They can be stored for as long as five years, and sought by wine connoisseurs.


The Vineyard Manager

WINE AND THE VINEYARD MANAGER© BY NATALIE BERKOWITZ Fabulous wine, it is said, starts with great grapes in well-managed vineyards. A knowledgeable winemaker who is lucky to combine his skills with a talented vineyard manager doubles his chances of producing excellent wine. It is the vinyard manager who works the agricultural side of wine production, hand in hand with the winemaker. The two have an important symbiotic relationship. Good vineyard management is the crucial foundation of a good harvest, mitigating factors of sun, soil, and rainfall—those factors known as terroir. Vineyard management is a barometer that attempts to predict and control the outcome of wine.

Vineyard managers play a crucial role in the winemaking process. They check with contractors for long-range planning, help to decide where to buy and develop properties, and determine which soil and microclimate are best suited for particular root stocks.  Each grape varietal flourishes or refuses to strut its stuff so it’s hard work to get each vine to express its particular personality.under certain conditions. It’s a constant search to develop style and attributes of grapes that leads to complexity, depth, and intensity in wine. They deal with a thousand crucial decisions based on day to day management of grapes through all the seasons.  Our job is to assure maximum quality with acceptable yields by goosing the vineyards. Each grape varietal flourishes or refuses to strut its stuff taking these factors into account. It’s a full-time, year-round job requiring constant monitoring.  They check dormant vines and follow through with decisions about when grapes are ready for harvest harvesting grapes.

January is the start of the vineyard year. The dormant vines have been asleep for several weeks and the vineyard manager follows through the rest of the year. Proper pruning of last year’s growth controls the following season’s potential and pruning the canopy directs vital energy into the grapes. and takes a load off the vines. The key word is balance between fruit and vegetation. Major decisions determine styles of trellising, when and where to plant new vines, and when to sucker off extraneous growth in Cropping during the season sends more vitality to bunches of grapes on the vine. Spring are crucial.The vineyard manager directs his crew to drop off all unripe, green fruit as the season progresses. As the grapes change color, there’s a last fruit thinning. Finally, there’s the rush to orchestrate the harvest and to get the picking crews out in an orderly fashion at the optimum moment when the grapes are perfect. “It’s a slum dunk if all the issues are correct,” says Frank Leeds, Director of Operations at Frog’s Leap Winery in Napa Valley.

November 2009
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