Monthly Archives: July 2008

Sipping Chianti Amid Met Treasures-A Summer Pleasure

One of my favorite places to have a drink in New York is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The food is not great, the olives are always too spicy and the wine is so-so but there is something about sitting in that space that brings me to other lands and adds a sense of grandeur to an evening. I like to look at the beautiful Celadon green vases from East Asia as I sip a glass of wine and contemplate the exhibit that I just saw or that I had planned to see but went for a drink first.

There are a number of options for dining and having a drink at the met including the Balcony Cafe where you can listen to a mini classical music concert on most Friday and Saturday evenings. There is also a rooftop bar where they serve a variety of drinks and you have the added pleasure of looking down at Central Park. This summer there is a show of works by Jeff Koons on display on the roof and a not-to-be missed show of works by J.M.W. Turner in the museum.

The Petrie Court Cafe and Wine bar is another option. Here the menu is much more varied and you have can look out onto Central Park while the Burghers of Calais stand silently nearby.

I have always been very fond of this sculpture by Auguste Rodin although it depicts a sad episode during the Hundred Years War between the English and the French. These citizens of Calais were to be sacrificed by the British had not the Queen interceded on their behalf, according to Froissart’s Chronicles. While they will ultimately be saved, Rodin renders their suffering in a poetic and tender manner as they carry the keys to their fair city.

On a recent evening, I had a Chianti Classico from Melini. It was pretty much what one would expect from this Sangiovese-based wine, fruity (raspberries, strawberries) with a hint of floral (violets), a touch of something herbaceous and good acidity, a feature of this grape. It didn’t pair too well with the olives or the other combinations on the menu so I went with the classic cheese plate. In the end, I go for the ambience and am never disappointed. For a much more elaborate meal with a very interesting wine list, the members dining room offers lunch and dinner that are sometimes theme based. I went for my birthday a number of years back and had a Spanish tasting menu, wines and all, that was well worth the hefty price tag. The location, the Members dining room, was divine.

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Ferrari and Bruce

In addition to being an italophile of the first order, I am also a crazed Bruce Springsteen fan. Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking my mother to her second Bruce concert. Seeing Bruce 10 minutes away from home, surrounded by thousands of people who love him as I do, is one of the very appealing things about having returned to this area. Before the concert, my mom and I had a toast with a touch of Ferrari, that delicious spumante from Trento made by the Fratelli Lunelli.

It is made with only Chardonnay grapes from a variety of vineyards surrounding the city of Trento. It has that classic Spumante taste to my palate: bread, nuts and yeast. Spumante is the Italian sparkling wine made by the traditional champagne method. I love to celebrate with this wine and have often wondered why Italian spumante hasn’t taken off in the United States to the extent that I think it should. The Prosecco craze is a phenomenon that I think Spumante could repeat. Perhaps it will now that Champagne has gotten so expensive.

Bruce would be a great testimonial I think but I am surely biased. Few things have given me as many hours of unbridled joy as listening to his music. Thank you Bruce. You are and always will be the Boss.


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Not Just For Tourists

I saw this sign as I was taking a walk in Trastevere in June of this year.  I guess this was supposed to make you want to eat in the restaurant but I confess, it didn’t inspire me. It is true that tourists are often treated to ridiculous prices and not great food in some restaurants in Trastevere. Luckily that is not the case everywhere.

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Sara Perez, A Young Female Enologist From Mas Martinet and Venus La Universal

Sara Perez, Enologist at Mas Martinet

Sara Perez, Enologist at Mas Martinet

I met Sara Perez of Spanish wineries Mas Martinet and Venus La Universal at the Society of Wine Educators conference in New Orleans in May of this year. She was speaking on a panel entitled Female Finesse: Outstanding Women Winemakers about her wines and the difficulties that female enologists (winemakers) encounter. She was the first female Spanish enologist with whom I have spoken. I imagined that their experiences would be much the same as their Italian counterparts. Sara confirmed these thoughts but said that there were many, many female enologists working in Spain while the same cannot be said of Italy. She said that 80% of the people studying Enology in Spain are women however.

Sara noted that women are often behind the scenes and are not necessarily the public face of the company, even if they are the reigning enologist. She said that at first few people take you seriously but that you must fight to make yourself heard. She added that sometimes, being a woman can actually give you an advantage because you are allowed to take more risks. Interestingly enough, most of the people buying wine in stores, especially in Europe because they can buy wine at supermarkets, are women.

According to Sara one of the difficulties of being a full time enologist was how to manage while you are raising a family. What is needed, she noted, is a good network of people working with you at the winery whom you trust. She is very lucky to have that she said and was pregnant when I met with her in May.

Whether the winemaker is a man or a woman is not quite as important as if they make good wines and Sara certainly does. Sara and her husband, Rene Barbier Jr. are trying to bring back Carignan to her area in Spain. She is doing this using very low yields. They are also doing a considerable amount of organic farming, trying to perserve life and humidity in the soil. We tasted her Cami Pessorles 2006, a DOQ Priorato. The wine was made from 80 year old vines and was deeply alcohol, and meaty with wood notes, black fruit and some mineral accents. It was very powerful and was made from 60% Garnacha and 40% Carinena (Spanish for Carignan). We also tasted her Gratallops-Partida-Bellvisos 2004, another DOQ Priorato. This one was made with mostly Carinena grapes grown in the village of Gratallops and had a small amount of Garnacha added to it. It was filled with aromas and flavors ranging from raspberry to liquorice, and cherries. It had quite a high alcohol note and was extremely persistent with a very long finish.

Venus La Universal

Venus La Universal

Her third wine was called Especial carinena “Crossos” 2004. This wine was made at her new operation called Venus la Universal, a DO Montsant. This was made from 100% Carinena wines from a single vineyard called Crossos. This wine was slightly different showing lots of spice, liquorice, and wood notes. According to Sara, it was a true expression of the Montsant terroir. Sara is certainly an up and coming winemaker and it will be exciting to watch as her career and DO Montsant develop with her.


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Appellation NYC- Gravner & Co.

Roman Amphora

Roman Amphorae

Yesterday I was melting in the heat with a friend on 10th avenue when lo and behold I saw an apparition  in the distance- Appellation NYC. I had been hoping to visit this wine store for a bit but had never gotten around to it. I wasn’t disappointed. Scott Pactor has created a truly different wine store which sells only organic and bio-dynamic wines. Bio-dyamic wines are wines made according to a specific philosophy and generally follow the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Appellation also has a category called sustainable for wineries that are working towards organic certification but haven’t gotten there yet. Each wine is duly labeled. I truly enjoyed browsing through his selections which include many French wines and a variety of wines from all over the planet. Appellation carries a ribolla gialla from Josko Gravner, the well known Italian winemaker from Friuli. I met Gravner two years ago at a tasting in Monza, Italy.  Gravner is famous in the wine world because he uses Clay Amphorae and large oak barrels to mature his wines.  He had some interesting things to say about his own wine making and Californian wines. Seeing his wine in the store brought back memories of that tasting and Gravner’s ideas about winemaking. I will write more at length about Gravner in another post because this is a post about Appellation. Suffice it to say, I will making many trips to visit Appellation in the future. There is a whole world of wine waiting to be tasted. I’m looking forward to it. on 156 tenth avenue NY, NY 10011

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Nizza – A little je ne sais quoi…

I recently had a drink with a friend at the very trendy wine bar/restaurant that is part of a growing restaurant empire known as the Tour de France Restaurant Group. I had no idea that the super crowded Nice Matin on 79th/Amsterdam had relatives all over the city including Marseille right on 44th street next door to Nizza. Nizza is on 9th avenue between 44th/45th. It is billed as a bar a vin italien.

Before I became smitten with Italy, I was a Francophile of the highest order. I loved everything about France and spent a period of my life living in Dijon. That love affair ended quickly with a train ride to Florence one day when I was 20. Leaving behind Dijon and its pale white light, its gothic cathedrals and severe wooden sculpture, I got off the train in Florence on Caranevale in February. I was stregata as they say. Florence welcomed me with its green and white striped churches and the yellow warmth of the sun in Tuscany. I have never looked back. The one place though where Italy and France truly merge in my mind is the Riviera, the French Riviera that is. Sitting in that wine bar, sipping a glass of Lambrusco while my friend enjoyed a Pigato from Liguria, I felt a certain je ne said quoi. I may return to try to figure it out, or just to enjoy another glass of that delicious, refreshing, Lambrusco di Sorbara from Francesco Vezzilli. Strawberries and raspberries were the immediate aromas and flavors but on a more careful search, I also found hints of violet. Lambrusco di Sorbara comes from the provinces of Reggio Emilia and Modena. This wine is made with Lambrusco di Sorbara and the Lambrusco Salamino grape.

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Anniversaries in NYC

Every family has restaurants that are the scenes of family birthdays, anniversaries and a variety of celebratory experiences. When I was a child, my family used to celebrate occasions in Manhattan at a restaurant on 72nd and 3rd called Faye & Allen’s. I loved the blue and white decor, the sesame seed bread sticks my grandfather used to finish in a thrice, and the seafood combination. Faye & Allen’s closed long ago and alas alack, that part of the family has moved on to other realms. For most of the last 20 years another upper east side restaurant in Manhattan on 8oth and 3rd – Parma – has filled the role. Lately though, we have branched out to a restaurant that reminds me of my youth and those days at Faye & Allen’s- the Atlantic Grill on 77th and 3rd avenue. The crowd is different, the acoustics are too but there is something about the restaurant that brings me back to high school graduation and days long past. Maybe it is the decor, the color scheme, what have you, but whenever I go to the Atlantic Grill, I can envision my grandfather’s chubby fingers grabbing a breadstick and I smile.

On a recent visit to celebrate my parents 49th anniversary, yes 49th, I had the usual cold seafood platter with oysters, clams, mussels and half a lobster. It was perfect. We drank a fabulous wine by Francois Cazin, a winemaker in the Loire Valley. His 2006 Le Petite Chambord from Cheverny was delicious. Cheverny is an appellation in the Loire Valley. In order to use this appellation, a Cheverny must be a blend of varietals. This one is a mix of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine was a true gem with fruit, floral and mineral notes on the nose and palate. It was well integrated in terms of its alcohol and acidity, with a velvety mouth feel. It had a lovely touch of biscuity, yeasty undertones and a hint of residual sugar. I had been introduced to Francois Cazin’s wines by the very capable sommelier at the Monday Room on Elizabeth Street. There I tried a wine made with an indigenous grape from the Loire Valley, Romorantin. That Cuvee Cour-Cheverny was very memorable. I would highly recommend both Cazin wines to any and all who are looking for a delicious wine to pair with seafood, pasta and white meats.

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