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France!

France!

 Tasting at Louis Roederer including 02 and 06 Cristal with Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon

Tasting at Louis Roederer including 02 and 06 Cristal with Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon

After an incredible tour of France(and Iceland), I’m back in the States. Over the coming days, I will be writing up my experiences with the winemakers I met with as well as other great experiences. I’ll kick things off with a few fun facts about the trip:

We drove over 1500 miles in 14 days

We visited 4 wine regions and met with 19 winemakers

We tasted over 150 wines

The oldest wine tasted was from 1966

We completed a high ropes course

We had a picnic at the top of Hermitage

We paid homage to Paul Bocuse at his namesake restaurant – 2 words, Truffle Soup

Overall it was an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to sharing lots of stories in the future!

 Enjoying a picnic on top of Hermitage with a bottle of Hermitage

Enjoying a picnic on top of Hermitage with a bottle of Hermitage

Iceland!

Iceland thoughts

 Blue galciers in Glacier Lagoon near Höf   

Blue galciers in Glacier Lagoon near Höf

 

Iceland is an amazing place to see some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. The Gullfoss waterfall is truly epic. Hiking the mini canyons of Þingvellir National Park was a bunch of fun. The blue glaciers at the glacier lagoon are incredible and worth the long drive out of Reykjavik. If you like nature and outdoor adventures, Iceland is incredible.  Dress warm, and prepare for a lot of wind.

 Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle

Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle

Beyond the nature, I thought Iceland had a vibrant food scene. We had an incredible meal at Dill in Reykjavik, which focuses on new Nordic cuisine. The amuse of pickled carrots with sour cream and caraway was eye opening given the simplicity and commonality of the ingredients. The herbed lamb fat instead of butter served with the bread was delicious.  All 7 seven courses plus 6 “snacks” were complex, fascinating, at points slightly challenging, but overall delicious. Sticking with the Champagne theme, we did enjoy some of Christophe Mignon’s delicious Brut Nature, along with 7 more natural wines paired with the food. I highly recommend it.

 Herbed lamb fat and bread at Dill Restaurant in Reykjavic

Herbed lamb fat and bread at Dill Restaurant in Reykjavic

After we visited the blue glaciers we went to the village of Höf and found a delightful, and some what touristy, langoustine restaurant called Humarhofnin. Piles of langoustine served with a local beer that has artic thyme in it. Well worth the stop, just skip the langoustine pizza. Back in Reykjavik, we also managed to track down some of the native meats of Iceland, puffin and minke whale. I’m glad I tried them, but I can’t say as I’d rush back for more, and given the scarcity of them on Icelandic menus I’d say the Icelanders feel the same. Puffin was a bit like duck, but gamier while minke whale was like ahi tuna crossed with duck.

We did make it to Bæjarins beztu, the famous hot dog stand of Reykjavik. The dogs were pretty tasty, all lamb meat served with a nice collection of sides including fried onions which gave great texture. We enjoyed the hot dogs sober, but I have a feeling they’d be better late night food with some booze on board.  For morning time, and pre-driving trip stop at Sandholt Bakery in Reykjavik, fantastic pastry, bread, and sandwiches.

The soaking pools and hot springs in Iceland are not to be missed! We went to a variety pack from neighborhood ones to fancy tourist ones. All were great and really helped make me feel better after long hours in a plane or car. The neighborhood ones were very affordable, just a few bucks to soak and steam with towels available for rent. The touristy ones were nicer, but didn’t give me the same feel as hanging out with all the natives and realizing that soaking is part of everyday life for them. Makes me wish we had a lot more of this in the states. The other nice thing was there was little to no body shame, people of all ages and sizes were all soaking and not feeling self confident about it.

 Mini canyons at Þingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle.

Mini canyons at Þingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle.

A few other observations, Icelandic wool is not soft. The Reykjavik Cathedral is amazing for its stark simplicity rather than the stain glass and carving of the ones in continental Europe. During summer hours it never gets dark, sunset is around 11:30pm, but its still light until sunrise. You really can burn the midnight oil there. We were out playing and doing things until we were too exhausted to do anymore.

I would highly recommend Iceland, particularly as a stop over to Europe. Iceland air is perfectly fine, and its nice to have a shorter flight and a layover of a couple days rather than one long haul flight.

1996 Prestige Tasting

Prestige 1996 tasting

This is a fairly long and in depth post with lots of information, so buckle up.

Recently I had the privilege of joining a group of wine lovers to taste a magnificent collection of prestige champagnes from 1996. Obviously many of these wines were delicious, but the comparisons between them was what was truly compelling about the event. There were a few main areas of comparison  that I found to be particularly striking. First, the difference between crafted champagnes versus single vineyard/village and small producers. Next, how disgorgement and winery cellaring impacted the wines along with dosage levels. Finally, and unfortunately, storage issues. After my thoughts on these subjects, I’ll also give some of my notes on all 21 we tasted. I also have to say a big thank you to everyone who opened their cellars to help make this tasting happen!

Crafted vs. Specific Area

For years the debate about large vs. small producers has been circling the wine community. Bashing big guys for making generic wine, bashing the little guys for getting to much credit for good but not great wines, and so on. I don’t really care about this debate because I’ve had fantastic wines from large and small producers. What I do care about is the difference between the champagnes that are crafted from parcels throughout Champagne, next to those that come from a specific area. This tasting illustrated this discussion at the highest levels. On the crafted side we enjoyed Cristal, Dom Pérignon, Dom Pérginon Oenothèque, Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill, Bollinger Grande Année, Bollinger RD, and Henriot Enchanteleurs. On specific area we enjoyed Krug Clos du Mesnil, Philipponant Clos de Goisses, Salon, Chartogne-Taillet Fiacré, Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée, Vilmart Création, and Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs.

We didn’t set out to compare the wines in this fashion, it was simply something I kept coming back to throughout the tasting. I continued to return to it because there were a number of wines from well known producers that were from a specific place, which is rare to be able to enjoy more than one of this at any given time, let alone compare them to their blended peers. I won’t say that one style was better than the other, its simply the conversation that surrounds a given wine and why it deserves praise. For me the Salon was quite possibly the wine of the tasting, and I loved it because of its complexity and singular focus on showing off what Mesnil-sur-Oger is capable of producing. In the same vein, the Krug Clos du Mesnil was superb because it showed off Krug’s style applied to a very small area. Conversely, the Cristal, Pol Roger, and Henriot were exceptional because they were the sum of their parts. With these wines, each time I came back to the glass, I was rewarded with new aromas and flavors that were the result of different grapes or areas within Champagne. These wines showed the talent of the individuals that created them. The talent and knowledge to know what resources they have to work with and how to coax out the most compelling wine they possibly could.

Many of us that love wine, are on the quest for terroir, and we forget that blended champagnes can be amazing. That being said, I don’t think the Champenoise don’t do themselves any favors by not sharing their thoughts on the various terroirs they work with to create these wines. This also leads to a nod to the small producers, I was extremely pleased that two of the four grower champagnes stood shoulder to shoulder with the best of the grande marques. Of the two that didn’t make the grade, one was a slightly flawed bottle, and the other was truly out of its league. Like the mono parcel/cru champagnes from the maisons, I think the growers should be enjoyed because of what they achieve from a specific area of Champagne.

Disgorgement/Cellaring

Without a doubt the most compelling flight of the evening was the Dom Pérignon flight. We enjoyed the regular release of Dom next to two versions of the Oenothèque, one disgorged in 2008 and the other in 2013. Echoing this flight, but with less dramatic results was the flight that included the Bollinger Grande Année next to the Bollinger RD. These side by sides were compelling because the base wines were the same, the differences came from when the wines were released along with the amount of dosage in the wines.

The regular release of Dom was certainly one of the best Dom’s I’ve ever had, with almost 20 years of age it was coming out of its shell and exhibiting a delight mix of flavors, yet it still held on to the reductive notes for which the wine is known. I also felt the dosage was much higher in this wine, I’m guessing around 10 g/l. The first of the Oeno’s was the 2008 disgorgement, which showed much more in the way of high tone flavors of citrus, floral, and minerals, the acidity was also much more prominent. I’m guessing the dosage was closer to 6 g/l. Finally the third wine was the 2013 disgorgement which showed a greater range of flavors including more dark fruits and earthy tones, I even noticed a bit of lobster shell. Again, the dosage felt noticeably lower than the regular release. The 2013 was the favorite of the group, but I was still fascinated by the 2008, and after rolling it around in my head, I realized what was going on with these two wines. I thought back to pinot, which the 2013 was showing many more of the flavors I associate with this grape, and I realized the 2008 was in a dumb phase for pinot, just like so many Burgundies go through a dumb phase. The 2008 was being carried by the Chardonnay, while the pinot slept. The 2013 showed the harmony between the two grapes. It was an incredible realization, yet rather obvious in hindsight, that Pinot acts the same in Champagne as in other areas of the world. It also explains why many wines I’ve expected great things from have disappointed me in the same way that Burgundy breaks my heart sometimes. At least the champagnes are still enjoyable enough to drink, whereas I can’t always say that about the Burgs.

The Bollingers were fascinating as well, but unlike the Doms, Bollinger specifically states the dosage differences. The Grande Année is Brut, while the RD is extra brut. Flavor-wise, I felt the Grande Année showed the bottle age, but overall it was a prettier wine with citrus, chalk, and floral tones accompanying they yeasty, bold style of Bollinger. The RD on the other hand was fresher and brighter but the flavors tended toward yeast, earth, and dark fruit notes and the wine felt rounder in the mouth, despite the lower dosage.  As I reread what I wrote, I’m seeing that the original release of Bolli and Dom both show more high tones while the late disgorged wines show a more complete flavor spectrum. I suppose the extra lees time allows the dark fruit to shine rather than being overwhelmed by bottle age. However, if I sat with a bottle of either of the original releases throughout a night I might feel different as more flavors are allowed to emerge.

Storage

I feel I have to mention this, because of the 21 wines tasted 4 were off or didn’t show everything they could. The Taittinger Comte de Champagne was corked, mildly so, but still corked. Two of the others were obviously beat up from storage – Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame and Vilmart Cuvée Création. Champagne, while hardy, likes to be stored well. Unfortunately I think too often champagne is forgiven flaws because we simply don’t taste enough of it to recognize them, or we don’t care because its still pretty tasty even when flawed. The final wine, and this is completely my opinion, was the Krug Clos du Mesnil. This wine was showing very well and was a delight to drink, but I think somewhere along the way the bottle may have been beat up a bit. The wine simply didn’t show all that I expected it to given its pedigree. The other bottles of 98 and 00 I’ve had in the past were exception and mind blowing, deserving of the prices they command. The 96 in this tasting was great, but not exceptional. Maybe storage, or maybe it just needed more time to come out of its shell. Hard to say. Either way, care for your champagne, and it will reward you!

The Wines

Flight 1

Salon 1996 – Profound and exceptional, possibly the best of the tasting. It showed very well right out of the gate, bucking the usual trend of needing to wait for Salon to really sing.  A few of my favorite words from my notes – meyer lemon, apricot, insane, gorgeous, and long. ***

 

Taittinger Comte de Champagne 1996 – slight corked, oddly this wine showed a lot of yeast, brioche and a bit of barrel, which is totally different from all of the pretty high tones I had in this wine a couple months ago when I enjoyed it.

 

Krug Clos du Mesnil 1996 – One of my fellow taster hit the nail on the head when he said this wine is like drinking sparkling Batard Montrachet. It was more vinous and white wine-like than I expected. Some great words from my notes – honeycomb, chocolate, menthol, marshmallow, fantastic acid and minutes of length.  **

 

Flight 2

Cristal 1996 – I’ve been waiting for a long time to have a bottle of Cristal that showed me why people I respect love this wine. This was that bottle. Cristal lived up to its praise with this wine. I loved moving from blanc de blancs into this wine because the Pinot showed so well. This wine also furthered my thought that Cristal is striving to create a perfect wine, free of a specific house style or other characters that give a personality. I think this is why Cristal is often overlooked, without edges it can get lost. ***

 

Vilmart Cuvée Création  1996 – This wine was off.  That being said it still showed vibrant acidity and great structure. I’d love to taste a sound bottle.

 

Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée 1996 – This wine deserved its place in this tasting, it was a remarkable wine. The nose was a bit closed, but the palate was “fucking incredible” with great acid, and impressive length.  *

 

Flight 3

Dom Pérignon 1996 – Bright, pretty, smoky, bottle age, and some reductive notes. Surprisingly high dosage, but understandable considering when/how this wine is often drunk. Certainly one of the best Dom’s I’ve ever had.

 

Dom Pérginon Oenothèque 1996 Dis 2008 – Delightful, but chardonnay focused with lots of citrus, floral, mineral tones. Pinot seemed closed. Delightful, but the 2013 disgorgement was better. *

 

Dom Pérginon Oenothèque 1996 dis 2013 – Incredible, showing why Dom isn’t just some luxury product, but truly one of the top wines in the world. Chard and Pinot were in harmony with this wine. Lots of dark fruit – plums and cherries, floral notes, some yeast, lobster shell, minerality. Excellent. **

 

Flight 4

Krug Millésime 1996 – Dense and complex, but took time to open, and would better enjoyed on its own. Some of my favorite descriptors here – custard, orange peel, hedonistic, regal, and masculine. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying this wine a number of times, and its always amazing. Splurge sometime and enjoy it for yourself. **

 

Philipponant Clos de Goisses 1996- The other single vineyard wine in the line up. I thought this wine was a bit overshadowed, maybe by its flight mates or maybe just the tasting as a whole. It showed its pedigree, but I wanted more. I also didn’t get as much of the feral/gamey tone that I’ve come to associate with Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Clos de Goisses as I expected. That being said, it was pretty delicious with fantastic acid, length, and intensity. It also should a grassy, floral note that was unexpected. *

 

Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 1996 – I’ll show biased here, this is always one of my favorite prestige wines regardless of vintage, so it was a treat to revisit the 96. The wine showed the balance of richness and finesse and a surprising amount of citrus and cherry fruit while the brioche and almond tones were a bit more muted. Not the best in the line up, but an exceptional wine. **

 

Flight 5

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1996 – off due to poor storage

 

Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Fiacre 1996 – Without a doubt the most overlooked wine of the 21 we tasted. It certainly deserved to be in this line up and showed why Alexandre Chartogne is becoming one of the most sought after young winemakers in Champagne. The wine was a balance of light and dark flavors showing complexity, yet a fantastic drinkability. I didn’t notice this drinkability trait in the other wines, they all had an air of aristocracy about them, while as this wine felt like it worked its way into the group rather than being born into it. *

 

Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs 1996 –One of the surprises of the night. This wine was almost an after thought, but turned out to be one of the hits of the night for most tasters. It showed the range of fruit sources, being a model of a crafted champagne. Spice, cherries, blackberries, floral notes, green apples, a delightful wine that would make anyone happy. *

 

Flight 6

Bollinger Grande Année Brut 1996 – A compelling comparison with the RD. This wine showed more high tones, floral and chalk along with very enjoyable bottle aged toasty notes. It might have been a bit out classed given the company of many of the other wines, but certainly deserved a seat at the table.

 

Bollinger RD Extra Brut 1996 – Much fresher than the Grande Année, yet it expressed more dark flavors  - cherries, earth, lees. The wine was round and elegant with a distinct masculine edge. *

 

Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs 1996 – This wine was outshined both by the Bollingers and the whole tasting. It was the only wine from the Aube, and was compelling to enjoy a wine with limestone soils relative to all the chalk in the others. I would happily drink this wine on its own or with its peers, but it was clearly the odd man out.

 

Flight 7

Dom Pérignon Rosé 1996 – Exceptional, further confirming that this may be their best wine. Light, elegant, complex with lots of cherry blossom tones joined by delightful yeasty notes. Don’t hesitate if you see this wine, it’s a winner. **


Dom Ruinart Rosé 1996 – Much broader and denser than the Dom Pérignon. Earth and mushroom accompanied the apple and cherry notes. The wine was tasty, just not amazing. Maybe it was a bit off, but frankly I’ve yet to have an example of this wine that’s truly wowed me.


Deutz Cuvée William Rosé 1996 – Another surprise of the evening, and a great way to finish. The Chardonnay from Villers-Marmery distinguished itself providing great structure and acid for a wine filled with bright beautiful flavors. A gorgeous wine with a great palate. *



Savory

Last night I had a new taste experience. I was drinking Varnier-Fannière Cuvée Jean Fannière 09 base, and I experienced saffron for the first time in a champagne. Rodolphe Péters told me he notices this notes in wines from Avize, along with other “orange” aromas like tangerine. Over the last year, I’ve gotten a lot of these “orange” tones, but never saffron. It was compelling to finally taste that.

This minor taste experience brings me to a broader concept that I’ve been wrestling with in the bar and with my conversations with guests, that of savory flavors in wine. I think people are conditioned to think about wines in terms of fruit flavors and sometime earth and minerality. When I move past these descriptors I lose people. Obviously I lose people when I talk about a wine smelling like hay, but I don’t understand why others turn off when I talk about herbal notes, meaty flavors, and other aromas on the savory end of the spectrum. Lately I’ve found the champagnes that exhibit these flavors to be very compelling. They tend to be delicious, sometimes hedonistic, and the make you think a bit. If I convince a guest to enjoy one of these wines, they really get into it, but savory is a harder sell. Sometimes I just take the easy way out and talk about the fruit/nut/floral tones that come along with the savory as to not challenge them and sell a wine that I am confident will make them happy. Whenever I do this, it feels a bit like I’m cheating the guest out of discovering more depth in their wine.

Here are a few wines with savory tones, without getting too funky, if you’re curious:

Varnier-Fannière Cuvée Jean Fannière

Marc Hebrart Brut Selection

March Hebrart Blanc de Blancs

Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs de Aÿ

Marie Courtin Resonance

Jean Lallement Brut Rose(2011)

Dosage!

I realize its been a while since my last post, please forgive me making it through the holidays, starting a new business, moving, and a pile of other boring stuff. Anyway, here's a post that I finally completed about Dosage level as well as the type of sugar used. Enjoy!

Dosage  MCR vs Cane

Fair warning this post gets pretty technical, focusing on a small but very important part of the process of making champagne.

A while back I was fortunate to host a tasting with Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy of Champagne Geoffroy and Galaxy Wine Company. This tasting was very special because we were comparing dosage levels and base ingredient of the liqueur d’expédition for the dosage.  JB brought 6 bottles of the same base wine, his Expression Brut NV, all 6 were disgorge in September 2013. The difference between the 6 wines was two fold.

First, half of the wines had liqueur made from cane sugar, the other three wines the liqueur was from MCR. MCR stands for moût concentré rectifié or concentrated and rectified grape must. Beyond the difference in the liqueur, the wines were dosed at 3 different sweetness levels – 3g/L, 5 g/L, and 8 g/L. There was an example of each sweetness level with both types of liqueur, making for six wines total and a fascinating experience.

The purpose of these of tastings is to determine the best balance for the wine. The sugar and acid should be in harmony, meaning that the acid isn’t too sharp and the sugar not too overpowering to the natural flavors in the wine. Some producers don’t bother with this and just use the same dosage level every year. The committed producers on the other hand think this is very important to do every year since every vintage is different. That being said, few producers will test both MCR and cane. Most producers have their preference between the two and stick with it, tinkering only with the amount of sugar.

Base Ingredient of the Dosage

MCR versus cane sugar is a divisive topic, with both sides presenting solid arguments. Proponents of MCR argue that sugar is foreign to wine and alters the champagne too much. They feel that MCR is the better choice since its made from grapes it keeps in line with the champagne. Some also feel that cane sugar dosed wines oxidize more quickly.

Those that favor the cane sugar often feel that the MCR is heavy or syrupy, making for a less refined experience in the final wine. Additionally they argue that the MCR is foreign as well since its coming from grapes grown in the Languedoc or North Africa. Both sides have fair points and I’ve had fantastic examples of each style.

Additionally, JB thinks that the vintage must be taken into consideration.  In riper vintages the MCR works better because it respects the grapes. In leaner vintages, the cane sugar is better because it adds balance and harmony to the wine. Geoffroy discovered this in 1996 because the vintage was very ripe and had high acid so the cane sugar didn’t work. This was the first time he tried MCR and was very happy with the results because it allowed the wine to shine.

Since we’re already here, I’ll give you my two cents on base of the dosage before talking about the level.  After tasting all 6 wines, first blind then again knowing which was which, I found that the MCR wines smelled grapy-er while the cane had a sweeter smell. My actual thoughts were formed on the second day the wines were open, when I find many champagnes show better. With the additional time open, I found the cane wines showed a bit more of a honeyed or caramel tone. The MCR wines on the other hand showed a bit more fruit, and the MCR seemed to be more integrated. I felt there was a better harmony between the wine and dosage, meaning the MCR didn’t stand out as much as the cane sugar, so I got a purer picture of the wine as JB intended it.

Level of Dosage

Equally as interesting as the base ingredient, was the amount of sugar added to the wine. I’ve read about these tastings, so I was thrilled to finally do it myself. The MCR vs cane sugar was really just a bonus for me. The biggest surprise of this style of tasting, for myself and others,  is the fact that it is not a linear progression. More sugar doesn’t make the wine seem sweeter and vice versa, lower sugar doesn’t necessarily mean the perception of the wine is drier.  The need for these tastings is instantly justified as each year the grapes give the producers something different, so the dosage must be adjusted.

As above, I found the wines were much more expressive on the second day, making my thoughts on the subject clearer.

At the 3g/L level, I thought the wine showed the most purity and cohesiveness. However, it came with a lot of sharp edges and was the least pleasurable to drink. This speaks highly to the whole debate on expressing purity and terroir versus wine that most people will actually enjoy drinking. Intellect or hedonism?

The 8g/L wines were possibly the most compelling for what they illustrated. As the sugar level increased, the wine also seemed drier. Essentially too much sugar was creating a small version of the orange juice and toothpaste effect where the sugar brings out such a contrast with the acid that both become noticeable. I found the sugar seemed to sit around the acid, but never integrated with it. I found two distinct sensations in my mouth rather than one harmonious experience.

Finally the 5g/L gave the best of both worlds by creating harmony and balance. The sugar and acid integrated giving me a delightful wine. The sharp edges were sanded down by the sugar, but the sugar didn’t interfere with the wine itself. I thought there was still plenty of terroir and purity expressed but in a more enjoyable way than the 3g/L. 5g/L was the favorite of the group, but it was divided between MCR and cane with a few more people choosing MCR. The actual Geoffroy Expression available on shelves is 5g/L with MCR.

Overall this was an amazing experience that answered many questions, but also gave me much more to think about. I hope to participate in more tastings like this but with other producers so I can experience what its like to do this with pure Chardonnay or a blend from another area in Champagne. One other thing that my friend Eugenia Keegan pointed out that I didn’t specifically notice was the fact that these wines have a noticeable level of tannin! I was trained to think that there aren’t tannins in champagne, but there are and it clearly makes a difference with food pairing – light blanc de blancs with oysters because there’s no tannin versus blanc de noirs with steak because of the tannin and intensity. Fascinating stuff. 

I hope that you too can participate in this type of tasting some time, as it was truly enlightening. Thanks to Jean Baptiste, Terry Thiese and Skurnik imports, and Galaxy Wine Company for making all of this happen.

Chicago - Alinea and more

Here's a recap of my eating and drinking tour of Chicago recently. Alinea, Pops, RM, Avec, Vera, and more!

Day 1

I got to the city after an unpleasant, big city reminder, of watch where you sit on public transit with a piece of gum somebody left on the sit. Oh Chicago, you really know how to treat people. After getting checked in to the hotel and cleaning off the gum, I went straight over to Pops for Champagne and met my friend Moriah who works for Hart Davis Hart.

 

Pops was a fantastic contrast to Ambonnay. Much bigger, full of people, noisy, and a bunch of bartenders who were efficient but not particularly friendly or interested in discussion. I don’t understand how you have a list like theirs and have servers that don’t want to engage the guests. Different philosophies I suppose. Their bottle list is great and covers a lot of styles and producers. Their glass pour list was good, but felt a bit safe. I ordered the wines I’ve never had and coupled with my knowledge of the other champagnes on their list, I was a bit disappointed. There was nothing that was really inspiring, just lots of good choices that would make most people happy. I get it, particularly since they’re in the touristy area of Chicago. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a bummer, although it did provide a nice contrast to Ambonnay. The one thing I did really enjoy was they offered 3 and 5 ounce pours, which made it easier to try a few different wines.  This might be a good one to add to the mix at Ambonnay.

 

After Pops we went up to Osteria Langhe in Wicker Park. It was a good neighborhood joint that felt like it could be in Portland. I was a bit saddened by this though. One of my favorite things about travelling is experiencing what other people are doing in their cities, I don’t want to visit my own city with a slightly different package. Moriah was kind enough to bring a bottle of Chevillon Vaucrains 05, which was great and we bought a bottle of Henriet-Bazin BdN, which was big and delicious, showing off its roots in Verznay/Verzy. The food was tasty, and reminded me that Portland is so spoiled with its great natural ingredients that we don’t cook as well as we should. We just let the ingredients take center stage, whereas in other places they have to be better cooks, and that was certainly the case here.

 

After dinner we met up with Moriah’s boyfriend Greg, who works for Kermit Lynch and some French winemakers at a jazz bar. Despite a rude beginning it was a pleasant way to finish off the night.

 

Day 2

 

I woke up with a hangover, what a surprise. I bundled up and went over to Intelligencia for a bit of coffee to get my day going. Its funny to see the Chicago brand of coffee nerd/hipster. Seemed a bit more curated and twee than the Portland version. With a bit of caffeine and Advil on board I hopped on the train and went back to Wicker Park. I just walked around looking at shops and the neighborhood. It brought back a lot of memories of growing up in the Midwest, different architecture, ascetics, and building materials.

 

I tried to go to Cumin for some Nepalese food, but they only had a buffet and that was too much food for me. I wandered some more and ended up at Xoco, which is one of Rick Bayless’ joints. I had the 3 Floyds Zombie Dust IPA which was an awesome beer and sikil pak which is like pumpkin seed hummus that’s pretty spicy. They served it with jicama and cucumber sticks, and it was awesome and I definitely want to make it here.

 

After the snack I continued up Milwaukee Ave to Red and White, the wine shop. One of the owners came into Ambonnay a week or so before I went to Chicago so I went to check it out. It was a well thought out shop with plenty of good wines, but it showed me how sad the wine culture is in Chicago. Lots of people told me this was one of the best wine shops in the city, and while good, I guess I expected more considering the size of Chicago. I recognized most of the wines and they’re available across Portland in bars, shops, and even grocery stores. Again, I feel like Portland is ridiculously blessed. So this isn’t a knock on Red and White as much as a knock on Chicago, you guys need to get your act together and sell more great wine. From Red and White I wandered up to Logan Square, poked around and then headed back downtown for a nap.

 

After a refreshing nap, I got up and went to Avec, good on them for opening at 3:30. I was the first one in the door and by the time I left it was pretty full, impressive. I had the famous stuffed dates, and they’re really that good. Pretty incredible, particularly the sauce! Afterward I had a fantastic salmon dish that was cooked perfectly, meaning the salmon was actually rare. The food was well worth the trip and you should stop in if you can, the wine list on the other hand, left a bit to be desired. They tried really hard to make an affordable list with lots of interesting wine, but it was trying really hard, and the wines just weren’t that interesting.

 

After Avec, I went around the corner to Sepia. I went because they had one of the Illinois Sparkling Wine Co wines by the glass. It was the Franken, which was Chard grafted on to some crazy domestic rootstock. The wine was impressive texturally and clearly well made but not necessarily with best grapes for bubbles. Definitely worth having a glass if you can find it. After my quick one and done I went back to the hotel to meet my friend Kristin who flew into hang out with me.

 

After throwing her stuff at the hotel, we went over to RM Champagne Salon. Like Pops, RM was very different than Ambonnay. It was also crowded and loud, but it was darker and seemed to be focused on a hipper crowd where as Pops was slicker and focused on tourists and moneyed downtown people. I liked the look of RM a bit more, but it was hard to get a feel since it was crowded. Unfortunately their list was a bit lacking. For a place called RM, they only had 2, maybe 3, grower champagnes on the list. I don’t really care one way or the other, but it did strike me as odd given their name. Like Pops, the bartenders couldn’t seem to care about the champagne, they were just slinging drinks. A bit of a shame that both places are champagne focused, yet not really delivering as far as staff goes.

 

After RM we wandered around, looked at Girl and the Goat, packed, and then found Momotaro, which we were going to check out when we saw their “bar” sign, which looked way more inviting. We went down and found their izakaya, which was a ton of fun. Great atmosphere with bartenders who wanted to make conversation and tell you about all the cool stuff they serve. We had their tuna air toast, which air toast might be one of my new favorite names for food. Its just fun to say and gives so much possibility of what it could be. Say it out loud, air toast! See, fun! Afterward we enjoyed some fried squash that was sprinkled with bonito flakes. Because of the heat of the dish, the flakes moved, almost danced. It was fantastic and awesome! I’d go just for the dancing bonito flakes.

 

Moving through our bar hop, we ended up at Vera, which I had a few people recommend. They really do have a great by the glass sherry program. Well worth checking out. The staff was great and the feel of the place was welcoming.  Just skip the sherry on tap, its definitely a neutered version of sherry. I wish I had more room in my stomach to eat there, their menu looked cool. 

 

On the way back to the hotel we rolled the dice to get in to Aviary, but the wait was long, and in hindsight I’m glad we didn’t because we were already well into the booze.

 

Day 3

 

Slept in a bit, planned the day, and realized we might just get lucky and be able to get into Avec for brunch. I’m not one to do the same restaurant twice unless its great, and I wanted Kristen to experience the stuffed dates. The brunch was pretty great, but I must say the Avec folks recommend ordering too much food. I guess a lot of people that come there are big eaters. The papas bravas were awesome! The dates were awesome, again! The Moroccan pancake was great, the chicken wings were fine. The paella was good, but we probably could have skipped it. Overall it was delicious and gave us enough fuel that we only needed a small snack until our 9:30 reservation at Alinea.

 

Next we walked off some brunch and stopped at the Bean, neither of us had seen under a grey sky before, a totally different experience, and in many ways more compelling. Next, we went to the Art Institute to see one of the Penetrables of Jesus Rafeal Soto. It was amazing, playful and thought provoking all at once. We also stumbled upon the Ethel Stein, Master Weaver exhibit. Her work was incredible and well worth seeking out. I couldn’t believe that someone could create these pieces with a loom. Wow. 

After so much art goodness, we needed some liquid stimulation. Kristen wanted to see Pops after RM, so we headed in that direction. Along the way we found Eataly. Amazing, huge, almost too much to take in. We had a couple of the beers they brew on site, and they were delicious. We moved along to Pops, which was pretty much the same experience for me, except that it was much less crowded. Being less crowded didn’t make the bartenders anymore personable though.

 

After this we went back to the hotel to get ready for the big dinner.

 

I must say Alinea was an incredible experience, well worth the money. I’m not sure how much to share, because so much of it is an experience. Surprise, wonder, joy, playfulness, challenges to what fine dining should be. I absolutely recommend going They took fantastic care of us, and did it in a playful manner. If you want to see what I ate and drank, I have the menu at Ambonnay. Also we had both the meat and the vegetarian dishes, and they were pretty similar, each having a couple things I liked better than the compliment across the table from the other menu. I don’t feel like you’d lose out on doing one versus the other, in fact I might go with the veg menu if it wasn’t for the fish spine and fin in the meat menu. The rutabaga was way better than the pork belly.

 

They exemplified the service style I like best, extremely detail oriented while being warm and welcoming. I’m so glad the service wasn’t stuffy. I want great service to be both technically great while being warm and friendly. I strive for this at Ambonnay, and I feel like I achieve it to the degree I want for my place more often than not.

 

 

Day 4

We were pretty tired from a late night full of amazing, so we packed and got everything ready to leave then drug ourselves to Intelligencia. A bit of caffeine helped, but good god it was cold that day so we just wanted to stay inside. Unfortunately I didn’t read the hours on the David Bowie exhibit very well, and it was closed. We ended up going back to Wicker Park and wandering around. It was cold, cold, cold, and no fun to be out. We ultimately went to Piece and had a pizza and some good beer

 

Afterward we went back to the hotel and grabbed our stuff and went to the airport really early. A bit lame maybe, but we were tired and couldn’t think of much else to do. It was actually pretty fun bouncing around O’Hare and having time to appreciate the neon walkway many times, having drinks at a few different crappy airport bars, meeting people, laughing, and just enjoying the ridiculousness of hanging out at the airport. The Frontera Tortas food is actually great for airport food so make a stop if you’re there.

Jacques Selosse and Les Avizés

Selosse is one of those producers that has so much hype built up around him, it's inevitable to wonder whether he and his wines truly live up to the legend.  I decided to splurge and stay at Les Avizés, his hotel and eat at his restaurant to experience it all for myself.   The hotel is gorgeous, well designed but with plenty of quirks that will prevent it from becoming a tired but very luxurious hotel.  It was a fascinating mix of traditional and modern design elements that was inspiring and made me want to stay longer.

 I had the entire hotel to myself, I was the only guest, which is unfortunate because it would have been nice to see some life there.  I also had the whole restaurant to myself, which was a bit sad but I got over it.  It did make me feel a bit better about my slow days at Ambonnay, even one of the most well known places in Champagne still has slow nights.     The restaurant was smaller than I expected and very integrated into the hotel.

 The husband wife duo of Stephanė and Natalie that run the restaurant are delightful and certainly made the best meal I had in champagne. One of my favorite courses was a veal dish, but it was the accompanying vegetables that truly impressed me.  The dish combined shitake mushrooms, roasted turnips, and mashed sweet potatoes in a soy reduction that was very flavorful and showed me new things to do with winter veggies.  In fact all the courses had a fantastic vegetable component, which I rarely found in France. The cheese course is not to be missed, without a doubt the best cheeses I had in France.  

Since I ordered bottle of Champagne, which I'll discuss in a moment, Natalie was kind enough to share a bit of red wine with the veal course.  Apparently Francis Egly of Egly-Ouriet had been in for lunch and brought a bunch of interesting wines with him.  Natalie gave me a glass of his 2004 Coteaux Champagnois Rouge.  It was an interesting wine that reminded me of an aged Oregon or California Pinot more than a burgundy.  Pretty cool to experience it and it was fun with the food.  The wine list was truly impressive with great names from across France and prices that ranged from reasonable to expensive.

As I was at his house I decided to treat myself to a birthday present of one of Selosse's lieu-dit or single vineyard champagnes.  It was a tough choice, but ultimately I decided on the Bout de Clos from Ambonnay, and I'm glad I did because I learned a lot from this wine.   In typical Selosse fashion the wine was bold, intense, packed with flavor, a bit oxidized, and very fascinating. Throughout the evening it changed and evolved giving me a broad range of flavors always complimented by great acidity.  More important than the flavors though was the experience of the wine.  

The more of the world's top wines that I drink, the more I convinced that to truly appreciate many of them you have to sit with them over the course of an evening. Much like getting to know someone, a long conversation up front helps cement the bond that can be revisited in the future.  Had I enjoyed this wine with a group, I would have missed out on many important pieces of the wine that took a while to truly express themselves.  Due to this wine, I was able to understand that Ambonnay has a core of elegance in the same way Mesnil has a core of precision.  This realization was confirmed during my time in Ambonnay tasting through those wines.  

In addition to the pleasure and new understand of Ambonnay, I gained a better understanding of Selosse's wines.  As you move up his ladder of pricing, I feel that his wine become very much like Miles Davis during the late 60's.  As I drank the Bout de Clos I couldn't help thinking of the times I've listened to the Complete Bitches Brew, it's obviously amazing, but I'm not sure that I am truly understanding it, or at least not getting as much as others might get out of it.   I feel this way about Selosse's wines, which is saying something because my champagne knowledge is far great than my knowledge of jazz. I think it best to view his wines as an experience, or a journey rather than a destination.  All of this being said, this wine exhibited the one true trait of an amazing wine, after the last sip I still wanted more.

The next morning I was fortunate enough to meet Anselme and spend a bit of time with him.  We talked about the Bout de Clos, he first got access to the grapes in 02, but didn't make the lieu-dit until 2004 which is the one I enjoyed the previous night. The vineyard is mid slope and at the foot of one of the walls in the vineyards. It butts up to Bouzy on the western side of Ambonnay, but still showed the grace and elegance of Ambonnay but maybe some of the power of Bouzy.   He then took me on a tour, via maps, of where all 6 of the lieu-dits are located and told me about the 7th in Oger which won't be out for another 7 years. We both had things to do so we said out good byes and I went and ate breakfast, which was an awesome spread, totally worth €20, and then grabbed my bags and went to the car.  When I got to the car, I discovered Anselme out scrapping the ice off my windshield.  It was a bit odd to have a world class winemaker scrap my car, but it also showed me the humility of a man that has not been overcome by his fame.   If you are in Champagne I highly recommend staying at Les Avizės! 

General Observations

I've had a whirlwind couple days in champagne.  It feels like so much longer though.  The trip has been super intense in a very positive way, I'm improving my French, meeting and tasting with producers, and forming more educated opinions about champagne, and essentially really getting a feel for what it's all about here.  I'm also starting to see how I fit in to the dialogue, there's lots of space and not many people truly taking the reins.  I'm up at 3 in the morning typing because I can't seem to sleep so I'm hoping a brain dump will help.  

General thoughts - it's really interesting to be here where you see champagne written on everything, it desensitizes you to some of the magic, like insurance companies and funeral homes, not sexy. Moet really is important here, obviously the current big company, but I'm talking more historically.  It's clear how much the city of epernay has benefited from the Moet's patronage over the years, too many nice things for a city this small.  The cops really do random DUI checks here, I saw it happen, but it was at 10pm in epernay right by my hotel, makes me really glad I can walk at night. It's still surprising how small the distance is between everything.  I can literally walk to Dizy in 10 min from my hotel.  All the villages are clumped together. google street view has been a life saver, I know exactly what to look for with difficult to find wineries.   After 2 days here, I'm becoming more convinced that the French and tourists subsidize the "low prices" we get on champagne in America. With the exchange rate, I pay the same or only slightly less for the same wines back in the states! These wine travel all of 3km in some cases vs halfway around the world yet the cost the same amount.  A bit ridiculous, no? Even without the exchange rate many wines are the same price, and sometimes higher!

Krug

1/30/14 Krug

I wasn't sure what to expect going to krug, but I figured it would be great, and the team at Krug put on quite a show for me.  They offered me wonderful hospitality, yet they weren't stuffy or overly formal.  It was a very pleasant day.   It started off with a reception and a glass of Grande Cuvėe, which was quite welcome as I was fighting off a minor hangover.  After a brief discussion, we hopped in the car and went to Ambonnay for a tour of Clos d'Ambonnay and the press facility there.  The whole team was excited about this because the don't get to go to this vineyard very often, so it was a treat for us all.  Along the way I learned some interesting facts about Krug and champagne as a whole that I didn't know: There are 275,000 different parcels of vines in Champagne!  There are 19,000 growers. For the Grande Cuvėe Krug makes 305 different wines, and ultimately uses 100-150 for the final blend.  Clos du Mesnil is only 1.8 ha, about the same size as Romanėe Conti in burgundy. Within this walled vineyard, they've isolated 5 distinct parcels, depending on proximity to the walls, air flow, etc.  Clos d' Ambonnay is 3 times smaller with only .6 ha, and only 2 distinct parcels. This translates to only 20 barrels of wine, or 3000-4000 bottles when they decide to make this wine.  This limited quantity is their reason for the high cost of this wine. 

The Clos d'Ambonnay was tiny, I've seen backyards that are bigger.  The vines arent super old, being planted in the 1980's but are certainly reaching the necessary maturity to produce wines of such a high caliber. It was pretty cool to see all 20 barrels of CdA in front of me in the press house, however if they decide to declare 2013 a CdA vintage, we won't see it until around 2025.  Crazy. 

Back at the main facility in Reims, we went for a quick tour seeing the library reserves as well as vault of all the old vintages of Krug.  Pretty cool, but a big tease as the same time.  Finally we headed to the elegant yet understated tasting room, where 3 empty glasses were ready for us.  They took me through the star to the galaxy tasting as they call it, but added a twist and wonderful birthday surprise of starting with the Clos d' Ambonnay 1998!   Clos d'Ambonnay 1998 - shame this wine was just opened, because it feels like so much more will be going on in 1-2 hours.  Regardless, this wine is pretty incredible.  It had a powerful and complex nose that continued to evolve, highlights included coffee, raisins, saline, minerality, along with lots freshness. The palate was also quite complex and a dichotomy between aged flavors and youthful ones. Very elegant, but still a baby.  This wine was meant to be a single point in the "Krug galaxy" one vineyard, one vintage. The hospitality team was quite excited to open this wine, and all of them could only remember having once or twice in the past.   Millėsime 1998 - More open that at my tasting in December lots of length with fascinating fruit tones - cherry, apricot, lemon, orange marmalade, along with coffee and roasted nuts.  Nice chalkiness too. This wine is the mid point in the galaxy showing just one vintage but many terriors.   Grande Cuvėe - the whole of the galaxy, and the absolute focus of the house, it's designed to show many terriors and many vintages uniting into one harmonious wine.  I am gaining a better understanding and appreciation that this wine is the most important wine to them and should represent the best of the house.  I'm still not entirely convinced it's their best wine, but it was great to understand their commitment to that goal and how the work towards it.  Rather inspiring to have a such a direction and to constantly work toward that.   Overall, Krug was an amazing experience. And I'm beginning to see that wineries, like collectors, enjoy bringing out the good stuff when there are guests that will truly appreciate it.  

Salon & Delamotte

1/29/14 Salon

After a hearty lunch, that actually included vegetables at  Le Bistro in Vertus, I took a quick trip up the Cotes des Blancs to Mesnil-sur-Oger. I had a bit of time to kill some I wandered around and found the park over looking Krug's Clos du Mesnil.  I didn't know what to expect, but I thought it to be rather small.   Apparently it's about the same size as Romanėe Conti in Burgundy.   A moment or two of awe, then up the hill for an equally awe inspiring viist with Salon.  

This is one of the storied producers in Champagne.  The started near the beginning of the 1900's, with their first official release being 1921.  Contrary to  popular belief they are not a single vineyard estate, rather they are a single village estate. Salon focuses solely on Mesnil-sur-Oger, certainly one of the best in all of Champagne.  Salon owes 2 ha and purchases fruit from another 6 ha to create 60,000 bottles when they decide to declare a vintage.  All of the parcels are mid slope, and in more or less a line starting from the wineries backyard,   2002 marks the release of the 38th vintage since the house began, and the next vintages will be 04, 06, 07, 08, and 12.  

In the other years the wine goes to their sister house, Delamotte, usually into the reserve library for blending, but sometimes in the vintage blanc de blanc.   The other big facts about the estate - generally no malolactic fermentation, 10 years minimum aging before release, and all bottles are hand riddled.  The hand riddling isn't for the luxury as with some estates, but rather due to the crest on the bottle being a trap for sediment and a person needs to make sure the yeast doesn't get stuck.  

It was interesting to visit Salon after two very passionate growers.  Salon is certainly more refined in terms of facilities and presentation, but couldn't match the enthusiasm of the growers.  I didn't expect them to, and the tour was very enjoyable with plenty of discussion of selling champagne and the world in general, but there was little discussion of the farming methods, etc.  Unfortunately, I wasn't offered the chance to taste vin clair, which would have been awesome.   However, after tasting through the Delamotte  wine, which continue to improve in recent years, my host brought out 2002 Salon!  I was expecting to taste the 1999, which is starting to show quite well after a dumb phase.  The 2002 was quite a treat, and apparently I'm about the 20th American to taste the wine, as it won't be released until April.   This is one of those sad and amazing wines that is from a well known vintage and is drinkable enough that too much of it will be drunk far too young.  The wine is built to last for decades. Already it was showing a more open and obvious side than any other young Salon I've had.  Tons of complexity, but quite tight.  Plenty of focus on chalk that is a texture as much as it is a flavor.  Other notes included a bit of peach, apricot skin, ginger without the burn, a touch of smoke.  Disgorged Q3 2013, 5 g/L, no wood, no malo.   I highly recommend buying this wine if you have the means.  It will treat you well, particularly if you allow it to spend some time in the cellar.  

Champagne and Strawberries

Now that its late Spring/ early Summer, and strawberries are everywhere I thought I’d take a look at one of the most popular pairings with Champagne. – strawberries and Champagne. Why is this?  What makes these two items so complimentary? 

This question may have a good answer on a chemical or molecular level, but since I’m a sommelier and not a scientist, I’ll answer it from my experience. 

Strawberries and Champagne in their current form don’t actually pair that well together.  Strawberries for the most part have become flavorless, hard, and rather boring.  There are exceptions to this, particularly the strawberries in Oregon, as well as other places in the world that don’t use the new varieties that are designed to look pretty and have a long shelf life.  The old varieties of strawberries aren’t as uniform in shape and size, nor are they as pretty.  Their shelf life is horrible, but they are fantastically flavorful.  They also tend to have a great deal of sweetness, that is tempered by the acid in the fruit. 

Champagne in its current form is also not particularly friendly for this pairing. These days, Champagne tends to be quite dry, if not searingly dry.  Anytime you have something that has lots of acid, like Champagne, and you mix it with something sweet, you’ll end up with an unpleasant puckering sensation in your mouth.  Think orange juice right after brushing your teeth. 

Then how did this pairing come to be?  You have to look to history for the answer.  In the 1800’s and early 1900’s Champagne was much sweeter.  Historically, Brut Champagne didn’t even exist.  Most champagne had a dosage of  at least 30+ grams per liter of sugar. For the US markets it was higher, and for Russia, they used 200-300 grams per liter of sugar.  By comparison, today most Champagne has 6-12 grams per liter.   When you combine something sweet with something of equal or greater sweetness, it creates a very pleasant experience. 

Beyond the differences in Champagne, historically, strawberries were grown for flavor with less emphasis placed on visual appeal or shelf life.  So in older times, they had very flavorful berries with poor shelf life.  This means that only the people that grew the fruit and the very wealthy could truly enjoy strawberries due to the difficulty and cost of transporting and storing these delicate fruits.  This is where the luxury component of this pairing originates – people had to have significant means to have both fresh strawberries and Champagne at the same time. 

Now apply all of this information to this classic pairing.  These days the strawberries are boring and pretty but don’t have a lot of sugar or flavor.  When paired with modern Champagne, you’ll get that pucker from mismatched sugar and acidity.  Which has lead many people to believe this is actually a poor pairing.  However when you take very flavorful strawberries, like those from Oregon, and pair them with a sweeter style of Champagne like a extra dry or demi sec, the pairing is profoundly delicious!  The sweetness in the berries is fantastic with the sweetness in the wine creating harmony and delight. 

Finally, many people like to put the strawberries in the glass with the Champagne.  I don’t recommend this for a couple reasons.  First the strawberry flavors can over power the Champagne when left together, so you’re essentially neutering this fantastic wine.  Second, the berry in the glass gives more surface area for the bubbles to rise from, which will make the wine go flat more quickly.  Just have the strawberries on the side and enjoy a bite and a sip together. 

Should you want to enjoy this pairing yourself, Ambonnay is currently serving Viridian Farms strawberries with Louis Roederer Carte Blanche Extra Dry NV Champagne. 

Drinking in NYC

Obviously I did my best to experience the dining scene in New York, but I really went out of my way to experience the drinking cultures of the city.  Partly because I like to drink, but mostly for research as to how other bars do things, I felt compelled to punish my liver.  Here’s the run down of where I went and my thoughts, I’m not pulling punches as most of the places I went were awesome.  There were a couple duds though.  I’m going to list them in the order of my trip, so unfortunately some toward the end of the trip are competing with expectations set from the beginning of the trip.

Terrior E.Vil – Without a doubt my favorite wine bar in the City.  Everyone behind the bar knew their stuff, and knew how to have fun while doing it!  This place could easily fit in Portland, which might contribute to me liking it, but it did it with an attitude that Portlanders might find a bit off putting.  It was more in your face than most places here.  The wine list is, frankly, balls out crazy.  There were wines I hadn’t heard of and I go out of my way to taste obscure and esoteric wines.  If you are in Manhattan you need to go here.  I had more tastes of more awesome wine than I can recount here. Huge credit to Jeff and Russell.

Flute – One of the three Champagne bars in Manhattan. I went to the Gramercy location, they also have a midtown location.  This place wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.  I had been warned that the Champagne bars in New York were more nightclub/loungey than wine bar.  Its true.  Flute was a bit more of a lounge that looked like it was designed by a bored, middle aged housewife with too much money and an appreciation of Champagne.  The staffers were cute, but not particularly knowledgeable.  I had a glass of Lanson black label brut.  It was served in a horrible flute, even by flute standards - hotel brunch heavy weight with a short stem, yuck!  It’s a big producer that isn’t available in Portland.  It was as uninspiring as the surroundings. 

Proletariat – The gang at Terrior recommended this place for beer.  I hadn’t intended to drink much beer during my trip, but their singing recommendation prompted me to change plans.  I’m glad I did, it was awesome!  The passion and knowledge the bartender had for beer makes most beer places in Portland look like the junior varsity, which is saying quite a lot.  While I was there a few of the brewers of NYC came in, and the bartender, Cory, informed me I was looking at half of the NYC beer brain trust.  Amazing. If this place was in Portland it would be packed to the gills.  I had Del Ducato via Emilia lager, Thornbridge Kipling Pale, and Hitachino Nipponia.  Super Awesome! 

The Beagle – The cocktail list looked good, but I was there for Sherry.  They had a great sherry list, and lucky I was there for Happy Hour when it was half price.  Worth a stop if you have time.  I had the “I Think” en Rama Equipo Navaros Manzanilla and the “Solear en Rama” Barbadillo Manzanilla.  Both delicious.

Booker and Dax at Momofuku Ssäm – I didn’t think I’d actually get to go here but my new friend said it was right around the corner from the Beagle, and we popped over.  It was a cool bar, with some awesome cocktails.  I had the Gin and Juice which was a playful sparkling take on the “classic”.  Then I had the lechuga which is gin, lemon, and bibb lettuce.  Hell yeah!  That was delicious, and “healthy”! 

Corkbuzz – This is the big deal, newish wine bar in New York, run by one of my fellow F&W Sommelier of the Year recipients.  The list was impressive, and I wish I could have had more of the by the glass wines, but I was there with a friend and to hang out with one of the somms, so we went to the bottle list.  We did make a brief stop at Val de Mer Rosé from the glass list, which is made by a young gun of Chablis with the help of Moutard in Champagne.  Cool little wine.  After 10pm at Corkbuzz is Champagne Campaign, so all Champagne bottles are half off.  Worth going for that alone.  We had a bottle of Marguet Rosé 2007 from Ambonnay, pretty delicious juice.  I’m hoping someone brings this producer to town soon.  Beyond the wine, the space felt like it needs more time to settle into itself.  It felt a touch sterile, and I think more people having more fun over time will help this place develop a personality as a space rather than just letting the wine do all the work. 

Angel Share – I didn’t even know about this place but my friend took me there after Corkbuzz for a cocktail.  It’s a hidden bar, but it didn’t feel gimmicky.  For the life of me I couldn’t tell you what I drank.  Good conversation does that, plus I had quite a bit to drink by that point. I do remember it was tasty and well thought out.  If you have extra time its worth seeking it out behind the Japanese restaurant.  

Terrior Tribeca – I had some time to burn before going to Bubble Lounge, and this Terrior was right there.  I got there right when it opened so it was quiet.  The staff were nice enough, but not particularly engaging.  If I hadn’t had the E.Vil experience to bolster my view of Terrior I would have thought this place was fine, with a great list but blah other wise.  Actually the space itself was pretty cool, good bones. 

Bubble Lounge – Ugh.  I really don’t even want to write about this place.  It was a depressing place that showed a lot of wear and tear.  I was there when it first opened so it was hard to get a read on the clientele, but the staff was battle worn and could have given a shit less if I was there.  Their list was uninspired with a lot of big house plonk.  I had a glass of Alain Thienot Brut, it was fine.  The bathroom really sealed the deal – it reeked of bleach and had mirrors on 4 walls, it practically begged you to do drugs and have sex in there.  Given the industrial amount of bleach, I’m guessing people do that regularly all night every night.  Barf. 

Pearl and Ash – I ate and drank here, but saved it for the drinks section because I thought it was really more about the wine.  It was recently written up in the NYT and the reviewer talked about how people tend to buy bottles and share.  When I saw the list I understood why, the glasses were good and priced fairly by New York standards, but the bottle list was stupidly cheap!  I had a good discussion about the perlage preservation system with the somm/owner, Patrick. He’s super fun and knowledgeable.  I would definitely be happy to go have a drink with him.  I ended up ordering the Gaubicher & Chaussard You are so Bubbly from the Loire for $37!  Tons of fun, ended up sharing with my bar mates and getting some Foillard Morgon in return.  Great time eating and drinking fun wine. Highly recommended.  The food is not a second thought except in this write up, the octopus, skate, and “peas and carrots” were all awesome!  After Terrior E.Vil this was my favorite wine place in the city. 

Amor y Amargo – this is tiny bar dedicated to cocktails made with bitters.  It’s a ballsy concept and the drinks were good.  I ran into an old friend behind the bar, so she just poured me a couple fun drinks.  I liked it but didn’t completely understand the hype behind it. 

Death & Co – I’ve heard about this place, but again didn’t expect to go.  It just happened to be next door Amor y Amargo, so of course I had to go!  It was without a doubt cool inside.  I was impressed, sexy and dark, totally lived up to its name.  I just let the ladies behind the bar pour me whatever they thought was best which ended up being a Guns and Rose and Devil Inside.  I remember liking them but I was toasty by this point.  I’d go back for sure.  I’m glad they took such care of me because if I hadn’t be a buzzed, I would have been in a lot of pain on my walk home with the impressive blisters I had by that point. 

Bluebird Coffee – skipped breakfast the next day, just had coffee on the way to Le Bernadin.  Best coffee I found in the city.  These guys care and make good espresso. 

Bar Boulud/Boulud Sud – I tried to go to Bar Boulud but they were closed between lunch and dinner.  Lame.  I went next door to Boulud Sud.  Such a difference being in Midtown vs LES.  Everything was a bit more accessible and friendly for a older, wealthier crowd.  A bit tame for my taste.  Alfred Gratien Rosé was pleasant though. 

Ten Bells – Lots of people recommended this place to me, and frankly I didn’t quite get it.  The service was bad, the wine list was only on a chalk board that was hard to read, and the wine glasses were total crap.  They might as well have just used juice glasses, it probably would have been better.  They wines were good, not amazing.  Just naturally made.  I could see how people could have a really memorable night here if the server likes you and steers you well, but my experience was lacking.  Go to Terrior E.vil.  At least my drinking buddy was fun to hang out with, I can’t imagine going here alone.

Terrior E.vil – After dinner at Hearth, I went back because Jeff from Sunday night saw me at Hearth and made me promise to come back.  It was just as awesome as the first time, plus this time I got to meet Kim who also is a certified ass kicker.  Go here! 

Pouring Ribbons – My final bar in NYC, and it was a gem.  Both the guys behind the bar were great, one of whom was an owner who had been lured away from Death & Co.  They’re drinks were great.  I had a Mutiny Suppressor which as delicious and then the Sprezzatura Royale, which along with the lechuga from Booker and Dax were the two most memorable cocktails I had.  This one was made with lambrusco and amaro and was awesome!  The bar itself still felt like it was settling into itself and developing its personality.  I have no doubt that this place will develop a personality.  In the meantime just go and have some kick ass drinks. 

There you go, my liver abuse in full detail(not counting all the wine at lunch and dinner).