“A valley surrounded by tall and fearsome mountains'' is how Leonardo Da Vinci described the region of Valtellina in his Codex Atlanticus. Da Vinci (apparently a clandestine w...
Monthly Archives: June 2021
1985 might not seem like much of a year as years go--‘Take on Me,’ by a-ha, was on the charts for 27 weeks; you might have played the cassette in your IROC-Z Camaro or your Prelude. That said, it’s a critical time in the evolution of the spirits trade in the United States. The story goes like this: two guys named Elmer and Dale walk into a bar and forever changed the way we drink in this country.
Elmer, as in Elmer T. Lee, was in a bind. As an executive with Buffalo Trace, he had been tasked with enlivening an industry that had never fully recovered from Prohibition. Whiskey was what old men in raincoats drank; vodka was fresh and fun and easy, particularly when it danced with fruit juice. Lee wagered everything on the bet that the American drinking public was ready to fall in love with whiskey again. He was right, and his hunch filled a younger generation with dreams of craft whiskey and small barrels, spirits that were artisanal and unique.
Meanwhile in New York a restaurateur named Joe Baum was in a bind of his own. He was reopening the celebrated Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center. His goal was to invigorate the cocktail program, at a time when America’s drinking tastes ran to Bobby Tonics and Cosmos. To that end he promoted young Dale DeGroff to run the bar. According to the lore, Mr. Baum handed DeGroff a copy of ‘How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion,’ the seminal Jerry Thomas recipe book of American cocktails from the late 19th century. All of the beautiful concoctions that had vanished or gone underground during Prohibition were in the pages of that book, crying out to come alive again. The project was a revelation. Cocktail culture was reborn and New York City was the epicenter.
As young city bartenders took DeGroff’s lead and ran with it, a measure of dissatisfaction sank in as they searched for hard-to-find or even extinct ingredients for particular cocktails. In America, in particular, a dramatic consolidation in the whiskey business occurred as producers recovered from Prohibition. New York, for instance, once home to a thousand small distilleries, had none in the late 20th century. Refusing to be stymied by conditions as they found them, a few of these disaffected bartenders struck out on their own to make spirits they had read about but never tasted.
Fast forward to 2007, when the state of New York introduced the Farm Distillery Act. For those entrepreneurs willing to use New York produce in their operations, the cost of a license dropped from tens of thousands of dollars down to just below a thousand. As other states adopted similar incentives, the craft distilling movement began to spread across the country. New York alone saw the number of legally operating stills increase from a handful to a few dozen to over a hundred in less than ten years. And as these fledgling operations found their footing, distillers began to revive lost styles, the forgotten spirits that made the drinks in forgotten books really sing.
Meet Alex Clark, owner of Fort Hamilton Whiskey in Industry City, Brooklyn. A cocktailian bartender with Big City Restaurant chops and a South London accent, he stepped out from behind the stick a few years back to pen a love letter to 19th century New York rye whiskey. Personifying the trends set in motion back in 1985 (and 2007), he’s currently producing 24,000 bottles a year, everything from a very affordable high rye double barrel Bourbon to his house signature, a single barrel no-corn New York rye that’s voluptuous and full of flavor, equally at home in a cocktail or over ice at the end of the n...
We are about to open a 2003 Beaujolais Nouveau, right here, right now.
We can hear gasps all over the world, like when Janet Leigh got stabbed in the shower, the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs, Donald Trump was declared the winner over Hillary Clinton.
Nouveau is the ultimate drink-this-minute wine. It’s a celebration gulper, meant to age only as long as it takes to get it home. In fact, one way to know you’re in a bad wine store is whether it’s still selling last year’s Nouveau well into the current year.
We never intended to age a Nouveau long enough for it to be eligible to vote. For years, we hosted a Nouveau party on the day it is released, the third Thursday in November. In 2003, we had a bottle left over and we thought it might be fun to see what it would taste like in a year. Then, it kind of got lost in the cellar.
The larger issue here is about aging wine. Newcomers to wine are often intimated by this subject because they’ve heard there is a mysterious “perfect age” for wines, although the perfect age for most wines is today. Truth be told, even long-time wine lovers are nervous about this subject because, heavens, what if they open their 2005 Lafite-Rothschild too early and therefore commit what, in the wine world, is sometimes and unfortunately called “infanticide” – or wait too late and find it old and tired? (Disclosure: We have a 2005 Lafite and we do look at it from time and time and think, hmmm.)
Similarly, newcomers sometimes think a wine is worth big bucks just because it’s old. Over the years, we have received many letters from people – especially around Open That Bottle Night – who have, say, a bottle of Mateus that Granddad bought in the ’60s that they’re sure is the Hope Diamond of wines because it’s ancient. It’s not. At the other end of the spectrum are wine aficionados who say a newly released fine Bordeaux or Burgundy is “undrinkable.” Well, sure, it will be better later, but any wine that is truly not enjoyable on any level today is not going to miraculously get delicious in time.
Our columns often have a kind of news peg – Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, even Presidential elections. The news peg here is more existential: We both have important birthdays coming up this summer and we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the pros and cons of age.
All of this is why we’re going to open our 2003 Nouveau. Will this be a Capone’s Vault moment? Will the wine be like the beautiful woman at the end of the movie “Lost Horizon” who suddenly shrivels and dies of old age when she leaves Shangri-La, a scene that scarred John for years?
Nouveau should not be aged. Period. “Old Nouveau” may be the ultimate oxymoron. But some of the better regular Beaujolais, the crus from the 10 special villages, such as Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon, are excellent with two or three years and sometimes more if well-kept. Some time allows their youthful vigor to calm a bit while they also retain the fruitiness, earthiness and charm that make them so lovely. They’re all made from the Gamay grape.
As we’ve written, better Beaujolais is in the midst of what we hope will be a transitional period. Nouveau was so popular a couple of decades ago that too many consumers confused it with the real thing. When Nouveau became déclassé – for many reasons, including too much hype, rising prices and questionable quality (we don’t like bananas or anchovies in any of our wines) -- so did the good stuff.
That’s such a shame because better Beaujolais is such a delicious, versatile wine that can be a great bargain, too.
Our 2003 Nouveau is from one of our favorite Beaujolais producers, Paul Durdilly et Fils. Their Nouveau was a winner year after year and so were their other Beaujolais. This is a trusted name. We search for it. We are not expecting this old Nouveau to be very good and uphold this fine name, but that’s not the point. This is more like opening a bottle rescued from a centuries-old shipwreck and just being curious. Is there any fruit left? It is truly vinegar? We feel like “India...
The story of retsina wine can be traced back to ancient times, when wine was typically stored and transported in clay jugs called amphorae. In Greece, one of the world’s oldest winemaking civilizations, winemakers used thick resin from the abundantly-growing Aleppo pine trees to seal the amphorae and protect the wine from oxidation. Evidence of pine resin has been found in Greek wine amphorae dating back to the 13th century B.C.
The Gojers are among the oldest and most respected vintners in Alto Adige—in 1987, Florian Gojer was the first producer in the Santa Maddalena region to bottle a wine from a specific vineyard, Vigna Rondell, in order to express the site’s distinctive character. Florian Gojer, his son, is now in the process of taking over the winery. At age 21, he planted the estate’s first white vines, leading to the Gojer family’s first white wines a few years later. We had a chance to ask Florian some questions about his family’s history and his estate’s future.
Elliott Eglash: What do you think makes your growing region special or distinctive?
Florian Gojer: Alto Adige is a contrast-full wine region. While in warm valley locations strong red wines find excellent conditions, in cool mountain locations white wines grow which reflect the alpine freshness. If we look at our own wines, it is very similar: In Santa Maddalena, the warmest location of the country, fine St. Maddalena wines grow in steep hillside locations and in the Bolzano Valley locations the heat-loving and powerful Lagrein wines. On the other hand, our white wines Kerner, Sauvignon and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), come from sites between 600 and 730 meters above sea level, where cool downdrafts from the mountain maintain the acidity and provide fresh aromas.
Tell me about the history of your estate, and how you came to be involved in it and in winemaking.
The Glögglhof is the name of the estate and farmhouse. Traditionally the farmhouses have names. 'Glöggl' means little bell, 'hof' stands for estate. The Glögglhof dates back to the 14th century and wine has always been produced here from the associated vin...
"Inside the uniquely shaped bottles of Infiné 1939 Pinot Grigio and Infiné 1939 At Last, a white blend, is a son’s love and admiration for his late father, “gone too soon,” the son, Marc Taub, told us the other day, describing his dad, David Taub."
Even though Calabria is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, it has had an obscured past unbeknown...