Mendoza: Season of the Kvetch

The timing of my arrival at this particular edge of the Western winemaking world may have been especially unfortunate-- too close to the Holiday Season, which dovetails right into Summer vacation & is celebrated with leisurely, wine-soaked, late night asados-- featuring huge chunks of beef grilled in the backyard or the balcony-- as the sweltering, lingering heat of the evening finally cools down. This lifestyle might account for difficulties in casually setting up meetings--& my growing sense of a general unavailability in people.

I wonder if it's not a stretch of social psychology to look at the way class structure & rural conservatism might intensify the more general Argentino passive-aggressive traits to a particularly frustrating pitch in the Mendocino character--
One might unspool the theory of a provincial tendency-- pressure, even-- to be friendly & welcoming, that, hemmed in & compromised by harsh economic realities, results in inner conflict & dissonance, projected as fictionalizing self-aggrandizement...

It seems nearly everybody I meet has a cousin, an uncle, an ex-fiancé or former classmate in the wine industry. Sommeliers, waiters & waitresses & anybody else having dealings at any level with the business of wine warn me about how clannish & mercenary the big players are.

Everybody thinks my project-- co-branded small batches of minimally interventionist wine, marketed through a protected, streamlined 'supply chain' of emigrated Argentinos, & used to fund a network of cafés dedicated to linking diverse migrant groups' cultures--
is inspirational-- complex, but ultimately doable-- even of possible great social & economic import!
-- so people sign up on the idea emotionally, & generously bring their suggestions & solutions to the conversation-- but nobody calls back, nobody comes by with their friend as promised, nobody sends the introductory email linking me to the recommended key player that could, might, should help put the pieces together...

But maybe it's just me-- maybe my meagre, near-autistic social skills are not up to juggling the subtle negotiating complexities of such a multi-faceted undertaking-- least of all in a place like Mendoza, with its Byzantine, post-colonial socio-economic layering...


Orientado al Sur, Aliento busca Norte

merced al antojo y cólicos de añoranza convulsa
el viajero mide infructuosamente cada paso de su ruta perdida

extrañando cada paraje superado
o meramente anterior
a cada techo que le separó de la noche--

cada lecho que le permitió levantarse aún al día
después de machacarle al esqueleto
largas estaciones de avanzada soledad

buscando reflejar sobre pies al aire
un aliento repite al otro en espejo turbio

bajo el agua corriente que lava la vista
encostrada de ilusiones en polvorosa
un aliento repite al otro


Dusty Foothills of the Andes, the French update!

I woke up in a pool of sweat on the breaking edge of predawn, my heart overwhelmed by a fit of arrhythmic palpitations. Taking deep breaths, the pounding would quiet down, then cycle up again as I was about to sink back into sleep.
The first night in my apartment share did not go too well. I'm not sure I can last the whole month I've committed to paying for, here: Summer's barely getting started & Mendoza finds relief from its dry, desert heat in bouts of sweltering humidity as storm fronts push over the Andes & unload their rain on the way down the slopes before they reach the dusty, smoggy bowl of a valley that cradles this city of open ditches, abandoned railway tracks & wild apricots...

Four days later I'm much better & actually enjoying a gusty, blustery Christmas afternoon, with thunder rumbling around low, swirling stormclouds. I missed meeting up with 'los hermanos Garramuño', Frank & Santiago, yesterday. Santiago & sister Valentina both live in Puerto Rico; Valentina works for Argentina-centric wine importer/distributor Bodegar.
A second cup of espresso meant to kill some waiting time downtown kept me up all night & got me out for a daybreak run after a light Nochebuena dinner (Mesclun salad with an artichoke & pimento vinaigrette, smoked Boar & Ñandu cold cuts & a loaf of grilled garlic bread on the side, washed down with some so-so Sauv Blanc) --shared with Leandro, the flatmate I'd yet to meet as he was gone to Tucumán on work-related travel when I moved in. Now he's off to Perú for his three weeks' vacation: January to Argentinos seems like August to the French...

Speaking of the French, I need to make a red-faced correction to this little write-up:
it seems Restaurant Trois Cent Onze, my home base for fine dining in Old San Juan, has had a website up since 2006!
Christophe-- désolé, je t'en prie de m'excuser...

Meanwhile, there's a little French restaurant name of 'Sans Souci' here in Mendoza, on the edge of the goverment office quarter. As I can attest from personal experience, it's not the most welcoming area at night, & their business mainstay is 'executive lunches' (closer to the 'platos combinados' of Spain than to the de rigeur, legally mandated, three-course prix-fixe lunch every restaurant must offer there) catering mostly to personnel from the Provincial & National courts nearby.
The two partners will celebrate their year in business when they get back from vacation on February 5th-- seems everybody working in the judicial system, from judges & lawyers down to the lowliest assistant & dictation taker, gets 45 days paid vacation, and though- of course!- there is some staggering of schedules so the system doesn't completely shut down, the slowdown during January, the peak Summer month, is dramatic enough that it's just not worth the expense of staying open...
Sans-Souci had been attracting attention for holding regular winemaker events last Spring so I look forward to February. The kitchen is young but they've wowed me with a great salad featuring Salmon Tartare, & some fresh & tasty Chicken Liver Mousse. I'll have to cultivate a more carnivorous mood to dive into their hanger steak-- 'onglet' en Français, 'entraña' en Castellano.


New American Port-- Old Mendoza Hand?

I'm catching up in fits & starts with the wine blogosphere, after minimal contact over the last month, & was happily flattered to discover that my suggestion for a name for American fortified wines that did not infringe on Portuguese Port's DO protection was worth public mention in Jim Gordon's blog for the online edition of the Wine Enthusiast, Unreserved. Thank you, Jim: it feels like a nice validation of my meagre talents at this stage in my life & non-existent career in wine & marketing...

For those of you keeping score, I finally sat down to my first Asado de Lomo de Vaca, weighing in at 400 grams-- 14.08 ounces by my calculations, last Tuesday the 18th, to celebrate my first lunar month in Argentina. The location was the lovely patio courtyard of 'La Chancha' (The Sow!) --right next to the swimming pool.
It's a gem of a restaurant, located in Barrio Bombal, a socially diverse suburb just ouside of Mendoza downtown that links up with Godoy Cruz, once upon a time a separate little town that was swallowed up much in the way that Barrio de Gracia, La Salud & Sants were by the growth of Barcelona. 'La Chancha' is not a well-kept secret, as a full young crowd gave evidence last night, when I returned to try the pork version of the dish.
Owner Diego is a recovering adman (--you're not alone, Terry!) just starting a new career as an Architect. I'll try to get some pertinent facts next time I visit. He likes spicy foods, associated in Argentina with the subtropical Northeast of the country, & he got some ginger to douse the pork in a ginger-pineapple sauce after I mentioned a similar preparation as the Christmas dish I had in one of the happier occasions I shared with my ex- & her family.

Mendoza is a highly idiosyncratic place, even for Argentina, & a sweltering town this time of year. Been jotting down impressions all of these last two weeks & will try to weave a semi-coherent narrative out of them soon.


Apuntes Gastronómicos

Hay algún problema con mi blog alterno, 'wanderlustmedia', que planificaba hacer el hogar para postings en castellano de ahora en adelante, y mi posteo de prueba no aparece publicado; por lo tanto y por lo pronto, 'ViNomadic'/Sangre y Pajas en Flor' recupera su original vocación bilingüe...

La primera-- ¿la peor?-- frustración que he encontrado en términos de dieta en Argentina es la omnipresencia de azúcar o edulcorantes en el yogurt y los jugos de fruta. Si quiero yogurt natural, sin endulzar de ninguna manera, parece que lo voy a tener que hacer yo. Y comprar un exprimidor/juicer, si quiero zumito...

Sigo sin probar un bife. Ayer repetí en el '1884' de Francis Mallman, localizado en la bodega Escorihuela Gascón. En la ocasión anterior había cenado chivito, que me dejó un sabor dulceamargo de pena: como ex-vegetariano y activista gastronómico, se me hace difícil disfrutar de lo que me parece el sacrificio prematuro de un animal. Si voy a consumir carne, me tranquiliza un poco que se haya respetado un tanto la vida de la que voy a derivar sustento-- si el animal ha sido cuidado, si ha experimentado un ciclo de vida razonable y si ha sido sacrificado lo más humanitariamente (¿?) posible.

Esto es claramente un tema para largo debate, serio y complejo. Lo traigo a colación para poner en contexto la indecisión que me atacó anoche al releer el menú: después del chivito, tan tierno que la carne blanca parecía de ave, se me hacía dificil escoger el bife de cordero que en otro momento me hubiera tentado mucho más.
A partir de esto, decidí complicarme un poco la vida-- y la de el servicio que me atendía-- armando con cuatro primeros platos un menú degustación:
Ensalada de Zapallo (Calabaza) con Pecorino Nacional,
Espárragos Grillados con envoltura de Pancetta y un huevo escalfado/pochado,
Ensalada de láminas de Pera con Mozzarella di Búfala, y
Queso de Cabra planchado sobre Berenjena, Cebolla y Pimiento Morrón.

El último plato era una clara variación sobre 'Ratatouille', un juego muy lindo, que enfatizaba una loncha de queso caprino 'sellado' a la plancha-- según me pareció. No he visto en ningún lado queso de cabra fresco: parece que la tradición de caprino está más enraizada en el norte semitropical, Jujuy y provincias aledañas, y se hace un queso prensado, de pasta dura y ahumado las más veces.

La ensalada de pera con Mozzarella fue un poco decepcionante: la pera necesitaba el contraste de un queso algo más ácido, como ese caprino fresco que me gustaría encontrar. El Mozzarella no lucía su sabrosura tan bien como en contextos más tradicionales.

Debo mencionar que al consultar sobre el orden de los platos, mientras hacía algo de números y se me ocurría que mi estómago y mi bolsillo se habrían de resentir por mi exceso de curiosidad gastronómica, mi servidora regresó con la gentil y apreciada sugerencia de que consumiera medias porciones de las selecciones. 'Y medias copas de vino para acompañarlas', apostillé yo.

Tuve ocasión de arrepentirme casi inmediatamente de mi decidida 'frugalidad': los trozos de calabaza grillada bajo lasquitas de Pecorino de Patagonia que comenzaba a suavizar y derretirse me dejaron con deseos, y los espárragos-- verdes, o 'trigueros', como le dicen en las Españas-- ajustados con un corset crocante de pancetta, también pedían repetir.

En el area de los vinos, no hubo grandes sorpresas: un Chardonnay de Gascón correcto, mantecoso y con fruta y acidez muy domada por maloláctica y roble; con los espárragos, un Sauvignon Blanc de Finca El Portillo tenía su 'pipi de chat' pero poco más. El Viognier de Escorihuela Gascón puede haber sido el vino más sabroso de la noche, aunque su Syrah también estaba muy bien: esta vez el roble--algo dominante para este paladar-- y notas de café encontraban eco y balance con el caprino 'planchado'...

Al final, también me permití media porción de postre: ensalada de frutas pasadas por el fuego. Resistí la tentación de acompañar con vino dulce y la infusión de menta que pedí tuvo que esperar a que se recogiera la hierba fresca del jardín aledaño. Pensé que me vendría bien un digestivo, aunque no quería algo muy fuerte y, a punto de ordenar un Amaro Averna, Matías el sumiller me ofreció una prueba de un Malbec encabezado, tipo Oporto, pero seco, para contrastar con Malamado, creación similar de Zuccardi que es bastante dulce.
Al final, acabé con el mesurado exceso de media porción de aguardiente, también de Malbec, que me sorprendió por su suavidad al comparar con una denominada Grappa de la misma uva y la misma marca (--algo 'de los Andes' --¿'Cumbres'?, no sé por qué no recuerdo la marca completa...)

Me impresiona que en un lugar de gastronomía fina, de apariencia y tono marcados por elegancia muy formal, el servicio es cálido y atento, evitando los extremos opuestos de frialdad o cuasi-servilismo que tristemente surgen tan frecuentemente en este mundo y contexto. Mis felicitaciones y sincero agradecimiento a todo el equipo de '1884', al de los fogones y especialmente al del salón.

Bueno, pensaba que este primer 'posteo' iba a consistir de notas más breves-- sobre los pescados de río que probé en Rosario (Surubí, Boga y Pejerrey) almorzando con Claudio, Pinky y Andrés Scola, los amigos más allegados de mi pana Rosarino, el 'Baty' Paz; sobre la cena semi-Caribeña que cociné, sobre los sabrosos zapallitos rellenos que preparó Chiqui, la Cordobesa que trabaja de asistenta ayudando a Luis Paz con la casa y la cocina... o sea, que debo un 'posteo' enfocado sobre Rosario, aún...pues como dicen en los comics,


Wine Patterns: Rustic Industrial vs. Boutique Spoofulates

Apologies & greetings from Mendoza-- 'tomorrow' took a whole week & over a thousand kilometers to arrive at this page.
Even now, as I write courtesy of Azafrán's Wi-Fi linkage, I'm looking at sinking my teeth into a cheese & smoked meat sampler board before I cut to the chase & share a few quick'n'dirty tasting notes...

One day later by now...I tried to backtrack to include some thoughts on some of the more 'International Style' offerings journalist & sommelier Andrés Scola brought to a dinner I cooked at the Rosario home of Luis Paz, my friend 'Bati's Dad, but I took no tasting notes & got stuck reaching back into my faulty sense-memory bank...


I seem to have a hard time 'cutting to the chase'...by now it's Monday the 17th of December & I'm regretting not having stuck to my original plan of writing my drafts by hand & inputting at whatever public Internet access I could find-- no lack of 'Cybers', as they're referrred to in Argentina. Have spent most of last week learning my way around Windows XP. 'Nuff said.

Another big regret was not being able to link up with Andrés Loszowycz, based in Rosario & renting space to make his wines. He has planted-- or replanted or possibly grafted-- some of the family vineyards in San Juan to Petit Verdot & Cabernet Franc, among other varietals.

The first wine opened at the start of the evening alluded to just above was his bottling of Petit Verdot commemorating the 10th aniversary of the founding of 'La Sociedad de Honorables Enófilos': its' medium body lightened in the midpalate, but there were some nice, minimally spoofulated tannins that brought up an unusual aftertaste mix of dark berry & black olive for a lingering, puckery finish.

Other offerings from the Society's wine club were less successful to this palate: for example, a Tempranillo from Salta, better known for its headily perfumed Torrontés whites, was dense, cooked black cherry fruit that fell off like a disoriented hiker in one of the dramatic canyons that Cafayate, the heart of Salta wine production, is also known for.

Right around the corner from Luis Paz's house I found a little shop dedicated to artisanal wine & food products, & we opened my purchase of a Bonarda made by Vittorio Longo in the province of Catamarca. Andrés Scola, with his sommelier training, thought it was atypical of the variety (--but what about allowing for a different expression of the grape related to 'terroir'??) --and detected a bit of sulphurous reduction, musing on the likelihood that there'd been a (bacterial?) problem during the settling & maturing period, traditionally done in epoxy-sealed cement deposits, with extra sulfites added too close to bottling time. I got a good whiff of burnt match myself, but thought the olive-leaf & black olive notes asserting themselves both in nose & mouth above pleasant if vague black fruit character warranted maybe trying a second bottle-- & adding Catamarca to my list of under-the-radar wine production areas to watch.

I also enjoyed another couple of interesting examples of the rough & rustic Argentinian wine tradition that survives in industrialized form to supply an economy product aimed strictly at the local consumer. First off, we're talking the equivalent of two to four bucks at current exchange rates! Peculiarly, traditional containers for retail have gone from five-liter demijohns ('damajuanas') which you still find for the really inexpensive stuff, to a very soft-shouldered Burgundy-style bottle with a 700 ml capacity.
I had a red wine labeled 'Carcasonne' which opened up nicely with Grenache-like light rose petal & jasmine tea accents over a couple of days. This wine is one of the traditional economy offerings
of Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón (--actually bottled under the sub-label 'Los Vinos de Escorihuela': you'll notice that particular wine is not listed in the 'export-focused' website's product listing linked to above--) which became part of the burgeoning Catena family wine empire in 1993. I visited the winery & enjoyed the elegant & formal but surprisingly warm, relaxed & attentive service at Francis Mallman's '1884' restaurant on the premises, so I may have to dedicate a separate posting to sundry insights derived from my visits...
The second wine I had was a great deal more surprising. It was a honey-colored white with pinkish, salmon glints, labeled as 'Parnaso', from 'Bodega M71343, Viñas de Alvear, SA'.
I've agonized over the fragile pleasures of iffy white wines before-- here, & more recently & coherently, here.
This particular iteration was definitely oxidized, but in the pleasantest way: sherry-like, with burnt orange peel & some blossom in the nose, green olive acidity & lightly bitter orange on the tongue. Only thing lacking was the bit of nutty oiliness which fattens the midpalate & may be what the solera method brings out...

It'll be a month tomorrow since my flight touched ground outside Buenos Aires & there is so much more to tell & write...I'll just say I expect to be heading just out of town tomorrow to the neighboring hamlet of Maipú to spend a couple of evenings lodged at Bodega Cecchin, pioneering organic producers in the area, who make a lovely Carignane, & just took a chance on making their first sulfite-free Malbec...stay tuned!


Pattern Recognition in Argentina

For four days, Buenos Aires was a blur of 'soul delay', as Cayce (or her Londoner friend) calls jetlag in William Gibson's novel quoted in my post title. After a five-hour information & transportation ordeal between landing & reaching the BAUEN Hotel, I was finally about to sink into a blissful nap, cup of espresso notwithstanding, when we were evacuated from our rooms after a bomb threat was called in. The BAUEN is a self-managed worker's co-op, so I don't doubt they have their share of enemies, but I wonder if there was a particular workshop or event taking place on the premises' conference rooms to trigger this particular disruption.
I had grilled breast of chicken at 'Utopia', the hotel's restaurant, for three straight days.
Walked down Callao street from the front door of the hotel to the park at the southern edge of Palermo & La Plata river, & back, on Thursday.
Saturday the 25th November I decided to take my friend Sebastián 'Bati' Paz up on his recommendation to visit his folks up in Rosario to gather my bearings in a more leisurely & familial setting. My original plan was to visit for three days or so, then board the last passenger train in service after the Menem neo-liberal 'divest & plunder' sell-off up to Tucumán, the heart of Indigenous Argentina ( -& pickpocket paradise, as some have it) on my further way to Cafayate & Salta, where EurOenologists of the stature of Michel Rolland & Donald Hess seem to have found some welcoming turf.
Indecision & contradictory intelligence on the state of said trains-- making the run to Tucumán only Monday & Friday-- have me skirting the edge of hospitality abuse ten days later.
To add insult to injury, Sunday after I arrived I went for a run & was lost for three hours after darkness fell over Funes, a bedroom community where Luis, Bati's dad, is building a little weekend cabin. A friendly neighborhood stranger complicated things by driving me around for another hour before taking me to 911 central, where the cops, who'd been notified of my disappearance, lost their way driving me over.
A locally based oenologist who's doing some interesting stuff after replanting some of the old family vineyards in San Juan to Petit Verdot & Cab Franc has been avoiding me for the week, says he wouldn't mind my riding with him to check the vineyards out--but his travel date, ostensibly sometime this week, won't be pinned down-- so I'm looking at travelling to Mendoza, one way or another, by Wednesday. Or Thursday, at the absolute latest.
Quick food & wine notes: except for some ground beef in one empanada & two stuffed 'zapallitos' (a beautiful, deep green mini-pumpkin, with a milder, slightly sweeter taste than zucchini, which you can also find here) I've avoided red meat. At least as sourced from cows & other usual beasts of burden. But I tried some air-cured 'ham' made from Llama, that temperamental, photogenic, indigenous, archetypical beast of burden. Tasty, not as roughly gamey as I feared it might be.
Un millón de gracias, bella Quara. (Indigenous name for said noble animal.)
Think I'll close up & edit part two on wines, tomorrow...


Worth a Thousand Words...

I've mentioned Christophe Gourdain more than a few times-- he's got no website for his restaurant as there's not much of an incentive or payoff for it in Puerto Rico.
He depends on reputation & word of mouth-- variations on a theme evidencing the priority of personal relationships in sustaining a business. He's in a neighborhood in Old San Juan where he competes with any number of flashy, Nuevo Latino-Fusion food-fashion lounges, but if any of my newfound wine-geek blogger buddies are by any chance in the neighboorhood-- say, on a cruising break from their hectic bread-earning juggler lives, looking for a current & regularly updated wine list of any depth, & serious, fine cuisine in an atmosphere that manages to be elegant & relaxed at the same time-- Trois-Cent Onze has no equal in the newly-burgeoning dining scene in Puerto Rico! A votre santé!
Oh, the picture-- !
Well, here's Christophe between his chère Maman & his Mother-in-Law, the latter with the family scion in her arms, at about four months of age. Christophe doesn't smile this broadly too often, & I was very happy to capture his obvious joy & pride with my cheap little camera.
A tout a l'heure, jeun'homme!


WBW 39: 'Silver Burgundy'-- Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais

I was hoping to choose & taste an appropiate wine before leaving
for Argentina & subsequently compare at what price I could find the same bottle or an analogue in Buenos Aires after I arrived...but I've postponed travel yet again, & I'll still be running errands & preparing to pack on Wednesday the 14th-- so I shopped around the websites of Plaza Cellars, to find:

--Joseph Drouhin Macon Villages 2005 $16.38
--Georges Duboeuf Pouilly Fuissé 2006 $21.97
--Louis Latour Pouilly Fuissé 2005 $26.32

...& La Bodega de Méndez had these listings--

--Albert Bichot Pouilly Fuissé 2000 $22.78
--Albert Bichot Pouilly Fuissé 2002 $26.49
--Albert Bichot Saint Véran 2002 $13.49

In the end, I wound up strolling to V. Suárez's retail outlet, El Hórreo, mentioned in an earlier posting, after my friend Christophe Gourdain-- also mentioned earlier-- assured me their extensive catalog was my best bet, with a choice of Mâcon-Lugny, Mercurey & possibly Rully bottlings. Their website has very flashy Flash animation screens, but unfortunately no detailed updates on their mammoth account holdings.
Racks upon racks of Jadot-labeled bottles yielded no Mâcon-Lugny-- out of it, or part of a smaller négociant's closed-out & relinquished catalog. (No trace of Rully, either)
Chalk it up to indecisiveness, recklessness or thirst for knowledge-- finally, as in last month's Wine Blogging Wednesday participation, I ended up with a trinity of bottles:

--Château de Chamirey Mercurey Rouge 1998 $26.50
--Château de Chamirey Mercurey Blanc 1997 $20.75
--Louis Jadot St. Véran Chapelle aux Loups 1998 $17.75

All three have improved since opening, last Saturday the 10th for the red, Sunday 11th for the whites: the red Mercurey went from tart cherry acidity up front & a flash of spicy aftertaste with a light midpalate to a more balanced Bourgogne, if somewhat tame & simple for the price one must inevitably pay on this 100 x 35-square-mile island.
The whites certainly seem to have more depth: the 'Chapelle aux Loups' ('Wolves' Chapel'!) went from bright, acidic lime to still citric, but unctuous Meyer lemon preserve, with some underlying notes of cashew nut, rather than the hazlenut that is supposed to be more typical of this vineyard's product. The white Mercurey has blossomed into an amazing tightrope act of earth & oxidative notes, giving it a caramelized orange rind & apple throughline that matches a light, lingering citrus blossom nose-- with some mushroom underpinning that balances the midpalate at a near-impossible point between astringent & unctuous. I rave about this wine partly because it's a delicious payoff after taking many, many chances on older white vintages that are borderline oxidated--
a 2002 Argiolas 'Isola dei Nuraghi' white from Sardinia, for example, with an unspecified percentage of Malvasia blended in with the usual Vermentino, had a honeyed color with salmon glints; & while the nose was flat if dimly nutty, the palate was nicely poised on the edge of sherry-like character.
A more subtle & expensive example was a bottle of Jadot's Meursault-Genevrières from '98 I shared with Christophe at his restaurant, where he dismissed my fretting out loud whether I'd wasted my sixty-seven dollars after getting mostly olives & bay leaf in the nose & tight citrus with a subtle nutty undertone in the mouth. 'It's fine', he curtly declared.
I have a curmudgeonly, whiny streak & when Brooklynguy presented the theme for this month's blogging 'group taste' I wondered if I'd end up filling space by complaining about the hollow spaces & high prices of the wine market on this cultural crossroads of an island-- yet again.
I've still got a good, generous glass of each of both white wines waiting for this evening & a possible evaluation epilogue of their final evolution waiting in my blogosphere's literary wings. Not only that, I'm very tempted to risk the inevitable bottle variation to buy another helping of each-- so I have to humbly thank our host for the incentive nudge to pursue the 'Silver Burgundy' scheme of possibilities & a great experience!
Postscript, Wed.14, 11:53 AST:
(now that Eastern time is back on Standard, I get an hour's grace period for midnight deadlines!)
On their last legs, each wine flattened & died a most characterful death: the Saint-Véran's slightly-cooked Meyer lemon compote showing some salty highlights, as of oyster liquor. The Mercurey, darkening into Scotch-like malt!


Margaux Aha! Moment

This bottle was one of two from my Tio Yayo's cellar I took under custody, out of maybe five that rolled around from one cousin to another after he was diagnosed 'non compos mentis'. I coulda-mighta-shoulda taken the other three-- they may still be waiting in my aunt Vivi's bedroom fridge, where I was supposed to claim them to place in proper storage...
I'd had a disappointing taste of a 1961 Château Margaux out of my dad's stash-- terribly cooked in the tropical heat-- maybe fifteeen, if not a few more years ago by now-- and this bottle of 1977 Château Rausan-Ségla didn't look very promising: it had probably been stored upright for a long period, as the cork had dried & gotten pushed or sucked in. The old-fashioned lead capsule's tight seal kept the contents from leaking out this last year or two I'd set it on its side, however.
1977 worse vintage of the decade. Red Rivesaltes excellent is the only reference I've found after some cursory Googling...

(Found a picture! On e-bay, wouldn't you know:
Seems a Belgian gent name of Claudio Marius was the high bidder
on a bottle of the vintage-- 22.58 euros, check it out here.)

So I open it with my Dad, (--a week ago last Monday by now, Nov. 9) after finding a decanter faccsimile-- which didn't really do the job, not having the right 'shoulders' to collect the sediment-- not expecting much, but except for the slightly muddied color, the wine seemed OK in the glass. My Dad went into his now usual rant on how this is Tempranillo, which those damn French insist on calling Cabernet, & I did my resigned sigh & shutting-out bit-- but was really surprised & impressed: I got a nose of mostly tobacco & mocha, but not like a full-blown Napa Cab or a Chilean Carmenere, which can come on like Kahlua, more like a perfume, as if cocoa, tobacco & coffee blossoms were opening in the glass...subtle, variable, even a little muted, but very present in its quiet way. I couldn't not share this, so I held back, went for a run, tried to decant some more sediment as I carefully poured what ended up being about 60 cl into another bottle, & surprised my friend Christophe Gourdain, owner of Restaurant Trois-Cent Onze in Old San Juan, by bringing it in.
Being hungry but wanting to keep dinner simple & quick, I agreed to a salad of frisée with 'camembert en croûte', followed by some ravioli of pheasant with mushroom sauce as an appropiate pairing with the wine.
Christophe detected fruit, & aided by his power of suggestion & my hard-working sense-memory, I finally agreed there might be something like dark berry or cherry notes well-integrated into the sensory mix...the wine didn't have the greatest staying power in the glass, but seemed to fill out its fifteen minutes of elusive evolution before softening & flattening out. Yet, each new glass poured from the bottle showed just a little different while still alive...twilight presence, evanescence...I guess that's what Margaux-- or only this particular Margaux?-- would be about...


Catch-Up Concentrate: Just Add Wine!

Been postponing my departure for Argentina during all of this month, which makes for a hard time 'keeping it in the moment'. I'm a nervous flyer at best, & have never been in the air longer than the seven hours or so across the pond to London, Madrid, Paris or Frankfurt-- after which I've always been a jet-lagged wreck for about a week.
Getting to Buenos Aires will take a few more teeth-jarring tick-tocks.

Today I've had my first cup of coffee after a week of some self-prescribed, cold-turkey anxiety management withdrawal, so I may actually finish this post...

There is so much I've been meaning to share, since I got back from my NY-VA-NC sojourn: about the three wine négociant dinners attended-- (I may have been the closest thing to a winemaker around, not really a source of any comfort or pride: media, marketers & other biz people, gourmets, hangers-on-- nice folk, too, but...) --long-rehearsed, half-composed writeups on the characterful wines of Villa Appalaccia & Chateau Morrisette in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Floyd, Virginia...on my continuing exploration of white wine-- recently veering away from Rhone blends to focus on Torrontés & Arneis...
I've also been rehearsing some sort of disclosure as to the family circumstances that make writing about wine a somewhat contradictory, emotional & sometimes difficult chore for me:
(deeeep breath)

My younger brother was a charming womanizer of an alcoholic who was gunned down by police in Orlando, Florida two years ago last May 21. Use of deadly force by law-enforcement officers was ruled 'Justifiable Homicide' which seems a stretch (--three armed law-enforcement officers facing a lone drunk, even with a knife of some sort in each hand?) --but of course I cannot responsibly speculate on the attendant circumstances in public.
(Don't you just love a mystery??)
Look up 'raging, anxious codependent' in your Self-help Psychology dictionary & you should find a snapshot of yours truly, grinning stiffly.

I sleep in his old room in the leaky, modernist flying saucer-hut that is the family home, as my own has become the mini-warehouse/studio-library glimpsed behind the funky Mac 'PhotoBooth' self-portraits seen here...and here:

At least there's our backyard...

--and our funky patio ready for alfresco wine tasting!

So, I got issues. And my experience with psychoactive meds has been very negative, so I work hard on self-care mostly by running, eating healthy & keeping my wine intake very, very moderate. Oh, & for some emotional connection to counter my tendency to isolated hermitry, I watch over two cats: Negrita, (stay-away-don't-touch-me!) who belonged to Alberto, my late brother, & receives no end of tearful projection on my Dad's part...

--& 'Lucho Gatica', who, in retrospect, would seem to have played a crucial part in the long (...reluctant?) courtship between my Dad & my new Stepmother. (Dr. D. Rodríguez-Pérez, after mourning my mother for a dozen years, remarried one month before his 90th birthday, three years ago next January. Stepmom Jeannette may still be shy of the big six-oh...? Don't ask, don't tell...)

Lucho was a gift of Jeannette's-- a young, black Angora half-breed, prettyboy tom with eyes that looked like a kohl-rimmed Egyptian prince's. After years of prowling and some violence on the part of humans, though, he's deaf, blind in one eye and miraculously alive while endlessly nursing (read, scratching & scraping) a running sore behind his left ear worthy of Philoktetes... his craggy brawler countenance & carriage are worthy of a Bukowski character, if not old 'Harry Chinaski' himself...

But to get back on-topic:
The bigger issues-- & anxieties-- with this trip to Argentina arise from the pressure I've put on myself to achieve a well-loaded agenda. Long story short, I'm looking to finalize an arrangement where I can make a test barrel or three using traditional Old World methods (co-fermentation of reds with a percentage of aromatic white grapes-- in open-top wood puncheons, say, using indigenous yeasts...) to economically improve the perceived quality & marketability of wines made from grape varieties considered secondary & less than 'Noble': hopefully Barbera, possibly Bonarda, which is starting to garner some attention & respect; maybe Tannat, maybe fruit from the small plantings of Graciano & Mondeuse-- Refosco?-- I hear survive scattered away from the burgeoning mainstream.
All of this so that I can use the (hopefully) fat profit margins to fund a long-cherished community entrepreneurship project: a network of web-linked Culture Cafés focusing on improving relations between émigré communities & their hosts...
(to be continued...)


Rimbaud Ramble

however the world turns
my mouth overflows germs

I am dirty & ill
& I won't take my pill

I fight the flush alone
by the still moat of home

but I lose heart with pain
so I pluck it again

while I wait in the shade
for the sun like a blade

(by the time it crashes
my cuts will bleed ashes)

Any World That I'm Welcome To--

'is better/than the one/I come from...'

(Barcelona Farewell)

she wear the fat belt
she meet my eyelid
she draw her butt cheek line
so dark & close to my own
dead & gone edge

she hold the crowd back
she keep a friend cool
she trigger-happy looker
wearing my own
stolen heart of gold, dear

--on cuff-linked sleeves, dear:
surrender, dear eye--
you do remember, my eye?
let's think & sink a-gain
--you try my recall 'gain, dear

she sit on blow clean slate
she squeeze my mem'ry gland
she march all night on lace-white
friends all grown so old
before our time

(she foreign spectate, or-
correspond to speculate-a-dress
in my mind's eye, only--
argue come to blows again)

(Arc Café, November 2003)


Delirious: That was then, this is now-- & then--

Ah, the good ole days-- 365 of 'em ago-- Noah Dorrance, of Crushpad & Alan 'CellarRat' Baker, after tasting with Noah Chandler, at Lazy Creek, his own operation just north of Philo in Anderson Valley, beautiful Mendocino County...

(nothing but sorrow, drunk
or sober, nothing but sorrow)

Here is my long-lost home
the maze of hierarchical digits I would tear down
--the ziggurat

all wired for money on a giant canvas

make it home since I must


Wine Blogging Wednesday #38: Outubro em Portugal? I wish...

1812 h. --it is a web log, after all.

I just walked back from El Hórreo with three bottles of wine from the Alentejo, more specifically, Quinta do Carmo, a Domaine Baron Rotschild property since 1992.
Should've done this yesterday: it's past midnight & already Thursday for WBW #38 hosts Gabriella & Ryan on the northernmost ridges of El Garraf, west of Barcelona.

1912 h. Was hoping to go for a run or at the very least some light weight-training & stretching before continuing but the heat & humidity have me on the edge of nodding out.
There was a bottle of Vinho Verde winking at me from a display rack & I should have yielded to its seduction. Lentillas refogadas is not the best idea for dinner in this weather, either. Should have stuck with the original plan for some Salada 'Russa'...yadda yadda.

2058 h. Yah, OK, I gave up. Finally sitting down to my plate of lentils-- after opening & comparing (nibbling on some mariscos en escabeche out of a can all the while...) the '91 & '02 bottlings of 'Don Martinho', (la Quinta's 'second wine') the older bottling still under the care (winemaking? management?) of Julio Bastos; the second, with the Rotschild partnership well in charge; their young Cab & Syrah plantings online for a couple of years & blended in to the vague tune of 20- 40%, while 70 to 80% (percentages are the Rotschilds!) is a mix of traditional Aragonez-- synonym --or clone?-- of Tinta Roriz &/or Tempranillo; Alicante (Bouschet, or Garnacha Tintorera)-- & Periquita, also known as Castelão in different regions of Portugal.

2306 h. It's taken me this long to edit this much. Tasting notes? The '02 was slightly 'bretty' to the nose, all saddle leather, loam & mushrooms, while the '91 had some elusive evergreen & cherry mixed in with much lighter, fading notes of the funk underpinning. Color is ruby in the '02, a deeper, more intense 'cereza picota' (--bing cherry?) in the '91.

2348 h. I opened the more expensive (26.50 + 6.5?% tax) 1996 Quinta do Carmo-- 'drink now through 2001' says the WS blurb on the North Carolina online merchant's page linked to above. Ooops.
Meanwhile, the '91 is slowly opening & seems to be holding up amazingly well-- some light but lively sour cherry in there! At one pont, midpalate seemed to be thinning out into tart ether, but it seems to have reflated... I'll check in & publish this now, but, like the proto-pop modernist old serials & 'graphic novels' (glorified comics?) used to put it,

Columbus Day:
Día de Colón(ization) or, Día de la Raza, or Descubrimiento de América...depending where & how you celebrate it-- if at all. How confused can Political Correctness get? Are 'Indigenous' populations all Indo-Aryans, then?
OK! End of mini-rant... the '96 Quinta do Carmo has opened up to show more depth (I won't go so far as to say 'complexity', notice...) & a delicious mouthfeel for an 11 year-old wine supposedly past its prime...but as far as price point in Puerto Rico, $26.50 plus our new, convoluted sales/value-added tax hybrid...seems just a bit much-- just a bit, mind you-- however, the '91 'Don Martinho' --$15.00 + tax here in Puerto Rico-- if you can find it, is a little jewel-- sixteen years in the bottle & it keeps opening up to brisk freshness similar to a 'Cru' Beaujolais, two days after pulling the cork! Fruit something like redcurrant or cranberry; midpalate just a little thin, body lighter than the 'Quinta'-- but for a wine so light, there is a nice lingering 'posgusto'-- while the '02 version, for all the young Cab & Syrah now being added, has tannins that hit your palate then come up short.

If you'll bear with me, I'll write a third installment tomorrow-- ah-- tomorrow (today, already) is Padrino's, my uncle Yayo (Eduardo)'s 94th birthday...

He used to love the big wines of Cariñena (-- & the lighter, Garnacha-based clarets of Navarra) like I do.

Anything & everything I write about wine owes a lot to him.
...& this particular 'Baptism of Fire' into the WBW (Wrestling Blotto Writers?) arena I would like to dedicate to the memory of my Titi Olga.


On the third day...ten minutes out of the refrigerator & still cold, some unusual qualities came up before the wines finally 'flattened out':
'Don Martinho' followed the hollowing midpalate with an aftertaste of sticky, chalky tannins, while the 'Quinta do Carmo' seemed to run towards heat and heightened, rough acidity-- still, bouncing back to some nice cassis & clove spice notes in the latter case, even as it died in the glass! I had never experienced the importance of temperature in serving wine like this. Lessons to ponder.
(PS, Sunday evening-- Ended up drinking the last 3/4 glass of the 'Quinta' I'd saved to add to a stew-- still some cassis & spice!-- I may have been too quickly dismissive of this wine-- here: you can find it stateside at $19.99 from two different online shops. It's the least I can do! Salut!)

Un abrazo y un millón de gracias a Gabriella & Ryan por todos sus esfuerzos.


Luna Perdida, Cante Jondo

como la mar, la luna del planeta
refleja la mía:
recién creciente daga de marfil
hunde su imposible filo entre nubes
sin borde

¿Quién empuña esta luz sobre mi nuca
que corre hacia la medianoche?

trece lunas de bruma
trece amuletos pálidos
exhalan escupen respiran
drenan trece tacos a través
de cuatro estaciones de luto

no hay voz ni vasija sin falla

todo aliento ronca el barro de sangre


Vieux Célibataire Blues

got no boss to worry 'bout
got no trouble
on that horizon

got no kids to worry 'bout
got no trouble
on that horizon

got no woman, no reason
for heartbreak--
what Bob Marley sings to me

blue skies, open road
desert flats
far as the eye can see

open road, certain death
reach the sinking sun
on that horizon


Twisted Oak Winery: the backstory...

I have three open, unfinished drafts in my Blogspot 'list of posts' that should eventually be published somewhere back down along my blogstream column, all sporting last month's dates-- they should in all probability end up focused on each of the three wineries-- Raffaldini Vineyards, Villa Appalaccia & Château Morrisette) I visited on my week's driving tour between Floyd, Virginia & Maverick Farms in Valle Crucis, North Carolina at the end of July...
BUT-- I've done some emailing back & forth with Twisted Oak's honcho, Jefe Jeff, that I feel compelled to acknowledge, while putting my two cents' worth of tasting notes on a couple of their offerings I've recently tried. (--read, 'guzzled, although in well-measured fits & starts'!)

My first taste of Twisted Oak's offerings was at the 2005 Rhone Rangers' winemaker dinner at First Crush in San Francisco. There were two other very good wineries involved, but when El Jefe & Boy take the floor, one tends to become oblivious to everything else except, possibly, the dazzling array of female company swilling along with you at the table.
At the end of the proceedings, I came away with the prize piece of sartorial risk worn in the above picture, won for being able to blurt out 'The Volstead Act!' quicker than anybody else in our assembly. Admittedly, my memory of said proceedings is somewhat distorted-- stilted, at best-- & I'd be honored & flattered if anybody from the winery can chime in with a list of the actual bottlings they presented at that memorable, unforgettable evening.
(--which may be understandably difficult at this very minute, as wine folk up & down long & wide Fornicalia, if not the world, are in the middle of an early, difficult, fast & furious harvest crush...nothing to do with that 'Global Warming' scam, of course-- just Mother Nature running her wise, kindly variations on us to keep us on our toesies...!)

...I was so fortified by the quality & quantity of our libations that I hiked from our downtown San Francisco location through the Tenderloin district & other nondescript neighboorhoods to my hotel on the edge of the Lower Haight (--being increasingly marketed as 'Nopa': North of the Panhandle!?--not really-- East, maybe...) on a damp & drizzly night, as preparation for a further hike the following morning up to Fort Mason in time for my volunteer stint helping with setup logistics for the tasting-- actually, it probably was for the tasting itself, setup having been accomplished during the day that ended with the dinner...?

To bring matters to the present: I jumped at the chance to have some Twisted wine shipped to New York while I was in town-- care of Terry Hughes, who writes the bilingual English-Italian wineblog mondosapore-- mille grazie, caro Terenzio!-- & finally catch up with what's bubbling in the Calaveras county cauldron-- well...
'...for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth...'

...safely back in the Tropical swelter of suburban San Juan, I opened my bottle of Murgatroyd expecting a dry, intense, spicy, every-grape-but-the-kitchen-scuttlebutt press of bright pink nectar: El Jefe's purplish copy, waxing existential on the psychedelic pink, rite-of-passage cartoon mountain lion character that was (is??) Snagglepuss, had primed my associative pump & thoroughly mixed all metaphor to come! It was plummy oxblood that poured out of the bottle, not electric rosé! Of course, there had been some signs & clues my expectations were about to be dashed: the classic, dark green Bordeaux bottle, & a subsequently discovered, unread line on the back label where it clearly reads, 'Calaveras County Red Wine'! --but at pouring time I was heedless, if not oblivious...

Socially responsible winemonger that he is, El Jefe Stai has appropiately tweaked his online salesmanship so that easily suggestible imaginations such as your humble servant's may not be thus led astray.
All I will say about the potation in question at this time is that it vaults over my doubts & suspicions regarding blends involving atypical, wide-ranging assortments of grapes: still dominantly Cabernet in character, Tempranillo & Grenache help open up the fruit in nose & palate. I wouldn't mind maybe a bit more of them, just as I wouldn't mind a lighter hand with the oak...
But I quibble. I'm not a fan of the much-maligned 'International Style', & I fear the Twisted crew might feel inclined to make me walk the plank over applying the label to their juice, but I dare say this wine might make the perfect poster child for the positive factors involved-- wine magician Fermento the Magnificent might make a Super-Rioja (--or Ribera?) los Riojanos mismos might emulate...
Twisted Oak's Verdammt! -%@#$!- white Rhone blend & my even more difficult & conflicted tasting experience will need a separate posting, so...
'Exit-- stage left!'


Twisted Oak's %@#$!, in the white context

Am I being punished? The enduring lapsed/inner Catholic in my gut feels punished:
I wanted to tease & chide Twisted Oak about their Verd@#mt!, Roussane-based white Rhone blend after drinking down the first bottle, in the following terms:
--how can this sly oenological cabal hope to keep their rustic, 'wild and crazy guys' image going while making such elegant wines?
...I missed a bit of crispness, thought it was a bit too malo-ed out, man, the seductive buttery pear not standing up too well to some spicy dishes I paired it with--
I even thought up a kinky analogy:
This wine is like the Brando character in Last Tango in Paris, playing up the ugly American thing as he works out his grief-- but even as he growls, 'Get the butta!' at Maria Schneider, it's only a displaced, wounded sophisticate's impatient, emotion-filled rendering of tradition...
I'm being punished: when I opened the second bottle of the %@#$! stuff to reaffirm or correct these impressions, I got a dense, but somehow 'flat' whiff of oxidation, a woody sherry character in the palate. I'm somewhat out of my depth here: is this what 'corking' is like in a white wine?
Or is this something else? I thought oxidation would be a general batch process, can it happen on a bottle-by-bottle basis?

(Friday the 28, September to remember...)

I just bought & opened another bottle of Jean-Luc Colombo's 2001 'La Belle de Mai', a 100% Roussanne, appellation Saint Peray...
I'd written a teaser after my last bottle a while back, & while this iteration is in better shape than my last purchase-- which seemed to be fading to thin, disjointed tartness-- it still tends to vary from day-to-day & taste to taste. Colombo's been nicknamed the 'Michel Roland of the Rhone'--for his tendency to technological, overtly manipulative oenology, even if he does source some organically grown grapes (from 'old vines'!), as for this wine.
But to begin with, Roussanne is quite the testy, finicky grape-- so... I've joined Tim Elliot's Winecast group at Crushpad to learn all I can about crafting a Rousanne-based blend...Tim referred the group to a recommended listen to this taped seminar from this year's Hospice du Rhone event. The big 'aha!' moment for me was Jacques Perrin's warning that the 'shut down' period most wines have a tendency to experience at some point in their aging evolution is very marked & dramatic for the product of the Roussanne grape: five years...

All Tomorrow's Parties...

(--are beyond reach, thrill & pleasure
mirage on the receding horizon
of intractably linear, sequential
timestreams, delusion skin-deep as yours...)

But yesterday's white wines, fresh or stale
trip on the tongue-- mingle & blend
& play, plash & pleach on the palate--
gurgle down my gullet, waft in repand afterglow,
retracing reflux horrors grown quaint & mild--

softer 'round the spicy repast, rendering the burning stew
dilute with swallowed summer swelter
but crisp again, if drowse in each renewal's sip
a-washes empty mouthfuls...


Sangiovese & other Italian varietals in Virginia & North Carolina

Having a hard time unspooling a grand narrative from last Summer's travels, travails, tastings & reconnections...
let me see if I can, however disjointedly, jot down some impressions, gratitudes, pointers--

Most importantly, I made it to three wineries on my Blue Ridge discovery loop:
Raffaldini Vineyards in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley, & Chateau Morrisette & Villa Appalaccia, about 70 miles Northeast as the crow files across the Virginia state line from Raffaldini, & one mile from each other on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County.

At Raffaldini, Paula Shores led me through the tasting & introduced me to her husband Andy, the winery's vineyard manager. Although Raffaldini emphasizes the family's deep historical roots dating to XIV century Mantua in Italy, the team il Padrone has assembled is very local, very rooted in the North Carolina Piedmont, which seems like a strong positive to me in developing wines with a sense of character & place.

Raffaldini has found some early success with Montepulciano, (One of possibly only three plantings of the varietal in all of North America. Appellation America seems to be short on information on who's growing it, but in Mendocino county, a hunch & a search led me to easily confirm it's Greg Graziano trying his hand at it.) --but their production is so limited their current bottling was already sold out by January of this year, mostly through subscription. Next vintage is scheduled to be released by Thanksgiving & I missed my cue to get down on my knees & beg for the possibility of tasting a barrel sample. Oh well. I've got some pride to let go of, still, to make it in this industry.

Apart from the Montepulciano, the core of the winery's current efforts seem to focus on Sangiovese, and these wines, at least, I had the chance to taste: both bottlings (same vintage for both, 2005, but an extended oak program for the 'Riserva') had subtle but sensuous & well-delineated floral characteristics in the nose-- jasmine tea with some rose notes. In the midpalate, though, they seemed to thin out into an ethereal, somewhat short finish that led me to buy bottles of their bigger, six-grape Bella Misto blend & Vermentino instead. I've ended up feeling a little sorry I didn't get the Sangios-- the Bella's complex blend seems to need more time to integrate. The pour from the bottle I bought, once opened, changed character wildly in the glass over the course of a few days-- sometimes earthier, sometimes a bit tart & acidic-- possibly suffering from 'bottle shock', only recently having been transferred from its 'élévage' in neutral oak? (--a point that was made very strongly to me: no new oak at this winery!) As for the Vermentino, its refreshing but light, lemon zest & citron notes made me wish I'd saved it to pair with some seafood after I got back home.
...See, somewhat impulsively, I decided to make both bottles (along with a bottle of Laurel Glen's special Chévere bottling) part of my 'agri-tourist's' contribution to Maverick Farms' kitchen...this is a project I found a pleasure to support with a couple of shamefully short stints of work. I would urge any & all who have the opportunity to spend one of the most educational, if not the most absolutely enlightening weekend, as far as agricultural economic reality goes, in this setting. Go for a meditative retreat from urban life in Raleigh, go for an experience to share with your family, just go!

A further, posibly more serious, wine-geeky reason I'm deeply sorry I couldn't better time my return drive by Raffaldini so that I could pick up samples of their Sangiovese is that Villa Appalaccia up in Floyd makes a Sangiovese, closer in principle to the traditional Chianti model, co-fermented with 10% Trebbiano & Malvasia (--how much of each??)--that seems on first impression, to this humble nose & palate, something like the flip side of Raffaldini's in character:
the nose was a little oaky at first, cedar box mostly, so that I would guess they're using American oak. Sangiovese varietal 'typicity'-- the expected rose & jasmine tea notes-- are subsumed under a fairly intense herbaceous character that meshes well with the oak as the wine opens up. The midpalate & finish were, if subtle, somewhat more 'grounded' than the Raffaldini efforts-- silky, but long & lingering.

At the risk of changing topics in an abrupt transition to close this posting, I feel I owe a long-overdue, public thank you to Rhonda Muskat, who singlehandedly manages the Villa Appalaccia tasting room when owners Susanne & Stephen are away-- as was the case when I dropped by-- & was extremely generous in turning back from loading an order she had stopped in to pack, on a day when the winery is closed in any case, to give me a full tasting & a star salesperson's attention to ensure I didn't leave empty handed! I hope to write about their wines, & the possibly premature topic of a 'Blue Ridge terroir' at greater length soon. Thank you, again-- to Paula, & to Rhonda, so very much!

Huella de Ceniza

oculta se revela
fuente de sombra

rebelde se somete
al orgullo tentado

concreto se abstrae
del templo abandonado

alumno nos muestra
por insignia un botón

maestro aprende joyas
de leal duda ruda

dura escuela de los años:
huella de ceniza en el viento


If one image is worth a long, strange trip...

...having such a hard time writing a concise but complete narrative of the rest of my trip, focusing on the wineries I visited...
--maybe I could just write lengthy captions for the photos I took?


Drafting Trains

Words on my feet
walk on their memberings:

Clashing work & leisure classes
balance six-foot stacks
of pizza delivery boxes

I miss every city block
and winding dirt road
I once struggled down


Early Fall Cycle

by the swelling brook
one bend away from heaven
cricket heart pounds

sea-seeking brook
flows back from deva heaven
to cricket calls

whispering brook-
your meadow cricket wonders
-am I awake?

earth-spring brook
drinks each heavenly raindrop
cricket hides to sing

leaping, dipping brook
carves heaven out of summer
by cricket's sharp song

by the spraying brook
one boulder short of heaven
cricket song wanes

deep earth-bed brook
turns heaven down each day
to hum cricket songs

round the dreaming brook
summer's short heaven washes--
cricket, sing a wake


Ersatz Aventura, Part Deux

Does anybody draft the big trailer rigs for protection from Smokey & saving some gas on fairly long Interstate hauls anymore? I managed to fall in behind one big refrigerator truck not long after I hit 64 West out of Richmond-- (Virginia, not California!)
For the hour or so until I took 81 South I followed, tailgating somewhat obnoxiously for some stretches, easing back for breathing space now & then, holding to a steady 75-80 miles an hour through periods of gusting showers alternating with breaks in the clouds. Nice adrenalin, minus breakfast-- by the time I'd reviewed email & wasted some time in fruitless efforts at crafting this followup to the short write-up below, called Budget Rent-a-Car about a pick-up, & made it out to the Holiday Inn lobby, it was a few minutes past eleven, the kitchen had just closed & there was nothing for it except maybe percolating some coffee back in my room before I checked out. Never mind...
I think I need to regrow some backbone-- apart from this arguable slight lapse in hospitality on the part of America's Innkeeper, after declining some insurance package from one of Cheap Tickets' partners online, I let myself get talked into Budget's own offer rather than being firm in insisting my card would provide more than adequate coverage. This casual yielding to 'practicality' actually doubled the total estimated cost of my rental.
It's noon already & I'm running late again. The drive to Maverick Farms is a great deal more scenic-- meaning, of course, that it meanders along turning, climbing, winding roads-- & I would like to stop at one of two wineries in Floyd as I start out-- Chateau Morrisette are pioneers in the region-- let's see (--as in taste) what they're doing...!


David's Newest Silly & Expensive Faux-Adventure

I thought 10 bucks to yellow-cab-crawl across New York town from the Carlton Arms to Penn Station was nuts until I ended up spending 24 smackers to get from Amtrak's Richmond stop to a Holiday Inn with an available room for the night...
Because I needed to be within five miles of the Budget Rent-a-car lot to be elegible for a pick-up tomorrow, & further deliriously fantasized I could, in any case, lug my three bags on foot as a vigorous morning constitutional if I was close enough.
I guess I was thinking Paso Robles in California. I don't know what I was thinking.
Maybe arriving in Staunton (Danville? Charlottesville?) sometime near midnight would have been better. Maybe I didn't choose any of the alternatives because Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire & Cheap Tickets all seemed to have such a hard time locating rental vehicle deals in any of the smaller towns-- I forget.
Maybe I can start off way earlier than the post-midday pick-up I've arranged, so that I'm finished with highways in time for a nice, fairly long run around David Sower's neck of the Blue Ridge woods in Floyd, Virginia-- a four to six hour drive Southwest of Richmond...


New York, New York...

Met up with Terry Hughes, who's been so encouraging & generous to me as I embark on this particular form (genre?) of writing...
here's a link to his write-up of our dinner meeting at a great place on a very, very different Avenue B from ummm--
25?? 15? years ago when I last strolled around & had a bite & after-dinner drink at what may have been the earlier tenant at the storefront Alberto runs Barbone in...
He tells it much better than I could--


Deeper, Once More Into the White, Camaradas!

The anger & frustration I want to release in writing about the living cultural contradictions I inhabit add to & harden the very blockage in front of itself...

I don't know enough about wine-- will I ever?
But the wines that seem most appropiate to the near-year-long humid heat of Puerto Rico & our somewhat extreme cuisine elements (--such as raw seafood ceviches & cool, marinated root vegetable salad 'escabeches' on the one hand, long-stewed or roasted meats & rice-based 'asopaos'
on the other; deep-fried dishes & fast food somewhere in between...)
-- are the ones which oxidize or otherwise deteriorate and age prematurely in the inadequately, stingily climatized warehouses of the big distributors on the island...
I just drank a bottle of Guigal's 1998 Condrieu over the last three days. As I finished it up today, my sense-memory & metaphor 'fichier' finally meshed & I thought there was an interesting, complex but (clashing) umm-- unfocused? disjointed? --nose & palate of bitter orange, orange blossoms & something like muskmelon or cantaloupe adding rich but slightly sour, & to this half-trained palate, somewhat oxidized notes.
It's funny & interesting-- & somewhat heartening-- that the wine cohered in a more definite, characterful manner after a few days open in the refrigerator. To try to set off or bring out characteristics & sensory associations, I've been mostly pairing it with variants on fairly Italianate cannellini with escarole stews-- tonight more bitter chicory than the last of the escarole, some squash & wine-soaked shiitake & wood ears for balance & chicken sausage with basil & pignoli for substance-- ah, & a few rice-flour rotini added in for fill at the last minute.
I soaked the mushrooms in some of Jean-Luc Colombo's 2001 'La Belle de Mai' St. Péray-- 100% Rousanne, I believe. This baby
is falling apart somewhat differently...
(to be continued, again, bien entendu!)


...Mostly about Marsanne, in the end...

I've been meaning to write about white wines...but my rant engine seems to angrily gear up only to sputter & stall on any & all related issues-- the above video was a trigger to finally get me off my butt, but that particular rant (Mr. Brecher mentions at one point that 'even people who like Merlot' can enjoy the Argentinian Malbecs being showcased...) may have to wait for a later posting, at this rate...
To begin with, I have a nasty habit--'Deformación Profesional', as the very PostMod Spanish pun puts it-- of unavoidable critical solipsism: I am always searching for, questioning, testing & seeking to deconstruct & maybe reassemble the (un)spoken, assumed conventions & rules of whatever medium I am engaged in. Makes the pursuit & effective manifestation of creativity rather a chore...
To begin again, at (one of) the triggering incidents:
I brought a bottle of Marilyn Remark's 2004 Marsanne, purchased on a rather unfortunately timed visit to the winery (The owner-winemaker couple was away at a wedding) to Puerto Rico & enjoyed it so much with my faux, millet-based 'Cous-Cous' (...made as a stew, Merguez sausage & veggies all mixed in-- Algerian style, no raisins or nuts, harissa spices except caraway seed blended in with carrots, squash, some green olives & chick peas...) I wanted to codify the recipe for a chance to earn a case of the stuff when I found out the winery had a food pairing contest online.
Needless to say, I never quite got around to it.
As per my usual life-on-the-wing modus operandi, I have no tasting notes to refer to-- but I have the lingering, clear & intense sense-memory of a most superbly balanced expression of the grape: soft wildflower & stone fruit, mostly apricot in the nose, but a palate closer to subtle, slightly tart, contained white peach.
I want more, please.
However, one of the powerful pleasant pluses of the wine was an ABV level topping at 13.5%, and what I read of the '05 (& just released '06) bottling tells me this has bumped up to 14.5%. Not unmanageable, but...how come? Was '04 the proverbial cool, slow ripening year that made for nice phenolic ripeness while keeping sugar levels relatively low?
Reading further down on Dr. Przebinda's posting, linked to above, I find that'05 had just such a '...long and generally cool growing season without heat spikes. This long season resulted in extended hang times in even temperatures which gave the fruit good extraction but lower sugar levels.'
Can anybody bring some information on the 2004 growing season & harvest-- particularly in the Central Coast & that idiosyncratically laid out Arroyo Seco AVA where the Loma Pacific Vineyard is located-- to bear on my bewilderment?
(à suivre...)


Cross on Mendo Lake & Vine

Sounding radio fills the car
beating overheated air
hard against the windows
that keep out gusting wind blows
& knock against a rushing view--

row upon row of wine grapes hangs
unpicked & frozen dry
on twisted dormant vines:
another modern mystery folksong
unspools its tangled yarn--

stage is set in heartfelt mumbles
while Jesus hangs in shadow-wings
nailed between his myth & history

I might stop and look and listen
with better quiet care
as the winding tale seeps out
into clean & clear cold air

but I lean into the gas & I press on
--I floor pedal to the metal & drive on--

There's a motion at th edge of sight
that catches my attention--
maybe pulse of hardy wildlife
failing flight to tumble in surrender
down the scrub-harsh hill?

But it's too late in the season
& all that's left behind us
is the broken track we seek to own
in a trail of dust & twilight

--a blank blue heaven gives the lie
to our best-intentioned fables:
row upon row of wine grapes hangs
unpicked & frozen dry
on twisted, dormant vines



(I suffer from a horizontal mind--
too indulgent of my prone-active imagination:)

Grown wide awake as I lie down
I only nod out when I rise--
erect barely to stumble on
towards my unseen horizon

I only worry on my back
I only wander on my feet
I breathe easy on my knees
and sink back on my butt
to grit my teeth & weep

I only wander on my back
I only sink back on my feet
I worry hard on my butt
and breathe deep on my knees
to grit my teeth & weep


Morituri Te Salutant: Ici/La Bas, Les Révelés 2000 -- Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Elke Vineyard

This is an exercise in sense memory, as it's taken me three weeks from bottle opening & first taste to making this first ever attempt at evaluating a wine in any kind of detail. (And since as a thorough, careless, blasé fool, I neglected to take any tasting notes.)
I feel rather badly about ending up drinking the bottle all by my lonesome, in four installments: my first choice would have been to share this with Alan Baker, the Cellar Rat, now temporarily (I hope) retired from the blogosphere and pulling long hours as full time IT point man for Crushpad in San Francisco.
For the price of a one case participation in his Pinot 2.0 project, (...and plane fare, & the cost of living in the Bay Area, of course!) Alan let me tag along & test my learning curve on the steep terroir of winemaking-- steep enough, considering all the organic chemistry one must be conversant with to enable halfway informed snap decisions that might alternately ensure or endanger the palatability of 300 bottles of final product, (--in Alan's case, actually, 1200, since he was making four barrels of Pinot) & the fact that I gave up on science at a junior high school level, as I was going to be an artist!
I had bought this bottle of Jim Clendennen's second (third? fourth?) label at Au Bon Climat/Qupé's biannual winery open house event for Spring 2005-- I believe it may have been held May 10th-- & left it in storage at El Camino Wine Storage in Atascadero until Fall of last year. Since Alan was sourcing his fruit from Wentzel Vineyard in the Anderson Valley, I thought we'd have occasion to sample how one winemaker's take on the terroir (that word again!) held up a few years down the road from harvest. Alas! It was not to be: my track record for throwing parties-- or organizing gatherings-- that nobody but one, or at most two, close friends show up for stretches in what I believe is an unbroken streak from the first Twist-Sockhop I threw at the age of seven or so for my cousins who had moved back to Puerto Rico from Topeka, Kansas...(--ok, I've got Chrissy Hynde singing 'Stop Your Sobbing' on now...)
Another factor adding to my usual socially insecure, perfectionist second-guessing on the right occasion to break open a bottle that has accumulated any kind of emotional charge was having the chance to try the 2002 iteration of the very same bottling at Range on Valencia Street-- it may have been my first or second visit there while I was in San Francisco: they had it by the glass and my first impression was of an overwhelming cherry-vanilla oak wash...by the time I finished the dregs the wine seemed to be straining towards some better balance, but it put me on guard & set up some anxiously negative expectations...
Cut to the chase: I made up my mind to open my prize & drink it in a measured, disciplined way on Walpurgis Nacht, last April 30th. If I remember right at all, the nose seemed promising & dense with the usual wet hay & forest floor-- wound a little tight, but with a subtle, flowery undercurrent of violets. Oak very much in check, to my relief. However, in the mouth it was a bit of a letdown-- I remember some food-friendly but somewhat one-dimensional tart cherry, the midpalate a little thin, but with some nice, lingering spice kicking in to give it some unexpected length.
I only had a second glass (maybe a wee bit more...) two days later, on Wednesday, May the 2nd, & compared it with some Costiéres de Nimes-- Chateau de Nages Réserve 2003-- to try to goose my palate into discrimination by contrast-- but it may have been unnecesary.
I don't have the sharpest olfactory tool, and as the wine opened up and elements integrated & settled, I don't remember any salient character to the pleasant, compact braid of flower, forest and fruit-- maybe some newly detected cola notes? But on tasting, a world of spice tickled the tongue: white pepper and a touch of cake-- as of nutmeg darkening and lingering into clove in the aftertaste. The acidity was tamed down, & the fruit was a deeper black cherry. I'm clutching at straws of memory, now...the midpalate certainly seemed to have filled out...
I almost finished the bottle next time out -- (I can't for the life of me recall whether it was Thursday or Friday night) --but I saved a glass to bring to my friend Enrique (Kike) Morales, wine broker and distributor with a few classy feathers in his cap-- Laurel Glen, Chappellet, Truchard, La Sirena, Williams-Selyem, Howell Mtn. Vineyards...
After another day or two of breathing that life-giving but circumstantially harmful oxygen in the open bottle, there were subtler but still further changes in the wine-- it was still one spicy glass of Pinot, but better integrated, with a definite cola and rose petal core in the midpalate. This is when I said 'wow!' & that's why I left what turned out to be a bit less than four ounces in the refrigerator for (what turned out to be...) a whole 'nother week while I went to Vega Baja to visit with my friend Ricardo & his family, pick up some medical test results, look for a mechanic & discuss community organization strategies for environmental protection during a visit at Casa Pueblo in Adjuntas-- & then we got word Ricardo's very good friend and colleague, graphic artist Omar Quiñones, had breathed his last... & I ended up drinking even that last three-quarter glass of 'Les Révélés' in his name, by myself, while I reflected on his good friends who had been my own colleagues earlier in our lives-- like singer/songwriter José Nogueras, who is still alive thanks to getting a new liver-- & the times we had crossed paths only half-knowing each other--
& I wonder-- where can I get another bottle of that 2000 Anderson Valley Elke Vineyard Ici/La-Bas 'Les Révélés' Pinot Noir to share with friends who are still of this world??