Ornellaia at Zegna

I don’t know why the people at Ermenegildo Zegna on Newbury Street in Boston were willing to let us wander around their shop with red wine, but I’m very glad they did. There I tasted the spectacular Ornellaia 1988, an incredibly full, lively and young Super-Tuscan. The guys from the winery recall that this was the first year they produced wine from their newly-planted vineyards in Bolgheri. They are both mystified and grateful, giving Nature full credit for this wonderful wine.

Next up? A special anniversary bottle design for the 2005 Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore – a big wine that may rival the ’88; when it’s released in June, plan to buy enough to last for the next 20 years.

Tasting in a Box of Vodkas

Ever found yourself in a frozen room full of high end vodkas?  With sculptor/potter Peter Shire and a few friends?  And one of you – not sure which – is wearing a leopard skin pillbox hat?  Well, it happened to me a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills.  Oh, yeah, I think I was the one wearing the Russian-style white fur coat with matching tall hat.  The (faux) furs — provided by the restaurant — are necessary when you enter the refrigerated VodBox for a tasting of luxury vodkas from around the world, some so rare even I had never heard of them.

I don’t usually have much of a tolerance for the cold, but my appetite for vodka seemed to go way up when I was in that fun room.  Sipping and tasting.  It was one of those “what’s not to like?” moments.

By the way, anyone can sign up for the VodBox experience, dreamed up by long-time L.A. restaurateur Larry Nicola for Nic’s on Canon Drive.

Sonoma chateau

There’s a piece of France near Healdsburg in Sonoma, California. From the setting among the hills to the gracious luncheon, Jordan Winery feels more like Bordeaux than anything you might expect in America’s West. I’d recommend trying to get Chef Todd Knoll to prepare a fine meal for you, if you ever have the chance — with excellent service, and the accompaniment of John Jordan (son of founder Tom Jordan) who now runs the winery. And if that’s not possible, try to get a few minutes with winemaker Rob Davis: a quietly confident man who has spent the past few decades crafting Jordan’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay – that’s all they make.

Tours for the public include past vintages in their tastings. Or you can just sign up for the Library Tasting – if you can find it behind the secret door.

The Sandra Jordan Collection and her Decanting book are also worth noting, if you’re looking for tasteful gifts.

Bubbles and Vespas in San Francisco

The best part about The Bubble Lounge Champagne Bar in SF?  Yes, there are the small-production Champagnes, which have gotten better and better (since Terry Thiese began introducing them to the US a decade or so ago).  And then there’s the new, sensuous small bites menu to pair with the Champagnes.

But my favorite part was riding off into the night – well, to meet up with my college friends – on the back of Kimberly’s bright red Vespa!

Molecular Mixology at Absinthe

Have you noticed the beginnings of the molecular mixology movement trickling into bars in the US? Following the molecular food revolution that began in Spain, bartenders here are moving into their kitchens to concoct tinctures and other flavorings for their cocktail inventions. But these aren’t the fruit-based infusions of the past decade: these flavors are vegetable and even meat-based. And the cocktails are savory, not sweet.

Have we finally grown up and evolved away from childish things? Some of us have, finally. And the very grown up rye whiskey is one of best bases for these new cocktails, according to Jeff Hollinger at Absinthe Brasserie and Bar and Restaurant in San Francisco. He showed me a bartender’s new “Garlicky Tomato Tincture” so intense that the bartender’s wife told him to throw it away immediately. (He didn’t, but the bottle is still pretty full so I wonder how much of it is getting used?) Jeff himself is in the midst of creating a new perfect flavor: smoky bacon, to be used for an upcoming cocktail event. Is this a great idea?!?

Absinthe, to drink
And for the perfectly served Absinthe drink? Just ask Jeff — the elegant turn-of-the-century Absinthe Fountain and other paraphernalia are right at his elbow.

January 2008

Ever heard of Malbec made in Amarone style? Is this a good idea? Well, I just tried it, courtesy of Mailisa Allegrini – of Allegrini in Valpolicella — who makes it in Argentina with Patricio Reich at Renacer in Mendoza, Argentina. Actually, it’s 50% Malbec, with Syrah, Bonarda and a tiny bit of Cabernet Franc.
In the dry air of Mendoza’s hills it takes days, not months, to dry the grapes. The result, a wine called ENAMORE, speaks of gently dried green leaves wrapped around dark cherries, with a touch of earthy tobacco. [The 2006 will shortly be in stores in the US through Leonardo Lo Cascio’s Winebow Brands International]

It took me quite a while to get it through my thick head that I was meeting Chris Phelps from Swanson, not Chris Swanson from Phelps. (I bet he’s used to that.)
From post-UC Davis training in Bordeaux to Dominus to Caymus to Swanson: I’d never have guessed that this soft-spoken, easy-to-be-with guy had such a pedigree. And the wines were easy to drink too. I hope I run into him again. I’ll practice his name just in case: Chris Phelps, Chris Phelps, Chris Phelps…