It could be a whole lot worse

As holiday season is here and we are undeniably in the thick of it, I thought it would be apposite to look back with a tear-filled eye at the vinous wonders enjoyed throughout the year. Some doozies, and some exciting new finds, including grapes and regions (Grüner Veltliner! Syrah from Switzerland!) I had never before gotten the chance to dip into. On the balance, I have to say I drank a lot of bubble. But there's no harm in it, and it doesn't even stain your lips.

I will take a little time to work on a blowout rundown, perhaps to be followed by Vinous Resolutions for 2009, but my overall impression is one of bounty and discovery. I even drank a lot of chenin! Who would have thought?

Going into the holiday season, of course, with its looming excesses and even more bubble, I decided to revise the classics last night with a very fine bottle of 2006 Domaine d'Etilly Chinon. Simple, pure crunchy fruit, and just the palate cleanser for what's next.

Bodegas Tomas Cusine El Vilosell 2005

Price: $15.99 @ Vinnin Square Liquors (Swampscott, MA)
Recommended by:
salesman at store

This is a really good Spanish blend. It is 50% Tempranillo, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Garnacha, and 5% Syrah aged for 9 months in new French oak. It has a nice taste of pepper, cherry, and some blueberry. The flavor is long-lasting and the wine is quite smooth. The only drawback is the price. The wine is good, but we've had a lot of good Spanish wines in the $10 range. Spanish wines are a great bargain in general. Perhaps we would get this wine again for a special occasion, but we wouldn't have it again with pizza!


1996 Pierre Moncuit VV bounce-back

It's always a treat to get to check back in on things, even if it's your last bottle. Actually, it's best when it's your last bottle and you've caught it in the right place, like some unknowable particle you stop right there where it needs to be, when it could have been far adrift to either side just seconds earlier.

A month and a half ago, in celebration of Michel's birthday, we drank, on the heels of a magnum of Ruinart rosé (or was it the other way around?) a 1996 Pierre Moncuit VV "Cuvée Nicole Moncuit", which at the time I found disconcertingly evolved, quite amberish in the glass and with distinct notes of evolution and some intrusive oxidative overtones.

Flash forward to, well, now.

Chilling a last bottle of 1996 Pierre Moncuit VV was a snap choice. A planned champagne brunch with friends today was cancelled, but there was no question of giving up the party so easily. Hereabouts, there are standards to keep up, &c.

1996 Pierre Moncuit VV "Cuvée Nicole Moncuit" - while this is clearly not going to go the distance, it is drinking very prettily now. On the nose, a first flush of toast with lemon curd spread really very thickly on it gives way to some hints of walnut. On the palate, unctuousness and a bit of dosage tangle with pith and acidity to fine effect. Oxidative overtones are on the pronounced side, and the cork was thin, rather than expanded, so I would be preoccupied for its continued health, but its dandyish negligence is not without charm right about, well, now.

Where it goes down

My current wine life is not unlike braille: everything stands out. You want to run your fingertips over these wines in appreciation, such good things have I had.

And that, from all angles and walks and stripes of vinification, age, grape, and climate. One day last week, I went from a 1976 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia GR to a 1990 Carbonnieux Blanc. Another day, I drank aged mourvèdre and young old-vine carignan as a chaser to Crémant du Jura.

Which creates a problem, here. In the lapse since I delved into rosy self-questionings nearly two weeks ago, there are too many things that have been poured under the bridge (or into the gullet) to roll out a detailed report: because, as we all know, long screeds of tasting notes are so bleedin' boring.

So maybe I can talk about the places that these things were drunk. Because that is part of it, too. Wine comes from a place, but it is also consumed in a place, and you're not going to have the same reaction to a pour of Rhône syrah out of an Enomatic machine at Lavinia as to a glass of prosecco on the balcony of a hotel in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood, where the apartment building across the way has shirts and socks on clotheslines waving in the breeze. A pink glass of Selosse Rosé tastes different in a white-tablecloth restaurant than in a broad chai full of barrels.

Maybe that would enliven tasting notes, actually. "Grüner Veltliner on a bridge." "Morgon Côte du Py with a picnic on the bed." "Volnay in a tiny, warm restaurant." Etc.

I'll do that. Just not right now.

Tasting notes, however, can be seen here, here, and here.

NYC Restaurant Wine Cellar

Joseph & Curtis recently completed a custom wine cellar for a restaurant in NYC. The restaurant L'ARTUSI, which is located at 228 w 10th street in Manhattan, has a very dramatic and elegant feel. The owners came to us with an idea to build a wine cellar on the second floor (loft area) but were not quite sure how to lay the room out.

We decided to design the cellar with a very small footprint on the overall space of the restaurant as we all know how expensive square footage is in NYC. This type of design has become VERY popular with residential as well as commercial spaces because it enables homeowners to have a beautiful cellar without forfeiting large amounts of square footage to wine storage.

The total width of the wine cellar (which is shaped like a horseshoe) is about 40" with the 2 legs of the shoe being about 10' long and the middle wall being about 26' long.

L'ARTUSI was able to then conserve valuable floor space for a VIP room with custom sliders overlooking the wine cellar and the second floor dining room. From the beginning of the project there was much work to be done.

The initial work included gutting of the entire space; creating a vapor barrier, insulating, running all the necessary electric and HVAC for the lighting and cooling system.

We then had to re-sheetrock the entire space as well as frame the knee-wall (which became raised panel and picture frame moldings) and 5 separate exterior glass windows from the knee wall to the ceiling. Once that was completed and we had reliable wall and floor dimensions we went right to work on the custom wine racks (redwood)

L'ARTUSI had a very tight timeline as they hoped to be open before the holidays. We had to take on extra workers to accommodate this request. Once we finished the racking we had to have our mill and UPS expedite the shipping to finish in time for the grand opening. We had several of our installers on site for the commercial wine racking install.

The custom wine cellar came out magnificent, with plenty of bulk storage for more than 2,000 wine bottles as well as 3 different large format display rows as well as custom 750 displays as well. Our HVAC installed a ducted cooling system (we could not get access to the roof) which ended up being an upgrade from our original contract which we were happy to cover for our client since we have a very strong policy of never changing our contracts unless the customer decides to add additional features. The system has 3 separate supplies in the space and a very large return.

The last day ended up being a little harder than we thought with the glass install (5 pieces several of which were 4' x 8') and didn't quite fit the opening since they changed slightly when a veneer was put up for painting purposes. We had 2 of our carpenters as well as four of our glass guys working for seven hours to finish in time before the restaurant opened for there usual 5:00pm sitting.

Overall the project was a great success and the owners of L'ARTUSI we’re very happy with our services and how the overall custom wine cellar turned out. We have since dined at L'artusi AND we’re very impressed with the food and of course the wine list.

Please stop in and see the wine cellar on the 2nd floor and have a truly wonderful meal.

Stay tuned for more...


One Hand Giveth — The Other Hand Taketh Away

Last week, the Washington Post published an article on the front page of its Metro Section entitled “Grapes of Wealth, Potentially.”  The article is well worth the read, but the long and short of it is that the state of Maryland and local governments are doing what they can to help farmers transition from declining agricultural crops (e.g. tobacco) to wine-related agriculture (e.g. vineyards and wineries).  This would be the hand that giveth.

Unfortunately, Maryland also has one hand that taketh away.  Maryland is one of the few states in the Union with horrendous direct shipment laws.  I wrote about the plight of Maryland’s wineries back in March of this year when efforts were underway to change these laws.  Unfortunately, the wholesalers had their way.  It was a real shame that the Maryland legislature reached the wrong conclusion on this one.  There were a lot of good people that were trying to change these laws back in March — including one of my old law professors — and they tried as best they could to get a lot of good information out there.

I sincerely hope they make another crack at it this year.  As a winery owner in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I think it would be fantastic if our neighbors to the North could also establish themselves as a regional wine presence.  It would be great for consumers, and great for competition.

Share your love, but not your cellar (Annette’s Thanksgiving advice)

Anyone who is a wine lover usually learns early in life that Thanksgiving is not a time to share your cellar’s treasures. Oh sure, these are the friends and family, that you would donate your kidneys to, but let’s say you’ve selected one of your slumbering babies, carefully cradled it to the table,  announce the arrival of a very special addition to the feast as you carefully ease  the cork from the bottle. You pour yourself a taste, delighted that it’s superb, you pour it for your guests, only to realize you are alone in appreciation. Your sister claps a hand over her glass reminding you she is in training, your auntie tastes it and screws up her mouth declaring it “too sour” for her tastes,  mom tries to be supportive sipping carefully and nodding but when you aren’t looking refills her glass with Vodka.  Dad says “how can you afford fancy wines like this?” and your uncle says “this is like the one we had the Olive Garden last week – what was the name of that honey?”  Then there’s greedy cousin “hollow-leg” who fills his glass to the rim with your cellar nectar only because he’d never buy such an extravagant bottle for himself.   Oh yes, ’tis much better to keep your special bottle under wraps in the kitchen and supply your guests with  wines that conjure zero regret when you carry the bottles to the recycling bin.

Keeping wine gems tucked away assures you will not offend, and will keep your family relations in good form. Although I must say it was relief that I would never have to bring great wine to my in-laws celebrations.  Young and naïve, I thought everyone would have the same experience I did with wine. At 23 years old, I had discovered Burgundy.   It was such a revelation that so much character and flavor could be delivered in a paler, softer form.   I had exposed everyone who was not in the know!  I bought a bottle of 1978 Tollot-Beau Aloxe-Corton and brought it to my in-laws house. I poured everyone at the table waiting to see their amazed and surprised look as they tasted this wonderful wine.   My sister-in-law grimaced as she tasted it and then asked what all the fuss was about.  I quickly relieved her of drinking one more drop of this toxic elixir by pouring her wine into my glass.  I refilled her glass with Inglenook Rhine wine, fresh from the tap while she blotted Pinot Noir remnants from her tongue with her napkin.  She was saved from further punishment while I swilled and swooned.  I was never forgiven.

So what will I offer my loved ones at Thanksgiving this year? After all these years of conditioning my family, their favorite drink is Champagne.    I try to slip them good Cava and Prosecco during these recessionary times. They are definitely on to me.  They are willing to be duped if it’s Adami Prosecco as its fine bead and quaffability goes with almost any hors d’ouevre you can throw at it.  Since we usually have a sweeter Thanksgiving table (no brussel sprouts or wild rice) Gewurztraminer is a demanded favorite.  Last year’s Zind Humbrecht was a huge hit so I will be trying to hit that same level of distinctive fruit.  I love the lime leaf aroma and granny smith fruit of the Loosen Blue Slate. Red wine is a must for Brother-in-law Paul, so Pinot Noir will be on the table, this year Morin Chitry Rouge. Zinfandel used to be a great Thanksgiving choice but due to the evolution away from juicy and simple, to big, alcoholic and wooded, I haven’t had one on the table in a few years.  Seghesio would likely be the choice if I did decide to have Zinfandel.

Posted in General wine information

Big Win in Massachusetts — and Not Just by the Patriots

The folks over at ShipCompliant have a great discussion about a very important (and encouraging) decision out of Massachusetts last week. The court (the District Court for the District of Massachusetts) came down on the side of fair distribution laws for out-of-state wineries. The Court essentially found that Massachusetts was favoring in-state wineries over out-of-state competitors, which is a no-no under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.mass.jpg

One of the things that is being lost in the coverage, however, is that the case was won on summary judgment — that means the court looked at the facts in a light most favorable to the defendants (i.e. the wholesalers and the state of Massachusetts) and concluded that the challenging party (in this case consumers and out-of state distributors) had the law on their side. I am no litigator, but I do know that very few cases are won on summary judgment — it essentially means that the facts of the case demonstrated a clear violation of the law.

As noted by ShipCompliant, the case is a great read for an overview of wine shipping law. I also agre that the court does a great job of describing the three tier system:

The wine distribution system is shaped like an hourglass, in that there are a large number of producers (the top) and a large number of consumers (the bottom), but significantly fewer wholesalers (the middle). This structure has the effect of giving wholesalers greater bargaining power with both wineries and retailers in states where it is mandatory to have a wholesaler. Generally wholesalers prefer to carry a larger volume of a particular wine, rather than an equivalent volume of several wines, because it is more profitable for a wholesaler to warehouse, manage and sell a single wine. Many wineries produce both specialty wines in small quantities and higher volume wines.

There is one distinction in this analogy that I would draw: the comparison suggests that all those wine producers at the top of the hourglass will have their wine shipped to all those consumers at the bottom. But that is the problem with the wholesalers in the middle: they have neither the interest or the ability to ship that wine for smaller producers. Only some of that sand is making it to the bottom of the hourglass, and that’s an unfortunate loss for wineries and wine consumers.

Welcome to Massachusetts used under a Creative Commons license provided by freakapotimus.

Custom Wine Cellar in New Jersey

We recently had the pleasure of completing a custom wine cellar made of 100% mahogany for a private client in Summit NJ. We were referred to the client by a designer we had worked with on a previous cellar in Westfield NJ.

The basement was unique (it was a 3' crawl space) which was dug out by hand and raised to 9' ceilings. We began by consulting with the homeowner and builder about the overall design of the finished space. Once we had an idea as to the finishes and materials of the basement we began to formulate a design and look.

The homeowner was very detail oriented, with African mahogany wood raised panel and coffer ceilings throughout the entire basement. We decided the wine cellar needed to blend with the overall look yet have its own unique footprint in the space. We decided to build the racking out of 100% Malaysian mahogany (which is a lighter species of mahogany than African) to really contrast the other woodwork in the basement.

The homeowner had a very cool idea of adding a cut out in the center of the wine cellar for a hand painted mural of his families Tuscan villa (it really makes the room pop).

The next step was turning a sump room closet which was attached to the wine cellar and turning it into a continuation of the refrigerated climate controlled space. We decided to go with "high reveal display rows" and a custom cabinet was fitted over the sump pump. The end result is a seamless transition which enabled more refrigerated custom wine cellar storage.

The next step was the door. We decided that a Brazilian Mahogany custom wrought iron door would be just the fit. It sits right between 2 windows and 2 half wine barrel cut outs. The cooling system is a split unit which is also wrapped in a mahogany grill cover to match the racking.

The last step was the "rope lighting" for the display rows which adds a perfect way to keep the heat down (led light) yet wonderful ambiance to the wine cellar.

Overall we were very happy to complete the project on time, and as always on budget. The homeowners were thrilled with the space and it was a pleasure working with them. In the end we were happy to help the clients stock their wine cellar and to introduce them to what we feel is the absolute best cellar management system.

Please check back for the next blog article about stocking your cellar and cellar management systems.

Golfing wine

Of all the sportsmen that seem to love buying wine farms or making wine, none seem keener than golfers. Historically, rugby players were the sportsmen you could count on to be involved in this business, and this is still the case, but of late golfers have made a serious effort to lead the category (which probably says more about earnings in golf than anything else).

Of our local star golfers engaged in this 19th hole activity, we can list Ernie Els, David Frost, Retief Goosen and recently Gary Player. Cleary, these men don’t spend much time picking grapes, hauling pipes or rolling barrels. What they do is to find experts to collaborate with, to make the wine for them. These wines, with the famous name imprimatur, sell pretty well (and have captive markets in clubhouses).

Interestingly, all the wines made under the names of these golfers are red wines. I can only imagine this is because the bywords here are luxury and premium. The first of these wines I encountered was the Ernie Els, made by the team behind the Rust en Vrede and Guardian Peak wines. It’s been made since 2000, so now has something of a track record. This wine is rich and modern, but always made from the traditional Bordeaux varieties so that it retains a classical style. You can count on it to impress.
For some reason, I have only recently tried the David Frost, from his own farm in the Voor Paardeberg. A former Rust en Vrede winemaker is in charge of the wine making, interestingly, and of the four red wines in the range, I most enjoyed the “Par Excellence,” despite its name. It’s also made from the five Bordeaux stalwart varieties and is bold in style and tends towards the over-ripe. The other wines, single variety Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz, took this too far and were far too big and alcoholic for my taste.

Recently, the Gary Player “Muirfield 1959” 2003 was released, made by the Quoin Rock winery. This is the most probing wine of the lot, since it’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage. It’s very rich, both on the nose and palate, where it is remarkably dense – and has an intriguing savoury dimension. Certainly a masculine wine, it continues to roll powerfully over your tongue, perhaps too forcefully, but I have great confidence in the Quoin Rock team so will be intrigued to track its development. Only nine future vintages are planned (to commemorate his nine Majors).

Unused Basement Becomes Stunning Wine Cellar

At Joseph & Curtis Custom Wine Cellars, we always enjoy the process of taking an unused space in a basement (picture a corner full of toys your kids haven’t played with in six years and a treadmill with laundry hanging on it!) and transforming it into a beautiful, value-added feature in a home.

We recently completed a custom wine cellar/tasting room in a beautiful home in Basking Ridge N.J. that began as just that. We approached the design from the outside in with an arched stone entrance leading to a massive hand made Knotty Alder and wrought iron Tuscan style entry door into the tasting room. We then repeated the stone aesthetic throughout the tasting room with two matching stone arches with custom diamond bin style wine racks on either side of them for “everyday” wine storage and inside the arch gave the customer a humidor cabinet with a display row on top.

An old wine press belonging to the homeowner’s father was brought into the tasting room and sits just adjacent to the entrance of the wine cellar. The dark distressed wood of the wine press and our All-Heart Redwood wine racks created an interesting visual contrast.

A large rectangular rustic dining table with chairs and a pair of vintage wine barrels that have been modified to become tasting tables provided ample space for entertaining. We finished the tasting room off with a mural of Tuscany (our client spent several years in Europe) which occupies the entire back wall and creates a dramatic backdrop for the room.

Opposite the wall with the mural is the entrance to the custom wine cellar. Repeating the wood species of the custom wine racks in the tasting room, we also built the custom wine racks in the cellar from 100% All Heart Redwood. A solid mahogany wine cellar entry door with a full glass panel allows guests to view the wine cellar without opening the door allowing the climate control system to operate efficiently. Although the space for the wine cellar was somewhat limited, we gave our client ample wine storage of nearly 1,200 bottles between the wine cellar and tasting room.

This beautiful custom wine cellar/tasting room has truly become a destination in the home. The owners are looking forward to dinner parties and hosting private wine tastings as well building their wine collection for years to come.

Contact Joseph & Curtis to turn your unused basement into a stunning custom wine cellar.


I’m Back — And so is Virginia

Hey all. Sorry for dropping off the radar there, but a confluence of events pulled me in several different directions. Needless to say, I am not happy that I was out of the blogging scene for so long, but I promise some new changes that I think you will like.virginia-2008-10-03.jpg

With that being said, let’s address an issue that a lot of people seem to be talking about: Virginia wines. I think a lot of people should read this article regarding the status of the Virginia wine industry.

The central question in the article addresses how the Virginia wine industry can go from “distinctive” to “blockbuster.” The author concludes we can get there, but only if Virginia and its winemakers focus on three areas: more production, marketing and distribution.

Taking each in turn, I think the Virginia wine industry is up to the challenge.

  • Distribution: With the launch of the Virginia Winery Distribution Company (VWDC), small Virginia wineries now have an essential tool in their belt. While the VWDC only permits smaller wineries to ship to retail locations within the state, it will be an essential component for these same wineries to establish a market presence. If you are a Virginia winery that has not yet signed up with the VWDC — and only about 70 have so far — get cracking.
  • Marketing: This is obviously a key component for any business, particularly a winery. What some wineries may be unaware of, however, are the various resources at their disposal. The state of Virginia dedicates a decent chunk of change (from wine taxes) to market these wines, and have set up resources like this. Wineries need to work with their local chambers, local newspapers and anyone else they can get on board to get the word out. And of course, get active with your relevant wine trail, whether you are in the heart of Virginia, down by Thomas Jefferson’s place, near the Mason Dixon line or just outside of DC. Get involved and get out there.
  • Production: I don’t know what I can say here, except that Virginia’s growth in the number of wineries, has clearly led to an increase in production — according to this, Virginia has increased by 35% between 2001 and 2007. I know that our winery is looking to boost production, as are many in the area.

So there you have it my friends. Virginia is coming on strong, and I think the signs look good for the future. See you on the wine trail!

Welcome to Virginia used under a Creative Commons License provided by Joe Shlabotnik.

How to Build a Wine Cellar in NYC (And Fill It, Italian Style)

Saturday October 4th Joseph and Curtis Custom Wine Cellars will be at Italian Wine Merchants

108 East 16th Street
(between Park Avenue South & Irving Place)
New York, NY 10003
>>Google Map & Directions

Special Event: How to Build a Wine Cellar in NYC (And Fill It, Italian Style)

What happens to a wine that is not stored at 55 degrees and 70 percent humidity? How long should you hold on to your 1990 Barolo? What should you look out for when you store a wine?

Whether you are a budding enthusiast or a connoisseur, how you store your bottles is essential to the integrity of the wine.

This seminar, the first of its kind, explores wine storage options for the busy New Yorker with limited space. A professional cellar builder from Joseph & Curtis Custom Wine Cellars will lead the first half, discussing some options from the wine refrigeration unit to transforming your closet into a wine cellar.

An Italian Wine Merchants educator will also conduct a tasting and provide information on building a balanced collection; it is a nice opportunity to taste wines before they go into your collection. Six wines will be featured including everyday wines, entertainment wines, cellar-worthy, and a rare treat.

Please come and join us for what should be a great day to enjoy some fabulous wines.

If you are interested in attending please call 212.473.2323 x129

Affordable luxury in the world of wine

Image from The Wine Lovers

Image from The Wine Lover's

In yesterday’s New York Times, Eric Asimov wrote a wonderful article with the pointed opening line, “Arguments and disagreements rage over styles, tastes and preferences, but I think everybody can agree on one thing about wine: The less spent, the better.”

Amen, Eric!  When the economy is dancing around like a fresh caught crappie, it’s more important than ever to find the diamonds in the rough.  That’s why he wrote about our latest Vouvray.

“The Loire is so versatile, and so blessedly undervalued… Vouvray is a famous name in wine that is often compromised by indifferent winemaking, but Bernard Fouquet’s Domaine des Aubuisières makes terrific Vouvrays. His 2007 Cuvée de Silex ($16.99) is rich and lively with a floral edge that can seem like a touch of honey.”

Click here for a wonderful article on the word Silex and the role of geology in Vouvray.

Click here for the New York Times article of 23 September 2008.

Posted in France Tagged: Loire, Silex, value wine, Vouvray

Mahi Twin Valleys Gewurztraminer 2006

Price: $22.49 @ Blanchards
Recommended by:
Our love of the Gewurztraminer grape

This is the first Gewurztraminer we have tried from New Zealand. We love the Sauvignon Blancs from the Marlborough region and were eager to give this wine a chance. Like the other wines we have tried from this region, Mahi is bold. Not much subtle here. However, it wasn't so much citrusy as it was flowery. It had a really strong rose flavor. I almost didn't believe Rob when he took his first sip and said, "rose petal." I thought he pulled that out his rear end. But it is indeed very rosy. If you're not into flowery wines, we would skip this one. You can taste the spicy side of this wine when pairing it with spicy food (it went well with the ethnic spices we rubbed on the swordfish). Otherwise, it's mainly rosy with a bit of citrus. We probably won't buy this one again, especially given the price. We'll take our Chateau Ste Michelle over this any day.


RIP, the wild man of the Loire

The Wild Man of the Loire, Dagueneau.

The Wild Man of the Loire, Dagueneau.

This has been a tough year … first Robert Mondavi, then Sergio Zenato, and now Didier Dagueneau.

Mr. Dagueneau was killed in a plane crash yesterday in southwestern France.  This was a man who put his personal style first and foremost, and invited the critics to crush him if they wish.  They returned his offer with massive scores and press for his dynamic and unforgettable wines.  He was quirky, opinionated, a risk taker, and simply one of the more fascinating characters in the world of wine.  They are the kind of people that make the wine world interesting.

We express our sympathy to those close to him.  We’ve lost another one of the greats.  Pop a bottle of Silex, if you have it, and raise a glass.

More here.