Just how much can change in a year? A lot. This long time East Villager took herself to Brooklyn and got a job at Chambers Street Wines. Pinch me. I’m not dreaming.
My one-bedroom apartment has a hallway. A. Hallway. There are no tall buildings blocking my view to the spread of sky viewed from my sitting room window. I find myself overlooking the train tracks of Prospect Park station each morning and night. It doesn’t look like New York City as I’ve come to know it in the last 13 years; this image, before me, looks a lot like Europe. The first time a friend saw the view he joked that I had Rome outside my window. Apart from the trains (a sound I love) it’s dead quiet here.
My dad worked for the British Rail for years, before ticket machines replaced humans. He wore his uniform, shined his shoes and blew his whistle for as long as I can remember at Streatham Hill station. I grew up in Balham, an area that was serviced by both the underground and overground trains – the sound of locomotive engines don’t bother me one bit, if anything it is a comfort.
I’ve been dwelling at my new apartment for two months now. Each day gets a little sweeter. My floors are laid with bamboo parquet, the walls stand pristine white and the minimal surroundings provide a good backdrop for coffee & reading rituals, wine & dinner indulgences. I’m a block away from Prospect Park and a two blocks from the Botanical Gardens.
As a neighborhood, Lefferts Gardens is incredibly cool. And I don’t mean in a trendy way. The residents are mostly Caribbean and African American. There is a large Rastafarian culture here. It really reminds me of Brixton. Lefferts feels more real than Williamburg, less out of the way than Sunset Park and more working class than Park Slope. I watched Crooklyn one night and was completely charmed by this early Spike Lee sleeper. It was based on Bed-Stuy but it sure resembles my new hood. And how can you not fall in love with Troy?
It was a wretched 90+ temperature degree-day with Russian-bath-level humidity when I headed to LDM’s short n’ sweet tasting last week. I needed to find out what the hell the Foti wines were all about. Lee – the coolest chick in the wine biz – revealed it to be one of the best wines she’s tasted thus far in 2010.
The line-up consisted of about 30-something bottles, mostly old favorites (Puzelat, Chaussard, Montescondo and more) with a few new producers to the portfolio thrown in.
I got to taste Coquelet’s wines from Beaujolais for the first time. Damien Coquelet is Georges Descombes stepson. The Beaujolais Villages ’09 sells for a mere $14.99 at Chambers Street Wines. It was bright, clean, showed really good acidity and stood up to the heat, despite its delicate nature. Then came the Chiroubles ’09, giving more complexity and lead on the palate. Loved it. And not a bad price either at $172 frontline.
There were two wines that weren’t on the tasting list, from the Roussillon. Cheesy labels, but hey don’t judge a wine by its cover. Bruno Duchêne is located in Banyuls-sur-Mer in French Catalonia, Roussillon. La Luna 2009 is a VdP de la Côte Vermeille, made from Grenache and Carignan. It had an earthy nose, red fruits and a sort of gentle, breezy personality, a little like its beachside label depicts. I liked it. A lot. The same producer’s Puchene Collioure Pascolie (mostly Grenache 50+ year old vines) on the other hand is darker, deeper and shows this gorgeous note of violet with an overall gamey-ness about it. Give it to me in the fall for my next pot-roast please. In the meantime, Ten Bells are getting in some magnums of La Luna “and some of his crazy cuvee “L’Anodine” 09.” Whoever (Fifi?) writes the Facebook posts has me curious.
So the Foti wines. Wow-wee. Bianco “Vinujancu” 2008 tastes like a hardcore dry Riesling with a bunch of other stuff. And that is exactly what it is (a blend of Carricante, Riesling, Minella and Grecanico) but it’s also got this mineral, mineral, mineral that really reminds me of why I love Gulfi’s Carricante a lot. It is all, one presumes, in the volcanic soils of Mt. Etna in Sicily. The Rosso was pretty amazing but, ouch, the price [$440 frontline] but it was all the things I love: high acid, bright fruit, pretty, racy and nervy.
Finally, not new, but first time I tried it was the Champs Libres St Péray Brut NV (that is actually made from 2005-harvested Marsanne). Funky-monkey and a little rancio. And I have to mention the Puzelat Pétillant Naturel because the price is right ($160) and it’s a musty, herbaceous, textured, farm-like wine. I’d rather not be stuck in the city right now but be chilling in the country, drinking this stuff.
From talk of its inception, I expected Town Hall Hotel to stand apart from most boutique hotels. For a start Artsadmin (an edgy East London-based company that produces and supports contemporary artists) had been hired by Peng Loh (a young Singaporean hotelier) to curate the artwork for the space. My rabble-rousing brother, Manick Govinda, happens to work for Artsadmin and clued me in on the project about a year ago. He recently told me he loved the entire process from conception to fruition. And I’ve got to say I’m struck by the end results.
Town Hall Hotel opened in March 2010. It is housed in the old Bethnal Green Town Hall. It’s off a busy, gritty street that remains diverse despite East London’s now explosive hipster scene. Depending on what direction you’re coming from, as you walk along Cambridge Heath Road, you’ll likely pass a handful of small Asian cafes serving basic grub and a rather large car mechanics where men are still men.
I walked into the building through the restaurant entrance (you have to turn the corner onto Patriot Square for hotel access). To the right is the hotel bar and to the left is Viajante, which by the way is fully booked through to September and has a waiting list in the three digits. The bar is tastefully stylish. Manick was running late so I took a seat and perused the menu. Whoa. Wine geek alert. This was no yawn-inducing Clicquot, Moet, Henschke, Penfolds, line up. For starters, the champers is mostly grower-producer. I spied Selosse Initiale, Vilamart Grand Cellier and Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueuex. This place would be the bomb if it were in NYC.
I ordered Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rosado (by the glass for seven quid). Charles Jouget Cuvee Terroir was on offer among the reds btg. The wine director (who at that moment was unbeknownst to me) had my full attention and respect. Word. Even more so when I found out she’s an unconventional professional wino, an Asian woman sporting a mohawk. Word Up. Bar snacks are delectable, simple and sometimes Iberian inflected. The head bartender is a no-nonsense dour sort of English man who makes a damn good cocktail. I tried the bracingly bitter Hanky Panky (a mix of gin, Antica Vermouth and Fernet Branca).
While I waited for Manick to arrive, my attention was drawn to a large piece of text engraved into a narrow cut of sand blasted glass, which fit perfectly into a narrow alcove just above the stairway to the loo. The words were full of images. When Manick arrived he explained to me that it was the work of WalkWalkWalk – a collaboration between three artists. Smaller pieces of texts by the same artists can be discovered in unexpected spots at the hotel.
This isn’t your usual flashy Schnabel-like paintings (on view at Gramercy Park Hotel) or the traditional visuals adorning the walls at more classic hotels or, worse yet, wallpaper art. No, the artwork work at Town hall Hotel is playful, thought provoking, modern, quirky and quite brilliant. I took in my favorite piece when Manick whisked me through a little tour of the artwork and we got to the floor where artist Debbie Lawson had created wood-paneled images of saucy, intimate, sexual Victoriana, cut from the likes of London plane, sycamore, bird’s eye maple and walnut. In one instance a woman’s nipple is the natural swirl of grain in a piece of wood. I do it no justice here. You’ll have to book a room, have a glass of wine, head upstairs in a giddy mood and see for yourself.
A few days here and there is all I’ve experienced of Paris over the last few years. I’m thinking it is about time I plunge in and get a real dose of the city everyone loves to love (& hate). Not sure how I will achieve this but I hope to play the ex-pat writer in the city of lights one day. Yesterday was my final day at Tinto Fino. A sweet shop it was but vinos de España and I weren’t meant to be. Now I find myself dreaming of the possibilities. I’m free (and yes poor) again. I can keep dreaming, can’t I?
My most recent morsel of Paris was just for 3 days. My friend, May Matta, joined me for walks, talks, eating & drinking. We stayed in the pricey-posh neighborhood of St-Germain-des-Prés and tested the grounds with two local spots: Boissonnerie and Le Comptoir. Francois Chidaine, whose Montlouis and Vouvray wines I adore, recommended the former. The latter restaurant has plenty of buzz online and was suggested to me by Sharon Bowman.
We almost didn’t make it to Le Comptoir but after stumbling upon La Crèmerie (they weren’t serving lunch that day) we were encouraged to try and get a table there. It was a moment that couldn’t be planned. We spied Doug & Tina Polaner seated at the packed out spot. They kindly gave us the remains of a bottle of Lapierre Morgon, which I preceded with a glass of Renardat-Fâche Cerdon. I needed something pretty, fresh and light for the 85-degree scorcher of a day. The food made me swoon. May and I noshed on dishes of white asparagus, baked eggs with cepes with Peruvian potato chips and snails drenched in butter and parsley.
The chow at La Boissonerie was equally good as was exemplified in a first course of eel with crème fraiche and second courses of succulent rare lamb chops with lentilles du Puy and an exquisite fish dish that May ordered, topped with an orange grated root vegetable (no not carrots) I haven’t heard of – all of it sitting in a mushy cloud of potato and pistachio nut oil. Perfection. I immersed myself in Chenin. First the razor sharp and salivating Belliviere Jasniere Les Rosiers ’08, followed by a rather rich Pierre-Bise Anjou Le Haut de la Garde (2008), a sans souffre wine that seemed to have botrytized grapes in there.
A repeat performance was made at Verre Vole (I’d been in Oct last year) where I had my first taste of Domaine Prieuré-Roch Nuits “1” 2007, a Nuits St. Georges1er Cru. OMG. Winemaker Henry-Frédéric Roch, is the co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and the wine is not available in the States. It is Burgundy that’ll make you cry. Really reminded me of Pacalet – earthy, floral, hints of iodine. Just stunning.
Finally, dinner was had at quedubon in the Belleville neighborhood. The restaurant was adorable, staff was lovely and the food was honest and tasty. Had some of the best cheese here and discovered a very lovely pet-nat VdT from Montlouis called “Rose à Lies” produced by Jousset, along with an Alsatian blanc – Sylvie Spielman Riesing Reserve Bergheim 2007. The Jousset was so good I ordered two glasses.
Oh the bottles I’ve had of this wine, the memories associated with it…the search for gratification from Astor Wines in the East Village to Slope Cellars in Brooklyn. I recall when all accounts ran out because small-production vino offers very, very finite numbers. Like the end of a summer fling, I was broken hearted. The third arm of the methode ancestrale trinity, along with Rene Mosse Moussamousette (and that too ran out late last year) and Renardat-Fâche Cerdon du Bugey, had gone but now it’s back.
Spied in the ice bucket at the recent Savio Soares tasting, I was thrilled to see it’s slender, graceful neck peeking out among a handful of sparkling wine bottles. I took in my first sip for 2010 and marveled at its prettiness and pure grape-y sweetness.
Soares said he’s gotten more in this year but it wasn’t easy. Apparently, everyone wants this wine, including Japan.
I had retreated from the blogosphere. I am now rested, returned and inspired to write accounts of noshing and imbibing. I’m late in reporting on so much: J&F tasting in March, David Bowler tasting in April, the more recent Louis/Dressner tasting and my own personal encounters of deliciousness.
I shall work my way backwards and begin with a lovely little sparkling red gamay acquired from Wine Therapy on Elizabeth Street. I’d spied Emile Heredia’s Boisson Rouge at wine bars in Paris so I was excited to see the pet nat here. From what I gather not much of it makes it to the US. Maybe Wine Therapy got it all, and he only had 5 bottles left of the stuff when I went in. Make that four now.
It’s another cap-closure, witty-labeled, VdT, unfiltered wine. The sparkling is from a second fermentation in the bottle. Jean-Baptiste (the owner) thinks it might be the methode ancestrale. It fizzes up a gorgous pink froth when poured, has a grapey-sweetness to it, is moderate in alcohol (12%) and is a vin de soif all the way. Just as well because last night’s 80+ degrees called for it.
And this wine has more sediment than I’ve ever seen in a bubbly (think vintage port levels).
It’s Natural Wine Week! Winemakers, better described as farmers, from Jenny & Francois’ portfolio are descending upon New York City. Stay tuned for any new loves and lusts (and old flames) I might bump into during the kick off party tomorrow night, leading to a tasting at the Astor Center on Saturday, portfolio tasting Monday and various retail tastings and ticketed dinners around town all week long.
Stop the press: I have a part-time job and it entails getting dressed, stepping out the house and interacting. The year 2009 was not a good vintage for wine writing and so at the turn of a new decade I decided to plunge into the workforce. As luck would have it stylish all-Spanish wine shop, Tinto Fino, was looking to hire a new face, connected to hands that could tap out an engaging sentence or two. Currently on trial period, I can be found manning the shop and writing on my ancient iBook.
In less than a week at Tinto Fino I’ve tasted three Mencia wines. I was weary of the Mencia trend that emerged a few years ago and had tasted several over extracted versions but the three I sipped on most recently were pure pleasure.
Jose Palacios Petalos from Bierzo is a rich wine that is plenty gorgeous and redolent of morello cherries with a faint underlying taste of minerals. A cherry-like tang could also be found in the leaner structured Benaza Mencia (Monterrei D.O.) and finally the Guimaro from Ribera Sacra, which offered generous fruit and that hint of mineral again. There you have it: same grape, three different terrunos and I get to say mencia! with a pseudo Spanish accent.
Supped at my stepson and future daughter-in-law’s recently. There were too many good wines on the table to taste with mozarella di bufala and hanger steak: Alice de Moor’s Tirage de Printemps A Ligoter (Aligoté at its best and available by the glass at Ten Bells), Axel Prufer Le Temps des Cerises (a très naturel Grenache from Languedoc, that’ll knock you off your chair – and appeal to all who lust after Dard et Ribo’s Printemps), Christian Venier le Clos de Carteries ’08 (a Cab Sauv. and Gamay blend (all gritty mineral, nicely tannic and a kiss of wild strawberries).
For aperitif, Hervé Villemand “Bulles” from Cheverny was a cutie and sits in the category of quirky bubbly (where I place Mosse’s Moussamousettes, Brun’s FRV, Bonard’s sparkling Poulsard and Andrea Calek’s Blonde Pétillant). Bulles is a gamay, pineau d’aunis and pinot noir mix – a Dressner import with a hot pink label that’s equal parts punk and chic.
Le Temps des Cerises has been a bit of a natural wine whore of late (google it and see what I mean) but it was my first taste. I was hard pressed to guess its Languedoc origins. Guilhaume Gerard, formerly of Terroir in San Francisico, once described the Dashe Cellars Zinfandel as a “see through” wine during an interview I had with him for an assignment, meaning it wasn’t over extracted, dark, inky or hot, as is so typical of Cali Zins. Le Temps des Cerises reminded me of his idiosyncratic expression. In my glass I swirled a see-thru red wine, which was funky, herbaceous and spritzy too. I love, love, love it, even if almost everyone else does too.
Indulged in a bottle of C. Pacalet Côte de Brouilly on Saturday night (I love his Chroubles). It started like many a good Brouilly– light, showing purity of fruit. I was enjoying its seemingly uncomplicated character and then bam (!). All of a sudden the last glass was a very different wine. The wine had started off as a sweet Fred Astaire and turned into a brooding mineral Marlon Brando by the end of the evening. I was intrigued and floored, taking smaller sips to prolong the sensation of dirt, grit, mineral and soil. I love a wine that surprises and captivates.