Sunday, February 28, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
Movia Veliko Bianco 2002 (Collio, Friuli, Italy; Brda, Slovenia)
In a world of me-too wines that dull a poor palate to bored resignation, when you begin to yearn for something...anything...that's startling and different and quite deliciously unlike the thudding sameness, you do at times stumble upon brilliant surprises. For all the dominant sameness of market driven mediocrity and profit dominated similarity, there are dangerous people out there doing dangerous things to the status quo.
One of the most dangerous is Ales Kristancic, an Italo-Slovene winemaker from Brda whose family straddles the government-drawn border between Italy and Slovenia while paying very little attention to it. Kristancic is that most dangerous and disruptive of men---a reactionary, a rebel, a restless and never quite still force of nature who wants to make a very personal, distinctive, unique style of wine.
He succeeds magnificently. Kristancic farms his grapes with great rigor, insisting on being sustainable, organic, and biodynamic to naturally produce the most intense fruit possible. Then he takes these grapes--some familiar to us, many hopelessly obscure to all but the most devoted oenologues---and ferments and ages them in a decided nod to ancient techniques.
Veliko Bianco is perhaps the finest example of this. It is a blend of Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio, and a touch of Sauvignon Blanc, and the wine is fermented naturally and slowly, then aged in the full presence of oxygen in oak casks for up to three years. Under Kristancic's patient hand the wine matures in a manner much different from most. All the young, pretty, baby fat fruit is slowly burnished away, and the wine becomes more compact, more concentrated, more intense, more mineral and stony, almost tough and slow to yield itself up.
With this wine all the soft, pretty things have been stripped away, and what is left is firm and tight and powerful and essential. At first, it's like sucking on a hard candy, like trying to strip the flavor out of a lemon drop, jaw muscles tensing and bulging to force out that piercing, sharp stiletto of pure lemon intensity that suddenly and entirely fills your mouth and gently burns up to your nasal passages.
...So far this may not sound like a pleasant experience, eh? But it is, truly it is; and there's more reward on its way...
Once it opens up, the pale golden Veliko continues to power out incredibly concentrated and crystalline flavors that slowly, delectably yield interesting complexities---crystallized honey, preserved Meyer Lemon, tart quince, tangy apple with bitter skin, almond paste, even a wisp of pressed white flowers---without ever fading or waning in intensity. And you feel as if it could just go on forever.
There are no gobs of fruit here, no lush, perfume-scented pillows of hedonistic excess laced with soaring alcohols and raisiny richness. Rather than surrendering to the blandishments of this wine, you have to engage with it, be patient with it, and wait for it to show its stuff. And it does.
What more can I tell you about Veliko Bianco? Oh, yeah: it's always a bit of a surprise when I get to the bottom of the glass with this wine; I get so wrapped up in the enjoyment of it I tend to lose track of the little details, until suddenly I have to pry the bottle from someone else's hand to get a refill.
Now that is the sign of a damned good wine!
Friday, February 12, 2010
I am in a room with, quite literally, hundreds of wines from dozens of places. A smorgasbord of vinous delight is laid out in front of me. I have an empty glass and endless horizons of sensory delight defined by tables groaning from the weight of countless bottles, and hours to go before the doors close.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
In my callow and wasted youth I spent far too much of my time on clunky, clumsy, oaky chardonnays, and far too little of my time on wines like this. More fool me.
If you're looking for a wine that's not everyday, one that resides well off the beaten path, one that provides some exceptional pleasures from a grape you may never have known existed...then I have a wine for you.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Monday, February 1, 2010
No, literally. A pig walks by.
I'm sitting at the bar in Clyde Common (http://www.clydecommon.com), in the hip Ace Hotel in downtown Portland. It's a Euro-style bar/restaurant that happens to have not only a great bar scene but good food as well.
Jonny, the 'tender of the hour, gleefully responds to a "oh, whip me up something with....tequila!" and shortly presents a deliciously bitter-but-not-too-bitter aperitif cocktail that fits the moment. It's a blend of Herradura Blanco Tequila, Cynar (Italian Artichoke bitter aperitif), and Regan's Orange Bitters. It's amazing because the drink is wonderfully bitter in an aperitif way, but the Herradura spice and florals come through nicely, and artichoke veggies match beautifully with the agave, and the orange fruit of the Regan's rounds everything out. Great drinks don't have to be---and sometimes shouldn't be---extremely complicated or fussy.
Then, in a thoughtful touch, as a nosh, Jonny delivers up a small side of farro salad, with a little radicchio rosso and just a couple of slivers of fresh pink grapefruit...and the food is exactly balanced with the drink!
So where's the pig I mentioned at the start of all this, you ask? Patience, patience; I'm almost there.
Appetites properly stimulated, we order up some food off the perpetually fresh and always changing lunch menu, and soon I'm sitting there with this aromatic and gorgeous grilled baguette stuffed with chunks of tender pork, lavished with spicy grilled broccoli rabe, and topped with gooey provolone cheese. Oh, and there's a side cup of one of the best spicy lentil soups I've had lately, just as counterpoint.
As I dive into this sangwidge, the pig walks by. Weird, huh?
No, I wasn't hallucinating, and it wasn't a trashy woman. It really was a pig walking by.
Not by his own volition, mind you. One of the chefs was hefting an entire pig carcass into the open kitchen area. The staff there is pretty persnickety about their food, and they like to prepare everything from scratch, so they don't buy cuts---they get the whole hog! Then they work away at it, using the various parts as needed, not wasting anything, until said porker is gone.
I looked at the pig. I looked at my pork sandwich. I said a sotto voce obeisance to the gods in gratitude for what I was about to receive. Then, carnivore that I am, I dived right back into that sandwich.
And it was good.
For dessert one of my lunch companions succumbed to the Parfait, an old style soda bar glass filled with house-made Fernet Menta ice cream, silky-rich chocolate pudding, meringue, some crumbles, and cream. I didn't get to taste it, but said companion pronounced it delicious as he was vigorously scraping the remnants of the concoction out of the glass to get the last bit of flavor.
In a moment of weakness (I have those a lot), I opted for a combo---a shot of espresso, and a request for Jonny's Manhattan, which he makes with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Carpano Formula Antico, and a touch of Luxardo. And a maraska cherry as garnish.
Damn, it's good.