TetraPak: Not only for camping anymore.

Kermit Lynch, organic wine, Wine Education

Why didn’t I think of that?

It is a question I ask myself anytime I meet someone new and brilliant. It is a question I couldn’t stop asking myself over two separate dinners at Frasca and Twelve with Matthew Cain, founder of Yellow + Blue, a wine label that is created with the concept that good wine can come in cleaner packaging. Cain has a long history in the wine industry. Most notably before Y+B, he worked alongside Kermit Lynch for nearly a decade. After one particular trip across seas, he cleared his head and heard his calling. It came to fruition upon return when he read an article on alternative wine packaging. Everyone else around the world was waking up and going ‘green’. Why in so many states are so many boxed wines and those in Tetra Pak so mediocre? Can we not have good 100% organic wine, be better to the earth and save some money all at the same time? Simple. But brilliant.

As I started to tell him how great it was to have a glass-less wine that I could whole-heartedly recommend to campers, concert-goers and park dwellers, when he kinda laughed. That actually never crossed his mind at the beginning. But within a few months of its release, it was clear that this was a major, underserved demographic. Why should outdoor activities compromise quality? Why should the fact that is less expensive have to mean that it will lack any sort of complexity and character? I explained to him that in a state like Colorado, this product has been a God-send. Intentional or not, these alternative products are sold to serious wine drinkers only in times that force them to walk away from the bottle—times that do not allow glass in the picture. Y+B has the ability to really change these consumers’ perspectives. In the meantime, those who already get it and subscribe to wine of any race, shape or size now have something a little more interesting to sip!

What struck me about Cain was his genuine, humble nature. He was soft-spoken and had a very serious, intense demeanor, but not so much that you couldn’t strike up conversation with ease. He was driven, focused, and had all the makings of a natural born entrepreneur. His confidence was effortlessly transparent during conversation—a comfortable confidence. It was contagious, as I was inspired to start about nine different businesses over the course of a two-hour discussion. That energy is the kind that makes selling his wine even easier. Without knowing him at all, you can tell in one taste that these wines were selected and shaped by someone with pride and integrity.

Y+B uses Tetra Pak to contain their wine. At a liter, you get about 30% more wine than a standard 750 ml bottle. With the packaging, you are looking at 93% wine and only 7% packaging, whereas standard glass wine packages are closer to 50/50. Y+B takes everything into consideration: production, materials, gas, transport, printing, pesticides, chemicals… According to Dr. Tyler Colman (also known as Dr. Vino), Y+B produces about 54% less of a carbon footprint than the average wine production. A lot of people don’t think about it, but sheer weight and materials that are involved with wine production, shipment and marketing make it one of the more environmentally straining industries.*

I could go on with statistics and figures, but that’s a little more involved than this entry wants to get. At the end of the day, the story is this: we all know alternative packaging is better for the earth. We all know that if we want good wine, our chances for a great box wine is slim (at least in the state of Colorado). If this all sounds familiar, go to your local shop and ask for Y+B–particularly the Torrontes and the Select Red. They distribute to over 40 states, so there is a good chance if your store doesn’t have it, they can get it!

Drinking for a good cause doesn’t have to suck.


*All facts and figures here are found on their website: http://www.ybwines.com/default.asp

seeking perfection in pairing: a night with frasca and kermit lynch.

cooking, denver restaurants, food pairing, french wine, Kermit Lynch, Uncategorized

White knuckled up 36 north to Boulder, I wonder sometimes what provoked me to be a stagiere at Frasca Food & Wine. I didn’t have much intention to ever work the floor as a practicing sommelier, but what I knew was that this restaurant would be the best place to improve my skills regardless. To become better at a job, even off the floor, as a writer and retailer, one must push him/herself into scary territory–territory that seems daunting, foreign… even humiliating at times. Every time I ate at this phenomenal restaurant, I cowered under the knowledge of the somms who direct the program. They truly know so much. And anyone who knows me know that once I locate a fear on fire within, I relentlessly seek to extinguish it.

Frasca has been a pinnacle for me. My fear told me that I needed that instruction, despite the humble pie I’d be fed (whether it was the best pie in the state or not).

Seven months later, nights like last Monday remind me that this apprenticeship of sorts is not finished. I have much to learn and gain from this experience.

We were pouring some of my favorite wines–those of Kermit Lynch. He is an important figure if you are just getting into wine. The concept of ’boutique’ or ‘small grower’ farms may not carry the intrigue or novelty it once did, as more organics and local goods are made available to an ever-curious, aware public. But this was not always the case. Back in the ’70s, a man named Kermit went to France with this mentality, shook the leather-worn hands and drank the wine of those farmers who were engaging in an honest days’ work, preserving the terroir of their land in the grapes they cultivated, and he brought a bottle of that work home with him to share. He now has one of the most successful wine importing companies in the USA, and works with many of the producers that so inspired him to begin this journey.

These wines have integrity. They have a soul. A story. A reason. Placing them alongside food that mirrors this intention just felt right. They were at home with one another.

The first wine has long since been a favorite of mine: the 2010 Hyppolyte Reverdy Sancerre. A wine whose label seems to have been designed by a team of hobbits, it recalls the lore of the Loire, medieval castles and the dense history that is so entrenched in this particular parcel of France. The wine region here is among the oldest  in terms of documentation, as it is so close to Paris, and therefore has had a prominent place in culture for centuries.

A smattering of likely scents greeted me: a sure squeeze of grapefruit, lime zest and the pure cold stony, steely minerality of a wet canyon. There was a curious hint of honeydew in there to soften the edges as well as that dependable note of fresh cut grass. The acid was rippin’, and its lean balanced structure spoke to a classic, satisfying vintage. 2009 may have gotten some high marks for its ripe, opulent bodice, but 2010 was a winemaker’s year–a true wine connoisseur’s vintage. That perfect balance of acid and body, minerals and fruit. Summer snap peas fell on the tongue. And God… did I mention that minerality?

This Sancerre couldn’t have been paired better, as it was met with the ‘Verdure d’Estate’–a field blend of mizuna/arugula lettuce, fresh radishes, carrots, peas and mint.

The next wine was a 2009 Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes— a term that translates to ‘old vine’ in French. If I had known nothing of this wine and had tried it blind, I would not have hesitated to think it Premier Cru quality. The wine was astounding for its (not so) ‘simple’ village status. Its brighter, youthful qualities were the first to jump the rim: green apple, yellow pear, lemon curd and the smell of sidewalks after a heavy rain. Seashells were prominent. The mushrooms subdued but persistent. There was a nuttiness about it that was confirmed by the leesy finish on the palate. This wasn’t your typical Chablis that sees stainless steel alone. It spent time in 20% neutral barrel on top of the lees ageing.

This wine was sexy as hell. A superb example of poetry bottled. It has been so long since I have had a pairing so exquisite, as they delivered up royal red shrimp and scallop sauce abed fettuccine to compliment this gorgeous selection.

Olivier Savary was a neighbor, friend and colleague to the famed Jean-Marie Ravenaeu, who introduced Savary to Lynch. Raveneau is known as one of the top producers in all of Chablis, another gem Kermit brought to our palates. Chablis is a question I can never answer–so saturated with surprises and missing words, these wines confound me.   I am endlessly intrigued.

And finally, last but not least, a lovely red to end the evening meant to accompany the ‘Agnello’–a lamb shoulder upon rancho gordo beans and mustard greens with pepper. The wine was no other than the well-known Vieux Telegraph ‘La Crau’ (2008) by the Brunier family. Established in 1898, this elevated site in Chateauneuf du Pape, known as ‘La Crau,’ has its history as being the site where the first telegraph was built to communicate messages between Paris and Marseilles in the 18th century. It still has a role in communication, as it has since then come to be one of the most revered vineyard sites for its ability to tell the story of the soil through wine.

Monday night this wine spoke of alpines, liquorice root, wet violets, cracked peppercorns both white and black, anise and garrigue. It spoke of sunshine, warm pudding stones and layers of stratified soils: limestone, silica, red clay and alluvial deposits. An almost silky wine on the palate, it managed to maintain the force these age worthy wines contain, whilst dancing with delicacy on the tongue. It carried a smoky, gamey scent so as not to blow its cover through purely soft-spoken attributes.

It’s incorrect to say the wines just got better and better. They were all so remarkably different from one another. What they shared was integrity and an honest sense of self. These wines were exactly what they should be considering their variety and terroir. And they all really showed themselves in their best light when paired with their soul mates.

That is what makes Frasca so distinctive–their ability to find a way to allow food and wine to realize their greatest potential. They put both into context. They make meals inspiring, meaningful and relevant.

And that, my friends, is why I will continue to drive up 36 north, white knuckled and ready for more.

For the record… young Bordeaux does pair well with some cheese.x

Bordeaux, cheese, food pairing, french wine, Kermit Lynch, Wine Blog

Preparing for my in-store tasting last night featuring Bordeaux, I thought to pair them with a few cheeses, when it occurred to me that I had no idea where to start.  Nothing came naturally to my palate’s memory that quite made sense.

I apparently was not alone, as I learned when I decided to ask Google, an exercise I often perform when I am confused (Dear Google, What is nucleosynthesis? What is the meaning of life? And where did I leave my keys, yet again?).  I garnered a few ideas. Though it seemed this was no cinch for anyone, rather an experiment with significant trial and error.

I picked up one cheese that many chimed in was decent: a youthful Gouda. I also grabbed a salty, hard Parrano by Uniekaas, a Ptit Anjou (ironically, a variety that Google actually needs its own Google for—does anyone have information on this stinky little cheese that is reminiscent of Epoisses, just a touch less gooey?), and believe it or not Bucheron—a semi-hard, yet still soft goat cheese that gets quite dry as it gets closer to the hardened rind that surrounds it. I had this with a cru Beaujolais last autumn and thought it would probably have great potential with other lighter, tannic fruity reds.

My theory proved correct with the 2007 Chateau Lagarde St. Emilion ($17)—a musky scented, friendly sipper from the Merlot-dominant right bank.  Without any cheese, this wine was very earthy, almost moldy, with dried plums, cherry and wet forest floral notes. Spice was singing on the palate and the tannins were getting much smoother after slumbering all summer in the bottle. Paired with the Bucheron, it was a young spritely thing, boasting ripe berry fruit, cranberries and juicy cherries.

The Parrano deepened its voice a bit with chewy cherry tobacco and moist soil. It was a suddenly Bordeaux with the change of a cheese. This Dutch gouda-style cow’s milk cheese is much like parmesan in its nutty, salty elocution.

They young Gouda, however, was a disaster. It made the Bordeaux taste thin, almost watery, and weightless (damn Google).

And the imitation Epoisses with no identity? It overwhelmed the wine a bit much, making the flavors more pungent and tangy.

The same drill was applied to two other wines: a white 2007 Chateau Thieuley ($17), a sensational terroir driven blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (50/50) as well as a red with Kermit Lynch’s hand-picked 2005 Chateau Aney Haut-Medoc ($32). I wasn’t surprised that the former did so well with many of the cheeses. Whites often do fare better with cheese pairing as it is.

On its own, the Thieuley smelled of just snipped asparagus, sweet peas, fresh green herbs and a twist of lemon—no grapefruit as you might find in several other Sauvignon Blancs. The Semillon does a lovely job of softening the acidic edges and delivering a sweet tune.

The Parrano dampened the fruit on the nose but sent a surge of zesty citrus racing to the sides of my tongue once on the palate. The reaction actually made me crave the Bucheron which then, as expected, calmed down the acid a little bit and zeroed in on the rich, creamy texture of the dry goat cheese.

The young Gouda once again…failed.  It caused all the citrus as found in the Parrano, but didn’t feature the zesty acid that so stunningly held the backbone securely in place.

And finally, the most complex wine of the night taken from the famed ’05 vintage, the Aney alone was the most severe in temperament. It held a high chin and spoke in austere, hushed tones.  I was able to extract some earthy elements of bark, cedar, tobacco anise, savory herbs, cherries and raspberries, but they were hardly audible and properly buried as good Bordeaux will do when not ready to drink.

With the help of cheese, it began to speak up a bit.

The Parrano stole some of the earthiness from the nose, although it managed to kick up very loud notes of fennel, wet violets and blueberry.

The young Gouda, which was such a miserable fail in the last couple, reclaimed its name with this one, as it managed to restore the dirty terroir that makes a Bordeaux so singular in scent.  It was back to its musky old self.

And the Ptit Anjou?  Surprisingly, this stinky old, rotten piece of cheese gave the Bordeaux a facelift.  It was a toddler, really.  It shouted with ripe berry fruit, vanilla bean, oak and ‘drink me now!’ demands. The old Bordeaux funk was hardly to be found, except on the finish when olives on the dirt-encrusted rocks came through.

I was amazed at how much these wines changed with a little fromage. I actually made thin k of a decanter differently.  Maybe all a youthful Bordeaux needs is the right pairing in order to coerce its character a couple years before its optimum suggested debut?

This tasting also demonstrated to both my customers and me how un-prohibitive some Bordeaux can be. We were all very impressed by these selections, two under $20 and one just around $30 (which, I might add, seems highly capable of ageing a good 15-20 years—not a bad investment for someone looking to start a little cellar on a budget).

red beaumes de venise?

french wine, Kermit Lynch, NYC, Wine Travel

During my stay in New York, a few days ago, a group of us headed over to Greenwich Village to share a meal at Mas (farmhouse), a French American restaurant that carried the weight of many well-sung accolades from friends both local and back in Denver.  Was it deserving of such high acclaim?  In a word: undoubtedly.

Mas was quite the experience.  Not only do they present those dining with an interchangeable, flexible three or six-course tasting menu option, they also encourage the customized ‘Chef tasting menu’ for those who trust the direction of an incredible chef…for those who revel in the element of surprise.  We all simply voiced our likes, dislikes, allergies, and preferences… and voilá!  Within minutes the six courses began, each reflective of our personal tastes.  For someone who can never decide on what to get, I was in heaven.

Pairing a meal with such variety and mystery is nearly impossible.  So the key here, much like Thanksgiving, is higher acid and lower tannins.  That way, if presented with game, poultry, fish, or squash, one has the greatest possible potential for a decent or even excellent food and wine marriage.

The night was painted with 1er Cru Chablis, 1er Cru Morey St. Denis, and a rather interesting 2001 Crozes-Hermitage.  The wine that took us all by surprise, though, and wore the most modest price tag, was the red wine we drank from Beaumes de Venise in the Rhone Valley: the 2005 Domaine de Durban Cru Beaumes de Venise Cuvee Prestige.

When I first saw this wine under ‘Reds by the Bottle,’ I was actually confused.  Beaumes de Venise is renowned for its sweet white dessert wines (vin doux naturels) that are made from the Muscat grape.  Although Durban makes these sweet fortified wines, they are one of the few producers that are consistently recognized for producing some of the only ageworthy, thought-provoking reds in this region that sits at the base of the famed Dentelles de Montmirail, a jagged chain of mountains in Vaucluse that are distinctive for their teeth-like structure.  The Durban vineyards have been cultivated as such since 1156, though the 1960’s brought the Leydier family to control them and consequently higher acclaim.

The Cuvee Prestige is comprised of 75% Grenache (giving it the bright red cherry nose), 20% Syrah (for added structure and peppery spice), and 5% Mourvedre (just enough to shed a trace of garrigue and savory spices in the blend).  Many at the table commented on its singularity—they couldn’t quite compare it to anything else.  I had to agree.  Though it couldn’t hide its Rhone Valley birthmark, it was… in a field of its own.  And that made it intriguing for us all.

So check this wine out if you have a chance.  And, if you’re in New York, put Mas on your must-do list of restaurants.  It’s for serious foodies, without all the pretense.

the art of studying the sip.

french wine, French Wine Travel, Kermit Lynch, Wine Education, wine news, Wine Travel

Lately, I have been catching up on my wine literature. Right now, by the bed stand, I have been picking away at Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route, a light, humorous, yet incredibly informative account of his tales and tastings around France in his early years as an importer. He doesn’t speak above or below… he speaks from experience, as a human being who simply wants to tell stories about where wine has taken him and why he finds it so fascinating.

One place he returns to incessantly is Bandol, a quaint village tucked away in the heart of Provence. Particularly, he speaks of Domaine Tempier. Though he holds the wines of Tempier above all others in Provence, what he seems fixated on isn’t even so much the wine itself as what and whom the wine represents. Domaine Tempier is a family, a tradition, and a woman named Lulu.

You may remember me discussing Lulu a while back when I wrote on Bedrock Winery’s ‘Ode to Lulu’ rosé out of California—one of my favorite domestic rosés, which is made of 100% old vine Mourvedre (as is the rosé from Domaine Tempier). Well, back then, and up until the other night, I had tasted Domaine Tempier’s wine, but I didn’t really understand the allure. Don’t get me wrong, they were terrific… but I just felt like I wasn’t getting what some other people tripped over themselves describing in Lucien Peyraud’s wines.

I then read Lynch’s chapter on Provence. Two days later, I tasted a 2005 Domaine Tempier Blanc. And it clicked.

This wine presented itself in the most curious way, displaying notes of mushrooms, salt water, but above all… age. I love that smell. On the palate, white flowers could be located amongst baking spice and a generous dollop of almond paste. Yes, it almost marzipan in character. It was exquisite.

I have tasted many great wines in my short career, from Clos d’Estournel to Haut-Brion, Giacosa to d’Yquem. But the ones that really made an impression on me—the ones that transcended the mere olfactory, sight, and tasting senses—were the ones I got to know outside the bottle. As corny as it sounds, it was the story that really pulled it all together for me in a memorable way.

Reading Lynch’s account of Tempier, the festive meals, the conversations, and the lovely Lulu who drew so many to the estate for her cooking and hospitality, reminded me of Lopez de Heredia wines, I have obsessively recounted in past postings. Having gotten the chance to know Maria Lopez de Heredia herself, her steadfast respect for tradition and passion for olives, made the wine taste even better. Same goes for Steve Doerner at Cristom, Mike Etzel at Beaux Frerer, Diana Seysses at Domaine Dujac and Domaine Triennes, Olivier Humbrecht of Domaine Zind Humbrecht, and Chrystal Clifton of Palmina.  I had the fortunate opportunity to get to know all these winemakers a little more face to face.  Learning more about the winery, their philosophies, and the decisions that go into each bottle, makes every sip that much more complex.

So my suggestion, if you know you are about to experience something extraordinary, take it a step further, and do your research. Consider yourself lucky to taste the greats. It doesn’t happen often, even for those in the biz. Be sure to get as much as you can from each sip. It is so much harder to remember, when drinking wine has no context. For then, it is merely drinking wine.

Lalalala…Lulu. A rosé that makes you think.

Biodynamic, california wine, french wine, Kermit Lynch

I was smitten.  The moment I held that Mourvedre in my mouth, it was over.  Finally, an American rosé that was not only fun, delightful, light—the usual suspects of an unpretentious pink—the 2008 Bedrock ‘Ode to Lulu’ Rosé was positively provocative.

I  was to think about that rosé for the rest of the night.  Its pale, somber tone that flickered ever-so-often with the blush of youth when caught unaware.  The texture, the depth, the echo of the lees upon which it slept for three months before it was bound to the bottle.  It almost had a haunting quality… a sense that it could not be understood without the knowledge that its grapes were born of those 120 year old Mourvedre vines.

I needed to know more.

Morgan Twain-Peterson is no rookie when it comes to winemaking.  He grew up with grapes.  He is the son of Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery.  He found his own way, though, and worked his way up, earning a masters from Columbia, acting as a wine buyer/seller in New York, currently finishing his Master of Wine degree (a highly prestigious feat), and going on to run Bedrock Vineyards in Sonoma.

Many people in the wine industry are quick to admit they love rosé… they are quicker, though, to follow such a ‘bold’ announcement with a comment such as, “Well, I mean, they are just so fun.  Not complex by any means.  But certainly lovely and light.”

What struck me about Morgan is that he, much like myself, sees rosé as having so much more significance.  He explains,  “[Rosé is] as much for pure pleasure as for intellectual stimulation[1].”  Rosé, when handled properly, has as much potential to provoke thought as any other complex wine.  For example, grapes must be picked at lower alcohol levels to preserve its personality.  This is almost as important as its careful crushing, pressing, maceration, sur lie contact, bottling, and slumber.  If the rosé is alcoholic, dull, and off-balance with residual sugar levels, then it is simply a poorly made rosé—a resourceful byproduct that lacks integrity and satiates easy economical gain.  Unfortunately, this defines the majority of rosé.  Fun for a night, maybe even two, but not the one you want to write home about to your friends and family.

The 2008 Bedrock ‘Ode to Lulu’ Rosé achieves a remarkable balance between buoyant light-heartedness and near austere roots of historicity that inspire minutes, even hours, of lingering contemplation.  The name alone–‘Ode to Lulu’–speaks to its dual nature, as it clearly has a foothold in New World soil but translates an Old World message and style, honoring the revered Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier in Bandol through the aged Mourvedre vines of Sonoma.  From the fresh accessible fruit and citrus intonations to the deeper-seated notes of earth and old vine structure, it is an understatement to say what a refreshing feeling it is to behold such a gem of  a rosé, particularly from the states.

[1] http://www.bedrockwineco.com/importance/rose/