Friday, 6 January 2017

We went to 5 natural wine bars in New York and drank 13 wines. Here are my notes


December 27, 21.30, New York. 

Have been drinking all day except at lunch when we were eating — Katz’s — but first we did Brooklyn and very first: Diner. Perched at counter, coats off, global warming shock warm remember this is December. Chicken soup for our souls and a white Burgundy I’m promised don’t taste classic but does. Fresh, clean, whatever. Free re-fill of $16 glass like it’s coffee for that diner feelin’ or flirting. Both good. Next is litre bottle orange “Vino Bianco” 2015 by Cantina Giardino (Coda di Volpe + Greco fermented on the skins for 10 days then aged in chestnut casks) which is sage and honeysuckle and apricot. Very easy, a little toasty and 100% juicy. Did I mention litre bottle?

Next up: next door. This is the first of two pairs of bars we visited serving only natural wines next to each other. This is civilisation. Step into Marlow & Sons or step into upstate New York rustic cabin wine bar with all natural list (does this exist???), pine boughs hanging, smelling, gloom-lit and candlelight and the difference is the same. This is how it feels here, ‘here’ being New York not upstate. This is civilisation. Taste-sips down the list and we think ‘how cool’ they have their own ‘Marlow’ wine. This is every year from someone different and this year an unfiltered, fragrant, slightly oxidised 2015 Romorantin by Hervé Vilimade all canary yellow wax topped 1.5l of it with label drawn by Andrew Tarlow, cookbook writer Dinner at the Long Table and owner. Order a dozen Bird Island oysters that taste like Rhode Island big gulp of the Atlantic and drink juicy, slightly spicy Grolleau (“Grappe Full” 2015 by Adrien Baloche from the Auvergne). Small, tart wild-picked cherries. Smashable

Lunch break.

It’s 16.30 not yet 17.00 so it’s the Ten Bells via Chambers Street Wines and we’re kids in a candy store when kids still liked candy more than their iPhones. We are three and we buy a 2012 “Saulétas" Sancerre (bright, sweet and deep, thank you always Sèbastian Riffault); “Calico” 2015 by Vignenvie Collective (earthy, citrusy but lacking anything bright), a 50 strong collective preserving vines in Charnay, Beaujolais; Mariam Losebidze's 2015 "Tavkeri" (a girl!!) from Georgia (notes) and "Torre Nova" 2015 by Del Prete (notes). Guy helping us is called Eban. Eben tells us to go to a place called Dirty Bird. Eben prints out wine list for Dirty Bird. 

Time for Ten Bells and for sitting. Wrap around bar wrapped round Sev Perru is full at 18.00 so we sit in the corner where the empty magnums are kept. Could be worse. Place is dark with corners and candlelight. I taste the “Ploussard de l’ami ami Karl” 2015 (Domaine de la Pinte) and decide instead (sorry Karl) on “Cardamine" 2014 by Les Herbes Folles (Grenache) which is flamboyant: jammy (cherry), luscious and Grenache intense-spicy. A black eye bruiser for sure. To my right sips an aromatic, flinty 2015 Georgian qvevri orange, “Kisi” from Do Ré Mi, and on my left Domaine Binner's 2014 Gewurztraiminer Pinot Gris which tastes like roses. Then lastly a glass of something American  for the road (“Jambalaia” 2015 by La Clarine Farm: 59 % Mourvedre, 21 % Marsanne, 15% Grenache + Syrah) that was zippy, zesty, crisp and juicy and remarkable for the way it honest to god smelled like Florida red grapefruit  and tasted 'French' despite being from California. And then we go to Contra.

Contra. Contra is next to Wildair making this the second pair of couples. Wildair looks like to drink you must also eat so we sit at the hallway bar of Contra and are greeted by a fierce cocktail shaking lady that talks a soft ‘y’all’. Colour scheme is grey or shades of silver and concept clean, minimal, cool, cocktails. Mostly cocktails actually and why not when a Negroni costs the same ($16) as my (stemless) glass of resinous green twist nervy “Gamay Aunis” 2015 (Jean-Christophe Garnier, Gamay). Friend to my left is drinking “La Pierre aux Chiens" 2015, a tobacco leaf sweet leather raspberry Pinot Noir by Christian Venier, and on my right “Matassa Blanc” 2014, Domaine Matassa (Grenache Gris, Maccabeu): Sicilian lemons plus skin + pith.

As I said we skipped Wildair because we had Dirty Bird which is to say a whole free range organic rotisserie chicken with hot sauce and hotter mayonnaise, three sides, a wonderful waitress and two awesome bottles of wine ("Mauvais Temps" by Nicolas Carmarans and "La Gravotte", Clos du Tue-Boeuf) each at $60 which is to say CHEAP which is the whole concept: chicken and cheap natural wine. Talk about civilisation (but read about it, and the wines, later).


In short:

Vino Bianco 2015, Cantina Giardino, Campania — sage, honeysuckle, apricot
Romorantin 2015, Hervé Vilimade, Cour-Cheverny — unfiltered, fragrant, slightly oxidised
Grappe Full 2015, Adrien Baloche, Auvergne — tart wild-picked cherries
Saulétas Sancerre 2012, Sébastian Riffault, Loire — bright, sweet, deep
Calico 2015, Vignenvie Collective, Charnay — earthy, citrusy, lacking something bright 
Tavkeri 2015, Mariam Losebidze, Georgia — teeth-suck tart, herbs
Torre Nova 2015, Del Prete, Salento — Haribo cherries
Ploussard de l’ami ami Karl 2015, Domaine de la Pinte, Jura — blood orange, rhubarb, pepper
Cardamine 2014, Les Herbes Folles, Languedoc — jammy (cherry), luscious, Grenache intense-spicy
Kisi 2015, Do Ré Mi, Samegrelo, Georgia — aromatic, flinty, apricots
Jambalaia 2015, La Clarine Farm, Sierra foothills, USA — zip, zest, ruby red grapefruit
Gamay Aunis 2015, Jean-Christophe Garnier, Anjou — resinous, green twist, nervy
La Pierre aux Chiens 2015, Christian Venier, Touraine — tobacco leaf, sweet leather, raspberry
Matassa Blanc 2014, Domaine Matassa, Roussillon — Sicilian lemons, skin, pith
Mauvais Temps 2015, Nicolas Carmarans, Aveyron — smokey, red fruit, rocky
La Gravotte 2015, Close du Tue-Boeuf, Loire — juicy, twisted, smashable 


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Del Prete Torre Nova 2015

You know those sour Haribo cherries with the sugar on? 

You know how when you’re out picking blackberries and all of a sudden you eat a sour one?

Can you imagine what a triangle tastes like?

Now smell some sage.


What: Torre Nova 2015
Grapes: Negroamaro
Who: Natalino Del Prete
Where: IGT Salento


Monday, 2 January 2017

Georgian girls make Georgian wines. Tasting notes: Mariam Losebidze Tavkeri 2015

We were in New York and asked the guys at Chambers Street Wines for something volatile, read: a little weird. This being New York and this being Chambers Street Wines, the guys gave us a qveri-buried Tavkeri from Georgia (Tavkeri 2015, Mariam Losebidze), read: insanely volatile. Read: tart as hell. Tart like the sides of your mouth go TING tequila lemon tart or teeth-ache cranberries not yet cooked, tart. Not, mind you, altogether unpleasant.

Barn on the nose, Ploussard punch pink on the eye, bruised laurel and your vitamin C fix of cranberries and red currents in the mouth plus crunchy tannins to chew on besides. Read: an austere little thing and for me, New England winter inside sitting and not outside hot Georgian summer let’s say grilling, a little thin, but intriguing enough to be surprised how quickly the bottle emptied, i.e., quickly.


What: Tavkeri 2015
Who: Mariam Losebidze
How: 2 days skin contact then half skins removed — 30 days in qvevri — no SO2
Where: Georgia


Friday, 18 November 2016

Andrea Calek A Toi Nous 2015. Tasting notes: supernova

Andrea Calek’s 2015 "A Toi Nous" is a 750ml s u p e r nova all speed»»»»» and motion and we hooked it down out of the bottle dancing to hard tek. This I know rhymes (tek-Calek) but is also honest true.

It was 22 October and we’d finished up the last drop of Riffault eating salty skinned meats with Frederico sitting in his store and talking talking because some wines are for sitting down and talking, some for thinking and others for fighting. The Calek was for the road and for !f i g h t i n g! which is how you look with hard tek dancing but also for hydration. 

Calek I have read is considered a bit of a punk vagabond and lives in or has lived in a trailer next to his vineyards which are next to Le Mazel’s. These are in the Ardèche and people seem to like writing about the trailer thing probably for the same or similar reason I choose to write about the time we gulp-gulped his juice behind a five high stacked sound system powered by a generator pulled by a tractor driven by squatters rather than the time we drank it nice-nice on the couch, which happened too.

Also when people write about Calek they write he found wine via the olive tree. That he ran AWOL from the Czech army (80’s), met a girl (💛 ), set up in France (🏡 ), studied natural and biodynamic oenology (Lyon), hung out with Fiering’s Gang of Four in the Beaujolais (🍷), apprenticed (Domaine Hauvette) and then started making his own wine (2007) to the tune of about 40,000 bottles a year, you understand, with four types of red and one white Chardonnay / Viognier blend called "Blanc".


But here I’m talking about his 2015 A Toi Nous, namely whole clusters of low alcohol select Syrah + Grenache grapes short time @ low temp a-macerated and later foot-stamped. Two bottlings (December 2015, June 2016), unfiltered and no SO2. Colour of sun shining through a ruby-red, tastes 🌀🌀crazy juicy alive and j a m doughnut jammy of tangy, stick-to-sides-of-your-mouth cherry.


Who: Andrea Calek
What: A Tois Nous 2015
Grapes: 70% Syrah + 30% Grenache
Where: Valvignères, Ardèche
From: La Officina 


Friday, 4 November 2016

Milan Nestarec's Podfuck 2014 means party

‘Party in a glass’ is how I described Milan Nestarec's "Podfuck" on the list. ‘Feel good juices, dried apricots and holiday raisins plus a little laurel. Tonnes of energy and 14 days skin contact so don’t expect this to taste like a Pinot Gris’. And you shouldn’t because it doesn’t unless maybe, yes, unless you’re the sort to appreciate that everything you think you knew is not, in fact, everything at all; is, indeed, very likely very far from it, in which case you might be more open to the idea that this is also the taste of Pinot Gris, just not the sort you’re used to, unless you’re used to skin contact, and that’s the whole thing: we know what we’re ‘used’ to even though to know and to be used to (something) are different verbs to describe different situations (and all of this is further complicated by the fact something isn’t necessarily one thing or not that thing; it could be in-between or another thing but remember: it was a party in a glass, not a serious discussion.)

But then equally I could have described it as ‘A five-a-day fruit forward punch in the face of anyone who takes life, ok maybe just their wine, too seriously or, ‘Californian sunshine, captured’ or maybe just ‘Fun! Capital F’ (plus a fantastic name, I mean c'mon, Podfuck).

And the colour is peach fuzz slash bleached out Venetian paint pink orange and it comes from the Czech Republic and is made by Milan Nestarec (who worked with Movia) and the first time I drank it I swore off food.


What: 100% Pinot Gris
Who: Milan Nestarec
When: 2014
WhereMoravský Žižkov
From: Wilde Wijnen (if not sold out)


Friday, 28 October 2016

Brett: the taste spectrum of farm

I guess I was around 13 when I got my first taste of farm. We were in Austria walking and we had apples and cheese and dried sausage for lunch and it was the first time I drank Apfelmost and it went !*p f c h %$ when you opened it and it was golden like low winter sun ‘round 3, maybe 4, o’clock-golden and with that sparkly-sparky taste of something alive and rotting and in a rush>>> A borderline case flit-flirting between sour, sweet, yeast and your brain’s yes OK and no: definitely throw away. Smell of fresh wet hay and grass-damp horse blanket. Of apple skeletons and toast.

We drank it on a bench and it was delicious and I think my aunt was there too and the cows were soft and chestnut and 15 years later I know now that the word to describe that particular smell slash taste-state of life and death, boot room, sweaty saddle and organic mass that makes me think of Most is, when it comes to wine*, called ‘brett' and, officially, Dekkera bruxellensis or Brettanomyces by those who know what they're talking about, and 'FUNK' and 'barn' by them too plus by all the others, and the Internet is full of discussion on whether or not this naturally occurring strain of yeast is, when it comes to wine, a fault that compromises terroir or is, in fact, itself terroir — course there is — and you can care or not care but the smell still reminds me of the first time I drank Most which is why I’m telling the story and as it happens I happen to like it.

*beer too.


Monday, 12 September 2016

If you like the idea of drinking rubies drink Sébastian Riffault Raudonas 2011

I like drinking wine out of plastic cups more than probably most anybodies. I like my wine cloudy, unstable and fizzling and if it’s a really good day it’ll be all three plus red and cold. Give me rough and unsettled or watered down with spritzy water to drink during the harvest time, wine. But I also like wines that make you 


cus they're so clean.

Wines as crisp as the sound of you biting into an Autumn apple straight from the tree crap-bit-of-juice-got-in-your-eye can be; precise as we think the Germans to be. Patrick Bateman ebony handled razor blade sharp and also just normal sharp. 

Last week I drank Sébastian Riffault’s "Raudonas". I say my god but here I’ll say my gosh because this was definitely something made on earth and I don’t think the earth gets enough credit. You could taste it. The earth I mean. Earth and flint (Sancerre, Loire), spice, cranberries and rubies. Like Thanksgiving but better or at least easier. Singing almost singeing — sides of your tongue gettin’ all juicy — acidity, a long finish and whistling arrow straight purity. In a word, for the sake of adding one more word: 


And no, I don’t drink everything out of plastic cups.


What: 100% Pinot Noir
Who: Sébastian Riffault
When: 2011
Where: Loire
How: 0.5 hectare plot — 40 year old vines — 35% slope — horse power —  25 hl/ha yields — Fermentation and 18 month elevage in 8-15 year old barrels — Ages if you can manage to wait

From: La Officina


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Beijing Bao, Rotterdam

If I said what I wanted to say, namely that what I ate at Beijing Bao didn’t taste like Chinese food, then you’d probably take me for an idiot. You’d say China is big, China is far away, and as the only Chinese food you’ve probably eaten was eaten in Chinese restaurants, the restaurants not being in China, then you don’t know what Chinese food tastes like.

That would be fair enough.

So perhaps it would be better for me to say that the food at Beijing Bao is not what one would expect to eat at a Chinese restaurant. I mean, not unless you expect cumin in your food and thickets of fresh coriander strewn on top. Not unless it’s no big deal to you that the beef you just put in your mouth has melted before you had time to close it, let alone chew; and not unless you’re the kind of person that would find someone’s asking you to pass the soy sauce some sort of joke. Everyone knows you don’t get soy sauce when you’re eating Beijing Bao’s Chinese.

And you don’t; at least, it doesn’t come standard at the table. Standard there is a small pot of vinegar, Korean style, and a sauce with a chilli-kick. Standard there are green beans barely cooked and heaped in fried, minced pork that will make you think twice about the virtues of eating pop corn because heck, popcorn is greasier than this and this is much more satisfying anyway. Those sauces (you know the ones) that render every dish essentially the same but for their different hues of red? That goopy, black, they-call-it-fish-sauce, I-call-it-MSG stuff that, no matter how hard you try not to, reminds you of the effects of an oil spill? Instead of that stuff, you get vegetables that are still identifiable as, and have the original texture of, vegetables; and if you order right they’ll come with nothing more than chunks of fried garlic that you’ll be able to chopstick-out blindfolded for their size.

No, this kitchen is not afraid of garlic and nor should you be. Not even when you order the beef ribs in garlic which, when we did, turned out to be (or at least seemed to be) pork ribs in a dry-as-dust pancake-batter crust that had been infused with garlic. ‘Dry as dust’ in the case of batter is a compliment, unless you like the not-enough-napkins greasy kind, in which case this is not your sort of Chinese. 

You’ll probably want to order second plate of the Chinese cabbage with pork (kimchi with really tasty, not at all dry pork), but don’t let this put you off ordering another, different cabbage dish. The Chinese cabbage with soy and vinegar was bright and tangy and imparted a joy akin to that you might feel in taking a bite of a well-placed pickle in your sandwich for balance, i.e.: much joy. Order it. Order it and put a little on your plate with a little of everything else (the dishes are large and to be shared), but especially the melt in your mouth beef with cumin (I’m still surprised), shredded onion, coriander and… garlic. With the beef shaven, succulent but dry and spiced with cumin, I suppose this is what Greek gyros would taste like if it were excellent. And this was excellent.

When the ‘Beijing pizza’ arrives (for the restaurant operates strict serve-yourself drinks and it-comes-when-it-comes policies), essentially a larger, absolutely not greasy, dumpling rolled over well-spiced minced lamb and braised leeks, it’s likely you’ll also want to comment on how Middle Eastern the tastes are. Ditto with the steamed eggs - theirs is the same creamy, nuttiness that you’ll find in the 10-hour boiled eggs that perch atop hummus bowls in Israel. From these last two dishes and the beef, it would seem that the two kitchens share similar recipes for soul food. 

And it’s the food that carries the place. With no real decor to speak of, a TV screen in the back loudly slide-showing the dishes, no alcohol licence and staff that aren’t really interested in talking to you, Beijing Bao is the type of place you probably only dared to enter because of the number of Chinese sitting inside, or because a local friend you trust enough to take you to a Chinese restaurant in Rotterdam even though you don’t like ‘Chinese’ and you have to travel from Amsterdam, takes you. However you got there, go there. After dinner you’ll probably want to go again for breakfast.

Photographs by Sophia van den Hoek. Also published on Unfolded.


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

“Come quickly, I am drinking the stars but nowadays they call it pét-nat"

At the risk of encouraging you to start drinking at breakfast, let's talk about pét-nats: funky, unfiltered sparklers.

Ok, so grape juice goes straight from tank to bottle, stick a plug in (mostly crown cap, not cork), yeasts eat sugar, fart out alcohol and CO2, CO2 gets... full points: trapped.

E S.

Ok so now you know.


Monday, 23 May 2016

A garden in pictures

When I say my mom’s a gardener what I mean is that we eat late in the summer months. It means there's a good chance my hand luggage has a plant or two stuffed down the side wrapped in damp newspaper and that I get seed heads sent to me in the mail. It means I don't cut flowers probably because my mom doesn't cut flowers, and that I like making sticks into infrastructure most certainly because mom makes stick infrastructure.

When I planted my first garden I was a little nervous and spaced everything out like the mysterious runes and diagrams on the seed packets said to. Mom’s advice: ‘Everything just wants to live’.

When I say ‘my first garden’ what I mean is that time, three years ago, when I grew mainly greens and 3.5 sunflowers in a 1x1 box in a field that, for the longest time, was looked over by city planners and left to a group of alcoholics that would (mostly) leave you alone as well as a modern day mystic and follower of the ayahuasca church (possibly — no, probably — also an alcoholic) who once accused me of stealing his watering can (I didn’t). This field is now a construction site like it’s been for the last two years, destined for a new try at life as a carpark. 

My next garden isn't so much mine as it's ours and this isn't just because it's squatted, which it is. These pictures are of her garden, not of ours.

Sunflowers, incidentally, seem to do very well in Amsterdam.


Monday, 2 May 2016

Movia Wines + Restaurant De Jong + Lux = magic * natural wine

It started at 6 so we figured we’d probably be out early. And anyway, or so I thought, it was a wine tasting (small sips, spit spit) and it would all be natural (wine that has been farmed according to organic or biodynamic principles plus minimum intervention thereafter… including, according to some diehards, no sulphite at bottling; a practice that has the effect of stabilising the otherwise very much still alive wine by stunning microbial reproduction, fermentation and all-round interaction as well as sanitising bottling equipment: sulphite’s antioxidant properties shield the wine from oxygen.) — so we’d be fine

— or at least, more fine than how we might feel after drinking, sorry tasting, the equivalent amount of conventional wine; wine that will almost invariably have had chemicals and sulphites added, noxious nasties that would have to be processed by our livers the next day as well as the alcohol. The lack of crap* in natural wine should make it, both theoretically and in many of my own experiences though certainly not all, less likely to leave you feeling bad the next day, precisely because there’s less crap to have to filter out. Obviously alcohol percentage, sugars, dehydration, levels of histamine (high in red wine), how much and how fast you drink are also influencing factors; and there are a lot of offhand soundbites being thrown around about the evils of sulphites as the major causer of hangovers, but for now, that’s what they are: unscientific soundbites

And that’s where we’ll leave them. Hangover prevention is a bad reason to start drinking natural wine and if it’s yours, please don’t. Better reasons are: caring about the environment, supporting the farmers that care, additives in your food and if you think you’d be interested in trying something that’s alive, tastes it, and is therefore unlike anything else, certainly anything we label ‘wine’. 

But the night itself? 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The natural choice is to drink natural wine

“It would spoil people’s perception of wine” is, both inevitably and ironically, what got me first thinking about ‘it’. Before I heard that, all I thought about when I thought about wine was taste. That and whether or not this should be my last glass.

These were the (subtitled) words of a (French) grower in a documentary about how we manipulate wine and, armed with the terms ‘extract of pig pancreas and dried swim bladders of fish’ and a word I have since learned how to spell (Polyvinylpolyryrrolidone), I set off to tell my wine drinking friends. Not that anyone seemed to care. Most people seemed to think that even if this was true, that it probably wasn’t for the sort of wine that they drink. In fact, there seemed to be a direct correlation between the people who profess to enjoy wine the most and a confidence that this didn’t apply to them. And because all I’d seen was a documentary, for all I knew, they were right.

And so I bought a book.

I figured that if it was difficult to learn about what was being added to conventional wine, then I should start with natural wines and learn about all the stuff that’s categorically not in them. This, to cut a long list of additives short, is everything except (in some cases) a little sulphite at bottling. There’s no added water, no sugar, no tannins, no gelatine, no phosphates, no added yeasts. No (surprise!) dimethyl dicarbonate, acetaldehyde and not even any hydrogen peroxide. There are no animal derivatives, no iyoszyme (from eggs) or casein (from milk). And there have been no pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides or fertilisers used to treat the vines. There is, incidentally, also no legal definition as to what counts as natural, nor is the addition of any of the above to wine, illegal. 

Awkward on both fronts then. 

Legal definition, even recognition, aside; the point is that at one end of the make-wine continuum there are those that manipulate wine via heavy processing, additives or aids, and those at the other end that produce wine without adding or removing anything.

And so, armed with this new information, I return to my friends who, grateful for my concern as ever (not), ask, How do you even know that stuff’s in this wine? 

I don’t. And that’s the whole thing (ok, one of the things): we don’t know what’s in our wine.
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