Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cabernet Franc Digs in on Long Island

In little over 25 years, the Long Island wine industry has grown from one small vineyard to over 3,000 acres of vines and over fifty wineries producing world-class wines.

Located in New York State, on the east coast of the United States, Long Island extends approximately 120 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. The Long Island wine region encompasses Nassau and Suffolk Counties, with the majority of wineries and vineyards at the East End, on the North and South Forks, which are separated by Peconic Bay. These two peninsulas were created by the Wisconsin Glacier during the last Ice Age, over 10,000 years ago. Long Island is in essence a huge sandbar that was pushed down the Hudson Valley and deposited when the glacier finally receded. The soils are mostly sand and fine clay, extremely well-drained, with little topsoil, making them ideal for grape growing.

The first commercially viable vineyard on Long Island was planted in 1973 by Louisa and Alex Hargrave. The Hargraves were recent Harvard graduates who planted their vines using Virgil’s treatises on agriculture and a basic text on viticulture from the University of California - Davis as guidance. With no history of successful vineyard management on Long Island as a guidepost, the Hargraves and other early Long Island vineyard owners applied techniques that had been successful in the Finger Lakes region of New York and in California, neither of which took into account the specific climatic factors they faced on Long Island. It was not until they looked across the ocean to Bordeaux that they found the proper model.

It took several years to perfect techniques, realizing, for example, that canopy management techniques utilized in hot locales such as the Napa Valley provided significant shading that prevented sunburn, but in a cooler maritime climate such as Long Island actually inhibited ripening.

Long Island is on the same latitude as Madrid, but its climate is nothing like that of the capital of Spain. The summer heat is tempered on the island by the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island Sound, and Peconic Bay. These waterbodies also help to prevent late spring frosts, effectively giving Long Island a growing season of approximately 210-220 days, similar to Bordeaux. The number of degree days (a means of judging the ability of fruit to ripen in a given time period) is similar to northern Sonoma County in California. With all of these factors, vintners on Long Island have found they get ripe fruit at lower sugar levels, leading to plush wines with naturally lower alcohol levels.

The Bordelaise assisted the Long Island vintners in 1988, when a two day symposium of Bordeaux wine researchers and producers was held on the island. The outcome of the symposium was the realization of the startling similarities of the terroir between Bordeaux, and in particular Medoc, to that of the East End of Long Island. The Bordelaise focused most of their recommendations on the vineyards and not the cellars noting that the islanders were (to that point) more concerned with winemaking than grape growing. Thereafter they changed the focus resulting in the steady increase of quality to the conditions seen today.

The first commercial wines from Long Island were released in 1977, and soon the Long Island wine industry began to grow by leaps and bounds. Proximity of the early vineyards on the North Fork to the Hamptons on the South Fork brought an influx of people in the late 1980s and early 1990s coming to winemaking from successes in other pursuits. Many bought existing farms growing other crops (primarily potatoes) and converted them to vineyards. With the influx of new blood and new money also came business acumen and a drive to produce quality wines. The new wineries hired consultants, many of them from famed Bordeaux chateaux.

There are approximately 188 acres of vineyard dedicated to Cabernet Franc on Long Island, representing less than 10% of the lands under vine, compared to Merlot, which represents over 35% of the planted vineyards. But despite its smaller presence, Cabernet Franc is gaining prominence. Many Long Island wineries are discovering that, as the star rather than as part of the supporting cast, Cabernet Franc can have its own charm and character.

The phenotypic Long Island Cabernet Franc typically exhibits an aroma of red berries (raspberry, cherry, and cranberry) and floral notes, with hints of leather, tobacco, and freshly turned earth. The palate typically shows some of the spice characteristic of the varietal with hints of menthol / peppermint and pepper, and the fruit shows blackberry, raspberry, and boysenberry notes.

Long Island Cabernet Franc producers of note include Castello di Borghese (the original Hargrave Winery), Wölffer Estates, Roanoke Vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Osprey’s Dominion.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

#Cabernet Day -- Cabernet Franc Review

Cabernet Franc, for the most part, exists locked between the death grip of the hard tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon and the suffocating, chocolatey embrace of Merlot, with just enough room available to allow its fruity aromas to escape as it gasps for the life-sustaining air of Bordeaux.  There is a growing "Free Franky" movement that is seeking to peel away the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot bonds and to give this varietal its own stellar place in the sun.

Cabernet Franc (also known as Bidure, Bouchet, Cabernet Blanc, Cabernet Franco, Capbreton Rouge, Kaberne Frank, and Noir Dur) has the distinction, along with Sauvignon Blanc, of being a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon but, like many a parent, has been outshone by the capabilities and broad-based acceptance of its offspring.  With large clusters of blue-black grapes, Cabernet Franc looks a bit like Cabernet Sauvignon but the similarity ends at the first view.  Both varieties are grown in Bordeaux but while Cabernet Sauvignon has the starring role, Cabernet Franc is primarily used as a blending grape for Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot-dominated wines.  Chateau Cheval Blanc is one of the few Bordeaux wines to have as much as 50% Cabernet Franc as part of the blend.

Cabernet Franc is a vigorous varietal which flourishes in a wide variety of soil types and, unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, it does well in cooler climates.  The grape buds early and ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, providing a hedge against Cabernet Sauvignon losses resulting from inclement weather during harvesting.  The grapes are large and have thick skins but the higher pulp-to-skin ratio renders it less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon.  The vine is prone to vigorous foliage production in cooler climates and this has to be managed to ensure that it focuses on fruit ripening.

The most heralded characteristics of Cabernet Franc are the tannin/acidity balance and its fruitiness.  The fruit flavors associated with the varietal are blackberries, ripe plums, strawberries, raspberries, and cassis.  The non-fruit flavors that can be identified are meat, green olives, licorice, green peppers, nutmeg, herbs, leather and violets.

Cabernet Franc comes into its own as a varietal in the cooler Loire Valley.  This region is best known for its whites but in Saumur, Chinon, and Bourgeil the red wines are Cabernet Franc and are renowned for their value and ageability.  In the New World, Cabernet Franc is being planted with increasing frequency and made into a standalone varietal but the best adaptations appear to be in the cooler climates of New York's Finger Lakes, Hudson River Valley, and Long Island regions.

Warm weather Cabernet Francs have less acid and more tannins and, as such, pair well with the same foods as does Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Cooler weather Cabernet Franc pairs well with fish, light chicken and German Schnitzel.

Today I picked up a 2006 Chinon Cuvee Terroir by Charles Joguet and a 2005 Anjou Vendanges by Domaine Philippe Delesvaux to drink during the course of #Cabernet Day.  Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.  Pick up a Cabernet Franc wine for #Cabernet Day. Free Franky.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Margaret River: The über Bordeaux?

The jousting edge of the Australian landmass as it confronts the winds traveling across  the Indian Ocean from the African continent, and situated on almost the same latitude as the wine regions of Chile and South Africa, the Margaret River region of Western Australia has been hailed by Jancis Robinson as "... the closest thing to paradise of any wine region I have visited in my extensive search for knowledge."  Its Cabernet Sauvignons, the backbone of the region's production, and reputation, have been described as "wines of balance and subtlety" and as having "elegance and finesse" that is unparalleled in the island continent.  In this post we will trace the history and characteristics of the region as we attempt to identify the contributors to the high quality of its wines.

Located 172 miles south of Perth, the town of Margaret River sits midpoint of a 19-mile-wide stub peninsula that stretches for 75 miles from Cape Naturaliste in the north to Cape Leeuwin in the south and, in its entirety, comprises what is known as the Margaret River wine region.  The region is bounded to the north and west by the Indian Ocean and to the south by the Southern Ocean and is bisected longitudinally by the rolling hills of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge which runs from cape to cape and has a maximum elevation of 295 feet.  The Margaret River flows east to west through the center of the region before debouching into the Indian Ocean.

The Margaret River climate is maritime, with a prevailing westerly and southwesterly air stream.  Winds can be strong at times and effective windbreaks for the vines are essential.  The region does not experience any extremes in summer or winter temperatures and humidity levels are optimal during the  grape-growing season.  The temperature is warmer in Margaret River during ripening than in the Medoc and is, in fact, more akin to the temperatures experienced in Pomerol and St. Emilion at that time.

The Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge consists of laterite (gravelly or gritty sandy loam) over granitic and gneissic rock.  Vineyard soils are primarily laterite or, at valley level, underlying country rock. The soils are highly permeable and moisture can be quickly shed  from sites located on slopes, thus driving a need for irrigation.

Western Australia has been the target of a number of governmental (both British and Australian) population-enhancement initiatives which sought to lure immigrants (Australian or European) to the area with the promise of land ownership.  The first wine grapes in the Margaret River area are attributed to Italian immigrants who planted vines to provide wine as a meal accompaniment.  The modern Margaret River wine history was launched by the agronomist Dr. John Gladstones who served as a bridge between the research theories of visiting UC Davis viticulturist Professor Harold Olmo and a group of eager Australian doctors who were interested in farming (particularly lupines) in the Margaret River area.  Applying Dr. Olmo's theories on climate to the area, Dr. Gladstones theorized that Margaret River had soil and climatic conditions similar to (and, in some cases, better than) Bordeaux:

  • Maritime-influenced weather
  • 43 inches of rainfall per year
  • No rainfall during harvest (unlike Bordeaux)
  • Slightly warmer and sunnier than Bordeaux, thus causing fruit to ripen a little faster and better than in Bordeaux.

Based on these considerations, he recommended that the doctors plant Cabernet Sauvignon in the area around Wilyabrup rather than the lupines they had in mind.  Acting on Gladstones recommendation, Dr. Bill Vasse, in 1965, planted 1/2 acre of Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhine Reisling while Dr. Tom Cullity planted 1/4 acre of vines on his property.  These trials yielded excellent results and led to Dr. Cullity launching the Vasse Felix winery. Other pioneering wineries included Cullen Wines, Moss Wood, and Chateau Xanadu.

Margaret River was officially registered as a wine region in 1996.  It is further (unofficially) divided into the sub-regions shown below.  Most of the wineries are located in the Wilyabrup and Wallcliffe sub-regions.

Today Margaret River produces 3% of Australia's wine grapes but has 20% of the premium wine market.  There are approximately 5500 hectares under vine in the region and 138 entities producing wines in the region.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted varietal, followed by Shiraz and Semillon.  Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are also widely planted.  Margaret River wines are known for intensity of flavor, balance, and subtlety.  Whites are either Chardonnay or Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends and the Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay is considered one of the best Chardonnays in Australia, if not the world.  Reds are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends.  Notable reds include Voyager Estate Cabernet Merlot, Howard Park Leston Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sandalford Cabernet Merlot Prendeville Reserve, and Moss Wood Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Margaret River has a phenomenal wine tourism infrastructure but that will be the topic of  a future post.  In the meantime, if you do not have a wine to take to the #Cabernet Day ball, grab a bottle of Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend.  You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chile – Decreasing Yields to Increase Quality

Wine has been part of Chile’s history for nearly 500 years, arriving with the Spanish conquistadors who brought vines to provide communion wine. The grape that arrived in Chile was referred to as Pais, and was likely a descendant of the Spanish "common black grape" brought to Mexico in 1520 by Hernan Cortez. Pais remained Chile's primary wine grape through the influx of other varietals beginning in the 1850s, and was unsurpassed until the emergence of the Bordeaux wine varietals in the late 1970s.

Chile is a long, narrow country that is dominated by the Andes on one side and the Pacific Ocean to the other. Chile's vineyards are located along an 800-mile stretch of land from the Atacama Desert in the north to the Bio-Bio region in the south. The climate is varied with the northern regions being very hot and dry compared to the cooler, wetter regions in the south. In the Valle Central around Santiago, the climate is dry with an annual average of 15 inches of rain.

Despite a long history of influence from Spain, Chile owes a majority of its wine influences to France. Chile’s table wine industry really began in the mid-1800s, when wealthy industrialists and land barons imported French varietals (mostly from Bordeaux) to establish vineyards as a status symbol. Don Silvestre Errazuriz was the first, importing red and white Bordeaux varietals, and going so far as to import French vineyard managers and winemakers to ensure that his vineyards were properly planted and that his wines were made in the Bordeaux style. Some of Chile’s best-known names date from this era, including Errazuriz, Cousino Macul, and Concha y Toro.

At about this same time, the phylloxera root louse was devastating the vineyards of Bordeaux and Spain. This actually worked to the benefit of the burgeoning Chilean wine industry, as many French and Spanish winemakers left the devastated vineyards and travelled to Chile, imparting the benefits of their experience and teaching the Chileans European techniques.

Being relatively isolated by the Andes, the Pacific Ocean, the Atacama to the north, and Antarctica to the south, phylloxera has never become a problem. Because of this, the vines in the Chilean vineyards are on their own rootstock. While Chilean winemakers point to this as a benefit to the flavor profile of the wine, it certainly is a boon to the bottom line of the winery, not having to worry about the expense of grafting onto louse-resistant rootstock.

The majority of Chile’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blend wines originate from two regions – the Aconagua and the Valle Central. These two areas are broken down further into individual growing regions/valleys - the Aconagua Valley and the Casablanca Valley within Aconagua, and the Maipo, Rapel, Curico, and Maule Valleys within the Valle Central.

The majority of the Cabernet in the Aconagua region is from the Aconagua valley itself, as the Casablanca Valley is one of the coolest viticultural regions in Chile and is more suited to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The viticultural areas of the Aconagua focus on the ancient river bed deposits, where alluvial soils composed of everything from large gravel and boulders down to fine silts and clays were deposited by the slowing of the rivers.

The Valle Central contains some of the most recognizable wine regions in Chile, perhaps due to the proximity of the area to the city of Santiago, Chile’s capital. The Maipo and Rapel Valleys contain most of the regions Cabernet, with over 80% percent of the vineyard plantings in the Maipo devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon. As noted earlier, the area receives very little rainfall on an annual basis, due in part to the rain shadow effect of the Andes and Coastal Ranges. These mountain ranges also serve to trap warm air in the valleys. At night, cool air comes into the area from the Andes and dramatically reduces the temperature, allowing the grapes to fully ripen during the day while maintaining high levels of acidity. The soils here range from a mixture of loam, limestone, and sand to tuffeau, a marine sedimentary stone similar to that found in France’s Loire Valley

In Chile, the quality of the wines was historically limited by the excessively high yields that were de rigueur. The vineyard owners would also irrigate by flooding the vineyards, allowing some water to infiltrate the soils and then draining off the rest through canals and ditches cut through the vineyards, which also led to higher yields as well as diluted flavors. Additionally, Chilean wines were traditionally aged in beechwood barrels, which gave the wines a “unique” taste.

The influx of foreign investment and the advent of travelling consultants, from the ubiquitous Michel Rolland, to Paul Hobbs, the late Robert Mondavi, and Chateaux owners from Bordeaux, had a marked effect on recent improvements in the quality of Chilean Cabernets.

Not only was there the influx of money and knowledge, but many internationally-known wineries and winemakers established a presence in Chile. Robert Mondavi established a collaboration with Vina Errazuriz to produce Sena, Chateau Lafite Rothschild created the Los Vascos project, and Chateau Mouton Rothschild collaborated with the Concha y Toro Winery to produce Almaviva, to name but a few. The consultants encouraged limiting yields, switching to drip irrigation, and aging in French or American oak barrels. The consultants also brought new technology, and encouraged the development of a more international style of winemaking. Chilean winemakers have developed a distinct style for their Cabernet Sauvignon, producing an easy drinking wine with soft tannins and flavors of mint, black currant, olives, and smoky oak.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Zealand - Not Just for Sauvignon Blanc Anymore

While the South Island of New Zealand has garnered all of the attention for many years with the Sauvignon Blancs from the Marlborough region and, more recently, the Pinot Noirs from Central Otago, more and more we are seeing quality Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Francs, and Bordeaux blends coming from the North Island, particularly from Hawkes Bay on east side of the island (southwest of the town of Napier) and from the Waiheke Island area outside of Auckland.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc arrived “down under” through Australia with James Busby in 1832, and originated from cuttings and rootstock collected in France and Spain. Given the maritime climate in most of New Zealand, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to take on a lot of the flavor characteristics (floral, spice, herbal notes) typically associated with Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Franc was not widely planted until the 1990s, with only about 210 hectares (525 acres) planted as of 2006, compared to close to 1,700 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. These are both relatively small plantings, when compared to the 42,000± acres planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest (with recorded plantings in the Taradale and Meanee areas dating to 1851), and second largest (after Marlborough) wine producing region. Almost three-quarters of the Cabernet Sauvignon in New Zealand is planted in this region. The region is marked by two inland mountain ranges formed from a compressed sand referred to a greywacke rock. Through centuries of weathering and climatic forces, the rock was broken down and transported down the mountain slopes by one of the five rivers that flow east through the area to form alluvial deposits at the base of the slopes and in areas where the water slowed, similar to patterns seen in the Napa Valley. Soil types in the vineyards can range from coarse gravel (Gimblett’s gravel) to combinations of sand, silt, and clay. Another component in the soils is volcanic ash and loess (a mixture of fine particulates bound together by calcium carbonate).

Much of the plantings in the Hawke’s Bay region are focused around the alluvial fans left by the Ngaruroro River. The rivers were means of early transportation and settlements and towns formed along the rivers. The early vineyards were planted in iron-rich, gravelly soils and along rock terraces deposited by the moving waters as the river changed its course over several thousand years. The presence of the gravel and rock in the vineyards is one of the keys to the ripening of Hawke’s Bay Cabernet, in that the rock collects energy in the form of heat from the sun, and gradually releases the heat at night, modulating the often drastic variations in temperature. The gravel also encourages rapid infiltration and drainage of water through the soil, forcing the vines to send roots deep in search of moisture.

Although plantings date back to the 1890’s, recent plantings have focused on hillsides and terraced vineyard plantings on Te Mata Peak, at Bay View, and at Maraekakaho. These vineyards take advantage of favorable sun exposures and the ability to shed cool night air, and have become a popular location for Bordeaux grape varietal plantings.

Hawkes Bay producers of note include Craggy Range, Mills Reef, Te Mata Estate, Sacred Hill, Mission Estate, and Babich.

Waiheke Island

Situated in the Hauraki Gulf to the east of Auckland, Waiheke Island is sheltered from the prevailing colder/wetter west and southwest winds, making it both drier and warmer than the rest of the Auckland area. Until the early 1980s, Waiheke had been known more for its hippies and marijuana production than anything else. Some of the first vineyard plantings occurred in 1978 at what is now Goldwater Estate.

Being located in Hauraki Gulf, the breezes off the water act to keep the vineyards cooled in the heat of the summer, and tend to moderate the temperatures at night. The overall effect is that the island has average temperatures comparable to much warmer growing areas without any of the extremes, and these favorable conditions extend well into March and April (the southern hemisphere’s autumn). These extended conditions allow the wineries to allow the grapes more hang time, encouraging both physiologic and phenolic ripeness (getting both the right sugar content while also developing all of the desired flavor components).

Notable producers on Waiheke Island include Stonyridge Estate, Te Motu, Kennedy Point Vineyard, and the aforementioned Goldwater Estate.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

#Cabernet Day -- Cabernet Sauvignon Review

"If Chardonnay is the vanilla of the commercial wine world, then Cabernet Sauvignon is its chocolate." So said Steven Kolpan in a June 18 (2010) Salon article and, with these words, he re-affirmed the primacy of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world of red wines.  Invariably described as the king of red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon has achieved prominence in many of the great wine regions around the world.  In our run up to #Cabernet Day, this site will publish posts on some of the lesser-known regions producing quality product from the relevant varietals and their blends.  We begin with a brief review of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.

Research from Professor Carole Meredith of UC Davis has revealed that Cabernet Sauvignon is the result of a crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc around 600 years ago.  The result of that crossing was the dark-skinned, small-berry grapes that we know today.  The first probable historical mention of Cabernet Sauvignon was an 18th-century reference to the Mouton estate replacing its white grape vines with a red grape vine called Vidure.  The varietal is still referred to by that name in certain parts of France.  Other known names are Petit Cabernet, Petit Vidure, Uva Francese, Bouchet, Bouche, Petit Bouche, and Sauvignon Rouge.

Cabernet Sauvignon has branched out from its roots in Bordeaux to become one of the most widely planted red grapes on the planet.  The iconic representations of Cabernet Sauvignon are the wines of Napa Valley and the Medoc but the grapes are currently grown in places as disparate as Chile, Australia, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand, Spain, and Bulgaria, among others.

Cabernet Sauvignon will flourish in a variety of soil types and climatic conditions but will exhibit vegetal characteristics if the correct level of ripeness is not attained.   Classic examples of how soil and climatic conditions can affect Cabernet Sauvignon wines are shown by its results in Bordeaux and Napa.  The soils in the Medoc are thin and gravelly and climatic conditions vary from year to year.  In these conditions, the grape has not, historically, attained optimum maturity, resulting in thin, highly tannic wines which require blending and long aging to produce the maturity and complexity expected in great wines (It is thought that global warming will result in increased ripeness of Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon grapes as we move forward in the future.).  Napa's valley-floor vineyards, on the other hand, along with warmer, more even temperatures, have yielded less acidic, more mature fruit which do not require blending in order to show its best results.  The primary blending grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon are Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc which both serve to fill in the mid-palate and provide a more rounded finish.

The Cabernet Sauvignon grape contains a high amount of tannins and pigments in the skins and pips which, in turn, have a comparatively high ratio vis a vis the flesh of the grape.  This structure allows the wine to extract higher levels of color and flavor from the skins the longer the contact, but also results in extraction of higher concentrations of tannin.  This composition allows Cabernet Sauvignon wines to age gracefully over long periods of time as the tannins soften and the complexity and harmony of the elements increase.  Cabernet Sauvignon has an affinity for oak and acquires some of the wood tannins and flavors when aged in new oak.

Depending on where it is grown in the world, the type of oak in which it is aged, and the age of the wine being tasted, Cabernet Sauvignon can exhibit a number of aromas and flavors to include blueberries, blackcurrants, cherry, asparagus, eucalyptus, mint, cassis, cedar, cigarbox, tobacco, vanilla, coconut, plum, chocolate, violet, lead pencil , tar, leather, and mineral.  Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with red meats, lamb, hearty pastas, strong cheeses and dark chocolate.

Monday, August 23, 2010

#Cabernet Day -- The View from Orlando

#Cabernet Day is 10 days away and closing fast.  Wine -- The View from Orlando plans to keep #Cabernet Day positioned squarely in the headlights of its readers through a series of relevant posts in the days leading up to the event, coverage of Orlando-area #Cabernet Day activities on September 2nd, and post-#Cabernet-Day interviews with owners of engaged wine stores/bars.

Between now and #Cabernet Day, we will develop and post reviews of the varietals and blends covered by #Cabernet Day and some of the non-Napa, non-Bordeaux regions producing stellar products with these varietals. The intent is to highlight the factors that contribute to making these regions quality #Cabernet producers.

On #Cabernet Day, we will visit all of the participating establishments in the area and tweet from those sites.  In the evening I will attend and cover the @wineontheway, 12-vintage, Shafer Hillside Select vertical tasting while my colleague HlyTerroir will attend and cover the events at the @thewinebarn Insignia and Backus vertical tastings.  After these large events I will continue to make the rounds of other participating establishments, tasting and tweeting as I go (I will have a designated driver.).

Post September 2nd, we will publish posts detailing our experiences on that day.  Further, I will interview establishment owners to gain their perspectives on the day and will develop blog posts centered on those interviews.


Friday, August 20, 2010

New Orlando Specialty Wine Retail Venture

Just a little more than a month after announcing the closure of Park Avenue Wines, Tom Pence, the former owner, has re-emerged on the Orlando Specialty Wine Market scene in an Imperial Wine Bar venture.  According to Tom, he has a 1500-member mailing list, as does John Washburn, the owner of Imperial wines, and by merging those two lists, they attained a critical mass of potential customers which allowed them to pursue an email-wine-offer business.  In this model, Tom would seek out great wine deals which would then be offered to customers on the mailing list.  If a customer wants to make a purchase he/she can either respond to the email or call a telephone number included in the email.  Sales are by credit card only and purchased wines will either be delivered (for case orders only) or can be picked up at the Imperial Wine Bar on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. The venture launched with a 2009 Amestoi Txakoli mailing on August 19th.

The business model of the venture is unique in that while it is a part of the revenue stream of every provider in town, in this case it is the core element of the company's business.  I had two conversations about this venture with Tom yesterday, one on the telephone and the other in-person at the Imperial.  He was very positive about the potential of the venture.  In our initial conversation Tom indicated that this was really an Imperial venture and that he was only a consultant.  His level of involvement suggests a very activist consultancy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Going High-Tech to Produce Better Wines

We have all heard of the use of technology to fine-tune, tweak, or outright modify a wine through the use of reverse osmosis, spin cone columns, and the like to reduce the alcohol level in a finished wine, but that high tech approach is now being used in the vineyard and during the “crush” portion of the winemaking process, hopefully to reduce the need to finagle with the finished wine.

Many wineries currently employ a sorting line, where leaves, loose stems, and miscellaneous debris are removed from the picked grapes before the grapes enter the crusher, either on an actual table or on a conveyor system that carries the clusters from the bins to the crusher.

Beginning with the 2007 vintage, Dominus Winery in the Napa Valley has been using an “air knife” device called Mistral, which acts to create a sharp breeze across the sorting line to separate any dried berries or plant material from the clusters after they have passed through the de-stemmer.

Going even further, and emphasizing Dominus’ “hands-off” approach once the grapes arrive at the winery, they began utilizing an optical sorting system in 2009. The device is a camera-based, high-speed optical sorter that analyzes individual grapes by size, shape, surface texture (smooth versus raisined), and color. This system, in theory, allows the winery to cull any and all berries or foreign material that would not be considered perfect for making wine to Dominus’ high standards. The system, made by the Swiss Corporation Bucher Vaslin Industries, allows the winery to define the parameters of what the system will accept in terms of whole berries versus crushed berries, acceptable color range, and any stems, leaves or debris that may have made it through the de-stemming process.

Electronic noses (or eNoses) are being used to assess grape maturity based on the volatile aromas (and their precursor compounds) given off by the berries. Researchers at Virginia Tech and elsewhere have found that the eNose evaluation of these volatile compounds provided more distinct and accurate predictive data than the typical physical/chemical parameters that are evaluated on the lab bench. Add to that the fact that the eNoses are extremely sensitive, being able to detect chemical scents occurring in concentrations as low as 10 to 6000 nanograms / kilogram of fruit. That is the equivalent of sensing 8 berries in a million tons of fruit.

Finally, sensors created by the Precision Viticulture International LLC (Viticision) are providing vineyard managers and winemakers with un-precedented access to data collected in the vineyard. These sensors, which are slightly smaller than a dime, can collect data on soil temperature, sun exposure, and ripening within individual clusters in the vineyard. The sensors have been in use at Opus One for the past two vintages.

The data collected are used to decide which rows to harvest first, and which need to ripen further. The data are also used to map the trajectory of the sun over the rows in the vineyard, providing data for canopy management and thereby optimizing color and flavor development while preventing sunburn. The data may also be used to modify trellis design to improve the overall quality of the fruit produced in the vineyard.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Potential impact of Starbucks entry into the wine market

Starbucks has entered the wine market.  Its first steps have been small, and calculated, but they have landed with resounding force in the wine-purveyor arena.  Some see Starbucks entry into the wine market at this time as a way to bolster slowing domestic growth while others see it as a shrewd, opportunistic move in a market with conditions similar to those of the pre-Starbucks coffee market.  Regardles of the reason, this formidable market-creator is now in the wine business and has to be accounted for.  In this post we will examine Starbucks capabilities and the potential impact of its entry on Orlando-area wine purveyors.

The elements that render Starbucks a feared competitor in the current fragmented wine marketplace are as follows?
  • Its demonstrated brand-building capabilities
  • Its market-moving potential, given its size and buying power
  • Its in-place infrastructure, to include: prominently located stores; name recognition; centralized ordering; centralized information systems; common policies and procedures; and institutionalized training regime.
  • The ability to cut across market segments; on-premises, retail
  • Its potential to establish a "wine lingo" of its own that will have current players on the outside looking in
  • Its potential to capture/create wine newbies.
I attempted to guage the impact of a Starbucks entry into the Orlando wine market by interviewing selected market players on the topic.  The most striking aspect of the conversation was that none of the individuals that I spoke to was aware, prior to my introducing the topic, that Starbucks was preparing to compromise their viability.  After Adam's-apple-bobbing pauses, they then launched into their feelings on the topic.  Only one of the interviewees was entirely enthusiastic about the potential entry of Starbucks into the market (and I still can't understand why).  The overwhelming sense among the others was of uncertainty.  The general consensus was that it was a good move for Starbucks but would not be helpful for independent wine stores.  The feeling was that Starbucks would be able to lock up the product stream of some boutique wineries and marry the buying power of a Total Wine with the demographic, name recognition, distribution chain, and foothold of a Starbucks to the detriment of the independent wine store.

Did consumers benefit when coffee went from 75 cents at the gas station to $5 at a Starbucks.  Consumers seemed to think so, because they kept the cash registers ringing at neighborhood stores.  Will we see this same type of cost-benefit tradeoff in Starbucks' wine marketing as we move forward?  Most likely not because the floor for a glass of wine begins at the ceiling for a cup of Starbucks coffee.  It is quite likely that Starbucks will be successful in this venture, however, because of the strengths that it can/will bring to bear on this problem.  Independent wine retailers will have to study this problem carefully in order to develop relevant survival/"thrival" strategies.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review: Romancing the Vine -- Life, Love, and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo

Allan Tardi's Romancing the Vine: Life, Love, and Transformation in the Vineyards of Barolo (New York, St. Martin's Press) is a working man's version of Edward Steinberg's The Making of a Great Wine: Gaja and Sori San Lorenzo (Hopewell, NJ, Eco Press) with a number of contrasting wrinkles which serve to blur the similarities.  Both books follow the Nebbiola grape through the viticultural and vinicultural procesess of a single year -- 1989 for Steinberg, 2002 for Tardi -- with Steinberg focusing on a single vineyard (Sori San Lorenzo) in the Barbaresco DOCG and the powerful owner of that vineyard, Angelo Gaja.  Tardi's tale is cast, contrastingly, in Castiglione Falleto, a little village in the Barolo region -- about 10 miles from Barbaresco -- and covers the author's experiences with a small vineyard (Le Munie), a small winery (Parusso), and the inhabitants of the village.

Tardi may have tried to do too much in the 316 pages of this book.  It is foremost a book about journeys:  the journey of the grape from vine to wine, and then on to grappa and vineyard fertilizer; his journey from American citizen to dual American-Italian citizensship; his journey from acclaimed New York City Chef to Barolo cellar rat; his journey into the heart, and bed, of Ivana, his self-described polar opposite; and, finally, a journey into the heart of a small Piemontese village and discovery of its inhabitants and their rituals.

The wine story in the book is tame and unscintillating and suffers from Tardi's diversions into the other journeys previously described.  For example, at the conclusion of the chapter on Harvest, he launches into a discourse on terroir and tasting terroir before going on to the activities in the winery.  It seemed misplaced.  Where Tardi excels is in his description of the local haunts and characters and the festivals that are so much a part of the Piemontese summer.  His descriptions of the Festa della Bussia -- a 5-day food, music and wine festival -- and Fair of the Fat Bull, give us a Langhe-eye view of life in this region. 

The author has a disconcerting habit of placing recipes at the end of a chapter closest to where he himself experienced that food item initially.  This is almost nuisance-like in that recipe-reading entails a different mindset than the pleasure-type reading that one applies to a book of this type.  Reading  a recipe is work.  I think that readers would have been better served if the recipes had been collected into an appendix at the end of the book.

The book ends rather abruptly.  Prior to the end, the author had been engaged in deep thought about his working future as well as the future of the relationship with Ivana.  To the extent that those thoughts were explored, I felt that they would be resolved in some fashion prior to the close of the story.  They were not.  The journey is incomplete, both for the reader as well as the author.  While Steinberg's tale has clarity and depth -- diamond-like -- this book has unresolved issues.

The Wine Barn Ups #Cabernet Day Ante

The Wine Barn had previously announced Insignia and Backus vertical tastings and a #Cabernet Day Throwdown as its set of #Cabernet Day activities.  The company has now extended the intensity and excitement of its tastings by adding the 1981 and 1985 vintages of Insignia to the already announced lineup of 2000-2002 and 2004-2006.

Orlando is looking like a great place to be on September 2nd, #Cabernet Day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Larry Stone Leaves Rubicon for Evening Land

Larry Stone, Master Sommelier and, up until recently, the managing director of Rubicon Estate (nee Niebaum Coppola) in the Napa Valley, will be starting a new job soon as general manager at Evening Land in Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Mr. Stone, who for years was the sommelier at the Rubicon restaurant in San Francisco before leaving to work for Francis Ford Coppola in 2006, starts his new job next week. He is to be the general manager of Evening Land, which makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Seven Springs Vineyard in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and from the Occidental, Carl Myers and Two Daughters Vineyards in California’s Sonoma Coast AVA and the Siren’s Call, One Tree Hill, Bloomsfield and Memorious Vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills.

He will oversee day-to-day operations at Evening Land and will work with winemaker Dominique Lafon (of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy) who serves as a consultant on the Willamette Valley wines and who will soon be producing Evening Land wines in Burgundy. Mr. Stone will also continue his ventures producing his own label, Sirita.

Evening Land is the brainchild of Mark Tarlov, a creative businessman from outside the wine industry who has been coming up with some new paradigms when it comes to developing his wine business. A movie producer, director, and film contract negotiator who once wrote speeches for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Berger, Mr. Tarlov is also a lifelong fan of Burgundy and Pinot Noir.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Andrew McNamara to Lead Wineontheway.com #Cabernet Day Shafer Hillside Tasting

Wineontheway.com (@wineontheway) had previously announced a vertical tasting of Shafer Hillside Select, covering the years 1994 - 2005, as its contrib ution to the worldwide social network event celebrating #Cabernet Day.  Today @wineontheway announced that the tasting will be led by the noted Master Sommelier Andrew McNamara.  This is a significant development and an added treat for event attendees.  Not only will they be tasting these great wines and be able to share their experiences in real-time with others around the world over relevant social networks, but they will be guided through this tasting experience by a noted expert (see Andrew's bio here) who has ranked two of the vintages that will be tasted among his list of wines of the decade.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Orlando's Long-Term Specialty Wine Retail Survivors? Contrasts in Styles

According to a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, area residents have shifted their buying preferences to lower-priced wines and are increasingly purchasing these wines at supermarkets and warehouse stores.  The problem for wine stores and wineries alike, as pointed out in a Medill Reports article, is that the market for wines priced between $30 and $100 is in a depression.  While the Sentinel article focused on the impact of these trends on large beverage retailers, such as ABC Fine Wine and Spirits and  Total Wine and More, the specialty wine segment of the market has not escaped unscathed.  The recent demise of Park Avenue Wines and Pierre's (prior to its subdued eastern re-incarnation), the "temporary" closure of The Wine Warehouse, and the consolidating activities of Put a Cork in It, all testify to the pressure being applied to the specialty wine retail segment in the Greater Orlando area.  It is my contention that these pressures will not abate any time soon and that less-well-positioned market participants will continue to fall leaving three or four survivors providing specialty wine services in the core Orlando area.  In this post I will identify the most likely survivors and compare and contrast the styles that have made them successful and that will ensure their continued relevance over the long haul.  Before we continue, however, some definitions are in order.

In the foregoing paragraph, and throughout this post, I use the term specialty wine retailer to identify an entity whose main business is the sale of wine for off-premises consumption and with no restriction as to the location of the purchaser.  This definition thus excludes affiliated wine stores (such as The Vineyard Wine Company and Vines, which both have substantial restaurant-associated businesses) and wine bars (such as Sanford Wine Company) which have retail components but which have substantial on-site consumption through the bar side of the business.

Three of the prime candidates for survival are Wineontheway.com (WOTW), The Wine Barn (TWB), and Tim's Wine Market (TWM), three entities with significant differences in their business models.  WOTW sells wines rated 90+ via a commerce-enabled web site and special-offer emails to customers on its mailing list.  The company does not have a brick-and-mortar facility.  In addition to the aforementioned revenue generation activities, the company holds two to four large tasting events per year and customer orders emanating from these events contribute handily to the company's revenue stream. There is limited direct marketing beyond emails, promotional hardware, and the advertising value of a logo-emblazoned Smart car.

TWB has a warehouse-style retail outlet just south of downtown Orlando but also has a commerce-enabled website.  The company offers customers products at the "lowest price in the nation" and repeats these offers vociferously and repeatedly via email blasts.  The company provides tasting events of varying sizes to customers at varying times during the course of the year.  The company has extended beyond wines and wine accessories to offering hams and cheeses and has an on-site chef available to help customers with these purchases during the course of the day as well as to prepare food accompaniments for in-store tastings.  TWB deploys a very knowledgeable team to assist customers and has demonstrated expertise in Spanish, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and domestic Cabs and Pinot Noirs.

TWM is one of the oldest -- if not the oldest -- "just wines ma'am" establishments in the Orlando area.  TWM offers its customers artisanal wines from around the world at price points that resonate with today's wine market realities.  Tim Veran, the owner, communicates with his customers in a professorial fashion through information-rich offering emails, a monthly newsletter, and a blog.  As does TWB, TWM offers beginning wine classes to its customers.  TWM eschews events of the type favored by WOTW and TWB and also lacks a commerce-enabled website.  The company closes that revenue gap, extends its brand, and increases its buying power through franchising its name, expertise, and processes to willing wine entrepreneurs.

These three different business models have allowed these three entities to capture customers with aligned needs.  So, for example, if you go to in-store tastings at TWM and TWB, you will encounter a different customer demographic, customer wine expertise, and drinking preference.  For those customers to whom an in-store experience is not critical, but to whom the opinion of prominent experts matter, the WOTW business model is "right up their alley."

The application of these models to the market has resulted in loyal customers who have continued to spend with these companies all through the throes of the recent (and coming?) recession.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wine Barn Steps Up for #Cabernet Day

The Wine Barn, an Orlando-based wine retailer, will be hosting a vertical tasting of six (6) vintages of Joseph Phelps Winery’s flagship - Insignia -- as well as two vintages of Phelps’ Backus Cabernet Sauvignon for #Cabernet Day – Thursday, September 2, 2010, 6:00pm until….

Wine Barn will be opening the 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006 vintages of Insignia and the 2004 and 2005 Backus Cabernets.

Wine Barn’s own Chef Ian Russell will be plating up plenty of Jamon, cheeses, and charcuterie.

This tasting will be limited to 18 participants (first come, first served), with a tariff of $45.00/person.


The Wine Barn is encouraging the lucky participants to also bring a GREAT bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from their home cellar to enter into a #CABERNET DAY THROWDOWN. The wines will be tasted blind and then the tasters will rank their top three (3) wines. The participant who brings the top-ranked wine will be awarded a bottle of the 2005 Joseph Phelps Insignia.

With Wineontheway.com hosting a Shafer Hillside Select vertical and now with the Wine Barn stepping up to the plate with the Insignia/Backus tasting, what other events may we expect from other local establishments and retailers? Come on Orlando!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wine Tourism: O Chateau Wine Tasting

In what they term the Tour de France of Wine, O Chateau takes students through a two-hour, sommelier-led tasting tour of various French wine regions.  It was a fun and interesting diversion from the battering that my wallet was experiencing on Rue du Faubourg St Honoré

The wine tasting venue is located at the O Chateau headquarters at 52 Rue de l'Arbre Sec, approximately 2 minutes away from the Louvre.  According to the selling brochure, the tasting room had been the cellar of Louis XVs sommelier and that, in and of itself, lent some curiousity value to the tasting.  When I arrived at the location, I stepped down into an igloo-shaped concrete structure with seating against the walls in a long, u-shaped orientation and with a map of the French wine regions on an easel at the open end of the U.

It was awesome.  They were still clearing up from an earlier class but asked me to pay and then return 10 minutes before the stated start time (Reservations are required.  The fee is 50 Euros with a 10% reduction if the brochure is presented at the time of payment.).

When I came back, I noted that individual chairs were set behind rectangular tables and, on each table there were settings for two consisting of one champagne flute, one red wine glass, one white wine glass, one bottle of wine, and a spittoon.  A basket of sliced French bread was resident on each table.

On the day that I attended, the class had 23 students, all couples with the exception of moi.  The attendees were all American, with the exception of one couple, and were mostly from either California or Florida.  By some weird coincidence, the Californians and Floridians ended up seated on opposite sides of the room.

The class was called to order by our sommelier-teacher -- his name was Lionel and he was an oenologist in Bordeaux and Burgundy -- who handed out a listing of the wines that we would be tasting that day.  The list, reproduced below, is not of the highest quality but is broadly representative of the major French wine regions.  Lionel apologized for having to substitute for the champagne on the card and then proceeded to walk us through the wines on the card in the order listed.  He began by introducing us to the region and its characteristics and then led us in a tasting of that region's representative wine.

Lionel had spent some time in the US and his English was excellent.  He was extremely knowledgeable about the regions and the wines and did an excellent job of explaining to the students what the wines were saying to him; all the while throwing in interesting tidbits on wine, wine tasting, wine making, and anything else that he felt was necessary to keep the students engaged.  He was witty and funny and responded to questions clearly and directly, regardless of how daft the question was.

At the end of the lecture Lionel gave us a cheat sheet which covered wine tasting techniques, French wine regions (with map), reading a French wine label, likely location of varietals in France, and such like.  All-in-all it was a fun afternoon.  You will not leave the tasting a French wine expert but you will have had fun, learned something, and met new people with similar interests.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Davy Jones ‘Wine’ Locker

Well, just in case you can’t afford a new Eurocave wine refrigerator, there just may be another alternative for you.

How about just dropping your wine into the ocean? How does around 180 feet sound? Why would I say this? Well, if you have not heard, a treasure trove of champagne from the late 1700’s was recently discovered … get this … by a diver. Quite a find considering the water clarity was poor at best.
A Swedish diving team was out exploring an old shipwreck on the Baltic seafloor and discovered about 30 bottles of champagne believed to have been produced by the famed estate Clicquot. A stamp of an anchor on the cork points to Clicquot as the source of the champagne. The wines appeared in fine condition and have been taken to a French lab for authentication.

Discovering the bottles was just not enough for diver Christian Elkstron.
A man after my own heart (from a wine perspective of course), he decided to take a bottle to the surface, pop one, and share it with an associate. According to the diver, “it was fantasic.” The wine still possessed carbonation, sweetness, with oak and tobacco notes. Hiliarious! This guy had the presence of mind to take tasting notes!!

Experts state that each bottle could command up to $69,000. The question is, who owns the rights to this shipwreck and, more importantly, the world's oldest champagne. The current title of the world's oldest champagne is held by Perrier-Jouet, which has two bottles that date to 1825.

A great find.  Now if you will please excuse me, I’m late to scuba lessons. Until next wine…

Wineontheway.com rocks #Cabernet Day

Wineontheway.com, an online retailer operating in the Orlando market, signaled its intention to play, and play hard, in the upcoming #Cabernet Day proceedings by announcing a 12-year vertical tasting of Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon to be held at Luma on Park from 6:00 - 7:30 pm on Thursday, September 2nd.  The vertical will run from 1994 - 2005, all years inclusive, and the proceedings will be led by a qualified sommelier.

Participation in the event will be limited to 25 people each of whom will be charged $150 to attend.  In addition to the onsite tasting, participants will be interacting with social networks to share with other #Cabernet Day participants.

A solid launching pad for Orlando #Cabernet Day activities.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wine Bar/Retailer Maximization of #Cabernet Day

In a recent open letter to Orlando-area wine purveyors, I exhorted them to participate in the upcoming worldwide virtual Cabernet Sauvignon tasting and, in so doing, provide their customers with a novel and scintillating experience and themselves with increased business and a customer-tying event.  On #Cabernet Day, that varietal is being exalted above all others and wine purveyors should, by their actions, promote this cause.  Consumers should be given every opportunity to participate in this event and purveyors could help with price relief and/or provision of the wherewithal to participate.

Purveyors should by this time have a pretty good idea of what they are going to be doing for that day and when and where such action is going to occur.  Program pieces should be falling into place at this time.  Beyond the details of the event, the purveyor should be taking steps to promote the varietal.  Retailers should be considering things such as price breaks for Cabernet bought on that day or one free bottle (same or different label) after the purchase of a case.  A purveyor may want to try featuring a Cabernet from a different region each hour and have samples of that Cab available for tasting in that hour.  Price breaks may apply to the region that is being featured in that hour.

Wine bars may want to have special pricing on Cabs during the course of the day and then transition into their specific, Cab-focused activities during the evening hours.  Many neighborhood wine bars have trivia nights; maybe the trivia that evening could focus around the Cabernet grape.

In any case, have social-network-access tools available and be sure that you know how to use it (in case you are confronted with questions).  Keep one eye on the network traffic to see what is happening and whether there are any successful initiatives that you can easily adopt.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dinner in Paris: Fogón

In his book Liquid Memory: Why Wine Matters (see review here), Jonathon Nossiter states "For me, one of the most joyous eating experiences to be found in Paris today is at a Spanish restaurant, El Fogón on the quai.  The cuisine of the forty-year-old Galician Alberto Herraiz is a wholly authentic expression of terroir -- and yet there is no more radical and innovative food to be found in Paris ..."  Wanting to be on the receiving end of this "joyous eating experience," I presented myself at the door of Fogón on my most-recent visit to Paris.

Given my predilection for spending my vacation at ruins and museums, I was warned by my travelling companions (my wife Parlo and Lauren, daughter of our good friends) that this trip was going to be short on culture and long on shopping and eating.  That turned out to be the case on our first full day in Paris -- a Sunday -- as we had a late brunch and then began cruising the stores in the vicinity of Rue Rivoli between Boulevard de Sebastopol and Rue de Pont Neuf.  As my feet began to tire under the strain, I began to harbor thoughts of this being the day for Fogón.  I communicated that plan to my team and we headed off in the direction of the restaurant; as indicated by my trusty iPad.  After a fairly lengthy walk, we got to the restaurant at about 6:00 pm ... they were not yet open ... and it was beginning to rain.  The restaurant did not open until 7:00 and the natives were becoming restless.  My travelling companions were not as invested in Fogón as I was and wanted to go elsewhere rather than wait.  As we discussed the options, we ducked into a French "sports bar" where I ordered a glass of cruddy red wine and sulked.

After we had sat around for awhile waiting for the rain to abate, me staring sulkily at the multiple television screens transmitting sports programming as varied as Australian Rules Football and the British Open, and my companions uncomfortably staring at the food menu, Parlo asked to be excused and rolled out of there with Lauren trailing behind her.  When they came back about 10 minutes later, they said that we had a 7:00 pm dinner reservation at Fogón.  I had won.  They could not deal with my surliness and had buckled.  I was ecstatic (not about winning, but about the upcoming meal). It was pretty close to 7:00 so I paid the bill hurriedly, all the while thanking Parlo and Lauren for doing the "right thing", and promising to pay penance the following day on Rue de Faubourg St Honoré (and pay I did the following day).

The restaurant is located at 45 Quai des Grands Augustins, only a block away from the sports bar.  As we approached, we saw potential patrons huddled around a copy of the menu which was emplaced in a glass-enclosed case on the outside wall of the building.  We pulled on the brass door handle, opened the door and

stepped into a narrow dining room with circular tables just inside the doorway and then tablecloth-covered, rectangular tables against both walls and separated by a long, narrow walkway which led to a slightly raised platform at the back of the room with tables for additional customer seating.  The kitchen was located just beyond this platform sitting area.
We were the first customers in the establishment and were ushered to seats at the center of the room on the left side of the passageway.  We took our seats and noted that tabletops were bare save for the coverings and glass candle-holders; no napkins, no silverware, etc.  We twiddled our thumbs and looked around nonchalantly, waiting for something for something to happen when, Voila!  Lauren had pulled on what appeared to be a drawer handle and, lo and behold, it was a drawer; and in it were napkins and cutlery.  And we each had our own drawer.  We were like little kids with this novelty.

A waiter came over and offered us menus.  I ordered a bottle of Duval Leroy Champagne to support us during our review of the food choices.  In our discussions with the waiter, he enthusiastically recommended the paella.  Nossiter was not a big fan of the paella and, instead, had waxed poetic about the tapas offerings.  We wanted to explore a representative slice of the restaurants specilaities and so opted for a mix of tapas dishes and a paella.

The first food item deliverd to us was an off-white Gazpacho in a glass.  The taste and texture was a complex mix of tangy and creamy and it was phenomenal, especially when paired with the Duval Leroy.  While we were emerging from states of stunned reverence induced by the Gazpacho, the waiter brought us a platter of cured ham (Nossiter described this ham lovingly as "... vintage Belota Pata Negra ham, aged in the restaurant for several years ..."), French white bread enclosed in individual brown cloth pillow cases, and a serving of Rolled Beef Brisket.

The first course was scheduled to be a fish tapas so I ordered a bottle of 2009 El Perro Verde Verdejo as an accompaniment.  This wine was light and aromatic with hints of tomato and anise.  The fish tapas, when it arrived, included Mackerel, Dorad, and Calamari portions.  The Calamari, nestling in a water-glass-shaped container, was light and airy, slightly salty, and was co-resident with shaved, light-green-colored

Plantain chips, all on a bed of salad.  When this concoction was stirred in the glass, it became lemon-infused.  There was a crunchiness in the mouth resulting from concealed nuts as well as the Plantain shavings.  To die for.  The Dorad rested on a bed of pureed tomatoes, green onions, squash, strawberries, and bok choy and was fried to a slight crispiness.  This was another mouth-watering invention.  The Verdejo was more than hanging in there.  The dish was decorated with dried black olives that struck a discordant note on the palate. The Mackerel was wrapped in legumes and surrounded by a Raspberry sauce and Squid Ink.  It had a slightly musty, tangy taste.  Overall, a big tip of a big hat to the tapas offerings.

At about this time we lifted our collective heads from our plates long enough to survey our surroundings.  The restaurant was now pretty crowded (it had seating for about 55 people) and many of the groupings seemed to be family gatherings.  There was a restrained familiarity in the interplay between the waiters and some of the groups which pointed to regularity of patronage.  But, back to the business at hand.

Our main course was a communal Paella which was brought to the table in the pan in which it was prepared.  The rice was intermixed with a heavy brown stew and, like soldiers in formation, a row of Langoustines

was arrayed across the pan on te surface of the rice.  The Langoustines melted in the mouth while the Paella exhibited a smokiness with citrus undertones.  The Paella was excellent but lost the sensory race to the tapas plates.  The Verdejo, which was good unaccompanied, rose to another level when asked to walk hand-in-hand with these culinary delights.

This restaurant is an excellent choice when you are in Paris.  The food is spectacular and the service exemplary (A shout out to Alexon, our gustatory guide on this journey.  Here he is below.).  Reservations are required.