Letter From Berlin

It is raining in Berlin. It was raining down south, in the wine country, too–a refreshing change after the muggy days of early September in New York. I am here partly on assignment, and partly for my own agenda. Essentially, I have two press trips sandwiching a little time on my own.


In the Rheingau and Rheinhessen, I had the privilege of traveling with Wines of Germany and meeting a really wide range of producers. If you know me, you know that I’m a little, um, picky about wine. Basically, the more biodynamic, the better. But I also really appreciated, on this trip, touring a veritable factory that produces 50 million bottles per year. It was really incredible to see the machinery, which was operated by very few people. The wines get filtered so much; by the end it is a mere shadow of its natural, healthy state. But Snobby Me needs to understand that this is the 3-buck-chuck (style of wine) that most people, around the world, are consuming. They don’t mind the taste (I did!).

IMG_4907But the real highlight of the trip was in meeting several producers, a few on the younger side and one more established estate, who are working with incredible commitments to producing wines of terroir with the least manipulation possible. And whoa, could we taste it. None of us spit out the wines at Dressigacker, Georg Brauer, or Peter Jacob Kuhn. I was particularly floored by this last producer, Peter Jakob Kuhn, made up of a couple that turned their estate biodynamic in the 90s.

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I’d like to write a more in-depth article about these three visits elsewhere, but for now I will say that, with regard to the Kuhn estate in particular, these were wines of true depth and harmony; you could tell that the grapes and soil were so healthy that they needed no manipulation in the cellar. And Angela Kuhn had no need to spew fancy stories about the estate’s aristocratic heritage, or give us a marketing spiel–the wines spoke for themselves. In the kitchen, she and her husband displayed bottles that had inspired them (often brought by the winemakers themselves): Elisabetta Foradoi, Joan Ramon Escoda, Radikon. On point.

The other main issue we learned about on this trip, which I hope to write about for my next Eater Drinks column, is how many German Riesling producers are changing their appellation system and bottle labeling to mimic the way they do it in Burgundy, where each vineyard has a status. But that’s too much for a blog post.

Now, I am in Berlin for a few days, and then I head to Piedmont for a few more producer visits before taking off for Sicily for an assignment.

I have some new work published in the last few days:

More soon… from Italy! Ciao for now.

IMG_4222I had an awesome time interviewing mixologist Kenta Goto and trying his drinks, for the lifestyle blog Kaufmann Mercantile. Get yourself to his cozy new spot on Eldridge street, soon! Here is the piece.

And I’m also debuting a column over on Eater Drinks, which will look at a different grape variety each month. For August, in keeping with the waning warm days of summer, we present Gamay, the sommelier’s “secret weapon” and a grape with a fascinating biography. Read here

IMG_4300One of my main goals as a writer is to help people enjoy wine more. And you can’t do that so easily if you’re thrown into a state of confusion by the massive wine list — wine book, even — at some of today’s restaurants. A lot of people are intimidated by enlisting the sommelier’s help, and they also feel fatigued at the thought of navigating a list. So, I wrote for Vine Pair about how to tackle any list, with or without a somm by your side, with some tips from experts around the country. Read here!



Last week, I wrote on Eater Drinks about the cocktail program at Betony, in NYC. It really goes above and beyond most restaurant bar programs, partly because general manager Eamon Rockey devotes so much time and energy to crafting each ingredient in every cocktail — but also because he personalizes every drink, to an incredible extent. There is so much emotion, whimsy, and storytelling in each cocktail at Betony — including the delicious non-alcoholic versions.

Betony is certainly taking the lead on this kind of approach to cocktails, but I am also seeing this personalized, hyper-artisanal style popping up at other restaurants, certainly at the fine dining establishment Restaurant Latour, in New Jersey, where I dined this weekend and met mixologist Stephen Thomas.

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Much like Eamon, Stephen makes cocktails out of his wild imagination, using hints of classic recipes but taking them in very contemporary directions. Stephen’s drinks program also features an incredible array of locally distilled spirits. Plus, he’s a talented sommelier, who poured for us many beautiful and unique wines from Restaurant Latour’s cellar — one of the country’s largest and most impressive collections. At dinner, we did not get to drink the Romanée-Conti, but we did have a 1947 Napa Valley wine and a 1914 Madeira.

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At lunch in the Tavern, the more casual restaurant at Crystal Springs, the resort where Restaurant Latour is located, I had a Riesling from Alba, a New Jersey winery — pas mal!

Freshly posted on Food Republic is my profile of butcher-baker-blogger-author Cara Nicoletti, who is a real inspiration for me both on the page, where she elegantly weaves between memoir, essay, and food writing, and in the kitchen, where her recipes challenge me to try new techniques.


I’ve been making Cara’s Breakfast Sausage since I received the advanced copy of the book, and honestly I don’t know why every single person out there does not make their own breakfast sausage from scratch because it is so easy and delicious. Get her book, Voracious — it comes out tomorrow and is a great read.

I understand, roughly, what you were going for. Let’s make fun of the rich, and their excesses, hahaha, by sending a writer who has a degree from a top university (specifically, Oxford) to dine at obscenely expensive restaurants and make fun of how ridiuclous they arefor a magazine read mostly by privileged people — because we (the intellectuals) aren’t that kind of privileged people. We’re the good kind of rich, you know, because we publish a thoughtful magazine.

In fact, let’s send this writer to restaurants that normal people, who work in the food industry and actually love food and appreciate how it can be elevated to an artform — an artform which, yes, at times is excessive and outlandish — save up for months to be able to eat at. Because it’s really not just rich people who want to eat at these places, Harper’s; they aren’t just for the 1 percent. And if you think that, then it’s a miracle that you can appreciate Picasso, or Richard Serra, or certainly Jeff Koons.

Sure, the world of food gets really weird, sometimes. It is totally understandable that any diner would be disappointed with these high-end meals on any given night, because they do aim more for bravado than simple, basic flavor. Hell, I’ll take pasta shells with homemade pesto any night of the week, but I still made sure to eat at wd~50 before it closed because I understand that food is an art form, and that top-performing chefs influence all of us and our daily diets. Remember that line in The Devil Wears Prada when the exec chews out her naive new employee, who thinks fashion doesn’t matter — by explaining that the color of her crappy sweater would not exist, were it not for high fashion? Continue Reading »

I reported on an informal coalition of wine (and spirits) industry pros, mostly based in Philly, who are giving the State Legislature a piece of their minds about Pennsylvania’s archaic liquor codes. Read the story on Eater Drinks. Anything like this going on in other states across the country? Other unique cross-sections of politics and drinking culture that you want to scoop me on? I’d love to hear it!

This New Yorker piece by the writer Bianca Bosker raises some interesting and important questions about how wine tasting notes are written, and the general vocabulary used to discuss wine. Bosker’s research shows that it’s basically impossible to objectively describe a wine’s taste, because words like “minerality” are debatable in a scientific sense (although I personally find it very useful, and I can tell you with one sip whether a wine shows minerality), and because descriptors, like all linguistic artifacts, are culturally-shaped and can change over time (as is the case with wine, of course). Continue Reading »


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