A great source of pride for me is that I am one-quarter Italian (the rest vaguely “Transylvanian”), and at least part of my Italian heritage is from Sicily. That said, even without my personal bias, I could not give a stronger recommendation to begin trying the stunning wines produced on that island. In recent decades, Sicilian wine has experienced a real revolution in quality, and there are several really exciting producers making tasty juice that is affordable, versatile, and age-worthy. I personally cannot get enough of Nerello Mascalese. Maybe I have a thing for wine made on an active volcano. Maybe it’s in my blood. Read my story on Sicilian wine, for Food Republic, here.
A few weeks ago, I had an incredibly interesting (though not 100 percent delicious) meal at Nobelhart & Schmutzig, a new chef’s counter restaurant in Berlin that serves a 10-course tasting menu with only regional ingredients. I interviewed the chef and sommelier (who are co-partners) about their vision for a “truly German cuisine” and wrote about the entire experience for Food Republic. If you go to Berlin you must eat here! Especially if you are into natural wines.
One of the most rewarding aspects about wine journalism is tracking the amazing people and projects I encounter through my stories. A few months ago, I wrote on Eater about Brianne Day’s plan to create a winery that aimed to be a sort of incubator, a space where upstart winemakers could get their hands dirty helping her with harvest and producing their first vintage.
And then, this harvest season, it actually happened! I watched from afar, through Brianne’s Instagram, as she brought in fruit, crushed, fermented, and had what looked like an incredible amount of fun with young people from all over who were so excited to work with her and make wine. Brianne’s passion is conveyed through her constant obsession with the grapes, the juice, the fermentation process. Despite having worked 8 harvest at top wineries around the world, and having made her own wine for a few vintages now, Brianne retains a certain curiosity toward winemaking, that reflects a naturalist’s approach, where the process it is about negotiating whatever idiosyncracies come with the current vintage.
Check out this short video from Ross Maloof, wine director at Philly’s Vedge, which serves delicious vegan food and amazing natural wines; it is just one example of the amazing spirit that took hold of people at Day Wines (as Brianne’s winery-collab is called) this fall. I can’t wait to taste these wines and see what will come of this ambitious project.
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!).
But 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.
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:
- Jumping off my Gamay article last month, I’ve profiled Cabernet Franc in the U.S. and France, and recommended a few bottles to try
- A review of some affordable and widely available early fall wines for Vine Pair
- For Food Republic’s “fall preview” series, I shared some thoughts and research on the world of wine
- I wrote about all the awesome cooking and tasting classes (I know of) in NYC for Gothamist
More soon… from Italy! Ciao for now.
I 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.
One 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.
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.
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.