Don’t Miss Wines On Wheels, An Incredible NYC Tasting Event

On the last weekend in April, wine lovers in New York have the opportunity to attend the wine tasting event of the year–really, it’s just too good to pass up. Unfortunately, I myself cannot attend, so please can you go and I’ll live vicariously through you? We’re talking about Wines on Wheels, an annual event where some of New York City’s most knowledgeable sommeliers (Morgan Harris, Dana Gaiser, Josh Nadel, Katia Scharnagl, Dustin Wilson–the list goes on!), retailers (Jean-Luc Le Dû), and regional winemakers (the wonderful Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate) are offering highly informative seminars and blind tasting classes, and pouring some of the best wines and most unique, formidable vintages–and it’s all for charity. 100 percent of proceeds benefit Wheeling Forward, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities live life to the fullest. This event is the brainchild of Yannick Benjamin, an acclaimed sommelier who has never let the fact that he’s in a wheelchair deter him from doing the job he loves most, and Alex Elegudin, a disability advocate and mentor.

Also, don’t miss Victoria James’ talk on rosé--she has a fantastic new book out on drinking pink, with illustrations from Lyle Railsback of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant! Bianca Bosker will also be there, signing copies of her book Cork Dork, which has been sparking controversies (insert awkward smiley face emoji here) left and right–so now you can ask Bianca about all these issues in person! She will no doubt be game.

It’s an all-star cast, with some killer wines. For a good cause. Skip brunch that day, and go. Saturday, April 29th. At City Winery, 155 Varick Street. Let me know what amazing wines I missed out on! (Whatever, I’m not that jealous, because I’ll be in Oregon hiking with friends and drinking Gamay. Insert big smiley emoji here.)

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A Very Special, Soul-Lifting Week In France

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Olivier Cousin in his cellar in Martigné-Briand, Angers

Something that’s kept me going through this extremely disheartening and terrifying political situation we’ve found ourselves in, over the past few months, has been the knowledge that I had an upcoming trip to France. France, of course, has its own challenges and is now also in the midst of a corruption-inflected election cycle—but exploring the wine regions is a direct affirmation of the power of culture to persist, even in these times.

While the world seems to be crumbling under its own weight, small-production winemakers are managing to find better and better ways to work with terroir and deliver the most beautiful, purest juice. It’s inspiring to see people do something very well, with all the care they can muster, simply because it brings joy to them and others.

I started the trip in Champagne, and while my time there was short, it was also very productive—thanks to my friend the Champagne expert Peter Liem, who arranged some very special visits with growers. My appreciation of terroir-driven Champagne has grown enormously over the last six months, and I’m eager to learn more and more. Next, I took at 7:30am train out of Champagne to meet the Jenny & François crew in the Loire Valley, where a series of large wine fairs—La Dive Bouteille, famously held in the dramatic underground caves of Saumur; the biodynamic-focused Renaissance that Nicolas Joly organizes; Thierry Puzelat’s Les Penitentes; and Les Anonymes, which we didn’t make it to—took place over the course of three days. We visited a few producers around Angers—the legendary Olivier Cousin; and young Etienne Courtois—plus Renaud Guettier in the Coteaux du Loir further up north.

Some people in the industry have been attending these wine fairs for many years, and they complain about how big and difficult to navigate they’ve become, but for me as a first-timer, the whole experience was completely magical. It was especially satisfying to see that the 2016 Loire Valley wines, after an extremely difficult growing season resulting in drastically low yields, are wonderful—very nice concentration, flavor and acidity—despite being scarce.

After the tastings, I spent a few days in Paris, dropping too much money in restaurants seeing friends who live there, and stumbling around the beautiful pharmacies, shops, and cafés on the Rue de Martyrs.

I feel very privileged to be able to do all this, given that certain populations of the world are arbitrarily having their mobility restricted. In recent months, I’ve found myself wishing that I wrote about something besides wine and food and cocktails, so that I could feel like my words could form part of the resistance. But on this recent trip in France, I remembered that joy and pleasure are also vital parts of human existence; and I reflected on how the fight for terroir—to keep land healthy and chemical-free, and to discover the possibilities of soil and viticulture—is also a political act. A small one, yes—but small, in a world where lust and greed have gotten completely out of control, is exceptionally beautiful.

At the moment, I’m fighting off jet-lag with the help of some very good French melatonin, and sorting through material and thinking about stories to pitch and blog posts to write based on this trip. More to come soon.

Meet The “Crazy French Woman” Behind RAW Wine Fair

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-4-14-24-pmIf you haven’t heard yet, here’s the good news: RAW Wine Fair, the natural wine expo originally founded in London, is popping-up in Bushwick next weekend, Sun + Mon Nov 6-7 (99 Scott Av in Brooklyn, a 5-minute walk from the Jefferson L Train). There’s still time to get tickets–and you can also plan to attend one of the after-parties happening around Brooklyn and Manhattan. For Vogue.com, I profiled Isabelle Legeron, the only French female Master of Wine and an incredibly passionate spokesperson for the natural wine movement. Check out the story here.

You can find out more info on RAW Wine here (I think if you show up on the day-of without a ticket, it should be fine, FYI). Below, I’ve compiled a broad representation of the after-parties and dinners happening around RAW. The easiest thing to do is just show up at The Ten Bells on any given night between Nov 4-8 to find winemakers parties and plenty of juice flowing. See you there!

RAW Wine After-Parties, Dinners, Events // note that prices generally do not include tax or gratuity

Sunrise Sunset: Post-RAW pop-up dinner party, Sunday Nov 6th, starting at 6pm 

Keep the party going post-RAW while staying in Bushwick, with Asian-themed bar food by chef Gary Kim (Sheep & Wolves / co-founder Anju) alongside wines BTG or bottles from Alexandre Bain, Chateau de Beru, Finca Parrera and Zanotto.

Rouge Tomate Chelsea: Jean-Pierre Rietsch and Tom Shobbrook, Nov 4, 6:30-10pm

These winemakers will be taking over the bar room of Rouge Tomate Chelsea, with special BTG offerings. No tickets or reservations necessary.

Also at Rouge Tomate Chelsea: Dinner with Sepp Muster and Franz Strohmeier Nov 9, time

The 16 seats at RTC’s communal tables will be filled for this dinner, with a family style menu featuring the hosted producers. To complement the pours from these Austrian natural wine rockstars, a vegetable-focused Austrian feast will be served (spaetzle and kraut!). $99; email or call restaurant for reservations.

Il Buco: Live music and Italian winemaker dinner, Tues Nov 8, 7-11pm

Producers will be on hand for the evening and chatting with guests, including: Franco Terpin, Il Cancelliere, Cantina D’Angello, Cantina de Barone, Fabio De Beaumont, La Maliosa, Andrea Scovero, Viña Enebro and Denis Montanar. Sugarman 3 will be performing live during dinner, featuring Neal Sugarman on saxophone, Adam Scone on Hammond organ, and Rudy Elbin on drums. Buy tickets here, $75/person (drinks will be charged separately).

Barano: Andrea Scovero & Franco Terpin dinner, Monday, Nov. 7, 7:30pm

At this new casual eatery in Brooklyn, these two iconic Italian producers will host a tasting of some of the finest offerings coming out of Piedmont and Friuli. Featured wines include: Scovero 2013 Nebbiolo, 2014 Dolcetto, 2014 Barbera; Terpin 2015 Quinto Quarto Bianco, 2015 Quinto Quarto Ramato, 2008 Ribolla Gialla, 2011 Sialis Pinot Grigio Ramato, 2009 Jakot, 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. Tickets $105; buy here.

Sel Rrose: Special dinner with Theo Milan (Domaine Henri Milan), Nov 9, 6:30-9pm

In the chic, intimate Sel Rrose space on Delancey, enjoy a specially prepared, 4-course menu with 8 delicious wines from this Provence producer, including a vertical of Clos Milan from ’06-‘09. $110; email doreen@diamondsommelierservices.com for reservations.

El Quinto Pino: Alta Alella dinner, Nov 7, 7-10pm

This is a 4-course dinner prepared by chefs Alex Raij & Eder Montero with winemaker Jose-Maria Pujol Busquet of organic estate Alta Alella in Northern Spain. $68; buy tickets here.

Brooklyn Wine Exchange: Zusslin wines seminar, Nov 2nd at 7pm

One of Alsace’s most iconic naturally-working estates, Marie Zusslin will conduct a seminar about her winery and her biodynamically made wines, showing a vertical of her Rieslings Grand Cru, no-sulfur-added Crémant de, and Pinot Noir. More info here, reserve seats by calling the store.

Diner Airstream: Joe Swick dinner hosted by Uva Wines, Nov 5th, 7:30pm

A 3-course meal paired with Joe’s beautiful Oregon wines, including some back-vintages—in a vintage airstream behind Diner! $85; for reservations email lucy@uvawines.com.

Tertulia: “Soleras & Smoke: A Night of Sherry And Wood-Fire-Grilled Fare” Nov 7, 9:30pm until late (un-related to RAW, but still cool!)

Pop-up sherry bar hosted by En Rama, with food from Speedy Romeo. Organizer Nick Africano aims to provide a relaxed, fun setting for discovering “the mysteries and myths of sherry,” for “novices and pros alike.”

The Ten Bells: “Meet the Winemakers” parties, Nov 5-8, around 8:30/9pm until late

As usual, The Ten Bells will be the point de rendez-vous for winemakers and wine lovers alike who want to get loud and rowdy. There will be 50 wines by-the-glass at low margin, so you can re-taste whatever you loved at RAW, along with—these are Sev’s words—“dancing on the tables, burning the place down!” On election night (the 8th, duh), there will be a special American natural winemakers night, featuring Brianne Day, Joe Swick, Evan Lewandowski, and more. Below is the complete line-up:

MEET THE RAW WINEMAKERS @ THE TEN BELLS

Saturday Nov. 5th, 8:30pm

Géraud Bonnet – Ferme apicole Desrochers

Jaques Perritaz – Cidrerie du Vulcain

Clémence Lelarge – Lelarge-Pugeot

Jérôme Bretaudeau – Domaine de Bellevue

François de Nicolay – Domaine Chandon de Briailles

Isabelle Jolly & Jean-Luc Chossart – Domaine Jolly-Ferriol

Luca Garbarolio – Carussin

Xavier Ledogar – Domaine Ledogar

Antonin Azzoni – Le Raisin et l’Ange

Philippe Chaigneau – Château Massereau

Even Bakke – Clos de Trias

Sunday Nov. 6th, 9pm

Marie Zusslin, Domaine Zusslin

Franz Strohmeier – Wein & Sektmanufaktur Strohmeier

Eduard Tscheppe & Stephanie Tscheppe-Eselböck – Gut Oggau

Sepp Muster – Weingut Maria & Sepp Muster

Rudolf Trossen – Weingut Rita & Rudolf Trossen

Ewald Tscheppe – Werlitsch

Petr Nejedlík – Dobrá Vinice

Kim Engle, Debra Bermingham & Katy Koken – Bloomer Creek Vineyard

Tracey & Jared Brandt – Donkey & Goat

Christian Tschida

Jason Edward Charles – Vinca Minor Wines

Hardy Wallace – Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery

Tony Coturri – Coturri Winery

Joe Pedicini – Montebruno

Monday Nov. 7th, 8:30pm (also Sev’s birthday!)

Jean-Pierre Rietsch – Domaine Rietsch

Ricardo Zanotto – Zanotto Col Fondo

Alexandre Bain – Domaine Bain

Athenais de Beru – Château de Beru

Alberto Anguissola & Diego Ragazzi – Casè

Fred Niger – Domaine de l’Ecu

Theophile Milan – Domaine Milan

Olivier Paul-Morandini – Fuori Mondo

Rubén Parera Renau – Finca Parera

Tom Shobbrook – Shobbrook Wines

Tuesday Nov. 8th – “bad ombrés and nasty women” theme, 8:30pm

Brianne Day – Day Wines

Deirdre Heekin – La Garagista Farm & Winery

Joe Pedicini – Montebruno

Joe Swick – Swick wines

Kim Engle, Debra Bermingham & Katy Koken – Bloomer Creek Vineyard

Evan Lewandowski – Ruth Lewandowski

Shaunt Oungoulian, Samuel Baron & Diego Roig – Living Wines Collective

Kenny Likitprakong – The Hobo Wine Company

Hardy Wallace – Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery

Tony Coturri – Coturri Winery

Shaunt Oungoulian – Samuel Baron – Diego Roig – Living Wines Collective

Darek Trowbridge – Old World Winery

Phillip Hart & Mary Morwood Hart – Ambyth Estate

Jason Edward Charles – Vinca Minor Wines

Lewis Dickson – La Cruz de Comal

Tracey & Jared Brandt – Donkey & Goat

Tasting With Michael Cruse + Hardy Wallace, The Laurel and Hardy of California Wine

During a brief trip to Sonoma over the summer, I swung by the Cruse Wine Co custom crush facility in Petaluma. It was full-on harvest, so I felt lucky to be able to steal some time from Hardy Wallace of Dirty and Rowdy, and Michael Cruse of Cruse Wine and Ultramarine. I’ve admired their respective wines for some time, and it was fascinating to glimpse these very different projects side-by-side.

I’ve written before about how Dirty and Rowdy came to be, and about their devotion to the Mourvèdre grape. Cruse, I was less familiar with until sometime last spring, when I had a Cruse Pinot Gris at Rebelle one night; it wooed me with its boisterous aromas and notes of lemons, white peaches. That wine is no longer be part of the Cruse Wines line-up, as the vineyard changed ownership. But that’s the way things go, for winemakers who purchase fruit; Dirty and Rowdy will no longer make Semillion, one of their most beloved wines, because the vineyard has been sprayed with Round-Up, a poisonous weed killer. Along with the fact that both of these winemakers purchase fruit from various vineyards around Northern and Central California, they also both work in a very natural manner—indigenous fermentations, very low levels of sulfites, no bullshit additions at all. Those are the main unifying factors between them.

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Despite the fact that Hardy and Michael both buy fruit and both make fantastic natural wine, I had never considered them together, in any way. Their wines are quite different stylistically; as Michael put it: “maybe Hardy’s wines are more of a terroir investigation and mine are more of a, I don’t know, drinking investigation, [but] they’re still two sides of the same coin.” (There’s a bit of humor there, but I think Michael really means that his wines are about drinkability.) Michael emphasizes that his project is to make “wine like California used to make wine,” something he also phrased as making “table wine” when I interviewed him last spring, in New York, over a drink at The Dutch. Michael gives the impression of wanting to represent or emulate a time when California wine was a little more humble, maybe a time when wine in general was more humble—less hyped up by somms, and maybe writers like me, oops.

Meanwhile, the Dirty and Rowdy wines are born of an obsession with dry-farmed, high-elevation, old vines, particularly the Provençal grape variety Mourvèdre. The fact that all of these Mourvèdre wines are made in a relatively similar fashion (100 percent whole cluster, no destemming, old barrels) is a nod to—or even a direct replication of—a fairly Old World style of examining and working with terroir. There are also Dirty and Rowdy blends, of course, and white wines and a pét-nat, but the label is generally known for the rustic, earthy, and complex Mourvèdres.

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Despite having such different projects, the two have found themselves working side-by-side, as Hardy recently moved into the Cruse winery in Petaluma. The famous slapstick comedy duo Laurel and Hardy met in 1921; six years later they became a team and proceeded to make 107 films together, allowing their approaches to comedy to play off each other. Cruse and this Hardy weren’t exactly kicking each other in the butts and slipping on banana peels during our tasting, but they do have a friendly, spitfire humor going on, amidst a strong conversation about what California wine is and what it could be. I would also bet you that their winemaking styles are going to influence each other over time, if they aren’t already (there is a “DRC” wine in the works—“Dirty, Rowdy, Cruse,” a Furmint from Mendocino, but I didn’t taste it). And I think it goes without saying, but as a writer it’s still my duty to say it here, that Cruse Wine, Ultramarine, and Dirty and Rowdy represent an incredibly thoughtful, almost obsessive effort to discover the ultimate potential of California wine, by sourcing from the most unique sites, and exploring forgotten varieties. In a sense, this post should be about the vineyards these wines come from, rather than the bottlings themselves. But that will have to be my next trip.

I’ll let the tasting notes speak for the rest of the visit.

Cruse, 2012 Ultramarine Blanc de Noir

The Ultramarine wines, which have varied from year-to-year between blanc de noir, blanc de blancs, and rosé, are culty, very limited production traditional method sparkling wines that have become something of an Instagram phenomenon. It’s not without reason. Michael’s approach is inspired by the growers of Champagne, particularly those who have experience working in the oxidative tradition spearheaded by Anselme Selosse; Michael names Alexandre Chartogne and Jerome Prévost as two examples. The idea is that Ultramarine wines are single-vintage, and single-vineyard, single-varietal wines—terroir in bubbles, autremente dit. For our tasting, Michael disgorged his 2012 Ultramarine of Heintz Pinot Noir, of which fewer than 500 cases total were made; it will be riddled and racked this fall, then disgorged, and out to his list over the winter, then distribution in spring. The wine had no sulfur or dosage added; it displayed gorgeous, ripe stonefruits and candied lemon on the nose; the palate was rich and supple, followed by pure acidity. Such a beautiful wine now, it will be incredibly good once it’s been properly disgorged, although I imagine it would be even better were it laid down for at least a year, and there’s no question that cellaring a few bottles of these would be brilliant. (Please share one with me, if you do that.)

Dirty and Rowdy, 2014 Melon de Bourgogne Antle Vineyard:

This is a high elevation site (1700 feet above sea level) in the Chalone appellation, with subterranean limestone, and a rare planting of Melon de Bourgogne. Despite the elevation, Hardy finds that the grapes don’t have high enough acidity, so he aims for minerality in this wine. To achieve this, he leaves the juice macerating on the skins for 40 days in a one-ton bin fermenter; the juice is then moved to barrel, where it stays for about 18 months. The wine showed notes of freshly grated orange zest and delicate white flowers, and had a nice, round texture, followed by soft, wispy tannins. Hardy recommends decanting this wine.

Dirty and Rowdy, 2015 Antle Mourvèdre

Hardy makes eight Mourvèdre wines, and he broke them down for us like this: “Antle, Shake Ridge and Evangelho are at the darker-fruit end of the spectrum. Santa Barbara Highlands, Skinner Oak Flats, Skinner Stony Creek, are on the redder-fruit side of the spectrum.” This Antle Vineyard Mourvèdre is from as slightly higher plot than the Melon—as much as 2000 feet. Hardy always does 100 percent whole cluster with Mourvèdre, lending the wines that brambly, rustic character often ascribed to Bandol. The nose on this wine was a bit reduced at first, then opened up to lush red and blue berries; on the palate, the wine traveled quickly from fruit to intense acidity that made my mouth water, and then to a strong, stony minerality. I was very moved by this wine and thought it was one of the best examples of Dirty and Rowdy that I can remember tasting.

Cruse, 2015 Saint-Laurent pét-nat

Michael is very passionate about pét-nat; he sees is as a “slightly more transparent way to make wine,” he told us, and believes strongly that good pét-nat requires technical expertise. For this reason, he is of the opinion that proper sparkling wines need disgorgement—because it makes the wines more precise and revealing of variety and terroir. “I think pet-nat’s interesting from the point of view that maybe, as we get better at it, because this is just grape juice, because we don’t add any sulfur or sugar or yeast, maybe in the right vineyard with the right variety, this could be a more transparent way to make wine. But if it’s cloudy and foaming and tastes like old saison, I can’t imagine that being the case,” Michael remarked as we tasted his pét-nat. It was completely dry, with a fruity, flowery nose, and a refreshing and savory character that would make it a wonderful food wine.

Cruse, 2015 Monkey Jacket

This is a red blend, made from about 50 percent Valdigué; 40 percent “Mendocino blend”; and 15 percent Tannat from Alder. It has lovely fruit—fresh strawberries and cherries—and great acidity. I would drink this at lunch, any day. The Valdigué is from a 60-year-old block in Calistoga, and Michael explained that Robert Mondavi once believed that this work-horse grape would be the hallmark variety of California; in the early 70s (pre-Judgment of Paris), it was more expensive than Cabernet. To me, Michael’s use of Valdigué is an affirmation of his sense of California history, and a look back to a time before the rise of Napa Valley and its expensive, cult wineries and their big, bold reds.

Cruse, 2015 Heintz Syrah

From a small plot of Syrah in the iconic Heintz Vineyard, a cold site located five miles from the ocean in the Russian River Valley growing region, is this incredible wine. If you ever come across it, drink it without hesitation. The nose provides all the black olives, blue and black fruits that you could hope for from cool-climate Syrah; it’s light and full of fresh, nervy acidity on the palate, and finishes with intense, tingly tannins and still a bit of fruit. I love Syrah in this pure, bright form. Michael makes it with 100 percent whole cluster, adds no sulfur, and ferments in concrete before aging in concrete and large used barrels.

Dirty and Rowdy, 2015 Merlot/Cab blend

This was a barrel sample, showing lots of brambly, blue and black fruit, balanced by excellent freshness, and soft tannins. Hardy is probably blending these two barrels now. A very promising wine that I’m sure will need time in bottle. I can’t wait to drink it.

OK, enough. Go out and drink these fantastic wines, and picture their very different makers guffawing at their own jokes as they foot-stomp Furmint.