Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Cure for Pain

Tom Gannon is the playwright in residence at Rothmann's Steakhouse in New York City. He is also the sommelier and serves as America's Host.

Recently, I met with Sofia Thanisch, the owner and proprietor of Wwe. Dr H. Thanisch-Erben Thanisch to taste her 2007 Rieslings. Thanisch is one of the top producers in Germany and the main vineyard, Berncastler Doctor, has been held up as the German equivalent of Romanee-Conti. It could be considered the most expensive piece of vineyard land in the world (yes, more than Le Montrachet) based on the price paid the last time any land was sold within the vineyard (1908) when 100 gold Deutsche Marks were paid per SQUARE METER when vines were planted one to the square meter. The label may be the most iconic in all of Germany. The vineyard itself overlooks the Mosel, facing south-southwest and at more than a sixty degree slope making harvest a difficult, almost a dangerous proposition. These wines are made in varying quantities every year, between 100-700 cases, depending on the ripeness of the grapes both from the Berncastler Doctor vineyard and the surrounding Bernkastler Badstube. Just a quick comment on the "c" versus the "k" in Berncastler...the vineyard labels for Berncastler Doctor were registered in 1904 hence the "c" versus the true German "k" both in Berncastler and Doctor. This is why you see variation when the wines are written up using "k". Thanisch uses a "k" in Bernkastler Badstube. Again, German wine labels are easy...

The legend of the vineyard originates in 1360. The dying Archbishop Boemond II of Trier drank two bottles of wine made from the vines on this steep hillside after his doctor had told him there was no hope for recovery. There beings a legend, Boemond not only survived but was restored to full health. Pair this wine with scarlet rubella.

One thing to note about the property is that there was a split between the family in 1988 over (what else?) the direction of the winery and the standards to which it should be held. Sofia Thanisch is not much for compromise. German wine and our thirsty nature are better for it. Her wines are consistently the best expression of the Berncastler Doctor vineyard and the continuation of the family tradition since 1884 of a woman running the winery (the significance of the Wwe. on the label, named after the widow Katharina Thanisch, Sofia represents the fourth generation to do so). This is also true on the other side of the family but again, Erben-Thanisch is consistently better than Erben Muller-Burggraef. Erben-Thanisch is a member of VDP -Verband Deutscher Pradikats- und Qualitatsweinguter, an association of wineries devoted to strict standards and outstanding quality (apologies for the distinct lack of an "oomlat" key, I missed a few back there) while Erben Mueller-Burggraef is not. The VDP was founded in 1910, look for the black eagle clutching a cluster of grapes on the capsule of the bottles of member wineries (black eagle in Germany, black chicken in Chianti).

The wines are rare but surprisingly affordable if you can find them. This is easier in larger markets. For example, Bruce Sanderson of Wine Spectator lists the 2007 Berncastler Doctor Spatlese as Not Available (not imported into the U.S.). This is not entirely true as Sofia told me, they show the wines in a few markets to gauge how much should be shipped to their U.S. importer. James Molesworth of WS confirmed my suspicion that WS will list a wine as not imported if they can't get a rough estimate on the number of cases to be imported . With the hype of the 2007 vintage I can't say I blame them, since the demand far exceeds supply.

If you are not familiar with German wine classifications, it seems complex but is actually very user friendly and efficient. A quick search on the internet with "German wine laws/classification" will bring you up to speed on some of these terms- "Y'all hear that? We using code names..."


And so, the wines made by Olaf Kaufmann...

Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Riesling 2007
Light apple with a bit of spice and peach on the nose. A lot of minerality is present and has an impressive finish for QbA. Classic Mosel. 700 cases.

Wwe Dr. H. Thanisich Bernkastler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2007
Bright green apple and limey nose with stony aromas and minerality dominating. A friend compared this to a hangar steak, the tasty bits surrounding the classic cuts...700 cases.

Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Berncastler Doctor Riesling Kabinett 2007
Minerality and stone dominate with lime and peach kernal popping out. Long mineral finish. 300 cases.

Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Bernkastler Badstube Riesling Spatlese 2007
Peachy, fresh bright apple a lighter wine that keeps going because of the structure and acidity. Showing well. 300 cases.

Wwe. Dr. H Thanisch Berncastler Doctor Riesling Spatlese 2007
Peach, apple and lime, with wet stone, the minerality shines so well and the fruit is succulent and clean because of the balance. This wine will age beautifully. Worth searching for.
250 cases.

Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Berncastler Doctor Riesling Auslese 2007
This is stunning. Like Prince, all peaches and cream. Rich apple, a touch of clove in the mid-palate with the minerality, sweet fruit and acid almost perfectly balanced. An incredible example of Auslese. One to cellar if you can...150 cases.

So of the wines listed above I had a few choices. These are not traditional "steakhouse wines", nonetheless, we are not exactly a traditional steakhouse. The long haired sommelier may tip you off to that fact. What I decided to do is not necessarily a novel idea but I think an interesting opportunity for me and any guest who wants to try this out. I ordered (for delivery sometime in March) one case of the Doctor Kabinett, one case of the Doctor Spatlese, one case of the Doctor Auselse in half bottles and one case (6 bottles) of magnums of the 2007 Berncastler Doctor Spatlese of which they only made 70 bottles. This way, when the weather warms up and we open our sliding accordion doors onto 54th street, you can sit, watch the scene and be taken through three different levels of ripeness in the Berncastler Doctor vineyard in a classic vintage. And they will not be that expensive on the list- around $85 for the Kabinett, $115 for the Spatlese and $90 for the half bottle of Auslese. The magnums are just so rare, age so well and look so good...had to have at least six (even though the price hadn't really been settled).

These wines obviously pair well with Thai and other Asian dishes, try any of the Spatlese from Thanisch with Goong Cha Nam Pla (the Thai answer to ceviche) or even pork dishes. I would also just have them on their own, low alcohol levels and the balance of the wines make them ideal for drinking before a meal. These are some of the most versatile wines in the world when it comes to pairing.

If you have any interest at all in German wines or the riesling varietal, these are a good place to start for benchmark comparisions. As far as price to quality ratio it is difficult to beat Thanisch. It can be found. Good for what ails ya. Happy hunting.

Seleccion Cepas Viejas 2004, Dominio de Tares, Bierzo

Simon Juhl Olesen is a 24 year old Sommelier from Denmark. He currently works in the heart of Copenhagen at the restaurant Le Sommelier. All his gastronomic education is gathered in Spain where he has lived most of his life. The last two years before coming to Denmark he was a teacher and a restaurant chef in a restaurant school “La Fonda” in the South of Spain. He also worked in the 1 star Michelin restaurant Guggenheim in Bilbao. Simon is a three time winner of the Andalusian championship for Sommeliers and among top 10 Spanish Sommeliers. In his free time he enjoys playing golf when the weather allows it. You can contact him on:

Winery: Dominio de Tares

Vintage: 2004

Appellation: D.O Bierzo

Varietal: Mencia

Oak: 9 month in barrels from the Virginia and Missouri Forrest (American oak)

Average Price: 15 €

Tasting notes: You can enjoy the fine elegance of the Mencia grape. Mencia is also called Negra by the local wine makers. Visually it is an attractive cherry red color, with violet tones around the rim. In the nose it has strong fruity aromas of raspberries and cherries, also a hint of violet, which with the oak forms a hint of liquorice, chocolate, toffee vanilla and spices. In the mouth it is smooth, full bodied and very elegant.

Food Pairing Suggestions: With now many lovely trips to the area of Bierzo, Castilla Leon in the north west of Spain I have never missed out on the traditional pairing of food and wine from this part of Spain. Ergo my suggestion would be young lamb baked in the stove, or maybe a suckling pig with the nice crispy skin.

Winery Notes: Dominio de Tares is quite a new bodega, with all the newest technology, young wine makers and very modern ways of making their wines, but... The grapes are old and very local. To sum up, they take traditional (from the area) and local grapes to make the wines suitable for international market.

Vintage Notes: 2004 was a great year for Spanish wines, not too warm (and warmth can be the worst enemy). '04 is compared to '01 and even '96 which both were greatest years since the mid 80's or even 50's. The 04' vintage can be drunk now, but even better is to save some bottles for some years and you could be very positively surprised.

The Young Connoisseur part 3

“David Grega is a certified sommelier and wine consultant living in the Napa valley. In addition to consulting and wine writing David made wine for his own label “Bellum Cellars” in 2008. E-mail for more information."

A few rays of natural sunlight peer through the partly closed window blinds of an office at The Professional Culinary Institute (PCI) in Campbell Ca. The light almost seems to dance across the gleaming hard wood floors that wrap around the modern curves of this food and wine Mecca. I don’t believe I should be in this part of the building; I kind of snuck in when someone opens the electronically locked door. Curiosity has gotten the best of me I suppose. I knew even then, before my training had begun, that there was something special about this place. I had a feeling that my life would be changed here forever. I felt as if I had finally found what I always knew I was searching for. Class at PCI would begin for me in a week, but I felt a little reconnaissance was in order. Just then the door to the cellar and wine classroom opened. Out came David Glancy a Master Sommelier and wine department chair at PCI. I introduced myself and asked to take a quick peak at the classroom where I would be learning how to become a sommelier. The room was amazing to say the least. Three rows of seating where each student had his or her own sink and tasting station equipped with under lighting built into the desks. Flat screen TV’s hung on either side of the classroom and a giant projection screen in the middle. Facing the students on the opposite side of the classroom was a giant glass wine cellar that looked to hold at least a thousand bottles. This was going to be home for the next few months, this is where I would learn the art of the sommelier.

In any profession or craft it is important to seek out the very best mentors to learn from. To be the best you have to surround yourself with the best. At PCI a Master Sommelier David Glancy oversees the sommelier program. I opted for the night classes because I was driving from Sacramento to San Jose every week to get to class and wanted to make time for traffic etc. The primary night class instructor was a Master Sommelier as well, Catherine Fallis. Both Catherine and David are outstanding instructors who really seemed to be dedicated to the proper training and preparation of their sommelier students.

So what was a normal day like at PCI? Classes were broken up into modules, each module covered a separate area or region of wine i.e wines of Germany, wines of France. Those modules were divided up into smaller sections focused on important sub regions etc. Each day we began with a few hours of lecture on a particular sub region we were focusing on. These lectures were very interactive and entertaining to say the least. The hard data we needed for our studies was provided along with fun and interesting stories from our Master Sommelier instructors that added the comical and real dimension to learning. After the lectures were over, the class would run through practical trials of wine service. Opening Champagne bottles properly, decanting old wines from sediment using a candle and decanter according to the court’s standards and proper service of both. The day would end with a tasting of 8-12 wines from the focused sub region we were reviewing that day. The Master Sommelier instructors would walk us through the tasting and discuss classic characteristics of the wines and what made them standard representations of their respective regions. At the end of each module a final exam was given along with a blind tasting of any classic wine from any classic wine region. Upon completion of the final exam the students (which numbered around 20 per class) would sit down together and enjoy a meal prepared by the expert chefs and students at PCI’s culinary school. These meals would consist of the cuisine from the module we had just completed. As an added bonus the students were allowed to open any wine they wanted from the cellar to drink with dinner! Wine was certainly not the only focus of the program at PCI. All together we spent nearly four weeks studying liquors, spirits, beers and cigars. A sommelier must have a working knowledge of all these beverages and luxuries. The learning did not just happen in the classroom. We took a trip to both Cooper-garrod winery in Saratoga and Testarosa winery in Los Gatos. The winemakers were sure to give us a hands run through the wine production from the vineyards to the final product, as well as barrel tastings. Needless to say spending three days per week for 5 and a half months attending these classes was a pure immersion into the world of the sommelier. As part of an agreement with the Court of Master Sommeliers and PCI, the Level 1 and 2 exams were given to all students one after another at the end of the program. Thus is how I received my certified sommelier pin. I view PCI as a sommeliers boot camp in a way. The relationships I built there have continued to grow and benefit as the time goes on, from a networking point of view PCI is priceless for the young connoisseur.

I have the training; I have the pin on my lapel, now what to do? Dive into a sommelier position at a restaurant, right? I very well could have gone that way but I felt like there was still something more out there for me to learn. I felt that even though I had so much great training something was still missing. I wanted to learn more about the production of wine, something I knew little about. A friend of mine and a mentor Jason Moore of Modus Operandi wines in Napa asked me if I would come work a harvest for him after completing my sommelier certification. Without a second thought I said yes and moved to the Napa Valley. I haven’t looked back since. My time in the Valley as a young connoisseur has been full of beautiful moments, tasteful adventures and above all else food, wine, and the pursuit!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Domaine Mardon cuvee Tres Vieilles Vignes

"Wilfried Sentex is born in Bordeaux, France and for sure his passion for wine comes from his home country. At present he is working in New York, at Bar Boulud, Daniel Boulud Wine bar. For more information you can reach him at"

Winery: Domaine Mardon cuvee Tres Vieilles Vignes

Vintage: 2007

Appellation: Quincy

Varietal: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Winemaker: Helene Mameaux-Mardon

Average Price: $20.00

Tasting notes: This Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley (about 50 miles west from Sancerre in France) has a nice lemon-straw color and a beautiful intensity. The nose is clear with a medium intensity. You can find some apricot, lemon and minerals notes. As the palate, it is a dry wine with a medium body and a high acidity, you will taste some citrus (lime), apricot and mineral (from the calcareoussandy soil) with a touch of bracken and a long finish.

Food Pairing Suggestions: This is a really nice wine to be drank alone, but also with a "plateau of seafood". It will be excellent with some Belon Oysters from France, or the ones you get in US (Washington, California or Maine). I love a glass of Domaine Mardon with some scallops lightly pan-seared, served over a leeks fondue. As dessert I would go for a fruit salad or a pannacota.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Barolo 2004, Renato Corino

Rasmus Amdi Larsen is a 21 year old sommelier. He is currently working as head-sommelier and Restaurant Manager at the restaurant Le Sommelier in the centre of Copenhagen. Administrating the 1600 bottle wine list, one of the largest in Denmark, this young sommelier is showing a lot of potential. Rasmus is also educating at the Hospitality College in Copenhagen, competing in sommelier competitions - and in the limited free time, golfing is a huge interest. To get in touch with Rasmus email him at

Winery: Renato Corino

Vintage: 2004

Appellation: Barolo (La Morra)

Varietal: Nebbiolo (Spanna)

Oak: N/A

Average Price: $45.00

Tasting notes: Deep red color. Very open nose, showing floral hint like violets and roses and berries like blackcurrant. The palate is very delicate, smooth, easy drinking like you would expect for a modern-style La Morra producer. Drink this ‘standard’ (but outstanding) Barolo while you have Renato’s ‘Rocche’ and ‘Arborina’ cellaring a couple more years. (Be careful how long you cellar, some might drink them before you)!

Food Pairing Suggestions: I remember a very special night I had some months ago. The setting is my favorite Italian restaurant in Copenhagen (contact me for details) and this wine. The menu goes: Cheese risotto with fresh truffles. T-bone with green beans and potatoes. Selection of the finest Italian dry cheese. Remember to have at least two or three bottles in backup!

Winery Notes: Renato Corino is trained by the famous Elio Altare! Renato makes a more delicate and smooth style of wine, with flowers and fruits dominating than his master. Renato makes this ‘standard’ Barolo, a Rocche, an Aborina, a Dolcetto and a Barbera. The Barbera is also really worth trying out.

Vintage Notes: 2004 is an instant classic piedmontese. Some compares this vintage with the huge ’90. Most producers ‘standard’ Barolo and Barbaresco’s are so smooth and nice right now, but please, store the single vineyards just a couple more years.

Bodega Del Fin de Mundo Special Blend 2006

Bodega Del Fin de Mundo

Brand: Special Blend

Vintage: 2006.

Location: San Patricio del Chañar, Neuquén, Patagonia.

Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Malbec (40%), Merlot (20%)

Oak: 15 months aging in oak barrels (100% French oak barrels)

Average Price: $35.-

Tasting Notes: deep red colour with juicy plums, raspberries, tobacco and chocolate aromas. It is aged in new French oak barrels for 15 months which gives this wine outstanding complexity in which you may discover countless sensations as you explore its intense bouquet. It is a unique full bodied wine with excellent structure, complimented by velvety tannins that envelop the palate with an elegant sensuality.

Food Pairing Suggestions: this blend is perfect to be enjoyed with greasy red meat.

Winery Notes: Bodega Del Fin del Mundo was the first winery in the province of Neuquén. Its vineyards are located in the district of San Patricio del Chañar, 55 km away from Neuquen city. The region enjoys exceptional conditions for the cultivation of the grapes. There is excellent temperature variation with warm sunny days followed by cold nights witch give the grapes an excellent balance of fruit and acidity, colour, aromas and body.

Monday, February 9, 2009

F*CK THE FINANCIAL CRISIS: Value wines that beat recession. Part 1

Rasmus Amdi Larsen is a 21 year old sommelier. He is currently working as head-sommelier and Restaurant Manager at the restaurant Le Sommelier in the centre of Copenhagen. Administrating the 1600 bottle wine list, one of the largest in Denmark, this young sommelier is showing a lot of potential. Rasmus is also educating at the Hospitality College in Copenhagen, competing in sommelier competitions - and in the limited free time, golfing is a huge interest. To get in touch with Rasmus email him at

The times of irrationality are over. The financially harder times are here, and I actually think this is a good thing for the food and wine industry. We have seen over the last few years wineries and restaurants open like never before. It seemed, terms like talent, skills and life long enthusiasm in our field has been in the background for money. It was no problem for untalented – but rich – ‘fools’ to start the business. If the quality wasn’t as high as the neighbours, you could always just out-PR them! But now, with everyone talking about the financial crisis, only the best will survive. Only the best and most skilled people can win – the market will always be here, and quality will beat quantity. This series of articles will guide you through my absolute favourite value wines.

Dutchke 'GHR' (God Hills) Shiraz 4 Vineyard

Winery: Dutchke
Vintage: 2006
Appellation: Barossa Valley
Varietal: Shiraz
Oak: 18 months in French and American oak
Average Price: $20
Alcohol: 14.8%

Tasting notes: Shiraz is normally not my favorite. But this big, but yet very fine Shiraz is one that stands alone. It is blackberry and cherry dominated. The taste is long and filled with dark berries. The alcohol is ‘only’ 14.8% which gives the wine more complexity than normal. It is actually quite European in the style, even though it does not hide the warmth of its birthplace.

Food Pairing Suggestions: Why not the old classic. Rip of beef, French Fries and Béarnaise sauce. Breast of duck, blackberry sauce and roasted potatoes. This wine needs heavy things, so avoid chicken and pork.

Winery Notes: This wine is from the Dutschke winery. It is actually my favorite in their large range of wines. This is the most delicate and easy drinking in the range, the others wines seem to me a bit to ‘gutsy’. It is made from 4 vineyards, one of them with 120 year old vines (!)

Organic wine & food matching: Marcel Deiss Engelgarten & saffroned chicken biryani

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

In Alsace, a part of France full of famous rebels – like André Ostertag, Charles Schléret, and Zind-Humbrecht’s Olivier Humbrecht – Jean-Michel Deiss (right) has played the role of absolute pariah.

It’s not so much that he took the organically cultivated vineyards inherited from his grandfather, Marcel Deiss, and turned them into biodynamic farms by 1997. The domaines of Marc Kreydenweiss, Zind-Humbrecht, Ostertag and other top Alsatian vignerons are also farmed biodynamically. More than anything, what has rubbed colleagues and local authorities the wrong way has been Deiss’ total disregard of the sanctity of singular varietal bottling; for in Alsace, the finest wines have always been bottled by the names of the great grapes of Alsace – namely, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat d’Alsace.

Instead, Deiss’ finest wines are bottled simply by the name of Marcel Deiss along with the names of their vineyard sources: such as the grand crus Schoenenbourg and Altenberg de Bergheim vineyards, and premier crus such as Burg, Rotenberg, Gruenspiel and Engelgarten. But no mention of any grape on the label.

Deiss himself says that a turning point was in 1993, when a Riesling from his Burg vineyard was criticized for not tasting like a “Riesling.” This prompted Deiss to not just remove the names of grapes from his single vineyard bottlings, but also to start planting as many as seven different varieties in his best vineyards (which, also unusually, Deiss harvests and co-ferments all at once). No more blind following of tradition, he has said, because of obligatory feelings. “I realized that the grape in a vineyard is an ingredient, but not a dish… it is wrong to transform the energy of a unique place into a ‘Riesling’… by having many varieties in Burg I am giving the terroir different letters so it can create sentences.”

Hence, no winemaker in Alsace focuses as much on terroir as Jean-Michel Deiss. As in our organic wine of the day: the 2003 Marcel Deiss Engelgarten (about $45), which is a field blend composed mostly of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Auxerrois. True to Deiss’ intentions, this white wine does not taste of any one grape; but rather, in the words of Deiss’ winemaker Marie-Hélène Christofaro (right), like a “filtering” of wine through the gravel dominating Engelgarten’s soil. Nevertheless, the nose is honeyed, suggesting ripe, juicy, white fleshed stone fruits (peach, nectarine and lychee); and a steely, austere entry gives way quickly to almost sweet, viscous sensations of the honeyed fruit, before finishing with a mouth-watering bang and emphatically stony, faintly bitter, citrus peel dryness.

Peculiar, maybe even strange… yes. Expressive and flavorful… ditto...

Saffroned Chicken Biryani

And you know what I love even more about the Engelgarten? This wine’s electrifying minerality and multi-grape fruit complexity make a match for dishes few other wines in the world are up to handling. No, I’m not talking Asian/fusion sweet, sour, salty, or spicy food sensations. I’m thinking specifically of dishes dominated by the flavor of saffron – that wild, indescribably pure, organic seasoning derived directly from the stigma of the crocus flower.

Of course, being a wine guy, I do have words for saffron. To me, saffon infused foods suggest sea water, citrus peel, burnt hay, roasted clove, warm humus, dusty velvet, sun dried fruit and sex. I know many people say saffron makes them laugh, and many others just smile. Me, I just get hungry, like for this Kuwaiti style dish of saffroned chicken biryani, adapted from Peter Mentzel and Faith d’Aluisio’s Hungry Planet:

2½ cups basmati rice
1 tsp. saffron, soaked 10 minutes in warm water
2 tsp. canola oil
2 medium sweet onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp. fresh ginger, minced
1 whole chicken (about 4 lbs.), cut into pieces
salt (to taste)
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
3 tsp. allspice
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup plain yogurt
1 medium fresh tomato, diced
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Optional garnishes:
1 medium sweet onion, minced (fried to brown crispness)
¼ cup golden raisins, fried
1/8 cup crushed cashews, fried
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

Heat Dutch oven pot on stove and add oil; when oil is hot, add onions, garlic, and ginger, and sauté until onions are transluscent. Add chicken pieces, salt, coriander, turmeric, 1 tsp. of allspice, yogurt, tomato and lemon juice. Stir over moderate heat for 7 minutes, taking care to prevent yogurt from boiling. Add water to cover chicken, with salt to taste; cover with lid and cook at high simmer for 45 minutes. Towards end, preheat oven to 350°.

Add rice to pot with butter, saffron and remaining allspice; stir to combine. Cover pot with aluminum foil and pot lid, and cook in oven for 45 minutes. In meantime, prepare garnishes (fry raisins and cashews with onions). Remove pot from oven, stir to combine, sprinkle over garnishes, and serve.