Abissi: a sparkler from deep beneath the sea

May 28, 2013

DSCN1416 written by Michael Oudyn

So here we are at Puritan and Company, an up-and-coming restaurant in Cambridge, MA.  The chef wins awards, the restaurant gets positive chatter.  But the main draw, for me at least, is an intriguing sparkler from Liguria on the Italian Riviera. None of us ever heard of it. It costs as much as well-known French champagnes.   We have pre-ordered a bottle: “only ten bottles left.” So what is it about Abissi?  Well, it is not your everyday sparkler, aged in a common cellar. It is lowered 200 feet under the sea in a noncorrosive stainless-steel cage where it is aged in Mediterranean salt water for 13 months. Thus, the name Abissi which can mean “abyss”, “deep”, or “hell.” The New York Times tells the story.  About ten years Piero Lugano Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating Malbec World Day with a Big Mac

April 20, 2012

written by Michael Oudyn

The second annual Malbec World Day was celebrated on April 17. “One global superstar” was the slogan.

In a related story “Big Mac with Malbec” is McDonald’s latest value meal. You get a Big Mac, a beef empanada, and some Argentine red made from the Malbec grape. This innovation is probably NOT coming soon to an outlet near you.  Unless, of course, you are in Mendoza, the epi-center of the Argentina’s wine industry, where this burger-with-wine pilot is being launched during national Wine-Harvest Festival.

Malbec is the obvious choice of grape. Still going nowhere fast in its native Bordeaux and Loire, Malbec has adapted fabulously to the semi-desert, mineral soils, and high altitudes of Mendoza since it arrived in 1853 and is now Argentina’s signature export grape, like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  And it has achieved Argentina’s ultimate seal approval; it is one of only five food stuffs declared “Patrimonio cultural alimentario, and gastronomico argentino”.  This poor immigrant, “the French grape,” has come a long way. Read the rest of this entry »

Climate Change and the Wine Industry: “The Square Wine Cask of the 21th Century”

January 28, 2012

written by Michael Oudyn

Marbella is a playground for international jet-setters on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.  It is famous for its luxury yachts, expensive international shops, and beautiful weather.  It is notorious  for conspicuous corruption: its last mayor did hard time for real-estate chicanery after keeping the afternoon gossip shows buzzing for years with his romance with flamenco icon Isabel Pantoja.  His immediate predecessor as Marbella’s mayor did hard time for corruption after being the flamboyant president of Madrid’s second soccer team, Atletico de Madrid.  In the box-office dark-comedy super -hit “Torrente II: Mission in Marbella”, Marbella is a gross-out swamp of  international arms dealers. In the international best seller The Queen of the South by Perez-Reverte, state-of-the-art speed boats connected to Russian mafiosi make night-time “business trips” to Africa.

III World Congress on Climate Change and the Wine Industry

Last April Marbella was also the scene of the “3rd Annual International Congress on Climate Change and the Wine Industry.”   Kofi Annan was Read the rest of this entry »

Au Revoir to All That by Michael Steinberger: The Decline and Fall of French Wine and Cuisine

March 12, 2011

Book review by Michael Oudyn

Michael Steinberger´s Au Revoir To All That: Food, Wine And The End of France is a premier cru example of the popular sub-genre: The “Decline and Fall of French Cooking.”  The basic plot line is familiar to  Americans of my generation. Many, myself included, have lived it.

It goes something like this: Act I: Somewhere in France.  We experience The Great Awakening from boring American cooking, discover the joy of eating which enhances our joie de vivre. Steinberger´s revelation comes in the Loire Valley as an adolescent. The agent of his epiphany is the humble baby pea, drowned in butter, of course.

Act II: We achieve The Ecstasy through a few truly sublime meals and become Francophiles. Steinberger amusingly relates such an experience. The three-star Au Crocodile restaurant in Strasbourg is the venue. The chef´s signature dish, a stew featuring “a gorgeous pink-gray (duck) liver with black truffles” leaves him “whimpering in such ecstasy” that he grins Read the rest of this entry »

Saint Trifon the Pruner, Bulgaria’s Patron Saint of the Vinegrowers and Winemakers

February 20, 2011
St Trifon the Pruner with shears and nose

St Trifon with nose

written by Michael Oudyn

What saint do you immediately associate with February 14?  If you are not Bulgarian the answer is most certainly St. Valentine.  If you are Bulgarian another one might come to mind: Saint Trifon the Pruner, the patron saint of vine-growers and wine-producers whose pruning shears are the symbol of wine and fertility in Bulgaria.   Trifon is also called “the drunkard” because of his excessive love of red wine and “the noseless” because of a little encounter he had with the Virgin Mary.  According to popular legend,  Trifon was pruning his humble vineyard one day when The Mother of God happened by.  The future saint (hungover?) mocked and taunted her, saying she didn´t even know who the father of her son was.  The Virgin took offense and ordered Trifon to cut off his nose with his pruning shears, which he promptly did. Two questions come to my mind:  (1) Isn´t this an odd road to sainthood? (2) What would Dr. Freud think about having a man with a cut-off nose as a symbol of fertility?  Read the rest of this entry »

European Winebloggers II: Blaufrankisch and a mystical Riesling

January 11, 2011

written by Michael Oudyn

“Love at first sip on the Danube”– The European Wine Bloggers do Vienna

We  bloggers were mostly tasting  whites  (see last post). About 80% of Austrian wine is white afterall: a lot of best-seller Gruner
Veltliner, some fantastic Rieslings, a few noble rotters. But we learned on a two-day road trip through Burgenland, which hugs the border with Hungary, Austria is producing quite nice reds as well.

Danube river love at first sip

Love at first sip backdrop

We were treated, in effect, to a 48-hour total-immersion crash course in Austria’s signature red: Blaufrankisch, In a nutshell: it can be “bold and spicy” to “soft and juicy” according to Karen Mac Neil who compares it to Zinfandel. It can be ”intense and zesty with flavors of blueberries, red cherries, and redcurrents” according to Oz Clark. Most common alias: lemberger in Germany and Washinton state. Etymology: Frankisch from the Read the rest of this entry »

European Wine Bloggers I: The Heurigen

November 15, 2010

written by Michael Oudyn

“Promiscuity in the Vineyards of Vienna!” –The European Wine Bloggers do Austria

I just spent a week with the European Wine Bloggers in and around Vienna.

The Mayer am Pfarrplatz Heuriga

The Mayer am Pfarrplatz Heuriga

But isn’t that in Austria, and isn’t Austria like hop-happy beer-guzzling  Germany only a little further south?  Well, no.  Austrians prefer wine; put away a whole lot of it; and a lot of it is, as I found out, quite excellent.

Vienna has one unique iconic wine institution: the heurigen which are tavern/restaurant/ wine gardens.  It turns out here are about 1700 acres (sic) of active vineyards inside the city limits of Vienna.  No other city can really make this claim. Sure, Paris has a petit vineyard (Clos Montmartre), and a three-day Harvest Festival (see post).  But the festival is strictly for the tourists, and the wine itself  is Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Parker and the rise of the great American taste bud

September 18, 2010

written by Michael Oudyn

Robert M. Parker is still the  most influential wine critic on the planet.  His power  is mind-numbing.  “When Parker spits, the world listens.”   So, where does the secret lie? His personal traits? Chance historical events? “The spirit of his times”?  I pulled Elin McCoy’s The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste off the shelf  looking for answers and this is exactly what McCoy, international wine judge and wine columnist of Bloomberg Markets,  explores.

She portrays Parker, both the man and the myth, as typically American.  Raised on meatloaf and soft drinks in Monkton, Read the rest of this entry »

Tasting at Vega Sicilia

June 18, 2010

written by Michael Oudyn

In 1970s Spain the very words “Vega Sicilia” inspired mystery and awe.  “World´s greatest wine”: “Most expensive wine in the world.” Of course nobody I knew had ever tasted it, or even seen a bottle of it, for that matter.  (My friends and I might get into a mid-level Rioja on a good day.)  Jancis Robinson attributes much of this awe to Vega Sicilia´s “splendid isolation” in the ruggedly inhospitable Castilian backwaters a couple of hour’s drive north of Madrid; steamy hot in the summer, freezing cold in the winter.  Vega Sicilia was far from any official wine region.  So in those days “the best wine in the world” had to be sold as the lowest of the low: vino de mesa, table wine. And their neighbors were capable of nothing better than plonk. Definitely the stuff of fairy tales.  Personally I wasn’t completely convinced that Vega Sicilia wasn’t just some  weird collective patriotic hallucination until I saw, with my own two eyes, a bottle of it in a Barcelona wine shop. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Book Review:Billionaire’s Vinegar

March 18, 2010

wine

written by Michael Oudyn

In 1985 a bottle of 1787 Bordeaux wine is sold at Christie´s auction house for $156,000.   Benjamin Wallace tells the story. It starts with Thomas Jefferson, America´s third president and first world-class wine geek.  He is leisurely travelling through France´s major wine regions compulsively taking notes despite the awesome challenges facing his new country and the mounting turmoil of revolutionary Paris. At one point he methodically orders caseloads of the great wines of the time (Haut-Brion, Latour, Margaux, Lafite) but, due to the political chaos, they never arrive. Or do they? Fast forward to the 1980s. A substantial stash of 18th century wine is found in Jefferson´s old Paris neighborhood. The bottles are engraved with Jefferson´s initials (“Th. J.”).They find their way into the hands of secretive German wine expert Hardy Rodenstock who keeps the facts  hazy.  The resulting mystery gives rise to dark rumours of Nazi bunkers turned wine cellars and/or smuggling rings from Communist Russia. Of course none of this is in the catalog description, but it all adds to the mystique–and dollar value—of the Jefferson wines. At the auction Kip Read the rest of this entry »