Summer Vacation.


I spent my summer vacation in New York City and Cape Cod eating and drinking with friends.   I don't have many sublime bottles to report on, but more times than less the idea of sharing good times with a glass of wine, a beer, or a cocktail is all that you need to have an enjoyable vacation.

I kicked it all off with a family affair.  Not a lot of booze was thrown around.  Just a bottle of Larkmead's 2008 Tocai Friulano.  This wine was bottled back in May and it is drinking superbly at the moment.  The 2008 white wines, (of those I have tasted from Napa) in my opinion, are a little loose, less focused than the razor sharp 07's.  But the oily, tropical character of the Tocai with its underlying liquid almond character was quite appealing as it finished with great lemon, lime zest acidity.
The next couple of days found me in and out of restaurants and the homes of friends.  I drank well sometimes and overdrank in others.  A couple of highlights from the trip - First, I visited one of Brooklyn's top new, hip restaurants, from the Freeman's folks.  New Yorker magazine has written this spot, The Vinegar Hill House, up as the prototype of a museum if a museum of hip and cool actually were to exist.  I would agree, but then anything in New York City these days is hipper than my farmer/winemaker chic.  [Ugh.]  After a disappointing bottle of Southern Italian white wine, I made the executive decision that we finish the meal, the entrees and dessert with a bottle of champagne.  Here's the thing – Champagne is utterly and completely underutilized.  Champagne should not be relegated to celebratory events, colleague ‘pours' or cheap aperitifs.  Champagne needs to be explored more, paired more, enjoyed more often.  And it was on this trip.  See below.

First, I felt obligated to recoup the failure of the Southern Italian white wine and when meeting a dear old muse in my life, at il Gottino in Greenwich Village, we shared a bottle of Valle dell'Acate's Il Frappato, 2007.  I hadn't tasted this vintage and on a hot, sticky, oppressively humid summer evening, there is no better wine then the chilled Frappato.  The wine sings with bright strawberry and rose petal notes; it is the best alternative to a Rose that I have ever tasted.  And when it warms up in the glass, it even offers a little spice; I guess you can call this Pinot Noir-lite.

Following the Champagne theme, when I got together with a bunch of buddies from Business School to play poker and after a couple of Campari and Sodas (another staple on this trip - a refreshing, icy, bittersweet way to beat the heat), I went on to polish off, almost single-handedly a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.  I have not spent a great deal of time drinking Veuve and have told myself I should read the book recently published, Madame Clicquot.  Well, I must say, the most recognizable wine label in all the world, doesn't over-deliver or excite me.  At forty-or-so-bucks a bottle, Veuve offers a little less elegance in the glass than I would expect from such a cost.  Playing poker and drinking Champers while my buddies drank beers, I felt a little sophisticated; I thought it would be a worthy complement to my card playing strategies.  It wasn't.  Maybe I would have had better luck with a $10 bottle of Procesco or $2 beer.

My next stop was Locanda Verde, Andrew Carmellini's new place in the Greenwich Hotel.  The day prior to my visit Frank Bruni at the NY Times gave the spot a solid review and two stars.  Not sure if any chef/owner would consider two stars a good review, but I debated a friend whether or not a person should (or does a person) in NYC live, breath and eat by Bruni's reviews?  I was curious.  Let's think about the demographic profile of the New York Times reader.  I'll pass on projecting my views, and just give you them right from the online media kit from their website; Median age 50.  Individual Earned Income, $71K.  The latter is an interesting number considering, according to the NY Times, 68% of their readers own their own homes.  Can that be in NYC or the Tri-State area if the earned individual income is $71K (or the average HHI is $114K)?  Maybe I have been away too long, but I thought real estate was expensive in NY!?!?  I digress.  Anyhow.  Enough of the Times audience profile.

The restaurant, wholly Italian, from apperitivi to amari, from banquet to bar, it looked and feeled like a popular French Bistro cut out of the American imagination of what a French Bistro should be, but instead of French food, it served Italian.  After living in Italy for a year and eating and drinking my way around, I will say, I approached nothing that looked like this place.  But this is New York, and New Yorkers live with a certain expression that goes beyond the realities of the world (and good for them for that).  Anyhow.  I arrived at 5 pm and by departure at 7 pm, the place was wall-to-wall, its fair share of tourists, hotel guests, business suits and stylish types filled the seats and ate the modern take on crostini and such.  I waffled on what wine to order, passing on a white from Quintarelli to linger over a bottle of Vie di Romans Flor di Uis - a massive white blend that is seductive on the nose, textured on the palate and refreshing on the finish.  After looking it up online, the wine contains (Tocai) Friulano, Reisling and Malvasia.  It is a serious white wine. And an aspirational wine when I think about the white blend I will be producing this year that has its influences in North East Italy.

I was off to Cape Cod next and spent three days visiting old friends while putting back some Sam Adams, more Campari and Soda, a few rum based drinks, vodka and soda as the nights drew long and a little white wine here and there (did enjoy a 2007 La Cream Chardonnay, a high-quality, value Chardonnay hitting all the tell-tale characteristics as the wine warmed up in the glass).  When the weather is warm and humid and the smell of sea salt is in the air, chowder, cod cakes and lobster adorn your plate; it is way too hard to think about drinking red wines.  And as noted by the choices above, you can see that I didn't drink much wine at all.  It was a good escape.

However, upon returning to Brooklyn before shuffling back to California, I convinced myself to wine well over my last supper in the City.  I write this on the plane, with last night's dinner in Brooklyn lingering on the mind.  I visited Franny's with my mother and friends.  Franny's is exclusive Italian pizza and wine.  I brought a bottle of Kerber Friulano with me, only to be confronted when I popped it on the bar that it was already on the restaurant's list.  The bartender was gracious enough to let me know we could definitely open it for a $25 corkage fee (and the waitress was later thanking us for bringing an “Italian” wine; well I had to thank my friends for gifting it to me a week earlier when we ate at Vinegar Hill House).  So, I wasn't going to let the restaurant staff's graciousness down by just consuming our wine.  I picked out an aperitif wine, a 500mL bottle of Edi Kante Chardonnay, 2005.

I was excited to try this wine, been reading about Kante for some time but never experienced his wines in full.  I will say the Chardonnay was subtle, was shy and stony, was on the knife-edge of elegant, rusty, honeyed ageiness. I kept sticking my nose in the glass and tried to extract more from the wine and the wine responded, drawing me deeper and bottoming out; enticing me to come back another time.  This is the essence of a great wine - it lingers and leaves you with a desire for more.  Unfortunately, 500 mL and four people doesn't account for much, but I will be back.  Onto the Kerber. Here's the thing I have learned with some artisanal white wines from Friuli (and I should have taken this learning into account), there tends to be a period after bottling, what I have found to be about two years, that could be considered a ‘dumb' period in the wine.  The wine is completely shut down, a bit backward and turning in on itself.  There is no fruit, just creamy, reductive characters and shyness.  I am baffled by this and need to explore it further; and when I have the ‘winemaker's' answer, I will report in full.

After sharing four or five appetizers from eggplant with golden raisin and pine nuts lathered in oil to artichoke crostini, we moved on to our pizzas and a bottle of 2006 Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria “Pithos”.  The Pithos is made in terracotta amphora housed under ground and goes after all the ancient Roman winemaking techniques via the Sicilian grape varieties – Nero d'Avola and Frappato.  The wine jumped out of the bottle immediately with spicy red licorice wrapped in barnyard meat and funk. There was a touch of dried herbs, a la vermouth in the mouth and again a spicy, bitter cherry finish on rather soft tannin and good acid backbone.  The wine, which I haven't consumed since I lived in Sicily, was quite a treat and a good value considering a bottle of Radikon or Gravner made in similar style will cost you almost double on the retail shelf.

So, that is it.  My plane is on descent into San Francisco airport.  And I am happy to be back in California, counting the days until harvest has me knee deep in red and white wine grapes.  T-minus….

Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west

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