Sip Vicious

Yellow Wine: A few minutes after I ordered a bottle of wine at New York’s Bette restaurant, the sommelier hustled over to my table like Tony Dorsett tumbling for the end zone, setting down a plate of gouda, pears, hazelnuts, and pecans.

“You’re gonna need this with your wine,” he warned.


yellow wine puffeney


When I zeroed in on the wine — a 2002 Arbois Savagnin from Jacques Puffeney — I knew I might be in for an unusual ride.  Puffeney’s wines hail from France’s obscure Jura region, which is nestled between Burgundy and Switzerland, and are known for their aggressive acidity and fino-sherry-like oxidized quality.  Vin jaune (or “yellow wine”) is the most famous of Jura’s wines, made from extra-ripe Savagnin grapes and aged under a layer of yeast for six years, producing a style said to be even more aggressive than the less-aged Savagnin I chose.

Okay, bring it on, I thought – I love taut sips like Chablis and Grüner Veltliner from Austria, and a little oxidation rarely rubbed me wrong; such vinous voltage can turbo-charge the tastebuds and heighten the flavor of food.

But was the Puffeney so high-wattage that it merited an unsolicited plate of nibbles?  To be sure, certain foods can buff the contours of an edgy wine — like red meat’s ability to tame the astringency of a tannic Cabernet or walnuts’ mellowing effect on an overly-dry glass of Sherry.  The sommelier’s offering — and his insistent, almost apologetic rendering of it — suggested that something more dire might be at play.  Did experience teach him that diners needed to be numbed before wetting their lips with this juice, like Xylocaine before a needle or a blindfold before the firing squad?

The wine arrived, and I took a hit.  First, there was a briny smell of the ocean — bracing, but not unpleasant.  A few sips later, however, we crossed the line into something considerably more sauvage — the yellow wine’s saline tang giving way to fifth-grade memories of nose-tweaking Testors paint.  Its taste was equally disconcerting—so salty doctors should prescribe it for sore throats.

Ever the optimist, I informed my tablemates that it would eventually come around.  Give it time.  Give it food.  Give it love.

“This is a black-diamond wine, an expert’s quaff, an acquired taste,” I declared hopefully.

I tried to acquire the taste.  I really tried.  I sampled the yellow wine it with nuts and cheese, and meats and cheese, and meaty cheese.  I yearned to like it, like a neophyte struggling to appreciate the baroque operas of Handel or the disjointed poetry of William Carlos Williams or any BBC comedy.

But I just couldn’t catch its groove.  It put a pall over everything we ate — an immovable distraction, like trying to picnic in the shadow of a Chinatown dumpster.  Like one’s inaugural visit with raw oysters or improvisational jazz, perhaps appreciating wine from Jura requires several attempts.  But until I explore more, I fear that many of them are like Siegfried & Roy’s saber-toothed Montecore: rare, unwieldy, and headed for your jugular.

Hugging, Chugging, and Banging It Out at the Emmys

If you’re an Entourage fan, you’ve seen Jeremy’s Piven’s character “hug it out” many times during the HBO show’s run.  At the Emmy Awards this past Sunday, some friends and I witnessed a supremely celebratory Piven chug it out with Möet & Chandon rosé, which was the official bubbly of the annual HBO post-Emmys bash, held at Los Angeles’ massive, tented Pacific Design Center.
Celebrating his much-deserved Emmy as Best Supporting Actor, the stubbly, sweaty, ascoted Piven held court at a table in front of the venue – pink bubbly flowing like faucet – as industry honcos and starlets buzzed around him like electrons around an atom.  With the volcanic energy we expect from his HBO alter-ego Ari Gold, Piven later jumped up on a platform near the dance floor to join the live percussionists who were playing along to Madonna and Michael Jackson, banging it out on a set of steel drums with the possessed look of a man set aflame by Möet and victory.

Grape nuts should know that post-telecast the Governors Ball — traditionally the first-stop on the Emmys party circuit — saw three wines being poured.  The bubbly was Laurent-Perrier L-P Brut NV, a rich swig with faint apple aromas and lemony lift, while the white was 2004 Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Chardonnay, a classic New World smoothie with pineapple and apple scents and a kiss of cedar wood.  Most compelling was the red: the 2002 Beaulieu George de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet – a ballsy blackberry bomb infused with licorice, earth, and muscular tannins, the kind of hug-it-out bruiser that Ari would pop celebrating the close of Aquaman III.

This Father’s Day, Wine for the Lion-Hearted

Father’s Day might be the day you expect to be exchanging neckties, but no longer. These kingly wines are perfect for the paterfamilias in your life:

father's day wine

Amarone: You’ll free papa of his Viagra habit with Amarone (Ah-ma-ROW-nay), a powerful Italian red made from dried grapes. Its intense raisin-and-espresso flavor will put a macho swagger into anyone’s step. Try Masi, Zenato, Domini Veneti, and Santi.

Zinfandel: For grill meisters, this rich, peppery red has never met a rib it didn’t like; Look for the Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, or Rancho Zabaco. Unleash a Zinfandel from California’s Amador County for an especially high-alcohol, brawny version.

Coppola: From the man who brought us Apocalypse Now and The Godfather, we have equally arresting wines from Francis Coppola’s Rubicon Winery, such as the flagship Rubicon Estate, the RC Reserve Syrah, or the dependable and affordable Rosso Shiraz.

Pol Roger: There’s no better way to express your admiration for Dad than through the powerfully flavorful delights of Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, a Champagne named for this paragon of courage and determination.

Port: While other fathers finish dinner with a chocolate parfait, treat yours to a bottle of port, the powerful fortified wine that soothes the soul with the taste of sweet black fruits.  Track down Dow, Fonseca, Graham’s Quinta do Noval, or Taylor Fladgate.

Nine Ways to Seduce With Wine This Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day may seem like a cliché day filled with flowers and chocolates. But you can impress your date beyond their wildest expectations with these wines. If you aim to make pulses race this Valentine’s Day, head straight for one of these choices:

valentine's day wine

1) Rosé (pink) Champagne: Its color blushes with excitement, its bubbles tickle the palate, and its price — high because of its scarcity — says that you care enough to pour the best. Try Veuve Clicquot, Billecart-Salmon, or Laurent-Perrier.

2) Sofia: For more casual bubbles, consider the Coppola 2004 Sofia Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine, about $20 on shelves.  Named for the famous director’s daughter, it is light, refreshing, and faintly redolent of pears and peaches.  With its Valentine’s Day -appropriate, girly-chic label and pink wrapping paper, it is the vinous equivalent of a hip bed-and-breakfast.

3) Red Burgundy: If chosen carefully, a bottle from the Burgundy village of Chambolle-Musginy (especially the perfectly-named “Les Amoureuses”) or Volnay can coat your tongue with more velvet than the walls of Mae West’s bedroom.

4) Château Calon-Ségur: Tailor-made for seduction, this red Bordeaux features a lover’s heart — fat and curvy like a child’s drawing — smack in the center of its label.

5) St. Amour or Fleurie: These well-named Beaujolais wines are also well-priced, at under $15 a bottle, and they are irresistibly light and fruity. Go for Duboeuf, Drouhin, or Jadot.

6) Shellfish with Rich White Wine: Whether it’s lobster with Meursault or crab-stuffed avocado with California Chardonnay, this creamy pairing has a long history of making people reach for the “Do Not Disturb” sign.

7) Prozac-co Smoothie: Mix Prosecco (the Italian bubbly, try the Zardetto), vodka, and lemon sorbet together in a blender, serve in a champagne flute, top with fresh mint. Valentine’s Day as never tastier!

8) Chaucer’s Choice: Gently simmer a light red wine with a small amount of honey, nutmeg, and cinnamon (based on the medieval spiced wine called hippocras).

9) Cleopatra’s Bliss: Drink a cold glass of late-harvest dessert wine in a hot bath of powdered milk.

Spooky Sips: Wines for Halloween

Wondering what to serve at (or bring to) your Halloween party?  Consider these spooky treats:halloween

  • Alexander Valley Sin Zin (California)
  • Bonny Doon Cardinal Zin “Beastly Old Vines”(California)
  • Bonny Doon Le Cigar Volant (“Flying Saucer”) (California)
  • Cockfighter’s Ghost (Australia) Chardonnay or Shiraz   (Australia)
  • Concha y Toro’s Casillero del Diablo “Cellar of the Devil,” various types (Chile)
  • d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz (Australia)
  • Devil’s Lair Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon (Australia)
  • Egervin Egri Bikavér (“Bull’s Blood”) (Hungary)
  • Leitz Dragonstone Riesling (Germany)
  • Trevor Jones Wild Witch Shiraz (Australia)
  • Vampire Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir (Romania)

devil4Producer: Devil’s Lair (Australia)
Wine: Chardonnay Margaret River
Vintage: 2003
Cost: $25
Track it down:

This Aussie triumph manages to do what many Chardonnays can’t: straddle a razor’s edge between richness and zest, between oakiness and refreshment. Creamy aromas and flavors of tropical fruit and almonds mingle with essences of pears and lemons.  Its taste, combined with the wine’s bloodcurdling, fossilized Tasmanian Devil label drawing, will chase away the demons of undistinguished Chardonnay.