Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freddie Hubbard Passes Away

hubbard.jpgAs much as food and wine, I love music, especially jazz (we have jazz piped in all day at the store to inspire customers). One of my jazz idols, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, passed away yesterday at age 70. Read this well-written obituary.

I discovered Freddie Hubbard in the mid-1970s when on a lark I bought his album Sky Dive. I was immediately mesmerized by his music, and I started listening more to jazz since then.

I finally saw Freddie Hubbard perform live in 1989 in Cambridge, Mass. at the Regatta Bar with his touring group at that time which included the brilliant Cedar Walton on piano. I was seated at the front row, no more than five feet away from the band. Mr. Hubbard was strutting proudly and blowing his horn fast and hard, pumping out music that soared in his signature staccato bursts. It was a virtuoso performance and, of course, I was blown away. Yet, Mr. Hubbard looked cool and dapper, just another day at the office it seemed. He was the best jazz trumpet player I've heard.

Looking back I feel fortunate to have watched Freddie Hubbard play live still at the peak of his genius. I'm really proud of that moment.

(photo of the young Freddie Hubbard by Price Givens on the masterpiece Red Clay album)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Digital Christmas Greetings

Every Christmas I receive a handful of Christmas cheers sent electronically. I love getting these things and I thought I'll start collecting them like traditional Christmas cards. So don't forget to send me one next year!

This one from Vignobles Despagne in Bordeaux, specialist producer of overachieving wines of Rauzan-Despagne, Girolate, Mont-Perat, etc. I met the young Thiebault Despagne years ago when he dropped by the store. He writes a interesting blog

I'm honored to be acquainted to Bernard de Laage de Meux, Business Director at Chateau Palmer, but I'd be even more honored to be invited for a sumptuous dinner there!

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I'm not sure who sent this, but this is one of my favorites this year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Change in Ownership at The Wine Club

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After reading a posting today on the erobertparker bulletin board that The Wine Club has just changed ownership, I tried to dig up more news in the local papers about it but found nothing. Today, for example, is when the wine section appears in the San Francisco Chronicle, but all I read are the usual soft, fluffy, dumbed-down wine articles. In contrast, the food section on Wednesday is more interesting. You can bet that if a well-known restaurant in the Bay Area is closing, you’ll get the skinny in the food section. Why can’t they run the wine section this way?

The Wine Club has long been one of California’s and the San Francisco Bay Area’s major wine retailers. Unlike most of its competitors, The Wine Club has thrived selling almost wine exclusively

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Weingut Emrich-Schönleber Rieslings

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Stoic Frank Schönleber enjoying his Thai chicken curry over rice

Last week proved to be very interesting meeting with two brilliant young winemakers who are still in their twenties but already doing fantastic things heading up their family's domaines. Monday was with François Bitouzet of Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur of Volnay and Meursault and Thursday was with Frank Schönleber of Weingut Emrich-Schönleber.

I took Frank Schönleber to my favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant, Thai Stick, in Millbrae, where we proceeded to drink, er taste, a bunch of his '06 and 07 Rieslings over rice and chicken curry and roast duck.

Frank took over his family's estate in the Nahe last year from his father, Werner; thus, 2007 is his first solo vintage. I told him that he was fortunate to start with such a great vintage, perhaps the best overall vintage since 2001 in my estimation. He forced a smile, but didn't beam, as he believed 2006, which he helped make with his father, has some terrific wines as well. Sure enough, we tasted some of the 2006s he brought and they were spectacular.

I've previously mentioned that in the Nahe, Helmut Dönnhoff is great, but those in the know search out the wines of Emrich-Schönleber.

Gault Millau's "The Guide to German Wines" bestows its highest 5-Star rating to just two producers in the Nahe, Hermann Dönnhoff and Emrich-Schönleber. But Dönnhoff's wines cost big buck, while Emrich-Schönleber's wines are much better values, though maybe not for long, as the buzz is spreading fast and many are discovering this brilliant producer and its thrilling wines.

The styles are also very different. Schönleber's Rieslings are much more ethereal and filigreed, very reminiscent of a Mosel. In fact I describe Emrich-Schönleber Rieslings as being like the Mosel of the Nahe, very delicate, minerally, and really refined.

Weingut Emrich-Schönleber.owns about 18 acres in Monzingen’s Frühlingsplätzchen vineyard and 10 acres in Halenberg. The two vineyards are just 500 meters apart but couldn’t be more different from each other. Frühlingsplätzchen has soft, crumbly red slate soils mixed with loam, while Halenberg has harder blue slate soils. Though Riesling accounts for over eighty percent of vines planted, there is some Pinot Blanc as well.

Germany has been on a roll and vintages from 2001 to 2007 are all great. 2007s offer relatively more moderate ripeness levels; hence, the wines offer consistency and purity across the range. 2006s offer mindblowing Ausleses, with perfect balance of richness and structure, for passionate Riesling collectors.

Frank and I enjoyed the following Rieslings with curry and roast duck. Riesling is one of the most versatile wines. Last Thanksgiving, my brother and I drank nothing but German Riesling (2007s from Leitz) with turkey, ham, pancit noodles, and pork rinds (seriously).

Nahe Riesling Kabinett Monzinger, Emrich-Schönleber 2007
Mainly from parcels in the Frühlingsplätzchen vineyard. A joy to drink! Pure, precise Riesling Kabinett offering vivid fruit and mineral flavors. Aromas of white flowers, apricot, pear, and cut-grass with focused, precise, well-delinated layers of fruits and minerals. Off-dry, sweetish fruity flavors that are crisp and sappy with excellent acid balance. A very lovely Riesling for pairing with shellfish that are just coming in season and with various Asian dishes. Riesling fans should not miss this. A great success in this vintage!

Nahe Riesling Spätlese Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen, Emrich-Schönleber 2007
Frank Schönleber say Frühlingsplätzchen means "nice little place in spring time". This is from the best parcels of the vineyard with vines averaging about 30-years-old planted in crumbly red slate and loamy soils. Very ripe, very sweet fruit hinting of peach, grapefruit, and guava, with layers of minerals and lavender honey. Fresh and open, with wonderful purity and outstanding richness on the finish. This is drinking very, very lovely.

Nahe Riesling Spätlese Monzinger Halenberg, Emrich-Schönleber 2007

From firm blue slate soils with quartzite. This is richer and riper with the same acid level as the Frühlingsplätzchen, thus it tastes more lush and sweeter on the palate—yet it starts out tight. After some time it opens up gloriously, revealing an almost opulent core of fruit with excellent minerality. Outstanding concentration. Very long finish.

Nahe Riesling Auslese** Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen, Emrich-Schönleber 2006
A special selection just below goldkapsel level for the estate, but you would almost think you're there! Excellent concentration, perfectly balanced. Very tight, but tremendous richness of fruit, with layers of sweet peaches and pineapples infused with minerals. Lovely ripeness all around. Vivid and fresh. A spectacular hedonistic experience. You have to be patient on this one, but it is definitely worth the wait.

Nahe Riesling Auslese** Monzinger Halenberg, Emrich-Schönleber 2006

A special selection from the Halenberg vineyard. This is even tighter than the Frühlingsplätzchen special selection, yet the incredible hedonistic richness is so perceivable. Very sweet. Very rich. Very concentrated. But so fresh and elegant as well. A powerful Riesling, with an energetic lengthy finish. Wow! Worth cellaring for many years.

Weingut Emrich-Schönleber
Soonwaldstraße 10a
D-55569 Monzingen
Tel.: (0 67 51) 27 33
Fax: (0 67 51) 48 64

Check vineyardgate.com for availability of Emrich-Schönleber Rieslings

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tasting Bitouzet-Prieur

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I must apologize to Mr. François Bitouzet for my poor shot of him in the photo above. Nevertheless, I was lucky to get one shot before my camera’s battery died. I want people to see how young and confident he looks.

François and I met last Tuesday at the store. He immediately impressed me. Just twenty-five years of age and already in charge of his family’s domaine, which is based in Volnay, but with good holdings in Meursault, as well. In fact, François lives in Meursaul near Dominique Lafon's house. François mentioned that this is his first trip to the US. His father, Vincent, who recently ceded winemaking to his son, had never been to the US at all, despite sending their wines to the US for the past thirty years.

Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur makes a splendid range of Volnays and Meursaults that are not, for the most part, in the vin de garde style—I mean this in the best sense. Sure, the Meursault-Perrieres made here needs time, like fifteen years minimum on a great year. At a get-together dinner last summer, Neal Rosenthal, the domaine’s US importer, opened a magnum of the 1996 Meursault-Perrieres. The wine was still tight, with maybe another decade to go before blossoming.

Yet, the domaine’s other wines are usually ready to drink within a few years from release. The style is relaxed, not so forceful, but lively and gorgeously balanced. Take the 2004 Meursault Les Corbins that François poured—a joy to bask in its youthful fragrance, freshness, delicacy, and openness.

François ages the wine in barrel on its fine less for 12 months, then racks and ages it for another 6 months before racking another time and bottling. The oak regimen is 25% new, 25% one year, 25% two year, and 25% mix of older barrels.

I love the freshness and purity of his wines in their youth, which resonate even in the pair of 2003s we tasted: the Meursault Clos du Cromin and the Volnay village from a parcel below Champans.

With age, the delicacy and freshness remain, but the wine takes on a more meaty flavor like in the very lovely, beautifully concentrated 2001 Volnay les Aussy 1er Cru (2001 is proving to be such a fine vintage) and in the more fragile 2000 Volnay Pitures 1er Cru, from a parcel next to Pommard and near Clos des Ducs.

Aging Burgundy can be overvalued. François showed me that young is great. I see little reason to tamper any further with the deliciousness of the young wines we tasted. Before we parted, François quoted me one of his father’s favorite sayings: “better to live with memory rather than regrets.”