December 5 is an important day for drinkers, as on this day in 1933 the 21st Amendment was ratified, repealing Prohibition and reinstating our right to imbibe. Phew.
It’s hard to imagine the 14 years America spent as a dry country. Certainly, in the decade of the raging ‘20s there was still a lot of drinking going on. But this was all illegal and organized crime saw a huge increase as they became the arbiters of the new underground economy. Repeal not only legalized drink; it also put the kabosh on a great deal of criminal dealings. We celebrate with a big batch of bathtub gin and a toast to Al Capone.
It sounds like something that might be served at a McDonald’s in Marseille, but Macvin du Jura is actually a delicious sweet, fortified wine from the south of France that you might consider for your seasonal winter feasts.
It’s unusual but also sumptuous, coming in red and white, with flavors ranging from orange peel to quince to ginger to figs. What’s also interesting is that it can hardly be called a wine as there’s no real fermentation going on.
I had the great pleasure of spending the last couple of days in Mendocino, relaxing, eating and spending time searching through the woods looking for one of my favorite mushrooms—the venerable porcini. Oh, and did I mention eating?
Two Saturdays ago, the incessantly rainy one, I finally made it to Laiola, though it took a bus from Union Square and a splashy mad dash in the rain down five puddle-ridden blocks to get there. Owner Joe Hargrave greeted my dripping pate inside the door, pulling a clean napkin off the shelf so I could dry off. The restaurant was packed and filled with a warm, convivial hum. The napkin gesture alone might have been enough to at least place this joint on my good side. But there was more.
I get quite a few samples of wine—and generally appreciate the wineries that send them. It helps me discover new wines and chart the progress of all the great labels I already know.
Sometimes, however, wineries tend to get a little too cute in the way they promote themselves. I understand the need to stand out in a highly competitive market, but occasionally it crosses the line from amusing to annoying. I’ve been shipped Walla Walla onions and a recipe for onion rings along with a Washington Merlot, and I’ve been sent an oversized oven mit, barbecue tongs and cheap sunglasses to go with some Napa cab.
Baby Shower for a Sommelier
Normally I try to avoid baby showers. They tend to be rather staid affairs with tea, crumpets, and lots of baby clothes. Actually, they’re not that hard to avoid, since I never get invited. But recently I did, and it was one I wasn’t going to miss: the baby shower for Paul Roberts, wine director for all of Thomas Keller’s restaurants, including the French Laundry and Per Se.
After several months of trying, I finally made it by my friend David White’s new (less than a year old) restaurant and wine bar Nua.
First of all, chef Anna Bautista’s menu was really excellent: we dined happily on such things as grilled octopus and chickpea salad, piquillo peppers stuffed with brandade and sardines with an eggplant caponata.
But what I’ve always admired about David White is his palate and his enthusiasm for the often overlooked wines of the world. He has a nose for well-balanced, interesting and—most important—well-priced wines. His list is full of them.
More famous as the classic vinous accompaniment to oysters than as a wine in and of itself, Muscadet has a fairly shoddy reputation. Most people consider Muscadet to be a bland, light-drinking, unmemorable wine. And—to be fair—most Muscadet is exactly that.
But there are exceptions. And this wine is one of them. Domaine de l'Ecu is probably the best producer in the region, making fully biodynamic wines that are true wines of minerality and terroir. The Domaine’s owner, Guy Bossard, makes three wines, each expressive of a different soil type: granite, gneiss and orthogneiss.