A Wine-Soaked Autumn in New York

Barolo from the “Grand Cru” Vineyard of PiedmontBarolo from the “Grand Cru” Vineyard of Piedmont
Sometimes the release of a new wine comes like a resounding drum roll. Such was the case with the roll-out of Damilano 1752 Barolo Cannubi Riserva during a gala dinner with over 100 people at Le Bernardin Privé. The evening started with a Champagne reception and then a vertical tasting over dinner of three vintages (2011, 2010, 2009) of Damilano Barolo Cannubi.

To understand the importance of this wine, one must know that Cannubi DOCG is the grand cru vineyard of Barolo. Cannubi is equal to Romanée-Conti or La Tâche in Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti terms. Or to the 100% grand cru Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs in Champagne terms.

Each of the three Cannubi wines was paired with a perfect dish: the 2011 with langoustine and foie gras soubise; the 2010 with traditional plin or ravioli pasta stuffed with veal, pork, rabbit and vegetables (the plin prepared by chef Massimo Camia from Italy in a cooking demonstration live and seen on cameras throughout the room); and the 2009 with a braised veal cheek in Barolo sauce.

And then came the big reveal of the 1752 Cannubi Riserva 2008, Damilano’s first Cannubi Riserva. The name“1752” to commemorate the first year that the word Cannubi appeared on a label, even before Barolo was an officially designed wine region. Made from 100% old-vine Nebbiolo planted at the top of the Cannubi hill, the wine, aged 60 months in large oak barrels and 24 months in bottle, was a revelation with its vivid floral (violet) and fruit aromas (cherry, plum) as well as licorice, leather and tobacco notes. There was a uniquely spirited vibe to the night with oenophiles enjoying the generous pours of these precious Barolos.

A Legend Comes to Town

One of the world’s most renowned chefs, Michel Roux, came to New York recently from his home outside London to launch his latest book, The Essence of French Cooking, with a dinner at the elegant Provencal salon Rotisserie Georgette (off Fifth Avenue at 60th). Ten dishes featured in the book were presented, starting with a lovely amuse bouche of chestnut soup with country pate—served with a flute of chilled Bollinger.

Roux’s pedigree is jaw-dropping. He’s held onto three Michelin stars for the last 30 years at The Waterside Inn in the village of Bray, and before that ran London’s acclaimed Le Gavroche.  My companion at dinner, a leading food writer, got weak at the knees upon meeting this legendary French chef, who fled Paris decades ago to conquer the British dining scene. 

The Essence of French CookingThe Essence of French Cooking includes 100 classic French recipes that one could, theoretically, conjure at home. Rotisserie Georgette’s house chefs prepared some of the greatest hits including artichauts a la barigoule, boeuf a la Beaujolaise, carnard a l’orange, puree de choux fleur, and mousse au chocolate. The wine pairings were as classic as the dishes they accompanied, a Crozes-Hermitage Blanc from the Rhone, Chateau Paul Mas from Languedoc, a Brouilly from Chateau des Tours in Beaujolais.

Meeting Michel Roux, the chef, had special meaning for me. I recently co-wrote a book on a Frenchman of the same name—Michel Roux, the alcohol importer and marketing genius behind Absolut vodka’s success. The two Michel Rouxs have never crossed paths, though each has received correspondence intended for the other.  They’re both, it turns out, great lovers of fine food and drink—and they’ve each been bestowed a great honor from France, the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.


Kim Crawford’s Small Parcels Gems from Down-Under
All wineries are in search of the very best terroir but New Zealand’s Kim Crawford winery takes this quest to the ultimate level. Not only do they make single vineyard wines but they find the best small parcel blocks within a single vineyard and make a micro-cuvée from these very best parcels.

Winemaker Anthony Walkenhorst presented his “Small Parcels” expressions at an elegant dinner at the new Michelin-star restaurant Gabriel Kreuther. We started out with Fizz, the winery’s methode traditionnelle sparkling, which takes its grapes from small parcels of two single vineyards: the Castle Cliffs Vineyard in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley for the Chardonnay and the Hay Block’s vineyard with its clay soils for the Pinot Noir. The wine undergoes second fermentation in the bottle and is aged for 42 months on its lees. The result? A crisp, citrusy cuvee with vivid grapefruit, white peach and pastry notes and an underlying minerality. Brilliant, refined with lots of finesse.

Another favorite of mine was the Pinot Gris called Favourite Homestead named for the Favorite Vineyard in the Awatere Valley. Sauvignon Blanc is what we expect from New Zealand yet the Pinot Gris is lovely with its honeysuckle and pear flavors. It was aged on its lees in Acacia large wood barrels giving it floral fragrance and spice. Pinot Gris possesses an interesting weight on the palette and has a touch of oiliness. It paired well with Kreuther’s specialty, foie gras terrine with roasted artichokes and peppercorns.

We might be still on a kick of rejecting Chardonnay and why a Chardonnay from New Zealand? I changed my mind with Wild Grace Chardonnay fermented with wild yeasts.  Made at Kim Crawford’s Hawke’s Bay winery, the Chardonnay has aromas of white peach, citrus and hazelnuts, and though a quarter of the blend is aged in new French oak, it displays a rich full-bodied tropical flavor without being overly oaky.

Of course Kim Crawford is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc and its Small Parcels Spitfire Sauvignon Blanc suits its name. It’s gorgeous with tropical flavors of passion fruit, citrus, and melons. “Big aromatics and big weight on the palate. Purity of fruit. Guava character and wet-stone minerality,” says Walkenhorst, clearly proud of this creation. It went oh so well with tartare of Yellowfin tuna and divers scallops with caviar.

When Walkenhorst introduced his Pinot Noir from Central Otago, the southernmost wine region of the world, he described its terroir as scenery straight out of Lord of the Rings. “In this sub-region of Bendigo on at the northern end of the Cromwell Basin, the Pinot Noir has small berries,” says Walkenhorst. “In one vineyard we have lots of different clones and each ripen at slightly different times giving various levels of tannins and colors.”  The Rise and Shine Pinot Noir—named for the Rise and Shine Creek which runs through a district of Central Otago which used to be a mining area—undergoes a wild fermentation giving it vivid dark fruit flavor—blackberry, black cherry— and a spicy complexity. It has an interesting herbal note of thyme on the finish. Medium bodied with fine tannins, it went amazingly with the roasted Colorado lamb saddle. These Small Parcels certainly did what they were meant to do and make us feel as if we had traveled to New Zealand to experience its expressive uniquely Kiwi terroir.

Garnacha, a Grape to Celebrate

Wine dinners compete with Fashion Week events for me in September. Wine always wins as fashionable wines come down the runway for me. This night was a show of Garnacha.

Sometimes wine dinners are given to feature not a winery or wine region but a grape itself. At the contemporary Spanish restaurant, Andanada, we celebrated Garnacha, Spain’s widely planted and wonderfully expressive grape. Our presenter was the beautiful, young Pilar Cavero, sommelier who recently worked at Cellar de Can Roca (which was named no.1 in the world in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015).

Living in Barcelona and having grown up with the grape, Pilar was wild about Garnacha— especially old vine Garnacha like Bodegas Aragonesas “Coto de Hayas Garnacha Cenenaria” 2013, which was made from 100 year old vines grown on a high peak. “It’s the classic style of Arragon,” she said. “Garnacha changes very much depending on the age of the vines and its soil composition.” All this concentrated taste and the wine costs only $15. Most of the wines we tasted that night were priced astonishing low.

The tasting started off with two outstanding white Garnacha—Celler Batea “Vall Major” and Unio Vorporacio Alimentaria “Clos Calian”—both impressive crisp wines with good acidity. Then we moved on to the reds which are known to be great food wines because Garnacha, being high in acidity and low in tannins, works well with just about everything from vegetables to shellfish from poultry to meats. Pilar explained each of the next eight red wines as they were poured. She gave particular attention to Vinas del Vero “Secastilla” 2010 from an area that has been innovative in modern winemaking. “It’s a famous wine from the DO Somontano in Aragon in northern Spain,” she said. “It’s a beautiful area in the foothills of the Pyrenees.”

The innovative dinner included nine dishes including thin sliced Iberico ham, quail with frisée and flowers, mushrooms in croquette, glazed pork belly with Manchego breadcrumbs and paella with calamari, mussels, cockles and red peppers. And if this wasn’t enough, there was a take home basket with delicacies (cured Iberico hams, chorizio, Marcona almonds, Spanish cheeses and olives) from the Despana specialty food shop in Soho—all meant to pair perfectly with Garnacha, which I am now convinced to make my house wine all fall.


Item:  Sir Ivan’s Royal Tea Dance Closes out Hamptons Summer
The Great Gatsby was at it again with another wild party at his Water Mill castle for his anti-bullying charity called Peaceman Foundation. Sir Ivan closed out the Hamptons 2015 summer with a “Royal Tea Dance Party” for over 600 people, who drank Louis Roederer Champagne all night and danced at his Studio 54-styled nightclub.

Every year Sir Ivan puts on an elaborate theme benefit where guests dress in costume. In fact no one is admitted without full costume. In the past we’ve come as wild animals (lions and tigers reigned one especially untamed year) or members of the U.S. Navy  (the castle was turned into a battle ship with Christo-style wrapping of the castle in canvas) and this year the theme was “the Village People” which gave revelers leeway to be a variety of masculine cultural stereotypes—i.e. construction workers, policemen, cowboys, leather men, Indian chiefs or bikers. The macho men theme was a bit of a challenge for women, many of whom donned submissive Indian squaw garb. Sir Ivan in his signature long cape with prominent peace sign displayed on its back— this time in a black leather bikers’ cape with an elaborate Swarovski crystal encrusted peace sign—made his grand entrance on an Ironhorse Tejas motorcycle.  He circled the castle pool and grounds, revving up his motorbike emphatically, driving it right inside the castle and swooping into the disco area. He then jumped onto stage to perform his new anti-bulling anthem, “Kiss All the Bullies Goodbye”, which is a hit release at the top of the Dance Music Charts.

Present at the party was none other than the other contender for Great Gatsby of the Hamptons, businessman Marc Leder.  Leder probably wins the Gatsby contest for two reasons: he is more elusive, mingling unobtrusively with his guests and his motive is merely to entertain and impress his 500 plus acquaintances rather than to collect funds for a charity cause.

Leder threw an all-stops blow-out Fourth of July party this year at his brand new home in Sagaponack.  Unlike Sir Ivan’s Burning Man style of abandon, Marc Leder’s parties feature over-the top elegance. They are of the white-tented Hamptons variety tricked out with costumed performers and live bands. This year Leder erected an enormous white tent all decorated for 4th of July with of fresh flowers strewn around the tent’s many bars. Upon entering, guests were greeted by women dressed as Uncle Sams suspended on 6 foot platforms. They leaned down from their high trampoline perches to shake entering guests’ hands. Ever the generous host, Leder had sumptuous raw bars overflowing with lobster, shrimp, oysters and clams; sushi bars with sushi masters creating hand rolls to custom orders, and multiple food stations with an array of grilled meats. The many bars in the main and side chambers of the tent had prestigious wine brands including Veuve Clicquot Champagne, both Rosé and Brut (which never ran out) and Domaines Ott Rosé, and a bar with top shelf spirits. There was even a photo booth replete with red, white and blue props to create July 4th portraits. The lively rock cover band, Booga Suga, playing all night and people really got down on the huge dance floor. Both Hamptons Gatsbys surely pulled out all stops this 2015 season.