April 2008
Features at Wine & Spirits

Editor's Note


Fined & Filtered   Decoding pinot noir;
  pours beyond a glass

Joshua Greene on the   rich and the light

Peter Liem on   Muscadet... for the cellar

New Deli
  Howard Goldberg rates   the reincarnation of a New   York Institution

Year's Best Pinot Noir   tasted 375, top wines 108,   best buys 9

Year's Best
   Tuscan Reds

  tasted 414, top wines 58,   best buys 20

Year's Best Austria
  tasted 279, top wines 87,   best buys 49

American New Releases
  tasted 211, top wines 24,   best buys 11

International New    Releases
  tasted 360, top wines 78,   best buy 41

Restoration drama
In 1990 I was fresh out of graduate school, living in Chicago and still a culinary idiot, despite a grandfather who was a professional chef (with gigs at places like the Waldorf Astoria). Jill, my partner at the time, was in the theater, and our dinner parties were appropriately theatrical, consisting of a big vat of something–soup, stew, gumbo, whatever–washed down with oceans of cheap red wine. The meals resembled large low-budget productions–group affairs brought together by many hands, plenty of energy and heart, but not much vision.

A cure for the wurst
On a trip to Germany with a friend of mine, I was wholeheartedly embracing the daily practice of drinking copious amounts of riesling and eating inordinate quantities of sausages, until a few too many days of indulgence took their toll. One night after a particularly excessive round of gluttony, I was slumped over the table, beyond the point where riesling could allay my distress. Taking pity on me, my friend handed me a tiny, unassuming bottle wrapped in brown paper and emblazoned with the word "Underberg" in big letters on a bright green label.

Tarragona green
I wasn't supposed to be looking for Chartreuse. I was headed to Condrieu, working on a story about Northern Rhône wine for this magazine. But a friend had begged me to stop in Lyon–to find the store that carries vintage Chartreuse from Tarragona and buy some for him.

Drink local
My father was born in Trieste. When he came to America in 1955, he came alone–the rest of his family was perfectly content to stay home, where they led pleasant bourgeois lives in the best contemporary European sense of the word. Consequently, I spent a considerable portion of my childhood in Italy, tightly encased in layer after layer of relations, many of whom were excellent cooks. Now, being bourgeois, they tended to express their excellence more in the quality of their cooking than the quantity. Not that anyone went hungry, mind you–but the groaning board of Italo-American myth? Never saw it. What's more, whenever we managed to escape the full family jacket and actually eat in a restaurant, my frugal New England–born mother saw to it that we didn't overorder.

Just what the doc ordered
I first learned that Fernet-Branca is the preferred tipple of the San Francisco restaurant trade after working a nasty shift one night at a wine bar. My friend Katherine turned to me at closing and said, rather bluntly, "Screw this, we're going out."

The complete article is available in the print edition of Wine & Spirits.

Superchefs Raise the Bar
There is no chef at Au Sauvignon, Marie-Franćoise Vergne's tiny wine bar in Paris's seventh arrondissement. There isn't even a kitchen. Vergne, whose father, Henri, bought the bar in the '50s, offers only cold plates: tartines of rillettes and saucisson sec on sour Poilâne bread as well as tangy crottin de Chavignol and raw-milk Camembert.

Extreme Mixology
Try ordering a vodka tonic or a rum and Coke at a high-end bar in any big city across the country. You might get a subtle scoff from the bartender as he mixes something with litsea cubeba or marinated Inca berries or bubble gum flavor. The drink he offers might carry a foam, it might emit a gaseous cloud or it might come in solid form, not even a drink at all.

Notes from the Underground
Good wine seems to taste better in places you don't expect to find it. Take Philippe's the Original, a sandwich shop in downtown Los Angeles. This year Philippe's will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and in every sense, the place is old school–sawdust on the floor, a hand-painted menu board, counter help outfitted in white paper hats and pale green uniforms, a pot of fiery-hot mustard on every communal table.

The complete article is available in the print edition of Wine & Spirits.

Fog Eaters
By the time I crossed over Highway 101, took a left at Taqueria El Sombrero #2, passed the Smog Center and the collision repair shop, and turned into an office park next to the ranchette subdivision, I knew I was on a different kind of wine route. Or maybe I was just lost.

The complete article is available in the print edition of Wine & Spirits.

True Brunello
Brunello di Montalcino is meant to be the definitive expression of sangiovese, but sangiovese continues to elude definition: It mutates readily, ripens unevenly and has an austerity that challenges winemakers to present it unadorned. Some producers seem to have it figured out, but after all these years, Brunello's identity is still taking shape.

The complete article is available in the print edition of Wine & Spirits.

19th annual restaurant poll
Change may be the political mantra of the moment. Sommeliers report that diners are also asking for something untried and untested. In a restaurant, it's a low-risk, high-reward game.

The complete article is available in the print edition of Wine & Spirits.